I’ve mentioned before being shocked or dismayed by various things in Preston Sprinkle’s book People to Be Loved, but today I want to talk about one of his most shocking and dismaying ideas: a convoluted facade of opportunistic friendliness.
One Issue That Actually Is Cut-and-Dried.
Most Christians would agree that there are only two ways to go on the question of LGBTQ rights–especially those who firmly reject the idea, such as the Southern Baptist Convention, and those who wholeheartedly embrace it, such as many progressive Christians (not to mention overwhelming numbers of people who aren’t Christian at all).
But there’s one Christian group that really wants to have it both ways. They want to reject LGBTQ rights, but they don’t want to face the censure that goes along with that rejection. They think that they can campaign against those rights in a way that will be perceived by society as loving and compassionate. They want business as usual, but they want to feel better about it.
They want a third way.
Last time, we talked about what the “third way” is, why this concept doesn’t do what its adherents really want it to do, and where Preston Sprinkle stands on the topic. Of course, our author doesn’t want to be technically considered a “third way” Christian at all. Indeed, he bristles at being lumped in with that loosely-defined group–and I’m not surprised that he would. Fundagelical leaders haven’t been shy at all in expressing their outrage, disdain, and contempt toward Christians who say they’re pursuing the “third way.” Nothing else he’s said really stands out as defying the tribe’s lockstep indoctrination, so I wouldn’t expect him to do so now.
Nonetheless, he’s trying to find the same have-it-both-ways middle ground between bigotry and acceptance that his “third way” peers are struggling to find.
He thinks he’s found it, too.
The Coffee Date from Hell.
His suggestion is really very simple:
Christians should just avoid answering any direct questions about their bigotry.
Remember, his big revelation about how to treat LGBTQ people is to start by listening to them for a change. That’s really the thrust of his book. He writes, “Quick categorizations are anemic; listening to one’s narrative is rich and exhilarating. And it is much more Christian” (p. 135). You and I might argue with him about exactly how uniquely “Christian” it is to listen to people when non-Christians have been managing the stunt for thousands of years while Christians are famous for not doing so, but at least he is putting it out there.
But immediately after this declaration, he manages to totally undo that minimal good with an anecdote about a pastor friend of his who gets a text from a prospective member who wants to find “a church that will accept [her] daughter as a lesbian.” She asks the pastor via text if his church will be one where her daughter “is not shamed.”
Sounds pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? (And really great of the mother, too!) All she wants is a “yes” or “no.” If the pastor is listening to her, he’ll know that.
But this pastor launches into a peculiar song and dance in response.
First he asks, “What does she mean by ‘lesbian’? Is she attracted to the same sex or engaging in same-sex behavior?” He desperately needs to know whether or not she’s married, if she’s out or not, and what term she uses for herself. He needs to know all of this before he’ll be tempted to “fire off a text about [his] stance on homosexuality.”
I’ve got to ask… why all the coyness?
It’s not like Preston Sprinkle is advocating anything except standard-issue fundagelical bigotry-for-Jesus. He thinks that “experiencing same-sex attraction,” as he puts it, is sort of okay as long as the person doesn’t ever act on any illicit desires or want to pursue a romantic relationship of any kind with someone of the same sex. He opposes civil rights for LGBTQ people, cautiously endorses reparative therapy, and expects gay people to either become celibate or reconcile themselves to marrying a very understanding opposite-sex spouse.
There is literally nothing about his position that I haven’t seen a zillion times already. I’m baffled about what his hold-up is here.
Then, Dr. Sprinkle asks, what does the mother even mean by “accept”? This sounds very much like the “just asking questions” technique of a person who really wants to derail a conversation. It’s hard for me to believe he has no idea what “accept” means. But he explains:
Does she mean accepting all forms of sexual behavior? (In which case, many straight people aren’t “accepted” at his church.) Or does “accept” mean accepting her humanity? Notice that she correlates nonacceptance with being shamed. Why does her mother fear that a Christian church might shame her? Have churches shamed her in the past? Chances are, they have.
