Archives For westboro baptist

On Sunday I followed up my previous talk in a miniseries called “Where is Jesus now?” with a look at how Jesus is visible in the here and now in images of him.

People. Those who have been transformed by Jesus. Into his image.

I feel like it was an adequate treatment of the question in that Jesus is visible in his church – but I feel like I pulled some punches in the answer that I gave.

It’s easy to talk about being Jesus in the small stuff. It’s easy to talk about being Jesus to other people when they’re moving house – or when you realise how broken you are, and they are… It’s easy to talk about being Jesus as something that’s a little intangible and hypothetical – it’s easy to say that people should be able to see Jesus in us. As we live transformed lives.

But it’s not so easy to see Jesus, here and now, in human tragedies.

The challenge for those who call Jesus Lord, who are being conformed to his image, and who are his image bearers – or ambassadors – is to know how to be Jesus in the awful extremities of life, not just in the every day.

Sure. Figuring out that bearing the image of Jesus means having a life shaped by the sort of sacrificial love Jesus showed at the cross will hopefully help us in big situations if we’re disciplined at living that way in the minutiae of daily life. But a big question we’ve got to answer – and account for, if we’re bearing Jesus’ image – is where is Jesus in tragedies.

Where is Jesus when bombs explode at the finish line of a popular marathon and maim hundreds?

The Westboro Baptists offer one answer.

It’s not a very good answer. There is no image of Jesus in this picture, or in these words. There is no Jesus in the words and lives of the Westboro Baptists. There’s as much Jesus in their ministry as there is in those pieces of toast that sell for thousands of dollars on eBay.

This sort of thing makes you wish that Anonymous would make good on their threats to remove the cancer that is Westboro Baptist… Even if that’s not real justice. And even if there’s a little of the hate (or at least the capacity for hate) that Westboro spew out in all of us… sometimes when we’re condemning them.

But Jesus is in the voices of people who are changed by him – who are called to be his ambassadors – joining together to call Westboro out for what they are. Spokespeople of evil. People peddling the sort of message that might have earned them the label “antichrist” from the guys who wrote the New Testament… Jesus is in the actions of the people who respond in love, rather than standing idly by – or worse – celebrating – when tragedies like this strike. Tragedies that are the result of human brokenness. Tragedies that unite us – tragedies that the world unites to condemn.

I read somewhere that the explosion left people with broken bodies and severed limbs – people who moments before had been taking part in a grand moment, sitting at the finish line of a marathon – the pinnacle of human athletic achievement. There’s something beautiful and pure about sport – it’s one of those parts of life, like music, love, and childbirth, where something magical happens. Something that puts the better aspects of our humanity to the fore… except when people cheat (or play country music).

That’s why it’s easy to spot the tragedy and injustice in this situation that has, as I write, claimed the lives of a handful of people, including a child, and seriously injured many, many others.

It’s easy to speak for Jesus in a situation where everybody is essentially saying the words, and offering the compassion, that those of us who follow Jesus want to be saying. You don’t stand out as different for wanting to see those who have been, literally, torn apart by those explosions, lovingly pieced back together – to have their lives stretch out for many years into the future with only small physical scars to show for this event.

It’s easy to be Jesus – to carry his image – when everyone agrees with what he says. When the media is trumpeting the story on front pages, and at the top of news bulletins, throughout the world.

It’s easy for those in leadership to sound like Jesus when they’re condemning evil and promising to deal with it, and deliver justice for the victims. It’s easy to be admirable and kingly – to be a voice of sacrificial authority and compassion.

But what about when the media is silent – by conspiracy, or just because an issue is deemed to be a non-issue?

Where is Jesus when tragedies are occuring in darkness – rather than in the prominence of an internationally significant sporting event?

Where is Jesus in the story of Kermit Gosnell?

Abortion is a horribly complex issue with all sorts of factors influencing a decision that often comes from a place of trauma and despair and leads to more trauma and more despair. This has never been more true than in the horrible shop of horrors case of Kermit Gosnell.

Where is Jesus in that million dollar backyard abortion clinic that ended the lives of mothers, and untold numbers of unborn babies – and worse – babies who were born. Live. During the abortion process. Only to be, literally, torn apart for the convenience of the mother and doctor. Using stationery. He’s on trial for killing seven babies and one mother – but it’s hard to tell the difference between a baby killed outside the womb at 30 weeks and a baby killed inside the womb at 30 weeks. It’s hard to tell the difference between these seven babies and the thousands of babies Gosnell has killed in completely legal (though horribly conducted) processes in his clinic. Which is why some ethicists argue that infanticide isn’t just ok, but the natural conclusion of legalising abortion. And is probably why pro-abortion reporters have a hard time demonstrating why Kermit Gosnell is a criminal anomaly rather than a participant in the status quo.

It turns out it’s much harder to be presidential when you’re talking about the potential legal murder of babies (Obama’s track record on this issue is pretty disturbing, I’m not expecting him to comment on a case that’s before the courts)… It’s much harder for the media to speak like Jesus in a story like this – as they try to balance their competing agendas. It’s harder to carry the image of Jesus into a situation like this – when people would much rather sweep the whole thing under a rug and forget it happened. It’s much harder to sound like Jesus when the mob is baying for a certain type of blood to match a certain style of lifestyle.

