He tries in the article to layout the problems that denomination is failing to address. And he makes a nice point that simply praying for something without doing the work to make it happen is not merely impractical, it’s actual contrary to the teachings of the Christ they claim to follow.
But he doesn’t come out and say what really needs to be said. I can’t tell for certain if he is being vague in his comments about how they need to engage with the culture and spend less time pursuing culture wars because he knows the article wouldn’t be published if he is blunt, or if he is afraid to say it, or if he’s in denial himself.
He tiptoes around it, saying things like “As of yet, we’ve not made it to the point where we have… become known for what we are for rather than what we are against.”
But the clue that leads me to believe he probably is still in a bit of denial is when he says, after implying that the church is waging battle on two many fronts of the culture war, “For many of our neighbors, our warring is interpreted as being against them.”
No, Mr. Stetzer, it is not an interpretation Or perception that you are warring on us. Fundamentalist evangelical churches and affiliated organizations are literally attacking a whole lot of their neighbors.
The attacks on queer rights are the ones I most often link to or comment on, but that isn’t all of it. And even if they were, the way the fight is waged is a series of assaults on the lives and well-being of the queer people in question. At the same time that the church and related institutions keep cozying up to the special interests of big business and billionaires. So they are both ignoring Jesus’s teachings of “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone,” as well as “sell that you have, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.”
Long before I reached a point where I could fearfully say outloud to a friend, “I think I might be gay3” I chafed at the church’s political choices. It wasn’t until my midteens (the early 1970s) that the SBC officially stopped opposing racial segregation. Even after that, a lot of churchs and affiliated organizations actively opposed civil rights laws, including the Voting Rights Act. That didn’t seem to line up with the command to Love Thy Neighbor.
I’m old enough to remember when official Baptist theology was not pro-life. In fact, among those Baptists willing to voice their anti-Catholic beliefs, the Catholic Church’s strong stand against abortion was used as an argument that Catholics were not a Biblical faith. Seriously! Southern Baptists used to look at the verse in the old testament which stated that a person who injured a pregnant woman such that she lost the baby was not the same as fatally injuring a child and was no worse than injuring a non-pregmant woman as proof that unborn babies were not yet people.
The shift in abortion was a calculated one by a number of evangelical leaders who met in the 70s to discuss what to do about fundraising now that segregation didn’t whip up the troops to donate. Again, that sudden about-face made no sense to teenaged me.
When Falwell’s so-called Moral Majority rose as a political force and allied itself strongly with the Republicans and doubled down on opposing women’s rights, gay rights, medical treatment for AIDS patients, and nondiscrimination laws in general, that was the final straw.
If there are people in the fundamentalist evangelical community in general–and Southern Baptists in particular–who want to turn around this downward spiral in membership, they have to change. They have organizations like Alliance Defending Freedom suing left and right to thwart gay and trans rights as well as lobbying politicians to pass anti-queer laws. Jesus never said a thing about queer people, but he commanded his followers take care of the poor, the sick, prisoners and even to welcome refugees4. Where is the evangelical organization suing government officials for withholding funds for the poor or the homeless or the disabled? Where is the evangelical organization lobbying in politicians for more funding for the poor, the homeless, the sick, the disabled or resettlement of refugees?
Their usual argument is some BS about charity being a private duty, rather than a governmental one. But you can’t demand that government enforce your private religious beliefs about marriage and gender and so forth while claiming to believe that government shouldn’t do these other things your holy book actually demands.
Evangelicals got themselves into this ridiculous hypocrisy because of two things: leaders who are addicted to money or power of both; and the dearly held evangelical myth that they are always the persecuted. The nakedly greedy leaders like Joel Osteen and Franklin Graham harp on the culture war issues and characterize any gains for “other” people as an assault against “true Christians” and rake in the dough. More sincere leaders like the late Billy Graham become so blinded by the thrill of access to Presidents and Congresspeople and other leaders, that they let their proximity promote the fearmongering of unscrupulous politicians.
And too many of their congregants eat up the rhetoric, becoming so inflamed with the fervor to fight so-called evil, that they don’t see the real evil they are inflicting on others. Instead of looking at other people as the neighbors they are commanded to love and care for, they see them as armies of sin. And their advocacy, donations, and rhetoric constitute very real attacks on people, not sin.
If they want to stop this decline, it won’t come from a new emphasis on evangelizing, as Stetzer asserts in his article. That would be as meaningless as praying without working. Instead, they need to focus on things their Christ actually told them to do: love your neighbor, feed the hungry, take care of the sick, clothe those who have nothing, be kind to the meek and powerless.
