Let’s start with how this affects real people.
Here’s Ben Moberg, writing about what it’s like to be the favorite punching bag for “the likes of the Gospel Coalition, Franklin Graham, John Piper, and Russell Moore.” This was written before those bullies forced World Vision to reverse itself and offer a groveling apology — to the bullies, “When Evangelicals Turn Against Children to Spite Me“:
I am tired, friends, so tired of being hit. I am tired of being the most galvanizing symbol for evangelical Christians. It is awaking a lot of old demons in me and the stab feels so much deeper when it’s your own faith attacking you. But who am I kidding? It is usually my own faith attacking me. And I am now at a breaking point, as I am sure is true for many others.
I’m done with evangelicalism.
I am done being patient with Piper.
I am done pretending I can engage with the SBC.
I am done hoping Franklin ends up more like his dad.
I am done listening to Denny Burk and his blowhards at the Gospel Coalition.
I am done with each and every one of the tweeters out there bragging about dropping their sponsorship of a child in need, just because they hate me.
I am done fleeing from and returning to this perpetually abusive house of faith. I am stopping the cycle. I am empty of strength.
And I am clinging closer to Jesus than ever before.
Thank God our God is our God.
But then, after having to endure another two days of that, Moberg writes about the experience of “When World Vision Drops Me.” That’s a lovely meditation on how personally important World Vision and its president, Richard Stearns, have been to Moberg’s faith — a close connection that made all this all the more painful for him. Here’s where he arrives at the end:
I am not ready to forgive those that held starving children as ransom because of who I am and I am not ready to forgive Richard Stearns for this profoundly deep betrayal. I am not ready to forgive either of them for the devastating message they have sent to gay children everywhere.
But I can do grace. I can reach into the deep pockets of all that I have left and let it be a balm on my heart, let it tend to me until that moment comes when, as Anne Lamott says, “it finally becomes unimportant that you hit back.” I can give and give and give even as I’m pissed off and hurt because although they don’t deserve this, neither do I.
And my rage isn’t wrong, because this isn’t right. And so I will channel it all into doing my job here as a blogger, as a believer, loving gay kids and talking about the Jesus that wouldn’t change them for the world.
Evan Hurst tries to focus on the one positive thing that positively results from this latest convulsion of evangelihate:
When given an explicit choice to love children or hate gay people, they chose the latter, and they chose it loudly. … Perhaps the only silver lining is that the Religious Right truly just showed America, and World Vision, who they really are.
There wasn’t much doubt about who they really were before, but there isn’t any doubt now. These folks — Piper and The Gospel Coaliion, Mohler and Moore and the SBC, Franklin Graham and the hacks at Christianity Today, and the whole hideous white evangelical army of hate they lead — just voluntarily rejected any benefit of any doubt about who they really are as opposed to who and what they inexplicably claim to be.
And so, David Michael McFarlane says, if they won’t allow us to extend them that benefit of the doubt, we should stop extending it. Let’s just stop pretending, “It’s Time to Stop Calling Fundamentalists ‘Christians’“:
To call a response of this magnitude embarrassing is no longer sufficient. In the last two years Fundamentalists have banded behind a fast food chain, racist reality TV star and discriminatory legislation in their attempt to police LGBTQ persons. It’s offensive and spiteful and incompatible with the Bible, which repeats time and time again to judge not — especially not persons outside of Christian communities. On Monday they stopped feeding orphans and widows and the needy among them, a command found in every Gospel and Epistle of the New Testament and even Leviticus. The global poor will suffer not because World Vision endorsed gay marriage or diverted money to fund Pride parades, but because the organization tried to become a smidge more inclusive.
The defense for Fundamentalists’ obsession with homosexuality is the Bible, which they claim to read literally. If this was true, they might notice the words “poor” and “poverty” appear 446 times and that “wealth” is mentioned in 1,273 verses, rarely positively. Only five or six passages discuss homosexuality, though nearly every American can recite them, hearing each one quoted so often. If Fundamentalists fought LGBTQ equality as a hobby, after fulfilling their duty to fight poverty, they might be chastised and forgiven. They’ve revealed, though, they will abandon the poor, to condemn not only gay men and women but anyone who tolerates them. In doing so they’ve denied the very faith and savior they claim to revere. Whatever religion Fundamentalism is, it isn’t Christianity, and it’s time to revoke that label.
