Confessions: Anti-LGBT Rhetoric and the Dynamics of Abuse in Evangelical Christianity

Anyone who follows me on Twitter or Facebook is by now familiar with my saying:

Everyone is polite and rational until you ask them to deconstruct their own sacred privileges.

This quote has become a mantra of sorts, something I repeat to myself every time the Twitter trolls surface or a long time follower randomly accuses me of blasphemy.  My blogging experience has made me painstakingly aware that we all have a belief or privilege which, though largely unconsidered, lies so close to our concept of self that any challenge seems like a threat to our very being.  In these instances, we resort to blatant antagonism.  We strive so hard to protect or “self” that we cease to see other people as human beings, and reduce them to objects to be conquered or utilities – a clearly designated other to support our argument for why we, clearly, are the only ones in the “right.”

As a former Evangelical, I am well aware I have been guilty of this in the past.  On multiple occasions in my life, I have resorted to intentionally inflammatory and insulting rhetoric in order to assert my dominance over other persons.  I have sought to establish my own identity by creating a perceived “other” which I viciously denigrate.  And though my faith journey has led me well beyond the neat and tidy boundaries of evangelicalism, I am well aware that there is programming still deeply embedded in my person, programming I daily try to remain deconstruct as I seek to discover a faith beyond these antagonisms.

Perhaps the greatest antagonism I possessed as an Evangelical was toward the LGBTQ+ community.  In embracing the hate-filled rhetoric and systemic oppression I was raised to perpetuate, I constantly made sure no one would dare to think I was “gay.”  I remember vividly the first time I heard the word “faggot.” I was sitting at the table with my parents, having dinner with a deacon and his wife, when the deacon’s wife dropped the word in casual conversation.  I noticed none of the adults flinched.  I remember, as a child, thinking being “gay” was so detestable that I corrected my aunt for calling her best friend her “girlfriend.”  After all, only boys can have girlfriends.

Looking back on this, I now realize just how much I was taught to hate.  Now, however, as I reflect on the arguments I was taught, the hermeneutic which was forced upon me, I have come to the following realization:

The rhetoric used by so many Christians against the LGBTQ+ community closely mirrors the dynamics typically associated with abuse.

Dynamics of Abuse[1]

As I consider this thesis, it is readily apparent to me the numerous ways I have participated in and promoted the blatant and unrelenting abuse of the LGBTQ+ community.  I stand convicted, guilty of hatred and denigration.  Even as I write this post, I am aware that I have not arrived.  I most certainly possess privilege I have yet to realize, I am still conditioned for hate in ways I have not yet deconstructed.

And it is for these reasons I must discuss these things.  It is in exposure, in bringing abuse to light, that it can be combated.  It is time we realize that claiming to love someone and have their best interest at heart means nothing if our words and actions leave the feeling hated, oppressed, and rejected.  It is important to accept that illusions of positive intent do not erase the fact a person who roots their concept self in antagonism is a person invested in systems of abuse and oppression.

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Antagonism and Abuse

Antagonism is at the heart of so much of Fundamentalist and Evangelical theologies.  We determine who we are by focusing on the perceived sins and shortcomings of others.  We seek to define ourselves in the negative, and thus in order to express our faith in word or deed, we first need a designated “other” to target.  Quite often, this is the LGBT community.  We call names and exclude them because, in so many ways, our concept of self depends on our hatred of “them.”

The following are nine examples of rhetoric I was sold by conservative Christian teachers, pastors, and leaders in order to encourage denigration and persecution of the LGBTQ + community.  Each of these represents actual rhetoric I have used in conversation and debate in the past, and every single one is rooted in the linguistic dynamics of abuse.

  1.  The Bible clearly says being LGBT is a sin.

For an abuser, everything that their victim does is about their image and their ego. An abuser will twist any action or circumstance into a positive for themselves, creating double standards to control their victim with fear.  Thus, he can look at porn and ogle other women, but if she dresses “immodestly” he berates her for being a “slut.”  He can insult her in public, but if she “disrespects” him in any way she can expect a beating when they get home.  She has to submit to and obey him at all times, but he makes unilateral decisions without care for her wishes or well-being.

In the same way, the conservative Christian hermeneutic I was taught to use against the LGBTQ+ community is entirely self-defeating and hypocritical.  I was taught that the Bible has only one clear teaching on any topic, and that to defy that topic is to be an enemy of God and the Church.  Thus, because LGBT persons stand outside the “clear” teachings of the Bible at which I have arrived, they are condemned with extreme prejudice.

Unfortunately, the Bible doesn’t clearly say much of anything to a 21st century Western audience, every person who endeavors to understand Scripture inherently engaged in an interpretive enterprise.  For instance, ask your average Evangelical pastor what to make of Jesus command against public prayer in Matthew 6 and they will take a very figurative approach to the passage.  You will likely hear something along the lines of, despite the fact that the Greek word tameion literally means “upper room” or “store room,”[2] an explanation that what Jesus was really talking about was the traditional prayer shawl worn by 1st century C.E. Jews.  You may even see your pastor pull out a tallit, put it over his face, and tell you this is what Jesus meant.  He will also likely close the sermon with a public prayer.

When this occurs, what he has done is appeal to his own interpretation of contextual data.  None of this is actually clear simply by starting at Matthew 6:5 and ending at 15, and in fact it is a rather dubious interpretation at best. But speaking against public prayer is problematic for the way most modern Christians practice worship.  So, in order to justify how they do worship, many pastors resort to figurative interpretations or mitigating contextual data to insist that public prayer does, in fact, play an important place in the Christian ethic.