Do good, and people will see those good works and will stop feeling like enemies under attack.
0. The title of today’s post is a lyric from the hymn “The Kingdom is Coming” word by Mary B. Slade, music by Rigdon M. McIntosh, # 409 in the 1956 Baptist Hymnal.
1. When I first read his assessment that the church will cease to exist for all intents and purposes in decades, my only thought was, “Darn! Not sooner?”2
2. Don’t get me wrong, I was raised Southern Baptist and I have a lot of fond childhood memories of deep friendships there. But as I have said many times, I didn’t abandon the church, the church drove me away.
3. Which didn’t happen until I was 25.
4. Again, I learned my strong sense for social injustice by reading the Bible they claimed to follow.
A person crossed my social media this week (I presume because I reblogged a bunch of pride comments and memes on my tumblr) to admonish me for provoking normal people by celebrating the freaks of the queer community. They claim that they aren’t at all homophobic, yet they use the same tactics and the same language as the rabid bigots. Just like the bigots, they say that being visible is flaunting our sex lives. They say we are freaks. As a certain famous man from Galilee once warned us to beware of people who claimed to be our friends: “by their fruits shall you know them.”
Since I promised that this would be an adventure in dictionaries, let’s look at that word, freak. I call your attention to the following excerpt from the Shorter Oxford Dictionary’s definition:
4 Something fanciful or extravagant; (more fully freak of nature) an abnormal or irregular occurrence, an abnormally developed person or thing, a monstrosity.
b A person regarded as strange because of their unusual appearance or behaviour.
This so-called ally is hardly the first person to call me a freak. One of my uncles used to refer to me as an over-educated freak as early as age 9, for instance. It was one of the mildest insults my eighth grade Reading and Literature teacher called me. Other teachers and school administrators told my parents that the bullying I experienced was impossible to stop as long as I failed to act like a normal boy.
What was the behavior they were referring to? Was I showing up at school wearing bondage gear or dressed as a drag queen? No, of course not. The sorts of behavior that was called out were things like:
- I would rather read a book by myself than play sports
- In elementary school when most boys hated the girls in class, I got along great with them
- I knew more about cooking than I did about horsepower and gear ratios
- My favorite TV shows were things like The Carol Burnett Show or The Partridge Family or The Mary Tyler Moore Show instead of Gunsmoke or The Streets of San Francisco
- My favorite books were mostly science fiction
- In middle school I treated girls I talked with as friends, rather than as objects of desire (and didn’t understand for a long time what the difference was between the way I interacted with girls and the way most of the other boys did)
- I liked to draw and write fiction
- I laughed at the wrong things
- I liked to wear clothes that were interesting colors
Some of that list will not strike many people as gender nonconforming, particularly the science fiction bullet. But you need to understand that before 1977 and the advent of the original Star Wars movie (when I was a junior in High School), normal boys did not like sci fi.
The first Freedom Day Marches didn’t happen until I was in fourth grade, and they were not being covered on news stations and the like until several years later. All the bullying and teasing I got for being a sissy or a freak or “not a normal boy” was deeply rooted in homophobia that was hateful and destructive long, long before the first Pride. So don’t tell me that Pride causes homophobia. Anti-gay hatred was around for centuries before Pride.
And kids like me—kids who could never figure out why the way we talked or the way we walked or the things we found interesting were wrong—were subjected to that hatred and bigotry without appearing in public in fishnet stockings or elaborate make-up. We were bullied and mocked and scorned and ridiculed because our behavior wasn’t the usual expected of our gender. I was bullied because I didn’t understand why it was unusual for a boy to think that a pair of burgundy pants was cooler to wear than plain blue jeans. I was bullied because I thought a girl’s ideas were more interesting than what was hidden by her clothes. I was bullied because I would rather sing along (and dance or pretend to be a member of the band) to the radio than play cops and robbers.
Not all queer kids are gender nonconforming (but studies show that at least 75 percent of boys who were consistently identified as “sissies” during childhood will come out as gay as adults), just as not all queer male adults are into show tunes. But the scant number of queer athletes who have come out of the closet, as well as the large numbers of “straight acting” and “non-scene” gays, have been free to do so because the nonconforming or freakish queers decided not to take the hate and loathing lying down. The freaks decided to stop being ashamed of who they were and who they loved. The freaks decided to stop pretending to be non-freaks.
If those freaks hadn’t stood up, none of the assimilationist queers, none of the suit-and-tie or “masc for masc” gays would have the right to be out—they would all still be hiding in the closet and secretly having sex on the sly deeply steeped in self-loathing and guilt. And those folks who say that the freaks should stop flaunting who they are are no different and no less deplorable that the folks who fire gay bashing victims for talking about their assault or stab men for holding hands in public or murder trans people just for being who they are.
