Thinking Out Loud

February 5, 2012

I Was Wrong: Some Christians Really Do Hate Gays

For the past decade I have strenuously objected to the notion that the defining feature of Christ-followers is that we are homophobic.  Maybe it’s because I live in Canada, and we’re a more pluralist, tolerant, softer-spoken bunch up here.  Maybe it’s because I’m a Christian and I really don’t know — nor would I say I have ever met — anyone who is an avowed gay-hater.  Maybe it’s because I’ve watched the Phelps gang on newscasts and consigned that type of hatred to “the lunatic fringe.”

But there are places in the United States — and I’m going to generalize here and say, more so, but not exclusively, in the southern US — where gay kids are being bullied for being gay by fellow students, and while the newspaper articles tend not to extrapolate beyond their boundaries, I think the kids get this kind of bias and prejudice from their parents. Even Evangelical parents.

So I was wrong.  There are some Christians out there who really do despise both gays who are out, and, hedging their bets just in case, anyone else they feel has homosexual tendencies.

What changed my mind was this article in Rolling Stone magazine.  And this story takes place in the north, in Minnesota.  The writer built the story around Brittany.

Like many 13-year-olds, Brittany knew seventh grade was a living hell. But what she didn’t know was that she was caught in the crossfire of a culture war being waged by local evangelicals inspired by their high-profile congressional representative Michele Bachmann, who graduated from Anoka High School and, until recently, was a member of one of the most conservative churches in the area. When Christian activists who considered gays an abomination forced a measure through the school board forbidding the discussion of homosexuality in the district’s public schools, kids like Brittany were unknowingly thrust into the heart of a clash that was about to become intertwined with tragedy.

At five online pages, the story takes some time to finish, but I encourage you to do so. To get a picture of what’s going on in public (and many private) middle schools and high schools. Especially if you’ve got kids who are just arriving at that age. Or kids that are in it. Or grandchildren. Or nieces and nephews.

The story describes, “a suicide epidemic that would take the lives of nine local students in under two years, a rate so high that child psychologist Dan Reidenberg, executive director of the Minnesota-based Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, declared the Anoka-Hennepin school district the site of a ‘suicide cluster,’ adding that the crisis might hold an element of contagion; suicidal thoughts had become catchy, like a lethal virus.”

I work in a Christian bookstore.  I proudly tell customers that we don’t actually have any books in the store that are anti-gay.  That God loves all people.  But the parallel gospel of hate follows oral transmission lines.  It plays out in the extreme when members of a weird family picket soldiers’ funerals, but on a far wider scale in more subtle forms that almost never — except in this case — make the evening news.

Bottom line: There are Christian families — the whole family, not just the middle school and high school students — who are making life a living hell for other students who are gay, or think they’re gay, or are gay for the time being, or who have gay tendencies or sympathies.  The barbs and taunts issued in the name of Christian proclamation are not just causing one or two students to take their lives here and there, they are causing a self-inflicted slaughter.

It took an article in Rolling Stone for me to finally see that.

And it’s got to change.

…I think if I were to speak to Christian kids in high school, I’d say, quite boldly, ‘Join your school’s gay-straight alliance.  I don’t know what you’re going to do when you get there, and I don’t know what they’re going to talk about, and I don’t know how uncomfortable you’re going to be hanging out there, but just show up; stand with those kids; tell them you’re there to say that not all Christians are about hate and intolerance.’

But some parent is reading this and thinking, ‘Wait a minute.  If I send my son or daughter to that group, some kids are going to think that they’re gay.’

Is this such a bad thing if you’re confident that they are not? Wasn’t part of Jesus’ mission to come and identify with us in our place of need and hurt?  Didn’t they falsely accuse Him of the worst things involving the prostitutes and tax collectors that He chose to be his companions?

In Ontario, my home province, we have this incongruous system whereby the Roman Catholic Church has a fully taxpayer funded separate educational system wherein teachers and support staff are so bound by lawyer-drafted policies such that they aren’t even allowed to use the words ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’ in a sentence.  That’s not how you “have the conversation.”

