Nothing

On June 29,2016, popular Christian radio host and Christian Post contributor Michael Brown chose to post his tenth anti-LGBTQ+ article for the month of June – representing all of the work he contributed to Christian Post during the month of June.  Of those posts, seven of them were written in response to the murder of 49 LGBTQ+ persons during the Orlando Massacre on the morning of June 12, 2016.

In this tenth article, entitled We Must Renounce ‘Christian’ Hatred of Gays, Brown makes a particularly problematic claim regarding the Christian churches reaction to and treatment of the LGBTQ+ community. In this post, I will examine this claim, demonstrating that not only is this premise utterly false, it represents an intentional and pathological myopia by which Brown promotes the very hate he ironically claims to condemn.

michael-brown
http://images.christianpost.com/full/72347/michael-brown.jpg?w=615

The Premise

According to Brown, the majority of Christians he knows regularly engage the LGBTQ+ community in a loving and gracious manner.  In fact, a majority – he claims over 99% of Christians he has worked with around the world – may think being homosexual is a sin, but none-the-less show nothing but “real love” for the LGBTQ+ community.  Those Christians who do spew hatred and vitriol are “fringe” minority, and cannot be taken to be in any way representative of the majority of Christians.  However, it is not enough to simply distance one’s self, as a “loving” Christian, but one must also ardently condemn all hateful acts by other Christians.

However, as one begins to dissect this claim, Brown’s entire argument begins to crumble under its own weight. I will outline three prominent weaknesses below.

love-hate-robert-adelman
http://images.fineartamerica.com/images-medium-large/love-hate-robert-adelman.jpg Original work of digital art by Robert Adelman

Weaknesses

  1. Brown operates from a faulty and intentionally diversionary definition of “hate.”  Within this post, Brown defines “hatred” towards the LGBQT+ community specifically as “a handful (literally) of pastors rejoicing publicly in the Orlando massacre or that the vile Westboro Baptist group is celebrating the slaughter.”  This is an oddly narrow definition of hate.

Brown defines this “fringe hate” only as those pastors who, after the Orlando Massacre, openly celebrated the slaughter of 49 innocent human beings.  He further indicates that hate may be demonstrated by disparaging and mocking remarks.  But this definition does not hold up to careful scriptural critique.  In fact, despite the fact that Brown has explicitly stated that he is fully committed to the entire and inalterable truth of Scripture, he here presents a definition of hatred entirely incompatible with biblical precedent.

In Luke 10:25-37, Jesus responds to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” by spinning the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Jesus recognized that this question was of no small importance.  Instead, it represented a careful and calculated question by a teacher of the Law to avoid personal culpability.  This same teacher had asked Jesus how he might inherit eternal life.  When the teacher responds that the law teaches one to Love God and Love Neighbor, Jesus instructs him, “Do this, and you will live.”  It is to this that the Law scholar asks how one’s neighbor is to be discerned, and thus whom he is to love.

As Jesus begins his answer, he tells the story of a man who is brutally beaten and robbed along the road to Jericho.  He is left to die there, and as it should happen three men come upon his body.  The first two, a priest and a Levite take careful steps to avoid the man all together.  They look upon his battered, abandoned, and dire state and simply walk by in indifference.  However, the third man – a Samaritan no less – stops, tends to the man’s wounds, and makes arrangements for him to receive lodging and medical care at a local inn.

Jesus ends this story by asking the Law scholar, “Which of these men was a neighbor?”  This question marks an interesting turn of phrase on Jesus’ part.  The scholar had asked who was his neighbor, Jesus answered by telling the man how to be a neighbor.   Or to put it differently, the scholar asked whom he should love, Jesus told him what it meant to be loving.

What is often overlooked is the converse application of this story.  If the Samaritan is a loving neighbor, then those who walk by the beaten man – who do the literal opposite of the loving Samaritan – demonstrate hate in their indifference to his well-being.  They condemn the man to death, considering personal comfort and privilege above the plight of their fallen neighbor.  They bear no concern for his life or well-being, his life is considered in terms of utility.

