Last summer, we had a field day looking at Preston Sprinkle’s book People to Be Loved, his contribution to evangelicals’ ongoing culture war against LGBTQ people. To put it mildly, I was torqued by the book. I wrote so many posts about it that eventually even Mr. Captain, who if anything has even less affection for the fellow than I do, suggested gently that maybe I should turn the ship to sunnier shores. So Preston Sprinkle went into the overflowing hopper of Christians Who Think They’re Saying Something New and Exciting But Really Aren’t, and we all moved on. Then around Easter I caught wind of him on Twitter proudly announcing that he’d written some more stuff on the subject, and I found myself groaning inwardly.
I want you to see the very best efforts right-wing Christians can bring to bear on their lost culture war, and why they are going to continue to fail as a religion because of their inability to critically examine their own behavior and beliefs to know when they’re missing the mark.
And whoa Nelly, are they ever. Evangelicals still don’t get it. I’m not even sure they could at this point. They totally don’t get why they’re not winning yet–or even maintaining the hold they’re barely keeping now.
Their confusion stems from one little tiny thing wrong in their makeup–as if they were assembled from plastic kits by space aliens who accidentally left out some vital part and now the models stumble and falter instead of fly.
(Incidentally, any quote you see here, unless noted otherwise, comes directly from the sources. I don’t use scare quotes around this guy.)
Preston Sprinkle’s essay can be found at the United Methodist site Catalyst. The United Methodist Church (UMC) is considered a mainline denomination, though some of its member churches are way more evangelical-leaning than others. Generally speaking, they support abortion rights but oppose equal marriage and aren’t inclusive of LGBTQ folks, but that’s not universal.
Catalyst is a UMC newsletter aimed at seminary folks and pastors, so it’s a little on the cerebral side. As I look over their recent articles, I see stuff about how to build “an Old Testament library” (I do love fancy libraries! j/k) and a sharp criticism of Mike Pence’s weird dinner rule.
And on April 19, 2017, Preston Sprinkle posted “My Journey into the LGBTQ Conversation.”
In it, he rehashes some of the ideas–and mistakes–from his previous works. I’m not even sure why the UMC hosted the essay; he doesn’t appear to be enrolled in any UMC schools, nor to be pastoring any UMC churches. Maybe his sneaky brand of bigotry appealed to them in their ongoing and current turmoil over the question of LGBTQ inclusion.
The essay itself is retelling of how he began researching the whole culture war. He speaks of having “combed through” all kinds of “scholarly and popular books on the topic” to figure out what the Bible said about it to be sure he was in the right in his doctrinal stances, because that’s what matters to a fundagelical. (They assume that if the doctrines are correct, the correct behaviors will flow from that. It’s demonstrably untrue, but it’s their starting assumption.)
As I said last year, if he actually cared what scholars thought about LGBTQ folks and same-sex marriage and stuff, he didn’t have to go to all that trouble. Quite a lot of those folks think that the Bible doesn’t condemn any of it. In his book, Preston Sprinkle even states that he knows about this consensus–but then for some mystifying reason decides that those scholars are nowhere near as smart as he is and so he had better do all that work all over again jusssst to make sure. And weirdly, all that reinvented wheeling lands him more or less totally on the side of his bigoted brethren. He bristles at being lumped in with conservatives and fundagelicals generally, but in the end, he accepts that yeah, he pretty much can’t avoid it. (Ironically, they’re all pissed at him too for telling them to be nicer bigots-for-Jesus. Poor guy.)
Nothing’s changed in past year. He’s still congratulating himself again about what a jolly wonderful and smart Christian he is for having figured out this tricky, thorny topic in the bestest, most Jesus-flavored way possible, and I still haven’t seen any overwhelming positive response from the LGBTQ community.
After talking about contemporary writers and prominent scholars alike who reject the idea that same-sex relationships were always one-sided and purely exploitive, Preston Sprinkle decides that obviously the Bible doesn’t care about mutuality and consent in sexual relationships in the first place. Weirdly, I agree with him here in a general sense. Mutuality and consent have never been the Bible’s thing.
Then he talks about what he calls “the ‘trajectory’ argument,” which is the idea that some Christian scholars hold that the Bible is describing a sort of trajectory of morality. Like yes, it totally condones slavery, but trajectory people think that by the end of the New Testament those ideas were softening and moving toward slavery being seen as wrong. In this I agree again (in a general sense) with Preston Sprinkle. The Bible is a misogynistic, racist, classist, violent, xenophobic dumpster fire in terms of morality, and Jesus wasn’t nearly the wonderful moral teacher and lovey-dovey shepherd that Christians typically envision.
Having rejected those two arguments, he sees no way to include same-sex couples or LGBTQ people generally in his conceptualization of human rights and American liberties.*
Triumphant, he moves on to his main thesis: how to keep the culture war fires burning and still successfully sell his brand of Christianity to LGBTQ people and their allies.