One of the tragedies of the abortion debate is that it’s the product of a culture that rejects the idea that some actions have consequences that we don’t want. If the debate was limited to early term abortions in the case of rape, or genuine threats to the life of the mother, there’d be a lot less heat. Even those situations aren’t black and white. But the goalposts have moved so far from those extremes to questions of convenience that we’re now in a situation where the long term mental health of the mother is said to justify the termination of a human life after the person has exited the mother’s body. It’s not about control over one’s body at that point.

Where is Jesus in infanticide? He’s in the voices of Christians who lovingly point out that we can do better – and who model a better way forward. A way that involves sacrificial love – not a voice of condemnation. A way that involves hope, not despair. A way that involves being Jesus not just to the unwanted babies – but to the mothers. To the legislators. To the doctors. We can do better. We need to do better.

It’s easy to speak for Jesus when what he’d say is obvious and requires no creativity. It’s easy to carry the image of Jesus into a situation where everybody agrees on a way forward.

It’s harder to speak for Jesus, and carry his image, when the way forward requires creativity and thinking outside the box in a completely counter-cultural way.

You can read Mike Bird’s excellent and persuasive piece on why we need to be thinking about infanticide now, not in three years, and I’d humbly submit this piece I wrote last year when those enlightened ethicists calmly essentially suggested that Kermit Gosnell’s actions be normalised as a useful companion piece.

Jesus is in those who speak out for the vulnerable. Who speak against the consensus that is driven by an ideology of “me” – an ideology that dehumanises other lives for my convenience. An ideology that knows nothing of sacrificial love – but only sacrifice of others. Of other lives. With scissors.

I’m sorry. But how did we get to this? We got here by rejecting the progress borne out of almost 2,000 years of people valuing life because Jesus valued life. Valuing life because human life is life made in the image of God with the potential to be life remade in the image of Jesus. You only get to humanism through Jesus.Humanism is that great modern “secular” doctrine which has somehow been white-anted by selfishness where “I” am valuable but fellow humans – including the unborn – are to be discarded when they become inconvenient and its within my power (or rights) to do so. Humanism is a product of Christianity. Cut out Christianity and the foundations for valuing life disappear. And we’re going to wear the cost of that.

We might see a bombing that takes the life of a handful of people – including a child – as tragic, and rightly so. It’s right for that story – that describes how human brokenness can affect something pure and exciting – to be front page news. But somehow the story of a man whose brokenness affected that other pure and exciting human event – childbirth – in bloody, heinous and unimaginably terrible ways – is only worth a mention five weeks into his trial as a result of a sustained outcry.

Somehow we need to be Jesus in situations like this.

Somehow we need to be Jesus to our legislators, and to parents – as Christians were in the pagan Roman empire where child exposure (infanticide) was a daily reality.

Here’s what Tertullian said about infanticide which was part of a Christian led revolution of the practice where Christians would take exposed children and raise them in loving environments – in a way that ultimately led to children being valued.

“But in regard to child murder, as it does not matter whether it is committed for a sacred object, or merely at one’s own self-impulse—although there is a great difference, as we have said, between parricide and homicide—I shall turn to the people generally. How many, think you, of those crowding around and gaping for Christian blood,—how many even of your rulers, notable for their justice to you and for their severe measures against us, may I charge in their own consciences with the sin of putting their offspring to death? As to any difference in the kind of murder, it is certainly the more cruel way to kill by drowning, or by exposure to cold and hunger and dogs. A maturer age has always preferred death by the sword. In our case, murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the fœtus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from other parts of the body for its sustenance. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man-killing; nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to the birth…”

Somehow we need to find creative ways to be Jesus to the mothers faced with the horrible prospect of terminating a life because they see no other way forward.

Somehow we need to be Jesus to those who would profit from the industry this produces.

Somehow we need to be Jesus to those who are legislating on our behalf so that people see that it’s ok to make decisions out of love for other people that come at personal cost. Like Jesus did. Somehow.

Somehow we need to help people rediscover the truth that people are made in God’s image, and of value – so that they might take the step to being remade in the image of Jesus, who after surviving an attempted infanticide when he was born, sacrificed himself for others.

It’s all well and good to pay lip service to living like Jesus – and at the end of the day I feel like I did a pretty good job of doing that on Sunday. Paying lip service to the idea that we should take up our cross and follow Jesus so other people see him in us. It’s easy enough to do it when everybody is up an arms. But what about when the rubber hits the road – what about in the face of tragedies and injustices that people aren’t really interested in knowing about?

In the past, Anonymous, the anonymous group of hacktivists, were reportedly set to lock horns with Westboro Baptist – the hatemongering group who protest at the funerals of dead soldiers and the victims of tragedy, shout slogans outside concerts around the US, and target other churches. They also recently appeared on Russell Brand’s TV talk show.

The problem with being an anonymous group is that you’re pretty easy to imitate, and the group initially denied targeting Westboro – but claimed they were watching, and then hacked their website for the lols.

