Every Young Christian Needs to Read This | A Repost from Timothy Dalrymple

If You’re Selling Scorn for Conservative Christians, the Market is Hot

June 11, 2012 By Timothy Dalrymple 4 Comments

I recently wrote a piece entitled “What if the Culture War Never Happened,” where I encouraged progressive evangelicals — who publicly blame the conservative Christians (largely of the prior generation) of the “culture wars” for giving Christianity a bad name and driving people away from the church — not to accept uncritically what their liberal confreres tell them about the culture wars.  Too many young evangelicals, in my view, question the culture wars but never question the “culture wars,” or the very concept and the way it’s developed in liberal circles.

Some of my progressive friends challenged me to point to examples.  I did not really want to call anyone out on the carpet, but it’s a reasonable request.  Sometimes it’s important to speak clearly and openly.  So here’s what I want to say: To be fair, this happens on both sides.  But recently I’ve seen a lot of young, progressive evangelicals denouncing and caricaturing their conservative brethren for their “culture war” concerns.  But by accepting the caricatures coming mostly from secular critics, legitimating and perpetuating them, they themselves — acting out of concern for the damage done to the church and its witness — are doing great harm to the church and its witness.  If we truly care for the public witness of the church, then we (liberal and conservative) need to stop slandering and caricaturing the other half of the church.  Don’t throw your Christian brothers and sisters under the bus.  Even if you disagree with them, you can provide a coherent, charitable explanation for what “those other evangelicals” believe.

Let me start with a generic example.  MissionGathering Christian Church in San Diego, responding to Amendment 1 in North Carolina, purchased a billboard strategically located alongside Billy Graham Parkway in Charlotte that says, “MissionGathering Christian Church IS SORRY for the narrow-minded, judgmental, deceptive, manipulative actions of THOSE WHO DENIED RIGHTS AND EQUALITY TO SO MANY IN THE NAME OF GOD.”  Click on the image to the right for the article explaining the billboard.  MissionGathering describes itself as an “Emerging” church, and their Pastor of Spiritual Formation, Alex Roller, says that the purpose of the billboard is to tell the LGBT community that “there are progressive Christians who believe in the Bible and Jesus but still support marriage equality and rights for the LGBT population.”  The church (300 members), he says, was showered with praise for the billboards they rented in response to the Prop 8 fight in California.  ”We just want them to know,” says Roller, that “our hearts are with you.”

If that was all they wanted to say, however, they could have rented a billboard with the boards, “Our hearts are with you.”  Given their beliefs on homosexuality and marriage, that would have been a fine thing to do.  Yet that’s not what they did.  Instead they called their fellow believers, who feel differently from them on this issue, ”narrow-minded, judgmental, deceptive, [and] manipulative.”  So let’s be clear what they’re doing here.  (1) They’re perpetuating the worst images of conservative Christians who support traditional marriage.  (2) They’re holding themselves our as a better alternative.  They are the good Christians, the more Christ-like Christians, who are not judgmental — even as they’re judging sixty percent of North Carolinians, a majority of Californians, over half of Christians in the United States and the great majority of Christians around the world.  In other words, (3) they’re saying “our hearts are with you” in that “we feel the same anger and scorn in our hearts as you do.”

Their intentions are honorable, but undermined by an incoherent strategy and by their deep-seated scorn for conservative Christians.  They’re trying to encourage love — by being hateful (and no, I don’t think that’s too strong a word).  They’re trying to encourage tolerance — but judging everyone who disagrees with them.  They’re trying to improve the witness of the church — by legitimating the stereotype that the conservative half of the church is bigoted and deceitful.  They hold themselves out as a better alternative — by throwing more conservative Christians under the bus.

Of course, it’s easy to argue with a billboard.  So, as requested, let me give another example.  Rachel Held Evans’ recent post, “How to Win a Culture War and Lose a Generation” went viral.  Rachel is a fine person, and I regret that I tend to engage with her posts only when I disagree with them.  I’m sure she’s deeply and thoroughly convinced she’s in the right here.  But she let her anger get the better of her.  Let’s look at the post, which begins thus:

When asked by The Barna Group what words or phrases best describe Christianity, the top response among Americans ages 16-29 was “antihomosexual.” For a staggering 91 percent of non-Christians, this was the first word that came to their mind when asked about the Christian faith. The same was true for 80 percent of young churchgoers. (The next most common negative images? : “judgmental,” “hypocritical,” and “too involved in politics.”)

