SpongeBob SqaurePants, pray for us

Just when you thought it was safe to watch SpongeBob SquarePants again, David Crumm of the Detroit Free Press reports on the cartoon character’s effect on a professor’s free-speech rights. The main focus of Crumm’s report is on the new book What God Has Joined Together? A Christian Case for Gay Marriage by psychology professor David G. Myers — of Hope College in Holland, Michigan — and Letha Dawson Scanzoni.

As part of this report, though, Crumm mentions that an assistant religion professor, Miguel De La Torre, is leaving Hope for the far more gay-friendly environment of Iliff School of Theology in Denver (where he will lead the seminary’s Justice and Peace Studies program). De La Torre ran afoul of James Dobson for writing a Holland Sentinel column mocking Dobson’s concerns about a video that included SpongeBob. Here are two paragraphs from De La Torre’s column, “When the Bible is used for hate”:

Sadly, today the Bible is being used to oppress, dishonor, and persecute our queer brothers and sisters, who like the rest of us, are also created in the image of God. I am repulsed by politicians who have fanned the flames of hatred and fear toward gays in order to score votes with evangelical Christians. I am dismayed that the universal church of Jesus Christ has changed the message of salvation as an act of unconditional love to one where gays cannot be included among the saved. But does not Christ call us to love our (white, black, Latino/a, Native American, and yes gay) neighbor as ourselves?

No doubt some alert reader will respond to this column quoting the four or five biblical passages normally used to justify their continuous oppression and condemnation of homosexuality. I’ll wait till then to show how the dominant heterosexual community has been taught by their homophobic culture to read fear and bias into God’s Word, as did their spiritual ancestors.

Dobson responded in a Holland Sentinel op-ed column ten days later:

What did motivate Rev. de la Torre’s unprovoked attack? What is the hidden agenda that led him to distort the facts and spew his venom in my direction? I submit that it is politics. He is obviously an ultraliberal and I am a conservative. That’s why he is angry. He reveals that bias in the early section of his op-ed piece, when he accused me of taking credit for the re-election of George W. Bush. Again, de la Torre is dead wrong. I have never made such a statement, and have told Time, U.S. News and World Report, TV commentators Hannity and Colmes and other media outlets that my influence in the culture has been grossly overstated. I have taken credit for nothing and I deserve none.

Despite the distortions in the professor’s editorial, I wish him no ill will. I do worry, however, about the students who sit under his liberal tutelage at Hope College. I’m glad my son and daughter are not among them.

Crumm reports that De La Torre’s departure came after an exchange of letters with the college’s president, Jim Bultman:

In response to concerns on campus, Bultman met with several hundred students on April 26. He told them he had received no donor pressure and that De La Torre’s departure was his own choice.

It was only after the meeting that two letters between Bultman and De La Torre surfaced.

In a stern March 14 letter to De La Torre, Bultman criticized the SpongeBob essay.

“Hope is dependent on enrollment and gifts to drive the college financially,” the president wrote. “When people are displeased with what we do, their only recourse is to exercise their options with regard to enrollment and gifting. Several have indicated their intention to do so.”

A letter from De La Torre to Bultman in April revealed that the president also had denied the professor a merit raise.

Regarding Myers’ new book, Bultman tells Crumm, “While we may disagree on various things, Dave has always been as accurate as he can be, as respectful as he can be, and he has always attributed comments to himself, not to the college.”

Crumm writes about the significance of the new book:

“Myers’ book is a breakthrough. It’s going to be a lifeline for so many innocent people who are suffering,” Mel White, the nation’s leading religious activist promoting gay rights and head of the civil rights group Soulforce, said last week after reading an advance copy. “Hope may become known as a place of hope.”

Phyllis Tickle, an evangelical author and an expert on religious publishing, said Friday, “This book is a very important ‘first,’ not only for the gay community but also for the Christian community. This issue is so divisive that there isn’t even open conversation about it in many places. For a guy like this at Hope to be this brave is very exciting.”

But how this prophet will fare in his own hometown is unclear.

It’s not exactly a first. Back in 1978, Myers’ coauthor wrote Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? (with Virginia Mollenkott), which became a standard text at the now defunct left-of-center evangelical magazine, The Other Side. (Scanzoni revised and expanded the book in 1994.)

