Killing us with kindness

Last night I was hanging out at the corner of faith and sexuality. There I witnessed a violent mugging. The perpetrator pretended to befriend his victims before suddenly attacking them with a crowbar. He smiled his toothy grin, and assured his victims of his love for them—and then left them bloodied, broken and writhing on the ground. It was monstrous.

I was alerted to the crime scene by the ever-awesome blogger John Shore. On his blog, John prepared to respond to a series of chapel talks on the subject of homosexuality at Bob Jones University (BJU). (See Waiting for Bob Jones’s huge gay bomb to drop.) BJU has refused to post these talks on their website as they normally would (so John never had anything official to respond to), but there are bootlegged versions of the talks made available online.*

The first two talks, delivered by BJU president Stephen Jones, were unremarkable. The first was the expected traditionalist riff on what the bible “clearly” says about homosexuality (thanks for clearing that up, Stephen; now all those scholars and theologians involved in the raging debate can pack it in). The second talk was a warning against pride and arrogance in this conversation, as we are all sinners. Ignoring Jones’s usual fallacious comparisons of gay people to alcoholics, I thought it a decent enough message.

But then came the third talk delivered by Jon Daulton, the school’s dean of men. He acknowledged that there were gay people “struggling with same sex attraction” in the audience, and offered compassion for their struggle. Then he went on to confidently explain the three reasons people are gay—what he calls “the contributing factors to the cultivation of same-sex attraction.”

First, he parroted the reparative therapy claim that poor parenting and detachment from the same-sex parent causes homosexuality. This is thoroughly debunked junk science that has broken apart families and done untold harm. Daulton is either being willfully ignorant or intentionally deceitful.

Next he said that people who feel unloved and intensely lonely find unconditional approval in the gay community. In other words, it’s not a desire to live an authentic life with integrity that motivates gay people to embrace their sexuality, it’s the acceptance and love of other gay people that meets their emotional needs. I’ve heard this complaint before; it always makes me scratch my head. When did accepting people for who they are become a bad thing? I find it exceedingly ironic that the un-Christ-like, intolerant church is blaming “immorality” on the gay community’s unconditional love and inclusion (the type of community created by Christ Himself).

Finally, Daulton said that being gay is a reflection of our sin nature—that gay people are paying for the sins of our fathers. This is the same-ol’ poisonous notion that gay people are created deeply flawed, and are unworthy of the blessings that flow from romantically intimate relationship.

This is unsurprising and infinitely harmful traditionalist doctrine. What was shocking in this instance of its being trotted out is the length to which Daulton first went to pathologize people who are gay. To him, it’s not enough to say “God said so.” He first had to gin up a sense that openly gay people are depraved. He doesn’t concede that there are possible biological or genetic causes of homosexuality. Instead, he paints gay people as too weak-willed to overcome a deleterious environment.

Delivering this harmful message to trusting students—some of whom are certainly gay—is bad enough. But what really got my ire up was the ostensible compassion with which Daulton delivered it. He said that he empathized with the “struggle” of gay people, and admitted the profound loneliness and despair engendered by traditionalist doctrine. He was modeling for the crowd how to give themselves a moral pass: “We know our dogma requires you to suffer; but we feel really, really bad about it because we love you.”

I reacted to Daulton’s talk in the same way I had earlier to a sermon by a guy named Josh Howerton, pastor at The Bridge Church in Spring Hill, TN. Howerton described an email from a gay congregant who was having difficulty believing that God required him to be alone for a lifetime. “If I believe what you are saying” the gay man writes his pastor, “I am sacrificing my ability to grow old and share my life with someone.” Howerton described that email as “sobering” and heartbreaking—and then he went on to compare the gay man with the rich young ruler in Mark 10.

With the utmost compassion and empathy, Howerton called the gay man an idolater who has forsaken Jesus in pursuit of selfishness. He wet his shame speech with crocodile tears. It was revolting.

I need to be absolutely clear: this is not a criticism of everyone who holds to the traditionalist doctrine. I’ve engaged with many people who are faithfully trying to reconcile their lived reality of gay friends and family with a doctrine that says those loved ones are depraved. I get it. I had to walk through that space on my journey too. No one should be pitching a tent in ambivalence, but that tension-filled space it sacred and necessary as the Church moves towards inclusion.

I am repulsed by men like Jon Daulton and Josh Howerton. They don’t come alongside their congregations and help them discern God’s will. They round up the gay people in their pastoral care and sacrifice them on the altar of sanctimony. They feign compassion and empathy for the same people they are mercilessly branding with a hot iron. They whisper softly into the ear of the 14-year-old gay kid, take him gently by the hand, and lead him to the communion table, where they serve him bread and the juice of fruit made bitter by their own hatred.

* Bob Jones has now made available here the audio files for its four-part chapel sermons collectively titled “The Biblical View of Homosexuality.”


This post originally appeared on Ford’s Words, and is reposted and revised with permission.

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