Friday, July 14, 2017

Eugene Peterson Suggests God May Love LGBTQ Human Beings, and White Evangelical Gatekeepers Go Ballistic: Tempest in a Stewpot

As readers who follow religion news, especially insofar as it relates to LGBTQ lives and issues, probably know, there has been an interesting little tempest in the stewpot* of white American evangelicalism in the past day or so. At Religious News Service, Jonathan Merritt has been publishing portions of an interview he has conducted with Eugene Peterson, a Presbyterian writer-pastor who is something of a superstar among U.S. white evangelicals. Two days ago, he published a portion of his Peterson interview in which Peterson made some mild statements about how maybe LGBT folks are human beings and if God loves all human beings, maybe She loves LGBT folks, too. After that, all hell broke loose.

(What Peterson said, to be precise, is the following:

I wouldn’t have said this 20 years ago, but now I know a lot of people who are gay and lesbian and they seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do. I think that kind of debate about lesbians and gays might be over.)

After he made that mild statement, the white evangelical gatekeepers broke open the container of hellacious fury they break open quite particularly for evangelical leaders who show any signs of failing to toe the party line on matters LGBTQ, which maintains that God actually despises, hates, loathes, targets in a particular way, visits disease on, and yearns for the destruction of LGBTQ folks. And that being a Christian in the 21st century demands that one buy into all of these notions as articulum stantis et cadentis for the Christian churches in the 21st century . . . . 

As Fred Clark, who knows the white evangelical world like the back of his hand, explains today, when Peterson made his mild assertions that the God of Jesus Christ might not be quite like the God of white evangelical U.S. Christianity today, all hell broke loose for two reasons. First, the white evangelical gatekeepers have made hating LGBT folks a core principle of how they read the bible at this point in Christian history, and they think that yielding even a nano-cubit on that principle undermines everything they wish to say about every jot or tittle of the bible as God's inerrant word (with themselves as the folks who parse it in an official way for everyone else in the world, it should be noted).

(The white evangelical gatekeepers did this very same thing from the slave period into the middle of the 20th century when they kicked and screamed about anyone who questioned their highly selective use of bible verses to ground a theology of white supremacy and racial separation by which, they maintained, the whole edifice of biblical interpretation and the very foundations of the church would stand or fall. But they would never in a thousand years admit that the fact that they were spectacularly wrong about that use of the bible might mean they could be wrong today about snatching out bits and pieces of the biblical text to build a theology of hating LGBT folks as the very essence of Christianity.)

So the gatekeepers kicked and screamed, and soon after his interview with Jonathan Merritt was published, Peterson backtracked. He has thousands of copies of his books in bookstores these folks control, after all. And when he caved in to the gatekeepers, he earned himself (and the white churches of the U.S.) a heap of scorn and pushback:

I say above that Fred Clark points to two reasons that all hell broke loose among the white evangelical gatekeepers when Peterson (who is a mainline Christian, not an evangelical, but influential in white evangelical circles) made his mild statement. As Fred explains (point two) the real reason the evangelical gatekeepers began to hate on Peterson after he dared to say, in his interview with Jonathan Merritt, that LGBT folks might be human beings and God might love them, is that he also said that Donald Trump is "the enemy" and has no integrity and no morals.

The gatekeepers will not have this. They will not have their idol the Cyrus-Anointed Emperor Donald Who Is God's Chosen Tool criticized. They went ballistic when they heard him say this, and this is when they got the knives out.

And people wonder why younger folks are walking away from the churches as fast as their feet can carry them. (Remember: as this little kerfuffle is taking place among white evangelicals in the U.S., the same people kicking and screaming that Eugene Peterson crossed a line when he said that God might just possibly, maybe love LGBTQ human beings are totally silent about the plan of their anointed emperor and his party to rip healthcare coverage from millions of needy citizens: in fact, they're in favor of this step, many of them. Talk about the absolute befouling of the Christian brand at this point in history!)

And as this tempest in a stewpot was blowing itself out, the real-life hate continues to target real-life LGBTQ people in their real everyday lives. Yesterday, I had to block — twice — someone who represents himself as the defender of Christian values in the field of sexual ethics by attacking LGBTQ folks over and over again online with obsessive, filthy lies linking LGBTQ folks to disease. After erasing his first comment, which was an attack on me personally as a response to my posting a few days ago about my OUTWORDS interview, I blocked this person, and then back he came with a new username and a slightly different IP address (both pointing to a major Catholic college in Boston as their point of origination, and with the same Russian-based email provider), so that only a fool could not see that the person leaving these comments while claiming two identities was one person and not two different people. I'm pretty sure, in fact, that this is a person with whom I have dealt repeatedly, who has for years been given free entrée at various Catholic blog sites to mount these very same sorts of attacks on LGBTQ people in the name of Catholic moral teaching.

When you have to resort to hate and underhanded trickery to promote a cause you claim is moral, perhaps you need to rethink that cause and your reasons for imagining it's moral.

* I do know, of course, that the phrase is "tempest in a teapot." "Stewpot" seems evocative of the situation in white evangelical Christianity in the U.S. for all sorts of reasons — the never-ending stewing around over imagined grievances about which Joy Reid spoke so incisively to Chris Hayes yesterday, the inability of stewing white evangelicals (and white Catholics and Mormons) to leave the fleshpots of Egypt and Pharaoh behind, etc. I think Noam Chomsky is wildly wrong to think that you can reason with and find common ground with folks like this, who do not want common ground and whose "ground" is not even real — but they want you to occupy it in any case, no matter how fantastical. But, then, I grew up among them and was one of them, when Chomsky was growing up in elite places in the northeast and attending elite schools there, where the likelihood of his rubbing shoulders with a white Southern evangelical was about in the same range of possibility as the likelihood of his landing an alligator gar in the Charles River.

The graphic is an April 2013 photo from Lisbon, Portugal, by Luca Sartoni, who has uploaded it to Wikimedia Commons for sharing online.

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