01 February 2008

Fundie Friday -- Gays and the Gospel

I have Ray Comfort's blog on my RSS reader. If you pay any attention to religious television programming at all, you've probably seen Comfort, as he's usually standing or sitting next to former Growing Pains star Kirk Cameron on the program The Way of the Master. Or you might have seen this video on Youtube, a segment from that program called The Atheist's Nightmare.

Yeah, so clearly this guy isn't exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer. (For those who don't know, bananas in the wild are small, bitter, and tough -- it is through selective breeding, not the will of God, that bananas now have such wonderfully convenient characteristics. A can of soda has many of the same characteristics Comfort gives for the banana, for pretty much the exact same reasons.) But today I'm not going to kick the man while he's down (although his blog is full of the kinds of strange non-sequitors you see above), but rather discuss some of the reasoning behind this passage in the blog post linked above.
People often ask how to respond to those who are homosexuals, and yet consider themselves to be Christians. While a fornicator, a homosexual, an adulterer, a thief, and liar can become a Christian, it is important to understand that they cannot remain in their sins. If someone does, he is simply a pretender (a hypocrite). To be a Christian, you must stop your sinful lifestyle, commonly called "repentance."

Right now I'm not going to go into the extremely thin scriptural support for hatred of homosexuals and homosexuality, but instead want to look at the implications of what's said here. In Comfort's worldview, homosexuality is a behavior, something that is done by someone, no different in principle than fornication, adultery, thievery, etc. (That Comfort so readily lumps vastly different items together as "sins" is another issue that we won't get into today.) A truly repentant person, in this view, will stop "choosing" to perform homosexual acts and will either become heterosexual, or become celibate.

The truth, of course, is that homosexuality is not a question of choice, but of ontology -- a person's sexual preferences are generally programmed in either during fetal development, or in the early years of life, long before any issues of adult "choice" come into play. This is the primary reason LGBT activists have to fight so hard against fundamentalists for their rights on a "nature/nuture" question, i.e. it is much easier for people to accept behavior and attitudes which are repugnant to them if they believe that those doing those acts are performing them because of their natures, rather than because they choose that activity.

(Of course, it's also self-evident to pretty much any rational non-fundie person that even if homosexual behavior were a choice, that so long as it is performed by consenting adults behind closed doors there should be no reason to be alarmed. In other words, that homosexual sex should be treated the exact same way as heterosexual sex. But we're talking fundies here, whose views often have little to do with reality, as we see every time we take a detailed look at their viewpoints on pretty much any issue.)

To continue Comfort's post:
So, how do you tell someone that, without causing undue offense? I would witness to him using God’s Law (the Ten Commandments). I wouldn't mention the homosexual issue until he is humbled, and sin is seen in its true light. There's a very good reason for this. No proud person can see the nature of his own sins. He is blinded by pride. If you have done marriage counselling, you will know this to be true. If there is no humility, there won't be an open ear to reason. So the Law should be used to humble the human heart, show sin in its true light, and hopefully show the person his error, and his great danger.

It's a bit difficult to parse this unless you're on the inside track of fundie thinking, but here Comfort is basically giving a standard "sales pitch" for Christianity. The modern version of this comes primarily from C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity, and rests on the idea that the salvation of Christ is misguided until the recipient realizes that salvation is necessary. Lewis encouraged evangelists to discuss with the potential convert the sins of that convert, probing to develop the sense of Moral Law (i.e. feelings of guilt, to those of us not on the ball with early 20th century Christian lingo) in the convert, and then convincing them that only through Jesus Christ can salvation from this guilt be found.

It's an impressively effective method when done well, and it forms the entire basis of Comfort and cameron's Way of the Master ministry. Indeed, large sections of the television program involve Comfort approaching people on the street and using this method, asking, "Have you ever lied? Or stolen? Or coveted?" etc., then using the cultural respect that even vaguely unbelieving people seem to have for the Bible and Christianity to "wedge" into the belief system and attempt to convert the unbeliever.

So, for an evangelist like Comfort, homosexuals provide a wonderful opportunity for conversion. Since they are living a "sinful lifestyle" by default, one must only provoke guilt (that, of course, must be buried somewhere in even the most unrepentant heart), stoking the flames to the surface of the persona, then delivering the "Good News" to the person and counting one more saved soul for Christ. While gay ministries get the most press, this is also the purpose of church-run alcohol-abuse programs, gambling addiction programs, et cetera. They are all too happy to bring in sinners, to help them, for they know that in those sinful sinful hearts there exist a great desire for hope for the future, for a release from the pain that these "sins" cause, and thus a hunger for the Word of the Lord.

Which is also why so many of these social-work programs run by churches are so ineffective. It's because they don't really exist to help the people who go to them, but as thinly veiled evangelism programs preying on people who are in many cases at the lowest point of their lives. This isn't to say that all of these programs are like this -- many religiously-run charities and social programs are excellent, and run for the good of those who need them the most. But the kind of simpleminded approach to evangelism by fundamentalists is despicable, and instead of working to help the people around them, they're literally fleecing their flocks.

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