Cakes and Quacks: Do Evangelicals Worship Democracy More Than Christ?

Wedding-cake-two-brides[Guest-post from fellow Virginia UMC pastor Jason Micheli: please check out his blog Tamed Cynic!]

Trolling the news, two separate but related stories have stuck in my theological craw of late.

Two stories that strike me as adventures in missing the plot. The Gospel plot.

First, there is this now infamous flare-up that pits bible-believing bakers against same-sex couples who wish to purchase some sugary carbs to celebrate their recently-recognized nuptials.

The case involves Melissa and Aaron Klein, bakers at the Sweet Cakes shop in Oregon.

When called by a lesbian couple who wished to place a wedding cake order, Aaron Klein reportedly informed the callers that they were ‘abominations to the Lord’ and refused to serve them.

Klein says he only “apologized for wasting their time and said we don’t do same-sex marriages…” In true propagandist style, the Christian Post assumes Klein’s version of the encounter while implying the opposite for Klein’s would-be customers.

What’s the issue at the heart of the matter? According to Klein, the dispute comes down to ‘religious freedom’ guaranteed by the Constitution. Says Klein: “This is ridiculous that we cannot practice our faith.”

For those scoring at home, at stake is the 1st Amendment (not the Gospel) and the freedom to discriminate against homosexuals (sinners, in this view) is part and parcel with ‘practicing the Christian faith.’

Okay, next story:

Mark Tooley, head of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, has this editorial, in which he excoriates Gov. Chris Christie, a previously reliable conservative, for voting in affirmation of New Jersey’s recent ban on ‘reparative therapy.’

In case you don’t know, reparative therapy is the practice by which quack Christian psychologists ‘convert’ homosexuals to the straight if not the narrow.

Reparative therapy is evidence that fundamentalists’ pseudo-science harms more than just the environment.

According to a consensus of mental health professionals that goes all the way back to the days when Sigmund Freud was snorting coke, Reparative Therapy is neither ‘reparative’ for a patient’s life nor is it experienced as ‘therapy.’ And I had a friend whose experience with RT bears out the many stats.

Tooley in DC, like the Kleins out in Oregon, distills this issue in NJ to an issue of ‘religious freedom.’

As in the baker’s kitchen so in the psychologist’s office, it comes down to the 1st amendment. Giving it an unintended Tea Party hue, Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention admits: “This really isn’t about reparative therapy, but about religious liberty and personal freedom.”

Upping the rhetorical ante, the article ends with the sort of unnecessary alarm that then justifies all means: “The New Jersey law is an assault on not just religious freedom but liberty itself.”

Deep breath.

First, the Bakers.

Let’s say I grant you that both the biblical narrative and the Christian tradition consider homosexuality a sin, you then must concur that it’s nonetheless a tangential concern of scripture.

Even if I let you have your Levitical holiness codes, where homosexuality is filed right alongside crab cakes and clams casino, and if I let you have your misinterpretation of Sodom and Gomorrah and if I give you the Romans 1 bone and concede that yes homosexuality is a sin, then I’m still left With THE MINISTRY OF JESUS.

Jesus, as we pray in the Great Thanksgiving, ate and drank with sinners.
Given human nature, I bet sinners served Jesus wine at the wedding at Cana, straight couple or not. Jesus healed Jairus’ daughter, gratis, though Jairus was an enemy invader. Jesus’ best story has the 1st century equivalent of a terrorist as the hero. One of Jesus’ disciples, whose name graces a Gospel, was a tax collector; that is, Matthew was a colluder with the invading army. Jesus looked at the obviously guilty adultress and refused to condemn her, right before he had a few choice words about stones. At Easter, Jesus appears to the same damn sinners who betrayed him and then he commissions them to baptize the people who killed him.

And don’t even get me started on Paul, who made himself all things to all people (use your imagination) and took time to settle disputes about pagan meat, why? Because the Gospel was MORE IMPORTANT.

So whatever they think they’re doing, the Kleins are not practicing their faith. Or rather, their faith is in some other than Jesus.

On to the Reparative Therapy issue.

Here’s the thing. Nearly everyone except the most strident fundamentalists, including Exodus International which formerly did reparative therapy but now disavows it and recently closed up shop, admit that reparative therapy DOES HARM.

Serious trauma.

Fundamentalists love to cite stats about how homosexuals have a higher incidence of suicide and substance abuse without ever taking the next logical step to suppose that the stigma they attach to homosexuals plays a very strong contributing part.