Now. Anonymous is getting serious.

After Westboro announced they were going to picket the funerals of the victims of the Newtown school shooting (note – not a particularly Christian response to tragedy), Anonymous acted. Circulating contact details for the members of the church around the internet, and posting this ominous video on the Westboro website.

Just be warned – there’s a pretty shocking high pitched noise at the end of the speaking, that might make you jump.

Anonymous – Message To The Westboro Baptist Church from @kyanonymous on Vimeo.

Here’s a snippet of the script – which you can find in full on the Vimeo page.

“Your pseudo-faith is abhorrent, and your leaders, repugnant. Your impact and cause is hazardous to the lives of millions and you fail to see the wrong in promoting the deaths of innocent people. You are self-appointed servants of God who rewrite the words of His sacred scripture to adhere to your prejudice. Your hatred supersedes your faith, and you use faith to promote your hatred.

Since your one-dimensional thought protocol will conform not to any modern logic, we will not debate, argue, or attempt to reason with you. Instead, we have unanimously deemed your organization to be harmful to the population of The United States of America, and have therefore decided to execute an agenda of action which will progressively dismantle your institution of deceitful pretext and extreme bias, and cease when your zealotry runs dry. We recognize you as serious opponents, and do not expect our campaign to terminate in a short period of time. Attrition is our weapon, and we will waste no time, money, effort, and enjoyment, in tearing your resolve into pieces, as with exposing the incongruity of your distorted faith.”

Anonymous may or may not have orchestrated this petition to have Westboro’s tax exempt status withdrawn by declaring them a hate group (perhaps a more useful petition than the bid to build a death star). That petition has passed the threshold required for a response from the White House.

Part of me really wants Anonymous to succeed. I love the idea of hacktivism, especially when it’s directed at such an insidious group who do real harm to people, and to the gospel of Jesus.

It’d be nice to have the power to do something when tragedy strikes. When there’s someone who is clearly in the wrong – be they directly involved, or a parasitic third party.

But another part of me worries about a society where censorship is dictated either by the consensus of the majority, or the activism of a powerful, and hidden, minority.

It presents another dilemma – given that Anonymous is anonymous – and completely not accountable to anybody but themselves – unlike duly elected representatives of the state – this classic dilemma, is expressed in this manner in Latin:

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Or “who watches the watchmen?”

Who watches those who appoint themselves as gatekeepers for society? The moral arbiters? Especially if they’re vindictive, and have something that approaches unlimited power to wreak carnage.

The society anonymous seeks to prevent, at least if it’s really channeling V for Vendetta – which the Guy Fawkes mask they own as their own would suggest, is a totalitarian society driven by tyranny, where opposing views are silenced.

There’s something disturbing and ironic about Anonymous appointing themselves as the totalitarian regime, potentially enabling lynch mobs through the publication of contact details of a widely hated group.

There’s a tension here. Words have consequences, and speech is never really free. There’s a problem when “free speech” means you can say anything to harm anybody without the fear of consequences. But there’s an obvious problem, too, with preventing people from speaking because you disagree with what they’re saying.

I hate what Westboro do. I hate that they stand outside funerals and compound the grief of the grieving. I hate that they claim to do it in the name of Jesus. But I’m not called to hate the individuals who make up Westboro. I’m called to love them. I’m not called to silence them. I’m called to speak truth to them. With love.

There should be consequences for Westboro’s hate speech. And they shouldn’t be allowed to say what they want to say wherever they want to say it (namely, outside funerals). But if they want to preach their abominable gospel from their abominable pulpit, and from their website – then they should be free to do it. We get into dangerous territory if people can silence views they disagree with, rather than simply having equal opportunity to speak against them, and let the market decide.

But the Anonymous campaign goes further than that – it aims to silence the group.

They say:

We will not allow you to corrupt the minds of America with your seeds of hatred. We will not allow you to inspire aggression to the social factions which you deem inferior. We will render you obsolete. We will destroy you. We are coming.

Everyone is equal.

They mean everyone is equal – except Westboro. It’s all very animal farm – and they’re the pigs. Again, a subversion of anti-totalitarian literature…

There’s a little bit of recent form for this – Anonymous also targeted the advertisers who were prepared to continue advertising with 2Day FM after the recent tragic outcome of a prank call. Blaming the network for the unfortunate, and unforeseeable, outcome of the broadcast. YouTube has canned the videobut you can still see it at The Australian (you may need to google it to get behind the paywall).

“We have studied the facts and found you guilty of murder. You have placed yourself in an untenable position. You have placed your advertisers at risk – their databases, their websites, their online advertising.

We are Anonymous and hereby demand you terminate the contracts of Mel Greig and Michael Christian. We will not listen to any more excuses. We will not let you escape your responsibility. You have a funeral to pay for. We are Anonymous. We are legion. We are amongst you. Expect us. This is not a prank call; this is no laughing matter. This is your one and only chance to make amends. You have one week to do so.”

They’re Judge. Jury. Executioner. Pretty totalitarian – the separation of powers is one of the checks and balances modern democracies use to prevent something of the situation we’ve seen in the past.

