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Pride, Hillsong, and The Duggars
When religion fails.
Last week I went to my first Pride Festival and it was so fun! I met some friends there and we enjoyed walking around looking at all the booths, listening to music (Those Nashville Opera singers were INSANELY GOOD!), and just taking in the love and sweetness all around. “THIS is what the Franklin City Council was trying to ban??”, I thought to myself. “Good grief, this isn’t harming anyone! This is lovely!” It was truly a day of love, unity, kindness, inclusiveness, peace and joy. I saw exactly zero people being harmed there. Yep, we were all safe and sound, and I left with so much love in my heart for this marginalized community who has to fight everyday for basic rights that heterosexuals have. Kudos to those who fought to put on this lovely festival! Great job!
If you don’t want to support Pride, then just don’t go to their events. It’s that simple. You don’t have to make life harder on those that are already at a disadvantage in our society. Just leave them alone. How hard is that?
I was especially happy to see so many churches that had booths set up supporting our LGBTQ+ siblings. There were non-denominational, Lutheran, Catholic, Jewish, Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian and more. It was heartwarming for me to see that so many churches are re-evaluating their views on homosexuality and are now welcoming to the LGBTQ+ community. And when I say “welcoming”, I don’t mean the kind that welcome them in just so that they can change them. You know, so they can “pray away the gay”. Sigh… I’ve been a part of those kind of “welcoming” churches and that is not how to be inclusive. That is nothing but insincere, deceitful manipulation. Nothing Christ-like there. It just makes me so sad how how our religion has failed our LGBTQ+ siblings by choosing to exclude rather than include.
I wrote a blog back on my old blog site back in 2019 called “Loving Better: My journey towards becoming an affirming Christian”. Obviously I’ve learned so much more since then, but it’s still a good place to start if you wonder how my journey started unfolding. I definitely grew up in a religion that told me that “The Bible says that homosexuality is wrong, and if the Bible says so, well, then it’s true!” Since then, I’ve learned that much of what “The Bible says” is just someone’s interpretation of what the Bible says. Did you know that the word “homosexual” wasn’t even IN the Bible until 1946? And did you know that many scholars now see that the original word that was translated as “homosexual” didn’t mean that at all?
We all have lenses through which we choose to read the Bible and those lenses are usually ones we have inherited from our specific religion’s Bible teachers or pastors, or from our family’s view of how they interpret scripture. However, as we grow in our faith, our “lenses can be refined and even replaced as our understanding grows and changes over time.”* I think it’s important to say that high-control religions will try to discourage you from opening your mind and heart to outside influences when it comes to using new lenses, but I have found that the Bible becomes so much bigger and more alive when you allow yourself freedom to explore how other Christian communities choose to let it guide them.
Look, we don’t have to look too far in the past to see how the Christian church has gotten things wrong before by using incorrect lenses to interpret the Bible. Things like slavery, women’s rights, bi-racial marriage, and child abuse. I don’t know if you’ve been keeping track, but the amount of abuse allegations coming out from within the walls of Christian churches across America is astounding. Child abuse, sexual abuse, emotional and religious abuse. It’s bleeding out everywhere. Why? Hmmmmm….
Ok… let’s talk about those documentaries. I won’t dive in deep, but I have to touch on these.
I first watched “The Secrets of Hillsong” on Hulu. At first I thought this was going to be about Carl Lentz and the “moral failings” that brought him down, but you realize quickly that Carl Lentz isn’t the main problem here. He’s just a symptom (and you could argue a casualty as well) of a much bigger problem, which is the corporation of Hillsong and the systemic abuse that Brian Houston allowed within that corporation.
As someone who spent many years deeply involved in a couple of Mega churches, (one that sang many Hillsong United worship songs too), this one was terribly hard for me to watch, for many reasons. It takes you on quite the rollercoaster ride, trying to figure out who is to blame for this mess. What seems clear to me is that the problem is more systemic than individualistic.
Are all Mega churches bad? I could never say that. I look back on most of my days involved in a Mega church and have good memories. Yes, there were a few bad memories too, but in general, I felt my faith grow during my time there, as both a worship leader and in the congregation. I didn’t leave because of any scandals. I left the first one because I saw abusive behavior on the part of the pastor, and I left the second one because I had simply outgrown it. When I say that, I just mean that I had grown into a new season of my life where I was wanting a church that offered deeper Bible study programs. I was wanting something more substantial from my worship services, instead of what most Mega churches offer, which is more like a Christian rock concert followed by a motivational speech, based on Biblical teachings. Again, I don’t say that to be critical. I LOVED that experience for many years… until I didn’t.
But back to the Hillsong documentary. My gosh, it was hard to watch. If you watched it, I’d love to know what you think, but I have three main “take-aways”.
I don’t believe the kind of church Jesus envisioned for us was a “mega church”.
Preachers were never meant to become celebrities. It is way too heavy of a burden.
Churches (and non-profits too) that are run like huge corporations all too often develop a “protect the church/business at all costs” mentality. They don’t protect the victims hurt by the church. They protect the business. Period. It’s harmful in so many ways.