Reparative therapy is a form of abuse endorsed only by the most extreme who are more concerned to give their particular worldview the guise of scientific backing.

Again, no matter how you might feel about homosexuality, even if I grant you the handful of biblical verses, Christians should all still agree that when it comes to homosexuals persons, whom my relatively conservative denomination describes as having ‘sacred worth,’ our first pledge should be the doctor’s own: do no harm.

What’s truly disappointing about the New Jersey law banning reparative therapy isn’t the Church’s loss of religious freedom, it’s that the Church had to be told to stop hurting people in the name of ideology.

Two separate but related stories. In the former, the perceived issue isn’t that ours is a God who loves and loves to be around sinners. The issue is the 1st amendment. In the latter, the lament isn’t for those many (often youth) victimized by reparative therapy. The lament is instead for religious freedom and personal liberty.

Both of which make me wonder if the homosexual debate reveals that conservative fundamentalists have pledged allegiance not to the Risen Christ and the furthering of his ministry but to America or, more specifically, to their vision of it and their particular political camp within it.

In which case, Christ really is just an idol. Something to which has been attached things that are not of God.

41 thoughts on “Cakes and Quacks: Do Evangelicals Worship Democracy More Than Christ?

  1. Conservative fundamentalists have pledged their allegiance to Rousas Rushdoony’s theocratic vision of Christian Dominionism–i.e., one nation united under, and governed by, Mosaic Law. That’s it, pure and simple; dissenters and nonconformists can take their heathen selves elsewhere–“godless, socialist” Europe, maybe. At least until the fundie yahoos achieve their ultimate goal of conquering the entire world for the warped, distorted Christ of their power-drenched dreams and said world is no longer safe for anyone capable of independent thought.

    Once again, I will take the opportunity to quote Sinclair Lewis:
    “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”

    (It Can’t Happen Here–1935)

      • I wouldn’t bet on it. Lewis identified and called out their insidious influence in the ’30’s. Then World War II and the decades immediately following brought a resurgence of the American dream and its essentially secular values of material prosperity and liberal education for all, especially a growing middle class. However, the social and ideological upheaval of the ’60’s which questioned and exposed the flaws and inequities inherent in bedrock conservative verities led straight to the ascendance of the “Moral Majority” and the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.

        Since then, we have witnessed the development and strengthening of the unholy trinity if Dominionist activism, John Bircher/ultra-conservative big bucks (especially fossil fuel $$), and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). It would appear that this alliance has overreached and promoted a few truly religiously looney pols too many. Tea Party types are beginning to wake up to the fact that they have been thoroughly duped into voting against their own self-interest. So, for a variety of reasons, the Dominionist movement will probably cool its jets for a while.

        But they never go away. Dominionism is a patient opportunist. If the increasing socioeconimic inequity in our country continues and if the current ALEC-driven agenda to destroy the two basic pillars of upward mobility–public education and unions–in America is not reversed, Dominionists will again sow the seeds of their inhumane and destructive ideology. In a sense, Marx was right. Religion, when packaged with specific intent, can be an opiate. It can be used to palliate the misery of poverty, inequality, and injustice by promulgating a vision of glorious reward in the afterlife. The biggest problem with Christian Dominionism is, of course, that it has precious little to do with Jesus or the Gospel and everything to do with aggrandizing the power and influence of a select few leaders and preachers. It is spiritual fool’s gold. And like the mineral, pyrite, it is never far from the surface of our national identity.

      • Btw Morgan, my apologies for just delivering a lecture–I have been researching Christian Dominionism/Christian Reconstructionism/New Apostolic Reformation for years and, quite frankly, they scare me silly. As far as I’m concerned, advocating the overthrow of our constitutionally-mandated, secular, democratic republic and replacing it with a theocracy based in Mosaic Law is just plain treason. Anyway, I go a little nuts whenever I write or talk about them–so I’m packing up my soapbox now–that’s me ambling off into the sunset–bye!

  2. To even ponder whether or not the “homosexual debate reveals that conservative fundamentalists have pledged allegiance not to the Risen Christ and the furthering of his ministry but to America or, more specifically, to their vision of it and their particular political camp within it.” reveals that so many are not at all a part of the Bride of Christ, His church. The whole debate as with so many “christian” debates with the world are traps and snares that serve none but the enemy of all of mankind.

