Fear and Danger: Responding to the SBC's Richard Land
In last week's column, I said this about Fundamentalists:
I know from my heritage that they are good people, sincere, kind-hearted, and well-meaning. They don't think of themselves as extremists because they can always look to their right and see people more extreme than they. (And, of course, nearly everyone to their left seems extreme, too.) As a result, they see themselves as the moderate ones, and the rest of us are extremists (as, I think, nearly all of us do—most extremists are the last to know they're extremists). When people call them extremists, directly or by innuendo, they feel persecuted and insulted. They click into a victimization narrative which prompts them to become . . . let me say, instead of "even more extreme," "even less moderate."
I didn't expect such a vivid example of a victimization narrative to come up within the same week. But Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has provided such an example.
He told his radio listeners that "gay rights activists" are . . .
. . . recruiting down in the grade school levels. They're recruiting people for homosexual clubs and it's really child abuse is what it is . . . [T]hey are trying to brainwash our children in the public schools . . . [T]hey want to destroy marriage . . .
This kind of rhetoric is appalling and offensive to all of us who have gay family members and friends, not to mention those of us who are outspoken in seeking equality for them. We know that these kinds of statements are false generalizations, even viciously so. Sadly, though, they aren't uncommon.
Then comes the victimization narrative. According to Dr. Land, "The alternative is not live and let live—it is the marginalization and the ostracizing of people of traditional faith." Those of us who are trying to protect gay people from marginalization and ostracizing are, he asserts, trying to "reduce [Christians] to the level of the Ku Klux Klan."
So there it is: gay people and their allies are not simply wrong. They're out to hurt "people of traditional faith." They're out to render Christians as extremists.
Now I hope Richard Land is simply misguided, that he is sincerely afraid, because if he's not, if he's manipulating people with manufactured fear, that's frighteningly dangerous.
But at this moment, as I call attention to his rhetoric and to the victimization narrative that he is promulgating among his radio listeners, am I not becoming to him, and them, just another voice that's trying to marginalize him, and them?
And if I alert people like me to what seems like threatening language like this, am I not just inviting them to adopt a victimization narrative?
Brian D. McLaren is an author, speaker, activist, and public theologian. A former college English teacher and pastor, he is an ecumenical global networker among innovative Christian leaders. Among McLaren's more prominent writings are A New Kind of Christian (2001), A Generous Orthodoxy (2006), Everything Must Change (2009), and A New Kind of Christianity (2010). His lastest book, Naked Spirituality, offers "simple, doable, and durable" practices to help people deepen their life with God.