I’m not a drag queen and I don’t wear fetish gear to Pride. I wear my purple hats and various rainbow or unicorn-adorned t-shirts year round. I’m unashamed of my fabulous rainbow parasol and my purple earrings. But I cheer and clap for the people who do dress in drag or other outrageous clothes at Pride. I support their right to be there and be out and dress however they want without being harassed. Just as a woman wearing certain clothes in public doesn’t make it all right for someone to harass or sexually assault her, neither do queer and trans people wearing whatever they’re comfortable in make it right to exclude or denigrate them.
If my love of bright colors, glittery earrings, and silly t-shirts makes me a freak, I’m proud to join that fanciful and extravagant legion of the out and proud. If you’re going to call me a freak, fine, but that’s Doctor Freak to you, and don’t you forget it!
Even so, I was a bit surprised at my reaction to the news that the 99-year-old Billy Graham, oft described as “America’s Pastor,” died yesterday. Let’s make no mistake: while Graham was unusual among Southern Baptist ministers in the 1950s to embrace desegregation (“there is no segregation at the foot of the cross”) and at least gave lip service to decrying racism, he was an unrepentant homophobe. Statements he made over the years included: “Let me say this loud and clear, we traffic in homosexuality at the peril of our spiritual welfare.” Or: “Is AIDS a judgment of God? I could not be sure, but I think so.” Graham claimed to be non-partisan, but often came down on the Republican side of many issues. “At 93, I never thought we would have to debate the definition of marriage. The Bible is clear — God’s definition of marriage is between a man and a woman.” And it’s really hard to justify some of the comments he made while discussing Jews and the media with President Nixon in the 1960s.
But Billy could preach! Oh, how he could preach! It’s difficult to explain to someone who didn’t grow up in an evangelical community in the 50s, 60s, or 70s the cherished place Graham inhabited in the hearts of the faithful, semi-faithful, and faithful-adjacent. Graham wasn’t just held up as an example of a good man and great preacher, people were so certain he was inspired by god, that quoting him sometimes had a stronger effect than quoting from the scripture.
As a teenaged Southern Baptist (very closeted) queer boy in the 70s, I was perhaps more acutely aware of how much Graham was revered than most. While many saw my flare for the dramatic as a troubling hint of queerness, others saw it as a calling from god to become a preacher. The combination of that theatricality with my ability to memorize and recall huge sections of the Bible, as well as a facility with language, and being quick-thinking on my feet had people talking about what a great preacher I would make when I was still in grade school. Once I was older, and had more experience thanks to musical groups, drama club, and the debate team, well, it surprised no one when elders of the church started trying to convince me to get ordained in my late teens.
At the same time, completely unbeknownst to me, Mom and several women in our church were meeting once a week to pray that god would “rescue” me from the temptation of homosexuality. I hadn’t come out to anyone, at all, at the time. And while there are been some very furtive sexual relationships with a few boys my age during middle school, by the time people’s suspicions had risen to that point I was celibate, secretly praying even more fervently than they were, and doing everything I possibly could to be straight.
Which is precisely why, when I was approached about ordination, I started meeting with one of the associate pastors and studying to become a minister. Like millions of religious queers before me, for some time I thought that embracing “full-time Christian service” might be the only way to make my feelings for other guys go away.
I should mention that in Southern Baptist churches at the time, ordination was something that happened usually at your local church before you went off to Bible college. Which is the reverse of the way most other denominations do it. So I was still a teen in my first year attending community college while meeting with the pastors and deacons of our church several times a week to study and pray about my future.
I wish I could say that what caused me to back out was an epiphany about my sexual orientation resulting in self-acceptance replacing the self-loathing I had been taught all my life. That tipping point wouldn’t come for a few more years, yet. I also wish I could say that it was learning that the origins of the Southern Baptist denomination were much more racist and pro-slavery than I had been taught. That shocked me a little bit, but I was already quite familiar with the fact that only a few years before this the Southern Baptist Convention had finally denounced segregation of the races.
What did bring me to my senses were two conversations that happened close together, each with a different deacon in our church.
In the first, the elder in question took issue with my continued interest in science, particularly my interest in astronomy and evolution. He was quite unimpressed by my argument that a god who could plan and carry out a plan involved 15 billions years of stellar evolution eventually leading to humans was a far more impressive feat then simply waving a magic wand and making everything at once. While he referenced the Baptist principle that interpreting the scripture was something each person must do on their own, he also made it clear that my adherence to scientific fact was not an asset for a pastor.
