Fundamentalism thrives on isolation from and opposition to the world — isolation from and opposition to the rest of society, to other people, to The Other, to everyone else.
The despicable Charles Worley and his Providence Road Baptist Church in North Carolina illustrates this opposition. But the fact that we know about Worley, that we’ve heard his vile words through a viral video that has been viewed by more than half a million people, shows that isolation is becoming increasingly difficult even for the most rabid fundies.
And just to be clear, that’s what we’re dealing with here. Warren Throckmorton traced the affiliations of Worley’s congregation — it’s an independent, KJV-only church connected with something called “The Only Hope” network. Not Southern Baptist, then, but nondenominational fundamentalist (think Bob Jones University, Bill Gothard, etc.). I’ve never heard of this “Only Hope” group — they seem to be hard-core fundie and desperately in need of a Web designer.
These small, nondenominational, KJV-only fundamentalist churches endure, in part, by keeping their members in the dark. Like all abusers, they need to keep their families dependent on them — ensuring that they’re the sole source of authority by ensuring that they’re the sole source of information. That’s getting harder to do in a world shaped by the subversive possibility of Google. Such churches have a long history of keeping their members out of the library, but now they have to keep them off of the Web as well.
And just as the Web undermines these churches’ ability to control the information their members can access, it also undermines these churches’ ability to keep their own shameful secrets. Worley’s “sermon” was an effective bit of propaganda within the closed-off world of his own sanctuary, but outside of that controlled environment it is quickly exposed as shameful, hateful ignorance of the very worst kind. When the rest of the world — the rest of America, the rest of the church — hears such things, the rest of the world responds and people like Worley can’t wholly prevent their followers from hearing that response.
He can inoculate them against it — misquoting Matthew 5:11-12 and 1 Corinthians 1:27 and John 15:18 to reassure them that any and all criticism amounts to “persecution” and therefore confirms the rightness and righteousness of his lies. You’ll see that argument parroted by drive-by trolls in the comments of sites like Stuff Fundies Like, often in ALL CAPS. But I often get the sense that these folks are shouting so loudly just to try to drown out the questions they’re desperate not to answer.
Providence Road Baptist Church requires isolation to function — isolation to keep its members ignorant and to keep its shameful secrets from being exposed to a wider world in which they cannot be defended. The good news this week is that it has lost that isolation.
Below the jump, a sampling of others’ insights, rants, lamentations and jeremiads w/r/t Worley and his awful church.
Bruce Reyes-Chow: “Pastor Worley and the Slippery Slope of ‘Speaking the Truth in Love’”
You hear people like Worley and others who do in fact verbalize what we know already happens, people take anti-LGBTQ thought, theology and rhetoric and walk down that slippery slope to the point of killing people who are gay. I am generally not a slippery slope kind of person, but in this case, I will borrow a page from some of my brothers and sisters in Christ who believe that the affirmation of of homosexuality, as choice or creation, will lead to the destruction of all that is good and holy and say this:
You can wrap your theological position in all the “speaking the truth in love” or “hate the sin, love the sinner” rhetoric you want, but if you hold the idea that affirming homosexuality will lead to the destruction of societal “norms” then you had better claim the other side: anti-homosexuality rhetoric will lead to the death of human beings because they are gay.
… Those of you who continue to give life and validation to anti-homosexuality thinking must know that you have been given the privilege of being thought of as reasonable and faithful. This protection has given you a false security that your words, no matter how diametrically different they may sound from Worley’s, do not lead to violence.
Kimberly Knight: “Following Jesus to Maiden, N.C.”
Do I believe there are different ways to live into being Christian – you betcha – but hatred is never, never, never an aspect of following Christ. Am I wary of thrusting this tiny, hateful man and congregation further into the spotlight? Do they deserve the attention? Yeah, very worried that every character I type is pointing to the festering evil mind of an otherwise small, small man. But (yeah, you knew there was one more) if Christians who follow Compassionate One don’t speak up – over and over again – then voices like his, so easily tossing around the heresy of a hateful God, are allowed to speak without counter. We must raise our voices and join a chorus of love to that crescendos over the cacophony of fear and hate. Silence is consent.
This breaks my heart. It’s difficult to watch the state I love to call home portrayed on the national stage as a bastion of bigotry. It’s even more painful is to listen to the disappointment in the voices of my friends — both gay and straight — as they talk about the role of the church in perpetuating prejudice by advancing a theology of hateful exclusion.
… The church has been an incredibly positive and formative institution in my life. My father is a Baptist pastor, as was his father before him. However, unlike the Baptist pastors who tend to make headlines, my father and grandfather spent their careers tirelessly advocating for those who were marginalized—those who Jesus called, “the least of these”. Growing up, the gospel I heard from the pulpit every Sunday was one that demanded Christians take seriously the example of Jesus who lived a life of unbridled and indiscriminate compassion.
… As Robin Meyers poses in his book, Saving Jesus from the Church, “Until we have homosexuality all figured out, shouldn’t we practice radical hospitality? As long as we ‘see through a glass darkly’ isn’t it wise to err on the side of inclusion and compassion, rather than condemnation?” Surely, the same Jesus who invited the outcasts and marginalized to sit at the head of the banquet table of the kingdom would be the one to call upon his church to broaden the circles of inclusion, not narrow them.
In addition to sending in a donation to your favorite LGBT advocacy group in his honor, I’m asking you to do one more thing: download the postcard you find at the end of this post and fill it out. It is addressed to Pastor Worley and says, “A donation has been made to __________ in your name. Thank you for helping advance the fight for equal rights for our LGBT brothers and sisters.” Just fill in the blank and mail it to the right Reverend. In a few days, he’ll also start receiving all the wonderful educational material from each organization to whom he has “donated.”
John Shore provides the mailing address: 3283 Providence Mill Rd., Maiden, NC 28650. And Worley’s email: firstname.lastname@example.org. (Please be firm, but polite.)
Warren Throckmorton gets a reaction from Bob Stith, the “national strategist for gender issues” at the Southern Baptist Convention, who was eager to emphasize that Worley’s church is not part of his denomination. Stith called Worley’s sermon “a vile outburst” and told Throckmorton, “I think it is important to say in the strongest terms how disgusting and unchristian his comments are.”
Alvin McEwen: “Mark my words. Gays and lesbians are not the destroyers of Christianity. Some of these folks are doing an excellent job of it themselves.”
Wonkette: “Pastor Charles Worley and his congregants at the Providence Road Baptist Church in Maiden, North Carolina, will take your World’s Best Christians plaque now please, the end.”
Eugene Cho: “[Worley] speaks for himself and possibly, some or most of his congregation but since it is a church and part of the larger Christian community, I join others in calling him to repentance and ask his elder board to hold him accountable for these ungodly and heinous words.”
Chuck Currie: “All Christians … must condemn hate speech from pastors and denominations where this occurs are obligated to hold their clergy accountable — taking away their status as ordained clergy. Because let’s be clear: these hateful men are not preaching the word of God.”
Kurt Willems: “This is sin! Church, lets name this as evil and lets recognize that hatred justified by the bible is never biblical. Heartbreaking.”
David Badash covers the coverage of Worley by Anderson Cooper on CNN and by Martin Bashir on MSNBC.
Alise Wright: “He’s sick and I’m tired”
And, finally, Paul at Disoriented/Reoriented is so repulsed by Worley that he turns away, focusing instead on the welcome story of one church getting it right.