Westboro’s idiocy, their evil, their hate – it doesn’t dehumanise them. It just makes them stupid, evil, hatemongers.

My inner idealist would just like to see people continue to be able to sustain the distinction between Westboro and the rest of the people in the world who call themselves Christians, without the need to even talk about them when they do stupid stuff. But their hateful message is powerful because people are always on the look out for an other to hate, and a cause to belong to. We have skinheads. Gangs. Anonymous web terrorists.

I can’t help but think that a much better – particularly if you’re a Christian – response to Westboro (and to Anonymous) is to respond with unexpected love, bizarrely – this is just what Russell Brand did. And what Mars Hill did when Westboro came knocking at their church doors.

Doing this properly requires two things of us.

First, we’ve got to believe that there’s a just God waiting at the end of time to punish wrong doings, and judge justly. The sins of Westboro will not go unpunished. No wrongdoing will.

And this takes the need for us to act as judge, jury, and executioner out of our hands. Leaving us to love. Romans 12 says it best:

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

That’s the first bit – and already it takes some of the wind out of the sails of the Anonymous campaign (and it’s something Westboro should be taking note of too – but they’re not particularly adept at reading the Bible).

The second factor, perhaps more important. Is to remember that not only are we Anonymous – wanting to run things our way. To decide right and wrong for ourselves, and judge others by our standards. We are Westboro. We are the radio DJs whose poor judgment spiralled out of control. We are sinners. We are subject – by right – of judgment, by a perfect juror, and the execution that comes as a consequence.

Only, if you’re a Christian, Jesus took that judgment for you. Who are you to judge, if this is the case. The (potentially apocryphal) story of the woman at the well is a story worth heeding at this point, from John 8.

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

At this point Anonymous finds themselves in the dangerous position of being the Pharisees – those opposed to Jesus – who miss the spirit of the law, and the true nature of humanity – rather than the righteous. They’re not claiming to be Christians – but they are claiming to be the righteous judges who serve a higher calling than mere mortals.

But what do I claim? What can I claim?

I am Fred Phelps. I am a hater. I am a sinner. My heart is a factory of pride, and my pride always comes at the expense of others. I need Jesus to step in for me. How can I do anything but offer love and grace to other sinners?

That’s the most worrying thing about Anonymous taking control – not only did we not choose them as the moral police, not only do they lack any of the accountability required stand in judgment over other sinners, they seem unprepared to treat those they oppose as humans. With love.

This is weird.

Via 22 Words.

This highlights some of the weird problems with this debate. You’ve got Russell Brand essentially, at one point, equating love with wanting to kiss someone on the mouth (for cheap laughs), and generally suggesting that tolerance and love trumps understanding what sin is – and you’ve got the Westboro Baptist guys who are trying to be loving by proclaiming sin in an incredibly unloving and insensitive way. Why they go to Leviticus, and not to the New Testament, Jesus, and the created order, is beyond me. Especially if they eat prawns.

Christianity’s branding problem out of Russell Brand’s mouth:

“I just feel, from what I’ve read of Jesus, and what I’ve had explained to me, is that his main message was tolerance, and love, and beauty, and acceptance.”

I thought his main message was:

“Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand”

So sadly, the Westboro Baptist guys are closer to the mark – Jesus’ main message was that he is Lord, and that access to God is through him…

Timothy Kurek is a braver man than I. If spending a year living “Biblically” by obeying every command of the Bible sounds hardcore – imagine spending a year out of the closet as a gay man, when you’re straight. Lying to your friends and family, leaving your old life behind, and immersing yourself in the gay community.

That’s what Tim Kurek did. He wrote about it in a book called The Cross in the Closet.

Cross in the Closet

His paradigm is that Jesus “became something he wasn’t” in the “ultimate act of empathy” – this is incarnational mission on steroids. Only there’s not a huge amount of mission going on, rather, a lot of soul-searching, and an interesting insight into conservative American Christianity, and what it’s like to be part of a gay sub-culture in the Bible Belt.

I’m increasingly passionate about the need for Christians to do much better when it comes to talking about, and to, those who are same sex attracted, and those who are actively homosexual. This means thinking carefully about how we approach the pastoral issue, the political sphere, but most importantly – how we articulate the gospel to our homosexual friends, family, and neighbours, and how we love and care for them in all these areas.

This book was helpful in capturing something of the emotional fragility of those people Tim interacted with. Tim clearly loves people, and especially broken and fragile people who have been hurt by their interactions with others. Others who haven’t loved them like they are called to, as followers of Jesus. But it ultimately, I feel, misrepresented what it means to follow Jesus, and what it means to love people.

It’s a powerful book. It’s moving. Especially when Tim shares a story of his own past as a homophobic bully, who contributed, in a small part to the misery of a homosexual co-worker he hated. It’s an immersive work, a great piece of gonzo journalism, It’s not an experiment I can see being repeated any time soon, so there’s a certain kudos that comes just from denying yourself for your mission that comes with this.

