This week is one of those weeks where everyone seems to be talking, tweeting and blogging about the same video. I received it from several concerned friends with commentary like, “More bad news from North Carolina,” or “How can a loving God hate so much?” The video, which has quickly gone viral in the past 24 hours, is a clip from a recent sermon by Pastor Charles L. Worley of Providence Road Baptist Church in Maiden, North Carolina.
Following President Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage, pastor Worley took to the pulpit to rage against the issue of “queers and homosexuals”. However, it is his proposed “solution” to the “problem” (eerily reminiscent of Hitler’s “Final Solution”) that has the blogosphere abuzz (read: up in arms).
Worley proudly pronounces that he has found a way to get rid of all of the “lesbians and queers”: lock them all inside a fenced-off area and simply wait for them to die out on account of their inability to reproduce. In the video, his pronouncement garnered several hearty “Amens” from the congregation.
Unfortunately, this explosive video is just the most recent in a long stream of gay-marriage-related stories making headlines from my home state of North Carolina. After all, mine is the state that just passed the draconian amendment to its constitution, commonly known as “Amendment One”, banning same-sex marriage and all domestic and civil unions (never mind the fact that same-sex marriage is already illegal in our state). It seems that a day does not go by where I don’t hear a quote or read an article where another pastor has taken to the pulpit to remind his congregation that “homosexuality is wrong and against the Bible!”
This breaks my heart.
It’s difficult to watch the state I love to call home portrayed on the national stage as a bastion of bigotry. More painful, however, is to listen to the disappointment in the voices of my friends, both gay and straight, as they talk about the role of the church in perpetuating prejudice and preaching a gospel of hateful exclusion.
Time after time I have tried to explain to anyone who would listen that Christianity, in its purest form, is founded on the principles of compassion, inclusiveness and limitless love for one another. I have pleaded with friends to understand that the church, as an institution, is made up of highly imperfect individuals who are trying to imitate the perfect life of Christ, and often falling very short.
The church has been an incredibly positive and formative institution in my life. My father is a Baptist pastor, as was his father before him. However, unlike the Baptist pastors who tend to make headlines, my father and grandfather spent their careers tirelessly advocating for those who were marginalized; those whom Jesus termed “the least of these”. Growing up, the gospel I heard from the pulpit every Sunday was one that demanded Christians take seriously the example of Jesus who lived a life of unbridled and indiscriminate compassion.
Perhaps this is why it has been so difficult to watch my peers write off the church as a backwards, archaic institution; one that is long on condemnation and short on compassion. Indeed, according to a recent study, sixty-four percent of my fellow Millennials describe Christianity as “anti-gay” and more than sixty-two percent of Millennials view Christians as judgmental.
And, with sermons like those of Charles L. Worley, who can blame my fellow 20-somethings for seeing Christians this way?
Even a first-year divinity school student could dismantle Worley’s theologically tenuous argument on the spot (should we lock up infertile women or old couples because they’re unable to reproduce as well?).
But the better use of time is to pose some questions to the broader community of faith, question like:
- How have we allowed those who abuse scripture to substantiate their own prejudices to become our spokespeople on the national stage?
- How many times must we re-learn the lessons of history whereby the Church let itself be defined by anti-Semites, sexists, and racists and suffered the devastating consequences?
Good-hearted people can and will disagree about issues of human sexuality. If we are honest, none of us can claim to have solved the great mysteries of gender, attraction or love. The religious community itself is heavily divided on the issue of same-sex marriage.
But, as Robin Meyers poses in his book, Saving Jesus from the Church, “Until we have homosexuality all figured out, shouldn’t we practice radical hospitality? As long as we ‘see through a glass darkly’ isn’t it wise to err on the side of inclusion and compassion, rather than condemnation?” Surely, the same Jesus who invited the outcasts and marginalized to sit at the head of the banquet table of the kingdom would be the one to call upon his church to broaden the circles of inclusion, not narrow them.
To my fellow Christians in North Carolina and across the country, I have one earnest plea: do not stand idly by and refuse to speak out for the rights of all God’s children to be treated equally with love and dignity. If we fail to act in defense of our homosexual brothers and sisters then we are just as culpable for maintaining the status quo as Pastor Worley.
And to all my friends in the LGBTQ community: please forgive us. Please forgive the church and Christians (myself included), for being severely flawed. We ask that you do not judge Christ by those who bear his name but discard his call to love unconditionally. We pray that you will give us another chance to extend the grace and compassion that God so clearly requires of us.
And finally, to all those who have been hurt, angered and disappointed by the hateful words of people like Pastor Charles L. Worley, I pray that we can heed these words of wisdom from the early 20th century American poet, Edwin Markham:
He drew a circle that shut me out-
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in.
Andrew Simpson was the former immigration associate for Sojourners. He is from Chapel Hill, N.C.