What will be worth watching is whether Myers’ work gives What God Has Joined Together? a deeper influence on mainstream evangelicals than Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? or Mel White’s Stranger at the Gate achieved.

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  • Chris

    If the point of the book is to encourage Christians to be more accepting of all people, then I think it will have an influence.

    However, we should examine it in light of the following lines from the article in the Free Press

    “They argue that attitudes toward gay people are changing, especially among those under age 30.

    ‘The definition of marriage already has changed many times over the years,” Myers said. “Back in Old Testament times, how many concubines and spouses did some of the men have? So, we’ve changed from polygamy to monogamy. We’ve changed from arranged marriages to marriages based on romantic choice. … We’ve changed from the church rejecting people of divorce, to welcoming these people.

    ‘And, people who first encountered interracial marriages said many of the same things we’re now hearing about gay marriage.’”

    What Myers seems to be saying is, because attitudes in society at large are changing, the church should change. I couldn’t disagree more. Our call is to reach the world, but watering down what we believe is not the way to do that. The examples in his quote don’t hold much water either. Simply because men had multiple wives and concubines in the OT does not mean that is the way God intended it. And the decline in arranged marriages owes as much to modernity, money, and time than simply “changed attitudes”

  • rfwarren

    So the church should maintain a homophobic, you’re not welcomed here attitude toward gays? Sort of flies in the face Jesus’ message of love for all doesn’t it?

  • Paul Barnes


    Personally, I do not think Jesus was all too welcoming to the Pharisees or other religious leaders. In fact, it seemed his interactions with them were downright hostile.

    The Church is, and has always been composed of grave sinners, practicing homosexuals included in this catergory. The problem faced by the modern Church is that it needs to clearly, and charitably, state that homosexual activity is incompatible with the Christian life (as are many sexual activities that are not as publically commented upon).

    Modern culture though has stated that homosexuality is a-ok. Furthermore, if you do not confirm homosexuals in their homosexuality, you are a bigot and homophobe. In my mind, an apt analogy is giving a wink and a nudge to a drunk to continue his drinking, without the heart or courage to help him out of his vice.

  • http://www.joe-perez.com/ Joe Perez

    I haven’t read Crumm’s book yet, but I hope it will make a dent in the strongly homophobic evangelical American culture in much the same way that Jonathan Rauch’s book last year seems to have chipped away at the beliefs of secular Republican homophbes. But cultural change happens very slowly. Ultimately, the most radical change will occur with generational change. To put it bluntly, when the oldest homophobes are dead and a younger and more enlightened one in place, the world will be a better place.

  • Joan

    I’m one of those older folks who believe–strongly–that homosexual activity is wrong. I am decidely NOT a homophobe. I strongly reject Joe’s implication that anyone who objects to homosexual behavior is homophobic; moreover, the idea that I do NOT want practicing homosexuals in positions of authority in the Church is NOT exclusionism either.
    And rfwarren, the Church of Jesus Christ is definitely open to ANYONE–homosexual, alcoholic, adulterer, theif, any sinner–who is willing to let God be in charge, to receive Jesus as Lord and Saviour, and to be filled with the Holy Spirit. The Church welcomes all who will rely on Jesus. Salvation is available to all.

  • Embarrassed Catholic

    You mean, a younger a more enlightened homophobe?

    I’ll sign up for that!

  • http://www.joe-perez.com/ Joe Perez

    Joan: Actually, in my opinion, and in the views of many, you ARE a homophobe. Just to set the record straight, not to call names or anything. (Before I get criticized for calling names, you wouldn’t think to toss mean-spirited names like sinner around, now, would you?) That doesn’t make you a bad person or unredeeemable, mind you, but it does mean that your moral and spiritual views are, well shall we say, Neanderthal. I stand by my statement about the next generation being more enlightened.

    [stepping down from my soap box] EC: Generation, not homophobe, sorry for the typo.

  • Chris

    “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23)

    It’s not mean-spirited, but entirely accurate to refer to EVERYONE as a sinner. Now, it’s probably not a recommended path to take in a conversation, but it’s never wrong. I sin because I’m a sinner, that’s the core of who I am. I hate it and try daily to fight it, with varying degrees of success, but the minute I forget my bent towards sin is the moment that I am lost.

