Tribal gatekeepers officially enshrine Phelpsian bigotry as ‘evangelical’ and ‘Too Christian’

So, a Republican lobbyist has announced that “Christians Will Boycott Any NFL Team That Drafts Michael Sam.”

Memo to Jack Burkman: No. No, we won’t.

Memo No. 2: Being a Republican lobbyist doesn’t automatically make you a spokesperson for all Christians. Or for any Christians.

The gospel according to Flip Benham — and officially endorsed as “evangelical” by Christianity Today. (Photo by talkradionews via Flickr.)

Side-bet No. 1: Whether Michael Sam is drafted, or signed as a free agent after the draft, I’ll wager that his jersey outsells the jersey from any of the Top 10 picks. Care to take that bet, Burkman? Of course you don’t, because you know your threats that Sam’s new team will be “roughed up financially” are pure bluff.

Side bet No. 2: None of the Republican lobbyists or other “Christians” wringing their hands over the possibility of Michael Sam playing in the NFL will make so much as a peep next year at this time when Jameis Winston is in the draft.

My point being that that is really, really effed up.

Why do right-wing extremist partisans like Jack Burkman think that they’re entitled to act as the designated spokespersons for all of Christianity? Because the gatekeepers of the white evangelical tribe have enabled and encouraged that delusion for decades now.

Burkman is a nasty piece of work whose vicious anti-gay beliefs have led him on a personal vendetta to try to destroy the career of an individual whose teammates, coaches and opponents from his years at Missouri all insist is a terrific guy. Burkman’s is the kind of unvarnished hate and bigotry that makes most public figures — politicians, TV networks, businesses — keep their distance lest the public assume they share such views.

But there’s one place where someone like Burkman will always find support. There’s one place where no amount of hateful resentment will ever cause one to be ostracized and regarded as too extreme. That’s in the white evangelical tribe.

Case in point: Bryan Fischer. “Bryan Fischer is a paragon of inconsistency,” Kyle Mantyla writes. Yes, but he’s consistently inconsistent. Fischer is a cesspool bubbling with resentment. Fischer hates. Period. There is no lie about LGBT people or about feminists that is too vile or too obviously false for Bryan Fischer not to repeat it, embellish it, and spread it as widely as his American Family Association radio show will allow him to. He’s a defiant racist and an AIDS-denier.

And Bryan Fischer is also a member in good standing of the white evangelical tribe. The tribal gatekeepers have rarely seen fit to criticize Fischer, let alone to pronounce his banishment. He can bear false witness day after day, saying the most horrible slurs about gay people, women, immigrants, black people, Latinos, feminists, scientists and college graduates, and yet he will never be “Farewell”-ed the way people like Rob Bell, Brian McLaren or even for goodness’ sake Rachel Held Evans have been.

Fischer may occupy a place within the right wing fringe of the tribe, but it’s a secure place and it will always be within the tribe. Tribal gatekeepers can tolerate liars, racists and AIDS-deniers, but they can’t tolerate anyone sympathetic to universalism, or anyone lacking in enthusiasm for partisan political identity, or uppity women who ask too many questions.

If a pastor, parachurch leader or Christian college professor appears on the same speaking platform as someone like Bell or McLaren, there’ll be consequences — punishment, mandatory apologies, ring-kissing and groveling to get back into gatekeepers’ good graces. But there’s nothing controversial at all about anyone sharing a platform with someone from Fischer’s AFA or appearing on his radio show.

My point being, again, that that’s really, really effed up.

Outside of the cramped tribal encampment of white evangelicalism, people like Bryan Fischer and Jack Burkman produce an appropriate, God-breathed and God-blessed sense of moral revulsion. Their hate, their weird ability to resent those less fortunate, and their contempt for the Other in every form are rightly and righteously regarded as morally repellant. Their extremism is, in fact, helping to generate ever-greater sympathy and empathy and acceptance for the very Others they’re so fiercely othering. Their venom toward LGBT people, in particular, is pushing American culture closer to what Dan Savage calls a “tipping point”:

Once upon a time white people used to be able to go on TV and say the most racist s–t imaginable (argue against legal interracial marriage, argue in favor of segregation) and keep their jobs and be invited back on TV to say that s–t a second time. Then one day you couldn’t say that s–t (not on TV, at least) and keep your job and be invited back to say that s–t again. Opinions that used to be considered “respectable” were suddenly toxic career enders. We are rapidly reaching the same tipping point on LGBT issues.