JFC, Not This “Journey” Thing Again.
He calls this essay his “journey into the LGBTQ conversation.” And right away I see a problem here.
A journey implies leaving one destination and arriving at another. Nothing of the sort happened with Preston Sprinkle. He claims that he buckled down and OMG you guys he studied soooo hard and he read soooo many things, and he was totally willing to change his mind, if of course that’s totally where his studies led.
I dispute this claim.
He began his “journey” as a fundagelical mired deep in the culture wars, and he curiously manages to end it as a semi-fundagelical who is still mired deep in the culture wars.
He humblebrags in the essay about how “all [his] talk about love, and grace, and acceptance” makes his fundagelical peers all nervous-like. He loftily proclaims that he’s worked out a solution that incorporates “the values of Christ,” which he laments that his “conservative friends” don’t understand anymore.
But he’s simply less honest about his bigotry than they are.
And I don’t think LGBTQ people will be fooled by this self-serving preening. I know I sure ain’t.
That ersatz acceptance he preaches will last exactly as long as it takes an actual LGBTQ person to say “Awesome! So I can be a minister in your church? I can get married to my longtime same-sex partner there? I can transition with my church family’s love and support? I can present myself as genderqueer and nobody’ll stink-eye me?”
And after six weeks of evasive coffee-shop chats he’ll finally reply, “Oh, sorry, yeah, no, my personal head-Bible contains some verses I added about Jesus eventually telling tax collectors they really need to stop doing all that, so yeah, no, you can’t.”**
JFC, Not This “Conversation” Dishonesty Again.
Preston Sprinkle’s second big error is that he thinks he’s having a “conversation.” Just as he’s wrong about having made any kind of journey, he’s wrong about having conversations with anybody.
A conversation involves listening to someone, really listening to them, and responding to them in an affirming and inclusive way, then being listened to and responded to in turn. I see nothing of the sort happening in Preston Sprinkle’s work. He begins his “conversation” with very flawed thinking, and nothing can dissuade him of the idea that he’s an incredibly very smart amazing TRUE CHRISTIAN™ who’s got this Jesus Aura thing on point. In fact, as we noted some time ago, one of his favorite things to do is laboriously explain something, then go along with whatever his tribe is already doing. He also likes acting like he’s listening, then doing exactly what he was already doing in the first place. And he really likes evading simple questions if the answers would alienate a sales mark or make him look too much like a bigot.
But far worse than his inability to meaningfully listen to others is the way he creates a narrative that encourages him to continue in his errors rather than learn from them.
JFC, Not This “Posture” Idea Again.
Preston Sprinkle draws from a variety of confirmation-bias-confirming studies and experiences to create a narrative about LGBTQ people that looks completely alien to me–and to quite a few other LGBTQ people I saw commenting on his newest work. From that shaky platform, he creates an action plan for how to convert (or reconvert) those who’ve rejected the religion because of its entrenched bigotry.
For example, he draws upon a study conducted by Andrew Marin that is somewhat-detailed in his book Us vs. Us. Though I haven’t read that book yet, a gay progressive Christian did–and had some very serious criticisms of Mr. Marin’s study and its conclusions. To wit:
From the 1,712 usable LGBT participant surveys, 60% were gay males and 77% were white. Catholics and “non-denominational evangelicals” make up 43.3%. The UCC is only represented by 1.4% of respondents and there are no reported responses from LGBT Christians belonging the the MCC. There is no information in the book describing geographical or socio-economic diversity of respondents. Few if any quotes are cited (well, anonymity of course).
Her takeaway from the book, incidentally, was “a conviction that his audience is conservative church-goers, a creeped out feeling about his motive and a rising fury at the blatant exclusion of progressive church as an option for LGBT people.” (It’s like she knows the guy personally!)
Preston Sprinkle still thinks that if churches make totally nice to gay people, they’ll gladly come back even if the churches involved oppose full civil rights and liberties for them. He claims that 76% of LGBTQ people who’ve left Christianity would happily return if Christians were just nicer to them–moreover, that only 8% would only consider returning to their churches if they became inclusive.
But that is bullshit, and the UMC of all denominations ought to know better.
The Foundation is the Problem.
At last year’s UMC conference, the ministers there were begged by an LGBTQ group of ministers to change its teachings entirely. They didn’t ask to change the “posture” resulting from those doctrines’ bigotry. They didn’t ask the UMC to be nicer to them. Instead, they asked for inclusiveness. They asked for representation. And they asked for it because they knew very well that inclusive doctrines produce loving behavior, while the separate-but-equal doctrines so many churches use now are designed to turn certain groups into second-class citizens–who are then abused and maligned, ostracized and harmed by TRUE CHRISTIANS™ the world over.