    And I wouldn’t pin your hopes on the “next generation” being more enlightened. Being a member of that generation, enlightenment is not a standard to which we aspire. We much prefer holiness, obedience, and humility.

  • Brad

    The arguments between liberal and conservative Christians in the church has made it to where some consider gay sex to be the only sin no one needs to repent of and others to essentially act like it’s the worst sin of the lot.

    I think a happy medium would be to agree that, like any other sinful thing people have an urge to do (be too prideful, lie, cheat on a test, horde material wealth, etc.), gay sex is a standard sin that people should try to avoid, repent of when they do it and not be lynched, outlawed or jailed for.

    Christianity *should* hold people to a high standard across the board, just as Jesus himself did, but not try to establish a hierarchy of sin in the process.

    With so much focus and polarization around this one subject, I don’t foresee a future where we have a more practical, rational perspective on this one anytime soon.


  • J-D

    “Humble-mindedness does not see value in fallen human nature; it contemplates humanity as the supreme creation of God, but at the same time it contemplates sin, which has permeated the whole of mans being, poisoning it. Acknowledging the splendor of God’s creation, humble-mindedness simultaneously acknowledges the ugliness of creation distorted by sin, continually mourning this calamity. It looks upon the earth as upon the land of its banishment, and strives by repentance to return to heaven, which it lost through conceit. But pride and conceit, having procured for mankind the Fall and destruction, neither see nor acknowledge the Fall in human nature. They see in it only merit, only perfection and refinement. They consider the infirmities of the soul and the passions themselves as virtues. Such a view of humanity renders the thought of a Redeemer utterly superfluous and foreign. The sight of the proud is a terrible blindness, while the lack of sight of the humble is the capacity for seeing the Truth. It is to this that the Lord’s words refer: For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind (John 9:39). The humble received the Lord and were enlightened by Divine light. The arrogant, satisfied with themselves, spurned Him and darkened themselves even further by this rejection and blaspheming of God.”

    St. Ignatius Brianchaninov

  • Paul Barnes

    I wonder if homophobe is the correct word here though. For one, I believe that homosexuality, as I have previously stated, is incompatable to Christian life. That is, reveling in it is. Yet, I am more than willing to tell other males that I love them and I am willing to kiss them.

    Where does that leave me in the homophobe scale?

    In fact, out of many of the non-Catholic and non-Christian males that I know, I am one of the most affectionate towards both genders. When someone uses the word “homophobe” I tend to block their arguments out, just like when the term fascist is used, mainly because it is overly abused and used as a rhetorical point. In other words, when there are cases where those words would be appropriate (say, Fred Phelps) the meaning of the word has been expanded beyond any sensibility.

    And, as part of the new, enlightened generation (I am 22) I can attest that we are just as bigoted, narrowminded as our parents. Honestly, the biggest surprise that I had when I went to university was the inability to dialouge or even discuss their philosophical viewpoints. It was an attitude of “I’m right because I feel it so!”

    I don’t have any particular hope for my generation to be any more enlightened than the previous one, mainly because they are unwilling to question what their televisions tell them to. I suspect that previous generation though, had similar problems getting past their cultural upbringing…

  • http://victorysoap.us/ Andrea Harris

    “Sadly, today the Bible is being used to oppress, dishonor, and persecute our queer brothers and sisters, who like the rest of us, are also created in the image of God.”

    Do gay people really like to be slopped all over like that? “You pore, suffering thangs!” Yuck.

  • Nate Borcherding

    Hope I am not piling on, Joe, but your post raises a couple questions for me:

    Will envangelicals be performing gay marriages in the future? Personally, I wouldn’t bet against it, but would that kind of church have any future itself? A recently suggested explanation for the renewed popularity of orthodox strains of faith (and vice versa), with their all of their attendant prohibitions and rules of conduct, is that they serve as a means of weeding out the less serious -those who are unlikely to support the church and it’s members. Further, if people take comfort in the (to some greater of lesser extent) objective moral truth that a given faith provides, why then should they go to a church that’s constantly tinkering with and changing it’s code?