    Anyone claiming to be a part of the body of Christ who insist on maintaining a self given identity and casting an identity to another is not a part of the body of Christ. Gal. 3:28 says…”There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This would include today…..there is neither conservative fundamentalists nor homosexuals, neither Methodist nor Calvanists, nor etc…etc… . Trust me….Jesus knows His bride and His bride knows Him. And the “conservative fundamentalists nor the homosexuals” were given the authority to create the “Bride” , nor declare what she is. God has already done this. He created the Bride, the Church, the Body of Christ…..and scripture paints the picture of what His creation is…..and is not. The Bride is pure and spotless…..without the corruption of any man, any denomination , any political group, any nation, any government, any sin (including any sexual sin or lust or deviant lifestyle).

    That is why Christ died for us. He loves His bride beyond our comprehension and made certain to conquer sin and death and provide salvation before the birth of the church…the Bride. He was not about to allow ANYTHING to stand in the way or harm His Beloved…His beautiful Bride.

    Not even the distraction of the carnal self preservationism debate over homosexuality…..no matter what group you have identified yourself with.

    peace…….

    • What is “carnal self-preservationism”? I hadn’t heard of that before. I wasn’t sure what point you were trying to make with all of this. The heresy that is tearing our church apart right now is the idol of sexual normalcy. Naming that heresy serves the purpose of the bride or body of Christ or whatever other metaphor you choose. There are good reasons for chaste and holy sexuality, but the idolatry that has overtaken the evangelical church in the Reagan era is poisoning us.

      • Self-preservationism is simply the flesh of those within the church wanting to identify and distinguish themselves as certain individual types for the purpose of elevating their personal doctrines. My point is simply that not all, in fact the Bible says only few, who claim to be christians fit into the definition God provided us of what the Bride looks like. (The metaphors I choose are the very ones God’s Word uses.)

        We live in the time of the apostate church. Idolatry is not limited to just the evangelical church, but I know that is not what you were suggesting. The sobering Truth of Scripture is that many will seek the Kingdom of God….but narrow is the way…..and few…..few will find it. What a horrifying realization for the “many” on that day of judgement. Those who declared themselves “saved” but who Jesus never knew. Those who wrongly presumed they had the authority to rebuke Biblical truths concerning who will and who will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Meditating on this Truth for any length of time causes me, and perhaps others, to see a little more clearly the urgency to not get entangled in the cares, debates, or trappings of the world.

        It is not flesh and blood we war against…but powers and principalities. We wage our war and claim our victory with Truth, Love, Grace, and Mercy. And our battle posture is upon our knees.

        I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this intelligent conversation with you Morgan, and humbly appreciate your engagement.

        ….peace

        • I think what you call self-preservationism is similar to what I call self-justification. The key is to repent of trying to justify ourselves because that is the basic rebellion of humanity against God. If I insist on making myself god, God will grant me my own universe of one to spend eternity in and it won’t take too long for me to realize that’s what hell is.

        • When a father buys a son a porn magazine in order to “straighten him out” because he’s worried that he’s been acting gay (true story), that would be an example of the idol of sexual normalcy.

      • Morgan, I’m not sure what exactly you are calling a heresy? Are you saying that the church’s teaching that sexual intercourse is to be reserved for a heterosexual monogamous marriage is heresy? Your example of “sexual normalcy” below is so extreme that it is not helpful in understanding how you are defining the term. I want to accurately understand what you are saying. Thanks.

        • A heresy is often when undue emphasis is given to one dimension of Christian teaching in such a way that the overall teaching is warped and imbalanced as a result, such as emphasizing Christ’s humanity to the exclusion of Christ’s divinity. I have outlined my understanding of Biblical teaching on sexuality in a post called “What is the burden of proof in the Methodist debate on homosexuality?” So I won’t go into all that here. But I would say that sexuality is receiving undue emphasis when it has become the whole of Christian morality for people who are in healthy stable marriages where it’s not actually a personal struggle for them but just something they talk about in the abstract to make themselves feel holy. There is a difference between pursuing chastity for the sake of being completely available to God’s love and pursuing purity for the sake of being able to thank God that you’re not like other people. The latter would be the heresy of sexual normalcy.

          • Agreed. Virtuousness publicly practiced so that one can prove one’s superiority to others, or privately practiced so that one may reinforce one’s own conviction of spiritual superiority are both engendered by pride, the deadliest of the seven deadly sins. And, if I remember correctly, Jesus had a thing or two to say to the Pharisees on the subject of “whited sepuchres”.