In other words, the cultic leaders consider the state of the beaten man, weigh their options, then willfully and intentionally decide that their own pursuits take precedent.  Perhaps they were worried about coming into contact with a dead body, and thus becoming ceremonially impure.  Perhaps they were in a hurry to fulfill some duty, and thus decided their goal more important than his life.  Whatever their rationale, in the end the result is the same – without so much as a single recorded word, these men disparage the life of a beaten, broken, and robbed man by their actions alone.  The dire circumstance of another human being was considered merely an inconvenience, with the greater plot of their personal narrative being asserted against any attempt at rescue.  They literally colonized the space of a man treated injustly, and declared that his personal narrative only mattered in as much as it served to further their own means.

As such, it emerges from this story that to hate one’s neighbor is to treat their basic humanity with indifference.  Hatred does not require strong words or vitriol; it does not require one to bask in the death of innocent persons.  Instead, one only needs to ignore or minimize the fundamental well-being of another human being, occupying the narrative of another by intentionally subsuming it into one’s own goals, and filtering it through a utilitarian paradigm which serves only to preserve one’s own desired place of privilege.

If the actions of the Samaritan represent the way of those who follow Jesus, who pursue the eternal life he has promised, then the actions of the cultic leaders represent precisely the opposite of a Christ-centered love.

With this in mind, it is interesting to consider Brown’s own words regarding the LGBTQ+ community.

In a post entitled Blaming Christians for the Orlando Massacre is Logically Absurd, Brown argues that the LGBTQ+ community does not get to decide what does, or does not, qualify as hate toward them.  Instead, he asserts a narrative in which Christians are opposed by atheists, gay activists, leftists, and Muslims and thus are the true victims of  “hate”.  It is tragic that 49 LGBTQ persons died, but it is not a reason for them to begin looking for persecution among the Christian church because Brown has unilaterally declared no such thing exists.  In fact, he explicitly states that the LGBTQ+ community has no grounds for claiming to be hated, because their hatred is “self-prescribed” and thus invalid, while Christians actually experience hatred daily.

In purporting this narrative, Brown not only ignores a great deal being said about Christians, he subsumes the hatred they experience into a larger narrative which serves the purpose of establishing himself and those like him as the persecuted righteous ones.  He has shown utter indifference to the well-being of LGBTQ+ persons, telling them their own understanding of what it feels like to be loved is irrelevant.  The only thing that matters is that Brown has asserted that they are loved, and thus they must accept this statement without qualification.  He and his represent the chosen one’s of God, and any community claiming to be persecuted must first run their experience through his lens so he can decide the legitimacy of their claim.

This indifference, used to establish his own position of privilege as the persecuted man of God imbued with the authority to pass judgment on others, is cut from the very same cloth as the actions of the priest and Levite of the Good Samaritan parable.  Brown pays lip service to the suffering of the LGBTQ+ community in the wake of Orlando, yet colonizes their narrative by using their suffering to conclude:

The leftists have embraced lies about conservative Christians for many years now and they are simply building on the foundation of those lies. Believers in Jesus (and other conservatives) better prepare well for the coming storm.

Yet the words of Jesus ring clear, those who wish to “inherit eternal life” will practice their love not as the priest or the Levite, but as the Samaritan.  Those whom the establishment seeks to reject, the very person whom the priest and Levite would declare unworthy of God and outside his chosen people, are upheld as the very example of proper practice of the way of the Christ.

This leaves me with a several profound questions:

  •  How are we to understand Brown’s words about the suffering of the LGBTQ+ community against the backdrop of this parable?
  •  Does Brown’s very attempt to act as gatekeeper, deciding who does and does not get to declare what qualifies as hate betray a desire to depict his own actions as loving without actually having to meet the criteria of Love described Jesus’ command to “go and do likewise”?
  • In a world where LGBTQ+ persons are most likely to be targeted for hate crimes, is it any wonder that rhetoric such as Brown’s is being pinpointed as precisely the problem with Christian engagement of the LGBTQ+ community? 
  • When even the brutal massacre of 49 LGBT persons is used to paint white, cis/het Christians as victims, is there any that so many in the LGBTQ+ community feel worthless and rejected by God?  Could such rhetoric play into the disturbingly high suicide rates among LGBT youth?