(To pause: the study says nothing of “the first word that came to their mind.”  And “antihomosexual” is a catch-all term that people might check if they believe Christianity is bigoted, or merely that some Christians are bigoted, or people who simply think that Christianity opposes homosexuality.  But when your anger gets the better of you, there’s no time for nuance or discernment.)

Evans goes on to say that the belief Christians are bigoted against homosexuals (in the words of David Kinnaman) is “the negative image most likely to be intertwined with Christianity’s reputation,” and (in Evans’ words) “one of the top reasons 59 percent of young adults with a Christian background have left the church.”  Then Evans points to Amendment 1 in NC and the advertisement that featured a quotation from Billy Graham:

Despite the fact that the North Carolina law already holds that marriage in the eyes of state is only between a man and a woman, an amendment was put on the ballot to permanently ban same-sex marriage in the state constitution. The initiative doesn’t appear to change anything on a practical level, (though some are saying it may have unintended negative consequences on heterosexual relationships), but seems to serve primarily as an ideological statement

….an expensive, destructive, and impractical ideological statement.

Conservatives in the state […] supported the amendment, and last night it passed.Religious leaders led the charge in support of the amendment, with 93-year-old  Billy Graham taking out multiple ads in publications across the state supporting the measure.

The convalescent Billy Graham likely had very little to do with the ad, but my point here is not to debate the rightness or wrongness of Amendment 1.  My point is to examine the ways in which progressive Christians talk about conservative Christians.  Conservative Christians have voted for these amendments consistently.  Yet the reason many Christians feel differently from Evans is completely unexplained.  And since (she asserts) there’s no practical reason (no reason why it might matter to give something a constitutional and not merely legal imprimatur), it must be just to spite gays.  The reader is left to conclude that conservative Christians simply are, to use the terms from the beginning of the post, anti-homosexual, judgmental and hypocritical.  Then Evans brings out the big guns of bold type and larger font-size:

I’ve said it a million times, and I’ll say it again…(though I’m starting to think that no one is listening):

My generation is tired of the culture wars.

We are tired of fighting, tired of vain efforts to advance the Kingdom through politics and power, tired of drawing lines in the sand, tired of being known for what we are against, not what we are for.

Evans wonders whether anyone is listening — and the post received 56,000 Facebook shares, and the comments cheer her on.  If you’re selling anger and scorn against conservative Christians, the market is hot.  Of course, Evans does not speak for our generation as a whole.  And these are bumper-sticker arguments.  I am for a family founded on the marriage of man and woman; I am for the defense of innocent human life even prior to birth.  And I am not trying to advance the kingdom so much as I am trying to defend the innocent and defend social structures I consider sacred and valuable.  The dead are not raised by politics, but the living can be protected and served by it.  But we go on (reformatted for space):

Amendments like these needlessly offend gays and lesbians, damage the reputation of Christians, and further alienate young adults […] from the Church.

So my question for those evangelicals leading the charge in the culture wars is this: Is it worth it? Is a political “victory” really worth losing millions more young people to cynicism regarding the Church?  Is a political “victory” worth further alienating people who identify as LGBT?  Is a political “victory” worth perpetuating the idea that evangelical Christians are at war with gays and lesbians?  And is a political “victory” worth drowning out that quiet but persistent internal voice that asks—what if we get this wrong?

Too many Christian leaders seem to think the answer to that question is “yes,” and it’s costing them.

Because young Christians are ready for peace. We are ready to lay down our arms. We are ready to stop waging war and start washing feet.

For conservative Christians, of course, there are not merely political victories.  These are matters of fundamental moral and theological import, critical to the health of individuals and societies.  I believe these things matter to God because human flourishing comes when we are leading the lives we were designed and redeemed for.  Sometimes the best way to wash a person’s feet is to tell him those feed are striding down a self-destructive path.

But again, the argument is beside the point.  This is not really an argument but a bit of angry rhetoric.  Evans never engages with how conservative Christians articulate the reasons for their actions.  She never gives an explanation at all — much less acharitable one — for the things her brothers and sisters in Christ believe and do.

I understand why Rachel and her fellow progressive Christians are angry.  I have many close relationships with gays and lesbians who do, indeed, find actions like Prop 8 and Amendment 1 hurtful.  I do feel for them, and I genuinely wish for the sake of our relationships that I could agree with them on these issues.  Evans and the MissionGathering church believe that Christians who oppose marriage equality for gays in the name of God are doing a disservice to the God they claim to serve and harming the witness of the church.  I get it.  But this is not the right way to respond.

