The Gospel of… Hate?

When is the church going to figure out that when it broadcasts messages of hate, nobody wins? Not God, not Christians, and certainly not anyone else.

For some reason, though, every time a morally-charged news story breaks, I find myself bracing for the hate-filled response from some embarrassing corner of Christianity. When the DOMA story hit the news a few days ago, almost simultaneously alongside Wendy Davis’ marathon filibuster in Texas, I was actually shocked not to see any outrage at the latest Christian-initiated backlash exploding on my Facebook wall. It may have been there, but it was drowned out by all the celebration.

A computer screen exploding in rainbows
“When I checked FB again this morning…” – George Takei, the morning after DOMA was struck down by the US Supreme Court

You don’t have to be Facebook friends with George Takei to know that the general tide of opinion about homosexuality in American society is shifting. Rainbow is the new cool, homophobia is the new racism. But am I just “jumping on the bandwagon” and “selling out” my faith by failing to reach for a “God hates insert-hated-minority-group-of-the-day” sign (1) every time society slides further down the so-called slippery slope?

I don’t think so. As a Canadian, the gay marriage debate has been long since settled for me. Gay marriage has been legal all across the country since 2005, and we were technically the first country in the world to have a legally-recognized gay marriage occur (2). America’s Hat has painted itself rainbow-coloured, and while we’re admittedly not very forward-thinking in many other arenas (Global warming? What’s that? Sounds like a good idea, because brr!) at least in this we seem to be.

As a Christian, figuring out where I stand on the issue had been a more difficult process of wading through grey areas trying to find my way; difficult largely because of all the confusing messages I’ve received about what the Bible supposedly says about homosexuality. It was always a faceless issue for me, though, until early 2006 when I discovered that one of my best friends from youth group had finally come out of the closet. My first thought was not one of judgment, or fear, or concern for his eternal soul, but one of mortal embarrassment at the fact that I had – just weeks earlier – jokingly given him a Mrs. Potato Head for Christmas. When faced with the issue I knew instinctively that the only thing that mattered was for me to continue to love my friend as I always had, and that settled it for me.

Mrs. Potato Head
Hey, friend! You seemed like you needed a little help getting a girlfriend so I got you a Mrs. Potato Head! What? You’d rather have a Mr.? Ohhhhhhhhhh… Excuse me while I crawl into a hole and die of mortal embarrassment now. I. AM. SO. SORRY.

In the last few years, living abroad, I’ve had the opportunity to become a part of a very diverse expat community. I’ve made friends with many different origins, beliefs, and yes, sexual orientations. Many of these friends are surprised to learn I consider myself a Christian because I seem so “UN-Christian.” What does this even mean? Is this bad? Well, in some of their words, I’m not “judging them,” I’m not “like those crazy fundamental types,” I don’t “seem so religious.” Sometimes I am asked if I hate [insert-LGBT-friend’s-name-here] because I’m a Christian. Sometimes I find myself listening to a friend’s story about how they’ve been hurt or turned off by the church in some form or another. I’ll respond earnestly and honestly, or jokingly and sardonically, depending on the situation. But I cry a little inside every time.

So I ask, tearfully, why are there so many people who have been hurt by the church? What’s the deal with all the hateful messages aimed at very select groups of people? Why do churches picket against legalizing gay marriage and not legalized divorce? Jesus has much clearer and stronger words for people who divorce (3)  than for homosexuals. In fact, he barely says anything about homosexuality at all. (4)

Wouldn’t it seem absurd to picket the homes of everyone who’s ever gotten a divorce? If we did, we would have to picket the same percentage of church members as members of the general population, since the numbers are nearly indistinguishable. (5)

"God hates no one" written on sign that counter-protestor holds in front of WBC protestors
A nine-year-old kid stages an impromptu counter-protest against the WBC: “God hates no one.”
photo: Patty Akrouche

Don’t misinterpret me, though. Before you reach for your signs and pitchforks, I am not suggesting we find new things to protest. As Rachel Held Evans writes, “My generation is tired of the culture wars. We are tired of fighting, tired of vain efforts to advance the Kingdom through politics and power, tired of drawing lines in the sand, tired of being known for what we are against, not what we are for.”

When Jesus was asked, “what is the most important commandment?” He didn’t say, “make sure those gays and those Jews and those democrats know what’s coming to them.” He summed up all of the Bible’s commands in one sentiment: love. Love God, love others. Period. (6)

Yasira Jaan on WBC tweet

I know that not all Christians are the Westboro Baptist Church, and that there are a lot of Christians out there trying to live authentic lives of love. Yet for far too many people the whispered message of love is not being heard above the angry cries of hate.

Footnotes:

(1) – There is actually a website, believe it or not, dedicated to exactly this.

