While I was in transit, I caught up on religious news on my phone. My goodness, it was interesting, too! I’ll never be able to catch up fully. But I can give it a try. One interesting essay I read comes to us from a Tennessee pastor named Erik Reed. He calls it “the ever-lurking threat,” but the threat isn’t the one he imagines in his wildest martyrbation fantasies. In fact, he’s made some signal mistakes that Christians like him often do in these situations. He confuses his own social boorishness for TRUE CHRISTIANITY™, and the rejection of his control-grabs as ZOMG PERSECUTION. Today, let’s check out his mistakes–and see what so many Christians’ embrace of these mistakes means for their future.
(I can’t record an audio read because I seem to have accidentally sent my equipment to the storage unit, which is now hundreds of miles away. Hopefully, I will have it back soon. Until then, enjoy this interlude!)
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Making a new house a home
Hello, everyone, and welcome back! I’m glad to be here. I’m in the place I’ll call home for at least the next year or two. My squawky orange tabby cat, Bother, is settling in nicely, thanks to a Feliway plug-in (oh my gosh, it turned her around in the best way).
This place is considerably bigger than I’d thought. I’ll miss the super-high ceilings in the old place, but the view here is incredible. It’s a trade-off I can live with.
The Beast was not happy at all with the move, however.
“The Beast” is my angry baby, my sourdough yeast starter. I got it right before the pandemic and have been baking 2-3 times a week with it ever since. But the Beast is a living thing, or rather millions of living things. They do not like temperature variations and jostling around and being in a car for hours on end. I mean, most of us don’t. But most of us don’t die and make gross ickie stinky clear goo in our seats when it happens to us.
When I saw that gunk resting on the top of the starter, my heart sank.
But the old adage is true. Life does, uh, find a way.
Once I drained off that gross stuff, I realized I still had living starter under it. So I fed it and put it somewhere nice while I unpacked.
And an hour or two later, I saw that yes indeed, life had found a way.
So, I baked sourdough today. It went great. My home smells like home. The Beast lives!
Many thanks go to my supporters and patrons! Roll to Disbelieve could not exist without you. Thank you for all that you do. If you’re reading this and not one of them yet, check out the links at the end of the post!
Persecution! He found him some real live Christian persecution!
Our subject today comes to us from Baptist Press. That’s the official mouthpiece of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). You will never see anything there that runs counter to what the leaders of this denomination think is TRUE CHRISTIANITY™. Any information found there may be safely assumed to fit in with those leaders’ own opinions, and the information’s providers to speak for the denomination.
That’s why their July 6 First Person post, “The ever-lurking threat,” was so funny to me.
First Person posts are supposed to be like blog posts from people in the SBC. Their writers come from all over the width and breadth of SBC-dom. In this case, the post comes from Erik Reed, who apparently pastors a church in Tennessee. He just had a book published, Hold the Line: A Call for Christian Conviction in a Culture of Conformity.
Yes, seriously. An authoritarian pastor in an authoritarian denomination is clutching his pearls and wringing his hands over conformity being bad.
And to him it really is, because it clearly isn’t the conformity he wants his followers to adopt.
There is some Christianese to know here (h/t Chubby Emu)
Conviction is primo Christianese. It always has been. But it has come to mean more than it used to.
When I was an authoritarian evangelical myself (1980s-1990s), a conviction was a Jesus-flavored opinion. Christians using the term wanted to imply (if not state outright) that Jesus himself had handed them this opinion. This opinion was the very most Jesus-y opinion anyone could ever hold. Therefore, it couldn’t change or be altered in any way.
Used as a verb, convicted means something as well: that Jesus has made a person feel bad about something they said, did, or thought. Someone might gossip, The Lord convicted her about smoking pot. That means that Jesus made this person feel bad about smoking pot, with the implication that she’s quitting the Devil’s lettuce. Or a preacher might thunder at a congregation, May God convict you of your sin! That means he’s mad at them for embarrassing him by, say, sinning in front of other pastors and thus embarrassing him.
Around 2012, evangelicals began using this bit of Christianese in a new way: faithful adherence to the kind of Christianity they like best. They call this adherence convictional Christianity, meaning that it is based upon conviction. (The convictional Christian’s counterpart is the dreaded cultural Christian.)