          • I agree that undue emphasis or imbalance of theology can lead to heresy. You seem to think that evangelicals are the ones bringing undue emphasis to the church’s teaching on sexuality and marriage. It is rather those who are pushing for the acceptance of homosexual practice and the redefinition of marriage who are constantly talking about this issue. Evangelical comments and writings are nearly always a response to those who are challenging or attacking the church’s teaching on human sexuality. My guess is that you see this as a justice issue, with the need to change the church and society to provide acceptance and recognition for persons with same-sex attractions. If that is the case, then it would seem to me to be unfair to label as heretics those who are merely responding, simply because they are bringing “undue emphasis” to one dimension of Christian teaching. That undue emphasis comes from those pushing for homosexual acceptance.

            I reject your characterization that sexuality is the whole of Christian morality for evangelicals. On the other hand, sexual brokenness (both heterosexual and homosexual) is a huge problem in our society today, as witness the high divorce rate, cohabitation outside of marriage, physical and sexual abuse both within and outside of marriage, high use of pornography, even among children, and the list could go on. Our society’s understanding of sexuality is broken and needs to be corrected and healed through the ministry of God’s grace and truth. It is an important topic to talk about (as a whole, not just homosexuality), but it is far from the whole of Christian morality.

          • I agree with you that we have a sexually broken society and I will concede that heresy was too strong a word and it was careless for me to use it. But I don’t think the emphasis on sexuality is agenda-less or merely a response to the gay rights movement. It also can be a self-serving baptism of nuclear-family-focused suburban culture which is where words like heresy and idolatry come to mind.

            I personally think that we are handicapped in our ability to explain sexual holiness when it’s been pigeonholed into partisan electoral “family values” issues. All that young adults are hearing is that we’re against gay people. And that does little to help them escape the suffering of living a sexually broken life because then they can define the slavery of their promiscuity as some kind of stand for freedom against the “morality police.” What they need to hear is a deeper analysis of the difference between eros corrupted into idolatry of the flesh and Eros that is experienced sacramentally as genuine worship (and obviously in more accessible terms than I just used in this sentence). It needs to be explained much better than it has been.

            I don’t think God wants us to stop at the Bible says it, that settles it; He wants us to try to understand the logic beneath it. In my attempts to understand the logic of Biblical sexuality at this point, heteronormativity only seems relevant to the degree that we’re committed to preserving a patriarchal gendered order in which men are expected to guard the sexuality of women from other men. That’s the best I’ve been able to come up with from Leviticus, Romans 1, etc, but if I heard another argument that went deeper than proof texting verses whose meaning I believe to be an open question, then I would certainly listen and try to understand. If in fact, God has created people who are neither men nor women, I would say we need to encourage them to live with the same chastity as those of us who are within the norm of full maleness or femaleness.

          • Thank you for your comments, Morgan. I agree that we can’t stop at the Bible says it. God gave us minds to seek to understand what lies underneath and behind what God is saying. I don’t think our human understanding is on the same level as Scripture, however. Just because we may not be able to understand or synthesize an adequate (for us) interpretation of scriptural teaching, doesn’t mean that we can therefore disregard what Scripture teaches.

            I am totally in agreement with you that we need a much deeper, more full-orbed theology of sexuality. I agree that we need to explain what is going on with God creating the good gift of sexuality and how God meant it to be used, along with how our sinful nature corrupts the good gift and we experience brokenness. I have seen snatches of it, and I hear that Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body is very good, but I haven’t seen a good development of that theology from a Protestant perspective. We as a church need to be working on that.

          • Definitely. That’s precisely what I’m trying to do. Just because I have a different interpretation of the Biblical permissibility of intergender/same-sex chaste unions doesn’t mean that I’m not alarmed at the devastation that the marketing of sex has done to our culture. It was because of my time as a high school teacher that I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t support abortion being legal. I had one student who had two abortions in one year. It was straight-up birth control. I understand why the Catholics are opposed to contraception (though I think it has legitimate pragmatic uses) because it does create the social context in which there are deceptively no consequences for hooking up with random strangers. The true consequences are buried and they are quite real and devastating; I speak as a first-hand witness.

            Of course, it’s also the case that people for most of human history could get married not nearly as long after they became capable of making babies. So we’re facing a historically unique social problem if we’re wanting to fight the uphill battle of promoting celibate singleness for young adults until they get married, which I think is a battle worth fighting based on the consequences of bad choices that I personally experienced.