The actual doctrines of the denomination are what they want changed.
They describe the current teachings as “hostile,” as “overtly or indirectly condon[ing] the persecution of LGBTQI persons.” They describe how young people in these churches feel suicidal “because of the condemnation they hear from pulpits and pews” alike (emphasis mine here). They describe feeling like their church has “let them go,” like people in the UMC “want [LGBTQI people] to break up with them.” They talk about being told to “simply leave” if they don’t like the situation.
Not one sentence of that heartbreaking letter says “oh gosh, guys, keep the teachings, keep the exclusion, keep the bigotry, just be nicer to us and we’ll shut up and be totes happy.” Not a single word, not a peep indicates that they agree with Preston Sprinkle’s idea.
But their letter runs totally at odds with Andrew Marin’s flawed “study,” and so it goes curiously unnoticed in Preston Sprinkle’s “journey” and his “conversation.”
I’m noticing a disturbing trend in fundagelicalism of late: their leaders are starting to acknowledge that their groups can be really, really unsafe for people, but still insist that everyone needs to join up and stay a member anyway, and then they blame people for leaving those groups.
They talk constantly about their religion’s losses and their inability to attract enough converts and retain enough existing members to keep churches in business. They share listicle tips for closing the back door. They wring their hands and look down their noses at people who leave over churches’ perceived moral shortcomings, loftily proclaiming themselves the TRUE CHRISTIANS™ who stay even in totally dysfunctional, drama-ridden churches because that’s just part of being such strong Christians. They mull over whether or not they should institute church discipline to force Christians to stay in these dysfunctional groups.
They don’t ever actually address how unsafe their groups are and how little their groups actually give for the demands they make of members. To them, abuse and ill-treatment aren’t valid reasons (in their eyes) to reject a Christian group. Indeed, I saw a Christian blog the other day that was pretty representative of the breed. In it, the evangelical writer declared righteously that it was sooo harrrrd to be a proper Christian who was an active part of a proper Christian community, and lamented how terrible things were for the religion with so few Christians seeing church as important as he did. The book I’m reading right now, You Lost Me, explicitly takes the same view.
And the Christians talking like this all dance around the biggest problem they have–partly because they can’t even see it, and partly because even if they saw it they couldn’t actually fix it without dismantling their broken system and losing the benefits they think it confers upon them personally.
Obviously I can’t speak for anybody universally, but I can say with assurance that most people consider safety–emotional and physical–to be the primary requirement for any new relationship. I would never join any group or form a close relationship with anybody who didn’t accept that I have full rights as a human being over my body and life or who wouldn’t treat me as a full equal. It doesn’t matter how lovey-dovey Christian bigots sound or how high up they can squinch their eyebrows to look sincere, or how many coffee dates they want to go on before they finally answer a simple goddamn question.
If they’re not safe to be around, then nothing else they say or do is going to matter.
Nor should it.
The Conversation We’d Rather Have.
Preston Sprinkle may be very very proud of how he’s managed to contort himself into a hipster version of his onetime fundagelical tribe’s culture war, but that wacky version of bigotry is still bigotry–and it’s still harmful to others. It’s downright insulting that he keeps missing one of the biggest truths there are: the truth that people keep trying to convey to toxic Christians.
The only thing most folks want to hear out of people like him is this:
“Oh my god I’m so sorry! I’ll IMMEDIATELY stop trying to interfere with your rights and liberties. Your private life is none of my business. I’ll leave you alone unless you come to me first.”
If Preston Sprinkle isn’t willing to do that, if he’s not willing to defend other people’s liberties and self-sovereignty, then nobody fucking cares what he thinks about equal marriage or anything else because he is not safe to be around. He is toxic. He hurts people. He is complicit in forcing second-citizen status upon marginalized groups. And he refuses to see or accept his role in creating the very trauma that he laments.
Until his “journey” involves leaving other people alone and minding his own business, until his “conversation” consists of apologies and declarations of full equality and inclusion, and until he sees that his “posture” is a direct result of his doctrines, he isn’t going to fool anybody new who runs across him.
He’s just warmed-over bigotry-for-Jesus.
We outsiders know that truth better, it seems, than he does himself.
* The question being, of course, not whether LGBTQ people have rights, but whether or not Christian bigots will keep trying to stop them from accessing their rights.
** In case you’re wondering, that’s an actual thing Preston Sprinkle thinks. It’s not a strawman. He regards the Bible as inerrant, authoritative, and complete in every way, but he seriously thinks that the Gospel writers totally would have put a scene into the Bible where Jesus is chillaxin’ with tax collectors and then looks over at one and goes, “Dude, about that tax collectin’ gig you have…” and tells the guy to quit, except they just left that bit out somehow. Must have been the shrooms! You shoulda seen what they did to that hepcat John on Patmos that one time.