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The ad appeared in the Pella Town Crier on Wednesday, May 8, 2019, publicizing the premiere of a documentary entitled “Fire and Brimstone,” at a church in nearby Oskaloosa, Iowa, on May 11. “After 32 years of homosexuality and transgenderism,” the ad text said, “this documentary about David Arthur presents a powerful testimony of deliverance from sexual perversion, prostitution, drug addiction, gambling, alcohol and more.” Local pastors were invited to meet with Mr. Arthur before the film showing.

The event was sponsored by Iowa Huddle, which is affiliated with Dave Daubenmire, or “Coach Dave,” the Ohio high-school football coach turned Christian Right provocateur, who urges his on-line flock to take America back from the forces that assail it: the “Clinton crime family,” the “homosexual agenda,” weather terrorism, vaccination, Jewish bankers, etc. He seeks to “re-stigmatize homosexuality.” He warns that the need of the hour is the defense of “the white Christian heterosexual American male,” and says we need more “violent Christians.” “Don’t love your enemies, CRUSH THEM!” he exhorts. “Then lead them to Jesus.”

Responding to the provocation, the Oskaloosa chapter of PFLAG hastily organized its own event, a “Rainbow Huddle” at the gazebo in nearby Rotary Park, and invited David Arthur to drop by for a chat. Perhaps to their surprise, he did so. The encounter was closely covered by the Oskaloosa Herald, which devoted three articles to the “Tale of Two Huddles” the following week. Arthur proved to be a gentler soul than Coach Dave, even complimenting the PFLAG folks for their friendliness and sincerity – though not without a barb. “They’re sincere. They’re just as sincere as Saul was sincere before he became Paul,” he told the Herald. For their part, the PFLAGers dispensed hugs and handshakes with their opinions.

Back in Pella, retired Central College music professor Anne Petrie composed a response to the “Fire and Brimstone” event for the May 15 Town Crier, which was published with thirty co-signers (including the present writer). “We reject any notion that homosexuality or transgender status is inherently linked to sexual perversion, prostitution, or addiction. We accept the position of the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association that homosexuality and gender nonconformity are not mental or physical illnesses. We accept the findings of the AMA and the APA that ‘conversion therapy’ has not been shown to be generally effective, and that it can be harmful. We share their opposition to such treatment. We reject any concept of the Body of Christ that excludes persons based on their sexual orientation or gender expression. Most of all, we assert that LGBTQ persons are entitled to all the rights and privileges of other persons: the right to love, the right to marry, the right to live free from discrimination, and the right to express the fullness of their humanity.”

The story was not over. On the very day the ad was published, the Rev. Michael Shover, pastor of Christ the Redeemer Church (a congregation of the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches), preached a fiery sermon at their Wednesday evening vespers service entitled “A Letter of Love to Pella.” But as he made quite clear from the outset, the sermon was actually directed to the signers of the statement, who were called out by name. Based on Romans 1: 18-32, the sermon arraigned the “open and affirming” signatories as “Orwellian” perverters of language and morality, who deny the self-evident facts of binary gender and heterosexual normativity. They do so, he argued, because they love their own sin and seek to justify it; and because they hate their community and seek to draw the judgment of God down upon it. Hence, he concluded, “God has left you and abandoned you to your own destruction.”

As far as I know, Rev. Shover knows none of the signatories, the majority of whom are straight, married, church-going, and rather conventional. (I include my wife and myself in that description.) But he assumed that he could infer our character and motives by mapping us onto Paul’s description of “those who by their wickedness suppress the truth” (Rom. 1: 18). Likewise, he assumed that what seems self-evident to him about sexual biology and psychology must be equally self-evident to everyone, rendering us “without excuse” (v. 20) for holding another opinion. Hence, God has given us up “to a debased mind and to things that should not be done” (v. 28). With such as us, then, there can be no fellowship – only repudiation, unless we repent.

So, not a lot of encouragement for dialogue there.

It is difficult to assess the impact of such divisive rhetoric. One gay couple who signed Professor Petrie’s statement has noted a conspicuous display of coldness recently from a neighborhood family with young children. Whether that behavior is linked to David Arthur’s film or Rev. Shover’s sermon, I don’t pretend to know. But it seems clear that even as some on the traditionalist side of the issue seek to de-escalate the rhetoric and appreciate the arguments and motives of the affirming side, others are ramping up a campaign of demonization, stigmatization, and polarization. I pray that those on the affirming side will show that they are made of better stuff. And I pray that our GLBTQ sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors will be shielded from the danger created by such hatred clothed in Christian rhetoric.

David Timmer

David Timmer teaches religion at Central College in Pella, Iowa.

