Aren’t there some ways evangelicals and gays can work together?
I got a very strange phone call last week.
A woman from a marketing and design firm called. I had been recommended to her, she said, as a good writer who had done work for non-profit groups. Yes, I said.
She asked me if I would be available to work as a freelancer on a three-year project for a capital campaign. Yep, I said.
Then she said: “You know, before we go further, I should ask you something.” OK? I said.
She paused. “How do you feel about working for an evangelical institution?”
Now I paused. For a very long time.
“An evangelical Christian institution?” I asked. “Like a church?”
“An evangelical Christian institution,” she said.
I almost laughed. My first thought was, “Are you kidding me?”
Then I started thinking about other things.
There are, of course, circumstances under which I would not write. I would not write for an institution that included anti-gay work as part of its mission. I think we have a responsibility, as talented gay and lesbian people, not to contribute our gifts toward people and institutions who actively work against us, no matter how much we need the work or how much we might get paid.
But should I turn work or any sort of association down just because the institution is evangelical? My kind of work, of course, is different from other kinds of work. I don’t construct buildings or add up numbers, objective things that would likely produce a similar outcome no matter who does it.
My kind of work is persuasive that is, when I write for non-profits, it’s usually my job to connect with an audience in such a strong, emotional way that they will apply to the school or come to an event or call their local politician or send money. And I was recommended to this woman because I can be very persuasive.
So this really became a serious moral question for me. Could I take a job that would involve me raising support for an evangelical institution? I had a quick vision of sitting in a room with a bunch of suited evangelicals. Me, with my multi-colored hair and multi-pierced ears, with my liberal opinions and my willing mouth to voice them.
I almost laughed again. Then I thought: Well, why not? An institution could be (and now I believe that this one, in fact, is) a college, and I’m a strong believer in education. Actually, I know lots of good people, gay and straight, who were educated at evangelical or Catholic colleges. Some experienced openness and acceptance, some didn’t.
Yet on balance, I think that evangelical schools do a lot of good work. Maybe not for us but in the world.
That’s the thing I think we forget when we have a whiplash response toward evangelicals. We don’t trust them, right? We are sure that they hate us (and yes, some of them do). We are convinced that one of their primary motivations is to eliminate us and destroy our happiness. We think that the way they conceive of the role of women and families is backward and regressive.
Many of us think that evangelicals are evil. But that can’t be true or at least, it can’t be true of all of them nor of all evangelical institutions.
I think this is one of our big problems. Gays and lesbians are a large voting block (some say five percent). Evangelicals are a much larger voting block (about 23 percent). They may not need us, but you know what? We probably need them.
Perhaps we should start thinking about evangelicals not as evil but as misguided. Think how much good that 23 percent voting block could do. They could get us universal health care. They could make inroads into immigration reform.
Perhaps we should think of evangelicals not as adversaries but as potential partners. Perhaps they need to be persuaded that their time, money and energy is better spent on real problems facing America, problems that Jesus might have cared deeply about, like poor education systems, expensive health care and few affordable housing options. But if we never work together or associate with each other, how will we ever find common ground on these issues or any others?
Once I started thinking along these lines, I started thinking about this job as a possible educational opportunity. Maybe I could win these suited evangelicals over.
“Are you there?” the woman on the phone said.
“I don’t have a problem working for an evangelical institution,” I said. “But they may have a problem with me. I’m a lesbian. I write a column in the gay press.”
“Well,” she said. “I don’t know how much respect you would get in that room. Let me talk to them and call you back.”
I haven’t heard from her. It’s too bad.
Jennifer Vanasco is a syndicated columnist based in Chicago.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, June 30, 2006.