And it is highly unlikely that anyone will be writing such a pastor an angry email, insisting they remove all public prayers from the Sunday worship service, or that the pastor is using historical data to change the “plain meaning of the text.”  One can easily realize that Jesus is not simply speaking about actions, but motives as well.  Further, one can appeal to a clear exhortation for public prayer in passages like 1 Timothy 2:8 to note that, at the least, the case against all public prayer is not cut and dry.  Thus, the necessity of the interpretive task for preaching from Scripture is recognized as a legitimate way to engage the text.

However, something changes when one insists that the words often translated “strange” or “unnatural” flesh in Jude 7 have nothing to do with “homosexuality.”  It is entirely anathema to note that the word so often translated “strange” and/or “unnatural” is actually the Greek word heteras – a word meaning “different” and, as is painstakingly obvious, the prefix which begins the word heterosexual.

Despite the opposition to affirming and supportive hermeneutics, it is important to note that it is not possible to argue from Jude 7 that the men of Sodom pursued same-sex attraction when the actual Greek text states they pursued a sarkos heteras, a different flesh.  The word heteras connotes something that is not only “different” but also something which is “distinct from.”[3]  That is to say, hetero and homo are antonyms, not synonyms.

In using these words, Jude describes the men of Sodom.  That is, the New Testament book so often attributed to the brother of Jesus himself does not think Genesis 19 has anything to do with same-sex attraction.  So, despite the fact that my Sunday School teachers, my private Christian school teachers, and every pastor I had growing up interpreted Genesis 19 and Jude 7 to be clearly condemning of “homosexuality” the actual Greek wording of Jude 7 precludes such an interpretation.

This brings up the question, “To what, then, is Jude 7 referring?”  This is fairly easily answered when one is willing to accept the impressive amount of historical data available to us.  The book of Jude contains several allusions to extra-biblical texts.  For instance, one would be hard pressed to find any text within the Canon of Scripture which depicts Michael and Satan arguing over Moses’ body (v. 9).  In fact, the earliest known extra-biblical reference is in Assumption of Moses, a document dated to possibly as early as the first century BCE.[4] That is to say, Jude actually quotes a tradition that appears nowhere in the Bible, and has precedent only in the pseudopigraphal literature of Second Temple Judaism.

This is not, however, the only extra-biblical reference in Jude. In verse 6, Jude states:

 And the angels who did not keep their own position, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains in deepest darkness for the judgment of the great day

This is a confusing statement if one looks for anything within the OT to explain it.  However, in the book of 1 Enoch, there is an interpretations of the events of Genesis 6 known as the Watcher’s tradition. According to 1 Enoch, the “sons of God” who took the “daughters of men” to themselves and produced giants were angels.  These angels had sex with human women and taught humanity forbidden arts, such as metallurgy and astrology.  These angels were imprisoned until the day of final judgment. However, the Nephilim, children of humans and angels, and thus children born in rebellion against God, defiled the entirety of creation with their evil.  They consumed and destroyed everything in their path, and thus God destroyed all of creation and started over with Noah.[5]  This correlation becomes nearly unmistakable when it is  realized that verses 14-15 are a direct quotation from 1 Enoch 1:9.

In verse 5, Jude references those within Israel who were killed for their disbelief after God delivered them from Egypt.  This, combined with the stories summarized in verses 6-7 indicates that Jude is specifically referencing incidents in which humans rebelled against God and were punished severely thus.

In this way, verses 5-6 form an important context for understanding Jude’s reading of Genesis 19 then, as Jude begins verse 7 by stating that “Likewise” the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah behaved “in the same way.”  This wording indicates that Jude understands the men of Sodom to be intentionally rebelling against God and targeting the “other flesh” of heavenly beings.  This seems further confirmed by verse 8, when Jude states:

 Yet in the same way these dreamers also defile the flesh, reject authority, and slander the glorious ones.

It seems entirely impossible to say that the “glorious ones,” from the Greek doxa meaning “glorified or of a heavenly nature” and often used of the glory of God himself,[6] against whom the humans in verses 5-7 rebelled, can in any way be construed as human.

And with this, the New Testament itself entirely disqualifies the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 from any discussions regarding same-sex sexuality.  And yet, anyone perusing the blogs, books, and sermons of conservative Christians is almost guaranteed to find this among the “six passages” that they claim so clearly forbid all LGBT identities for Christians.

However, Jude is not the only place in the Bible where a homophobic reading of Genesis 19 is disqualified.  In Ezekiel 16, the corruption and evil of Jerusalem is laid bare.  The city is described as the most wicked of three sisters, a triad which includes Samaria and Sodom.  In verses 49-50, Ezekiel describes the sin of Sodom thus:

Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore, I did away with them as you have seen.

For Ezekiel, the issue was that the men of Sodom had violated common decency in their disturbingly inhospitable act.  This fits well with the actual narrative of Genesis 19, as the scenario clearly depicts an attempted gang rape of persons deemed to be foreigners.

However, despite all of this readily available data, anyone who dares to say that the biblical case is decidedly unclear, that context matters and suggests alternate readings, can expect a swift and prejudiced dismissal.  As one who has perpetuated these systems of abuse in the past, I can attest that the creative interpretation and exegetical study of Scripture is only acceptable in Fundamentalist and Evangelical circles when such approaches function as confirmation bias.

