Note: The title says the American church because that’s where I live and that’s where most popular church culture is, but I know this is an issue in other countries as well, so you’ll probably relate to this regardless of where you live.
Sometimes I find myself falling down YouTube rabbit holes. The last few days, I have somehow ended up watching two old interviews with members of Westboro Baptist Church. One was with Russell Brand (he may have a questionable belief system, but I kind of love the guy) and the other was with Jeremy Kyle, the host of a British TV show.
Watching these interviews was honestly emotionally distressing for me. It’s incredible to think there could be people who actually call themselves Christians yet are seething with such hatred and judgment and look so little like Christ.
Now, I definitely don’t agree with all the views of the hosts, but something I found interesting was how they both brought up Westboro Baptist’s obsession with sexual sin and indifference towards other sins. When they asked them about this preoccupation, the members unsurprisingly didn’t have a good response.
Maybe you’re thinking, Come on, Westboro Baptist is a really crazy and tiny sect that most Christians completely disagree with, so why do you even care what they have to say?
Yes, this notorious cult is a very extreme example of this weird kind of legalism, yet aren’t there many conservative Christians who just have a watered down version of this strange outlook? Westboro Baptist may be really over-the-top, yet their views are really just a more extreme version of those held by many conservative Christians.
Think about it. The American church spends more time talking about gender and sexuality and abstinence than they do most other issues excluding abortion. It’s like they believe sexual sins to be the biggest and worst sins. They may not hold up signs that say “God hates fags,” but many of them likely think those things in their hearts.
Let me just say up front that I believe what the Bible says about gender and sexuality. I don’t believe we can compromise on God’s design for sex and sexuality, so I am not in any way saying we should adopt the views of the culture.
Sexual purity is a really important part of the Christian life. The things we do in private have a profound impact on every other aspect of our lives, and our sexuality is a significant part of our identity. So I’m not diminishing that fact at all.
Yet isn’t it so strange that we spend so much time focusing on these sins that we ignore so many others that may even have a larger negative impact on a greater number of people?
Russell Brand asked the two members of Westboro Baptist he was interviewing why they only cared about “sex stuff” and if they weren’t also concerned about the current ecological crisis and the corruption of corporate America. It was like he was speaking a different language, as they merely answered him with blank stares.
Legalistic religious people such as members of Westboro Baptist aren’t taught to read the Bible objectively and therefore come to their own conclusions about what matters to God. They’re taught to focus on certain issues and ignore the actual gospel.
We should be against all of the things prohibited in the Bible, so I’m not saying we should be down with sexual sin. Yet it’s fundamentally problematic to obsess over these sins to the extent that we excuse other sins.
Even for those who aren’t legalistic, fire and brimstone types, many American Christians are preoccupied with sexual sins. Many people are angrier about people being sexually immoral than they are about people who lie and manipulate and exploit people, and that’s concerning.
If we preach the true gospel, clarity about sexual immorality will come. If we preach holiness, it will be self-evident that certain things are wrong in God’s eyes. Yet where in the Bible does it say that we’re supposed to obsess over sexual sins and expect non-Christians to live by biblical standards?
Paul said to judge the conduct of those inside the Church, not those outside of it (1 Corinthians 5:12-13). And even then, we have to be extremely loving and gracious and make sure we’re not trying to play God and become judges when He is the only Judge. There’s a reason Jesus told us to take the plank out of our own eyes so we can then point out the speck in other people’s (Matthew 7:3-5; Luke 6:42).
Why have we been taught to get angry about sexual immorality yet excuse lying and greed and hatred? As Christians we can live our lives only thinking of ourselves and our own happiness and being indifferent about the poor and that’s apparently fine, yet if someone who isn’t even a Christian is sexually immoral then we act as if it is our business. We have developed a very twisted moral compass.
During Jesus’ ministry, He shocked the judgmental religious folks by associating with people they viewed as filthy and unworthy of love. He ate with prostitutes and tax collectors to the dismay of the Pharisees who viewed those people as worthless because of their sinful ways (Matthew 9:10-13; Mark 2:15-17; Luke 5:29-32). Yet Jesus was far more angered by the sins of the Pharisees than He was by the sins of those considered to be lawless and unholy.