In the conversation with another deacon, I mentioned an article I had read recently in which I learned that Fred Rogers, famous as Mister Rogers on PBS stations, was an ordained Presbyterian minister, who considered his work producing the children’s show his ministry. I thought it was a great example of how doing god’s work could take many forms The deacon had a very different view. First, he pointed out that (in the opinion of typical Southern Baptists), Presbyterians were “soft” on Biblical inerrancy. Further, if Rogers was actually doing god’s work, he would use that daily television show to tell children directly the story of Jesus. Since he didn’t do that, he wasn’t doing god’s work, according to this deacon. Finally, he said, “You know that Billy Graham was raised Presbyterian? He joined the Baptists because we’re actually doing god’s work.”
And those two conversations were the final nails in the coffin of me becoming a Baptist minister. The epiphany I had after those conversations was that all of the church leaders who had been urging me to become a minister didn’t really see the makings of a pastor in me. Instead, they thought that anyone who had Talent, whether it be intelligence, a gift for language, or whatever, who didn’t use that to evangelize wasn’t doing god’s work. That simply being a good person and doing what you can to make the corner of the world you were in a better place and to love your neighbors wasn’t enough.
I didn’t call things off until the end of the Sunday evening Church service where, as part of the process, I delivered a sermon and otherwise conducted the service. I still think that my John 16:33 sermon is an incredible work of art. But even as I was giving it, I knew the whole thing was a mistake. I suspect if I hadn’t called it off, that the deacon who was so concerned about my love of science would have done what he could to derail things. Regardless, there were a few more times over the next couple of years that leaders in that church and related churches came to me and asked me to prayerfully reconsider become a preacher.
I had learned my lesson: if the evangelical faith couldn’t accommodate both scientific fact and Mister Rogers, well, it didn’t have a place for me, either. I didn’t find my real place until several years later, but that’s a story for another day.
Note: The title comes from the hymn “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder” by James M. Black, hymn #482 in the 1956 Baptist Hymnal.
Most of the news media seems to be talking about the #TakeAKnee hashtag because Donald Trump went on a rant last night calling for NFL players who take a knee during the national anthem to be fired. And a certain number of the deplorables are chiming in and angrily calling for those football players to stop injecting politics into football.
And of course I have some opinions on that.
First, insisting that people stand for the national anthem? That is injecting politics into sports. The act of playing the national anthem and unfurling the flag at the beginning of games has been injecting politics into sports for decades. There are many Americans whose religion, for instance, forbid standing for the anthem or saluting the flag. And that’s their right, as humans and as Americans. And I say that as a former Boy Scout who gets angry at people flying their flags in the rain, attaching flags to they car ariels and letting them get ragged and dirty.
Second, you want to talk disrespecting the flag? Anyone who has ever defended the Confederate Flag is disrespecting the U.S. flag each time they do it. That’s right. So, Donald disrespected the flag when he defended the Confederate Flag-waving people. He disrespected the U.S. flag each time he defending the swastika-waving neoNazis. He disrespected the U.S. flag each time he criticized people calling for the removal of Confederate monuments.
Third, the brave men and women of our armed forces who risk their lives, and in far too many cases gave their lives, did so not to defend a piece of fabric or a song. They died defending the ideas that flag stands for. When I cry during the national anthem (and I do every time I hear it), I do so not because of that piece of fabric or the song itself, but because of the ideas that flag and that song are supposed to stand for. And among those ideas are that people have a right to protest. People have a right to petition their government. People have a right to demand justice. People should expect that their lives will be valued equally no matter the color of their skin. And the reality is that our society doesn’t do that latter. Men of color are at least nine times more likely to be shot and killed by police than anyone else. That is neither justice nor equality. It is unAmerican to claim otherwise. So, no, taking a knee during the anthem doesn’t disrespect members of the military, either.
Fourth, Hurricane Maria just devastated Puerto Rico, which is an American territory inhabited by 3,411,307 U.S. citizens. The hurricane wiped entire towns off the map, knocked out electricity to the entire island, has disrupted the public drinking water system. That we know of 13 people died during the storm, but with so much of the infrastructure wiped out, the death toll is probably higher. But even worse, many more could die because of things ranging from a dam that is failing and continued flooding, not to mention what the destroyed roads and lack of power means about deliver of food, medicine, and other essentials or getting sick and injured people to medical attention. ‘If anyone can hear us … help.’ Puerto Rico’s mayors describe widespread devastation from Hurricane Maria What with more than 3.4million Americans in imminent danger, what has the so-called president said about the devastation or how the federal government will respond? Not one single word. He can go on rants about sports figures and reports who say things he disagrees with, but can’t be bothered to comment on millions of his fellow citizens in danger.
