Preston Sprinkle’s book People to Be Loved outlines the right-wing Christian case for opposing same-sex relationships and tries to offer a new approach for dealing with LGBTQ people generally. Today we’ll touch on the three specific ideas in that flavor of the religion that inform this book’s approach.
I’ve been looking at this book in great detail because it’s such a great example of how a large number of Christians think not just about LGBTQ people but about a variety of other topics. I’ve noticed that a number of Christian reviewers are full of praise for its ideas, and that alarms me. With recent heartbreaking and infuriating events demonstrating that right-wing folks’ hatred of LGBTQ people is fast approaching its nadir, I think it’s high time to stick a fork in this culture war and call it done already.
Preston Sprinkle is working off of three major ideas in right-wing Christian thought. These are derived from his working assumptions and work together to create the demands he will be issuing in the book to gay and bisexual people. When we measure these beliefs against reality, we fall far short of the results believers are promised by their leaders. That is why I call them deceptions: they are peddled by people who come in Jesus’ name and have deceived many.
I want to whisk through the deceptions themselves, and then we’ll circle around to the options he offers and then see how they all play out in reality. (Yes, we’ve got a few more entries to go in this series.)
First Deception: “I Love You. Now Change.”
One of the unhealthiest messages about love that I absorbed while Christian was the idea that if you really, really love someone, you want to change that person for the better–and even have an obligation to do so. By the same token, if someone really, really loves you, then you have an obligation to let them change you for the better. Love meant that each person is trying to fix the other and thus achieve a state of perfection.
It amazes me now that I ever bought into something so patently unhealthy and so easily prone to abuse. This mindset made it all but impossible for me to distinguish, set, respect, or enforce boundaries in either myself or anybody else.
Fundagelicals make a lot of mistakes about love but one of the biggest is this: they don’t know that love actually means acceptance. It means deeply appreciating that other person where they are right now and being content with who they are, not agitating for them to become who we want them to be. It means being in the present, not trying to shape someone else into an ideal that exists only in fantasy. No matter how much potential we might see in another person, their present reality is what we love.
If that person does something we don’t like or turns out to possess a trait that really rubs us wrong, then at that point we might have to examine who we think that person actually is. Was this deed an accident? Is that trait really as bad as we think it is? Can we still love that person as they stand now that we’ve seen this unexpected side of them, or will change be needed for us to continue in a relationship? And if so, is our beloved capable of making that change and willing to do so?
A healthy person will be able to set and keep boundaries that will help answer these questions and guide a relationship through the bumps, turns, and changes that do occur. But fundagelicals don’t have any idea how to establish boundaries or even to recognize such boundaries as healthy and normal. All they know is what their culture has taught them about relationships. This information is woefully incorrect as well as defective in pretty much every single way.
Worse yet, they view long-term change of essential personal characteristics as not only possible but fairly common. Their mythology is, after all, filled with stories of people doing precisely this. In reality, such long-term change is extremely difficult even for people who are very motivated to try. When the other person doesn’t view what they’re doing as being wrong in the first place, then a demand for change is not only impossible to fulfill but also terribly unwelcome–and doubly so when it comes from someone who isn’t even affected by whatever the demand involves.
John Shore (a progressive and affirming Christian) summed up this mindset very well: “I love you. Now change.” He also pointed out, correctly, that the two halves of that statement cancel each other out; they can’t both be true at the same time.
But by now, the idea is simply too deeply ingrained in the religion for fundagelicals to let go of it. I’ve heard them say more times than I can count that to them, love actually requires this behavior.
Second Deception: Hating the Sinner, Just Doing It More Nicely.
Christians have been clinging to the mantra of “love the sinner, hate the sin” for so long that it’s become part of their essential doctrines–doctrines so important that to lose them would entail losing a significant part of their very identity as Christians (which is why they keep linking their desire to discriminate against LGBTQ people to their concept of “religious liberty”). I examined this saying in great detail a while ago, and nothing’s changed since then except the tightness of their grip on this deception.
In essence, “hating sin” means expressing complete disapproval of activities and speech that the Christian thinks would make baby Jesus cry. Not expressing this disapproval means that the Christian is (GASP!) “condoning sin,” another favorite mantra of toxic Christians (which I examined as well in a past post).
Condoning sin is itself a sin; sinners must always be reminded at every turn that they are doing something terribly wrong and will go to Hell if they don’t re-examine their lives and fall into line with fundagelicals’ demands. Christians certainly can’t count on Jesus to convict hearts without their careful disapproval; he sure hasn’t seemed all that interested in doing it lately, at least, given that they’re almost all convinced that the world is getting more “sinful” with every passing day.