Interestingly, I don’t think Christians usually even define what convictional Christianity even is.
As you might guess, this Christianese tends to be used mostly by evangelicals.
Oh no, persecution ahoy!
So, this pastor’s book is all about how to keep to one’s Jesus-flavored opinions in a world that provides 24/7 contradictions to every claim that informs those opinions. Specifically, Erik Reed wants his readers to maintain their culture-war stances in a world that increasingly sees those stances as bigoted, anti-human rights, and cruel.
Culture-warrior evangelicals think their extremely culture-specific, time-specific, deliberately-ginned-up stances are convictions, with all the Jesus-ing that word implies. Thus, their stances can’t change at all, ever, no matter what new input they might receive about the damage they’re doing to the victims of their culture wars–and also to their own image, credibility, and sales metrics.
Changing a Jesus-handed-out opinion is an offense against Jesus, which Christians call sin. Evangelicals like to insult those who change those opinions: such sinners have backslid or compromised their beliefs. Critics get snooty about the perseverance of the saints. Not once, not ever do the culture warriors in question begin wondering if maybe, just maybe, their opinion is not quite as Jesus-y as they think it is.
Incidentally, these pejoratives and outright insults are also a very clear warning to the rest of the tribe. If anyone in the pews right then is thinking of abandoning the tribe’s opinions, this treatment is heading their way too.
So, with all this in mind, it’s probably not hard at all to imagine that culture warriors seriously think any attempt to change their minds represents real-deal religious persecution.
The setup for a real live Christian persecution story
Here is how Erik Reed begins his account of his terrible, traumatic, for-realsies persecution for his Jesus-handed-down convictions about LGBTQ rights:
I have a friend who went from being a Bible-believing and Bible-obeying Christian to someone who threw off all restraints and adopted the prevailing ideas of our culture. She went from someone with a biblical view of sexuality and marriage to someone who denied Scripture’s teaching on the subject and married another woman.
Me personally, I wonder just how good of friends they were. This change appears to have taken him quite by surprise. He also seems to have very little understanding of what the coming-out process involves. To him, it means “throwing off all restraints,” but the reality is that she threw off his tribe’s restraints.
In addition, he claims she adopted the prevailing ideas of our culture, because in his very willfully-ignorant tribalistic mindset nobody is ever actually gay. She must have been seduced by ickie popular culture! Nor can he or his tribe understand human rights, much less the beautiful rainbow of human sexuality.
And he uses my favorite bit of Christianese here, “biblical.” In Christianese, that word literally just means a tribal opinion, usually an extremely recent one. That’s seriously it! Authoritarian evangelicals love to call those recently-created, conspiracy-theory-based opinions biblical to borrow a bit of authority from their favorite magic book and invisible friend.
Any opinion that differs from a biblical one is, of course, dead wrong, sinful, and will send its holder to Hell.
Cue the unwanted conversations
Erik Reed’s sad, mournful account continues:
We had many conversations along the way, and each time I faced the charge of being judgmental and unloving to her.
From the sound of things, these were not conversations his old scare-quotes “friend” welcomed or wanted to have. I wish I had a nickel for every time an authoritarian Christian tried to muscle me into an unwanted conversation about something they thought I was doing wrong. I’d have a whole lot of nickels.
In Christian circles, these conversations happen constantly. Authoritarians cannot stand the knowledge that someone, somewhere, is Jesus-ing in a way they don’t like. Authoritarian Christian leaders construct groups that don’t respect or care about other people’s boundaries; breaking them is considered a Christian’s sworn duty in cases exactly like Reed describes here.
If someone doesn’t tell this lesbian lady she’s going to Hell, how will she know? It’s not like her tribe’s been telling her this since she was born. Someone probably said it during her christening.
Authoritarian Christians like to call these unwanted conversations iron sharpening iron. That’s from a Bible verse, Proverbs 27:17. See? Jesus wants Christians to treat each other like fix-it projects!
He was NICE! He never even raised his VOICE to that hellbound sinner! PERSECUTION!