And why, exactly, has he been silent on Puerto Rico? Could it be because in the minds of most the people there are just a bunch of brown folks and therefore not “real Americans?”
One of the other things people were talking about this week was a commentator on ESPN calling Donald a White Supremacist. And a lot of people who think they are being open-minded are arguing that that isn’t an appropriate label. But Donald himself said so. Remember in the aftermath of the Charlottesville protests? When Donald was defending his ludicrous “both sides” claim, he got into an argument with a reporter who pointed out that all of the violence recorded was from the neo-Nazis. Donald said, “but what about when the Black Lives Matter folks came at us… I mean, when they came at them…” Loose lips sink ships, as my Grandpa used to say. Donald said himself that he was one of the neo-Nazis… (and that isn’t the only time).
And while we’re at it:
He appointed Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, a Republican Senator who, ten years ago, was considered by even his fellow Republicans too racist to be a judge.
He pardoned a sheriff who was convicted of disobeying court orders in order to racial profile and otherwise deliver justice by policy in racially-motivated ways.
On the same day that the African-American commentator called out the president for giving encouragement to white supremacists, the newly chosen Miss America called out the president for the same thing. But Miss America is white, so guess which critic the president went nuclear on in with twitter storms, and having his press secretary call for a firing, et cetera?
When addressing the United Nations, Donald literally said he intends to wipe out North Korea. A country that is home to 25million people, the vast majority of whom do not support the actions of their dictator, but rather are victims of the dictator’s regime. Killing 25million people (who happen to be asian) to destroy an entire country? That’s genocide.
He defends racists. As a businessman, he tried to keep black families out his properties. He has said multiple times that he “doesn’t want black people” counting his money, when explaining about some of his hiring practices. He attacks people of color for peacefully demonstrating or stating opinions. He appoints racists. He appoints white supremacists. He enacts (or tries to enact) racist policies. When talking about neo-Nazis and White Supremacists he sometimes refers to them collectively as “us”.
And I could go on and on.
Donald Trump is a racist. That is a fact. He encourages white supremacists. He has been endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups. Not only did he not disavow those endorsements, he accepted them and praised them. If Donald Trump isn’t a white supremacist, then why call them “fine people”?
Weekend Update 9/17/2017: Juggalos, Hillary book signing both outnumber Trump “mother of all rallies”
But just a few blocks away there was a bigger rally in front of the Lincoln Memorial: Pro-Trump Rally Dwarfed By ‘Juggalo’ Demonstration In D.C.. So fans of Insane Clown Posse were able to muster a much bigger crowd the the Make America Great Again people. But it gets worse! On the same day, Hillary Clinton was doing a book signing at a Costco in Brookfield, Connecticut.. guess what? Hillary Clinton Book-Signing Draws More Than 1,000 To Brookfield Costco. Hillary’s book signings are drawing larger crowds that the Trump supporters can muster!
Some folks are pointing to the news stories about former Trump supporters burning their Make America Great Again hats and this rally as indicating his support is slipping among his hardcore. I’m not sure that’s anywhere near the whole story. I think another important part is just how many fake accounts (twitterbots and such) make up the online Trump supporter crowd: Trump Twitter bots, numbering in millions, could be used to blanket internet with weaponized false info (by the way, that headline should read “is already being used to” not could be). A similar problem exists on Facebook, though because of some of the company’s policies, it’s a lot harder to determine just how many fake Americans Russian hackers manufactured to spread fake news and amp up membership on Pro-Trump pages: The Fake Americans Russia Created to Influence the Election. So I think one reason the organizers were expecting bigger crowds is they just haven’t figured out how many of their supportors online are fake accounts.
Besides, the Trump supporters burning their hats? They’re doing it for very racist reasons: Trump Supporters Are Burning Their MAGA Hats: They’re not happy about his prospective deal with Democrats to protect DACA recipients. That’s right, the hardcore supporters are angry because undocumented people who were brought to this country as children might, might be given a path to citizenship. You know, that thing the Trump supporter keep angrily asking why the Dreamers and such haven’t already done (because legally they still can’t)?
One more thing: all of those supporters burning those hats? They may want to think about the little American flag on that thing: I Wonder If Angry, MAGA Hat-Burning Trump Supporters Know They’re Burning a Tiny American Flag, Too. Since the pro-trump/anti-semetic/pro-gun demographic (i.e., most of his supporters) is also historically the same people who scream bloody murder if someone burns a U.S. flag as a protest.
