Jars of Clay frontman faces backlash for comments on homosexuality: 'Conservative argument doesn't hold up to scrutiny'

Dan Haseltine (far right) faced a strong backlash on social media for his comments on gay marriage

Lead singer of US rock band Jars of Clay, Dan Haseltine, has received widespread criticism from conservative Christians following comments he made on Twitter about homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

Haseltine sent a series of tweets after watching 2013 historical drama Twelve Years a Slave, drawing parallels between systematic racism and modern perceptions of homosexuality.

"The treatment of people as less than human based on the color of skin is crazy... Or gender, or sexual orientation for that matter," he wrote on 21 April.

"Not meaning to stir things up BUT... Is there a non-speculative or non 'slippery slope' reason why gays shouldn't marry? I don't hear one.

"I'm trying to make sense of the conservative argument. But It doesn't hold up to basic scrutiny. Feels akin to women's suffrage.

"I just don't see a negative effect to allowing gay marriage. No societal breakdown, no war on traditional marriage. ?? Anyone?"

Haseltine immediately received a torrent of abuse for his questions, which was furthered when he seemed to suggest a disregard for Bible verse throwing.

"Never liked the phrase: 'Scripture clearly says...(blank) about...'" he tweeted on 22 April.

"Because most people read and interpret scripture wrong. I don't think scripture 'clearly' states much of anything regarding morality.

"I think the vast interpretation has left room for people to deal inhumanly and unlovingly toward others that don't fit their guidelines.

"It is perhaps less important to know what is 'right and wrong' morally speaking, than to know how to act toward those we consider 'wrong'," he suggested.

As the debate became heated, fans and critics alike took to social media to condemn Haseltine's remarks.

"So disappointed in your compromise of the Word. We, as Christians, are to be set apart from the world. I will be praying for you to have your eyes opened and to change your stance. Until then, I will no longer listen to or buy your music," wrote John H. Monteith.

"Will never buy another of their CDs, deleting this page because of his anti-biblical stance and attack on traditional marriage, as a Christian you should know better, shame on you. May God forgive you for your sinful opinion on same sex marriage," added John-Kelly Shipman.

"You cannot call yourself a Christian and be for same sex marriage or same sex relations!!! To God, it is an abomination, as so it should be to all Christians! God has already judged this as an abomination!! PERIOD!!!" wrote Guy St Onge.

Some, however, thanked Haseltine for opening up the conversation and being willing to debate. "You are asking all the right questions! I'm still a huge fan and totally respect you," wrote Cassie Lee Davis on the Jars of Clay Facebook page.

"If only more people who call themselves Christian would actually follow what Jesus taught...Thank you for living your life loving people. It's evident through your music, ministry and this blog."

"Thank you Dan for asking questions. I appreciate your query and share it myself. I've had several dear friends experience nothing but hatred from some and it breaks my heart. I think twitter was the right medium because it reaches out and invites discussion. Keep asking questions," another fan shared.

The backlash has been compared to that received by theologians and bloggers Vicky Beeching and Rachel Held Evans, who have each recently been condemned by many Christians for their support of same-sex marriage.

Haseltine has now also written a blog post explaining his position, and apologising for his decision to create a dialogue on Twitter which he says was "a poor choice of venue on my part".

"I chose some of my words poorly. And I was unable to moderate the conversation in such a way that it kept everyone's views with a shared validity and civility as I had hoped...I do apologise for causing such a negative stir," he writes.

He refers to the instant wave of criticism as a "tsunami", but admits that he did not communicate his thoughts as well as he might have done.

"Rightly so, people were shocked and offended by my statement dismissing the value of scripture. I got it. And possible, I got what that combination of statement warranted for response. I should've chosen my words more wisely.

"I care about what scripture says. It matters," he asserts.

Haseltine also apologises for the backlash his bandmates have received as a result of the controversy.

"Though they were my questions and it was a dialogue provoked by me, it bled into the Jars of Clay world, and my other bandmates felt people's dismay, frustration and the projection of my views and ideas back on to them. It is not theirs to shoulder."

The band have been supportive, however, and updated their Facebook page on Saturday with a post noting the "heated" nature of the ongoing debate.

"Our passion has been and is – to help set a table that invites ALL to come, engage, respond," they wrote.

"However, we ask you to be civil, and respect the human dignity in each other regardless of whether you agree with them or not."

This imagery evokes the words used by Held Evans in a blog on April 1, in which she expressed a desire to create an open space for honest conversation on tough theological issues, including homosexuality.

"I want to prepare tables in the wilderness, where everyone is welcome and where we can go on discussing (and debating!) the Bible, science, sexuality, gender, racial reconciliation, justice, church, and faith, but without labels, without wars," she wrote.

In response to the negative reaction, Held Evans tweeted Haseltine on April 25 with the words "Hang in there. :-) Thanks for speaking up".