How the media shapes the debate.

It’s us vs. them. Didn’t you know?

I don’t have to tell you that the debates over faith and sexuality are some of the most contentious of our generation. They’re also very complex, and finding real solutions to the conflict will require people’s willingness to sit down at the table with those they disagree with and hear their stories. We’ve got to put people over positions.

But for every author, blogger, pastor, and speaker out there pleading for nuance, it seems there are ten media stories (from the Left and the Right) painting this as the Battle of the Century—Gays vs. Christians.

Take, for instance, a humorous little story in the news today about a straight man, Aaron Jackson, who got fed up with the vitriol of Westboro Baptist Church, that Kansas-based hate group famous for their “God hates fags” signs. In protest, Aaron’s nonprofit bought a house across the street from Westboro headquarters and painted it rainbow colors:

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Fun. Cute. Uplifting. Makes for a good story, even if it doesn’t pragmatically change anything, and even though Westboro is welcoming the publicity.

But I was surfing CNN’s website this morning, and they’ve got a little video about the house, which they’re featuring on their front page this way:

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“Rainbow house gets revenge on church.” Well, yeah, and it’s not like they have a lot of space for a headline there, but do you notice what’s happened? Suddenly we’ve got two camps again: the “rainbow house” (which sounds about as gay as can be, doesn’t it?) and an unnamed “church” (which might as well be a representation of all churches).

It’s the gays vs. the Christians. The gays get represented by the Care Bears’ gaudy bungalow (“That’s the last time we let Cheer Bear go to Home Depot!”), and the Christians get represented by… Fred Phelps.

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Someone’s getting the short end of the stick here.

(Actually, maybe both sides are.)

I get it. These are complicated issues. The media has to work with soundbites and eye-catching stories to bring the viewers and the advertisers. But for those of us dealing with nuance (gay-affirming Christians, celibate gays, love in the midst of disagreement, and on and on), we need to think about why it is that the most outrageous folks get to represent us, and what it’s going to take to put the media to work for us, helping to redefine what it means to be a Christian in terms of the love of Christ, not as the hate-filled enemy of the LGBT community.

Otherwise, we’ve allowed an intricate story of faith, love, and humanity to be reframed as a battle between Rainbow Brite and Murky Dismal—great for a children’s cartoon; not so much for real life.

There’s a lot more I have to say on this subject, but following my links above just led me somewhere that made me laugh so hard, I completely forgot my point.

Ahem.

[Update: Since I posted this, a few people have asked me if I’m saying that painting the house was a bad thing. Nope, not at all. I’m just using this story as an example of how media soundbites can unintentionally turn a nice gesture into further evidence of a gays-vs.-Christians world, where Westboro represents all Christians. I want to make sure that we Christians have a reputation for doing the right thing, not for always being on the wrong side.]