 

seattle_gay_parade-protesters
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/95/Seattle_gay_parade-protesters.jpg
  1. Brown further tips his hand when he accepts Westboro Baptist, and other hate-mongering groups, under the umbrella of Christianity.  This move proves highly problematic for his argument for a number of reasons.

First, this argument stands in stark juxtaposition to statements in his post Sorry But We Won’t Rewrite the Bible for Gays and Lesbians.  While in this post, Brown prays lip service to the fact that only Christ can determine who is truly a Christian, he follows this up by explicitly stating:

 [W]e cannot embrace as fellow brothers and sisters those who are affirming, practicing, and even celebrating homosexuality.

In other words, he claims that God holds the final word, but states that true Christians cannot consider any person who does not conform to his views a member of the family of God – a brother or sister in Christ.  These persons are not to be embraced, but to be witnessed to and converted to the true Christian faith.

It is astounding, then, that Brown has no problem referring to the hate-mongers of WBC as fellow believers.  That is, Michael Brown would affirm those who openly promote hatred as Christians, but would deny the Christianity of myself as well as any “practicing” LGBTQ+ person.  This contradiction is so glaring, it is nothing short of laughable that Brown refuses to see it.

Brown, specifically states that no person not living in moral compromise would deny the “strong condemnation” of “homosexuality” in Scripture.  He holds that these teachings are so clear and so transparent that no true Christian would dare contradict them.  Now, certainly depending upon interpretation, Brown may very well have an argument based upon passages like Romans 1 or 1 Corinthians 6 for rejecting the Christianity of allies and LGBTQ+ persons.[1]  But even assuming his hermeneutic to be correct, there is still the glaring reality that he willingly recognizes the Christianity of those he labels as purveyors of hate.

I am forced to wonder, then,

  •  Why does Brown consider these supposedly LGBTQ exclusionary passages so clear, but entirely disregard the centrality of Love to the Christian faith?  Are these passages somehow not as clear to Brown?

 In considering these questions, it is interesting to note that Jesus is quite explicit about the centrality of Love to being identified as one of his followers.  For instance, in the Eucharistic scene of John 13, Jesus expressly tells his disciples:

 A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (vv. 34-35)

Further, in Matthew 22:34-40, Jesus presents another teaching on the two greatest commandments.  In doing so, he argues that the entirety of the law rests on the command to love God and love neighbor.  If this is true, then to fail to love one’s neighbor is to fail to understand what it means to follow God.  However, to add a further wrinkle to this, it is notable that in Matthew 5:43-48 Jesus’ teaches:

 You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and ‘hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Here Jesus states that anyone who wishes to be a “[child] of your Father in heaven” must first demonstrate love for one’s enemy.  Jesus even appears to demand perfection in the demonstration of this love.  There is no room for those who hate their enemies among those designated the “children of [the] Father in heaven.”

Yet strangely, Brown claims that he writes specifically to “say that we cannot minimize this ugly strain [with]in the Body [of Christ] and we must confront it and rebuke it at every turn.”

This statement forces me to wonder:

  •  If Michael Brown will apply one set of biblical criteria to the LGBTQ+ community, why will he not apply seemingly similar exclusive texts to those whom he himself has admitted practice hate?
  •  How is Brown able to argue that this supposedly “tiny fringe” of hate is still part of “the Body” while saying Christians cannot embrace allies and LGBTQ+ as “brothers and sisters”? 
vigil-for-the-pulse-night-club
http://images.christianpost.com/full/97910/vigil-for-the-pulse-night-club.jpg

3. This leads me to perhaps the strangest claim of all within Brown’s work.  It actually occurs in two different forms in this article.  First, he states:

 I have been in numerous, closed-door meetings with conservative Christian leaders, and not once have I heard a disparaging, mocking comment about gays and lesbians. We have strongly differed with their talking points; we have refused to capitulate to their agenda; but we have never sat around and mocked the people or wished for their harm or rejoiced in their suffering.