    Secondly, how tolerant will people ever really be of buggery, and will eugenics/genetic engineering make the whole issue of gay marriage a moot point? It’s a given that there’s no society (not even the ancient Greeks) who’ve ever looked favorably on male anal-intercourse -in American prisions it is said to the greatest insult and degradation that a man can inflict on another. Most people (probably on a unchangeable, unconscious level) are very weirded out by the thought of a man sexually playing the part of a woman. What happens then(assuming homosexuality is genetic, as most gay people seem to think) when people have the power to start mucking around with the DNA of their offspring? How many people -even among homosexuals- will want their children to be gay, given the hardships that this will inflict upon them? Of course, this is all at this point speculative, but it raises the amusing irony that the great majority of the future’s homosexuals may be born to conservative Christians who eschew any sort of gene therapy.

  • RHibma

    Being Hispanic, Black or White is not a “sin”.
    Sexual relationship with anyone other than your spouse – opposite sex – is “sin”. Yes, I don’t believe in premarital sex either…just because everybody’s doing it. I believe you have dissected the Word of God to death. It’s about rightly dividing the Word of Truth…Scripture used to interpret Scripture.
    “Love” is not the issue. I love the gay person and have gay friends…I don’t love their destructive sin…just as I don’t love the destructive sin of gossip. “Sexual relationship” is something God designed as a special gift. “Music” was created by God as well. These are two of God’s greatest blessings…both have been perverted by the enemy of our soul…satan.
    We are drawn away by our own lusts…we can’t even blame the devil for our sin. We, our flesh, causes us to be drawn “away” from pure relationship with God. It’s not about what our flesh wants. It’s about living life for God’s glory. We were created for relationship with Him. He has given us each other. We are a family with a great Heavenly Father. We have to confront each other in love about our sins, so we can be pure for HIM, to bless HIM, to honor HIM.
    It’s not about US!

  • Joan

    For Joe Perez-
    I’m not sure how the next generations being “more enlightened” changes the fact of sin. Moreover, I’ll stay with what you call Neanderthal in my world view since it at least puts God in charge. When the Bible says same-sex behavior (I will agree, it does NOT say “homosexual” behavior) is immoral, I can’t see any reason to disbelieve it. Are you suggesting that your new–Gnostic–knowledge is superior?
    May God have mercy on your soul!

  • http://molly.douthett.net Molly

    I’m wondering of all the folks who have called homosexuality sin if any of you know deeply committed, spiritual, authoritative Christians who are gay?

  • Pingback: CaNN :: We started it.

  • Joan

    Remember: we are calling homosexual ACTIVITY a sin. Yes, I know a CELIBATE homosexual who is a deeply committed Christian. Such is NOT an oxymoran.

  • Andy

    Brad (9:40 p.m.) and Paul Barnes: I’m with you 100%, even at 43 I hope I am still a couple of generations away from the grave. Blessings, Andy

  • http://www.joe-perez.com/ Joe Perez

    For questions about the morality of homosexual activity, the nature of spiritual evolution, and the future of the evangelical church as I see it, you will have to look to my writings elsewhere (or ask me the same question in a different forum). In comments on this blog, I try not to veer too far from the topic of religion and the media. Last word from me: I maintain that the term “homophobe” is at least as useful or useless a term of criticism as the term “sinner,” and will continue to use that term freely in discussions about homosexuality.

  • Brad

    Just out of curiosity, does anyone know if there is a “phobe”-based word for those who fear people whose beliefs don’t blow in the cultural wind?


  • Beacon

    Brad: how about ‘alethophobes’?

  • Kate


    You want to check out David Morrison’s blog, and his book, “Beyond Gay”

  • http://www.intotheshadow637.frienpdages.com Kristina D

    The Bible does NOT say that Gay people can’t be saved. Men and Woman where created to reproduce life. 2 men or 2 woman can’t do that. What Iv have read you’re right GOD does not see us as female or male..thats why I’m female and Im a preacher. BUT he did create them female and male. Don’t you think he did that for a reason. I know gay people and I tell treat them as I treat anyone else…but that dont mean I have to agree with what they do. I pray for them …that GOD will open their eyes and show them the way. Look at the old testemtnt when GOD destroyed the city with the gay people in it! He didnt stand for it then and he DOES not stand for it now! God dont change he is the same yesterday today and forever! He says that homosexuallity is a stintch in his nostairls.