For those of you who don’t follow issues of faith and sexuality, you may be unaware of the latest skirmish in the culture wars. So let me provide some context.
World Vision U.S. is a large, Christian humanitarian organization serving people in poverty around the world. On Monday, their president Richard Stearns gave an exclusive interview to Christianity Today explaining why they were changing their employment policy to end discrimination against Christians in legal same-sex marriages. The thinking of the board, he explained, was that it was not their place to weigh in – pro or con – on divisive, secondary theological matters; such decisions are better left to individual denominations. Fair enough.
The reaction of the evangelical Christian community was swift and severe. With a united voice, they expressed outrage that World Vision, representing themselves as a Christian organization, would validate the idea that some Christians believe same sex marriages are moral. They immediately started withdrawing their recurring donations (5,000 sponsors as of yesterday), and major partners threatened to end their support. Evidently facing the potential of financial collapse, World Vision rescinded its policy decision and announced their reversal in a groveling press release.
I don’t blame World Vision. They’re doing good work, and that’s the most important thing. They may have been ham-fisted in handling this situation, but I don’t believe they ever had any malicious intent.
But this reaction from anti-gay Christians has overwhelmed me.
My faith and my marriage are two profound things that shape my life and give it meaning. In blog after blog, angry evangelical commenters have attempted to delegitimize both. They reject the faith of anyone who doesn’t believe that gay sex is sinful. They mock the vows and blessings that wed same sex couples. In their hearts, to do otherwise would be an act of disobedience to God. I embody all that is anathema to these believers. In fact, Russell Moore went so far as to say that including people like me at the communion table puts the very gospel of Jesus Christ at stake.* Referring to people like me, he said “We empower darkness when we refuse to warn of judgment.”
I was shocked and saddened by the outrage. I had the same experience as Rachel Held Evans who wrote “I confess I had not realized the true extent of the disdain many evangelicals have toward LGBT people.”
Maybe I’ve been naïve, but this week I realized for the first time that they really, truly hate me. Anti-gay Christians reject this assertion, but I’ve come to realize that they want to obliterate me.
This realization has fundamentally changed what I believe.
I used to believe we worshiped the same God who’s bigger than our disagreements. I can’t believe that anymore. There’s too much distance between their hate and the God I seek. Their words and actions are completely contrary to the example of Christ. Their god and their religion are suddenly foreign to me.
I wanted to believe that my conservative brothers and sisters were holding their convictions with love and compassion – even if I see those convictions as harmful. I can’t believe that anymore. They literally want to do me harm and push me back to the margins – just as they demanded that World Vision continue to marginalize their gay employees. They are unable to see any virtue in my life; all they see is sin to be eradicated. I understand now that they are my enemy.
I wanted to believe that – conservative or progressive, straight or gay – we are one body with each of us making a unique contribution to the yet-unseen kingdom. But the cruelty I’ve seen this week is in no way God’s will being done “on earth as it is in heaven”. The Bride of Christ is intent on kicking gay people in the teeth.
I wanted to believe that we are all part of God’s perfect ecosystem**. I wanted to believe that they are an oak and I am an elm – both of us trees in God’s perfect creation. I can’t believe that anymore. I now realize that their faith is parasitic; to survive, it must kill all other trees in the garden.
This is why I no longer hold the hope of reconciliation. It has been suffocated under the mass of hate-filled words. If I believe in Jesus, I must believe God can resurrect this hope in me; but I know that it has died and I fear it will never return.
Right now, I feel very far away from the cross and from God. That saddens me deeply. I desperately want to find my way back, but I’m at a loss. I’m bewildered and disoriented.
The future of my faith has something to do with being able to see Jesus in the faces of those who wish me harm. I have to find a way to love my enemies. If I’m unable to do that, I don’t think I’d be able to call myself a Christian anymore. Which would make evangelicals very happy.
* Jenny Rae Armstrong wrote an excellent piece refuting this hateful notion.
** I stole this metaphor from Brian McLaren’s interview with Krista Tippett.