Yesterday, when I recommended to readers a list of articles I'd read in the last day or so about how religious bodies are responding to the DOMA decision, I included David Gushee's recent statement at Religion Dispatches on the damage some Christians have done to the Christian brand in the painful period through which we've been living, in which many Christians have imagined they have a God-given duty to taunt, attack, belittle, scapegoat, and exclude some fellow human beings simply because they happen to have been born gay. I'd like to highlight Gushee's statement today.
What he has to say in this article clearly needs to be heard. As he notes, the response of some Christians to the Supreme Court DOMA decision has been to double down on the toxic rhetoric that is driving many younger Christians from the churches. I pointed to an example of that doubling down in my own Catholic circles yesterday, when I noted how some Catholics, including one who once spent time on this blog and whose ugly statements about gay folks I therefore take personally, are bearing down right now on the stereotyping language of vilification, of disease and filth, long used to justify Catholic disdain for gay folks (and, previously, for Jews and other targeted minorities).
In my Facebook feed, I see conversations emerging in the last two days in which younger Catholic friends of mine who love and affirm those who are gay are on the defensive against gay or gay-affirming friends of theirs who tell them that nothing about Christianity is redeemable any longer. The brand is so tainted that those who are gay or who affirm gay folks simply need to repudiate the brand altogether. Christians have tainted their own brand, that is to say--the point Gushee wants to use to frame his statement.
If you doubt that there's strong evidence for many people to reach this conclusion, have a look at what many Christians are now saying in response to the DOMA decision, according to Alex Halperin at Salon, Rob Boston at Talk to Action, or Peter Montgomery and Anthea Butler at Religion Dispatches, to whom I linked yesterday. Or read Glennon Melton's heartfelt testimony at Huffington Post about her struggle to reconcile her Christianity with the gut-wrenching things she's heard said about gay people in her own church.
Or, for that matter, read about how Pennsylvania Republican representative Daryl Metcalfe colluded with several other GOP representatives to shut down a speech Wednesday on the Pennsylvania House floor by openly gay Democratic representative Brian Sims. Metcalfe and his allies employed a procedural trick to deny Sims the right to praise the SCOTUS decision on DOMA, claiming that rebellion against God's law has no right to free speech on the floor of the Pennsylvania legislature.
Gushee's warning to his fellow Christians about the serious damage they're doing to the Christian brand is clearly needed--though I seriously doubt it will be heard by Christians who most need to hear it. Here's what he tells his co-religionists about the damage they're doing to Christianity through their approach to their gay brothers and sisters:
• Christians (understood to mean here heterosexual activist traditionalists) have become identified with actively pursuing the denial of rights and benefits to others that they themselves enjoy. In other words, the “Gospel” has been identified with the cause of self-benefiting social discrimination against a minority group, a losing hand if ever there was one.
• Christians, claiming to follow Jesus, have become identified as the chief enemies of gay and lesbian human beings (some of whom are also Christians), and of the moral and legal rights of lesbians and gays, whereas Jesus’ enemies tended to be people who performed exactly this kind of marginalization on the despised ones of their era.
• Christians have become known for a deeply distorted moral agenda by elevating the anti-gay cause to the top of their public ethics, and this in a world afflicted by war, hunger, ecological disaster and all manner of social injustice.
• Christians have alienated gays and lesbians and their families, friends, and sympathetic allies, driving many away from the love of Jesus Christ and contributing to the secularization of American culture. They have done a great deal to create hostility to the church and closed ears to the Gospel. The saddest cases are the church’s own rejected gay and lesbian adolescents and twentysomethings. They are legion.
• Christians have contributed to the fear in society that millions of Americans are unable to tell the difference between the church and the state, or between the demands of their faith on themselves vs. the demands of their faith on those who do not share it. This contributes to secularization and weakens respect for legitimate concerns about protecting a zone of religious liberty for religious dissenters.
As a Catholic Christian, I listen carefully to what Gushee has to say, of course, because I know that what he says here applies to many members of my own Catholic community as well, and notably, to its chief pastors, its chief shepherds, led in the U.S. by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, whose Dirty Freddie story about "welcoming" gay and lesbian human beings energizes precisely the kind of rhetoric about gay people as filthy that I now hear spread openly and without censure about me and people like me at many Catholic blog sites, and about which I wrote yesterday.
We have miles to go. Meanwhile, many of those who could have helped build a vibrant, inclusive church which represents everyone and employs the gifts of everyone are walking away as fast as their feet can carry them, to escape the toxins being spread about by those determined to characterize their gay family members and friends as human dirt, in the name of Catholic "truth" and Catholic "charity."
The graphic is from David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons's 2007 study on behalf of the Barna Group of attitudes of younger Americans towards the Christian churches at present.