But then, you can’t expect consistency from people who define the Statue of Liberty as a non-patriotic symbol, and reduce Christianity to hating queers.
Content Warning: the following essay (which will also touch on dangerous misperceptions and myths about sexual orientation) includes some specifics about physical abuse of children and worse. Only click when you’re ready … Read More…
So, in case you missed it, a group of conservative evangelical organizations have banded together, calling themselves The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, and they issued this multipart statement of faith, most of which is exactly the same old ant-gay, anti-trans, anti-equal rights for woman, stuff that we are used to hearing from these bigots. But this time there is one important difference.
That difference is Article X:
- WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.
- WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.
In other words, they are now explicitly and emphatically saying that anti-LGBT bias is an essential part of being a christian, and anyone who does not subscribe to their anti-LGBT beliefs are not christians.
Now, for some years many of us on the queer and queer-affirming side of this divide have been pointing out that they have boiled christianity down to nothing more than the hatred of the gays. Politicians who in no other way support what any reasonable person would call Christ-like values, nor who love in anyway according to christian values are given high ratings, endorsements, and money by these organizations as long as they oppose marriage equality, trans rights, and so on.
There was that amusing Tumblr post I linked to awhile back where someone made a joke about homophobes, and scores of angry christians swarmed on the post calling it anti-christian hate. Then the original poster had to point out that the word “christian” didn’t appear anywhere in joke. It literally said “homophobe” but, “you guys went ahead and read yourselves in there.”
But whenever we accuse them of throwing out all of Jesus’s teachings (in the Bible, Jesus never said a single word, not one, about homosexuality) and replacing them with a hatred of us queers, they have emphatically denied it.
I’ve seen some folks say to just ignore it, because they don’t officially speak for anyone. But here’s one of the problems I have with that. In May of 1845 a bunch of conservative Baptist churches sent representatives to a meeting in Augusta, Georgia, and issued a 14-point statement of why they were separating from the rest of the Baptist Churches. Twelve of the fourteen points in that statement were affirming the institution of slavery in various ways, along with the segregation of the races and the inherent superiority of the white race. That was the birth of the Southern Baptist Convention, years before the civil war.
Even after the war, that group continued to fight for white supremacy and racial segregation, until 1971… at which time the finally endorsed desegregation and shifted their focus to abortion, women’s rights, and gay rights. They were the core of the Moral Majority. They remain a core consituency of the Republican Party in general and Donald Trump in particular.
I know this, because I was raised in that church. I’ve always been proud of the fact that my own grandfather was one of the delegates to the 1971 convention where racial segregation was finally removed from the official doctrine of the church. I was less proud of how many members of our home church at the time quit to form a new Bible Baptist Church over the issue of racial segregation.
So, 172 years after issuing a similarly bigoted statement, pain and suffering are still being inflicted on some segments of the population. I have trouble not fearing something similar here from the signatories of the Nashville Statement. Adopting hate and sticking to it didn’t make that group whither away. It grew, until it became (and remains) the largest Protestant denomination in North America.
Until now, they have always stopped short of explicitly saying that the christians who disagree with them on this issue aren’t really Christian. I think this represents a new battle line from people who feel emboldened by the election of Donald Trump. I don’t think this is just the same old, same old. These are the same people who, when we point out that the teachings of Jesus contradict them, claim that Jesus’s various admonitions about love and compassion only apply to fellow christians. They’ve been sanctioning the murder of abortion providers for decades, as well as the bashing and murder of queer and trans people. This statement puts targets on many more people.
Don’t laugh it off.
There was a lot of talk during the meeting about insurance—either that our current insurance carrier didn’t want to cover us against theft and vandalism for parts of the building that were unlocked at night, or they were going to raise our rates significantly, I don’t recall which. There were a number of people in the congregation who felt maybe we should start locking the main building. “We aren’t in a tiny town and it isn’t the fifties,” is how I think one person put it. Another person told a story of homeless people routinely sleeping in churches and sometimes not being careful about where they went to the bathroom.
One of the associate pastors rose to his feet on that one and said, “Call me foolish if you want, but I think the proper response to finding a homeless person sleeping in your church should be to offer them a meal, and then ask what other help do they need!”
I grew up in Southern Baptist Churches where the tradition is that all business decisions related to the church are decided by the congregation as a whole. At regular intervals the usual Wednesday Prayer meeting would begin with a business meeting. Any congregation member, no matter their age, who attended the meetings had a vote. I had been attending business meetings at the many churches we attended (as my family moved) for as long as I could remember. I seldom remembered one that became more impassioned than that debate about whether to put locks on the sanctuary door.
