A Farewell To Hope

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Posted on March 28, 2014 by

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Today I’m grieving. This week an important part of my faith died.

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  Evidently facing the potential of financial collapse, World Vision rescinded its policy decision and announced their reversal in a groveling press release.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.

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Response to A Farewell To Hope

  1. Jill

    (sorry I posted this on the wrong page originally???)

    So kind words are in order for the day?

    I only wish I had the right words to comfort this part of you, this piece of your faith that, for all intents and purposes, feels disconnected from the body of Christ right now.

    You are *not* disconnected from Christ. You never were. You never will be. Tears are in my eyes, feeling what you must be feeling inside.

    I do not worry about you, my friend. I cry a bit for the innocence lost here. I do know this process too well. My empathy and my heart is all about you now.

    • Ford Post author

      Thanks Jill,
      As multiple people have reminded me since I pressed “publish”, Jesus IS the promise of reconciliation. And I DO believe that. Yet I don’t recognize the Church. Where is Jesus in the evangelical response to World Vision? The self-righteous hate and cruelty makes me question the legitimacy of the faith. How can our shared beliefs possibly lead us to such different ways of operating in the world? I’m a little heartbroken.

  2. Dan Wilkinson

    I don’t have any deep words of wisdom that will somehow magically alleviate the very real and very troubling problems you’ve pointed out. I wish I did. It all just breaks my heart and I wish so very much that things weren’t the way they are. Maybe someday things will be different.

    • Ford Post author

      Dan,
      Thanks for the kind words. I guess there’s always hope and fear for the future. I’m trying very hard right now to choose hope.

  3. Peter

    Same story, different reason. “Their god and their religion are suddenly foreign to me.” Amen. For me it’s important to remember that it’s “THEIR” god, their version of god. In this way, the 12-step programs have been very helpful to me: surrendering to a higher power of my own understanding. I don’t understand a god that can drive people to do such hateful things as this. My perspective: if I can imagine a god more loving and joyful and peaceful than someone else’s, then I’m going with mine. That’s my understanding of Jesus. They can have theirs.

    • Ford Post author

      Peter,
      Amen. I totally want to follow the example of Christ – inclusive, compassionate, loving. I know I fall terribly short of that ideal. Their Jesus doesn’t seem to bear any resemblance to mine. I’m so at a loss to understand how we can claim the same religion. I’ll try to take your sage advice – stay focused on my Jesus.

  4. Quackzalcoatl

    Ford, I don’t blame you for feeling this way. What a terrible witness for Christ’s redemptive love. As a conservative-minded Christian, I’m ashamed to be associated with such obvious bigotry. I am so sorry, my dear friend.

    • Ford Post author

      Thanks so much Q. I try really hard not to use the word bigotry, but I can’t think of a better one to describe this situation. The intensity of the hate sent me reeling. Thanks for reminding me that there are NALT conservatives too (ironically, I might put myself in that category).

      • Quackzalcoatl

        Ford, I know you and I have had the same internal debates going about reconciling this apparent rift in Scripture — trying to adhere to traditional understanding and stay attuned to the Holy Spirit, without denying love and matrimony to those who were born differently than the “ideal.” I still believe your approach has been the right one — you act not out of defiance, but with a humble heart and an earnestness for righteousness. You remain one of the finest examples of true Christianity I’ve ever come across.

        As I’ve said so many times to anyone who’d listen, I would rather err on the side of love and genuine compassion than to be a part of denying you — and anyone like you — the same soulful connectedness we all so passionately seek. God knows my heart — and yours. We are not wrong in this. Stay strong, and pray for those whose actions counteract the love we know in Christ. We are bearers of the Light, we are brothers in arms!

  5. Valentine Logar

    There are no words that will lift your spirit from this. I can only say this to you, their actions do not represent all Christians. In truth, their actions represent only the voice of a few, a sad small few. I don’t think you are wrong in your observation of them, but they are not the whole body only the parasite that resides upon it, feeding and making it ill.

    It is truly unfortunate that this is what many of us see as the entire face of Christianity. It is no wonder it loses more from the door of the church each day.

    I do hope you find your way back to faith if this is what you desire.

    • Ford Post author

      Hi Valentine,
      Thank you for your encouragement. You say “their actions represent only the voice of a few, a sad small few.” Unfortunately, that’s not true.

      I know there are communities of affirming Christians. But they are a small (but growing) minority. Russell Moore speaks on behalf of the Southern Baptist Convention which is by far the largest US denomination. Not only did he not extend grace to people who believe differently, he suggested that gay people are evil and bringing God’s judgment. He elevated anti-gay sexual ethics to a primary theological concern. I’ve heard others calling for the establishment of new creeds that include heterosexist sexual ethics.

      Make no mistake, anti-gay Christians hold the majority belief. I already knew that, and I think that will change over time. But I didn’t understand that they held their beliefs with such hatred and malice. That doesn’t look like Jesus to me at all.

  6. Anastasia Beaverhausen

    Ford, your faith died when you started sharing your hate and bigotry; suck it up big boy, no pun intended.

    I was raised a Southern Baptist but left the first time the Minister stood up in front of the parishioners and exposed his bigotry.

    Bigotry is more likely to destroy this country, than Gay and Lesbianism.

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