Sunday, July 3, 2016

Searching for a Less Terrible Way to Express Your Hateful Theology Doesn't Count as "Love"

Two fancy cups of coffee. Captain Cassidy says, "Sinners just love coffee. And wasting weeks of their time." Image source.
Captain Cassidy, who writes the blog Roll to Disbelieve, has been reviewing the book People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality Is Not Just an Issue (by Preston Sprinkle), and her posts are defnitely worth reading. She has a lot of insight about how conservative Christians struggle with their fundamentally nasty and unloving view of LGB people, how these Christians try so hard to present that hateful theology in a way that's loving, but they fail, and they fail SO HARD.

Here are some excerpts from her posts:

Rescuing a Sinking Ship: People to Be “Loved.”
They can’t pull back on the hate-and-smearing throttle because they’ve been busy teaching their flocks that doing that would be”compromising,” and “compromising” is the worst thing any Christian can possibly do. If they let up on their smear campaigns and fearmongering, they will be seen as “condoning” sin.

It gets even worse, though, for them. If these leaders magically find a way to twist Bible verses to support the idea of LGBTQ rights, the flocks–having been taught to do exactly this–will howl about “evil liberalism” and immediately fire those leaders or flee to churches whose pastors teach what they have been taught is TRUE CHRISTIANITY™. Any conservative Christian who dissents from the party line can expect the tribe to react with shocked disapproval (and abuse).

That is why one cannot possibly expect a fundagelical leader to “prayerfully examine” the question of LGBTQ equality and come out with a markedly different position than the one he started with–not if that leader wants to keep his job, his reputation in the community, and a private life that is blissfully free of violent threats. After years spent as part of the apparatus ensuring that change cannot possibly happen, such a fundagelical can hardly be expected to suddenly experience a change of heart.

If it wasn’t resulting in so much cruelty against innocent people worldwide, there’d be something comical about where Christians find themselves nowadays thanks to their ceaseless demonization and harassment of LGBTQ people. I’m sure they thought this was one culture war guaranteed to shock Americans back into churches nationwide; the people responsible for the hatred probably had no idea in the world that anything could go wrong with a smear campaign against that group. The whole thing probably felt like a total slam-dunk. And now it’s all gone hideously pear-shaped.
Starting from Wrong Assumptions: People to Be “Loved.”
He decides that the real problem here is that people don’t know exactly what the Bible says about same-sex relationships. Once they know exactly what it says–either condemning or embracing these relationships, or even being totally silent about them–then they’ll obviously fall into line by becoming loving, gracious Christians just like he is.

He’s not asking “Why does my tribe’s doctrinal stance keep erupting into terrible treatment of the very people we should be embracing the most?”

He’s asking “Am I totally correct with my theology?” because he assumes that if he gets that answer correct, then he can teach his people to “responsibly address” all the questions his tribe asks about same-sex relationships. As we will see, his idea of “responsibly addressing” these questions consists of how to show bigotry without being outright labeled a bigot, and how to gain control of other people’s lives and express condemnation of them in a way that they won’t resent and reject.
People to Be “Loved” and the Failure of Literalism.
If someone cannot be loving without carefully studying the Bible, that person is doing humanity all wrong and is not a moral or good person. It doesn’t speak very highly of fundagelicals’ insistence that a real live god inhabits them when they can’t be loving without knowing exactly and precisely what the Bible says about a topic. (How universal can this “traditional morality” be if it requires this kind of scholarship before it can be trusted?)

Loving behavior makes people feel loved afterward–not judged, not condemned, not strong-armed, not manipulated, not rejected, and not coerced. It is a two-way street, not the one-sided show of force that evangelicals often envision it as. If someone can’t figure out how to make another person feel loved, the answer to that question is not “needs more cowbell Bible.” The answer is “needs to become a more compassionate person and grow a sense of empathy.” And those will not come from the Bible.
Listening But Not Really to People to Be “Loved.”
After spending pages and pages telling people about the terminology that gay people use, something weird happens in his head. (Again.)

He decides to use the hurtful terms his tribe demands people use, even though those are terms that gay people have rejected and have explicitly told everyone they find hurtful.