He never provides answers for these absurd questions. To him, it is enough that they got asked rhetorically. I’m not sure he quite engages, either, with the sheer blithering hatred that Christians can summon in a church environment when the topic turns to LGBTQ people. It’s weird that he’d even ask why someone might fear a church. That’s a downright insulting question. (“Chances are?” Yeah, my left ass cheek!)
Nor does he ever talk about how his pastor friend responded, but we’ll get to his suggested response in a moment here. That riveting question must wait, because we have to segue along with him into a second anecdote.
This second story is about his “good friend Lesli (the one who grew up transgender).” I wasn’t able to figure out what the hell that parenthetical statement means; your guess is as good as mine. He uses female pronouns to speak of Lesli, so obviously I will too, but he only mentions her briefly in one other place, without explaining anything about her situation. She is another pin in his mental map, pushed in to mark his deep burden for LGBTQ folks and then allowed to fall out again once her purpose is done.
Lesli apparently gets asked all the time if she thinks homosexuality is a sin. He lauds her response:
“That’s a good question, and I want to answer it. Can I buy you coffee every week for the next four weeks so that we can get to know each other first? I want to know your story, and I want you to know mine. And then we can talk about our question [“our”? — CC].”
Lesli is not avoiding the question [O RLY? — CC]. She simply knows that there is so much pain, anger, and misunderstanding that drives the question. If she simply answered yes to the question “Is homosexuality a sin?” it would for some people immediately translate into “gay people are abominations, disgusting, and the worst of all sinners.” The simple yes to the question, when filtered through a life story that probably contains dehumanizing words from Christians, will mean something very different than what Lesli intends.
He goes on to declare, regarding the mother who sent his friend the text,
You can’t actually answer that question without getting to know her and understanding what she means.
Instead of saying yes or no to this concerned mother, he advises the pastor friend to invite her and her daughter out for coffee to talk about the whole situation. Oh sure, he concedes, this mother might well think “he’s blowing off her question and would move on to another church.” (Ya think?) But he optimistically declares that maybe, just maybe, she’d accept the offer and “end up encountering the scandalous grace of God from the heart of a pastor who cared enough to listen to their story.”
He thinks that he is describing “scandalous grace” when really he’s just found yet another way to be dishonest with others–and to express the current boilerplate fundagelical position. He thinks that avoiding people’s honest questions is better than just answering them plainly and risking their rejection.
He thinks that people will be willing to spend hours and hours and hours getting to know him and his completely by-the-book, by-the-numbers fundagelical indoctrination. He is certain that they will be so fascinated by his new (#notnew) method of rejecting LGBTQ people that they will be drawn in to his glowing aura and not realize he actually condemns them and is going to make demands of them that are every bit as dehumanizing and cruel as what his more loudmouthed peers do.
But in order to get LGBTQ people to the point where they might listen to the demands and condemnation he will issue, they have to sit still long enough to hear it all. So he’ll pretend to listen to them, while not in the least intending to change a single thing about what he thinks, so that they will be more inclined to listen in turn to him and then change their minds to agree with him. And all the while he’ll be feeling smugly self-congratulatory for his “scandalous grace.” (We’ll be turning our steely gaze to this laughably lame phrase soon, too, don’t fear.)
Return of the Magic Christian.
Over the last few years, I’ve noticed a tendency of some Christians to believe, utterly mistakenly, that their quirky li’l take on the religion is totally new, unheard-of, and different from all the other takes on the religion that have ever gone before. They have, on occasion, tried to entice me into much the same sort of extended coffee-date encounter, telling me that if I’ll patiently listen to them for weeks on end, then they’ll totally explain the whole thing–but they can’t just blurt out what they have “discovered,” oh no, it’s very complex and complicated and convoluted. They must take up a lot of my time to explain all the deeper aspects of it before the ultimate mic drop that will stun me into instant belief and reverence.
Sounds like Amway or Scientology, doesn’t it?
I think they’re counting on me to regard the investment I’d be making into the new “relationship” as so important that I’d give their evangelizing a little more attention and not reject their sales pitches out of hand, and I think a similar hope is driving Preston Sprinkle here in this book. But just as I reject the Magic Christians (and MLM drones) who think that they’ve found the totally brand-new explanation that makes total sense to everyone, yet mysteriously can’t be briefly outlined, I wouldn’t get into any kind of relationship with someone I strongly suspected was a bigot-for-Jesus–or with someone I suspected was evasive about what ought to be a very simple question.
