Listening But Not Really to People to Be “Loved”

Listening But Not Really to People to Be “Loved” June 19, 2016

Last time we talked about the major assumptions that Preston Sprinkle makes in his book People to Be Loved. Those assumptions play into his suggestions and ideas, corrupting them from their heart outward.

The book is meant to be a tightrope walk between the evangelical tribe’s current antipathy toward gay people and full affirmation, all laced with Bible verses and lots of careful hermeneutics. In its primary suggestion to his fellow evangelicals, its foundational assumptions ultimately destroy whatever good might have been intended–or accomplished.

Meet Bunny. He was born this way. (Credit: Lucie Provencher, CC-SA license.)
Meet Bunny. He was born this way. (Credit: Lucie Provencher, CC-SA license.)

“We Need to Listen.”

Preston Sprinkle’s groundbreaking new idea for evangelicals is this: “We need to listen to gay and lesbian people.” (p. 19)

He is far from the very first Christian to advise this course of action. But don’t hold your breath while expecting that glorious outcome to happen.

Our author is very sure he’s managed the trick of listening to the people he’s persecuting–but he totally hasn’t.

There’s a reason for this inability: He can’t.

If he did listen to them, he’d hear that he’s wrong. He’d hear that his interpretation of the Bible, while interesting to himself and the few people who actually care about that sort of thing, doesn’t actually lead to greater morality or to Christians becoming more loving people.

It’s so dismaying to see someone who really, really, reallyreallyreally wants to do better but who hobbles himself at the end because he just can’t let go of his preconceptions and do exactly the thing that he claims he wants to do–the thing that really would turn around his tribe’s Titanic from the iceberg they’re heading toward, the thing that actually could redeem some of their tattered credibility in the eyes of the whole world.

He knows very clearly what has to happen.

He just can’t do it.

Same-Sex Attraction: Yes, This Shit Again.

The first major place one can notice this self-hobbling is in the author’s adherence to his tribe’s demands about terminology. The book does an admirable job of outlining the terms that LGBTQ people like to use for themselves. He even makes a point of noting which terms are considered offensive to the various groups involved and counsels Christians never, ever to use those terms or to be mean-spirited to anyone.

Then he trashes every single bit of goodwill he’s built up by insisting on referring to being gay or lesbian as “experiencing same-sex attraction [SSA].”

Yes, really.

You only ever hear that particular terminology from Christians, and it’s only used for one very particular reason:

They really, really hate the idea that some people are just born this way.


I’m on the right track, baby: I was born this way.

The term “same-sex attraction” is meant to make being gay into a disease or disorder that has to be remedied and repaired, healed and repented from. And it makes actual gay people into recalcitrant sinners who just don’t want to do the work to rid themselves of their affliction, and who are being childish about not wanting to carry their particular divinely-mandated burden. Popular LGBTQ resource Truth Wins Out explains:

Personally, I don’t like the bogus term “SSA”, which stands for “same-sex attraction.” There is no such thing (or diagnosis) as SSA and it is a manipulative attempt to separate LGBT people from their natural, inborn sexuality. The term SSA is skillfully employed to make it appear as if fundamentalist bigots are not attacking the person, just their sexual feelings.

The commenters there appear to agree wholeheartedly as well. It is only when one wanders into Christian spaces that one encounters legions of believers who are desperate to separate gay people from their gayness and to reduce an intrinsic and essential part of a person down to a simple behavior, habit, or proclivity. The heartbreaking site Spiritual Friendship, which concerns itself with gay Christians, deliberately uses the term SSA to describe “the experience of those who are, from time to time, tempted to commit homosexual acts.” And one encounters the term frequently when dealing with the “ex-gay” movement, which uses it to the exclusion of the term “gay” (except when describing themselves as “ex-gay,” of course).

When one sees how the term SSA is used by so many Christians, it’s little wonder that so many gay people outside of the culture reject it.

