Internalizing Hate Messages

New Direction CanadaAs we head up to a MennoNerds interview with New Direction Canada, including Executive Director Wendy Gritter, I’d like to share another few quotes from her work Generous Spaciousness. In this one, she shares a story as part of a discussion about our images of God.

One day during Christian family camp, my twelve-year-old son told me what had happened that morning in chapel. He said that the leader had talked about the concubine from the book of Judges. (If you recall, this story is about the men of a village demanding an old man to allow them to sexually violate a [male] stranger who was visiting him. Rather than complying with the demand to send a man out to experience such violation, the two men sent out the man’s concubine. She is gang raped all night, crawls to the door in the morning, collapses, and dies on the threshold.) As you might imagine, I was horrified. Apparently, this youth pastor had talked about accounts of sin throughout the Old Testament, beginning with Adam and Eve and particularly highlighting the stories of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the concubine. My son said the leader talked about how he never dreamed when he was a kid that there would be a time when homosexuality would be accepted – but not it was. He used that as the example to demonstrate how rampant sin was in our culture to try to motivate the kids toward holy living. My son was quite upset and confused. I asked my son how a gay youth might have felt, and he said, “I think they would have walked out.” Sadly, I think they would have been too scared to walk out and would have instead stayed and internalized the negative message.

[She meets with the pastor and explains to him how harmful that was]

He told me that he thought the core of the gospel was holiness; I told him I thought the core of the gospel was God’s unconditional love. God extends an unconditional welcome to all, and unless people know they are loved they can never pursue holiness from any other place than fear.

Bingo. That’s so important: what is the character of this God that we worship? Is God love, as 1 John claims, or is God primarily worried about maintaining his law, exacting punishment on anybody who doesn’t follow every detail? Is the gospel about learning these rules, or is it about grace? The youth pastor may not have been thinking about these big implications, but his actions clearly imprinted on those kids that God is standing by ready to smite them if they break certain rules.

I’m glad for the work of groups like New Direction, helping churches and others see when they are doing things like this, often unintentionally, and how to do better. MennoNerds will be interviewing New Direction on January 22nd at 8pm EST. You can sign up at the Google+ event to watch live and submit questions.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.