I tried really hard not to watch this clip but my entire Twitter feed is spammed with it both by those in acclamation and those in sorrow:
A gay person who still wants to attend church after the way the church has treated the gay community, I’m telling you, they have more faith than I do. They have more faith than a lot of you. A gay person who knows, you know what, I might not be accepted here, but I’m gonna try it anyway, have you ever done that as a straight person? Where do you go that you’re not sure you’re gonna be accepted and you go over and over and over?
I want to pass over the question of homosexuality for a moment and make two or three observations about Stanley’s claim here. First, the subtext of his discourse is shame. Claiming that “the gay community” has been injured and excluded by “the church,” Stanley liberally applies shame to the gathered assembly. You might have faith, he says, but it’s nothing like the faith of those you–by implication–have injured through time and space. If it weren’t for you and your weak faith, the “gay community” wouldn’t have had to suffer in the way that they have. As I’ve noted so often, shame is sticky. Every person walking out of that room is going to spend the week trying to get rid of that intolerable sensation by any means necessary. Well, not by any means necessary. There is one way to get rid of shame, and that is by turning to the cross of Christ, but that’s not where Stanley leads his sheep.
On the contrary, Stanley’s focus in this clip is entirely and completely on the human person. I didn’t type it out, but Stanely makes a sweeping motion with his hand in breezing past what he refers to as the “clobber texts,” shaking his head and then restoring his attention to the binary between “gay” and “straight,” “weak” and “strong.” The implication is clear–don’t turn your eyes to Jesus. The “gay community” is already doing that, but you’re making it hard for them by continually bringing up the Bible as a hindrance to their “worship.” You can’t look to Jesus because of how you have already behaved.
Third, in this clip, the experience of suffering is unique rather than universal. You couldn’t possibly understand what “they”–the “gay community”–deal with. Every time they come in here they feel alienated. You don’t understand that experience except with your in-laws, in other words, in the context of an already accepting family. You had better throw over your theological beliefs and scripture knowledge because you are complacent and unacquainted with grief.
I don’t think it should be controversial to say, no matter your ideological bent, that this is bad preaching. Dividing a room in two and applying a heavy dose of shame to one of the groups is not the way to build a healthy congregation–even under the guise of making one group empathetic towards the other group. It might grow your church in numbers by attracting those who are already bowed down with guilt, who want some other way to rid themselves of it than turning to the grace and mercy of Jesus, but the fractures and bitterness in the whole will grow deeper and deeper. Worse, those suffering from sexual attraction–an attraction that can never be blessed by scripture–are hindered from hearing about the saving mercy of Jesus. Instead, they are lionized, told they are enough in themselves, and elevated by their supposed “faith.” This is so dangerous. Everyone needs Jesus. All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. We all need help. More also, helplessness is a universal condition. We actually have a lot of lived experience in common. I know a whole bunch of “straight” people* who walk into church every Sunday feeling horribly alienated and alone. They have no idea how to make friends, to feel included. They go because they need Jesus. And guess what, even while other Christians fail to meet their emotional needs–a trial that will endure as long as the sun and moon endure because they also are alienated and helpless–that doesn’t mean that God can’t do something. Only God can join people together in the communion he himself established by his blood. That’s literally what he promises to do. But he does it by the true proclamation of the gospel working out salvation in the hearts of miserable yet penitent offenders.
Have a nice day if that’s a thing you like to have.
Photo by Lea Fabienne on Unsplash
*I don’t accept the gay/straight division of Christian communities. That is not a distinction that should have ever been adopted by any church–read my long piece on Revoice 2021.