If Preston Sprinkle had actually been listening to gay people, he’d have quickly picked up on their opinions. And he does listen, at least a little. He is well aware of the terms as actual gay people use them. He’s also aware of the baggage that comes along with the phrase “same-sex attraction.” Compared to his peers, he is decently educated about LGBTQ stuff.

He’s got no excuse at all for what happens next.

After spending pages and pages telling people about the terminology that gay people use, something weird happens in his head. (Again.)

He decides to use the hurtful terms his tribe demands people use, even though those are terms that gay people have rejected and have explicitly told everyone they find hurtful.

If that’s his idea of listening to gay people, then maybe we were better off with Christians who didn’t even pretend to be listening.

Moreover, he doesn’t think that people should even use the term “gay” to describe themselves, especially if they’re Christian, because he knows that that term is often used to describe “core identity” (p. 142) and he’s got some issues around someone identifying their “core identity” as gay. So when he uses the term “gay,” he could be referring to either “people who experience same-sex attraction but are not acting on it, or who have engaged in same-sex behavior but are trying to repent from it” (p. 153). He is not referring to people who are gay, however. To him, being gay is a collection of desires, behaviors, and impulses that not only can be repented from and denied, but must be if the affected person has any hope of staying in his fellowship or going to Heaven.

Even after his dance of words, his tribe yells at him for even using the term “gay” where he does use it because “gay” is the new four-letter word in that crowd.

It’s got to be so frustrating to him that he can’t successfully walk that tightrope. But then again, he’s the one who laid out that tightrope in the first place and hopped onto it.

Case Histories, Sort Of.

This book contains a number of downright-baffling case histories and anecdotes from LGBTQ people of all kinds (including at least one trans woman), but they are curiously one-sided and not very representative of the community at all. Right after saying that he wants people to “listen,” he goes into a story about a woman named Maddie who was sexually abused by her father and now, despite being straight, only sleeps with other women because men remind her of her father. The next story is about a gay man who has anonymous sex with strangers specifically because his church rejected him. Another is about a young gay man who did a video advising gay teens that “it gets better,” but then killed himself because of Christian bullying–the implication being that he sure wasn’t as happy as he claimed.

It’s heartbreaking, yes, and Dr. Sprinkle is very sad about it–as he should be. But where are the happy, committed same-sex couples who’ve been together for years, nursed each other through sickness, and stood by each other no matter what? What about all the gay people who are totally fine with being who they are, who are comfortable in their own skins, who are thrilled about where their lives are going, and who wouldn’t change anything about themselves for all the tea in China? What about the gay people who neither want nor need his tears, and want absolutely nothing to do with his bigotry or his bigoted god?

I’ll tell you where they are.

They are nowhere to be found.

I have a lot of trouble with the way he selected his anecdotes for this book. It’s like he went out of his way to find the stories that’d support his narrative about how dysfunctional, broken, and in-need-of-magical-healing LGBTQ people are. (And I’m not sure he really engages with the fact that if some LGBTQ people are like that, they are like that because of his tribe’s abuse, not because that’s how LGBTQ people would be naturally.)

He presents exactly one example of a happy same-sex couple that I can remember: Amy and her girlfriend, who go to an evangelical church one fine Sunday morning to freak the mundanes and are pleasantly surprised by being treated respectfully and kindly by the Christians there (p. 80). And we never hear about these two women again after that point, so we don’t know what became of them. I can bet they didn’t hang around that church or fall into line, or Dr. Sprinkle would have likely done more with their story. As it is, Amy just drops out of the book like a fallen pin from a map, her purpose fulfilled.

Gay = Effeminate.

One story is especially infuriating: Tom, an ex-Christian, came out as gay after his church made him question his masculinity. (WTF?!? Yes.) He told Dr. Sprinkle, “I came to believe that I must not be a real man. Perhaps I am gay.” (p. 183) Gay men are less masculine than straight men in Preston Sprinkle’s world, and straight men can just wake up and decide one day that they’re gay when they’re needled and bullied by Christians about not fitting into the hyper-masculine right-wing Christian vision of manliness.