When such a hermeneutic is exposed, any person who espouses it must either admit their sin and deconstruct their sacred privileges, or double down and denigrate persons based solely on their own desire to preserve antagonism through systems of hate.  But the demonstration of insurmountable doubt about the clarity of the “six passages” ought to cause anyone pause about using them to deny the sanctity of LGBT identities and intentional and beautiful creative works of God.

I created a hermeneutic which reinforced my sacred privileges.  I used the Bible to ensure God was against the people I was against and for people like me.

Ironically, the Bible I claimed to embrace openly condemns such double standards.  Perhaps the most obvious example is the oft cited Golden Rule.  I cannot claim to be living this command if I deny my neighbor the basic humanity I hold so dear for myself.  To do so is to deny the equality of my perceived “other,” to render them inferior and sub-human.

It is always abuse to use Scripture to argue someone is sub-human, unworthy of basic ethical treatment of our neighbor commanded in Scripture.  Such rhetoric perpetuated a purely evil system of racism in early 20th century America, and it perpetuates a purely evil system of homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia today.

 

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  1. 2,000 years of Church tradition has condemned LGBT identities.

Abusers often create arbitrary systems of control.  They are obsessed with “roles” and often establish a system of rules and regulations that are used to keep the victim in fear, knowing consequences such as belittling, bullying, and even violence can ensue at the smallest infraction

A child may fear staining their clothes because his parents will berate and insult him when he gets home.  A parent may use spankings and other forms of physical violence for even the smallest infractions, such as spilling a glass of juice.  Older children may be empowered to enforce rules and dole out punishment to younger children, creating distrust and tension among them and thus making it easy to control them by playing them against each other.

The notion of Orthodoxy functions in much the same way in conservative Christian circles.  Lay persons, such as myself, are given a set of teachings and rules by leadership, with the explicit message that these are the unquestionable and monolithic traditions of the church throughout history.

Those persons who fall in line are rewarded with the authority to police other congregants.  Those perceived as “breaking the rules” then are confronted and guilted into compliance.  Further, those who question the system in any way often face public forms of church discipline.  They are embarrassed and shamed in front of their peers, often treated as undesirable and shunned lest any residual be acquired by association.

However, these persons are also often told that leaving the church is dangerous. Such a person may fall into the falsehoods of “secular” society and “false teachers.” Their eternal well-being depends on compliance with and submission to the system which disenfranchised them. This system so often works against LGBT persons.

Evangelical Churches create a monolithic understanding of Christian tradition which entirely neglects the nuance and diversity of actual historical Christianity.  They claim that all of Christians for all time have condemned same-sex marriage, that Church tradition doesn’t change.  That is, until you point out the Protestant Church was founded on the questioning and rethinking of Church tradition.

When talking about the Reformation, however, you will get stories of corrupt theology and even more corrupt praxis.  You will hear about the evils of the papacy and the abuses of the Catholic Church.  And you will invariably be told that, when traditions are corrupt they must be changed.  However, they will quickly note the Reformers sorted all that out, so there is no longer a need for change – that tradition has become apparently set in stone and immovable since the last time everything was questioned and many practices changed.

But the stark reality is that the only reason to present Orthodoxy as monolithic is to denigrate other persons. It requires us to ignore that the early church spent nearly 400 years deciding precisely how Christ was divine and human, as well as determining what books would make up the Canon of Scripture.  Further, it was less than 200 years ago that the Catholic Church embraced a exclusively heliocentric understanding of our solar system.  Prior to this, those who denied geocentrism were declared heretics and opponents of the “clear teaching” of Scripture by many Christians.

Church tradition is fluid, it is adaptive, and it changes with context.  There is no one set in stone way to do Christianity.  In fact, much of the Pauline corpus is dedicated to settling disputes between Jewish and Gentile believers and their differences in practicing faith.  Paul is, time and again, explicit that there is unity in the cross of Christ and that there is room for diversity in practice on many other issues.  According to Galatians, Paul even went so far as to publicly criticize the Apostle Peter for excluding Gentiles from his table fellowship.  Paul fully embraced the diversity of the Church and was known for his willingness to break traditional rules in order to include those typically excluded by Jewish custom.

But, church leaders taught me to use this excuse because it was convenient.  The average person knows very little about Church history, and they tend to take the word of anyone arrogant enough to proclaim they do. Such hubris does not, however, negate the fact that I never practiced or believed a good many historically traditional teachings of the Church.

I rejected all forms of sacramentalism.  I refused to recognize the authority of bishops.  I rejected many teachings with deep historical roots because I found them either inconvenient or unhelpful to how I practiced my faith.  Yet, when it fit my purposes, when it allowed me to shame and exclude others from fellowship, then I was a firm historical Christian.

I have seen these arbitrary standards play out again and again. Persons who come out as gay are forced into conversion therapies and mixed-orientation marriages, despite the fact that scientific data shows that these are incredibly harmful practice.  The message sent is, “Conform or else!” and those who defy it are denied fellowship, communion, and even are told they are not true Christians.

And lay persons, such are myself, are trained to enforce these dynamics.  We use gay slurs as insults to ensure people know our disapproval.  We mock “effeminate” men and promote anti-feminist rhetoric to scare anyone who would dare question our teachings. And, if someone should happen to show the audacity of pointing out our errors in reasoning and hermeneutic, we give them a thoroughly vicious reprimand followed by reporting them to senior leadership for further confrontation and discipline.