If that’s his idea of listening to gay people, then maybe we were better off with Christians who didn’t even pretend to be listening.
The False Third Way of People to Be “Loved.”
In the end, he decides after much turning around and around that churches that regard the Bible as authoritative (like he does) and agree that right-wing Christians’ idea of sexual immorality is correct (like he does) must reject people who engage in what he calls “same-sex relations.” He definitely hates to say it. He even says it’s super-painful to come to that conclusion, so we can totally tell he means it. He tries to salvage his view by saying that to be consistent, churches that go this route would also have to eject a number of straight people who engage in other forms of immorality–such as the folks who “drop unchristian bombs” in the comment sections of blogs just like his, as he himself puts it! (I guess he doesn’t mean that part, since he is doing nothing whatsoever to rein in exactly those people on his blog.)

He tries at length to make this exclusion sound grudging and sad rather than the foregone conclusion it always was. He declares that he won’t “demonize or condemn” Christians who disagree with his conclusions (as long as they prayed very very hard about it and studied the Bible a lot). But in the end, he must follow orders! As long as it’s done in what he calls “the context of love and tears and truth,” this rejection is divinely-mandated and demanded of Christians. The only real question for him is how exactly to follow orders.
A Coffee Date with People to Be “Loved.”
Instead of saying yes or no to this concerned mother, he advises the pastor friend to invite her and her daughter out for coffee to talk about the whole situation. Oh sure, he concedes, this mother might well think “he’s blowing off her question and would move on to another church.” (Ya think?) But he optimistically declares that maybe, just maybe, she’d accept the offer and “end up encountering the scandalous grace of God from the heart of a pastor who cared enough to listen to their story.”

He thinks that he is describing “scandalous grace” when really he’s just found yet another way to be dishonest with others–and to express the current boilerplate fundagelical position. He thinks that avoiding people’s honest questions is better than just answering them plainly and risking their rejection.

He thinks that people will be willing to spend hours and hours and hours getting to know him and his completely by-the-book, by-the-numbers fundagelical indoctrination. He is certain that they will be so fascinated by his new (#notnew) method of rejecting LGBTQ people that they will be drawn in to his glowing aura and not realize he actually condemns them and is going to make demands of them that are every bit as dehumanizing and cruel as what his more loudmouthed peers do.

But in order to get LGBTQ people to the point where they might listen to the demands and condemnation he will issue, they have to sit still long enough to hear it all. So he’ll pretend to listen to them, while not in the least intending to change a single thing about what he thinks, so that they will be more inclined to listen in turn to him and then change their minds to agree with him. And all the while he’ll be feeling smugly self-congratulatory for his “scandalous grace.” (We’ll be turning our steely gaze to this laughably lame phrase soon, too, don’t fear.)
The Three Deceptions Found in “People to Be Loved.”
One of the unhealthiest messages about love that I absorbed while Christian was the idea that if you really, really love someone, you want to change that person for the better–and even have an obligation to do so. By the same token, if someone really, really loves you, then you have an obligation to let them change you for the better. Love meant that each person is trying to fix the other and thus achieve a state of perfection.

It amazes me now that I ever bought into something so patently unhealthy and so easily prone to abuse. This mindset made it all but impossible for me to distinguish, set, respect, or enforce boundaries in either myself or anybody else.
The Really Scandalous Part of “People to Be Loved.”
And after a couple hundred pages, what exactly are we left with about this “scandalous grace” that so impressed this learned Christian leader? What is the totally new message he dresses up in this new oxymoron?

1. The culture war is totally correct in basis. Same-sex relationships are sinful. Jesus gets mad. That’s all settled. Except for all the Christians who don’t think so. They’re just wrong.

2. Right-wing Christians need to be a lot nicer and a lot less direct about communicating their disapproval of same-sex relationships. They still need to disapprove of them, however.

3. If you’re super-nice to people, they’ll want to change without you having to say they must, except when they don’t. Being totally loving will stem the tide of people abandoning Christianity. But eventually if sinners want to keep going to your church, you’re gonna hafta enforce a “traditional sexual ethic” and, as one Christian in the book puts it, “1-Corinthians-5” that sinner by tossing them out on their ear. Otherwise you’re totally sinning by condoning sin. (And that’d be totally sad. And remember, this applies to straight people too, except we both know that fundagelicals are not about to start throwing out divorced people, adulterers, liars, or stingy, uncharitable misers.)

