AUTHOR’S NOTE: This article, while admonishing the Christian Right for its scapegoating of gays, reflects a view that homosexual relationships are nonetheless wrong. Today, I would just flat out say that homosexual relationships are not wrong. I’ve kept this post to show where I come from.
Most people find little to distinguish the Christian Right from Christianity. Certainly not all Christians claim the Christian Right, but few others make as much noise these days. It should be no surprise: The two fundamental premises of the Christian Right are (1) that God curses unrighteous nations and (2) that government is a vessel of righteousness. When Leviticus states: “If you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you”, the Christian Right applies it to any nation at any time—not just ancient Israel. Applying different standards of morality on individual and state levels is, as it is said, “leaving your faith at the ballot box”. To receive God’s blessings then, evangelical Christian organizations raise vast sums to support politicians who promise to conform government to their ideas of Christian morality (and, predictably, those politicians happily make the promises required for their money). Values rise above competence. Principle above pragmatism.
Not surprisingly, the Christian Right associates natural disasters, economic maladies, and terrorism with the failure to enforce Christian principles through our national and state governments.
Seen this way, the government is a mission field. Gays are the enemy. Muslims are the enemy. Evolutionists are the enemy. Public schools are the enemy. Public radio is the enemy. A loss for any of these groups is a gain for the Lord. Which means don’t let gays marry or adopt or be protected from hate crimes or else we will be persecuted by them and their militant hypersexual agenda, . . . and God will send Muslims to blow up the World Trade Center.
But what the Christian Right ignores is the Bible—specifically 1 Corinthians 5.
What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. 1 Corinthians 5:12–13
First, and contrary to my regrettable childhood understanding, Heaven isn’t a matter of being good enough—sin works its power with just one occasion (and this writer has sinned on many occasions). The implication that you cannot miss is that getting people outside the church to live a certain way might make them look differently, but it moves them no closer to Heaven. The group of good people and the group of bad people have the same problem—neither is more powerful than sin.
Interestingly, Paul in Romans 2 takes this even further by saying that grace leads to repentance of sins. I don’t want to come off sounding like sin is okay, but attacking sin without the power of God’s grace, as we say here in the South, gets the cart before the horse. There is something about being forgiven of sins that causes people to want to change their lives.
Second, the behavior of nonbelievers is none of our business. Jesus’s statement to the church in Laodicea is remarkable: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!” Jesus died because of sin. Yet here he would actually rather that sinful people just go all out and continue to be obviously sinful. He would have sinful people sin more! It actually serves Jesus’s purposes better when sin is paraded. Paul would say so that “sin might become utterly sinful.”
We are more effective when we look different and when it costs us something.
Third, attacking sin without the grace of Jesus happens to be the worst way to lead people to Jesus. Pay attention to Jesus in John 8 when he encountered the woman during the Festival of the Tabernacles whom the religious leaders caught in adultery. Yes, he did tell her to end her life of sin.
But two critical things happened first. Really pay attention to this.
First, he arguably made himself as vulnerable to her accusers as she was. Here was a group of rabbis ready to stone her for her sin clearly condemned under the law of Moses, and he—a rabbi—actually defended her. When the easy thing would have been to fit in and say “stone her”, the perfect man chose instead to attack her attackers. If you can believe it, people are more receptive to people who come from positions of vulnerability than superiority. But, when we as Christians legislate morality, we come from a position of strength a superiority—a position totally ineffective at inclining hearts, and totally alien to the early church fathers.
Further, instead of making the Word attractive, we succeed phenomenally at driving sexual minorities to high rates of depression.
Because that’s definitely our job.
According to a recent study, gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth are nearly four times more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to attempt suicide over the course of a year. They are twice as likely to report feeling seriously sad or hopeless. Over thirty percent of lesbian and bisexual girls studied reported planning a suicide.
This should make you feel sick.
By the way, the next thing Jesus said before he told her to repent is even more important, and it reinforces the first point I made above. Once Jesus had looked her accusers in the eye and seen them on their way, he looked her in the eye and forgave her sins. Let me make the point again, in case it wasn’t made clear already: Repentance without grace is useless. Repentance is important—vital—but FIRST he had to forgive her of her past life.
Lastly, the Christian Right quotes heavily from the Law of Moses, but we don’t live under the Law of Moses. I’ve written about this extensively in previous articles, but—in short—the old covenant was unambiguously a collective prosperity gospel. Read Deuteronomy 11, or virtually anything I’ve written on this site if you don’t believe me. Under the old covenant, everyone in Israel had to obey the law or God literally wouldn’t let it rain (read 1 Kings 17).
If God’s covenant operated the same way today—in other words, if not following God’s law meant it wouldn’t rain—the conduct of nonbelievers would certainly be our business. But Paul says it’s not.
And we should believe him.
I Corinthians 5 is available to all, yet the Christian Right remains mobilized as a brutally effective political machine. They trumpet their love for the Bible while simultaneously fighting against gays marrying, gays adopting, anyone purchasing alcohol on Sundays, Muslims building mosques, school administrators distributing condoms, and science teachers who teach what they believe to be grounded in science.* As long as life is difficult for these sorts of people, the Christian Right is doing the work of the Lord.
And they also have strong views about taxes.
*I’m not necessarily affirming the sinfulness of everything on this list. These are just the typical yelling points.