This is a perfect and, in my opinion, not unrepresentative example of how some evangelicals not only don’t care about LGB suicides, but also exploit them to advance an anti-gay agenda. David Barton, an evangelical minister and a “professor” at Glenn Beck’s “university,” cites high rates of suicides and shorter life expectancy as evidence that homosexuality is an “unhealthy lifestyle,” comparable to smoking or eating too much salt or fast food. He concludes: “Why don’t we [meaning the government] regulate homosexuality?”
LGB suicides don’t warrant even a shred of compassion or concern for Barton; his tone in discussing them is glib, and gloating. And the obvious implication of his comments is that high suicide rates and shorter life expectancies among LGB people are just what we should expect. That these are necessary and deserved consequences for being gay, and there’s nothing to be done to address these issues besides “regulating” homosexuality, whatever that means. Basically, he wants a society where the only options for gay people are either to suffer horribly or just cease to exist altogether – perhaps even to be executed for being gay. Very Christ-like of him.
Barton has a very well-established record of promoting not only extreme homophobia, but also racism, xenophobia, and historical revisionism (read: completely fabricated bullshit) intended to advance his hateful agenda. He claims, for example, that the three-fifths rule was an anti-slavery measure intended to benefit slaves (!!), that “slavery was not initially raced-based,” and that “Republicans . . . have led the fights for abolition, emancipation, voting rights, civil rights, and even integration, while Democrats have fostered racism for political gain.” Right.
Barton also opposes immigration reform on the grounds that, um, God drew the borders of the United States, and allowing open borders requires accusing God of making a mistake. He’s also been associated with virulently anti-Semitic groups and Holocaust deniers. And through Barton’s WallBuilders organization, these absurd lies about American history are peddled to countless homeschooling children around the nation, including children at my former church, who are being taught that the Founding Fathers were all Christian, that they never intended any meaningful separation of church and state, that the evangelical church and the country as a whole have never had a problem with racism, and so on.
There’s a common theme here, of course, of using religion as a cover for extreme hatred and bigotry. Hispanic immigrants? Jesus doesn’t want them here. Homosexuals? Jesus doesn’t want them to get married, have sex, or otherwise be treated like actual human beings. Civil rights? Real Christians know the Republicans are the real pro civil rights party. And on and on. I don’t think it’s coincidental that Barton defends such varied forms of bigotry. For him and largely white conservative evangelicals like him, these things are all connected. Barton and his ilk display a nauseating nostalgia for a time in America’s past when the supremacy of white, Anglo, Protestant Christian patriarchy was unquestioned and even more pervasive than it is today. They call for “restoring America” to its former virtue and glory – which is code for restoring America to a time when women couldn’t vote or own property, when people could be jailed or institutionalized for being LGBT, when black people, Jews, and non-Christians knew their place,
It can be tempting to just write people like Barton off, but some of these folks have tremendous influence. Barton has access, through prominent Republican and conservative leaders, to a huge conservative audience. As the clip above points out, Barton is the former co-chair of the Texas Republican party, and has campaigned for prominent Republican candidates like Sharron Angle and Mark Rubio. He’s not only an “instructor” at Beck University (try typing that with a straight face), he’s also a major “source” for Beck’s falsehoods about the history and present reality of race relations in the US.
And – as I found out while working on this post – his influence as a pseudohistorian now extends far beyond conservative homeschoolers and the Republican base. Barton was an “expert” witness in the Texas school board hearings which ultimately led to the conservative majority on the board ordering a state-wide radical revision of history textbooks to reflect a version of American history biased towards white, conservative Christians. As with Barton, the ideology behind the textbook revisions was extremely pro-capitalist (classist and anti-poor), racist, anti-sex (and presumably anti-LGBT), anti-separation of church and state, etc.
These ideologies are not separate or distinct for many white conservative evangelicals engaged in the “culture wars.” They’re all part of a vision to “restore” America to what they claim was a simpler, more moral time – but what in reality where many Americans’ rights and liberties were severely restricted, and white patriarchal supremacy was even more institutionalized in our culture and government than it is today. Barton illustrates how enmeshed a Christian exclusivism characterized by extreme and explicit homophobia, racism, and xenophobia is with the current culture of the Republican party.
The farther I get from my time in patriarchal evangelical Christianity, the more often I’m struck by the realization that I spent my childhood being constantly deceived by people and churches I trusted. I don’t mean about religion, though I no longer believe what I was taught about that, either. I mean I was told numerous falsehoods about how people are and how the world is. When I look back at my childhood now, it feels like I was living in a world of lies. Elaborate, outrageous lies. It feels like there was a deliberate conspiracy to keep children in the dark, to isolate us in an artificial world where parents and pastors had total control over shaping our perception of reality.