This is selling anger, not offering enlightenment.  Anger is not always wrong, but it’s always a dangerous substance to deal with.  In its anger, posts and billboards like these lose the capacity to understand believers who disagree.  They rush to judge our elders and dispense with humility or nuance.  Instead of saying, “No, most conservative Christians are not hateful or deceptive.  Here is where they’re coming from, but I stand with you” — they say “I am with you” because “I scorn them too.”

Does it happen on both sides?  Absolutely.  I cannot stand the glib, bigoted “ain’t no homos gonna make it to heaven” video that’s circulating.  But one would never know, from a post like Evans’, that there are loving and thoughtful and self-sacrificial people on the conservative side of the argument who are genuinely trying to do the right thing for all people.

There is a growing genre — call it Progressive Christian Scorn Literature — about the scorn progressive Christians have for conservative evangelicals.  It seems to be celebrated on the Left as a kind of righteous comeuppance for the Christian Right, and it wins the applause of the Left for the Christian Left.  But it’s wrong and it needs to be called out.  It’s neither winsome, nor loving, nor constructive, nor right.  It will not improve our witness because it’s soaked through with bitterness and rancor.  I hope that people of good heart and mind, like Evans, leave it behind.

We cannot get beyond the culture wars by simply joining one side and lobbing bombs against the other.  We cannot improve the reputation of the church by throwing half of it under the bus.

15 Replies to “Every Young Christian Needs to Read This | A Repost from Timothy Dalrymple”

  1. Intriguing.

    I have not read your whole blog, so I am not sure whether you agree with Leviticus 20 or not and want us stoned, but here you are judging Rachel Held Evans. She is throwing out and vilifying Conservative Christians, instead of trying to find why they believe what they believe.

    You are doing what you condemn.

    It seems to me that a lot of the Conservative vilification of gay people arises from anger and hatred and disgust. It is hard to hear the Love in “I do not judge you but”. Model the attitude you praise. But challenging the hatred or judgment on the other side will not win friends, until you challenge the hatred on your own.

    And let us celebrate what we have in common. We worship God. Welcome me into your church. You can tell me, once, that you think my lifestyle sinful- and then, after that, do not tell me again. Let us worship together. Let us see what God does.

    1. Jesus made clear His view of both adultery and the penalty: “They went each to his own house, but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 7:53–8:11, ESV)

      The moral law stands; the civil prescriptions of the Old Testament were for national Israel, not the church.

      The Bible understands adultery as prohibited sexual activity outside of marriage, and marriage, Biblically defined, is between a man and a woman.

      Homosexuality (male and female, as behaviour) is a sin, as are other sins. I don’t make a point of singling out homosexuality as a sin above (below?) all sins. It is not my main topic of concern. When I preach and teach, I attempt to open the Scriptures in their context, and so move from book to book, through each book. If the Bible brings up sexual infidelity, that is the topic. If it brings up hatred, that’s the topic it brings up.

      As for hatred: dissent is not hatred. I have never advocated the persecution of those who are involved in a particular sin. God has made His Word clear on what is sin, and it is up to Him to decide what to do with sinners, repentant and unrepentant. There are unrepentant thieves, there are unrepentant child-abusers. God offers forgiveness of sins to all; but He still names sin as sin.

  2. That story from John is one of my favourites, the greatest drama before the Passover.

    I do not know whether you hate, but I do know that other Evangelicals do. I want the hatred to stop. Do you?

    1. I guess you would have to define “hatred” clearly. Sin is not, in my opinion, something to ignore, accept, redefine, allow, promote, teach, advocate for, etc. I do not think it is good to raise children in single parent families, for instance. Most single parent family situations arise from either sin as an unlawful (Biblically speaking) divorce, adultery, or fornication. Is it hatred to say so? Is it hatred to say that this is not the best place to raise a child?

      Is it hatred to say, with the Catholic bishops, that “homosexuality is fundamentally disordered?” Is it hatred to say that the norm for families should be two parent, monogamous, and heterosexual? It is hatred to say that anything else falls short of God’s standard?

      The reason I am also interested in hate is that it is almost illegal to say anything contrary to very current opinion on these matters. Pastors have been removed from pulpits, congregations from church properties, teachers from posts, and careers and lives are ruined for no other reason than ones taking a position that God has a very definitive Word on marriage and sexual morals.

