Is Repent America Really Loving?

On October 10, 2004, a group of eleven Christians who were demonstrating at Philadelphia OutFest were arrested on a variety of charges, including most notoriously “ethinic intimidation.” All charges were eventually dropped, but the story nonetheless has had a powerful impact in Christian circles with its foreboding suggestions of what could happen in the future if hate crimes laws are allowed. Since the event, the “Philadelphia 11″ have been treated as heroic defenders of the faith in conservative Christian circles.

I want to set aside the issue of hate speech and hate crimes laws, the legality of the actions of the “Philadelphia 11″, and the question of whether they were treated worse or better than they deserved by the gay event attenders and law enforcement. My concern here though isn’t so much with the events of that day themselves, but with the adoption of the “Philadelphia 11” as conservative Christian poster children (literally–see the smaller picture on the bottom left) and defenders of the faith.

Michael Marcavage and his organization Repent America, which was behind the demonstration, profess to be acting out of love. But wouldn’t love pay heed to the efficacy of a method of evangelism? If he really wants to see men and women turn from their sin to Christ, would he show up at gay pride events with a bullhorn? I can’t help but wonder if this is more about making disturbances, getting attention, making enemies, and trying to get persecuted than it is about presenting the gospel in love to people who need to hear it. In this post I will demonstrate how Repent America’s love falls short, judging them by their own words and by resources they link to from their own site–not by what their enemies have to say about them.

I believe that ultimately it is God who changes hearts. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t more and less effective ways of presenting the gospel. And it seems to me that love demands that we opt for the more effective rather than the less effective.

I love this statement, from a devotional (by Charles Spurgeon) on Repent America’s website:

The cross of Christ is in itself an offence to the world; let us take heed that we add no offence of our own. It is “to the Jews a stumblingblock”: let us mind that we put no stumblingblocks where there are enough already. “To the Greeks it is foolishness”: let us not add our folly to give point to the scorn with which the worldly-wise deride the gospel.

(I wish every evangelical Christian in the US would meditate on that gem!)

Contrary to this bit of wisdom, I see Christians (including Repent America) who seem to delight in being as offensive as possible, who seem to rejoice in creating stumbling blocks, in making it even harder for the hard-hearted to turn and repent. What would make someone think that it would be a good idea to try to reach people at a gay pride event by preaching on the evils of homosexuality? It seems to me that that would be the time that they would be least receptive to a call to repentance directed toward that very sin.

In failing to show respect, they disgrace the cause of Christ. Repent America may feel that such people and celebrations do not deserve respect. But the point is that participants in those celebrations certainly feel they do. Party-crashing just makes Repent America look like bad neighbors, and makes it harder for the gospel message to be heard.

Repent America is clearly a big fan of evangelist Ray Comfort. But they apparently missed this advice of Comfort’s, in the sermon “Hell’s Best Kept Secret”, linked to from Repent America’s home page:

“If you want to bring a homosexual to Christ, don’t get into an argument with him over his perversion. He’s ready for you with his boxing gloves on. No, no. Give him the Ten Commandments. The law was made for homosexuals. Show him that he is damned, despite his perversion.”

Now, I wouldn’t use the same language that Comfort uses. But I feel that his basic point here is quite sound: The way to lead gays to Christ is not through arguing with them about homosexuality. If I know you have one deaf ear, I won’t speak in it if I’m trying to get you to hear me. If I know you have a blind spot, I won’t display something in front of it if I’m trying to get you to see. “But they must be convinced of their sin before they will see their need for a Savior!” True enough. But it’s not as though homosexual sex is the only sin that gay people commit. On the contrary, like everybody else, most of them struggle with many things that they themselves wouldn’t hesitate to call wrong. So why not address those matters instead?

Speaking personally, when I first keenly felt my need for a Savior, I felt it because of my pride, because of my greed, because of my hatred, because of my lack of self-control, because of my selfishness, because of my unrighteous anger, because of my impatience, because of how I had hardened my heart against the Lord of the Universe and blasphemed His name. These things condemned me. I did not yet see the sinfulness of homosexuality, or any [consensual] sexual sin for that matter. It was not until after I became a Christian by God’s grace that my eyes were more fully opened and I could see the truth in the Scriptures and in the witness of the Holy Spirit within my heart.

So I wonder if Repent America is really about saving souls, or just about denouncing homosexuality and getting attention? I’ve noticed that other evangelists talk about those they’ve won to the Lord, how God used them to lead people to Christ. Repent America, by contrast, has few stories to tell on their site about their soul-winning, but a lot to say about their protests and legal troubles, making me wonder where their focus is. A Philadelphia City Paper article notes that the only evangelistic success stories Marcavage could muster were one about comforting an apparently already Christian woman worried about being cheated on, and another about persuading a guy to return a porn video. Comforting Christians and convincing people not to watch porn are fine things, but neither counts as swelling the ranks of the saints in heaven.