But Erik Reed’s attempts to rein in this sinful lesbian backfired:
I was “injuring” her by my disagreement, even though my tone was kind. I never once said anything mean, nor raised my voice, but her conclusion about my disagreement was that I was homophobic and unlike Christ. This was hard to hear from someone my family loved, and still loves. No one wants to be viewed that way. But here I was, accused of being a homophobic bigot.
How very unfair this lesbian was! She told him he was hurting her! She called him homophobic and “unlike Christ” — a serious insult to an authoritarian guy like him.
He tries very hard to present himself as a totally innocent person here who is being very unfairly maligned by an evil lesbian who has been hopelessly corrupted by an evil, sinful culture. But it’s easy to read between the lines to see what really happened.
Erik Reed wasn’t just in “disagreement” with her. No, he tried to grab control of her life, and she refused to let him do it.
Being nice is not the same thing as being kind or good or loving. In fact, some of the cruelest, nastiest words I’ve ever heard in my life came from behind a simpering smile and oh-so-concerned drawn-together eyebrows, and the volume of those words never rose above a murmur.
Being nice is not the same thing as being kind
As kind as Erik Reed thought he sounded, as low-voiced as he thought he was, as softly as he condemned her and demanded she obey King Him, he was, in fact, telling her that her happiness and newfound love were evil and ickie and needed to stop this instant. He was telling her that if she didn’t obey him, the self-appointed spokesperson for Jesus Christ, then his magic invisible friend would torture her ghost forever after she died.
He was, in effect, demanding that she immediately start Jesus-ing the way he thought she should. And to listen to Daddy.
There’s no kind way to tell someone that. It’s cruel and nasty, evil and vicious, disrespectful in the extreme and boundary-trampling. He did it to her repeatedly. And I have no doubt he enjoyed it every time.
It is also clear that she’d told Reed before that this is how she perceived his efforts to force her back into his constrictive evangelical box. She wasn’t interested in going back into that box, and she’d clearly indicated that fact. Really, Reed should have respected her boundaries and stopped bothering her about it.
But he just couldn’t do that. Authoritarians can’t accept a “no” or a “go away.” To them, no simply means ask me again later. Go away just means I’m still making up my mind. And any time they start feeling worn down by all that rejection, they just think of invisible buses bearing down on their scare-quotes “friends,” which gives them all the motivation they need to try, try again.
Erik Reed wants to prevent all future sinners from persecuting all future Erik Reeds
From here, Erik Reed moves smoothly into discussing why evangelicals must resist all attempts to sway their opinions. These are all time-tested evangelical manipulation tactics. He even includes a warning that must seem very shocking, at least to him:
There’s a good chance as you read this your inner lawyer is coming to your defense. “Not me!” “I would never turn away from Jesus.” “I won’t walk away from the church.” “I will not let the world determine what I believe.” “The Bible is my authority. Nothing’s changing that.” Maybe you mean those things. Perhaps you are sincere when you reject the possibility that you could conform to the world. And yet so many do.
The problem he’s having, of course, is that he’s using very different definitions of friendship and love than people outside his very tribalistic worldview. In the outer world, friendship and love don’t feel like boundary violations, disrespect, cruelty, and control-lust.
When someone rightly tells an authoritarian like him that he’s doing all that, he’s just flabbergasted. To him, he’s successfully redefined love to include literally all of those things and more and worse. To him, bigotry and cruelty can only look like snarled epithets and insults. Only hitting someone could accurately be called abusive. And bigotry can’t be bigotry if it’s done for Jesus reasons.
So he’s super-hoping that he can slide into evangelicals’ minds with his redefinitions before someone outside the tribe makes them realize that yes, indeed, evangelicals are the baddies here.
But if he can’t do that, then Erik Reed calls on his readers to revel in PERSECUTION
I gotta laugh at how Erik Reed links accusations of cruelty and bigotry to being a TRUE CHRISTIAN™. For real, he’s just so transparently angry that his nice-guy act gets clearly seen as a smokescreen:
But not everyone can handle being hated by others. Most of us long to be accepted and loved by all. This is what leads people to cave against resistance. Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver and the approval of the Pharisees. He walked with Jesus for three years as a witness to incredible miracles yet chose cheap substitutes over God in the flesh. How is that possible? Who in the world would make such a foolish choice?