It was beginning to look as if the majority was leaning toward adding the locks. And then one elderly member of the congregation struggled to stand up. She had been frail and needed a walker to get around for some years, but she never missed a service at the church. She let the person sitting next to her help her to her feet, but then she sort of shook him off and raised her face as if she was speaking to the heavens themselves, and I hadn’t heard her voice sound so firm in years. “For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not visit me. And they will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick and in prison and did not help you?’ And he will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whenever you did not do it for the least of these, you did not do for me!'” She paused, looked around at all of us, and then added. “We call it a sanctuary! That is what it is supposed to be! This isn’t our house, it is His house, and he already told us what we ought to do!”
And then she sat down.
Every one was very quiet for a moment, then someone said, “I move that we do not put locks on the sanctuary.” About forty of us said, “Seconded!” And the deacon conducting the meeting said, “Everyone in favor, signify by saying ‘amen’?” That was a very loud chorus of “amens.” Then the deacon asked, “Any opposed?” And I think one person said “Nay,” and he was immediately admonished by his wife.
Before I move on, a few notes. It has been many years since I considered myself a Christian. I usually say that I didn’t reject the church, but my denomination (which is still anti-gay decades later) rejected me. At that time, I felt I had no choice but to look for spiritual fulfillment elsewhere. I usually define myself as Taoist, now. But when that woman started quoting the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25, I found myself murmuring along with her. I wasn’t the only person, by any means, but my point is that I was the kind of kid who could quote entire chapters of the Bible from heart. Some of those passages still speak strongly to me.So, yes, I was one of the people a bit outraged when so-called christian televangelist Joel Osteen, mega church pastor in Houston, Texas, refused to open his building as a shelter to his neighbor flooded out of their homes: Joel Osteen’s Houston megachurch opens to Harvey victims only after backlash. The church’s statements have been slightly contradictory. There are plenty of posts on the internet you can track down of people living nearby walking to the church during the time when the church claimed it was flooded to show there wasn’t any flooding. And during the time when they said it was not locked people walked up and took videos of themselves trying doors and so forth.
So let’s get a few things straight. Osteen’s “ministry” preaches so-called prosperity gospel, the essence of which is: if you’re rich, that’s a sign God likes you. If you’re not, maybe he doesn’t. This runs absolutely counter to almost every word Jesus actually said. The church in question isn’t just a megachurch, it is a former sports arena that the “ministry” purchased for millions of dollars, then spent at least 70 million more renovating. The renovations include installing two artificial waterfalls inside the church, yet somehow in all of that they neglected to put in any symbols of Christianity: there are no crosses or any other signs inside the sanctuary that indicate in any way that it is a christian house of worship. Thousands of TV cameras and screens and a top-notch sound system so that you can always see and hear Osteen, though.
While the child inside me who used to love reciting John 16:33, or Matthew 5:3-16, or Matthew 25:31-46 gets outraged at Osteen’s actions, I can’t really say that he is much of an outlier of typical evangelical christian thought. Most evangelical christians believe, whether they say it aloud or not, in the Just World Fallacy: if bad things happen to you, they are almost certainly a punishment from god. In other words, if you’re poor, it can’t possibly be because the entire system of the economy and society is geared to transfer wealth and resources from everyone else to the rich, it’s because you’re probably secretly doing something sinful. If you get a horrible disease, it isn’t caused by a virus or chemicals you’ve been exposed to in your deregulated workplace, et cetera, it’s because you’re doing something sinful, et cetera. And therefore, poor people, sick people, and so forth don’t deserve help and compassion. Like Osteen’s prosperity BS, it is the opposite of what Jesus actually taught.
As if one object lesson in just how uncompassionate and unchristian many of these so-called religious leaders are, at the same time this was unfolding, another group of evangelical leaders were doubling down on their anti-gay, anti-trans, anti-sex, anti-joy hateful rhetoric: Evangelical Leaders Release Anti-LGBTQ Statement On Human Sexuality. The fact that some of those “leaders” have been involved in serious scandals trying to cover-up rampant sexual abuse within their organization is really all anyone needs to know about them.
But someone else described these situations far more eloquently long ago:
“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”
—Jesus, as quoted in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 7, verses 21-23.