What struck me as I read this book was that while Tim Kurek is an incredibly brave man, I think the experiment would have been more worthwhile if he was a little more emotionally mature, though, paradoxically, a more mature person probably wouldn’t have thought the experiment was a good idea. He’s open, reflective, and honest about his struggles throughout the experiment. It’s raw. But it’s ultimately largely unhelpful.

While he empathises with those he is championing, and tries to present them positively and as a diverse community that can’t be understood monolithically, and makes some attempts to empathise with the tradition he left behind, he tars all “conservative Christians” with the Pharisee brush, and fails to consider any responses to the homosexual issue along the total acceptance/total rejection spectrum. He attempts to empathise with the Phelps family from Westboro Baptist, but can’t truly begin to fathom, past describing through the eyes of another person, how a person who believes in sin, judgment and Hell, while believing homosexuality is sinful, can truly love a homosexual person without fully accepting them, their orientation, their practice, and their homosexual identity.

This whole “issue” of homosexuality is only polarizing because conservative religion dictates the standards of religious people. It controls their motives and their reactions. It especially controls their politics. I hope to see the day when my conservative Christian brothers and sisters realize that separation is not the way of Jesus.

Conservative Christianity teaches us to love everyone; however, that love can take many different forms. It seems to stem from an “I’m right, you’re wrong” biblical perspective, which imposes only two rather limited options: Insist others conform to your spiritual world view, or ignore those who don’t. A friend of mine calls it the “brother’s keeper” method.

He then tosses out the ability for anybody to be right about the Bible.

“I think about those trapped in the closet who see only two options: stay miserable in life or seek peace in the hereafter. And I wonder what Jesus would do. Would he go door to door campaigning for Proposition 8, or would he rebuke the Pharisees who dole out condemnation like a commodity, for missing the point? I think he would do the latter. But do I think that only because I have lost my focus on what my former pastor used to call the “panoramic landscape of the gospel”? My Pharisee said as much. But it just doesn’t make sense. Life is too short to live out two-thousand-year-old prejudices from Leviticus, Greece, or Rome. Either way, I am starting to believe that people have the right to believe as they wish. My finger pointing has to stop, and thanks to Revive, I am starting to see why.”

This is what happens when you put experience in the driver’s seat when it comes to interpretation.

His emotional immaturity comes through in the assessment criteria he applies to the reaction he receives from friends and family. His brother and sister-in-law accept his announcement almost without blinking, but a schism develops when they find out mid way through the experiment that he is lying to them. His mum hugs him. Plenty of his friends turn their backs on him. His pastor tells him he needs to repent, but that he’s welcome at church like any sinner – and he does it by email, sent from his blackberry. Tim is adamant that the pastor should have called him – and he should have. People from his old life largely ignore his birthday. He feels isolated. Cut off. He was hard done by. He was wronged.

But the experiment would’ve been more genuine, I think, if he’d tried to maintain these relationships rather than expecting everybody else to come after him. It’s easy to criticise without having lived the experience, but love and relationships go two ways. And the picture Tim paints of his gay friends who have been hurt by their parents is that in the main they are still keen for old relationships to continue, even if the people they love aren’t. They’re making an effort – Tim didn’t (or certainly didn’t give any evidence of trying). Not with his church friends, anyway who he condemns for abandoning him.

In the eight days I have been out, that fear has permeated every social sphere I have been part of. I have been rebuked in the name of Jesus, lost four friends who refuse to be close to an “unrepentant homosexual,” and I have even been told that Jesus does not love me…

My phone no longer rings with calls and texts like it did only a short week ago. I have been waiting, preparing myself for numerous conversations about my revelation, but so far most friends seem to desire only distance. It is that distance, I think, that has pushed so many people over the edge, the excommunication from believers, friends, and loved ones that disagree and disengage. My news spread like a plague, but I was the only real casualty…

There is a fine line between tolerance and rejection. Waking up to that fact has cost me dearly. In the past three weeks, I’ve received emails and text messages from people whom I always believed loved and valued me. But now I know the truth. Instead of speaking with me in a personal way to understand my decision, many of these people took the easy path of judgment, and they did so using the impersonal and soulless tools of social networks and email to do the dirty work.

Besides, the Christian friends and community I spent years building seem to have forgotten about me. So many people have disappeared from my life that it is almost as though they never existed. Fair-weather friends? No, just people firmly stuck in their bubbles, I think. On the other hand, the people I am meeting now seem to accept me more than anyone ever has. Perhaps that is because the gay men I spend so much time with don’t judge me by my piety but let my actions speak for themselves. If I make them laugh, they like me for my sense of humor. If I am kind, they like that I am sensitive. Those are earned actions. It is nice not to be judged for my gauged ears, or for the fact that I didn’t read as much of the Bible as a fellow parishioner. It is nice not to be judged by how well I can present a righteous façade.

Here’s a passage from when he eventually goes back to his old church, and sees a friend in the car park:

“An old friend sees me standing by my car and runs over to greet me. The smile on his face is enormous, and it warms my heart. “Tim Kurek! How are you doing?” He ignores my outstretched hand and pulls me into a hug. “I’ve missed you, brother. How are you?” “I’m doing well. How are you?” I say, somewhat shocked by his genuine greeting. “I’m doing great. I’ve missed you, man.” He’s always been a good guy, my friend, and standing with him makes me realize how much I have missed him, too. It feels odd, though…wrong, somehow. How can I miss someone who hasn’t tried to reach out to me? How can I feel a connection to someone who thinks of me as an abomination?”

