Overlooking Artifacts to Learn from the Past

Fair warning: you may want to skip this post. Go ahead, I will not think any less of you.

In response to my post “God is Easy to Please, but Hard to Satisfy” yesterday (April 6, 2018), I received the following comment via email: “I do hope [George] McDonald didn’t have a gay son.” This comment was probably in response to the phrase “As a great Christian writer (George MacDonald) pointed out, every father is pleased at the baby’s first attempt to walk: no father would be satisfied with anything less than a firm, free, manly walk in a grown-up son.” I replied by email and a phone call to the individual who made this astute observation. It turns out that they were just cracking wise and not seriously offended. Nonetheless, I asked permission to share their insight that I might respond to it publicly. They graciously agreed.

To explain my sharing of what might now (in 2018) be interpreted as a homophobic comment, I would argue the following.

  1. C. S. Lewis was writing in 1952 when the world was considerably less tolerant. I don’t know what figures of speech I use that will seem intolerant in 2084, but I’m sure there will be some. Hopefully, folks in 2084 will be willing to give me the benefit of the doubt and assume I meant no offense.
  2. One of the first “out” gay men I knew was a fellow student I worked with one summer while I was in college. He was the only one of our crew who could drive the dump truck and also the one who broke the handle on the sledgehammer. I learned not to make any assumptions about the mannerisms of homosexual persons. At any rate, I think McDonald’s use of “manly” has to do with maturity, not sexual orientation. Furthermore, anyone who has met me in person knows that even if I felt differently, I would have no room to talk because my own gait is so idiosyncratic that it is shared only by my father and me. (When we walk alongside each other in public, I do my best to stay out of step in order to make it less obvious.)
  3. McDonald (and Lewis with him) is using an old, less inclusive convention—much like “mankind” instead of “humankind”—but without (I trust) any intention of being offensive or exclusive. I gladly use “humankind” instead of “mankind,” “people” instead of “men,” etc., but I don’t take the time to redact every quote I post for the simple reason that doing so would often interfere with the flow.

I sincerely hope that my readers will know where I stand on gender equality and the acceptance and inclusion of gay men and women (very much for both) when I let a quote speak from its context. There is much that we can learn from our predecessors in the faith, but that does mean that we sometimes have to overlook the artifacts of their times.