It’s bad enough when Christians sit silently by while LGBTQ folks are marginalized, ridiculed, abused, raped or even killed for who they are.
It’s another when Christians actively engage in the exclusion of people based on their identity or orientation.
And then there’s John Piper.
It seems Piper has a Twitter problem. Maybe he doesn’t see it as such, because with fewer than 140 characters, he can stir up quite a storm of controversy. But considering the damage that can be done with so few words, I think it is a significant problem.
First, there was his now-famous “Farewell, Rob Bell” tweet, basically bidding his fellow pastor and bestselling author adieu when his book, Love Wins dared to suggest that God’s love was big enough to ensure salvation for all.
Over the weekend, Piper decided to get specific about his disdain for members of the LGBTQ community and all Christians who affirm them by tweeting the following:
“The church that approves of homosexual relations has by that act ceased to be a true church. Wolfhart Pannenberg”
When I told my wife, the Rev. Amy Piatt, what he posted, she suggested we shouldn’t even care what he says. Piper is a voice of intolerance whose ignorance should be dismissed, she said. Though she and I see eye to eye on most things, we differ on this one.
First of all, Piper has more than 250,000 followers on Twitter. And of course with the viral nature of social media, his reach is much broader than that. Second, he’s considered a prominent voice for conservative Christianity, sought and quoted often by the media and by other pastors. As such, he always seems ready to help reinforce the stereotype that Christians are narrow-minded, bigoted, hateful people who are more interested in being right and morally superior than they are in loving and serving their brothers and sisters.
Thankfully there are other (not as prominent) voices out there to counter the intolerance. As an example, the Rev. Roger Wolsey, a Colorado pastor and fellow God's Politics contributor, posted the following concise but clear message on Youtube:
Though it would be great if one affirming voice counterbalanced the negativity of another, but the net is still negative, I’m afraid. Some may hear the apology on behalf of Christianity. Some may even hear the claim that Piper’s brand of Christianity is not representative of all of us. LGBTQ people may be welcomed back to the table, time and again, but damage already has been done.
Be forewarned that Langteaux's video does contain some frank, explicit language. So if you choose not to view it, the essence of what he says is that too many Christians do not seem to embody the values of the Christ they claim. And so, if this is what religion is about, we don’t want anything more to do with it.
I certainly can understand Langteaux’s pain and inclination to distance himself from a body that seems intent on making him “less than.” But I’m not content to sit back and let such voices occupy the floor while dissenters say and do nothing.
Piper is wrong. His words cause damage. And though I could never go so far as to claim that his bigotry means he’s not actually a Christian, I strongly believe Piper has strayed far from the path laid before us by Jesus himself.
The only true antidote to divisive rhetoric ultimately is face-to-face relationship. So my hope is that those who read this post will not just appreciate it, comment on it or even share it; my prayer is that it will be the impetus readers need to go out and find someone (or many someones) hurt and marginalized by some parts of the church and talk to them about their pain. Offer a compassionate ear in return, and if accepted, a warm embrace.
We can prevail in this clash of ideals. But the revolution will not be realized entirely from behind a microphone. One person, one relationship, one story at a time, we have to continue to believe that Bell was right: LOVE WINS.
Christian Piatt is the creator and editor of BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.
(Bible image titled "Getting the Message" by JustASC/Shutterstock.)