“FAG MARRIAGE DOOMS NATIONS,” says one picket sign from the infamous Westboro Baptist Church. Meanwhile Gordon College president D. Michael Lindsay was among 14 religious leaders who sent a letter to the White House demanding a “religious exemption” to a planned order barring federal contractors from discriminating in hiring on the basis of sexual orientation.
In other words the Gordon administration believes that religious liberty is the right to persecute gays.
Gordon found a slightly more polite way of stating the Westboro “position” but their demand to be free to persecute gay men and women as part of their “religion” comes from the same mean and stupid place: a belief that gay men and women should repent of the way they were born– or else!
What if we changed the conversation? What if it was suggested that the gays’ right to equality and marriage is actually one of the things that could renew the Christian Church and strengthen our country?
But first please note that I have invited a gay friend of mine Elijah McKnight, to co-author this article with me.
Elijah is an independent scholar and writer, having graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Biblical Literature from Indiana Wesleyan University (2008) and with a Master of Arts in Theology from Wesley Biblical Seminary (2012). After his graduation from college, he spent a brief time as a United Methodist pastor. Elijah is working on a thesis proposal for his PhD at the moment…
…that said, here’s our article.
The Last Best Hope of the Church is Gay Rights
Frank Schaeffer and Elijah McKnight
“FAG MARRIAGE DOOMS NATIONS,” says one picket sign from the infamous Westboro Baptist Church.
Is this the case? Will gay marriage actually destroy America? What if gays’ right to equality and marriage is actually one of the things that will renew the Christian Church and strengthen our country?
Professor of Theology at Fordham University, Aristotle Papanikolaou reveals a provocative, political prospective in his book, The Mystical as Political (2012). He observes, “The political is one of the deserts where the Christian confronts images of demons that provoke demonization of the stranger” (p.83).
America and her Church are confronted with this gay “stranger” who walks on her streets, shops in her malls, and sits in her pews . The Church’s particular response to this encounter will either testify to — or terminate — the witness of the God of Love.
It so happens that both of us go to Eastern Orthodox churches. (Frank Schaeffer has been attending a Greek Orthodox church since 1990.) When one of us (Elijah McKnight) began our journey of inquiry into the Eastern Orthodox Church, he encountered hate rhetoric toward gay people.
That’s because one of us is gay. But it could have been either one of us that was shocked – gay or straight — that sat at a table with a priest who began talking about Orthodoxy, and then — out of the blue — made a nasty and gratuitous comment about the so-called gay agenda.
To this priest (a right wing convert from the Republican/Tea Party/evangelical part of America) the rise of gay rights was a threat.
“I am gay,” one of us told the priest. The priest’s demeanor drastically changed.
After Elijah shared this information with the priest there was a drastic change in the tone at the meeting. The cleric changed from a bigoted judge of the gay community in the abstract to a warm, kind pastoral presence. Maybe, for the first time in his life, this priest was actually confronted by a gay person.
Religion is personal. It is easy to be against the “gay agenda” but what if the person in front of you is a friend, a son, a nephew, someone you trust and love, a seeker for a church that will welcome him or her?
We are both convinced that if our theology and even our politics is not person-centered, anything we say is not in love. It’s just dead politics masquerading as religion.
It is also Jesus-hating because Jesus always related to the individual person in front of him not to “issues.”
True spirituality is thus replaced by a frightened rules-based commitment to fundamentalists’ own version of the ideological confinement of reality to a narrow naturalistic definition. For instance, by applying the Orthodox Canons rigorously or Shariah Law or the 613 laws of the Torah, as if the essence of true spirituality is rules, rules and more rules, the religious rationalists’ destroy actual faith in the same way that Gordon’s president risks destroying the good name of that school.
These days, the fundamentalist/Tea Party Americans — from Wheaton College depriving women of insurance coverage for contraception to Gordon’s latest homophobic convulsion — are bent on applying medieval prejudice and ignorance designed to “contain” female sexuality and gay rights. They do this in the name of religious liberty by denying women full equality with men, and by campaigning against contraceptives, and even by idealizing the “honor” of physical virginity. And of course, they have declared war on homosexuals and anyone else they perceive as the “other.”