Obviously I was lied to about gender roles, and about sexuality, and reflecting on the process of untangling those lies is the main reason I started this blog. But I was also taught lies about many other things.
I was raised to be absolutely convinced that Christian creationism was scientifically and historically proven. That Noah’s Flood and the parting of the Red Sea and Joshua making the sun stand still were real, authenticated events in human history. That evolution was just an alternate religion, with no valid scientific proof, invented by people who wanted to live in a godless world even though they all knew, deep down, that God created the universe in 6 days. And I was fed the ridiculous falsehood that Charles Darwin renounced evolutionary theory and “accepted Christ” on his deathbed.
It was practically an article of faith that America was the greatest, most just, most Christian nation in the history of world – at least, until the liberals ruined everything and threatened to bring divine judgment down on the whole country. We lived the most free society in the world, where everyone was treated equally – same warning about the threat of liberalism applied. Racism, like slavery, was a thing of the past, had no bearing at all today, and anyway, white Christian evangelicals were responsible for the abolitionist movement. Learning the real history of our country, our long and ongoing record of bigotry, injustice, imperialist aggression and interventionism has been a disillusioning process, to say the least.
I was taught that feminists hated men, hated children, and hated families. That gay people posed a danger to children and wanted to destroy the family. I was taught that only Christians are capable of “truly” loving other people, and of being good people. That only Christians cared about marriage, family, and community. That spouses can only truly love and care for each other until death if they are “founded on Christ.” I was taught that divorce was always a self-serving decision to go back on marriage vows.
Boy, what a shock it was to grow up and realize that staunch feminism isn’t incompatible with caring about men – or with BEING a man. And when my partner and I became parents and found our growing family being amazingly loved and supported by feminist friends, by gay friends, by, *gasp*, people who aren’t Christians, I was deeply ashamed to realize that I was surprised. I had subconsciously assumed, because of all I’d been taught about who the real “good people” are, that we wouldn’t receive the kind of communal support from our friends as we would have if we had still been good evangelical Christians. All the baggage and indoctrination from my childhood made it difficult to really believe the goodness and kindness I saw in people who weren’t my family’s kind of Christian – which, once I graduated high school and left home, was damn near everyone – even though the acceptance and love I experienced from friends like these far exceeded anything I’d ever felt in my childhood churches.
And this indoctrination also made it very difficult to see clearly the ways in which these churches, far from having a monopoly on goodness, kindness, or happy families, were often havens for abusers of all sorts, and full of repressed, unhappy people. It made it difficult to see the emotional and spiritual abuse I experienced for what it was.
So many things I was taught turned out to be easily disproved lies, but learning the truth – learning to believe the truth and let go of the lies – has turned out to be a painstaking and not at all easy process. I spent my entire childhood and adolescence being deceived and manipulated. I wasted many of my young adult years trying to conform to a vision of life and of the world that was utterly false and rotten at its core. It will take me years to reeducate myself, to retrain my instincts so that things that most people consider to be normal don’t trigger a reaction of fear or guilt, to acquaint myself with the truth and purge my life of all the evil after-effects of being taught to live a lie.
And yes, I am angry about it. I’m very angry. And letting go of that will take a while, too.
Some of this week’s religion and gender news, short and sweet this time!
Sign a petition asking CA Gov. Schwarzenegger to end the shackling of pregnant inmates. (CA residents only)
Presbyterian (PCUSA) clergy and elders can sign the Minneapolis Declaration of Conscience, a petition supporting marriage equality in the church.
An ad campaign urging the Catholic Church to ordain women will run during the Pope’s visit to London next month. (ht TheSliverParty).
The National Organization for Marriage’s Rhode Island Director compares gay parents to dead parents. Very Classy. Also super Christ-like.
Like the debate over gender roles, the debate over gay marriage has parallels to the 19th-century debat e in the States over slavery. (ht KidCharlemgn/Outside of Eden).
Ecclesia de Lange, a South African Methodist Minister, has been suspended for performing a same sex marriage.
This series of articles by Juliet Jacques on her gender reassignment journey is very worth reading.
GLAAD has their weekly LGBT religion news roundup here.
The Joshua Harris sermon I introduced an earlier post is the second in a pair of sermons on gender roles in marriage, and also part of a longer series on the book of 1 Peter. The first sermon is, if anything, worse than the second. I was particularly horrified by how Harris deals with the problematic fact that the passage he’s citing as evidence that women should obey (his words) their husbands also states that slaves should submit to their masters. Actually, it says a hell of a lot more than that:
Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps . . . When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:13-18, ESV translation)
Right. Obviously a pretty problematic passage for people who claim the Bible is an error-free, literally true moral and spiritual guide. If you apply this passage literally, then not only is it totally fine to own slaves, but slaves should also endure beatings “with all respect” because it makes them more like Jesus.* Um. And yet, it’s the consensus among most complementarians today** is that owning a slave is, in fact, a sin.