I don’t regard dishonesty or desperation as scandalous or gracious, personally. And I don’t think most LGBTQ people or allies have that kind of patience with bigots-for-Jesus at this point. Christians have worn out all the patience they ever had an expectation of receiving. If they can’t be straightforward, then they don’t get to expect anything more than a “Bye, Felicia” out of those they have spent years harassing and persecuting.
Christians are the salespeople; I am the consumer. They don’t get to take up one more second of my time than I am willing to give, and they don’t even get to whine or complain if I set and enforce ground rules for engaging with me. The first of those ground rules involves honesty.
But these Magic Christians belong to a religion that’s had deception built into it from the ground up.
Just a Little Lying.
Jesus himself is thought to have told Christians, “Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ Anything more comes from the evil one.” And lying is distinctly called “wicked” and “evil” and even condemned as an “abomination,” which you’d think would get Christian bigots’ attention since they’re all soooooo worried about abomination and all.
Alas! All a person’s ways seem right to him. It sure didn’t take long for that insistence on honesty to waver.
Dishonesty has always a big problem for Christians. When I was Christian myself, I quickly realized that the more fervent the believer, the more dishonesty that person embraced and was willing to repeat. When I objected to the practice, I was the one who got yelled at.
Nothing’s changed. Nowadays, right-wing Christians use the technique of “lying for Jesus” to devastating effect in their fight against abortion access, where they manage to deceive even non-Christians. Pastors lie about their backgrounds and anecdotes so routinely that they never expect the truth to be discovered or anyone to get upset about the lies. And one should never, ever take Christians’ “testimonies” at face value, especially if they feature miracles, big turnarounds in habits or personality, or extremely off-limits behavior.
When a Christian won’t answer a question, it’s pretty obvious that such a Christian knows that the answer won’t be well received. If the answer was “Yes, I think you deserve full civil rights and should have all the same liberties I enjoy,” then it should be very easy to give. That is a big part of what these questions are actually asking: “Are my rights safe around you? Do I need to worry about you interfering with my life and liberty?”
But Preston Sprinkle and Christians like him can’t get over their obsessive need to police, judge, and monitor other people’s private lives long enough to embrace and protect a group of people who could sure use some unconditional love from religious folks who have been commanded to love everyone under pain of Hell/annihilation/whatever.
A few years ago, a Christian named John Shore got into a Twitter slapfight with one of these “third way” Christians over a question very similar to what the mother asked Dr. Sprinkle’s friend. Andrew Marin is one of the most famous of the “third way” crowd; we’ve discussed his group’s website in the past in not terribly glowing terms because of an attitude exactly like the one Mr. Shore describes.
The exchange is a great–if frustrating–example of this kind of evasion. John Shore wonders at the end “how anyone still takes this guy seriously.” I find myself asking the same question about Preston Sprinkle–and agreeing wholeheartedly with Mr. Shore when he declines the invitation to “hang” by saying, “I already know who u r.”
So I just want to say something to bigoted Christians who right now are gurgling in joy over this book because they think they now finally have the perfect way of handling LGBTQ people. There are a lot of such Christians online complimenting this book in their reviews and blogs, and they will undoubtedly be trotting out this gambit when speaking to people.
I already know who you are.
This coy act does not fool me, and I don’t think it will fool anyone else except Christians who really need a permission slip to keep doing what they’re doing. It’s very easy to fool Christians who want their ears tickled.
Neither Hot Nor Cold.
In the end, the big problem with this coffee-date idea is that it is “neither hot nor cold,” and deserves the same end that lukewarm Christians themselves get in the Bible: being spat out by the people receiving the message.
I’d just about rather see bigoted Christians own their bigotry instead of trying to dress it up with Jesus smiles, fake concern, and crocodile tears. But if Preston Sprinkle isn’t super-coy and evasive, then he won’t get the opportunity to trot out his suggestions for LGBTQ folks.
We’ll be talking about those next. See you then!