The author is using the anecdote to illustrate his contention that the church should quit being so obsessed with super-masculine and super-feminine stereotypes, which he characterizes as “cultural” rather than “biblical.” Now, I agree that right-wing Christianity has become downright obsessed with policing what it means to be a man or woman, and that right-wing Christians have gone off the deep end in demanding that women become hyper-feminine and men become hyper-masculine. But that doesn’t mean that that culture is “making” anybody gay or lesbian. That’s just an idea that right-wing Christians believe (and which is just as untrue as the idea that “bad Christians” cause deconversions in and of themselves). It doesn’t really happen. Further, even before fundagelicals got obsessed with masculinity there were plenty of gay people around. For a “cultural” phenomenon, this obsession sure doesn’t seem like it can be linked with the percentage of people who are gay.

Dr. Sprinkle even warns that he’s “not saying that the church made Tom gay by promoting a cultural view of masculinity” before declaring that why gosh, if the church hadn’t made poor Tom feel “too effeminate to be Christian,” “perhaps he could have worked through his same-sex attraction.” (The quoted material in this paragraph and where noted elsewhere specifically comes directly from the book.)

Once again, the tribe’s preconceptions about gay men destroy any pretense of reconciliation. After spending pages upon pages telling his tribe to maybe listen sometimes to the people they’re abusing and persecuting, the author breaks out the worst possible and least accurate stereotype imaginable and then chides the tribe for not being a more conducive place for a man suffering experiencing “same-sex attraction” to “work through” his issues. (Slight note for clarity and correction: Dr. Sprinkle himself does not use the term “suffering” anywhere that I’ve seen; usually he uses “experiencing” something less charged. My apologies for including the word “suffering” in the above quoted material.)

The church didn’t “make Tom gay,” not because that’s not actually something that happens but because Preston Sprinkle doesn’t appear to think that anybody is actually gay. What the church did, in his opinion, was chase off a man suffering same-sex attraction, a man who could have “worked through” his personal problem if he hadn’t gotten spooked by the tribe’s obsession with masculinity.

I have to keep reminding myself that Preston Sprinkle is positioning himself as the kinder, gentler bigot-for-Jesus–as the bigot-for-Jesus who listens and isn’t immediately obvious as a bigot-for-Jesus.

 The Common Thread.

Of all of the stories he presents in the book, I couldn’t help but notice a similar thing happening with LGBTQ people as happens with atheists when Christians discuss them.

Preston Sprinkle’s gay acquaintances might not look a whole lot like the gay community as a whole, but they sure look exactly like what his tribe thinks gay people look like.

Now that he’s set out his ideas about what gay people are like, which all confirm evangelical preconceptions about LGBTQ people, he can step right across to making his suggestions to them for how to live their lives and to his straight tribemates for how to treat them. You will likely not be surprised to know that his suggestions, flowing as they do from incorrect assumptions and flawed methods, will not be enormously successful.

The sheer WTF-ness of his suggestions, though, merits examination, and that’s what we’ll be looking at next. See you next week for a coffee date like no other.


BTW, you’ll notice that I’m not really spending a lot of time on his actual Bible study. He spends most of his book on a careful word-by-word scrutiny of the “clobber verses” that his tribe uses to rationalize its mistreatment of LGBTQ people, but I don’t see any reason to fuss with it. I realize that Dr. Sprinkle is some sort of teacher and pastor so I accept that he thinks that this exercise is of primary importance to Christians. As I pointed out last time, though, the whole idea is a red herring. Non-Christians don’t view the Bible as totally authoritative, and I know that most Christians don’t either–not even all evangelicals do. And since his results move against what even he concedes is the scholarly consensus on the matter (while totally confirming his tribe’s position–shocking!), I don’t feel compelled to dwell overmuch on it. Ficino did a great job of shredding at least one of the clobber verses on a guest post from last September, if you’d like to see more.


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