In my son’s public school there are signs in every classroom that say something to the effect, “This is an LGBT friendly environment.”  Good, but a bit one-sided.  I always want to attach a post-it to each one that says, “And it’s Gr8 to be Str8.”  Parents in Manitoba have objected to similar classroom signage, but I’d rather lean in the direction of tolerance than toward the atmosphere of hatred and division.

Does this mean I’m soft on the gay question?  Actually — and I’ve said this previously — I think a generation of teenagers, both male and female, have been seduced by things on the internet.  They’ve found themselves in relationships (or serial relationships) which seem good and fulfilling, and perhaps are for a season, but at the expense of another path they might have chosen, another road they might have traveled.

But their stories aren’t over yet.  Their final chapters haven’t been written.

And I’m not going to sit by quietly while so-called Evangelicals or Christians cause their story to be cut short.

image: vi.sualize.us

May 31, 2009

Jonah: Preferring Prophesying To The Converted

Filed under: bible, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:33 pm

This week in our family Bible study we studied the story of Jonah.   Since this is very familiar territory, we were looking for new insights into the story.    We came up with a few, with a little help from the ESV Study Bible.

JonahintheWhale_Rue

Chapter One
There is a great deal of bigotry that plays into this story, but not in the way we often think.   We tend to assume that Jonah simply didn’t like the people of Nineveh and simply didn’t want to go on that basis.   But it’s more accurate to say that Jonah was afraid of the success of his mission.    Do we do that?

  • What if that terrible family down the street become Christians and start going to our church?
  • What if that guy where I work became a believer and started expecting me to mentor him in his faith journey?
  • What if so-and-so in our extended family got serious about reading the Bible and started asking me why, if I’m also a Christ-follower, have I done some of the things I’ve done?
  • What if those poor people I prayed with downtown and left my phone number expect us to help them out?
  • What if all the people who put up their hands at the movie our church showed start coming ever week… there would be more of them than us?
  • Everybody knows the terrible things that _____ did; now that he’s been a believer for two years, is he going to expect a leadership position?
  • That’s the woman who hit our car in the parking lot last Christmas.   What’s she doing at our small group meeting?

Chapter Two
The ESV Study describes the four chapters of Jonah as containing seven episodes, with the first three paralleling the second three.   Jonah speaks to two similar audiences in the story.  The crew on the boat heading for Tarshish were each praying to their own God, but then after Jonah explained to them what was causing the terrible storm, they prayed to Jonah’s God.   Success!   Just as he will experience in Nineveh. His ministry as a prophet was constantly bearing fruit.   But inside the great fish, Jonah’s prayer is mostly thankfulness for his own safety and deliverance.   There’s no mention of the sailors or the people who he was originally sent to.   A rather egocentric prophet, don’t you think?

Chapter Three
Jonah shows up several days (or weeks) late for his assignment and delivers his message, albeit halfheartedly.    Today we have preachers who read powerful scriptures and then deliver messages containing great truths — even if ‘borrowed’ from the internet — and yet don’t realize the power of the Word they are handling.    It’s just a job.    The people of Ninevah may matter to God but don’t matter to Jonah.  He’s apparently quite disappointed that God doesn’t destroy the city.

Chapter Four
Maybe God will destroy the city after all.   He’s already changed his mind once.   So instead of taking the first train, boat or great fish out of town, Jonah hangs around to see if anything develops.    The closing phrase of the story shows how out-to-lunch his priorities are, as God’s final appeal is basically, “If I destroy the city, think of all the animals that would perish.”  Since Jonah has a thing for houseplants, God figures he’ll appeal to Jonah’s sense of nature.   Not a good ending for Jonah really.    Final score:  Ship passengers and crew – 1; People of Nineveh – 1;  Jonah – 0.

We ended our week reading the story from The Street Bible by Rob Lacey, known in North America as The Word on The Street. He devotes almost half of his writing to Chapter Four.    Maybe someone should re-tell this story for kids, using the last chapter as the basis for the story, and then recreate the opening scenes backwards in light of the closing.    Call it “Jonah and the Plant;” or “Jonah and the Worm.”   Or instead of pitching this story for kids, it should really be part of Church Leadership Lessons 101.

Graphic: Stephen Rue, Jonah in the Whale, oil on canvas, 26.25″x25″, 2006; from the website Artist Trust.   Say what you will about Jonah, packing the waterproof matches was good foresight.

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