You and I might infer a few things from that reluctance on the part of their deity to comply with their expectations of him, but fundagelicals aren’t especially good at measuring their ideas against reality. To them, a solid lack of response means they’re not disapproving of sinners hard enough to get their god’s attention. So disapproval must be expressed in the strongest possible terms, because sinners won’t know they’re sinning if Christians don’t specifically and explicitly tell them that they are. Sin can’t be given the slightest bit of leeway, and it especially must never be granted the same legitimacy or respect that proper virtuous behavior receives. It must be called out, condemned, outlawed, criminalized, stigmatized, and made as difficult as possible to keep doing.
If sin is not hated, then the negligent Christian will sorta-kinda be responsible for a sinner’s descent into Hell after death! How could such an unfaithful and lackadaisical Christian enjoy Heaven knowing that they had been responsible for another person’s eternal torture?
However, this hatred must slice away the “sin” from the “sinner.”
A Christian is always bound by the Great Command, which is to love one’s neighbor like oneself. This love is presented as so important that (according to the New Living Translation) it is “equally important” to the ultimate command to Christians to love their god with all their heart. So this total disapproval of sin must happen in conjunction with a sweet demeanor toward the person whose actions are being condemned by the Christian. We’ll be discussing this idea in greater detail later–but feel free to sharpen your claws on it like Bumble did with my poor left eyelid this morning!*
And Christians see no problem with reconciling those ideas because of the third deception they’re laboring under.
Third Deception: Love Means Whatever a Toxic Christian Defines It to Mean.
One of the most popular posts we’ve ever had here is this one about how Christians redefine the word “love” to the point of meaninglessness.
By making love completely one-sided and dependent upon the Christian’s own personal, subjective interpretation of the term, any action whatsoever, no matter how cruel or hateful, can be termed loving. The reaction of the target of that action doesn’t matter at all. All that matters is that the Christian performed that action “from a place of love,” meaning with the motivation to show love. And if the target of this action flat-out says that it doesn’t feel loving, then the Christian can whip out their favorite tactic–gaslighting–to try to make the victim of their behavior accept it as loving.Toxic Christians have long gotten pushback about their “loving” behavior. They’ve evolved a complex series of gaslighting responses. In essence, the attempt to invalidate their victims’ experience runs like this:
“You don’t understand what love even is because you don’t believe in the same supernatural stuff I do. If you did, then you’d understand that I’m being totally loving, but you’ll just have to take my word for it for now. If you resist, you’re not letting me love you, which is really hateful. You’re not allowed to set any rules about what kind of behavior you’ll accept from me, either. I’m being loving, and that obligates you to listen to me and obey me. You should be grateful to be the target of such divine grace and love as I’m showing you. Nobody else could possibly know what you really need and treat you the way you really deserve.”
And they take it as a given that if they are loving enough, then their victims will suddenly understand that their abuse is actually totally loving and will fall into line.
I can totally see why Christianity is doing so well these days.
The Perfect Storm.
Preston Sprinkle buys into all three of these deceptions, which are all on display in his book in various ways. And they create what could only be called a perfect storm of hateful behavior.
First, he thinks, along with his tribe, that wanting, getting into, or staying in a same-sex relationship is morally wrong.
Half his book is spent talking about exactly this point, marking him thoroughly as a “two boxes” type of Christian who sees sexual ethics in terms of stuff he thinks his god approves of versus stuff he thinks his god doesn’t like. Anything he thinks his god approves of becomes part of what he calls a “traditional sexual ethic,” while anything else is sinful and deserves disapproval and condemnation.
He tries really hard to lump same-sex relationships in with other sins like hoarding wealth, but it’s nothing but a pious fraud to try to do that; his tribe has no mechanism whatsoever in place, nor any desire to place any, that condemns other sins the same way this particular one is condemned. His tribe particularly does not want to police or call attention to the sins that they themselves commit on the regular!
I’ve heard admonitions like these before, but they never come to anything. Bigots-for-Jesus see what they want to see and ignore the rest. They may well even agree with this position that the “sin” of same-sex relationships doesn’t count as more serious than any other sins the Bible discusses, which is an evasion as old as my time in the religion at least, but their agreement simply does not translate into action–not even with the book’s author. He certainly isn’t saying anything at all to the Christians who act out on his blog by saying shamefully cruel things about LGBTQ people. For all the times he vehemently condemns that kind of behavior in his book, his fervent and frequently-voiced disapproval doesn’t translate to action in his lived reality any more than anything else he condemns besides same-sex relationships. So I don’t think his attempt to link same-sex relationships to wealth-hoarding and other sins will fool anybody outside his own tribe.
