Battling the Biblical Bully

Earlier this week, author, speaker and blogger Rachel Held Evans (pictured, right) stirred up quite the controversy when she called Mark Driscoll (pictured, below), a “bully” for his Facebook status update poking fun of “effeminate anatomically male religious leaders.” As Evans observed, Driscoll, founder of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, has a long history of using anti-gay slurs to demonize anyone he deems “unmanly.”

On The World website, Anthony Bradley responded to this firestorm. “One sign of the declining state of Christianity in America is the way in which believers publicly slander one another, which can do violence to love and undermine the witness of the Church to nonbelievers.”

He then proceeds to dissect the term slander, which is defined as defamation by oral utterance. Given Evans penned this piece, technically she should be accused of libel which refers to defamation by printed words. This makes the assumption that Evans is in fact guilty of issuing a malicious, false, and defamatory statement or report, when in fact, she is not.

Your mother may have told you to tell bullies, “sticks and stones may break may bones but names may never hurt me.” But the findings from the National Transgender Discrimination Survey Report paint a bleak picture of the how bullying leads to death. Of the 6,450 US based transgender and gender non-conforming participants who took part in this survey, a staggering 41% of respondents reported attempting suicide compared to 1.6% of the general population.

In Transgressions: Transgressing in the Bible, theatrical performance activist Peterson Toscano illuminates how transgender and gender-variant people can be found all throughout Hebrew and Christian scripture. New research presented in books like Radical Love: An Introduction to Queer Theology explores how God’s love breaks through all boundaries to create radically inclusive communities that welcome all just as they are.

So like it or not, the bible has never been binary when it comes to gender. Jesus’ silence on the topic of human sexuality tells me that this wasn’t a topic that troubled him nearly as much as it does 20th century evangelical Christians. (My piece on Ship of Fools highlights the range of evangelical responses to LGBT rights.)

While reporting on the Philadelphia TransHealth Conference I became aware of the range of genders that people use to self-identify how they express themselves to the world. Hence, we must be careful not to assume that any man with feminine qualities prefers the “homosexual” lifestyle. But neither can we infer as blogger Tony Jones did that men like Driscoll who favor the homoerotic sport of mixed martial arts (MMA) “might be preaching most fervently against the very sin that they are struggling with.”

The outcry following Sojourners’ decision to reject a gay welcome ad demonstrated how many Christians want to stand up for the rights of their LGBT bretheren. Nobel lauraeate Elie Wiesel reminds us, “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

When Driscoll responded somewhat to Evan’s posting, the skeptic in me wonders if this might be a well orchestrated PR move on Driscoll’s part given Driscoll and Evans have forthcoming books on the Bible and gender to be released by Thomas Nelson. Over at Religion Dispatches, Elizabeth Drescher keenly observes, “The catholic approach to homophobic misbehavior in the emergent Evangelical church is to send the offender on vacation and settle the uppity Christian chick-lit lady down till it’s all forgotten? Stand by your man, baby.”

For now, Mark seems to be on his best behavior. But all too often I’ve witnessed people that market themselves in the public square as “Christian” author/speaker attack their critics with the decorum one finds in monkeys in a zoo who fling their feces (or worse) when provoked. Watch the Glenn Beck v. Jim Wallis fight to get a sense of how this dynamic works. Both sides need a “perceived” enemy in order to bolster their street cred within their respective camps and garner them additional media attention. In this narcissistic culture, you’re either one of their faithful fans or the antichrist.

So how then does one deal when full grown adults throw childish temper tantrums? Let me suggest we all play the role of the kindergarten teacher—name the bad behavior for what it is. Put the offender in a time out corner. Ignore them until them calm down and use their “indoor” voice.

Yes, this strategy can work. Back in 2007, I told my then editor of the God’s Politics blog that I was through critiquing Ann Coulter after she called John Edwards “a faggot.” By this time, enough reporters had debunked Coulter’s false assertions. Hence, continuing to hammer her only fed into her faux claims of being “persecuted” by the liberal media. Like Pat Robertson, who faded away from the media spotlight after one gaffe too many, Coulter no longer has the impact she once did. I predict that ignoring Beck will produce similar results.

Now, I don’t expect Driscoll to record a video anytime soon for the It Gets Better Project. But unlike Coulter and Beck, he seems actually willing to chat on some level with at least a few of his critics. So far, so good. But should this cussing pastor start blasting his brand of missional machismo and the emergent church crew fires back in kind, I suggest Christians take heed to the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:14, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town.” Sometimes one has to put unbiblical bullies in a time out corner and just walk away.

Becky Garrison’s books include Jesus Died for This?: A Satirist’s Search for the Risen Christ, Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church, and Ancient Future Disciples: Meeting Jesus in Mission-Shaped Ministries (Forthcoming). Her additional writing credits include work for Killing the Buddha, The Washington Post’s On Faith column, The Guardian, The Revealer, and Religion Dispatches.

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