 He later makes a similar claim stating:

 I can personally attest that the vast majority of Christians I have worked with around the world (meaning, well over 99%) believe homosexual practice is sinful and have real love for LGBT individuals.

The only way these claims make sense is if, as noted above, Michael Brown has declared himself the judge of what qualifies as hate.  One would have to propose an excessively narrow definition of hate – something I argued he has done in point 1 – in order to support the belief that hatred of the LGBTQ+ community represents a fringe group, less than 1% of the Christian population.

We can begin to analyze this claim by looking at yet another of Brown’s recent works on the topic.  In his post, If Shaq Were Transgender, Could He Play In The WNBA?, Brown sets out to protest the collaboration between the National Basketball Association and the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) to create Pride themed shirts as a fundraiser for the organization using the website Teespring.  In order to accomplish this, Brown presents a series of events he considers evidence of the ever-growing decline of morality within the NBA, events which led to this partnership.

While Brown attempts to make several points regarding the moral depravity of the NBA, there are three comments within this post which especially betray just how much he truly despises the LGBTQ+ community.

  •  Jason Collins

Brown decides to open his post with a critique of the NBA’s acceptance of openly gay former NBA player Jason Collins.  In Brown’s mind, it is notable that Collins has an identical twin brother who is straight.  Given the oddness of such a statement, I wonder why Brown finds this information relevant.

Perhaps Brown is making a back-handed reference to a 1991 study on correlation between same-sex sexuality in identical twins.  The study itself found that in 52% of cases where gay men had an identical twin, that twin would also be gay.  Comparatively, this occurred in only 22% of fraternal twins and 11% of non-twin brothers.  This study, however, does claim to demonstrate that the straightness of Collins’ brother is a guaranteed determination of his own sexual identity.  Instead, it only states that there may be evidence of a genetic factor in sexual identity.  This makes Brown’s comment little more than a red-herring.  He is actually working to call Collins’ sexuality into question, as evidenced by his further comment that, “his long-time girlfriend was surprised to learn he was gay.”

Given Brown’s mention of Collins’s twin to challenge the validity of his sexual identity, it is noteworthy that two prominent studies released in the last two years have indicated that, in cases where identical twins do not share a sexual orientation, there are identifiable genetic traits which differentiate them – identifiers long believed to coincide with same-sex sexuality in males.   At the very least, given the findings of these well-known studies, it is entirely dishonest of Brown to pretend that the existence of Collin’s straight identical twin brother in any way has bearing on Collins’ own sexuality.

This blatant attempt to question Collins’ sexuality using the false premise of his identical twin seems to stand in stark contrast to Brown’s claim that he has never encountered anyone in his circle disparaging LGBTQ+ persons.  It is interesting to note, then, that Merriam-Webter’s Dictionary offers the following definition of the word:

                 to depreciate by indirect means

Likewise, the Cambridge English Dictionary defines it as:

to criticize someone or something in a way that shows a lack of respect

By these definitions, Brown has ironically disparaged Jason Collins’ sexuality in one article, while proceeding to deny such disparaging exists in another.  This should hardly surprise anyone since, as noted above, Brown has already disparaged the LGBTQ+ community’s own ability to discern acts of hates, attempting to deny them any agency in deciding what qualifies as hate.  Perhaps Brown doesn’t see disparagement in the remarks of others because it would require him to overcome his own myopia and dissect the very prejudices he, himself, holds.

  • Hate Speech

It is going entire too far, in Brown’s estimation, to tell NBA players that they cannot use discriminatory hate-speech against other players.  It is strange that, on one hand, Brown decries hateful Christians for calling him a “faggot,” yet in a different article indicates that the NBA banning the use of that word is an affront to basic decency, a stepping stone on the way to the ever nefarious rainbow-themed NBA team apparel.

