Judges 12:4-6, NIV)How about a story closer to home: Conservative evangelicals lay claim to the “authoritative” interpretation of scripture and, whenever a survivor of the culture wars says ‘I follow Jesus’, the men of conservative evangelicalism ask them 'Do you hate the Bible?' If that person replies, 'No,' they say, 'All right, say what you think of homosexuality.' And unless that person says 'Celibacy or conversion therapy are the only options open to Christians who experience same-sex attraction,' the men of conservative evangelicalism seize their appointments and kill their ministries at the source of funding . Many followers of Jesus are silenced or impelled to recant at this time .
In short, conservative evangelicalism is not a scene in which would-be allies can easily speak out (let alone one in which LGBT+ Christians can easily come out) . And the costs are not purely personal: those striving to gain/keep the ear of fellow evangelicals on the subject of other, interconnected matters of justice and biblical interpretation find themselves weighing up disheartening trade-offs. In the wake of the release of the Nashville Statement (a glib reassertion of cishetero norms in the name of scriptural fidelity) one of the disputes to erupt on Twitter (e.g. this thread) centred on the failure of (some) feminist and gender-equality-promoting Christian groups to advocate for LGBT+ affirmation. A common counter-argument in the discussion seemed to be that such organisations inevitably lose their voice in the evangelical sphere when they openly adopt non-"traditional" stances on wider issues of gender and sexuality.
Indeed, I learned shortly after (reading Deborah Jian Lee's Rescuing Jesus) that this is not a new debate. For example, the large and widely-respected organisation Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE) actually originated as a breakaway group when the Evangelical Women's Caucus (now the EEWC) officially took an LGBT+ affirming stance in the mid-1980s. Today, CBE continue to make considerable gains towards their carefully targeted mission of male/female equality in marriage and leadership, while the EEWC, with its broader agenda, remains the smaller and less influential of the two.
It's not just high-profile Christians who feel the pressure. I've a heart for exploring and sharing stuff that I'm grappling with. I may not have a large audience but I write in the hope it might get other people thinking too (and maybe even re-evaluating, where re-evaluation is needed). I'm not worried about upsetting or offending my evangelical friends by dropping "sibboleths" – if anyone has a right to be upset (and I'm painfully aware that they do), it's my gay and gender non-conforming friends: "Hey, so, I used to think this about you, and now I think I was wrong. So, err, sorry, yeah?" However, I am frustrated at the thought of closing the ears of other Christians to everything I've ever said or ever might. What if one day I manage to say something useful, and nobody's listening?
The disastrous thing about the sibboleth reflex, as far as the pursuit of truth is concerned, is the way it inevitably shuts down the conversation before thought-out reasons even get a look in. Not that I am the person to make the case for (e.g.) same-sex Christian marriage; in fact, I fear saying too much on the subject lest my amateur (and un-pinned-down) blundering serve as further evidence for those who maintain that there is no possible reconciliation between following Jesus and so-uncomfortably-called "LGBT+ lifestyles". But it deeply troubles me that, for many evangelicals, literally no-one is qualified to challenge "traditional" views on gender and sexuality, because challenging "traditional" views on gender and sexuality is in itself a disqualifying marker – a proof of theological unsoundness.
So ... Christians who speak out in support of LGBT+ affirmation lose their voice, while Christians who teach opposition to it remain entirely unfazed by their efforts. It all seems pretty hopeless/secure [delete according to your precommitments]. Except, these open displays are just the surface layer of bigger, mostly hidden happenings. For every vocal Christian LGBT+ ally, there are ... we can only guess how many ... quiet questioners: unconvinced by the self-reinforcing logic of "traditionalism", increasingly suspicious of the (theological or theologised?) reasons against LGBT+ affirmation , but not knowing quite how or when to speak, or what to say, or how to handle being sibbolethed. What an immense infuriation we must be to our LGBT+ friends, Christian and otherwise. But if rumours are to be believed, there's quite a lot of us: our certainty and outspokenness may not rival that of our "traditionalist" brothers and sisters, but I wonder if maybe the numbers (if only we knew them) foretell a new story. The scale of the shift in thinking, if not quite yet the decisiveness of it, feels such that change is inevitable, at least in the Global North. (The strength of resistance to LGBT+ affirmation in other parts of the world – particularly in Africa, home to around one fifth of the world's Christians, including over half of the Anglican communion – complicates the discussion with painful matters of global fellowship and cultural imperialism).
Many, of course, view this as a tragedy: the church is liberalising, assimilating, losing its way. I can remember a me that would have worried likewise. But I've been praying – daily, near-unfailingly; for three years, near-exactly . Praying for personal wisdom, and wisdom for the church, in how to rightly and truthfully and scripturally-faithfully love and include and encourage and serve LGBT+ neighbours and family in Christ, as well as for healing and forgiveness where so much hurt has been done. And yeah, no, praying for right understanding does not make me magically immune to error. But to see my understanding change as it has in the course of that process, and to hear tell of wider-spread similar changes ... at the very least I have to allow for the possibility that the coinciding of these developments with my prayer-life is not entirely ... erm ... coincidental.
Either way there's plenty more praying to be getting on with (with the expectation that the effects of prayer include active change in the pray-er!). I still lack wisdom. Some Christians are still scared to say what they think. Other Christians are still giving them reason to stay scared. Division is mounting. And the church continues to reproduce oppression and inflict hurt and hardship on already-marginalised people. Christ, have mercy.
 E.g.: Christian singer-songwriter Vicky Beeching exchanged a glowing music career for an onslaught of abuse from ‘betrayed’ former fans and other Christians when she came out as gay; US preacher Tony Campolo was dropped from speaking engagements and felt like he ‘lost his community’ after his prayerful, studied decision to support same-sex relationships; writer Jen Hatmaker found herself similarly ‘uninvited’ and saw her books dropped by major retailers when she voiced affirmation; leading Christian ethicist David Gushee describes the anger and rejection that followed the release of his book Changing Our Mind, and claims to know of a number of pastors who are keeping their own shifted/shifting views quiet out of fear of the same.
 E.g.: Eugene Peterson was recently reported to have changed his mind on same sex marriage, only to issue a 'clarifying' retraction in the heat of the outcry (which included the usual threats from retailers), while World Vision reversed their 2014 decision to accept married lesbian/gay applicants when they lost 10,000 child sponsorships in protest. Public reversals of this type have been the cause of much heartache.
 I use LGBT+ as a shorthand for the diverse community of people whose experience of gender and sexuality is not described by cishetero norms. Although this post returns often to the particular topic of same sex relationships, Christian attitudes towards homosexuality tend to correlate with attitudes towards broader gender and sexuality considerations. I am anxious to chose language that people feel comfortable with and dignified by, so please do call me out if I am failing at that.
 There's things on my heart about the (unscriptural and hypocritical, I believe) reasons why gender and sexuality have become deal-breaker issues among Christians, as well as the ways in which they have been used to manipulate and oppress. An earlier draft contained all this and more, and was consequently about as coherent as my typical plate at a pan-global all-you-can-eat buffet, which I'm told is not to everyone's taste. So I'm trying to hold back and write about one thing at a time – further "helpings" to follow!
 I can date it because I made an intentional commitment prompted by Beeching's heartbreaking testimony when she came out, and the horrific response of too many Christians.
[Thumbnail image cc from wonderferret on Flickr].