Categorizing homosexuality, not injustice, as the greatest evil is absurd and disturbing, but it reflects a whole moral system that contradicts the essence of Christian Scripture. …
McFarlane provides more examples of the fundamentalist moral system disregarding and contradicting and flat-out rejecting the great majority of what their Bible actually teaches. Such examples are not hard to find. Fundamentalists are eager to provide them. Contempt for Jesus and for the Bible are kind of a big theme of theirs. They’ve created whole communications networks just to trumpet that viewpoint.
Still, though, “judge not.” I’m a Baptist, so for me, just because folks like Franklin Graham, John Piper, Denny Burk, et. al., gleefully reject 90 percent of what Jesus was about doesn’t mean that I can suddenly claim the ability to declare that they are not Christians. Declaring who is and who is not a “real, true Christian” is their game, not mine.
Yes, the Gospel is utterly incompatible with a bullying crusade that deliberately takes money away from starving children in order to ensure that other people lose their jobs helping those children. And, yes, it certainly seems like such folks are racing headlong to a full-helping of “I never knew you, depart from me.” And that that “depart from me” will probably seem redundant, by that point, since these folks have been doing nothing but departing for decades now. But just as it is foolishness and blasphemy for them to play-act as God by routinely pronouncing that gays or scientists or women (or gay women scientists) cannot be “real, true Christians,” it would be just as foolish for me to presume I could make that same pronouncement about them. The “real, true Christian” game can only be played by people who think they’re God, and I ain’t God.
But McFarlane isn’t interested in playing the RTC game either. He’s not talking about condemning fundamentalists to Hell, but about trying to help them escape the Hell-on-Earth they’re choosing to live in.
For Fundamentalists to call themselves Christians does less to tarnish the name of Jesus (though it does) than to muddle their understanding of why they do the things they do. “Because the Bible says so,” they say, and then act in defiance of every biblical ethic.
It’s a dangerous road to go down, I realize, designating who’s in and who’s out. Fundamentalists do it often, to gay people, Democrats and, until he buckled under pressure, the director of World Vision. Such spiritual judgment requires an authority no human being possesses. I’m not interested in saying these people are destined for Hell, but I think we need to resemble the identities we claim. To strip Fundamentalists of the Christian label would at least force them to examine their true motivations toward greed, revenge, and malice.
McFarlane’s piece reminds me of some of the statements we read last week from Christians in the CAR. Fr. Nary and the evangelical leaders in that country are pleading for and insisting on a clearer distinction between Christianity and the violent mob that has appropriated its name. Those church leaders admit that many Christians have joined those violent mobs, and thereby “throw an infamous discredit on people of God,” but in a weird echo of Evan Hurst, they also find it necessary to assert, forcefully, that Christians in the CAR are Not All Like That: “all anti-Balaka are not Christians and that all Christians are not anti-Balaka.”
That’s an important distinction. Like McFarlane, those CAR church leaders recognize that the violent mobs draw power from their dubious claim to be acting on God’s will. Insisting that words have meaning — that “Christianity” does not and cannot mean killing Muslims or that “Christianity” does not and cannot mean cutting off aid to the world’s poorest children in order to bully gay people — is an important and necessary way of denying that source of power for the armies of hate.
But it may be too late. McFarlane and the churches of the CAR are correct that words ought to mean what they mean. That word, “Christianity,” ought to have something to do with Jesus Christ and it ought to have something to do with the things that Jesus Christ taught and demonstrated and incarnated. But usage changes meaning — it causes words to take on new meanings. Usage flaunts the rules of etymology. Prescriptivist attempts to insist on original definitions flounder in response. That begs the question as to whether the normative use of language McFarlane and the CAR churches employ can ever succeed against the descriptive language employed by the armies of hate.
We can insist that it’s incorrect to identify Christianity as a Muslim-hating, gay-hating, crusade of contempt for the poor, but that’s probably about as promising as insisting that it’s incorrect to say “flaunt” instead of “flout,” or “flounder” instead of “founder,” or “begs the question” instead of “raises the question.”
The word “Christian” ought to mean something at least vaguely Christ-ish. The word “Christian” ought to have more to do with Fr. Nary’s radical hospitality than with the brutality of the anti-Balaka. The word “Christian” ought to have more to do with World Vision’s gospel-driven service to the poorest than with the sanctimonious contempt of the white evangelical bullies.
But when the armies of hate are on the march, insisting that “We are Christians and we do this because we are Christians and because this is what Christians do,” then we have to recognize that the word is changing for the worse, whether we like it or not.