Overview:

Christian churches have been fighting against LGBTQ rights for decades, and have lost disastrously, yet they're hell-bent on continuing to do so.

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It’s been twenty years since the Supreme Court struck down anti-gay laws in Lawrence v. Texas. Same-sex marriage has been the law of the land since the Obergefell decision in 2015, and the sky hasn’t fallen. In December, Congress passed the Respect for Marriage Act, codifying this decision into law, with a filibuster-proof bipartisan majority.

The American public supports LGBTQ rights by overwhelming majorities. More than two-thirds of Americans support marriage equality, including majorities in 47 of 50 states. Three-quarters of Americans say LGBTQ people should be protected from discrimination.

Have Christian churches made their peace with this? No:

In its nine years of existence, Urban Christian Academy steadily grew, adding a new grade each year in a neglected southeast Kansas City neighborhood.

The school has provided its students, kindergarten through eighth grade, with a tuition-free private education.

…The school updated its mission statement and website, stating that it affirms LGBTQ rights, and informed the school community of the change in a newsletter. In the following six months, Callaway-George said, the school lost 42% of its funding — donations from churches and congregation members that keep the school running and pay for students’ tuition.

By the end of 2022, the school lost 80% of its funding. And now, officials say the school is forced to close this spring.

KC Christian school lost donations after supporting LGBTQ rights. Now it’s closing.” Sarah Ritter, The Kansas City Star, 6 February 2023.

Spiritual gatekeepers

Urban Christian Academy is a private Christian school, but it was the rare one that wanted to do the right thing. It preached an inclusive theology, accepting LGBTQ people without demanding they repent for the sin of being themselves. As they say in their mission statement:

We stand with the LGBTQIA+ community and believe in their holiness. We celebrate the diversity of God’s creation in all its varied and beautiful forms. The first time the Bible talks of humanity it does so from the assertion that we are all made in the image of God. This claim provides dignity for all people and is our starting point with every person we meet. We believe God exists in gray and multitudes. We want all people who are part of the UCA family to feel free to explore and express who they are. We don’t put people in boxes. We don’t believe in being spiritual gatekeepers who say who’s in and who’s out.

Unfortunately for them, most of their funding came from churches that do put people in boxes and do believe themselves to be spiritual gatekeepers saying who’s in and who’s out. When they found out about UCA’s heretical ideas of inclusion and acceptance, they yanked their funding. Without that money, it was impossible for the school to keep its doors open.

This story stands out for its sheer mean-spiritedness. In the name of “holiness”, these Christian donors forced a school to close. They deprived underprivileged kids from poor families of an education. In fact, they specifically denied parents who wanted to send their kids to a Christian school the chance to do so. Who are they really punishing?

Christians have always been tolerant of those who want to narrow the path to salvation, who preach that God is cruel and wrathful and ready to condemn. But to widen the circle of the saved is intolerable heresy.

It’s telling to contemplate what made them so angry. As with other stories along the same lines (like Carlton Pearson), the problem isn’t that UCA was being overly harsh or judgmental. They weren’t mistreating students, subjecting them to rigid rules, breaking them down with psychological abuse, teaching them that they were worthless sinners or that they should hate themselves. That would all have been just fine, apparently.

No: The problem, in donors’ eyes, was that UCA wasn’t judgmental enough. They were too compassionate and too accepting of their students as people. Whatever else they were teaching those students about Jesus and the Bible, it paled next to that unforgivable error.

Christians have always been tolerant of those who want to narrow the path to salvation, who preach that God is cruel and wrathful and ready to condemn. But to widen the circle of the saved, to them, is intolerable heresy.

Not ready to make nice

The fact of where and when this story is unfolding makes it even more significant. This is happening in 2023, closer to the end of the LGBTQ-rights struggle than to its beginning.

Christianity has been fighting against gay rights for decades, and it’s been disastrous for them. They’ve racked up a long string of legal losses. They’re getting hammered in the court of public opinion. They’re bleeding power and influence throughout the Western world. Younger generations are deserting them in droves. Long-established denominations are splitting apart.

And yet—as with this school, or the Don’t Say Gay bills in red states—conservative Christians are dead-set on continuing to oppress and punish LGBTQ people to the very limits of their power. They have no intention of calling a truce.

Of course, there are a few praiseworthy exceptions, like the staff of UCA. But it’s clear that the institutions and the gatekeepers—the people who wield the power and hold the purse strings—want to fight this culture war to the bitter end. By defunding the school and forcing it to close, they’ve accidentally taught a lesson of their own. The underprivileged kids who attended there will carry the memory all their lives: being Christian means being prejudiced, exclusionary, and intolerant.

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DAYLIGHT ATHEISM Adam Lee is an atheist author and speaker from New York City. His previously published books include "Daylight Atheism," "Meta: On God, the Big Questions, and the Just City," and most...