We seek to trap them within systems of heteronormative absolutism.  With an authoritarian gusto, we deny them basic agency over their own identity, and insist that those who do not conform are “enemies of God.” By, at different times, both actively participating and silently assenting to a system of arbitrary and inconsistent rules designed to shackle people in shame and deny them basic agency and equality, I have been complicit in the abuse and dehumanization of the LGBTQ+ community.

 

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  1. Go and sin no more!

Abusers often have over-inflated egos.  They insist that everything they do and say is loving, even when it is so obviously not.  They see themselves as the good guy, the hero, in every situation and thus actively minimize the suffering of those they hurt.

Thus, an abusive husband will insist to his wife that he hits her because he is trying to teach her her rightful place.  He will insist that his is the only true type of love, that he doesn’t want to hurt her, but it would really be much worse if she were with anyone else because his methods of correction are actually fairly lenient compared to what others might do.  But, of course, such narratives are a lie.  An abuser is not anyone’s savior and abuse is not instructive, it is destructive and evil.

Among the rhetorical tactics I was taught to use to denigrate the LGBT LGBTQ+ community during my time as a Fundamentalist and Evangelical, one of the most insidious involved application of the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8.  Here, I was taught to insist, we have a clear example of how to “love the sinner, hate the sin.”  Jesus rescued the woman from persecution and certain death, but did not excuse her sin and commanded her to repent of her former ways.

 This is how I was taught to speak to LGBT persons, and it is nothing short of arrogant and evil.

In the narrative of John 8, it is so often assumed that the options available to us are the way of the Pharisees or the way of Jesus.  But this is simply untrue, such an approach intentionally distances us from our own sinfulness and seeks to erase our own guilt by condemning the guilt of another.  When we claim to be the Jesus figure, we claim an innocence we have no right to.

Instead, in this narrative, we can only ever be the Pharisee or the Woman condemned.  We are either the self-righteous sinners who seek to prove our own holiness by oppressing other people with regulations, while insisting we represent the only true way to God; or we are the Woman lying naked and shamed in the street, our sins exposed and our brokenness apparent.  In either case we stand guilty and condemned, yet Jesus takes the side of only one person in this narrative.

Jesus defies the letter of the law the Pharisees wish to enforce, he instead exposes the corruption of the system itself and opposes anyone who would hypocritically seek to oppress others to uplift themselves.  In contrast, Jesus absorbs the guilt of the woman, he declares her forgiven and guiltless, then frees her to live a life beyond the brokenness of her shame.

 We cannot be the saviors of the story, the ones declaring “Go and sin no more!” unless we first seek to dethrone and decenter Christ.

This same principle can be seen by considering the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18.  Jesus tells of a man who owed his master a great deal of money.  When the man was unable to pay his debt, the master chose mercy and forgave him everything.  However, the man forgiven proceeded to seek retribution from a fellow servant indebted to him.  He had him beaten and imprisoned for a far smaller debt, and when the gracious master became aware of this, he treated the unforgiving servant with the same measure his victim had been treated.

This story forms an interesting interpretive paradigm for the principle of the plank and the speck.  In this story, the man forgiven the great debt has his metaphorical plank removed.  He then assumes he can simply run off condemning the speck in the eye of another.  However, in doing so, he again incurs guilt and is punished severely.

When we read the narrative of John 8 with this in mind, it becomes evident that we do not have available to us the role of the righteous and blameless judge.  We instead can only be the guilty and corrupt oppressors or the broken and condemned oppressed who find new life in Christ.

When I embrace this reality, I can only ever realize that we imitate Christ when we stand in solidarity with the suffering and oppressions perpetrated against our neighbor.  To tell an LGBT neighbor, friend, or fellow Christian to “God and sin no more!” is to place myself between them and Christ. It is to self-deify, to insist that I am the hero of the story by using abusive and controlling rhetoric to beat my victim into submission.

 

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  1. Genesis 1 portrays God creating an inviolable gender binary in humanity.

Abusers will often attempt to negate or minimize the suffering of their victims.  They will deny the validity of their victim’s narrative, then twist the account of events to make themselves the true victims.  As such, an abusive mother may attempt to portray beating her child as simply a “spanking” and insist they are a loving parent who would never hurt their child.[7]  As such, she is the victim of “liberal PC culture” which seeks to undermine basic Christian family values.

In the same way, I was taught that those who reject a literal interpretation of the Genesis 1 account of creation are “anti-Christian” and looking to persecute me.  Further, any Christian who would dare to question a literal reading is also a deceiver, a wolf in sheep’s clothing looking to devour me.

As such, I was taught that it is not oppressive to deny the validity of LGBT persons’ identities because I am simply adhering to the teachings of Scripture.  Since God is love, and since he inspired Scripture, it cannot be hateful to speak God’s truth.  This means when someone calls me a bigot or a homophobe, I am the true victim because our “liberal PC culture” wants to demonize and eventually criminalize the basic truths of the Christian faith.

However, this narrative makes absolutely zero sense.  First, because Christians in America have immense religious liberty and it is entirely absurd to claim that basic civility, abstaining from dehumanizing other persons, is too demanding a claim on our faith.