He’s right. Cutting people off because you don’t like a decision they’ve made is stupid – if they’re no longer claiming to be part of your church community. If someone says “I’m gay, I don’t think I can be a Christian anymore” and you cease contact with them – you’re a jerk. That’s a big secret to reveal and it comes at a cost. But the church has to be really careful about how it deals with sexual immorality within its walls, and within the community – Paul’s pretty clear on that (1 Cor 5). He’s also pretty clear that being a Christian transforms our sexuality – be it gay or straight – that it involves a leaving behind of the old, and a realignment of our identity in Jesus (1 Cor 6:9-11).

If you’re in Tim’s shoes though, or the shoes he’s trying to walk in, I’m not sure you can complain about being cut off if you’ve essentially cut yourself off first, and make no apparent effort to continue relationships. Tim’s gay friend Will, who he grew up with, and pursued/persecuted at the request of Will’s mum when Will came out, is more understanding about his mum cutting him off than Tim is…

“I just try to put myself in her shoes. If I believed what my mother believes, and I had a son come out as gay, I would be mortified because that would mean my blood, my offspring that I love unconditionally, was going to Hell. Now think about Hell from a conservative Christian’s perspective. Wouldn’t you do whatever you could to steer your child away from that path? It is simple enough for me. Her belief separates us, but her motivation helps me understand and accept her, even though it hurts me.” Will steps away for a second and makes a drink for another customer.”

His model of incarnational ministry is a bit skewiff, because while Jesus certainly became human, and lovingly lived amongst sinners – he didn’t become a sinner until the cross – and even then the sinner he became was vicarious (2 Cor 5), and doesn’t push us to joining sinners in their sin, but towards a share of God’s righteousness:

20We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Jesus identified with sinners. Yes. And Tim summarises it like this:

I have been taught that I need to be Jesus to the people I meet, that I need to live the love and the faith and the commitment of my God, so that others can see Him, too. If it is true that we can be Jesus to each other, then I will never see Jesus the same way again. Tonight… Well, tonight, I saw Jesus in drag, and now I feel incapable of hate.

Being Jesus, for Tim, means not “shoving theology down people’s throats”… when he’s thinking about how he suddenly finds himself not liking the church very much he says this:

Can I truly claim Jesus and be at odds with his children? Are they even his children? I remember the scripture that says “by your fruit you shall know them.” Yes. They are his children, as much as I am his child. Salvation is not a country club, and we do not have the right to deny anyone admittance. People and their relationships to God are their own concern, and no good can come from my shoving my theology down someone else’s throat.

Shoving “my theology down someone else’s throat” is bad. The very notion of “my theology” is bad. But that’s not the same as telling people the great and freeing news of the gospel of Jesus who sets people free from oppression, particularly the oppression of sin. One of the classic texts used in the relationship between Jesus and an “incarnational” approach to evangelism is Luke 4:18-19.

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

I’d argue that you can’t just proclaim by being, though loving and empathy are part of our proclamation. This is, I think, The Cross in The Closet’s biggest failing. 

Tim is clearly angry at the institutional church. He says, after he returns to his church during the experiment:

“It’ll probably be a long time before I’m comfortable at any church again. I will always do my best to follow God with my life, but being part of a brick and mortar church doesn’t appeal to me at all.”

The book paints his progression from “conservative Christian” to “liberal” – in his own words. His contempt for his former self – who he depicts throughout the book as a pharisaical interlocutor – and his former way of thinking, and love for his new found ability to love people for who they are, means he throws a lot of baby out with the bathwater.

He preempts criticism by both adopting the spiritual high ground, through an account of a moving spiritual event where a gay community group sang praise songs along with “Jesus in drag,” and through the recording of a prayer that a gay man prayed when he re-outed himself as a straight man. He also swears off labelling people, saying people should just be seen as people – while depicting himself, and by extension, anybody who articulates the thoughts the Pharisee version of him was thinking, as Pharisees.

Here’s a couple of passages on the power of labels.

Being a second-class citizen feels like being a tenth-class citizen. If I really were gay, I feel like my life would become such an issue for people that I would be constantly exhausted. Gays and lesbians are looked at as different, perverse, and the label alone seems to illicit an association with the lowest dregs of society, morally speaking. No one wants to be thought of that way! Is it really so unrealistic to let people’s actions speak for them rather than the stigmatized label?

“That was the first time since coming out that I heard that word and understood what it actually meant. It means that you are a lesser, a second-class citizen, and an anathema. It means that your life is relegated to a single word, and the details of that life don’t matter. It means that your thoughts, experiences, loves, and struggles should be painted over because you aren’t an equal, that yours isn’t as valuable as other lives. It meant you are hated. Even though I am not actually gay, I felt that hate, and it still disrupted something sacred in me. Faggot denotes rejection and epitomizes unwelcome, and it was a vile epiphany that I came to. Without knowing anything about us, the man walking the pugs told all of us that we were not worthy to be in community with him.”

