Pushing People Out of the Church – Part 1

I found a link to an article entitled, “8 Ways Christian Fundamentalists Make People Convert — to Agnosticism or Atheism,” on Facebook. Alternet.org is a left-wing, anti-religion, news-and-commentary website. While I disagree with the vast majority of their conclusions and find much of their content to be just plain irrational, I find some of the articles fascinating, because they help me to understand the thinking behind why many non-Christians reject the Truth.

Ultimately, those that reject the Gospel do so because they suppress the truth (Romans 1:18-19). Yet, there are also things that Christians do that reinforce people’s sinful natural desire to reject God. The article’s premise is that Christians push many people to leave Christianity because of what they say or do. As the author, skeptic Valerie Tarico, states, “If the Catholic bishops, their conservative Protestant allies, and other right-wing fundamentalists had the sole objective of decimating religious belief, they couldn’t be doing a better job of it.”

While I disagree with the premise that the stupidity of some Christian leaders is a rational reason for rejecting Christianity, I found that Tarico makes some valid points about behaviors and attitudes that are too frequently found in Christianity that indeed do push people away. In this series, I will be examining each of the 8 issues Tarico discusses to see what Christians can glean about our own attitudes and behaviors that should be changed.

Reason 1: Gay Baiting

Tarico writes:

Because of sheer demographics, many gay people are born into religious families. The condemnation (and self-condemnation) they face if their families see homosexuality as an abomination can be excruciating, as we all know from the suicide rate. Some emotionally battered gays spend their lives fighting or denying who they are, but many eventually find their way to open and affirming congregations or non-religious communities.

Ignorant and mean-spirited attitudes about homosexuality don’t drive just gays out of the church, they are a huge deconversion issue for straight friends and family members. When Christians indulge in slurs, devout moms and dads who also love their gay kids find themselves less comfortable in their church home. Young people, many of whom think of the gay rights issue as a no-brainer, put anti-gay churches in the “archaic” category. Since most people Gen X and younger recognize equal rights for gays as a matter of common humanity, gay baiting is a wedge issue that wedges young people right out of the church. That makes Fred Phelps a far better evangelist for atheism than for his own gay-hating Westborough Baptist Church.

There are a couple of fallacies with the argument. First, Tarico states that gay people are “born.” She implies that homosexuals have no choice but to be homosexuals. There is no scientific evidence that I am aware of that anyone is born gay. Rather, the evidence I’ve seen is that becoming homosexual is either a choice made later in life, and/or is environmentally influenced. Despite the intense search to identify a “gay gene,” none has been found. Many former homosexuals have completely changed and are happily married heterosexuals. Secondly, she equates Fred Phelps and Westborough Baptist Church with Christianity. It is a logical fallacy to assume that because Fred Phelps calls himself a Christian, all Christians are therefore hate mongers. If this is true, then all Democrats must also be hate mongers, because Phelps is a life-long Democrat, having run in various Kansas Democratic Party primaries five times, although never winning.

Despite the fallacies, Tarico makes several valid points. Most importantly, Christians should not hate homosexuals. Rather, we are to speak the truth in love. Jesus did not come to condemn sinners, but to save them (John 3:17). When a Christian hates gays, it is a symptom of the sins of pride and arrogance in their lives. Some Christians believe God hates homosexuals. God doesn’t hate anyone; He hates sin, but loves people. He sent His Son Jesus to die on the cross to save sinners, including homosexuals. The idea that God hates some people, but loves others, is theology without Biblical basis, and is straight from Hell.

Christians should not agree with homosexually as acceptable behavior, but neither should they think that being gay makes a person worse than other sinners. True, the Bible calls homosexuality an abomination (Leviticus 20:13), it also uses the same word (תּוֹעֵבָה “toebah”) to describe other sexual sins; idolatry (Deuteronomy 27:15); pride, lying, murder, planning evil, and sowing discord (Proverbs 6:17-19); and using false weights (Proverbs 11:1). In other words, the Bible uses the same word to describe homosexuality that it uses to describe a liar or one who sows discord – a person who causes disagreements. In reality, all sin is an abomination to God; that’s why we all need a Savior, to remove the curse of our abominable sin and restore our relationship with a holy God.

Tarico is also correct that many homosexuals feel excruciating condemnation from others and often from themselves for their homosexuality – the suicide rate is much higher for homosexuals than for others. I would also add that many feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Our goal as Christians should not be to add to the condemnation, but to help gays come to a relationship with Jesus Christ. There is no Biblical basis for the belief that gays cannot be saved until they quit being gay; in fact, they cannot change without the power of the Holy Spirit, and they cannot receive the Holy Spirit until they are saved. True, the Bible calls for repentance; but, repentance doesn’t mean to stop sinning – it means “to change one’s mind.” Our goal is to share the truth “with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15), and to allow the Holy Spirit to work to bring about salvation. Once the homosexual comes to the knowledge of Jesus Christ and is saved, our goal is to help the new believer to grow in their faith and relationship with Jesus. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict people of sin, not ours. As the new believer grows in their faith and relationship with God, at some point, the Holy Spirit will convict them of the sin of homosexuality. At that point, our job is to lovingly help the person trust in the Holy Spirit’s power to overcome the sin.

Christians must learn to treat homosexuality the same as they would treat any sin. Sin is to be expected of the non-Christian. Once a person is saved, overcoming sin is a life-long process. Homosexuality is a deep addiction that can be a long, painful process to overcome. While the church cannot ignore continued, deliberate sin, it also cannot condemn non-Christians and new believers because they have not yet matured spiritually. Rather, our place is to minister to them, come alongside them, and help them to become mature in Christ. When this happens, the sin of homosexuality will eventually be dealt with by the Holy Spirit, and those of us in the church can help the person overcome their homosexual addiction.

Listening to what non-Christians and skeptics have to say about Christians can give us insight as to where we need to change in order to better reach them with the Gospel. Many non-Christians perceive Christians as hating homosexuals. In order to overcome this perception, we need to allow the love of Christ to flow through us. While we cannot accept the homosexuality, we must accept the sinner. God’s love demands it of us.

Romans 5:8
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
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