I walk the line

By now many of you have seen the NALT project co-founded by John Shore and Evan Hurst. But just in case, NALT stands for Not All Like That – meaning that not all Christians are like “that”.  Like what you ask?  Well you know the type, the Pat Roberston, Tony Perkins et al type – the ones who I write about often, the ones who are judgmental, the ones who promote ex-gay ministry, the one’s who are most likely to be seen skulking around the scene of a bible drive-by. The NALT project, inspired by the It Gets Better project, invites Christians to share a video of themselves explaining to the world that not all Christians are homophobic fundamentalists with a cherry-picked, semi-literal scriptural ax to grind.

As I imagine you know, this is a controversial project.  There are many Christians and, well a lot of others, who are celebrating the bold stand to take back a faith that has been hijacked by willful ignorance and political power-brokering.   And there are many Christians and otherwise loving and tender people who reject this project as a polarizing and alienating move that pits Christian against Christian – which can equate to embattled and wounded families and really not move us forward in true kingdom building.

One such voice of dissent, a dear friend and wise soul, Alison Amyx, senior editor of Believe Out Loud, has written a lovely and intelligent open letter that challenges the NALT project. Alison says,

The truth is, all of us are a little bit “like that.” When I am honest with myself, I know I still hold stereotypes and participate in systems of oppression. The “us vs. them” narrative in the NALT framework erases people who are still on their journey toward inclusion.

At its worst, this negative framework encourages the bullying of Christians and others who disagree with our stance on LGBTQ equality. I have already seen the effects of this in online spaces as people who disagree with NALT’s message are pushed out of the conversation.

I am an ally to many communities, and I know overcoming internalized oppression is a difficult and lifelong journey. My own coming out was my first act of undermining homophobia, and I take steps every day to challenge the many internalized -isms I have been taught my entire life.

Saying we are “not like those other Christians” is a lie; these systems of oppression are deeply rooted in all of us. As Christians, we are called to overcome these systems in both ourselves and our communities as we work to build love and inclusion into our churches, our denominations, and our world.

Now as you can imagine I have mixed feelings about all of this.  I shared those mixed feeling both with Alison and with folks via my FB timeline. Here are my first musings:

Hmmmm, I have to think about this a bit more. I agree with everything Alison says AND I agree with some of the people who disagree with her.

First, Alison is right, not all who still hold that gay and lesbian “behavior” is “sinful” are anywhere close to behaving like Pat Robertson and his cronies. Many are good and loving people who truly and deeply believe they are trying to save our souls, which if we look at it is really, radically loving even if it is dangerously misguided.

BUT – for some people it may be vital, life saving in fact, for them to hear that there are people of faith who do not believe LGBT folks are going to hell. And for some it may be necessary for them to hear us push back on those who have used the bible as a weapon for far too long. For some people it may be the very first time ever that a Christian has said clearly and faithfully that the faith-bullies out there do not represent all Christians and in fact do not represent Jesus. I do agree that demonizing is not the answer but as you know from how I write and where I am these days there is a place and a time to call a brood of vipers just that and a place and time to say that there are some people out there who claim the name Christian who are behaving like anything but. We are at an uncomfortable juncture in the Christian trajectory where some Christians are finally getting mad and standing up to take back what has been hijacked by willful ignorance at best and misguided power brokering at worst.

All that to say – thank you for making me think carefully and thank you for your voice in the world Alison. Much love and respect for your leadership in Believe Out Loud‘s ministry. I need to think about this a bit more…

In response to the above Facebook post, a wonderful dialog between members of my online community ensued.  Heartfelt, faithful dialog that shared love and angst from both sides of the story. Daneen (co-producer of the film Seventh-Gay Adventists) and good friend Don went back and forth holding up their understanding of what is right and wrong about the NALT project.

I really appreciate both the content and character of the conversation between Daneen and Don. They represent core reasons I keep at all this craziness. We can work through complex ideas and feelings with grace and integrity and their dialog is evidence that we can disagree with love yet still hold true to our calling.