Here’s how he poisons the well as the experiment ends – so that nobody can possibly impeach his testimony, with the prayer his gay friend Ben prays when he has revealed that he’s been straight all along.

“Ben begins to cry. Tears roll down his cheeks like shiny beads, and his lips quiver. He breathes heavily, but still says nothing. And then, as if in a dream, Ben lightly touches my lips with his hand and begins to pray:

“Lord, be with your servant, Tim. Inspire the words that come out of his mouth as he shares the reality of this news with the masses, and as he shares your love and your grace with the masses.”

He slides his hand to my eyes. “Lord, protect his eyes and what he sees. Help him not to see any hatred, but only love, as he sets out on this journey of grace.”

His hand once again moves, to my ears. “Lord, block his ears from hearing the hateful words directed at him from people in the religious community and from this one. Protect his ears from the words of hate that they’ll inevitably speak.”

His hand moves to my heart. “Lord, thank you for this heart! Thank you for the sacrifices he has made. Lord, bless this beautiful heart with every power you possess. Help him never to change, Lord, to be jaded, to be hurt. I love you, Lord, and Tim loves you. Thank you for letting us love each other. Amen.”

Clearly it’s a moving experience for him. Clearly Ben appreciates what he’s done. And by reporting this third party endorsement of his words, from within the gay community, he can now argue from his own experiences that his position is the most authentic position on the gay issue, perhaps with the exception of the gay Christians he lionises throughout the book. And that’s all very post-modern. But am I speaking hatred by disagreeing with the direction Tim took with his experiment? I hope not. It’s such a binary way of viewing the world. I disagree with him – but I don’t hate him. To frame criticism as hate, and to do it before you’ve even faced the criticism, to delegitimise criticism, is a clever rhetorical move, but ultimately pretty empty.

Perhaps my biggest concern, pastorally at least, is that he tosses any same sex attracted Christian who resists identifying with their sexual orientation under the bus. Not because he takes the “born this way” argument, but because he rejects the view of original sin he was brought up with and over-emphasises the importance of being made in the image of God – or at least, his view of the imago dei has no account for the impact of the fall.

“I am sure of my God, who I believe more than ever sent his Son for me, and I am sure of the reconciliation he offers, whether that be between families split apart over divisive issues, or members of opposing political parties. I am sure of the beauty that all mankind has inherited—a beauty that can never be stripped away by bad words or deeds, or even other humans”

Kurek hates on, dismisses, or jokes about, reparative therapy a few times, and perpetuates the myth that attempting to realign your sexual orientation is harmful.

If my mom tried to shove ex-gay literature at me, I’d probably throw it right back at her. Reparative therapy, they call it. They should call it “repression therapy.”

The only thing close to a longitudinal study on the impact of reparative therapy, by Jones and Yarhouse, concluded that it isn’t always effective, but it’s not really harmful.

It’s horrible that coming out, for some people, results in being disowned and ostracised by their family, friends, and ministers – rather than producing loving concern. But Kurek seems to judge people on their inability to show an empathy, or even sympathy, for others that he isn’t prepared to genuinely extend to people who are struggling to reconcile their faith with their sexual orientation with their identity. It’d also be tempting to suggest that he gets a bit of Stockholm Syndrome during the experiment – but I think he actually genuinely loves, and is loved by, the people he lives with for his year. And that’s great. If only it translated to being prepared to love people despite their sin, while still acknowledging sin, and trying to move the locus of human identity to a right relationship with the God who created us all.

I think he’s ultimately right about labels – labels are powerful. They carry stigma. And it’s bad to label people according to their sexuality. It’s bad to let your sexual orientation define who you are. But there are labels that it’s important to own, as a Christian. Adopted. A new creation. A child of God. A follower of Jesus. And adopting all those labels has a powerful effect on your life, and it changes your identity. And it changes your approach to sex and sexuality. I just don’t think Tim quite got there…

But I’m thankful for his experiment, wrong-headed and relationally damaging though I think it was (I think the experiential gains from deceiving his family were minimal, and contributed nothing to the book – especially because they essentially whole-heartedly continued loving him, even though it was hard for his mum). I’m thankful because it did open my eyes to some unthinking prejudices of my own, to times when I might be insensitive to the people around me, to the importance of personal contact rather than hiding behind a keyboard when it comes to dealing with difficult issues, and to the need to keep the love of Jesus for all people at the front of my thinking. And I’m hopeful that as Tim, freed from the shackles of the hatred that constrained him and his understanding of Christianity in the past, will keep looking to the Bible to find out who Jesus is, not just to human expressions of spirituality, I’m hopeful that his experiences will shape him, and others, so that the cross of Christ continues to shape our identity, not whatever closets we feel the need to hide in.

