Jonathan Merritt recently wrote a piece supposedly lamenting the blogosphere’s character assassination of Jen Hatmaker. Merritt’s article is rife with words and phrases about those he disagrees with such as, “warlords”, “cowardly”, “dragged…to the stocks”, “christian mafia”, “evangelical aristocracy”, “pulverizing its uncompliant members”, “raging dumpster fire”, “unhinged racists”, and “rigid tribalism”, to name a few. I take all of this to mean, don’t assassinate anyone’s character, you warring, low-down, no-good evangelicals, capiche?
I, myself, have not seen any such character assassination in action. That’s not to say it hasn’t happened, but that the war-lording fervor Merritt paints a picture of has largely been missing from my feed. From what I have seen of Jen online, she is funny, smart, not too shabby with the pen, and has a crazy huge fan base. She’s sarcastic and whimsy, two things I value greatly in a person. Of course, I stridently disagree with everything Jen said that got us here in the first place (more on the “everything” later), but disagreement does not an assassin make. I suppose you could say consistently characterizing an entire group of people as tribes that pulverize dissenters might be harshly characterizing an entire group of people, but let’s not get too deep in the weeds here.
I responded in a video to her interview with Merritt last fall in which she identified as a truth-denier. I did so with sarcasm and whimsy, as was befitting, which I received quite a bit of character assassination for. Not everyone responds well to sarcasm and whimsy (as Jen herself knows) and that’s just fine with me. Any time you open your mouth on the internet to disagree with someone, there will be those who believe you are just a mean, nasty, terrible person who doesn’t know Jesus. Hopefully the irony of Merritt lamenting character assassination while sloppily painting a picture of all conservatives as blood-thirty warlords is not lost on us. Ahem.
Hatmaker’s original sin is that she broke ranks with the evangelical powers-that-be on same-sex relationships. In an interview with me last October, Hatmaker stated that if she found out one of her children were gay, she would love that child just the same. If an LGBT friend of Hatmaker’s got married, she said she would attend the wedding. And Hatmaker said she believed LGBT relationships could be holy.
In the interview, Hatmaker did not deny a line in the Apostles Creed. She did not promote a historical heresy. She merely claimed that after a careful study of the scriptures, she had arrived at a different understanding of same-sex relationships. But this was enough to outrage some conservative Christians. Lifeway Christian Stores even banned her books from their shelves.
I’d like to pause to really reflect on the presuppositions here. Hatmaker did more than break ranks with evangelicals (what does “evangelical” even mean anymore?). And certainly, I could care less if you call yourself an Evangelical or an Underwater Basket Weaver. I don’t know who the “powers-that-be” are, either, although Merritt makes much of some highfalutin aristocracy that presumably controls all of us (is this like the feminists and the elusive patriarchy?).
The problem is not some ambiguous establishment that has plotted against Hatmaker. The problem is that Hatmaker broke ranks with what Christians have believed for thousands of years: namely, that God is holy. If God is holy, in order for anything to be holy, it cannot transgress the law of God. The Law of God is abundantly clear that homosexuality is a sexual perversion that goes against God’s law. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 6, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” No one who lives in unrepentant sin will see God. And the message of Christ was, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” Hatmaker’s message is that you can remain in your sin and still be considered holy. Hatmaker’s gospel is, quite clearly, a gospel “contrary” to the one given to us in Scripture (Gal 1:8).
Further, I had no idea that the Apostles Creed, short and sweet as it is, was the gold standard for what is or is not heretical. I certainly have no problem saying that anyone who says that you CAN live in sin and still please God is without question in grave error (Rom 6:1). We know where the Bible stands on the issue of homosexuality. There are a great many things that the Apostles Creed does not cover, and merely agreeing with each line in it does not make one orthodox.
Hatmaker describes her coming out, as it were, as a “tsunami of terror. One hundred things died.” She talks about “suffering rejection” and “punishment”. As of today, the specific post in question has over 20,000 likes and thousands of you-go-girl type comments on Facebook. Thousands. According to Merritt, JUST SO MANY Christian leaders agree with her stance on the morality of sexual perversion. Not only is she not alone, she has gotten a proverbial tidal wave of agreement and approval from her followers. The least Merritt could have done was point out that he wrote his article about her bravery in the face of sweeping terror on International Opposite Day. Last I checked, it costs very, very little to go with the flow and it’s impossible to deny that acceptance of the perversion of homosexuality is indeed the flow of our day.
Regarding someone being ousted from a group of domineering fiefdoms for their “different thoughts or convictions”, Merritt writes:
This kind of behavior reminds me of Jesus’ words in John 16:2: “For you will be expelled from the synagogue, and the time is coming where those who kill you will think they are doing God a service.”
Jesus may not be prophesying about modern America, but his words remind us that religious people have a tendency to believe that they’ve been commissioned by God to purify the church of those who refuse to genuflect to the whichever Christian warlord is ruling their region. These people will work to expel dissenters from the community in the name of God, convinced that heaven looks on them with favor for their efforts. In this regard, 1st century Palestine doesn’t look all that dissimilar from 21st century America.