The self-serving myopia of Brown’s argument is readily apparent here.  It is not okay for the NBA to police hate speech within its own league.  And it is not okay for LGBTQ+ persons to declare the discriminatory rhetoric of Christians hate.  But if people start hurling gay slurs at Michael Brown, then he will damn well devote an entire article to why he is the one being persecuted and thus everyone needs to be vigilant against the fringe minority who is lumping him in with “the gays.”

  • HB2

Brown continues by critiquing the NBA for opposing the controversial and discriminatory anti-transgender bill in North Carolina.  Brown resorts to calling transgender women “men” and has, in the past, called bathroom equality an affront to common sense and decency.  In fact, Brown has previously lobbied for the HB2 law, claiming that it prevents the minority group – transgender persons – from openly persecuting the purported majority, persons like him who oppose transgenderism as sin.

However, it is quite interesting to see how Brown argues this in his May 10, 2016, post Transgender Is Not The New BlackSpecifically, it is interesting to note that Brown claims that trans-inclusive bathroom laws persecute the “99.8 percent” of persons who are not transgender.  It is interesting to note then that, in a 2012 study, it was found that a majority of Evangelicals and Republicans supported legal protection and rights for transgendered persons – something HB2 denies on many fundamental levels.  Further, only 35% of those polled within the state of North Carolina itself felt that HB2 was necessary.  A full 50% of voters wished to see the law repealed entirely.

Apparently, Brown is not only telling the LGTBQ+ community they cannot feel persecuted by Christians, he is trying to incite fear in Christians – and pretty much everyone else – by insisting that their freedom and human decency is at stake.

It is truly odd to repeatedly declare one’s own feelings and comforts the standard for what counts as persecution and what does not.

  •  Is this not a terribly self-centered argument, one which appears to come from a motive of self-preservation? 
  •  Can one truly argue for an antagonistic self-preservation against another people group and still claim to be acting in love?

In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul defines Love thus:

 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

It is truly strange then that Brown has been repeatedly shown to insist that others are not being persecuted, while portraying himself as the actual victim.

  •  Is this not “insisting on [one’s] own way”?  Is not the act of using another person to elevate one’s self an arrogant act? 
  •  Can an act be called Love which is not rooted in the example of the cross of Christ? 
  •  If, as 1 John 4 tells us, our ability to love is directly rooted in God’s love demonstrated for us on the cross of Christ, then how can a self-serving act be defined as love?
  •   If the cross elevates the “weak” and humbles the “strong” by opposing the wisdom and power of this world (1 Cor 1:18-31), how does directly diminishing the suffering of one’s neighbor in order to paint one’s self the victim fall in line with the cross?
  •  How can Michael Brown claim that “99%” of the Christians he knows and works with demonstrate genuine love for the LGBTQ+ community be trusted if he himself has resorted to blatantly unloving, disparaging rhetoric? 

 

emptywords
https://wheelchairjunkie.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/emptywords.jpg

 

Conclusions

Having taken a moment to dissect Brown’s claims, looking only at a selection of his own body of work on the LGBTQ+ community, it seems quite apparent to me that he cannot even stand on his own two feet.  He claims that most Christians do not disparage LGBTQ+ persons, yet ignores all the ways in which his own rhetoric is disparaging.  He claims Christians do not behave hatefully, yet intentionally operates from a definition of hate that places him in the position of privilege and judgment by diminishing the suffering of others.  Lastly he claims to practice Love, but uses antagonistic language and inflammatory rhetoric to deny even the basic title of “Christian” to his LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters in Christ.

As such, I must conclude that Michael Brown behaves in a wholly antagonistic fashion which intentionally disparages LGBTQ+ persons on a basic human level, denying them agency over even their own persons.  He thus seeks to disenfranchise them, robbing them of a voice to protest unfair and injust treatment.  By even his own narrow definition of “hate,” the arguments highlighted upon indicate he embodies the very systemic hatred and discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community that he claims does not exist within the Church.

But more damning, his actions and words are entirely inconsistent with the command to love both neighbor and enemy found within the words of Christ.  Further, they are inconsistent with the notion of selfless love rooted in the kenotic example of Christ crucified (Phil 2:2).  As such, Brown’s actions can only be seen as entirely devoid of love.