Interesting times. Our favourite loopies (Westboro Baptist) have announced their intentions to picket Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church. How would you respond to such a threat? The sad thing is the media like to run stories on Westboro. I think this is especially likely because this appears to be two sheep fighting, rather than a sheep and a wooly wolf. So choosing a response is important, and an opportunity to articulate the differences and how different approaches to Christian belief are a matter of articulating a consistent message with the Bible, rather than a matter of choosing your own particular interpretation.

Here’s what the Westboro Baptists have said is their reason for targeting Mars Hill.

“WBC says the reason they’ll be at Mars Hill Church is, “To picket the false prophet and blind lemmings at Mars Hill Whore House where they teach the lies that God love [sic] everyone and Jesus died for the sins of all of mankind. You have caused the people to trust in lies to their destruction, and to your damnation. Shame on you for calling yourself the Mars Hill Church! False advertising doesn’t come close! Paul would turn over in his grave at your God-hating, Christ-rejecting lies! You have a form of godliness, but you deny the power thereof…WBC will speak the truth to you in love—as God defines ‘love’. We will tell you that, in fact, there is a standard God has set in this earth that He commands you obey. Your disobedient sin is taking you to hell, and you must repent and mourn for your sins. God does not love everyone—in fact, He hates the majority of mankind, and has purposed to send them to hell when they die. You would know these things if you would pick up a Bible and actually READ THE WORDS!””

Team Driscoll* is responding by offering Team Phelps some donuts.

Which is a brilliant display of grace and a stunning contrast between the two. Despite my reservations about some of what Driscoll does, the man is a smart engager

*”I’m on Team Driscoll” t-shirts would be an interesting product to produce, because the modern angry young contempervant church planter/fanboy is the Christian equivalent of a twi-hard. That’s a market. Right there. 10% my way please…

Well. Time for an update. The other day I posted about this web deathmatch. Then it seemed like Anonymous had washed their hands of the initial threat. Anonymous claimed Westboro had set this up as a bit of a honey trap to harvest IP addresses from Anonymous users. I was going to post an update then, but then I thought I might ride it out a little longer. Plus, Westboro’s sites had been down for a little while.

Here’s the initial Anonymous response:

Because I figure if you hassle Anonymous for a while you’re going to wake the giant. Anonymous claim another hacker has taken down the sites. Now, Anonymous have acted – watch this…

This video is pretty funny. Anonymous hack Westboro live. During the interview. They put this message up on Westboro’s site.

Westboro think they’re “Mount Zion” and “prophets”… who can’t be shut up.

I’m sure this isn’t the end of this…

Westboro v Anonymous

Nathan Campbell —  February 21, 2011

This is just too cool for school. The Internet’s favourite hackers (well, if the internet is an anti-social teenage boy who likes playing WoW) Anonymous have turned their ire towards the Phelps family Christianity’s favourite “they’re crazier than me” church.

This could get interesting. They wrote an open letter (posted in full at Jesus Needs New PR).

“We, the collective super-consciousness known as ANONYMOUS – the Voice of Free Speech & the Advocate of the People – have long heard you issue your venomous statements of hatred, and we have witnessed your flagrant and absurd displays of inimitable bigotry and intolerant fanaticism. We have always regarded you and your ilk as an assembly of graceless sociopaths and maniacal chauvinists & religious zealots, however benign, who act out for the sake of attention & in the name of religion…

Being such aggressive proponents for the Freedom of Speech & Freedom of Information as we are, we have hitherto allowed you to continue preaching your benighted gospel of hatred and your theatrical exhibitions of, not only your fascist views, but your utter lack of Christ-like attributes…

ANONYMOUS cannot abide this behavior any longer. The time for us to be idle spectators in your inhumane treatment of fellow Man has reached its apex, and we shall now be moved to action. Thus, we give you a warning: Cease & desist your protest campaign in the year 2011, return to your homes in Kansas, & close your public Web sites.

Should you ignore this warning, you will meet with the vicious retaliatory arm of ANONYMOUS: We will target your public Websites, and the propaganda & detestable doctrine that you promote will be eradicated; the damage incurred will be irreversible, and neither your institution nor your congregation will ever be able to fully recover. ”

Them’s fighting words. So Westboro Baptist responded.

Westboro’s websites are now down. Time to break out the popcorn.

As earlier reported, the Westboro Baptists picketed a comic convention this week. Which is pretty dangerous territory.

They fought signs with signs.

More Backwards Masking Unmasked to come, in the meantime, beware…

Via Pleated Jeans’ 15 examples of bad Christian propaganda.

Fred Phelps from Westboro Baptist appears to have read a little too much Jacob Aranza. His angry mob will be protesting at Black Sabbath’s Ronnie James Dio’s funeral

“This rebel had a God-given platform – for decades – which he should have utilized to publish the truth of God. Instead, he used that platform – for decades – to teach rebellion against God, in the form glorifying atheism, promoting the devil horn hand sign & other such idolatries.”

Apparently the word “sorceries” in Revelation actually means “druggies.” So Dio was also a sorcerer.

Fruity protest

Nathan Campbell —  March 16, 2009

Here’s a novel protest against perennial protesters Westboro Baptist (the hateful “God Hates Fags” mob).

It’s pretty Biblically sound – but the Bible has a fair bit to say about homosexuality and sin.