Saturday, June 27, 2009

"Muscular," But Not Healthy, Christianity

Holding out for segregating gays is not helping churches.

Look at what is happening to that model of right wing success, the Southern Baptists. They are expelling congregations left and right for making gays feel welcome.   The Fort Worth congregation expelled in the article was not quite my idea of welcoming.  They were expelled for making  small and grudging concessions to a handful of gay members.

While newly minted ACNA is crowing with triumph over its anticipated destruction of the Episcopal Church, the truth is that religious affiliation is declining across the board in this country.  I would argue that the hegemony of conservative evangelicals in politics and public life over the last 25 to 30 years only hastened that decline.  The Catholic hierarchy making a hard right turn while trying to "manage" a huge criminal scandal didn't help either.
It is to the point where substantial numbers of people have concluded that opposition to abortion and homosexuality are the core beliefs of the Christian faith.  Watching any right wing religious cable network from EWTN to TBN where the discussion seems to be about nothing but those 2 topics, it's not hard to see how people might come to that conclusion. 

One part of the Washington Post article that I have linked particularly struck me:
Two years ago, then-SBC president Frank Page said the declining numbers can be blamed, in part, on a perception that Baptists are "mean-spirited, hurtful and angry people" and that the denomination has been known too much in recent years for "what we're against" than "what we're for," Page said.

"Our culture is increasingly antagonistic and sometimes adverse to a conversation about a faith in Christ. Sometimes that's our fault because we have not always presented a winsome Christian life that would engender trust and a desire on the part of many people to engage in a conversation on the Gospel," he said.

This is not just a problem for Southern Baptists, but for churches across the board.  The popular image of all  Christians these days is bigoted, hypocritical, and thoroughly frightened by sexuality and modernity.  It is anything but friendly and loving.  It is starting to turn into something worse, the perception that Christians are anything but good and fair.  It is automatically assumed that Christians are all politically conservative and associated with the Republican party, when a substantial number (at least half) are not.  That default moral authority that the secular used to ascribe to churches and their members is rapidly eroding.  The stand on gays that so many churches cling to only makes them look them look even more mean-spirited, and behind the rest of society in what many perceive as humane and positive reform.  
Right-wing commentators speak of the public embrace of gay rights (the "gay agenda" whatever that is) as "permissiveness" which completely misses the point.  The decision to accept gay family members, friends, and colleagues is a moral decision, and a difficult one for a lot of people.  It comes at the end of a long hard period of soul-searching for most people.  This is anything but a matter of "libertinism."  The conservative religious stand for segregating gays is seen by its proponents as a principled position over and against the childish permissiveness at large in the world.  It is only a matter of maturity and self-discipline in their eyes.  To others, the arguments for segregating gays are deeply offensive.  Those arguments offend, not people's sense of permission, but their moral sense.  The argument for segregating gays, as they become more integrated into the family and social experience of most people, appears less a principled stand than an assault on fundamental human dignity based on an arbitrary prejudice.  The defenders of segregation look worse than mean-spirited to people as time goes by. 

This is very sad, because the churches, including the conservative ones, are still full of very good and very selfless people.  While federal, state, and local governments failed the people of New Orleans after Katrina, religious groups, conservative and liberal, were the first to respond.  When the attention of the public, and the government, moved on, it was the religious charities that remained to help people rebuild.  A belief in the transcendent sanctity of all humanity can be a powerful motivator to do a lot of good.

I really wonder if a position that is also held by folks walling themselves up in compounds in Idaho is really one that churches want to defend as core doctrine.  It is not helping them.

Hat tip to Toujoursdan at Culture Choc.


Stacy Hackenberg said...

I encounter a fairly regular knee-jerk reaction from liberals that goes something like this:

All Christians Are the Devil and the Root of All Evil.

Seriously, I've had online arguments with otherwise intelligent, gifted people who are so set on hating Christianity and those who they see as prejudiced and hateful people that they simply cannot see nor believe that not all Christians are like those they despise. Their hatred for Christianity and organized religion won't let them see any good.

Oh, and those pictures in the other post on "muscular" Christianity are just plain scary. How can someone read the same Bible I do and think this is appropriate in any way, shape or form as being representative of something that Christ would approve.

it's margaret said...

I ride around town on my bike in my collar--and get a lot of strange stares... then and always. When some find out I'm a priest, not a nun, the look in their eyes is heart-breaking. Somewhere between fear and disgust....

I am confident that the Gospel will survive this era.... I am not at all sure the institutional church --as-is, will survive. And I don't know whether to rejoice or grieve, so I do both.

Counterlight said...


My feelings exactly, and I don't have to wear any collars in public or in private.

"How can someone read the same Bible I do and think this is appropriate in any way, shape or form as being representative of something that Christ would approve."

True Blue Tex,
I wonder the same thing a lot.
Christians are making it so hard to be Christian these days.

NancyP said...

A lot of churches Just Don't Get It. For many people, scare tactics wear out with repeated exposure, and then they will want some positive reason to stick around. For many other people, including some conservatives, scare tactics drive them away from the panic spreaders. The politicization of churches, to the point that clerics call believers bad Christians if they vote for a Democrat, drives away the moderate middle (who may choose St. Arbuck's instead).