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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More Than a Conqueror

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is Romans 8:31-39:

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? 33 Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”

37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

What is Paul referring to when he says, “What then shall we say to these things?”  “These things” refers to the entire breadth of God’s grace to lost sinners in the letter to this point.  For the Christian, God’s grace and our relationship with Him are the foundation for everything else in our lives.

When Paul asks, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” he does not mean that Christians will never face opposition;  rather, he is emphasizing that the conflicts we do face are greatly overshadowed by God’s love and grace toward us.  The basis for our confidence in God is that He “gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16).  Since God the Father was willing to sacrifice His own Son in order to be reconciled with us, we can be confident that He will also give us the protection and security we need to follow Him.

What does Paul mean when he rhetorically asks, “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect?”  In Revelation 12:10, Satan is called the “accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night.”  Because those of us who have received Jesus Christ as Savior are justified before God the Father through the blood of Jesus Christ, God sees the Christian as if they had never sinned.  The perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ has paid the penalty for my sin; therefore, God considers me blameless before Him.  Satan has no basis for accusing the Christian before God; the Christian’s sins have already been paid for.  As Paul puts it, Christ makes intercession for us. When Satan accuses the Christian before the Father, Jesus says, “I’ve already got it covered.”

Paul then rhetorically asks, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” He then lists a catalog of situations that we think might be able to separate us from God: tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, and the sword.  Often, Christians think that when bad things happen, it’s because God has somehow rejected us.  We think God’s angry, so He’s punishing us by allowing us to suffer.  To emphasize his point, Paul quotes Psalm 44:22:

Yet for Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.

Paul’s point here is that God does not punish the Christian; Jesus Christ already took the punishment.  God does allow bad things to happen to the Christian, but not because God is punishing us.  Rather, God uses trials to produce character and hope.  In Romans 5:3-5, Paul tells the Christian:

3 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

Paul finishes Romans chapter 8 with one of the most profound promises found in Scripture.  Through Jesus Christ, the Christian is promised victory – and nothing can take that away from us.  Whether dead, or alive, we have victory in the love of Jesus Christ.  Angels cannot take our God’s love away; neither can demons (“principalities”) or human authorities (“powers”).  Time cannot affect our standing before God; nor can anything else in the universe.  We cannot even throw it away ourselves!  Our relationship with God through Jesus Christ is completely sealed; absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

When I am struggling with my faith, or going through difficult times, I come back time and again to this promise for the strength and courage to press onward.  Times may be difficult – but nothing can separate me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus my Lord!  I may be overwhelmed by my sin – but nothing can separate me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus my Lord!  Those I love may let me down – but nothing can separate me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus my Lord!

Yet in all these things I am more than a conqueror through Him who loves me.

The Conversion of Patrick Greene

Numerous news sources have recently reported the story of Patrick Greene, the former atheist who converted to Christianity.  Greene grew up Catholic, but became an atheist as a young man.  According to the Christian Post,

He says he used to believe in God as a child too, but that ended one Christmas Eve when the members of his family became drunk. He went outside to play with the family dog, and afterward he looked up at the sky and began to wonder why nothing in nature – the dog, the trees – seemed to treat Christmas as a special day.

“That’s what got me…nothing in nature was acting any differently than any other day of the year,” he said.

He also became disillusioned with the Catholic Church when he discovered there were other viewpoints than the ones he had been taught by the church. He says the church taught him they held the only correct view of things, which he disagrees with.

Patrick Greene

Why did Greene become an atheist?  He had questions about his Christian beliefs that apparently nobody could answer reasonably.  1 Peter 3:15 tells Christians to “…always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.”  Apparently, the Christians around Greene either could not or did not do this.  December 25 is in all likelihood not the actual date on which Jesus was born; it is merely the date His birth has traditionally been celebrated.  Even if it were the actual date, there would be no rational reason to expect dogs or trees to act any different on that date than on any other.   As for viewpoints that differ from the teaching of the Catholic Church, I would actually agree somewhat with Greene’s disillusionment.  Neither the Catholic Church, nor any other denomination, has a monopoly on truth; only the Word of God, the Bible, is 100% accurate regarding the truth.  Human interpretations and understanding of God’s perfect truth contained in the Bible are sometimes flawed, because humans are sinful, and have fallen, limited minds.  Perhaps if Greene’s questions had been answered in a reasoned manner, based on Scripture, he might not have become an atheist in the first place.

Greene has been known as a long-time atheist and somewhat as a militant atheist activist.  He hosted an “intro to atheism” show on a local television station in North Carolina, and has sued several cities for their Christmas displays.  He recently threatened to sue Ray Comfort because of  a bumper sticker from Comfort’s ministry suggesting April Fool’s Day should also be called “National Atheist’s Day.”  He received considerable notoriety for threatening to sue Henderson County, Texas, over a Nativity scene that was placed on public land outside the county’s courthouse in Athens.

A short time later, Greene was diagnosed with cataracts and glaucoma, and discovered he was going blind.  Because of his condition, he had to quit his job as a taxi driver.

A local church, Sand Springs Baptist Church, organized a fund-raising campaign for Greene’s medical expenses and other bills.  This caught Greene completely off-guard; why would the very Christians whose beliefs he had ridiculed and threatened to sue over do this for him?  Because of that act of kindness, Greene reconsidered his beliefs.  Again, according to the Christian Post:

“There’s been one lingering thought in the back of my head my entire life, and it’s one thought that I’ve never been able to reconcile, and that is the vast difference between all the animals and us,” Greene told The Christian Post on Tuesday, as he began to explain his recent transformation from atheist to Christian. The theory of evolution didn’t answer his questions, he says, so he just set those questions aside and didn’t think about them anymore… He eventually began to realize that evolution would never have the answer to his questions, he says, and it was at that time he began to believe in God.

Two things seem to have brought Greene to Christ:  Christian love, and the irrational presuppositions of Atheism.  I’ve written about the irrationality of Atheism in other blogs, so I won’t address it again here.  However, when we look again at the end of 1 Peter 3:15 – “…with meekness and fear” – we get a better understanding of what happened to Greene.  Rather than having a prideful superior attitude toward Greene, local Christians showed gentleness and respect toward him, and demonstrated God’s love in a tangible way.  The Holy Spirit then used these actions to melt Greene’s hardness of heart toward God.

Reactions have varied to Greene’s conversion, both from atheists and Christians.  Some say the only reason he converted is because he wants more money.  Atheist PZ Myers ridicules him and calls him a “crank” and an “idiot,” which is pretty much what Myers calls anybody who disagrees with him.  Many Christians are thanking God for his conversion.  A few atheists are blaming themselves for not helping him more in his time in need, and allowing Christians to show more compassion than they did.

What can the Christian learn from the story of Patrick Greene?  First, we should never give up on anyone.  The Holy Spirit can draw anyone to faith in Jesus Christ – even a long-time militant Atheist.  Second, Christian love and compassion will draw more people to Jesus Christ than criticism and condemnation.  And third, Christians must be able to rationally defend the Bible and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Matthew 5:43-44 (NKJV):  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”