(2) – While Canada was technically the fourth country to legalize gay marriage, in certain provinces in 2003, and then federally in 2005, a retroactive court decision made a January 2001 wedding the first legally recognized gay marriage in the world. (wikipedia)

(3) – Jesus on divorce: Mark 10:1-12

(4) – What did Jesus have to say about homosexuality? Hint: not much.

(5) – A Barna Group study found, in 2008, that divorce statistics among Christians in America, as compared to the general American population, were “statistically identical.”

(6) – Jesus on the greatest commandment: Matthew 22:34-40

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5 thoughts on “The Gospel of… Hate?

  1. I have also been told I am ‘different’ to many Christians, and I actually consider this to be a positive thing. The message of hate, of intolerance, of bullying is far too rife and widespread in Church’s.

    How to bring more people to Church, is to be non judgemental and let each persons life be between them and God. And be kind, compassionate and caring.

    There needs to be less hate, and more vigilance and discernment about the abuse and bullying ‘already’ going on within the Church, than posts and bullying and hatred towards those who are homosexual.

    1. Yeah, sometimes I wonder if being told I don’t seem “that Christian” is a bad thing, but my heart tells me I’m on the right track… I agree that there needs to be more vigilance towards what’s going on in the church as well, I used the messages of hate towards the LGBT community in this post as an example, but many of the people I’ve talked to have been hurt by the church for a variety of other reasons as well. We need more people to think critically from within the church as well as from outside of it to curb these kinds of injustices.

  2. I wrote about homosexual marriage on an old blog and this thread is prompting me to dig up the file (it was important enough for me to save) and repost it. With that in mind, I’ll address something else here.

    The fact that I was turned off to formal Christianity came as a shock to my peers in graduate school. There were a number of times in my Liturgy class that, in the course of conversation, I brought up the fact that the liturgy is surprisingly bankrupt today. Catholic priests are given limits to how long a homily can actually be so as to not ‘lose’ parishioners and from Catholics to Protestant groups to even Jehovah’s Witnesses, it’s been my experience that those doing catechises are either remarkably unqualified (think Mrs. Anderson, a devout but otherwise uncritical Christian, teaching CCD) or approach catechises with significantly more faith than epistemic humility. It shocked a number of my peers to understand that I spoke of a difference between faith and fideism, viz. faith and blind faith. Faith is belief in the absence of evidence (how do you know that the light will turn on when you flick the switch?) and it is based on inductive reasoning. Fideism is belief in the gross absence of evidence or all evidence (someone you know told you that your husband is cheating on you and, since you had a fight, you think that this definitely is the case) and it is not based on anything but emotive reasoning.

    It’s my express belief that the liturgy is bankrupt today because so few people actually bother to invest in it, broadly construed, and are much quicker to feel and react to things than think, converse and educate. The Church has done a great deal of damage over the centuries and has caused enough harm to warrant a public confession. Looking through the Catechism of the Catholic Church will provide sufficient justification for such a mea culpa and the very real, extant notions that (1) the physical Church is distinct from the spiritual Church and (2) the Truth overflowing the bounds of the physical Church demonstrate a real humility that the Church would do well to capture in order to heal the global wounds of a too-heavy handed Catholicism in particular and Christianity in general.

    Finally, in respect to divorce, it seems there is a very particular rationale for Christ’s comments on the subject. If we are to take the Incarnation seriously we must also believe that Christ’s mission was of not mere correction, but of education and love. Divorce generally represents a lack of love, from one or both sides, and it can be tied to Christ’s parables of (1) trying to settle a suit even to the steps of the court and (2a) forgiving your brother hundreds of times DIRECTLY reflected against (2b) the wicked servant. In situations of abuse (verbal and/or physical) and where there is no attempt by one or both parties to grow and reconcile, it seems to me that Christ would NOT want to expand the loss of love but would rather see divorce and the chance for the wounded parties to find love again. Other than that, Christ’s seemingly horizontal command of no divorce would apply. Why? So people could talk it out and rekindle their love, to bring about love.

    1. Wow, thanks for the very thoughtful comment! I am not very familiar with liturgy, in general, as it wasn’t until high school that I encountered the *radical* idea that “Catholics are Christians too.” That being said, I have since found an Anglican church I quite enjoy (although I haven’t attended for years since moving abroad). I found the liturgical aspect of it to be refreshing, probably because it was new and foreign to me, and less focused on interpreting scripture through the lens of one’s own personal feelings and emotions, which I had tired of.

      In regard to divorce, I was mainly bringing it up to illustrate how selective certain Christian groups can be in what they choose to make issues out of and what they don’t. There is so much pain caused by divorce on all sides, that it is indeed a result of the absence of love. But it is often more complicated than that, and sometimes more pain may be caused by not divorcing – as you mentioned, in the case of abuse. Anyways I probably shouldn’t get too much more into this since it’s a topic I will inevitably write about soon, and I don’t want to give too much away! 😉

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