The Politics of Personal Destruction
I’m not going to dwell on the personal aspects of this encounter because what troubles me is less the incident itself than what is behind its occurrence. Suffice it to say that I was in a debate regarding the PCUSA’s ordination of practicing homosexuals that turned into a vicious attack on my motives and character. That is, because I was making the case that public unrepentant sin (in any dimension of Christian life) disqualified a person from ordination, I was accused of purposefully inciting hatred of and violence (including torture and murder) on homosexuals. I was also accused of wishing such evil things to happen to homosexuals. As with the case of the previous post, I forcefully and effectively repulsed these vile accusations. But the fact that they were confidently made by a person with good standing in a Christian community is indeed troubling in profound ways.
How, I wondered, could an individual with whom I had spent significant time have been spun up into an emotional state that justified such conduct?
Firstly, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that such conduct occurred. For I had it on the authority of an overture from the Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago titled “On honoring Christ in our relationships with one another” that this is was indeed the case. This overture almost perfectly described my experience.
Some Presbyterians read the Scriptures to condemn all forms of same-gender sexual intimacy, and sometimes accuse other Presbyterians of abandoning the authority of Scripture, ignoring the need for repentance, and leading persons into serious sin.
Some Presbyterians read the Scriptures to bless committed same-gender relationships, and sometimes accuse other Presbyterians of bigotry, responsibility for bullying and suicides, and other harm caused by anti-gay attitudes.
The primary deviation is that I argued that God created male and female to be bound together by marriage, and, that this pattern for human relationship was instituted for our best good (see Matthew 19:4-6). Thus, homosexual relationships by deviating from this God-ordained pattern are not serving our best good, and, fall under the category of sin. I also regularly stated that Christianity had erred greatly by treating homosexuality to be a sort of “super-sin” that was worse than most other sins. This is a position far short of “condemnation,” though it does maintain the boundary between righteousness and sin.
In my commentary from 2012 I focused on the issue of equivalence between these two positions, stating that:
A careful examination of the preceding two paragraphs’ content and relationship is called for. To begin, they apparently are designed to constitute the relevant end-points for comments that are deemed to be vilifying. Therefore, they would appear to be intended as equivalent.
But whereas the first paragraph describes a critique of the arguments of others, the second paragraph describes conclusions about other’s motives and culpability for acts of violence. The difference is striking, and disturbing. Apparently, to make a case for the authority of Scripture, the need for repentance and the seriousness of sin is an act of vilification. One is left to wonder under just what terms the authors propose to pursue “respectful dialogue,” when the central concerns of those opposing the current ordination standards are made equivalent to character assassination and accusation of fomenting violence.
This is the very dynamic within which I found myself. However, over six years later I have come to believe that there is a second issue at play that had previously eluded my consciousness, that being incitement.
Note the order of the Rationale’s set up. First, a Presbyterian makes the case for the orthodox understanding of Biblical authority, sin and repentance. Second, the response is accusations of bigotry and culpability for violence. In this ordering the Rationale makes the implicit case that it is the voicing of the first position that incites the second.
There is another great advantage to this ordering. Consider the encounter from a third party’s point of view. One Presbyterian says something to another and the response is an angry rebuke. The uninformed assumption will often be that the first speaker must have said something very bad to elicit such a strong reaction from the second. Even if the viewer is well informed, it is the first speaker who appears to have “started it.” Finally, responding with anger and vile accusations discouraged orthodox Christians from voicing their views at all.
Thus, there existed a Progressive group in the PCUSA who considered the open argument for orthodox Christian positions on sexual sin and repentance to be an approval of hatred toward and violence against homosexuals. They also saw the statement of these views to be an incitement. With this mindset wouldn’t it be immoral not to confront the offending party for their assumed evil conduct?
I believe that this is what happened to me on that painful day. In their eyes it wasn’t that I had a different understanding of the Bible’s teaching. It was that I was a hateful, violence approving bigot who was camouflaging their evil in Biblical terms. It was high time that someone called me out, and this person stepped up to do just that. I should be personally destroyed because I was a vile, evil person.
Had I argued on their terms I might well have exited the debate personally destroyed. But, I rather responded by pointing out the absurd cruelty and baseless justification for arguing along these lines. Once they were forced into the position of explaining why such accusations were being made the bottom fell out.
So, yes, I survived this onslaught against my motives and character. However, this and other similar experiences profoundly affected my understanding of, attitude towards and response to those in the Progressive camp who imagined themselves to to be at the pinnacle of Christian virtue.