Seems like kind of contradiction, doesn’t it? Complementarian pastors like Harris claim they have to teach, and women have to follow, doctrines of submission because they are “under the authority of the Word of God” and “called to obey that” without exceptions. Harris even goes so far as to warn the women in his church that “You are not going to [make your husband be the kind of husband you want] if you try to go around the word of God and his call on you . . . it will backfire on you.” Heavy words.
So if that’s the case, why not also teach that slavery is A-ok and that abolitionism was an evil rejection of God plan? Or if Christians can reconsider what this passage and others say about slaves’ obligations to their masters, why can’t Christians also reconsider what the Bible says about submission in marriage? There’s clearly a selective application of the passage here.
Harris admits that 1 Peter’s passage on submission in marriage is meant to be read in the context of the passage above. So you’d think he would make some attempt to address this obvious inconsistency and explain why the Bible’s clear statement about slaves’ submission to masters and gracious enduring of beating is somehow different from its statements that wives should submit to husbands. You’d think wrong. Harris makes no effort at all to justify why the passages on slavery are an exception to an otherwise literalist biblical hermeneutic. Worse, he engages in a disgusting bit of hand-waving and equivocation in which the slave owners suddenly become the equivalent of “employers” today (bold is my emphasis):
Peter lists three examples: government leaders, he talks about governors, and the emperors, who are set in place by God to determine and enforce laws; Masters, or employers in the workforce, and then husbands in the home, who are called to be the head of the family. Now, now what this tells us, is that authority is God’s idea . . . Authority is, is a good thing. Authority is all around us.
If you go to the workplace, uh, you want there to be leadership. You know? The, this idea that you know what, we should just all be equal, let’s just all show up and do what we think is right, and – Have you ever worked in a place like that? that’s not a good place to work! You know what you’re saying if youre in a place like that? “I wish someone would bring leadership and set direction and help us to move forward as a company.”
Authority is a good thing, and the same is true when it comes to the home. Someone has to lead. And God has set authority and roles of leadership in these different contexts, and this is not a bad thing, it’s an expression of his care for his creation to establish authority in human institutions.
Soooo . . . That’s what this passage about slaves respecting their masters’ rights to own them is really all about. Slave ownership – I’m sorry, being an “employer” to involuntary employees, I guess – is an example of God’s kindness and care for us by blessing us with human institutions that bring leadership. God didn’t want people getting any crazy ideas about equality and autonomy. God was worried that some folks would just be lazing about or getting nothing done without, y’know, authoritative direction. So God put some thought to it, and decided, fuck it, slavery sounds like a super good human institution for providing people with the leadership they so desperately need. Someone has to lead. And, uh, Roman oppressors, white slave owners, and your asshole boss are totally the same, all ordained by God to keep society from going to shit. But don’t get us wrong – slavery isn’t cool today, even though God was cool with it in the 1st century. And in the 19th century. But not today.
And I’ve not even gotten to the part where he teaches married women that they are supposed to submit to their husbands in a similar way that slaves – beaten slaves – submit to masters. More on that later.
For Harris and other complementarians, the Bible is completely inerrant and must be followed in its entirety, except on points they decide it doesn’t have to be followed anymore – points that suspiciously coincide with beliefs that the overwhelming majority of western society now considers to be either absurd or just plain evil. We’re supposed to ignore the fact that pastors like them have been on the wrong side of virtually every major civil rights issue for the past 150 years. THIS time, when they say the Bible means women have to submit or homosexuality is evil, they are completely right, even though they were completely wrong about all that other stuff. Well, that was a long time ago, and people were mistaken, and probably lots of them weren’t real Christians anyway. Hmm.
This is what passes for “orthodox,” intellectually rigorous, morally upstanding teaching among complementarians, and this is far from the worst of it. It’s so incredibly, blatantly dishonest, and so morally repugnant, that it completely boggles my mind to think that I ever listened to this stuff without immediately seeing it for the obvious bullshit that it is. It’s amazing that it even has to be SAID that there is no moral or spiritual equivalence between an employer and a slave owner, or that a husband shouldn’t be like either. It’s amazing that a pastor can spew such false and offensive bullshit at a church with thousands of members and not get called out on it.
* It probably won’t come as a shock to hear that this and other passages were used by Christian pro-slavery apologists in the US to defend the enslavement of African Americans. An inerrantist or literal reading of the Bible doesn’t support the idea that slavery is wrong. Mark Noll’s The Civil War as a Theological Crisis is a good overview of how Christians on the pro-slavery side of the debate actually had a much stronger biblical case for their stance than Christian abolitionists, who also attempted to use the Bible to defend their views.
** There are a few complementarians who believe Christians can own slaves – more on this in a future post.