As y’all know I work pretty dang hard at bridge building in a loving and compassionate way. I am working long and hard on a post that will come out this weekend that will do a whole lot of loving and forgiving while still being very clear about what is right and wrong.

So here is where I am.

Daneen is 100% right that it is only through relationship that people’s hearts and minds are changed. And even if they are not changed the exchange itself is compassionate and healing. She is also right that we are all participants in nested oppressions. She is right that we are called to be loving and compassionate. “And, if I’m calling people to unconditional love, don’t I have to show some grace and generosity for where people are on the journey?”  I am all about coming along side others who are on this crazy journey we call faith.

But…

Don, is also 100% right. I am a Christian who has been deeply wounded, damaged even, by the kind of Christians who are not at all well intentioned and some who really believe they are well intentioned. And there are thousands of people being wounded by the same shallow rhetoric and ignorant theology right now. And I am a Christian who is sick and tired of the misrepresentation of the Gospel I love and claim. There are people who need to know that the Gospel is being misrepresented and that the dominant perception of who Christians are is only half of the story. There are people out there who believe that all Christians are hypocritical asshats and have no idea whatsoever that there are millions of us who actually take the whole “love your neighbor” thing seriously.  There are millions of Christians who are really, really trying to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God.  I want to raise my voice and say, not all Christians are like Billy Humphrey, in fact I think that the behavior of folks like that is diametrically opposed to the love of God as revealed in the teaching, life death and resurrection of Jesus – that there are Pharisees and Scribes masquerading as followers of The Way.

Some days I am a gentle as a dove and wise as a serpent. Some days I extend a beckoning hand of tender grace. Some days I storm into the temple and overturn the tables. Both postures are holy although they may be very hard to experience and witness according to where you find yourself on the spectrum of abused or abuser.

So, I walk the line, straddled between faith and fury, between keeping the ends out for the ties that bind and keeping a close watch on this heart of mine, between being a fool to share a radical love of God that I can’t hide and trying with all my might to turn the tide.

About Kimberly Knight

Kimberly has a long history of back-pew sitting, Wednesday night supper eatin' and generally trying God’s patience since 1969. She's lucky enough to have made her technology addiction a career and serves as both the Director of Digital Strategy as a southern liberal arts college and Minister of Digital community with Extravagance UCC.

  • Kenny Pierce

    This is a beautiful post – and a very balanced one.

    I wrote a long one as well, as a gay, HIV+ Christian man (and made a video, both of which are on the project site). It detailed my initial, knee-jerk reaction to the backlash. I talked about how I survived the AIDS epidemic, living the worst of it in San Francisco in the late 80s and early 90s, when there was dead silence from the government, driven largely by the Christian thought that God was exacting retribution for our sins (though it was largely devastating gay men, specifically). I had to reign in my frustration against the project. I am of a generation where all that I remember is silence. No soul-searching on the part of Christians in the mainline communities. No outreach of any sort. We had hetero friends, but they were usually secular. I don’t worry so much about millenials – you guys are headed in (what I think) is a right trajectory. It’s my own generation and those before that have a very different perspective on anything related to faith (i.e. the vast majority want nothing to do with God and it has everything to do with the perception that Christians have the blood of multitudes on their hands).

    HAVING SAID THAT, I hear the objections about the project. And I appreciate comments that I have heard from those who commented on my posting (that trust isn’t give, and has to be earned). I really don’t believe that there’s one tool in the box that is going to get the message of grace and the desperate love of the father to his children to everyone. Each site has its strengths and its weaknesses, and we would do well to refer our LGBTQ brothers and sisters to those resources that are going to best speak to them (or to someone that might have a better feel for what they might need). NALT spoke to me deeply and profoundly – to the extent that I was in tears – largely because I survived our own holocaust and I was seeing faces uttering words that I remember longing to hear. I could also see it as being prescriptive to others, patronizing, etc.

    It’s a balancing act, and we’re all figuring it out. I think that the end goal – inclusion and affirmation – is where we should be aiming, and I hate the divisions – though I played into them. Believe Out Loud, Gaychurch.org, NALT, Patheos, etc. They needn’t (shouldn’t) be mutually exclusive, and I celebrate each of their strengths, and welcome others that come on board and speak to another soul that has been wounded, lost, needs to hear a message in a way that that resource can best convey it to them.