            We need a cultural space in which this lifestyle is viable and enjoyable. To some degree, the megachurches are able to create this kind of cultural space. I just think that the celebration of chaste living needs to be decoupled from the shaming of female bodies and the tendency to make the women responsible for saying no to guys. Instead, we need a community where women and men are equally responsible for their sexuality and support each other as a community in which we’re saying yes to a lot of other things and directing our eros into love for God. The neo-monastic movement has a lot of promise in this regard. I wish that we could get something like that going within United Methodism as an option for young adults coming out of college. I get the impression that our mission internships tend to be solo gigs rather than community houses like the Lutheran Volunteer Corps and Jesuit Volunteer Corps have. I did LVC out of college and it was super-helpful to giving me a stable, Christian community so that I didn’t lose myself in the bar scene.

            I really appreciate your charitable tone in this conversation by the way. There are people I love in Methodism who think Good News is the bogeyman. I can’t speak for my guest poster, but whenever I say “evangelical” this or that, I’m speaking as a Christian who would never call myself anything other than evangelical for whatever that’s worth. I long for the day when we all see ourselves as being on the same side. Ultimately I just want to be able to reach the people God has given me as my mission field with a gospel that is both Biblically faithful and also culturally exegetical, that is true and good and beautiful and doesn’t have all the baggage of the last thirty years of culture war. Anyway, when people like you engage in conversation that isn’t poking holes and trying to land digs, but rather genuinely seeks common ground and thoughtful dialogue, it does a lot of good for the kingdom. So thank you. And I will try to emulate your spirit (though I know I’m very bad at it). Pray for my journey to find God’s heart and God’s truth in these matters.

          • Morgan, I agree with you that random “hooking up” with strangers and casual sex in general is inadvisable for many reasons. However, if contraception is diligently and intelligently used in those situations at least the prospect of producing a baby that no one wants to raise or of necessitating an abortion are minimal. Also,the student you mentioned probably wouldn’t have had the two abortions if she had had access to affordable and readily available birth control methods.

          • Fair enough. Like I said, I understand the principle behind the Catholic position, though on a pragmatic level I disagree.

          • Thank you for your generous and gracious words, Morgan. We have to be able to talk with one another in love, or we’ve missed the whole point. I appreciate your transparency in your blog–something I am not very comfortable with myself. I pray that we will seek the kingdom/reign of God in our lives, our church, and ultimately, the world. May Jesus lead us into all truth through his Holy Spirit.

    • I’m not sure the Galatians’ quote means that because in Christ there is neither means that because of Christ we’re no longer also who we are. Kendall Soulen et al have done a good job of unpacking how Paul isn’t suggesting that Christ’s advent eliminates one’s Greekness or Jewishness or, in your case, one’s sexual identity. All is reconfigured but not eliminated.

  3. Hello you’re entirely right, I applaud you for having well summed up the main issues at stake :=)

    I’ve written a strong theological argument as to why committed lifelong homosexual relationships ought to be encouraged by the church:
    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/2013/08/26/on-the-sinfulness-of-homsexuality-von-der-sundigkeit-der-homosexualitat-deutschunten/

    I would be really glad to learn what you think of my reasoning.

    Lovely greetings from Europe.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com

  4. Pingback: New Around the Blogosphere

  5. Thanks for reposting this. Incidentally, the bakers here in Oregon closed up shop, and it looks like they may have done so in response to a drop in clientele, which is heartening.

    • If your statement; “Love casts out judgement.” was intended to be a quote from scripture you missed it. The Bible say: “Love casts out fear.” Discernment is freely given to us from God in order that we may rightly judge. And of course that means the inclusion of judging people or there would have been absolutely no need to have been warned to beware of false teachers, false prophets, false teachings, and wolves in sheep clothing.

      Having said this, I do agree that love is missing in many churches. Many churches and many who claim to be christians never truly realized the love of Christ and consequently have not the nature of Christ’s love in them to give to another.

        • James is addressing a specific issue that arose between the rich and the poor. But, I’m certain you are fully aware and have understanding of the Purpose of James 2.

          • That doesn’t mean that that verse gets bracketed. If you’re going to play that game with that verse, you open up every other verse in the Bible to the same tactic. Mercy does triumph over judgment because the point is for us to accept God’s mercy and show mercy to each other. God judges ruthlessly for the purpose of forcing us into mercy. We cannot be just as long as we are aloof to His mercy and pretend that we don’t need it.

          • I couldn’t agree with you more, Morgan. This teaching addressed favoritism in the church. I was not attempting to “bracket” the verse. In fact, I was originally just attempting to not allow a verse be, first misquoted, and secondly be taken out of context…..which we both know happens all to frequently.

  6. Amen Morgan!! Couldn’t agree more. Thank you for spelling this out so clearly, I don’t know how anyone could argue with what you’ve said but obviously people do.

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