(Of course, there’s no indication whatsoever that Judas craved “the approval of the Pharisees.” From all indications that I have ever seen in the Bible itself, Judas’ motivations included greed and possibly anger at Jesus for being so Jesus-y. I’ve never once encountered anyone saying that Judas totes wanted to ingratiate himself with the Pharisees. Reed loves to call his belief system “orthodox” and “biblical.” Hmm, I wonder what the Bible says about people who add to or take away from its words?)
His message here is clear: being considered a cruel, nasty, homophobic bigot is actually just PROOF YES PROOF that someone is Jesus-ing just right!
And the Spiritual Yardstick Problem rears its head again
At the end of Erik Reed’s post, he brings up the usual Bible verse we see in these sorts of exhortations, Romans 12:2:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
But he dramatically misses the mark here by assuming that what he believes must be “the will of God” and “good and acceptable and perfect,” which obviously makes his lesbian scare-quotes “friend’s” beliefs the opposite of those things.
After all, it’s entirely possible that she is still Christian of some kind, just not a flavor that practices bigotry like his does. Just under half of American LGBT adults are Christian, as a 2020 survey from UCLA discovered. So, there’s a good chance.
With evangelicals, you must detect what they don’t say to find out what’s really going on.
Reading between the lines, again
If this lesbian had actually deconverted, I’d fully have expected Reed to have said so. It would have been the spluttering cherry of utter outrage on his three-scoop persecution sundae. But he never mentions her deconverting. In fact, his scare-quotes “friend” even reproves him for being “unlike Christ”, which is an odd thing for an ex-Christian to say.
Either way, tons of Christians, even evangelicals, are perfectly fine with LGBTQ people. We needn’t consider the disparity between his beliefs and those of his scare-quotes “friend.” We can also consider the disparity between his beliefs and those of huge swathes of Christendom! All of those other Christians have done exactly what that Bible verse asks: they’ve discerned what they think their god wants, and they think their acceptance of LGBTQ validity is good and acceptable and perfect in his eyes.
And all those other Christians have just as much backing up their opinions as he does. Reed may feel very strongly that he is Jesus-ing perfectly and that his opinions are 100% identical to Jesus’. But other Christians think the same thing of their beliefs, plus or minus a universe’s worth of narcissism and authoritarian posturing. Neither one will ever persuade the other that they’re wrong.
Authoritarians can’t handle differences of opinion
Ultimately, Erik Reed’s post reveals an authoritarian in a fine dudgeon. He’s upset that his super-Jesus-y opinions do not earn automatic deference from everyone. He’s upset that he can’t just barrel up to a scare-quotes “friend” multiple times to demand she give up her new life and love cuz
he his imaginary friend thinks it’s totally ickie. Most of all, he’s upset that a tribemate abandoned his super-Jesus-y opinion to adopt another one that seems to directly contradict it.
Authoritarians hate a lot of people. But they hate apostates far more than anybody else. An apostate is a threat and a danger, one which must be eliminated immediately and with as much force as can be mustered. If nothing else, if the apostate cannot be dragged back into the tribe’s confines, then the rest of the tribe must be made aware of what will happen if they, too, follow that path.
It’s extremely unlikely that Reed’s scare-quotes “friend” will ever see his book or his writing. I hope she doesn’t. Instead, I hope she goes out into this bright beautiful world and lives her best life and loves her wife forever. And I hope more and more evangelicals awaken to the damage they are doing with their culture wars, and walk away from them forever.
Love will win
As Martin Luther King, Jr., a firm and committed Christian, once said: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I believe this as well. And so I believe that authoritarian, control-grabby Christians will eventually lose their culture wars. Along the way, I also believe that they will destroy any chance their religion ever had to recover from its decline.
That belief makes Erik Reed a small but indispensable part of his religion’s decline and eventual slide into irrelevance.
I just hope it happens while he is still around to see it.
I want him to see love — real love, not his redefined and distinctly inferior substitute for love, but the real searing blazing dizzying dazzling beautiful thing — win.
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