Jesus reached out to women caught in sexual sin (John 4; John 8:1-11), yet He fiercely rebuked the religious leaders who claimed to be holy yet lived dishonest, hypocritical lives (Matthew 23).
Jesus showed people love and then told them to sin no more. He didn’t open up conversations by telling people they were evil and sinful and were going to hell. Jesus was not and is not shocked by our sin.
When people encounter the real God, the Holy Spirit will convict them of their sin, and if they want to follow Jesus then they will repent. We have to stop trying to do the Holy Spirit’s job. We can’t shame or bully anyone into obeying God.
When we give our lives to Christ, it’s a given that we feel convicted of all of our sins and that we attempt to live holy lives in every way. But why do we so often restrict this holiness to sexuality? Why don’t we view holiness in a biblical way?
Why are we more angered by gay people or people having sex outside of marriage than we are by the self-serving businessmen who readily exploit other people, or the narcissistic politicians who are pathological liars, or the hypocritical preachers who are power-hungry con artists?
Why do so many religious folks constantly attack gay people yet excuse their own pornography addictions? How can conservative people claim to believe in a biblical view of sexuality yet excuse sexual harassment and gross mistreatment of women?
It’s often the people who are the most legalistic and vocal about sexual sins who are the most likely to be involved in scandals relating to pornography or affairs or even horrific perversions such as sexual abuse and incest. Think of the amount of cults and even some well-known “Christians” who have been involved in such scandals (ahem, the Duggars).
No wonder so many liberal, secular people can’t stand Christians. They see these twisted ideas of morality and don’t want to have anything to do with such hypocrisy. Some people may just be lawless, but I think a lot of people are tired of the double standards. They see weird, conservative, legalistic forms of Christianity and think that’s the gospel. They’re often just rejecting a fictitious version of Jesus that religious people have created.
So I think we should stop talking so much about saving sex for marriage (even though I am doing so and am passionate about purity) and why being gay is wrong and talk more about right and wrong on a larger scale.
Let’s talk about how porn is destroying lives and how damaging the objectification of women is.
Let’s talk about why the Church should care more about equality and about the poor and about refugees.
Let’s talk about the destructiveness of greed and how we’re becoming increasingly narcissistic and individualistic.
Let’s talk about the corruption of many of the industries we condone every day.
Let’s talk about how we need to stop judging people by appearances and how we need to view people how God does (which is impartially).
Let’s talk about how we need to have more compassion for those who are different to us.
Let’s preach the actual gospel instead of trying to impose Christian standards on people who don’t even know Christ.
Let’s not focus on certain issues to the exclusion of other equally important, or perhaps even more important, issues.
Let’s talk about the fruit of the Spirit instead of merely focusing on certain behaviors. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). That’s holiness. And you probably won’t find legalistic people who exhibit these qualities.
Moral compromise isn’t an option, but neither is legalism.
I think many legalistic people focus on certain sins because it is fairly easy to avoid those sins and feel like a good person. Yet it’s incredibly difficult to compare yourself to Christ in every way and to see all the areas that you fall short.
It takes a lot of humility to read the scriptures and look in the mirror and take the plank out of your own eye instead of putting others down to make yourself feel better.
The world doesn’t need people to tell them that they’re evil and dirty and sinful. The world needs people that will love them radically and show them the Jesus who won’t let them stay where they are. The Jesus whose kindness leads them to repentance (Romans 2:4). Bullying and shaming never does the trick.
Let’s make people feel seen and loved and valued regardless of what they’re caught up in.
Let’s befriend members of the LGBTQ community and people who don’t share our views of sexuality and show them that we love and respect them regardless of our differences in worldviews.
Let’s stop holding non-Christians to biblical standards and living hypocritical lives ourselves.
Let’s take responsibility for our own walk rather than trying to make ourselves feel better by judging everyone else.
Let’s pursue a perfect balance of holiness and humility, and let’s be loving without compromising.