Friday, June 28, 2013

Equal Before God

I pass that sign outside the Wesley Methodist Church on my way to work in the morning.  It’s printed on a rainbow-striped sign – and that particular set of gay-rights rainbow colors I have unconsciously learned to recognise.  It is one sort of religious declaration that irritates me. (There are others.  I think I’ll reference those next.  Equal opportunity criticism.)

It takes a truth and bends it with manipulative intent.  Insofar as it means we are all sinners Standing In The Need Of Prayer, and should thus be cautious in judgement it’s a central truth of the NT: whether slave or free, male or female, Jew or Gentile, we are all equal before God.  I would even go so far as to grant there is no hierarchy of sins, though that is more subtle and there is more to be said on that.  Insofar as God does have a hierarchy of sins he abhors, it doesn’t seem that homosexuality is at the top, so the colored poster gets a pass on that as well.

But everyone knows (not really – discussion below) that’s not what the sign means.  Those are the bait part of the bait-and-switch.  The sign declares that God regards heterosexuality and homosexuality equally. God is just fine with people being LGB or T. The argument for that premise seems to be that disapproving is hating, and God wouldn’t do anything wrong like that, so he must approve.  The argument draws strength from the evidence that some people who oppose whatever is currently being defined as gay rights do so for ugly reasons.  This not only includes some Christians, but those are often the noisiest of the ugly complainers. (If anyone thinks they are the most vicious, they don’t know what they are talking about.  And yes, I’m including Fred Phelps when I write that.  There’s far worse out there.  But it’s individual, not organised groups.)

Denominations usually sell the idea as being part of welcoming everybody.  To a lot of folks, not being welcoming would be a terrible thing, and putting ourselves above others, and gosh darn it, it’s not polite. Decent people want to keep things simple, and not go looking for extra controversy at church, so they go along with this explanation of it all being about friendliness.  Or something.  But this is something of a hostage situation, and I say that as one who has been in it.  Being welcoming in the ordinary meaning of the term turns out not to be enough. Talking cheerfully to a parishioner’s visiting lesbian daughter for fifteen minutes, identifying friends known in common, and asking after her well-being would generally qualify as welcoming, wouldn’t it? Don’t be silly. Welcoming has taken on a different meaning.  It means going out of your way to make public congregational statements of affirmation. When words get moved from their original meanings, beware.

I had heard the accusation that LGBT opponents were largely motivated by physical disgust.  I was somewhat dismissive of that at first, knowing that it is nothing of my motivation, and doesn’t seem to be the motivation of people I know.  But having been alerted to the possibility, I do find that the physical disgust angle does come up in unnecessary places, including Christian conversation.  I don’t think it’s anything like a majority of the opponents, but it is clearly the main factor for some.  There is a further manipulation I don’t like: some Christian groups rely on that and highlight it, even though it is tangential to any scriptural or theological argument.  They are playing to the crowd, perhaps. The scriptural opinion on playing to the crowd rather than what is right on its own account because of God’s approval is pretty consistently negative.

Church Signs

I may be guilty of another version of that same sin, however.  I hate 90%+ of the messages on church signs. I’m not sure my reasons are good.  I look down on the stale attempts at humor and the sloganeering wisdom.  My rationalization is that it makes us look bad, it amounts to announcements that dweebs who think they are clever go here. Yesterday I saw one side of a sign about getting a “faith lift,” and on my return past the same church, that “CH  CH:  What’s missing?  UR” one.  Those were both cute the first time I saw them.  Years ago.  I suppose there is a new crop of middle-schoolers every year who haven’t seen them.  There I go again, being very superior about my own wittiness and how such things are beneath one as clever as I.  So that is disgust of a sort, isn’t it? That word may be a bit strong, but it’s the same principle.

Sooo…I am the shallow judge here.  That congregation likely has saints whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. Uncool sandals that are decades out-of-fashion, too.

I’m not letting them off the hook entirely, however.  There is something in sign-cuteness that is associated, both theoretically and empirically, with Gospel Lite.  There is an affirmation of churchiness culture, of being-on-the-best-team culture that is not the same as Christian commitment. Our associate pastor mentioned a few weeks ago an incident at a previous church in which a parishioner had objected to pastors with beards. Yet in other sectors, facial hair seems to be required on male pastors. In all cases it’s defense of a culture rather than defense of the gospel.

Still, further criticism of them should come from others, not I.


james said...

The late Dan McBride wrote a song called "The Church of Your Choice." (Remember the old ad campaign?) "Come one and come all, to the church of your choice is our call. If you're tired of your sin, then we'll welcome you in; if you're not you'll still feel right at home."

There's an irreducible tension between outreach and encouraging growth. Jesus lost a lot of disciples at one point, and it seems unlikely that we can better His record.

And it is so easy to futz with words to make things seem smooth.

Earl Wajenberg said...

The language-juggling in the gay-rights situation reminds me of a line from The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis: "we will not call blue yellow to please those who insist on still having jaundice."