In light of these, a few questions seem apropos:

  • Can any person be considered a trustworthy interpreter of Scripture, who would use its words to discriminate against other persons?
  • Is it possible to represent the “explicit” teaching of Scripture if one neglects the practice of love by which all disciples will be judged?
  • Can one claim to preach the truth of the Gospel of the crucified Christ if one’s own actions are rooted in self-serving antagonism?
  • How are LGBTQ+ persons supposed to trust that Christians don’t hate them, when there are people like Michael Brown who declare love while embodying hateful and discriminatory rhetoric?

In answer to these questions, I offer the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (vv. 1-3).

Truly, then, Michael Brown’s words amount to nothing.

**Cover image from https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/06/Nothing_is_nothing.jpg**

[1] I have argued against such interpretations here and here.

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5 thoughts on “Nothing

  1. Good insight Nate. I particularly appreciated your comments on the hate of indifference. In my experience this is a far wider problem than the vitriol. In the UK many churches tell gay people to be celibate but they don’t provide for their emotional needs. They lay on them leave them hungry and out in the cold and shut the door whilst they enjoy a feast with their families. I was given this for many years, and my church told me I should stay single and that I should find intimacy and fellowship “in the Christian community”. But I struggled to get any fellowship at all, but they played me along a string and promised “we will support you – make church your family”. But then they kept me at a distance and they were always too busy to make time to talk to me. I share this just to illustrate your very point. It is not enough for them to point to WBC and say “this is hate”. The WBC are safer in one sense because they are more honest and gay people will never set foot in it. Sadly many will invest a lot of time and money in ex-gay programs and churches where they profess to “love them” only to leave broken and bruised after several years.

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  2. This is pretty incredible stuff Nate. Thanks for taking the time to connect with the heart of the matter, and for sharing such valuable truths. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. This is definitely a place the church gets the concept of love so terribly wrong. It’s detrimental in too many ways to count. As A Christ follower, it is my goal that people know me how I love rather than how many things I’m against, or hate.

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  3. Nate, good luck on trying to get through to Michael Brown. I tried a few years ago–went through and counted all the articles he’d written over a few months’ period for the Charisma News website, and pointed out that a goodly chunk of them were on LGBTQ issues. It still looks like, just from a quick look-see, that he’s still obsessed.

    I’ll just note that the treatment of LGBTQ persons by the church is one of the reasons I left. I don’t need to spend time hearing my friends being trashed either from the pulpit or in casual conversation. I have a friend who is transitioning right now, and I’ve been walking with her for nearly 20 years (we first became friends over picketing Scientology). Brown does not even have a single clue as to the agony my friend went through before deciding to transition. I barely have an understanding myself. But it’s experiences like me that make me stand with my friend, rather than on the side of Michael Brown, who is so very righteous with his essentially anti-LGBTQ stand.

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    1. I am sad you were driven from the church, but I totally understand why you left. I am glad you have been able to walk alongside your friend as she transitions. It is so important for people to have support from those who love them and genuinely care about their well-being. That is why Brown’s rhetoric is so damaging. He claims love but treats them as utilities, backs to step on so his platform remains.

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  4. Brown is a full blown narcissist with low levels of empathy for LGBT people and horribly bound-by-tradition poor reasoning skills on this issue.

    You summarize his attitudes well with this: “As such, I must conclude that Michael Brown behaves in a wholly antagonistic fashion which intentionally disparages LGBTQ+ persons on a basic human level, denying them agency over even their own persons. He thus seeks to disenfranchise them, robbing them of a voice to protest unfair and injust treatment. By even his own narrow definition of “hate,” the arguments highlighted upon indicate he embodies the very systemic hatred and discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community that he claims does not exist within the Church.”

    Liked by 1 person

Thanks for taking the time to read and engage. I look forward to your feedback, I welcome any criticism. However, as my goal here is mutualy respectful, beneficial conversation, I only ask that we keep civility in mind with our words. Grace and Peace.

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