Second, this viewpoint is rhetorically bankrupt, because no one actually believes the story of Genesis 1 precisely as it is written.  For instance, in Genesis 1, the earth is depicted as comprised entirely of water.  God then separates these waters into two vast oceans.  The lower ocean is contained by the land, which creates a habitable space for land creatures and fish to live, respectively.  The second ocean is contained by the sky itself, which is presented as a giant hard dome with built in windows, which are opened by God when to allow for rain.[8]

However, no modern Christian actually believes this is so.  Instead, even an ardent 7-day creationist will insist that this is phenomenological language, despite the fact that there is zero evidence of this within the text itself.  A modern understanding of our atmosphere and the water cycle (evaporation) is anachronistically read into the text to form a compatibilist reading.

This becomes even more evident when one considers that land, sea, light, and dark are all brought into existence before the sun, moon, and stars.  This is odd, because without the sun, moon, and stars there would have been no gravity to cause the earth to spin on its axis, and thus nothing to hold in the earth’s atmosphere.  However, before it is possible to have atmosphere or gravity, we have a blue sky full of water and vegetation begins to grow on the dry land.

While most certainly one could argue that God sustained the creation until he had fully established things like orbits and gravity, but this is hardly a way around the difficulty.  If God intended to create gravity via the celestial bodies, why did he not do that first?  Why not create the system before creating things that are sustained by that system? From a modern standpoint there seems to simply be no sense in it.

But from an Ancient Near Eastern standpoint, with a geocentric solar system and a concept of science determine largely by what would could observe with the naked senses, it makes a fair amount of sense.  The Jews conceived of creation according to categories they could understand in order to communicate that God is sustainer and source of all life.  But this does not mean that we have to ascribe to literalist readings of an ancient account, with close parallels in other Near Eastern religions, at face value.

It is okay to embrace the theology without accepting the entirety of the narrative as prescriptive.  Whether one argues for a 7-day creation by anachronistically through transcribing modern scientific categories on top of the text, or whether one sees it as a myth pointing toward greater theological truth, both are using modern knowledge to make interpretive decisions about the text.  Further, neither are simply taking the text at face value.

This is further important when one notes the lack of liminal space in the creation story.  A classic example of this is the fact that neither dawn nor dusk are described.  There is light and dark, day and night, morning and evening, but there is nothing in between in the Genesis 1 account.  And yet these are assumed within the text, as we know them to be physical realities.[9]

As such, it is rather odd to assume that there is nothing beyond “male and female” based solely on the text of Genesis 1.  In reality, it just as, if not more common, for someone to be born with a non-binary conformative physical anatomy (intersex) as it is for someone to be born with red hair.[10]  If we accept the scientific reality of dawn and dusk, despite their absence from the Genesis 1 creation poem, then there is no reason to reject the scientifically undeniable existence of persons who are born and live outside the strictures of a gender binary.

Once one recognizes that there are actual, outward physical realities which make a person’s gender non-binary, it is really no stretch of logic to recognize that there are also internal realities which make a person’s gender non-binary as well.  A person whose body chemistry causes them to feel at odds with their physical body is not someone choosing to deny the way God created them, they are recognizing that they are more complex than a simply binary explanation of human sex and gender, and thus seeking to express the complex realities of the beauty of God’s creation in the best way they know how.  There is nothing unbiblical or perverse about this.

In seeking to negate the existence of an entire people group, I negated their humanity and ignored their plight in order to paint myself as the real victim.  Such behavior is disgustingly appropriative and entirely evil.

 

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  1. I love the LGBTQ+  community, but I cannot forsake the truth of Scripture.

Abusers rely on obfuscation to negate the very real hurt they cause their victims.  A father may insist his children simply misunderstood his demeaning comments, insist he was only joking that his son is a “pussy” or a “wimp.”  They shouldn’t take him so seriously, he loves them and would never actually hurt them.

In the same way, I was taught to purse the “truth” and “love” when engaging in LGBT.  Love and Truth were juxtaposed, they were always in tension and must be carefully maintained in balance with one another.

But Scripture seems to give a different account.  According to Scripture, Jesus is the Word of God.  As such, the truth of the Bible is found in and interpreted through the person of Jesus. We cannot embrace the truth of Scripture without first embracing Jesus teaching the he alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life for all believers in John 14.  Further, in John 10, Jesus tells us that he and the Father are one.  This is important, because within the Johanine corpus, we are told in 1 John 4 two things: God is love and the love of God is revealed through the cross of Christ.

As such, any who reject the love of God – embodied in Christ – must also reject him as Truth.  That is to say, As both the embodiment of Truth and Love for the Christian faith, Jesus is not at tension with himself.  Instead, in embracing his example of kenotic love, as explained in Philippians 2, we are embracing the Truth of his cross, which is the entirety of the Gospel message (1 Cor 2:2).

It is an abandonment of the cross to portray anything as the truth of Scripture which functions in tension with the Love expressed by God in the cross of Christ.  To juxtapose the two is to decenter the cross in my engagement with my LGBT neighbor.  I cannot, as a Christian, claim anything to be true for my neighbor which is not rooted fully in the Love taught to me by the cross of Christ. And if I do not love, then I participate in systems of hate and oppression which are always anti-Christ.

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6. God is pouring out his wrath on us for affirming “perversion.”

Abusers commonly find ways to make their victims feel worthless, deserving of their sufferings. A husband tells his wife that if she would just submit more, he wouldn’t have to beat her.  A sexual predator insists that his young victim is obligated to perform a sex act for the 100th time because she “wore that shirt” and she knows he can’t resist her when she wears it.  A drunk father insists that if his son had cleaned up every speck of dust off the garage floor, he would’ve been allowed to eat dinner tonight. And in the end, whatever happens, whatever evil besets them, it is all their fault.