    Beautiful article. I read your blog regularly, but this topic has become a dear one to me, for my own past, so I had to pop my thoughts in.

    Thanks so much!

  • James_Jarvis

    This is something I struggle with yes the NALT project is a basically good idea but it could be seen by some who wrestling with their beliefs as judgmental. That said I think it is important that we call those who misuse the scripture to spread hatred and bigotry to repentance always keeping mind that sometimes We’re All Like That, WALT, about something.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kimberlyknight/ Kimberly

    Thanks for sharing your reflection here and yes, we do need to be careful to not become self righteous though I still believe that a generous season of righteous indignation is called for.

  • http://tracimsmith.wordpress.com/ Traci

    Somehow, in the past week, I’ve found myself commenting all over the place about this project. Maybe it’s because I was so moved and inspired by the It Gets Better project. Maybe it’s because my own view on this issue came from a classically conservative Christian “love the sinner hate the sin” to an understanding that God created all kinds of people and all kinds of ways to be sexual. I made that shift, not because someone quoted some scripture or dazzled me with some exegesis, but because friends told me their stories. Straight friends, gay friends. They didn’t shout, they just talked in their own voice. I have been urging people to “walk this line” by saying “Yes, these are the potential problem areas but we made a video anyway because we believe in the power of telling stories.” I made a video. I also posted about the project. I think this project has power in numbers. Incidentally, I think a lot of the criticisms become less valid when the individual stories are heard…

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kimberlyknight/ Kimberly

      Ye Traci, VERY good point. Individual stories always make it hard to make generalized assumptions or judgement about a project.

  • kenofken

    Agreeing with NALT is not, I think, an assertion that you are inherently better human beings than homophobic Christians. It’s a statement that draws a distinction between radically different and utterly incompatible approaches to Christianity.

    It goes much deeper than gay marriage or issues of homosexuality in general. It’s not even a statement of beliefs as much as behavior. How does your religion inform your actions and approaches to others in this world? You have people who believe their faith justifies and requires them to act as God’s personal enforcers and dispensers of law. These are not people who fail to live charitably sometimes. They are willfully vicious and self righteous.

    Their beliefs are, at their root, informed by anger and fear. You have others who aren’t like that, or at least give it a real try. It’s one thing to have some pity and compassion for the former, but the differences are profound. You can’t sweep them under a rug in a movement of that scale and say “well, let’s just all get along and do some kingdom building”.

    To the extent you concern yourself with evangelism, it’s also a battle for the credibility of Christianity. The loudest and most prominent face of Christianity in this country is a very ugly one. It is prompting young people to abandon organized religion en masse, and it is also convincing many of us non-Christians that the religion is incompatible with pluralism and democracy. We are coming to see it as a force to be legally and culturally minimized and contained for our own safety. One whose demographic atrophy cannot come fast enough. Those who would bear a different kind of witness would do well to get on that sooner than later and so so with some conviction. There are still people who want to believe you’re not “all like that”, but some days its very hard to see.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kimberlyknight/ Kimberly

      Agreed and thank you.

    • melissia

      “To the extent you concern yourself with evangelism, it’s also a battle for the credibility of Christianity.”

      Yes… I struggle every day with the idea of if I should even call myself Christian. I can’t accept… the hate that is spewed. Ah, they say, but “love the sinner, not the sin”… and yet… there they are, pounding their judgement of “you’re a sinner and you are evil” in people, time after time after time.

      After nearly two decades of soul-searching, I cannot, in good conscience, accept the idea that being gay or lesbian or bi or trans or questioning or queer or any other non-standard gender-identity is a sin. For that, I am told, I’m not a Christian. Maybe I’m not… I don’t know. But I do hope I can at least be a little bit Christ-like.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kimberlyknight/ Kimberly

        You are demonstrating more Christ-like than many “Christians” I have encountered.

        • melissia

          I thank you for your kind words… I just pray that I can live up to them.


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