The bottom line is you can clearly see that religion failed many people who put their faith in Hillsong and the leaders there. Did it fail everyone at Hillsong? I wouldn’t say that’s true - but watching this documentary shows that it failed many. And that is super sad.
Now on to Shiny Happy People, the newest documentary about the The Duggar Family. Again, I thought this was just going to be about how deceptive the Duggar family is - but you quickly realize that they are just a symptom (or like I said about Lentz, a casualty) of a much deeper, more sinister problem. Here, that problem is Bill Gothard and his teachings from the Institute of Basic Life Principles (IBLP). Good Lord, this one was even harder to watch than the Hillsong doc. Each episode just gets worse and worse. I had moments of feeling nauseous. Beware… there are moments that are really traumatic to see.
Sadly, the Duggar family isn’t an enigma. They are but a glimpse into a story that has been repeated over and over again in so many different families that try to practice this extreme religion and their extreme dogma. IBLP is exposed as just another cult that masquerades as Christianity and the Duggars were the biggest ambassadors for it. This story has it all… brainwashing, child abuse, secrecy, high-control religion, sexual abuse, financial abuse, spiritual abuse and cover-ups. Those poor Duggar children have so much trauma to unpack. It is just so very sad.
Add in the rampant abuse being uncovered lately in the SBC, stories like “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill” and the years of sexual abuse cover-up at Christian camps like Kannakuk, and the Christian lifestyle is looking pretty creepy. I can understand why someone would be wary to join our religion. There are thousands of sects of Christianity and unfortunately, some of them have turned into harmful cults. It truly is heartbreaking.
If you are a Christian, can you see how problematic it is for the rest of the world to view us as finger-pointing, arrogant, morality police, when this kind of stuff is happening in our own churches and communities?? Can you see how they want us to follow our own Bible’s advice in Matthew 7: 3 - 5:
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
Ya’ll — this. is. a. problem. No wonder “churches are closing in rapid numbers in the U.S.”** Christians have to start addressing their own issues if we want to be taken seriously by anyone we want to share the gospel with.
I want to close out by circling back to Pride. Like I said earlier, there is a long laundry list of things that “good Christian people” have gotten wrong through the years, and I definitely think fundamental views on what they think the Bible says about homosexuality will be another one they got wrong. I’m going to quote Brian McLaren here for a moment:
“Thousands of sincere evangelical Christians feel a deep tension between their head and their heart. In their heads they understand the Bible (and God) as the uncompromising enemy of LGBTQ+ people. But in their hearts, they find it hard to condemn or exclude them. Some people tell them to choose their heart over their head; others say the reverse. Colby Martin’s highly readable and deeply engaging new book, UnClobber, offers a third option: a different way to aligning head and heart through a fresh look at Scripture. Written with a theologian’s intelligence and a pastor’s sensitivity, this book is the resource thousands have been waiting for.”
That quote is an endorsement for a book I’ve been recommending on my socials that I have found super helpful in unpacking bad theology surrounding homosexuality in the Bible. Its full title is “UnClobber: Rethinking our misuse of The Bible on Homosexuality” by pastor/speaker/author.
Along with the book, Martin has put together some courses online that help you break down those pesky “clobber verses” even easier. Because it’s Pride month, he’s running a discount on those courses so if you are interested, you should go get those now!
Link to Un-clobber Courses: https://courses.unclobber.com/offers/MQLu5zJk/checkout?coupon_code=PRIDE23
I’ll list more books I think you’ll find helpful if you are one of those Christians who McLaren says “feel a deep tension between their head and their heart” on this issue. I hope and pray you’ll find some information here that will help you align with your LGBTQ+ siblings in a new and bolder way. My own journey has brought me to the conclusion that they deserve to be included in our Christian communities as equal brothers and sisters in Christ. I am encouraged by the other Christians and church communities around me who have come to the same conclusion.
I am also encouraged by more and more Christians who are willing to speak out and be brave enough to tell their own stories about how bad theology has harmed them. Ya’ll keep speaking up! It’s working! Exposing abusive leaders and systems HAS to be the first step in making some real changes, so that the church isn’t a place that harms people anymore. The church should be a place to go for healing, love, and community. Jesus’ teachings are beautiful and worthy of so much more than a bunch of man-made rules and incorrect Biblical translations.
One of my favorite quotes is from Father Richard Rohr. He says: “Religions should be understood as only the fingers that point to the moon, not the moon itself”. ANY religion can fail you because all religions are man-made. However, God never fails us. Never, ever, ever. Things might look grim at times, but I truly am hopeful that Christianity still has a lot to show us about loving God and loving each other. And that’s what a good religion should do, right? I keep believing…
Much love to you all… M
*direct quote from Josh Scott’s book, “Bible Stories for Grown-Ups, pg xii
**from article “Losing their religion: Why US churches are on the decline”
Other books I highly recommend for you to read during Pride month:
God and The Gay Christian by Matthew Vines
Does Jesus Really Love Me by Jeff Chu
And some other great resources:
Has “Homosexual” always been in the Bible? Via United Methodist Insight
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