The same mentality can be clearly seen in the theology on which I was raised.  I have heard people say, “If he’d been a better person, he wouldn’t be dying of cancer.”  I have heard others insist, “She is always showing off her cleavage, is it any surprise someone attacked her.”  I have seen sexual abuse between teenagers and adults referred to as “consensual” relationships.  And in all instances, I have believed these lies.

In much the same way, I was a product of the Evangelical theology of the 80’s and 90’s.  At the height of the anti-gay agenda of my childhood, AIDS was the weapon so often wielded.  I can recall using the story of Sodom and Gomorrah to declare the AIDS epidemic God’s wrath on the gay community.  I even went so far as to declare that I there would never be a cure because God’s wrath cannot be averted, claiming innocent children and rape victims the collateral damage of a sinful and ungodly “lifestyle.” Sadly, I have to admit I have spoken such hate within the last decade.

It is strange, then, I didn’t preach repentance or look for some explicit sin within my own family after my grandma suffered a brain tumor, followed by a stroke during surgery which left half her body parapzed.  I didn’t assume my grandma was being punished for being some terrible monster.  Instead, when the tragedy hit close to home, I remembered that “All things work for the good of those chosen by God” and “the rain falls in the just and the unjust.”  These passages were comfort that God was on my side.

Today, the rhetoric may be different, but the intent is the same.  People whom I once looked to for guidance, who influenced my thinking on the AIDS epidemic in Africa, are the same people who blame the Sandy Hook shooting on gay marriage and insist that refusing to bake a cake for a person is a fairly lenient punishment for blatant “perversion”

 By associating a tragic illness with a group of people I hated, I could assert that God was clearly working to extinguish the “gay lifestyle” from the earth, based on my interpretation of Romans 1.  And I could claim all of this represented the only possible reading of the text.

I used every ounce of cognitive dissonance possible to make my neighbor my subordinate, to dehumanize them enough to claim every ounce privilege I could get my hands on.  And then, when all was said and done, I beat them over the head with my religious sanctimony just to be sure they wouldn’t have the basic self-worth to fight back.

 

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  1. If we affirm LGBT identities, it’s only a matter of time before we accept pedophilia as normative.

Abusers work to dehumanize their victims, to deny them basic agency over their bodies.  Sexual predators groom their victims to believe that they have no self-worth outside the “affections” of their abuser.  They come to associate “love” with being raped and assaulted.  The abuser will often sell the bullshit narrative of a “loving relationship” in order to convince the victim that they are simply reciprocating by allowing their body to be abused, violated, and demeaned in whatever twisted way the abuser can think of.  But what is missing from such a dynamic is of vital importance: the predator has robbed their victim of consent, basic agency over their own body.  They have created a hierarchy by which they are in power, and their victim is a subordinate slave to their desires.

Similarly, I was taught that being LGBT was a gateway to pedophilia.  I was told that once someone had surrendered to “sexual perversion” nothing was off limits.  I was told that, because sex was only designed for marital relationships between a man and a woman, consent was a liberal category used to justify fornication and perversion.

And so, I neglected the reality of love and consent within same-sex relationships.  I equated sex between two men with rape between an adult male and a young boy.  I entirely robbed gay, lesbian, bisexual, and pansexual individuals of any concept of agency over their bodies, because my beliefs demanded that they be belittled and criminalized.

But consent cannot be equated with non-consent. Rape cannot be used to denigrate a loving and committed relationship between any two persons, regardless of their sexuality.  Thus, consent is a key category for undermining hate-filled rhetoric and exposing blatant bigotry.

 In denying the importance of consent, LGBT persons are reduced to mere things, detestable objects – little more than object lessons to demonstrate my own moral superiority.  Such rhetoric seeks to rob them of basic agency over their own bodies and identeties.

In 1 Corinthians 1, we are told that Christ uplifts those whom the world considers weak and rejected, while he uplifts and honors those whom the world seeks to oppress and reject.  The cross of Christ functions as the great equalizer, that which levels the playing field and undermines our basic categories of antagonism.  This is why Paul, in Galatians 3, seeks to undermine the divisions of the Galatian church by creating a mutuality in Christ.

This is also why, in Matthew 20, Christ commands his disciples to eschew tyrannical forms of leadership and embrace the role of a servant, a command he demonstrated by washing the feet of his disciples during the Eucharist scene in John’s Gospel and fully embodied in his crucifixion.

This means that I cannot be a tyrant toward my neighbor, that I cannot create false binaries and artificial hierarchies and still claim any moral superiority or basic Christian ethic.  Instead, when I trade in hate, when I seek to rob a person of consensual agency in order to quell my own self-loathing, I am not behaving as a child of Christ, but an agent of Satan himself.

 

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  1. Our bodies are evidence of God’s design for sex in marriage and only heterosexual couples can procreate.

An abuser often engages in gas lighting of their victim.  This occurs when an abuser attempts to paint his victim in a certain light in order to ensure no one will listen to or believe them.  This can manifest as a husband telling everyone he knows that his wife is a “crazy, manipulative bitch.”   When she talks to people about the abuse, then, they automatically perceive her through the preconceived lens the husband has created.

This is precisely how I was trained to talk about bisexual individuals. I was told that the fact that men and women can procreate, but two men or two women cannot, means that only heterosexuality is “natural.”  Thus, for instance, a man who claims to be bisexual is actually a lying pervert seeking to subvert God’s design and attack the basic foundations of the marital relationship. As such, bisexuality was erased all together as a lie created to support perversion.

