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Wednesday, November 25, 2009  

Charitable Is As Charitable Does

Whet Moser, my friend at the Reader, has intermittently taken up the lonely cause of defending the open-sewer comments thread:

And [writing in racially-charged code] works, as long as everyone plays along with the abstractions, which is easy to do when everyone's being "reasonable." And the "Internet" aside, you could still do that when the abstractions were in the news and the realities were on Usenet and AOL chat rooms, or even on the further reaches of the AM band.

Now Usenet has been replaced by newspaper comment threads - the effect is right next to the cause, because some moron always wants to step up and say what the powers that be just want him to think. And that makes readers and journalists uncomfortable. And that's good.


The more I think about it, the more sense this makes to me. Today a good friend sent me a link to a few-years-old essay about the Church and homosexuality. It's not a bad essay, though I think it is substantially wrong. Anyway, the author, an Episcopalian, says in essence what you hear a lot of church conservatives saying: 1) Christian rejection of homosexual sex is not homophobic nor hateful; and 2) We claim that gay people are like kleptomaniacs and alcoholics, unable to form godly relationships, out of our deep love for them; indeed, ours is the only truly loving response to homosexuality.

I understand that earnest church traditionalists want to distinguish themselves from bigots. I count many friends and colleagues who hold a different view of this issue than I do, and I try always to assume good faith on their part as I hope they do on mine. Still, after a lengthy, erudite, and reasonable--if stern--essay emphasizing the love the author feels for fallen homosexuals, here was the very first comment:

If the comments made by David in the above article are true,particularly the ones about the school, and I don’t question the veracity of the statement, then Gene boy [Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop] should be hung and quartered and neutered for making such a blasphemous statement, and I hope this report gets WIDE publicity in the media to show the man (if that is what he is) is reprehensible and totally unworthy of the office he holds and ought to be defrocked publicly.
Brian

Again, I should make clear that I'm not accusing this particular author, David Hicks, of harboring such sentiments in his own heart. But it should start some bells ringing in traditionalist circles that you can't put up an essay like this and open a comment thread without reading just such sentiments repeated literally ad nauseam. The front page is all reasonableness, civilized debate, and charity, while below the fold seethes the extremism, barbarity, and hatred of the essay's readers. If this is about charity, where is it in evidence? Why does every attempt to preserve the Good News and the Faith whole and unblemished inspire such an orgy of violent condemnation?

This is of course not meant to be an argument one way or another about church policy. But it's telling to me that for all the professions of universal guilt that church conservatives make, in order to demonstrate their lack of self-righteousness, and for all the alleged seriousness about sin and forgiveness they express, these outbursts--which are, again, universal in the world of online conservative Christianity--don't ever seem to turn the urge to expel certain kinds of sinners for their own good inward. Where is the rebuke to the hateful? Where is Christ's firm command to love one another, to refrain from casting stones, to pull out the beam from our own eye? When Lutheran CORE gets together to figure out how to tear up the church, do they spend as much effort hunting out and uprooting the unrepentantly hateful as they do gay people living openly?

This illustrates a basic Reformation-era insight (taken directly from the Scriptures, of course): that the worst, most insidious sins are not the vices or those acts that arise from what the pagans called the passions. The worst sins are spiritual. They always come clothed in virtue. They are, in fact, anti-passions. We do not suffer from them, but rather cultivate, nourish, and treasure them as virtues. They are self-righteousness, wisdom in our own conceit, hard-heartedness, and pride. Wherever they are in evidence--left or right--the Gospel is in the greatest danger.

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posted by Benjamin Dueholm | 9:11 AM
Comments:
Amen.
 
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