Do you know that 70% of Americans support gay marriage? (Gallup) And yet, anti-gay voices are loud, virulent, and hateful across the land. Anti-gay Christians put a lot of stock in the argument that they have the Bible on their side. As a progressive Christian, I not only dissent from this evangelical “take,” I insist that it is not okay to be gay. Since the church has an anti-gay history, evangelicals insist they have the “orthodox,” “traditional,” “true” Christian position. These arguments are not okay; they are not even decent arguments. I have a better philosophy: “It’s not okay to be anti-gay.”
In this article I argue that the claims of evangelicals to be biblical, Christian, and faithful on the issue of homosexuality are rooted in human prejudice and cultural understandings.
The anti-gay churches are:
• Promoting a pagan cultural understanding of gays.
When the monstrosity of anti-gayness raises its ugly head, Christian voices should speak loudly, clearly, and steadfastly the message: “It’s Not OK to Be Anti-Gay.” Raise your right hand and repeat after me, “It is not okay to be anti-gay.” Then repeat as often as necessary to as many people as possible.
In obedience to this mandate, I feel obligated to point out that there’s a new Westboro Baptist Church on the scene.
Stedfast Baptist Church Is The New Westboro Baptist Church
The new rendition of the Fred Phelps anti-LGBTQ church is not in Kansas anymore. Now, it’s located in Dallas County, Texas. The new Westboro is Steadfast Baptist Church, a church steadfastly anti-gay. In the “About Us” section of the church website, Stedfast defines itself: “Stedfast Baptist Church is an independent fundamental King James only baptist church pastored by Jonathan Shelley.”
Anti-gay church in worship https://sbckjv.com/
Stedfast was founded in Fort Worth in 2014. Pastor Jonathan Shelley, supports capital punishment for gay people and has expressed doubts that the Nazis killed 6,000,000 Jews in the Holocaust.
Stedfast has had trouble staying in one location for long. In February 2022, the church was evicted from its location in Hurst for violating lease terms that forbadeviolence and threats.
In December, the church was kicked out of a building in Watauga and by January had found a new home at a DoubleTree Hilton in Arlington, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram . Shelley told his congregation that “the reality is nobody wants to lease to us,” according to the Star-Telegram.
Sounding every bit as condemnatory as Phelps, in June 2022, another pastor of the Stedfast staff, Dillon Awes said, “Every single homosexual in our country should be … sentenced to death” and “they should be lined up against a wall and shot in the back of the head.”
There’s Not Much Difference in the Anti-gay Churches
A church that tries to nuance the words “welcoming” and “affirming” is still an anti-gay church. “We are welcoming, but not affirming.” “We love the sinner and hate the sin.” “We love homosexuals, but they need to change.” The arguments, like objects in space, are weightless. They spin around, float aimlessly, and have no substance. There’s no gravitas to these insipid arguments. They are anti-biblical, anti-ethical, anti-Christian, and damaging to bodies.
A preacher can do the best “nuance” dance on the floor but can never nuance his way out of this anti-gay philosophy. Southern Baptists and other evangelicals are not as rude, crude, and despicable in their rhetoric as Stedfast Baptist Church, but the anti-gay message is just as strong. Any condemnation of Westboro and Steadfast should include FBC Dallas and every anti-gay church in the country.
When will Christians realize that ideas that are formed in the cesspool of anger cannot produce empathy for all human beings? Anger as the source of Christian love is more than an oxymoron, it is the end of love.
Southern Baptists—like others in the Religious Right—seem unable or unwilling to hear how their own antigay theology, along with the false social-scientific evidence they present about the danger of being gay, drives their antigay politics and echoes that of Westboro Baptist Church, even if their posture is more pleasant, their graphics less graphic, and their words more tactful.
If we know people by their words and deeds, then the anti-gay movement includes far more than the tiny congregation of Stedfast Baptist Church. Fox catalogues numerous anti-gay statements that were not made by any members of Westboro or Stedfast.
Anti-Gay Propaganda Proliferates
John Hagee says, “If God does not then punish America [if same-sex marriage is legalized], He will have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.” James Dobson, of Focus on the Family argues, “Like Adolf Hitler, who overran his European neighbors, those who favor homosexual marriage are determined to make it legal, regardless of the democratic processes that stands in their way.” Disgraced televangelist Jimmy Swaggart pronounced, “I’ve never seen a man in my life I wanted to marry. And I’m gonna be blunt and plain, if one ever looks at me like that I’m gonna kill him and tell God he died. In case anybody doesn’t know, God calls it an abomination. It’s an abomination! It’s an abomination!” Then there’s Charles Worley, a North Carolina pastor, pushing the envelope of hatred and ignorance in tandem: “I figured a way out, a way to get rid of all the lesbians and queers but I couldn’t get it pass [sic] the Congress—build a great big large fence, 50 or a hundred mile long. Put all the lesbians in there, fly over and drop some food. Do the same thing with the queers and the homosexuals. And have that fence electrified so they can’t get out. And you know what? In a few years they will die out. You know why? They can’t reproduce.” Steven Anderson said, “Turn to Leviticus 20:12, because I actually discovered the cure for AIDS. . .. Everybody’s talking about having an AIDS-free world by 2020. . .. Look, we can have an AIDS-free world by Christmas. . .. Because if you executed the homos like God recommends, you wouldn’t have all this AIDS running rampant.”
Anti-Gay Churches Belong to Same Family
These statements may seem a long way from the more respectable ministries of powerful Southern Baptists like Robert Jeffress, but they are members of the same family. Jeffress argues, for example, that society’s growing acceptance of homosexuality and attack against those who express their biblical view of marriage is paving the path for the Antichrist.
Rebecca Barrett-Fox has written a powerful critique of Westboro Baptist Church, God Hates, that demonstrates how closely tied Westboro was to the entire evangelical anti-gay movement. There’s not a nickel’s worth of difference between the anti-gay philosophy espoused by Fred Phelps and Robert Jeffress. Jeffress and his fellow Southern Baptists are Fred Phelps, in tailor-made suits, a more nuanced and better educated language, and in standing and credibility in the larger community.
In his “Gay Is Not OK” sermon, Jeffress told his church: “What they [homosexuals] do is filthy. It is so degrading that it is beyond description. And it is their filthy behavior that explains why they are so much more prone to disease.” But seconds later he reminded the flock to “demonstrate compassion,” noting that “cutting off your children is the biggest mistake you will ever make. You don’t have to approve of what they’re doing. You don’t have to invite their homosexual lover into your home. But let your son or daughter always know that you love them.”
Here Jeffress rhetorically mates condemnation of gays with familial love. It’s a classic rhetorical illusion popular among evangelicals because no Christian wants to stand condemned for a lack of love and empathy.
No more free passes for any church that persists in being anti-gay. Stedfast Church in Texas raises the anti-gay flag in the most despicable of ways. The rest of the anti-gay movement is smeared with the same spirit of nastiness.
These cats are all different in terms of influence and power, but they all belong to the same genus: Panthera – a large family, metaphorically of carnivorous cats in the human family who are anti-gay.
Remember: It’s Not Okay to Be Anti-gay.