Yet, a straight person is not straight because they have sex with persons of the opposite sex.  In fact, a person could choose a life of celibacy and still be oriented to be attracted to and love persons of the opposite sex.  The fact that such a person never had sex would have no bearing on whether or not they were considered straight.

In the same way, being LGB has nothing to do with sex acts.  A bisexual man can marry a bisexual female, and the two can have biological children together and have a wonderful marriage.  This does not change the fact that he is attracted to men or she is attracted to women as well.  Two persons can be entirely compatible in terms of procreation, can live in a marriage that appears from the outside to be “heteronormative” and yet both partners identify and function as members of the LGBT community.

Likewise, such rhetoric entirely erases the very real experiences of transgender men who become pregnant during transition.  Such persons are entirely capable of having children within a loving, committed marriage to another man.

In either of these situations, the category introduced relies entirely on faulty logic which inherently assumes that all LGBT relationships are incapable of producing biological children through sexual intercourse.  More bothersome is the entirely false blanket assumption of such rhetoric that sex acts determine sexuality and that procreative ability legitimizes these acts as “natural.”

This insistence that procreation is a determinant of the validity of marital sex is absurd and ableist.  Either this standard is applied unilaterally, and thus entirely reprehensible as an axiom which excludes all persons who are infertile or have problems conceiving ; or it is a double standard applied only to the LGBT community, in which case it is sheer prejudice with nothing but hate and lunacy driving its rhetoric.  In either case, an entire class of people is reduced to subhuman status, and the concept of human flourishing in marriage is reduced to sex acts.

With this in mind, I cannot hope to show love to anybody by communicating in ways which exclude or reduce their fundamental value and worth as a human being. Whether it be the myth of procreative incompatibility among the LGBT couples, the myth of transgender bathroom predators, or any of a host of other myths, it is entirely evil to use lies and misdirection in order to promote the exclusion and persecution of the LGBT community.  When I resort to gas lighting, I prove only my own hate, my desire to disenfranchise and silence LGBT persons in order to ensure that their narratives are not heard and their voices are not believed.

 

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  1. Even if some people are born gay, that doesn’t change the fact that same-sex attraction and gender non-conformity exist because of the Fall.

.This final argument seems to wrap up all of the above dynamics into one.  As a child, I was taught that sin is a result of the Fall of creation depicted in Genesis 2-3.  According to the theology on which I was raised, any evil or sin in the world can be traced back to that single moment. As such, we must look to the story of Adam and Eve to understand how God intended marriage to be before the Fall.  Thus, anything which violates this standard is “touched by the fall.”

This, however, is utterly absurd.  First, it assumes that the eschatological realization of the kingdom of God is in erasing the current realities of our physical existence and resetting everything in eternity to a “default” position.  However, this is an entirely foreign concept to the theology of the New Testament.  In 1 Corinthians 15 (cf Col 1), Paul argues that we will be remade in the image and likeness of Christ, through participation in his death and resurrection into his life.  But the fundamental reality we must note is that, in sharing in Christ’s resurrection, we must look to him to understand what resurrection means.

When we see Christ’s resurrected body in the Gospels, what is notable is that, while it is in many ways something new, it possesses continuity with his pre-crucifixion form.  He is recognizable as himself and still bears the scars and memories of his experience.  Unless, contra Paul, the resurrection is some sort of factory reset of all of creation, then our concept of the New Creation cannot neglect the fact that both Paul and Gospel’s depict the kingdom of God as both inaugurated among us and still to be fully realized in the eschaton.

Further, as we read Romans 8, we see that the goal of Christ is to redeem all of creation.  Humanity functioning as ambassadors of New Creation thus reclaim their birth right of imago Dei in its fullness.  This language depicts the redemption of creation as an inaugurated reality inbreaking into the literary present, and pressing outward into the future eschaton through the work and realization of the Church as the body of Christ for the world (cf 2 Cor 5).

Even more fundamentally flawed is the concept of sin purported by such a system.  In declaring LGBT identities to be “touched by the fall” we entirely ignore the fact that every relationship and identity within creation is as well.  Heterosexual marriages are marked by the curses of Genesis 3, which predict pain in child birth, antagonism between man and wife, and animosity and struggle against and over the created order.  In both Genesis 3 and Romans 8, all of creation is depicted as fallen.

 As such, the categorical dismissal of any person or group of people as “touched by the fall” is nothing short of pure hubris.  It is ignoring the glaring plank in one’s own eye.

Instead, if we are to understand something as fundamental as sin, we must consider not that which is touched by the fall, but what of the created order can be redeemed before God.  Thus, the cross becomes the crucible by which all things are determined to be either sinful or redemptive.

With the cross in mind, it seems to me the single category for the redemption of human relationships is bound up in whether they can function as sacrament – pointing toward the grace of Christ through exemplification of the love he has taught us in his death and resurrection.  This can be seen in the greatest commandments, in which Christ teaches us to demonstrate our love for God by expressing love to our neighbor.  And in case we forget either the definition of love or of neighbor, the parable of the Good Samaritan lays this out for us clearly.  I refer to such a love as cruciform.

Cruciform love is expressed in a deep mutuality, a reciprocal desire to pursue the good and betterment of the other, and to receive from them an equal measure of affection, comradery, and support.  This love cannot exist where hierarchy, exploitation, and denigration are active dynamics, and thus these systems which destroy and cause violence within a relationship may be rightly labeled as sinful. As such, patriarchy, pedophilia, bestiality, and racism (to name only a few) are all incompatible with the love of Christ.