10 Comments

  • Lynn Setsma says:

    Wow! Love God’s timing. A dear niece texted me questioning me about my stance on LGBTQ after I posted on Facebook things that are not a choice and the first thing was sexual orientation. She thinks it’s a choice. She has a friend who stopped being gay. (Seriously?) She asked about the Romans scripture as well. So, thank you for this. I’m with you.

  • mstair says:

    Where does the assurance of rightness comes from? I see from this article, and my own personal experience, that we are surrounded by folks who have it. I don’t. The sacred text I choose as my guide for getting through this life includes that “The Lord detests all who are arrogant; they surely won’t go unpunished” (Proverbs 5). My “more correct than me” acquaintances would remind me that … “but the Bible ALSO says” …
    Yeah, but I don’t feel that makes that first part go away and provides me license to “selective arrogance” based on the situation. God and me are – all the time – I feel like I need be prepared to explain my lack of humility to Him every time it pops up – and in these divisive times, it seems to want to pop up a lot!

  • Scott Hoezee says:

    It is to me startling, and utterly disconcerting, how easily today Christians accept blatantly non-Christ-like rhetoric–indeed, even to the point of someone’s saying the overt opposite of what Jesus said as with this “Coach Dave” bloke–and treat it as though it’s somehow within the historical orthodox pale. The same has been true of much of the rhetoric from the very President–non-Christian stances, sentiments, and stances that get baptized by the huge majority of evangelicals who support Trump. (That’s not to say there are not evangelicals who voted for Trump who also wince at his rhetoric but . . . you don’t hear much from those folks of late.) This atmosphere of turning Christians violent in the name of Christ can only lead to the church’s ruination in this land. Thanks for the thoughtful, soulful article, David.

  • Helen Phillips says:

    I am appalled at the behavior of people who claim Christianity as their guiding force; small wonder people are leaving the church.
    These folks seem very sure of themselves and the “rightness” of their opinions and I thank God the salvation of the rest of us is not their decision.
    This behavior is the kind of thing causing persecution of “the other” in this country…and I guess in their opinion I, as a white, female, heterosexual progressive would be classified as such.
    I feel as if I’ve been transported back about 950 years to the crusades. This is quite chilling. Thank you for writing it.

  • Marty Wondaal says:

    Reverend Hoezee,

    If this article, and the details described within, cause you to be startled and utterly disconcerted, you may need to take a step back from the political arena, both emotionally and intellectually.

    Your rather abrupt segue to Trump’s rhetoric (noticeably, not his actions) indicates a bit of a fixation in your part.

    My takeaway from Professor Timmer’s essay? Pray for David Arthur.

  • John vanStaalduinen says:

    Our church still follows the template for marriage set in the Bible. As soon as God sends down a revised version, I will join your “side”.

    • David E Timmer says:

      Mr. Van Staalduinen: I honor and share your desire to follow the biblical template for marriage. But if we are honest in our reading of Scripture, we must admit that this template is a bit of a moving target. Otherwise, we might have to accept the foundational family of Israel as a model: one man (Jacob), one woman (Leah), that woman’s sister (Rachel), both women’s handmaids (Bilhah and Zilpah), for life! You’ll not find one word in the Bible suggesting that this model is not valid – for its time and circumstance. But time passes and circumstances change; and that leaves us with the challenge of discerning what is at the core of the template, and what is peripheral. We have done this with other issues (slavery, divorce, gender roles), although not without long and sometimes conflicted debates. So “sides” develop. But I propose that we make every effort to see each other as on the same side at a more fundamental level.

      • Eric Van Dyken says:

        Are you unaware of the difference between what is descriptive and what is prescriptive? Certainly you can’t believe that everything that is described or reported to have happened is God’s will for us.

        • David E Timmer says:

          I find the distinction between descriptive and prescriptive to be a little simplistic in this case. What is described as normal, and even enjoying the participation and blessing of God (see Genesis 29-30) can’t be totally unrelated to what was prescribed or permitted. In any case, plural marriage seems to be accepted as legitimate in prescriptive contexts as well (Exodus 21:10; Deuteronomy 21:15-17). Discerning God’s will for us requires that we subject both biblical narrative and biblical law to a more fundamental principle: To quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer, we must ask “how Christ can take form among us, here and now.”

          • Eric Van Dyken says:

            Hi David,
            Jesus tells us what God’s design was “from the beginning” in Matthew 19:4-6. You say that not one word of the Bible speaks against having multiple wives. I disagree. The fact that God still blessed people despite their rebellion against his design is not surprising, lest God should never have blessed anyone at anytime, since we all rebel against his designs for us. The Exodus passage you point to talks about accommodations for when a man sells his daughter. There was a time when Christians tried to use passages that accommodated certain cultural realities to normalize sin such as slavery. We ought not follow that lead.

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