4. Love the sinner, hate the sin. Just do it over coffee over a period of weeks. That makes it okay. Sinners just love coffee. And wasting weeks of their time.

5. Reparative therapy does too work. Lookit all these ex-gay Christians!

How exactly is this mess “scandalous” in any way, shape, or form? Aside from a few very slight cosmetic improvements to the fundagelical culture war, how is this different in the slightest from the rhetoric they’ve put forth over the last few decades? How is this anything at all but business as usual? How is this supposed to improve anything?
[And check her blog again in the next few days, there will probably be more posts on that book.]

I love Captain Cassidy's posts- especially A Coffee Date with People to Be “Loved.”- because I am a former evangelical and this is SO EXACTLY how it worked. Not just with the question of same-sex relationships, but with evangelism in general. We knew our "gospel" didn't sound like good news. We believed that we knew the correct behaviors and beliefs for everyone, even if they were total strangers, and our mission was to convince them that we were right. But obviously, if you just directly tell people "you need to become a Christian" or "you're going to hell" or "you need to break up with your same-sex partner", of course they're not going to listen. You have to be more sneaky about it. You have to build a friendship first. You have to get close enough that they'll trust you. We all knew it was a tricky game to play, and at evangelism training, people often talked about being reluctant to "share the gospel" because it might ruin the friendship. We knew it was hard to get our "gospel" to come across as good news. (The pro-life movement practices this same kind of deception.)

I really, truly, genuinely cared about my non-Christian friends. I believed they were in danger of going to hell- and if that's true, then the most loving thing I can do is coerce them, by any means possible, into agreeing with all the correct beliefs on the checklist to get into heaven. I really did love them- or rather, I had emotions of love and was trying my best to express love, but because it filtered through this unloving theology, it never could actually manifest as love.

And that's exactly what I see in Captain Cassidy's review of Preston Sprinkle's book. (I haven't read the book though.) I totally believe that Sprinkle genuinely cares about LGBT people- or at least, he's trying. At least, he cares as much as it's possible to care while refusing to question the conservative Christian "sexual ethic." He really really believes that "acting on" "same-sex attraction" is a sin, but he knows that if he actually says that to a gay or bi person, they'll never listen to anything else he has to say. And he believes that would be unfair of them. His view is totally different than whatever hateful view they have experienced in the church before. If only he could develop a friendship with them first, get them to trust him, show them that he really cares about them- then maybe they'd realize that his anti-LGB views are actually good and loving.

Yeah, that's what evangelicals are trying so hard to find- a way to rephrase the same hateful, anti-human, anti-image-of-God theology so that their targets will understand that they're doing it out of love. They look for exactly the right words- how many times have I listened to Christians discuss how we "love" and "accept" LGBT people but we do not "affirm" or "endorse" them? As if it matters what kind of polite phrasing you invent for "I don't actually know anything about you, but I'm 100% sure that your identity/marriage/etc is bad and sinful and you need to change."

We don't care how "nicely" you express your hateful theology. We don't care how much "love" is in your heart while you tell us that we're obviously wrong about our own personal lives.

But I will say this: If you're going to believe in the "traditional sexual ethic", this is the least terrible way to do it. If you're going to "hate the sin and love the sinner", this is the least terrible way to do it. It's not good, it's not loving, it's not Christ-like, it's not okay, but it's the best-case scenario if you're stuck in that worldview.

Listening and not saying a word about "it's a sin" is a good first step. Because hopefully, by listening and genuinely wanting to love, you will realize that your beliefs are terrible, and you will change them. That's what happened to me.

But if you think you're going to be able to put a nice spin on "your very identity is wrong, random person I don't know" and then they'll finally understand that you really love them and that's why you're condemning them and advocating against their rights, nope. It ain't gonna happen. I know you're trying to love, but you're not succeeding.

Real love means you ACTUALLY listen. And you BELIEVE people when they tell you what they've experienced and what they need. It means you recognize that you are not an expert on somebody else's personal life. It means questioning the evangelical party line- questioning the bible, even- when you realize it does actual harm to actual people.

I think I read somewhere that "love does no harm to its neighbor." Maybe try doing that instead of this "hate the sin, love the sinner" crap.

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