There is so much fear. Ignorance and hatred are now what everyone associates with the word “Evangelical,” thanks to the love of the “law” over the love of love. This is centered around the Church’s “discussion” on homosexuality and is what marks it from Gordon to Westboro.
Papanikolaou lays out the actual “tough love” approach that Christians should consider versus the easy way of just appealing to right wing donors by kicking gay men and women and women in general:
In confronting the stranger, whoever, we are more likely to come face-to-face with the magnification of how much learning to love we have ahead of us, since it is much easier to justify anger hatred, resentment, and demonization of those who threaten our identities (p.84).
The gay rights issue is the perfect place for all Christians alike to learn to practice love: respecting the equality and self-worth of every person and their personal freedom, regardless of whether or not we buy into their politics or understand their proclivity. Do evangelicals really want to be known as people against women and gays?
Didn’t the Church suffer enough in past generations from associating with segregationists? Do we want to do this again?
Christians should champion human equality and freedom; specifically the freedom to choose to love whomever anyone wishes to love. This should be respected, whether the object of love is Jesus, Muhammad, a spouse of the opposite sex, or a same-sex partner.
Think about it, what if Gordon asked to be exempted from laws protecting women from discrimination and argued that a woman’s place is “in the home” so they could fire any single woman who married? And what about a student who converted to Islam while at the school? Is this grounds for expulsion?
Rather than the notion that “fag marriage dooms nations,” it is hate that dooms churches and Christian institutions.
Acts like making a bizarre twisted demand that because a college is “Christian” it should be allowed to fire a person just for being gay, thus hurt, and destroy them in the name of Jesus no less, is what dooms the Church, just as it will doom Gordon College’s long term reputation. A few right wing aging white Fox-watching donors may love this, reasonable people cringe.
If the Church really wants to be the life and light that ignites and strengthens a society, the Church — from Westboro and to Gordon included — would take very seriously the fact that it is hate not gays that dooms faith.
This is the point one of us makes in the new book WHY I AM AN ATHEIST WHO BELIEVES IN GOD: How to give love, create beauty and find peace by pointing out that, “[E]very time Jesus mentioned the Torah, he qualified it with something like this: ‘The scriptures say thus and so, but I say…’ Jesus undermined the inerrancy of the scriptures in favor of his version of pragmatic empathy… Every time Jesus undermined the scriptures it was to err on the side of non-judgmental co-suffering love.”
Hate shuts down conversation. Hate shuts down progress. Hate shuts down real religion.
If the fundamentalist, Religious Right at places like Westboro and Gordon College wants to be taken seriously, perhaps they could learn the Jesus-inspired lesson of being more person-centered rather than Torah-driven.
The Church, like the rest of society, is on a learning curve. The resurgence of brutal fundamentalism can only herald a civil war (including actual violence) breaking out over the control of the hearts and minds of all religionists of every faith. It will pit tolerant open faith against paranoid reactionary fascist “faith” seeking power over others by whatever name and in whatever religion– Muslim, Christian, and Hindu, Jewish et al.
The real conflict will not even be between secularism and religion but between all fundamentalist religious people and all moderate religious people.
This new fundamentalism is itself a type of secular rationalism wherein theological determinism replaces sensitivity to, and love of, the spiritual and immaterial. It is for this reason that as more and more gay people “come out,” marry and enter society honestly and proudly, that more and more well meaning but ignorant men, like the priest one of us encountered or the president of Gordon College, will be forced to deal with the real person in front of them.
This means that many will come to see their gay brothers and sisters as like themselves, and empathy, the work of God in human hearts, will be given a chance.
This is not a new phenomenon. This is what began to happen in evangelical circles when white evangelicals met black men and women during the civil rights crusade era. Suddenly the “other” was one of “us.”
We believe that in this sense the new empathy for the gay community is the work of God. It is also a chance for Christians to more closely follow Jesus. Gay rights may well save the Church because they offer Christians the chance to learn that empathy trumps all other teachings for someone following Jesus.