The following post was written by Kevin Harris, Director of Community Relations at The Marin Foundation.
You have probably heard of North Carolina pastor, Charles Worley, and his hateful talk about eliminating gay and lesbian individuals by rounding them up with an electric fence until they die.
Well, you should think about buying him some flowers……no, seriously. I would particularly encourage you to do so if you identify as a part of the broader LGBT community.
The pastor’s comments were without a doubt disgusting and completely unacceptable. They have been rightly condemned by Christian leaders like Euguene Cho and many others all over the internet. But many of the responses have ranged from hateful responses that are saddening to others that may not be filled with hatred but are not particularly helpful when it comes to overcoming the hatred they are addressing.
I won’t spend much time addressing the problem of responding to hatred with hatred, since it seems fairly clear to me that as Christians we are commanded to love our enemies and those that seek to malign and hurt us (Matthew 5:43-48). Beyond the ethical component, while hateful and violent actions may be able to force change they do not inherently possess the potential to bring about a transformation of the heart and lasting voluntary change. Like MLK Jr. stated, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that” and “Means and ends must cohere because the end is preexistent in the means”.
Beyond the hateful responses, there also seem to be many well-intentioned responses that I can only imagine will serve to cause the pastor and his congregation to become defensive and further entrenched in their ideology since they may feel attacked or put off. While I would defend their right to protest, there are the same tired one or two-day protests with signs being staged at the church to communicate the disapproval that the congregation is already well aware of. Beyond the fact that protest is not going to bring about change if it is not continued over a longer period of time in a way that is non-violent in nature and not condescending, too many recycled mediums have become stale and are in dire need of some imagination. Then there are the responses that protest with a smile on like letting the pastor know that a donation was made to an organization promoting equality for the LGBT community on their behalf (with a sarcastic smile and thank you implied).
In whatever way we stand up to hatred, we have to make sure that the means that we use match the ends that we are seeking. While urging others that are being hurtful to treat people with dignity and respect, we cannot forget that they have inherent worth and fail to treat them in a way that acknowledges that fact.
Pastor Worley is a beloved child of God who is fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God……even if he is not acting like it.
Acknowledging that fact does not mean that we should not stand up to the destructive messages he is communicating, but it needs to influence the way we conduct ourselves and view him in the process. And if someone like Pastor Worley is going to have a change of heart, it is likely going to be from people showing him the love that his actions do not deserve that point in tangible ways to the call to love God and others. Love that may not be fair or befitting of the insidious words spoken, but is informed by the self-giving love of Christ who loved and sacrificed for us so that we may in turn take steps into emulating and more fully embodying his example by loving others without an agenda. Not because of their actions, but because it acknowledges their true worth given to them by God and it is our purpose as Christians.
Like our good friend Jimmy Spencer Jr. said in his book Love Without Agenda, When we begin to love others because that is our deep purpose and not because of how they will react – everything changes. We are led to loving the person in front of us because that is simply who we are becoming – without some underlying agenda.
So if you feel the need to respond to Pastor Worley and his congregation, I would encourage you to send him some flowers or come up with another way to tangibly show him love that communicates God’s love for him. I was encouraged to pass along the flowers by Helen Ryde, a Christian woman who identified as a lesbian that called our office the other day to ask if we had any ideas because she was trying to figure out what she could do to tangibly love the pastor. I hope this post will encourage you to reach out to someone who has done something hateful or hurt you like Helen inspired me to do. You can send him the same flowers pictured above that I passed along his way by following the link Here and I’ve listed below what I wrote in the personalized message for the card to give an example of what I’ve been trying to get at:
Dear Pastor Worley,
As a Christian and a gay man, though I disagree with you I wanted to say that I love you, God loves you, and I do not support the hateful responses you have received.
God Bless, Kevin Harris
I’m going to withhold on posting the mailing address for his church, but you can find it in about a minute via Google if you would like to send a card or gift his way. In other words, please think if you’re a pastor before making strong statements in a public sermon. Besides the hurt that you will cause, individuals can easily get your contact info in a matter of minutes today with the internet.