(Editor’s Note: Vital Conversations is a running series of commentaries from various faith leaders. The series is sponsored by Phillips Theological Seminary, though contributions come from theologians who are unassociated with the seminary.)
If you can believe it, there once was a time when Christianity was by and large defined by positive attributes. For instance, the apostle Paul declared the “fruits” of the Christian faith to be love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. The early church that he was a part of was characterized by its egalitarianism, its radical hospitality and its spirit of compassion for the lowly and oppressed.
In its best iterations, Christianity serves as a force for good in the world, a religion that embodies the words of the prophet Isaiah, bringing “good news to the poor, liberation to the captives, sight to the blind and to let the oppressed go free.”
But we don’t seem to hear much of that Good News anymore when we hear about the Christian faith in American culture. Instead, the faith seems to have become defined by men like Franklin Graham, son of the evangelist Billy Graham. Last week, in a radio interview with fellow conservative Christian James Dobson, Graham had this to say about LGBT children:
We have allowed the Enemy to come into our churches. I was talking to some Christians and they were talking about how they invited these gay children to come into their home and to come into the church and that they were wanting to influence them. And I thought to myself, they’re not going to influence those kids; those kids are going to influence those parents’ children.
What happens is we think we can fight by smiling and being real nice and loving. We have to understand who the Enemy is and what he wants to do. He wants to devour our homes. He wants to devour this nation and we have to be so careful who we let our kids hang out with. We have to be so careful who we let into the churches. You have immoral people who get into the churches and it begins to affect the others in the church and it is dangerous.
These disgusting and disturbing words came the same week that our very own state Rep. Sally Kern (R-OKC), good Christian that she is, introduced legislation that would effectively ban school counselors from offering help to kids struggling with issues of sexuality gender.
This religion, espoused by people like Kern and Graham, is not Christianity. The Way of Jesus is one of love and compassion, justice and acceptance. It is a journey toward God, and, consequently, toward becoming whole and healthy people. It is a relationship between brothers and sisters as we work for justice here on Earth, our collective home.
A Christianity that is defined by fear and hatred and anger is no Christianity at all. Two of the most common themes in the Christian Scripture are the imperative to “fear not” and the command to not judge others. We should love and care for one another. “Perfect love casts out all fear.”
As Christians, and as human beings, we have an obligation to one another, and especially to children. Youth who are coming into the realization that they identify as LGBTQI+ are extraordinarily vulnerable.
What they need more than anything is love and acceptance from adults who can answer their questions and reassure them of their worth. Labeling them the “enemy,” calling on churches and families to cast them out or legislating that men and women who are paid to help them can no longer do so are all the despicable actions of broken, hate-filled people.
We live in a nation where 40 percent of homeless youths identify as LGBT. Sixty-eight percent of those youths say family rejection was the leading cause of their homelessness. Between 30 and 40 percent of LGBT youth report having attempted suicide. These numbers are inexcusable — but also fixable.
There is so much that can be done to help those who need us. As Christians, we can literally save lives and help build whole human beings by seeing the Divine Image present in these young people. Instead of making them think they are alone, we can show that them that God is present with them, through us.
But to do that, we have to shut down those trying to identify our faith in the public sphere with hate and hurt and regressive conservatism. We have to show the fruits of love and kindness and gentleness to the world as the authentic message of Jesus.
We have to make it known to the world that Franklin Graham and Sally Kern do not represent the Way of Jesus. Our God is love itself, and thus, only when love is practiced do we see the Kingdom of God at hand.
May Christians again become the hope of the hopeless and joy for the mournful.
May justice roll down like waters and love cast out all fear.
May it be soon.