Further, as the Bible clearly states that at least two persons are gathered in Christ’s name, he will be among them, it is then no stretch to say that the very real presence of Christ can exist in the deep and mutual friendship between any two persons. Such a friendship, which fosters the presence of Christ in embodiment of his cross for one another, is the heart of the Christian ethic of interpersonal relations.

There is nothing preventing such a relationship from existing between two persons of the same sex.  Nor is there anything preventing such a relationship from existing in relationships with non-binary conforming gender identities.  In every case, each person has embraced the nature which God bestowed upon them and is capable of producing a sacramental, cruciform love between them.

Truly, the only question left to even consider LGBT exclusion within the Church is whether a specific sex act is condemned between certain types of partners.  However, as we have already established, there is no clear message against sex between committed person within a loving marriage, regardless of their sexuality, within Scripture. Whether it be the references to the variety of dubious translations rendering complex words and phrases with the absurd catch all of “homosexuality,”[11] or the damaging theology which influences gender essentialist readings of the Scriptures,[12] any hermeneutic which establishes self as normative and seeks to minimize one’s own plank in order to denigrate a neighbor’s speck is a counter-claim to the Gospel of Christ.

With these obstacles removed, there is nothing – save my own desire to hate and diminish the beautiful creative work of God and rebel against the work of the Spirit within the Church and my own life – that prevents me from fully affirming and supporting the LGBT community.  All persons of LGBT identity wishing to participate in the sacraments and called to serve within the polity of the Church should be allowed to do so without restriction.

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Conclusion

The ethical arguments of non-supportive theologies are damaging and abusive because they are entirely rooted in heteronormative privilege which seeks to appropriate and then erase the narrative reality of an “other.”  In doing so, we do not simply ignore the plank in our own eye, we arrogantly insist that we never possessed a plank in the first place.  Such a theology fundamentally denies the imago Dei in our LGBT neighbors, robs them of even the most basic form of equality, and resorts to dehumanization in order to silence any opposition they may protest to undertake.  This utter disenfranchisement of the LGBT community through interpretive bias represents nothing short of a systemic oppression of God’s lovingly created beings in order to fashion a false idol in the image of our heteronormative selves.

In as much as I, or any other person claiming to worship Christ, have participated in such systems, we are abusers.  To the extent that I, or any other Christian, use abusive rhetoric to attempt to squelch the clear working of the Holy Spirit amongst the LGBT community, we are also abusing the crucified God who stands among the least and oppressed of his people.

In conclusion, I recognize that I must not only repent, but that I must set a new course in order to uproot and destroy the seeds of such damaging theology in my own life, and in the lives of those with whom I engage in community.  I must work to soften hearts and open ears, that the cries of the oppressed for safe space and loving arms might be heard.  I must work to break down the barriers and promote humility in the Church, because the beautiful presence and voice of my LGBT neighbor must be present in order for the amazing and vibrant spectrum of God’s New Creation to begin to be made manifest in the here and now.

In closing, I am reminded of the words of God to Peter in Acts 10:

Let no one call impure what God has made clean.

**Featured image from http://il5.picdn.net/shutterstock/videos/1593877/thumb/1.jpg**

[1] For two excellent posts on the dynamics of abusive communication in relationships, see this article by Dr. Christy Sim and this one by Dr. Steven Stosny

[2] “ταμεῖον, ου, τό” pp. 988-989 in BDAG

[3] “ἕτερος, α, ον,” p. 399 in BDAG

[4] Kenneth Atkinson, “Moses, Testament of,” p. 922 in EDB.

[5] Patrick A. Tiller, “Enoch, Book of”, pp. 408-409 in EDB.

[6] “δόξα, ης, ἡ” pp. 256-258 in BDAG.

[7] I have laid out in two posts why I believe spanking is a form of abuse (here and here).

[8] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, Vol 1 in WBC, pp. 19-20.

[9] Megan DeFranza, Sex Difference in Christian Theology (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 2015) pp. 175-183.

[10] Statistical studies indicate that approximately 1.7% of the human population is intersex.  In contrast, the population of redheaded persons is estimated between 1.5% – 3%.

[11] For my body of work on the traditional “six passages” see here.

[12] See here and here for my work on complementarian and gender essentialist theologies.

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7 thoughts on “Confessions: Anti-LGBT Rhetoric and the Dynamics of Abuse in Evangelical Christianity

  1. Nate, thanks for calling it what it is – abuse! I really appreciate the time and thought you have put into this. I once read someone say “the Bible condemns ALL homosexual acts” but I knew instantly that wasn’t right. Leviticus only condemns anal penetration between two men as a breach of the patriarchal hierarchy, as doing so was to treat man like property, emasculate and subjugate him. And many gay men today don’t even do this sex act, so they are breaking neither the spirit nor the letter of these verses. This mantra “the Bible clearly condemns homosexuality” is just a forced interpretation based on personal prejudice.

    The fluidity of church tradition – which you mention – can be seen on the issue of divorce. For centuries Christians held that divorce under any circumstances is forbidden which enabled a lot of abuse. Thankfully many churches today have abandoned that tradition and allow divorce and remarriage out of compassion.

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  2. So much to chew on here. I’ve bookmarked it so that I can keep coming back for a nibble 😉

    Like Sara, I really appreciate the time and effort you put in here. It’s always a worthwhile read.

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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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