I don’t think that a lack of converts on its own is necessarily an indicator of a lack of sincerity on Marcavage’s part. In the Bible we see that God at times sent prophets to speak to people who would not listen, whose hearts He had hardened. But Repent America’s apparent lack of success combined with the dubiousness of their methods suggests that they should reconsider their approach. If they refuse to do so, then those who support RA should reconsider that support.

Of course, whether or not RA is acting out of love should have no bearing on their free speech rights. But it should have bearing on whether we put them on a pedestal and celebrate their actions. At bottom, I think some of us are just too desperate for heroes and martyrs.

12 Responses to Is Repent America Really Loving?

  1. Irrational Entity says:

    I would have to agree that this method is hardly effective. If by some oddity I converted to Christianity, such rhetoric would certainly not have been a contributing factor. Repent America gives those of us with a secularist bent another caricature to mock and complain over, so my advice to evangelicals would be to not engage in this behavior.

  2. grace says:

    Hi! I just found your blog. Your comment on my blog somehow got buried and I missed it! Thanks for stopping by and I look forward to reading more of what you have to say. Good stuff.

    grace

  3. Irrational Entity,

    Thanks for your agreement and advice. :) It seems to me these people don’t really care about people. That’s what bugs me. I can excuse a lot of stupidity and ridiculousness if it seems that the underlying intentions are good.

    Grace,

    Thanks for stopping by. And thanks again for that awesome quote! I looked it up online and people say it comes from Brennan Manning, but then, I have no idea whether they know what they’re talking about.

  4. Jason Alexander says:

    I am not certain what this author’s beef is over Marcavage and Repent America. In looking at their website, http://www.RepentAmerica.com, it is clear to me that they use the law as a schoolmaster (Gal. 3:24) before grace, which is biblical.

    In regards to the Ray Comfort’s comment about not getting into an argument with a homosexual over his lifestyle, it is contrary to his own teaching. If you are confronting someone as a liar, thief, and adulterer, as Comfort does, which is part of using the law, there is no difference in “bringing the knowledge of sin” by showing a homosexual from Scripture where such behavior is condemned.

    I do take issue with the writer of this article referring to homosexuals as “gay”, which proves that he needs to seriously consider his motives before speaking against others. I wonder if he had contacted Marcavage before posting this information for clarification purposes. I would love to hear what he has to say.

  5. Jason,

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

    If you think that Comfort's comment contradicts the rest of his teaching, I'd be interested in your thoughts about why he would contradict himself in that way. I personally don't think he is contradicting himself; rather, it seems to me that his point is that we should exercise wisdom and discernment when we use the law as a schoolmaster.

    As you probably know, there is sadly an enormous amount of effort today spent developing arguments to rationalize and justify homosexual sex and relationships. The person involved in homosexual sex who is seeking to avoid conviction, seeking to defend himself, trying to hide from having to face his sin, has all these resources at his disposal. If you try to talk about homosexual sin, he will be prepared with abundant rationalizations to defend himself. The conversation will degenerate into a debate about homosexuality, or perhaps a debate about whether the straight Christian has any right to say anything about a subject he has no experience of. It seems unhelpful to me to get bogged down in such debate if one is trying to use the law as a schoolmaster, given that we know that homosexuality is only one of many sins separating the person from God.

    But if we focus instead on the sins that are more common to all–lying, adultery/lust, coveting, murder/hate, worshiping other "gods", etc….I believe this is much more likely to "cut to the heart". Unlike in the case of homosexuality, there have not been teams of "pro-lying" or "pro-coveting" scholars trying to obscure the meanings of the words in Scripture. There is no "Liar's Pride" movement, further darkening and deadening the consciences of liars. In other words, the person involved in homosexual sin will not be "ready with boxing gloves on", to use Comfort's metaphor, for an approach that addresses these other sins.

    There are probably some people involved in homosexual sin who would respond to the Biblical truth on the subject with sorrow and conviction. But they are not likely to be the ones at a Pride event celebrating homosexuality. The people at a Pride event, on that day, will more than likely have the deaf ear regarding this issue that I spoke about in my original post. I notice that a street preacher who joined some people from Repent America at the following year's Outfest, a man named Ruben Israel, was reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer as saying: "At this point, you're not going to get converts. This is their big day. But I'm here to rain on their parade," which it says he did with a sign that said "God Abhors You". If Repent America simply wants to rain on people's parades, as Ruben Israel apparently did, I'd say they're on the right track. I disagree with his attitude, but I share his skepticism about the likelihood of turning people's hearts to Christ by such means. Even some gay activists noted the same thing–pointing out that if they really wanted to see gays converted, they picked the worst day and place to do it.  (Contrast this with Comfort's favored preaching venue–outside of courthouses, where people are sober-minded, aware of their guilt, and thinking of judgment.)