Second, he’s totally convinced that he has not only a right to say that he sees a moral wrong occurring but to make a demand for change.
Further, he thinks that this change is possible with the right motivation and tools–which his tribe possesses. That change may not look like a total change in orientation, but can at least look like a life that is more in line with what his tribe wants to see.
When we try to talk to people like him about stuff like consent, boundaries, acceptance, and even minding his own goddamned business, we’re not speaking a language he or his tribe understands. He may kind of know that we think we’re communicating with the odd clicky mouth-noises we keep making at him, but to him, we are like children demanding candy for dinner. When people try to tell him that they are in wonderful, loving, committed same-sex relationships and see no reason to accept anything he’s saying about any harm being done because there is no harm being done, he just tuts to himself that why really, great harm is being done even if that harm is, as several commenters on his blog have pointed out, completely indistinguishable from the absence of harm.
Our perceptions, as sinners, simply don’t count with his tribe. They know best; we know nothing. Yes, we are totally like Jon Snow to them.
We can talk about boundaries and consent and all that until we’re blue in the face, and all we’ll get is a blank look and a repetition of a Bible verse or a bland, smiling insistence that we’re just wrong–and need to obey them to avoid a horrific fate.
Their religion teaches them repeatedly that it’s totally okay to trample on another person if it’s for what they consider to be a good cause. And if they don’t do that, then they are not being properly loving. It’s not only okay to demand big personal changes in other people, but loving to do so in order to bring those people in line with Christians’ “desire for people to live holy lives,” as Preston Sprinkle puts it (p. 126).
He just needs to find the right way to approach the people committing the sin of same-sex relationships to make them aware of both the harm done to themselves by persisting in sin, and to bring them to an awareness of their need to change.
All that he is advocating with his book is a slight tweak to the standard fundagelical formula of dealing with LGBTQ folks. That’s it. He thinks that if he’s super-duper loving, then the love of Jesus shining out from him will make people want to change because they will be so impressed by Christians’ incredible love. (Don’t worry. This is a topic we will be examining in great detail in a little while.)
So now, adequately prepared and girded, let’s continue onward.
See you on Tuesday, when we’re going to start wading into his idea of “scandalous grace” and get into his three life options for gay and bisexual folks.
* He was sleeping dead to the world next to me in bed this morning while I read on my tablet. I lost my grip on the gadget and dropped it right on his noggin. He woke up in a blind panic and freaked out, scrabbling upwards to escape since that’s the direction his head was facing, and that touched off his sister, who was sleeping on my head on the pillow. I screamed in fright and pain as two kitties went full Cuisinart on my face, which didn’t help their fright much, and all the commotion going on right next to him woke up Mr. Captain from a similarly dead sleep, and caused him to think that the whole world was ending right then because all he perceived was me screaming, cats flying everywhere, and claws raking flesh. We got everything sorted out and I am now nursing a variety of interesting injuries from the clavicles up, including some really awful-looking scratches on my eyelids. We think they’ll be okay but we’re keeping an eye on them. Bumble was very sweetly reconciliatory all day afterward. Bother doesn’t appear to remember anything happened.
It’s sweet that Bumble’s being so cautiously effusive; I am, after all, the one who startled him so badly, and for all his huge size he is still just a kitten. Everything seems to be under control now. Preston Sprinkle could take a few leaves from that cat’s book, don’t you think?
BY THE WAY, SPEAKING OF WHICH, the photos of Bumble and Bother are going on this week to the folks who pledged to the Patreon fundraiser, along with everything else available now! If you want to get in on this, the link is to the right. Patreon does its thing on the first of the month, if I’m reading their site correctly, so I want to get these out around then. I’m getting in the emails from there now too and oh gosh, y’all are so incredibly sweet. I don’t even know what to say. You’re amazing. Thank you. For the pledgers who have asked to be part of the perks structure, I’ve got one unique photo that is each of yours and yours alone, and which will never be seen anywhere else. (You’ll be free to do whatever you wish with your photo, of course; it’s completely yours with no limitations.) Thank you so much for your support, kind words, and good wishes. It is very appreciated. You are why I do what I do.