I love irony, but this is a bit too much. When I originally read this, I laughed, and I am still unsure if it was genuine or nervously. Here we have Hatmaker, the one departing from God’s Law, likened to the one kicked out of the synagogue, and effectively martyred.
It is absolutely offensive that those who stand on the foundation of the Word of God are then compared to “whichever Christian warlord is ruling their religion.” Merritt has one thing right here in terms of his constant war references: Scripture is a double-edged sword. You either live or die by it, which is why this utterly foolish line of thinking must be addressed.
Atheist columnist H.L. Mencken once said, “Morality is doing right, no matter what you are told. Religion is doing what you are told, no matter what is right.” Sadly, evangelicalism has become a movement of religionists who will execute anyone whose pursuit of morality leads them beyond the status quo. It is a movement marked by rigid tribalism, divided into warring fiefdoms, and managed by rigid rulers.
Here we are supposed to take a moral lesson from a self-professed atheist, who, by definition, has zero moral ground to stand on. Not to beat a dead horse, but once you depart from Scripture, you have no basis whatsoever for morality outside of culture, which is subject to change. Which, if you think about it, makes perfect sense. Hatmaker’s new definition of holy and moral is completely defined by culture and why not? Except now I’m getting lost a bit because supposedly she’s bucking the trend and getting martyred for it, except that her stance is completely defined by majority rule (culture), and morality is suddenly ambiguous and….
And for those conservative Christians who believe Jen is an outlier, allow me to burst your bubble. Hatmaker is not alone in her views on same-sex relationships. Many evangelicals agree with her. No, I’m not referring to Matthew Vines or David Gushee or Julie Rogers or any other evangelical who is vocal about their affirming position. I’m talking about many who secretly agree with Hatmaker but are too afraid to say so.
I have talked to dozens and dozens of evangelical leaders over the past few years who confidentially confess that they’ve changed their minds on these issues too. They include pastors of some of America’s largest evangelical churches, preachers with internationally broadcast television ministries, best-selling Christian authors, popular bloggers and leaders of large faith-based organizations. They can’t afford to have their speaking schedules dry up or to lose their jobs, so they avoid the issue, or worse, they outright lie about what they actually believe. They tremble in fear at the wrath of the evangelical aristocracy.
Got it. So, Jen is not alone, she’s actually a part of a very cool, strong group of leaders with scores of followers. The flair for drama is appreciated but the dishonesty is not. Jen may have lost some followers, but her career is nowhere near damaged by her departure from orthodoxy on this issue. The idea that these huge mega big name this-and-that’s “can’t afford to have their speaking schedules dry up” is preposterous. As Jen and her ever-growing fan base has proven, there is quite the market for the Gospel Lite. Lots of people are flocking to her flavor of Doctrine Is So Outdated Christianity. Chip and Joanna Gaines had a media firestorm come around them shortly after Hatmaker came out. The pastor of the Gaines’ church said homosexuality is a sin, and for awhile there, their career really was on the line. Buzzfeed and other outlets wrote hit pieces. The Gaines were forced (I used that term loosely) to stay ambiguous on the issue to keep their show. No such thing happened with Hatmaker. No one was talking about her show being cancelled. The message the media sent was clear: affirm, or get out.
There is a reason that doctrine is important. I cannot and I will not stand quietly by while people are being hurt. Because for all of Hatmaker’s calls for love and respect, she is not, in any sense of the word, loving those who identify as gay or lesbian. She is not loving them. Do you hear me, Christian? She is not loving them. She may have a way with words and oh her pen just frolics dandily across the page with ease but she is NOT loving her neighbor when she tells them that their homosexual “marriage” can be “holy”. And she is not, as Merritt asserts, merely differing with us supposedly angry evangelicals. She is denying the truth. She is denying the healing balm of the Gospel to those ensnared in sin. She is lying to those who call themselves gay. She is not doing the hard thing—she is doing the easy thing. The world wants you to believe that it is “nice” to let people be, but it is not. It is the Gospel, the one revealed through the entire counsel of Scripture, that saves. Our God—not this man-made, namby-pamby, go-with-the-flow, pie-in-the-sky, “nice” God—is Healer, Comforter, Redeemer. It is our God, the one revealed in Scripture, that is the most loving God. He’s the only real God. He’s the only true God. And He will not be mocked. He designed you. He made you. And he knows what is best. If you really love your neighbor, do not lie to them. Do not leave them in their sin. The stove is hot and they’re about to lay their hand on it. Hatmaker is standing quietly by and telling you it’s okay to touch it. Is that “nice”? Do we really want to redefine that kind of behavior as “loving”?
The church has failed to love those who identify as gay and lesbian and transgender in a great many ways. As Rosaria Butterfield said, the Gospel is on a collision course with these issues. More and more, those who claim Christ and have large platforms, like Hatmaker, are falling in step with our culture’s failing moral compass and are willing to compromise the truth of the Gospel on the Altar of Nice. I can see how it may be tempting to do the easy thing, but lying is sinful. Lying about the Law of God is shameful. To encourage those in their sin is abhorrent. It is the opposite of love. And love actually is courageous.