Savage’s observation there was based on the recent decision by HGTV not to give a reality show to the Benham twins — sons of right-wing “evangelist”/fundraiser Flip Benham, a veteran of the extremist anti-abortion, anti-gay group Operation Rescue.

Flip Benham is a half-inch this side of Fred Phelps. He’s protested outside of Islamic community centers, shouting “Jesus Hates Muslims,” arguing that the First Amendment doesn’t apply to those people. He’s been arrested for stalking and threatening abortion providers, protested LGBT pride events, and disrupted church services being conducted by gay clergy. Benham’s group — the grandiosely named “Operation Save America” — was also responsible for shouting down the Hindu chaplain who was invited to open a session of the U.S. Senate in prayer.

And his son, David, was hoping to co-host a reality show on HGTV despite sharing his father’s views, tactics and bottomless resentments. David Benham sees himself as someone fighting against Satanazis and Satanic baby-killers. His enemies are “demonic” and “Nazis.”

Which enemies? Take your pick. Gays, feminists, Muslims. He’s used that language against all of them — blurring the line with strong hints that stop just short of explicit calls for violence.

This is Bryan Fischer territory and then some. This is Randall Terry territory. This is Fred Phelps, Westboro Baptist territory.

And yet here is the question that white evangelical gatekeepers asked about HGTV deciding not to give these Randall Terry acolytes their own TV show: “Too Christian for Cable?”

I’m not making that up: “Too Christian.” That’s the headline at Christianity Today:Too Christian for Cable? HGTV Cancels Upcoming Show Starring Evangelical Brothers.”

So it’s official. The gatekeepers have spoken through their official publication — the Pravda of Carol Stream. The Benhams are officially “evangelical” just as Brian McLaren and Rob Bell officially are not.

And they’re not just “evangelical” and “Christian” — they’re really, really Christian. They’re “Too Christian for Cable.”

This is the same cable, the same HGTV network, keep in mind, that is developing a reality show centered on Christian blogger Jen Hatmaker. But I guess Hatmaker doesn’t really count as Christian anymore, since she’s not “Too Christian” like Flip Benham and Randall Terry and Bryan Fischer and Fred Phelps.

This is also the same HGTV, of course, that has a large gay audience and features tons of programming about design and decor. Does it seem in any way smart business-wise for such a channel to hire a host who calls gay people demonic perverts and Nazis?

Side-bet No. 3: Take two fixer-uppers. One will be rehabbed and redesigned exclusively by right-wing extremist Liberty University graduates, with no features or fixtures designed or imagined by anyone remotely connected with the LGBT community. The other will be rehabbed and redesigned exclusively by LGBT craftsmen, designers and decorators. Which one do you think would re-sell for a higher price? Which one would you want to live in?

One more note about the Too-Christian and officially evangelical Benham brothers: Their show was about house-flipping. As Christianity Today itself reports, without comment or apparent irony: “The entrepreneurial twins run a company that helps people buy, sell, flip, or finance a new home.”

You know, just like Countrywide, only smaller.

I’m so old I can still remember 2008. I remember what it was like when the global economy ground to a halt and teetered on the brink of a second Great Depression thanks to the bursting of the speculative bubble inflated by grifting middle-men and thousands of companies that did nothing but buy, sell, flip, finance, re-finance and re-re-finance homes.

While I’m glad that unvarnished anti-gay bigotry is becoming less acceptable from public figures, I also think it’d be nice if the reckless real-estate flipping practices at the heart of the Great Recession we’re still suffering from were subject to a bit more ethical questioning and not blindly celebrated as “entrepreneurial” and — for the love of all that’s sacred — “Too Christian.”

And but so, the tribal gatekeepers have spoken. They remain paragons of consistency. Phelpsian hatred of gays? Officially evangelical. Venomous, Geller-esque religious bigotry against Muslims? Officially evangelical. Harassing women in crisis and those assisting them? Nothing could be more officially evangelical than that.

The point being, as I mentioned, that this is really, really messed up. This is toxic. This is lethal. This is unholy. This is spiritual death. This is the opposite of everything Jesus ever said, did, taught or was.

 


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