The reasons I switched from the program I’ve been using for years isn’t important. The interesting bit was what I learned after setting up one specific account in the new reader. It’s an email account that is on a domain I own. The sole purpose of this account is to be the home account of one of my side Twitter accounts. I have an twitter account in the name of one of the fictional characters in my novel series. At the time I set it up I had vague plans to promote the books through it. Anyway, the mail services for that domain are outsourced, and for various reasons when I set up my new email reader to pull that account, the junk mail filters at the outsourced place are being ignored. So ever single bit of spam coming to that account gets downloaded to my laptop. This account has never been shared with anyone other than Twitter. The email account doesn’t appear on any contact anywhere, I don’t believe that I have ever sent an email message from it. But still, it gets hundreds of spam messages every day — and at most one legitimate piece of email, because once a day Twitter sends a message to the account with “hightlights” from the people that the twitter account follows, or to tell me someone replied to a tweet, or whatever, right?
So this account is just getting flooded with spam, and you would expect that most of said spam would be Nigerian-Prince-style scams, right? Nope. Don’t get me wrong–there are some messages about “Get in on this 10 Million Dollar deal!” or “Regarding your credit account” or “We tried to deliver your package” that try to get you to click on a link and enter your password for a service they can hijack or get you to confirm credit card information. And there are the ads for Viagra or quack remedies for various illnesses, yes. But that’s less than half. The other half are emails with subject lines: “Obama treason confirmed!” or “Birth Control Makes Women Violent” or “Planned Parenthood Still Selling Infant Organs” “You Won’t Believe What the Gay Agenda is Pushing Now” or “Hilary Crimes Finally Proven” or “You Won’t Believe this Obama Outrage!”
That’s right, a half year since Obama left office and the sexual-predator-in-chief was sworn in, there are bots out there cranking out anti-Obama and anti-Hilary propaganda, and mailing it to millions of people. And clearly, someone must be clicking on some of these mails.
I already knew about the literally millions of twitter-bot accounts that retweat Donald’s nonsense or hate speech and propaganda from alt-right news sites. I knew about the millions of twitter-bot accounts pretending to be Bernie Bros tweeting out slightly more dog-whistling hate speech and anti-Hilary disinformation. I’ve included in recent Friday Links posts some stories about the role of algorithms and those bots in skewing the way the people see and understand the news: The Threat From Artiﬁcial Intelligence May Already Be Here and Maybe the AI dystopia is already here.
I had thought I understood what was happening. But it took seeing thousands of these spam messages from several months worth of spam to one account to finally connect a couple of dots I hadn’t been thinking about it. The various alt-right faux news sites, plus Fox, the millions of twitter-bots, and so forth function like spam in more ways than one. One avenue of success similar to spam is that only a fraction of a percent of any message needs to be seen by the targertted person for it to hit. Most of them aren’t seen by any individual because some are caught in various filters such as junk folders. But as long as some get through, the person is still exposed to the misinformation.
But another aspect of spam’s effectiveness we don’t think about is this: the less tech-savvy someone is, the more likely they are to see the misinformation. And studies have shown that the more educated a person is, or the more knowledgeable they are in a variety of subjects, the more likely they are to be liberal. Conversely, the less knowledgeable, the more likely they are to be conservative. So there’s an asymmetrical distribution of the misinformation, with more of the people who see it being likely to view those ridiculous headlines and subject lines as confirmation of their current beliefs, rather than react with skepticism.
The other aspect is contagion. Certain types of malware and scams depend on people forwarding them on to other people. We all had that one relative who always, without fail, used to click on every single chain email and so forth forwarded to them by anyone they knew, and who in turn would forward it to all of their friends and family (no matter how many times we tried to explain to grandpa that he was forwarding viruses half the time, right?).
The person who sees the false headline and believes it may share the false news link to all their friends by posting it on Facebook or forwarding the message or whatever. And many of the people they know are sharing similar bits of misinformation, creating the impression that everyone they know agrees with their worldview and/or validates the misinformation.
It’s not just that they live in an information bubble, or that they inhabit an echo chamber, its that they are surrounded my scores of overlapping misinformation bubbles that invade and reinforce each other.
And the fourth area comes back to that bit I said about not being able to convince my one grandparent to stop forwarding the bad stuff. After awhile I just had to give up and quarantine all of his emails. Similarly, it’s not just that the misinformation drowns out the good information, but we’re socially conditioned not to argue with some of the vectors of misinformation. And because we get tired of having arguments with all those racist cousins, so we simply mute them or whatever. Then they assume that because we’ve stopped arguing, that we now agree with them.
I wish I had a solution to this. It would be so much easier if the enemy were an army of Cylons coming at us. Instead, twitter-bots and the like are turning our neighbors and relatives into the army that is trying to take away our rights, take away healthcare, and so much more.