      Because I dissent, I have been labelled a hater, although I have never advocated the abuse or mistreatment of anyone guilty of a particular sin. I do not seek to withhold human rights from any individual. I do find that most of the suppression of fundamental human rights today, in Western nations, are coming from the liberal-homosexual/lesbian/transsexual/bisexual (etc) side of the aisle. In case after case Christians are brought before human rights tribunals and courts for doing no worse than holding to a tradition understanding of marriage, and saying so.

      So what is “hate,” and who are the “haters?”

  3. It is certainly hatred to say, with the Catholic bishops, that homosexuality is “fundamentally disordered”. Homosexuality is innate and natural, and denial of that is a weird denial of plain fact. Nothing in Christianity requires its denial. And so that statement is an attack on people with no moral responsibility for their state. It is wicked.

    Stop playing the victim here. Gay people are the victims of physical violence, and even now of the law, with hate-filled laws like DOMA. By all means preach Christianity, but there is too much hatred and disgust for gay people in its preaching. Speak to your fellow Evangelicals, and rebuke their hatred, disgust and fear.

    1. If I refuse to accept, and believe, that homosexual behaviour is good and normal, I am, according to you, a hater.

      Hatred, so broadly defined as to include all dissent from popular opinion, becomes a useless concept for discussion.

      So in a few years (or months) as a new perversion is foisted upon the gullible, I’ll be a hater for disagreeing then too. Perhaps someday you’ll be in that class, if you aren’t already. Actually, you are a hater–you hate Evangelicals, no?

      1. Rachel Held Evans, for example, is an Evangelical. So, no.

        I hate your slippery slope argument. “A new perversion is foisted on the gullible”,. People have been arguing that homosexuality leads to paedophilia since decriminalisation. No, it doesn’t.

        I disllike Evangelicals who emphasise this belief over all Christianity. “I believe in one God, maker of Heaven and Earth, who condemns homosexuals” their Creed goes. But that is a false belief. Very different from an innate characteristic.

        I suppose you deny that homosexuality is innate. I hate the wilful denial of the truth, I hate the distortion of scientific evidence, which since Galileo has made such fools of Christians. But that is hating sin, and not sinners.

        1. Hate the argument or not, slippery slopes sometimes do exist (I don’t think I mentioned paedophilia, did I?)

          I was thinking of Leviticus 20, since you brought it up earlier. Is everything prohibited in that chapter to be allowed, or only some things? And how does one choose?

          God condemns all sin.

          I don’t deny that homosexuality may be innate, but I don’t think there is sufficient evidence to say it is. Even if it is, all sin is innate. We are all born sinners, and some of us are drawn to different sin; nature and nurture bring us to express our sinfulness, but we will all express it because we are all sinners.

          Galileo rejected Aristotle, not Christianity. The Roman Catholic church was Aristotelian and in the wrong. Science advanced because of a Christian worldview that emphasized a created order that could be empirically observed and known.

          Empirically, total depravity is provable (C. K. Chesterton).

          “21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

          The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ro 3:21–26.

  4. Incest is wrong because of the high risk of deformed children. My friend’s husband is a Spiritualist who leads worship, and acts as a medium. Another friend’s brother is. It is not something I would do myself. What perversion were you thinking of? If it harms a person or is non-consensual, then it is bad. Porn is bad because it creates addiction.

    Satan showed Jesus all the Kingdoms of the world from a high place. Therefore, the World is flat. That is one of the Biblical arguments for the flat Earth. Rejecting the flat Earth does not mean rejecting Christianity or the Bible, but it does mean blanking that verse, saying it was a vision rather than a sight, something. Wasn’t there a battle where the Sun went backwards in the sky?

    All sin is innate. Brilliant. You do not have to be celibate, but those others do. What good is that?

    And will you condemn hatred in Evangelicals’ condemnation? You know what I mean. Do you think that any comment from Evangelicals about homosexuality has the slightest tincture of hatred, disgust or contempt, or is it all absolutely pure Christian love?

  5. There really isn’t much left to say here, is there? If exposing sin, even sin that is loved and cherished as one’s own, is hate, then “speaking the truth in love” is never possible. We can’t really come to God and His grace until we’ve come to the end of ourselves, and to admit that our take is wrong and His is right.

    1. Well, actually I was leaving open the possibility that it wasn’t. That you can say you believe gay lovemaking is sinful without hate. But- do you think there is ever hate in the way it is expressed?

      This is a serious point because if Christians are not just to talk past each other we have to examine ourselves.

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