    I am not suggesting that we should be silent about the sinfulness of homosexual sex or turn a blind eye to it. I merely question the efffectiveness of such proclamation (especially at pro-gay events) as a tool for evangelism, as a way to reach people entangled in that sin for Christ. That was the heart of my original post.

    As far as my using the word "gay" goes, I currently use it because I believe that refusing to use it creates unnecessary offense and hindrances to communication. Insisting on calling them "homosexuals" would make a statement, I suppose, but what good is making a statement if all it does is insult the people you are trying to speak to, trying to reach? I would rather show them respect and kindness by calling them what they want to be called, and use that position to share my hope in Christ with them.

    I am partial to such an approach because it is how those Christians who ministered to me as an unbeliever and pointed me to Christ treated me, and I am grateful that they did so. I knew they did not approve of homosexual sex–there was never any unclarity about that. Yet the respect they showed me nonetheless helped to open my heart and mind to what they had to say.

  6. Skeptic says:

    As a life-long liberal and openly gay man, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your comments about Repent America’s actions at Octoberfest. Marvin Olasky has expressed similar views in his article in World magazine (http://www.worldmag.com/articles/10395), but apart from this, I’m just not aware of other conservative voices expressing these concerns.

    I can’t claim to know Mr. Marcavage’s motives were on that day, but I know it’s very difficult to read about those events and see much love, compassion or understanding in his actions. I’m also reminded of Romans 14, where Paul talks about the freedom we have through Jesus, but reminds us to be cognizant of the effect our behaviour has on others, even when a certain act isn’t wrong in itself. On a less lofty note, I also think of that old adage, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”

    I’ve wondered what the reaction would be the situation were reversed. A group of my friends and I show up at a park where a church picnic is in progress. We have huge signs with bible passages condemning spiritual arrogance, self-righteousness and pride. We also come armed with bull horns which we use to tell the parishoners exactly what we think of their lack of morals. Does anyone seriously believe we’d make any friends that day? Provide encouragement for anyone to seriously reconsider their view?

  7. Skeptic,

    Thanks for the link! Wow…I never thought I would agree with Olasky that much…given that World Magazine isn’t exactly my cup of tea!

    Like you, I’ve found little Christian criticism of RA online (and lots of praise for them!), so I was beginning to wonder if I was the only Christian who felt these guys needed to rethink their actions!

  8. Mark Poole says:

    There is sadly an enormous amount of effort today spent developing arguments to rationalize and justify attempts by people calling themselves Christians to deny homosexual men and women access to family healthcare, hospital visitation rights, civil marriage, protection against discrimination and so. A large segment of the ‘Christian’ right devotes all of its energy to one single cause – demonizing lesbians and gays and supporting every effort to deny us equal civil rights and protections. One has to ask which command of Christ these people believe they are following? The one to love God (the creator of us all) with all their heart? Or the one to love their gay or lesbian neighbor as they would themselves?

    I’m glad you recognize the efforts of Repent America as self-aggrandizing and offensive. But you’re in danger of repeating the mistake yourself in describing the efforts of GLBT Christians to develop theologies of affirmation, resistance and transformation based on our experiences of God and our understanding of the biblical witness as “arguments to rationalize and justify homosexual sex and relationships”. Queer theology isn’t about justifying gay sex any more than traditional ‘heteronormative’ theology is about justifying indiscriminate heterosexual intercourse. To characterize the gay and lesbian Christian witness in this way not only diminishes our faith and struggle but I think it also diminishes the one who makes such a characterization.

    Jesus liked to remind his disciples to deal with the log in their own eyes before trying to remove the splinter from others’, to cast stones (literally or figuratively) only if one were in no need of repentance oneself. So why is it that so many Christians, including exgay Christians, seem to believe that the greatest commandment (at least judging by the amount of energy expended on it) is to point out the sin of others?

  9. Hi Mark,

    My impression is that relatively little space in this blog is devoted to criticizing the pro-gay side or pointing out their sins. When I do so, I almost always try to do it in the context of pointing out an equal or greater fault on my own side.

    I do have a rather low opinion of pro-gay Christian apologetics. But I haven’t studied the matter in depth since 2000, so if there have been significant advances since then, I’d be interested in hearing about them.

  10. To Lauren:

    Thank you for the encouragement, but it has come to my attention that some of your claims in your comment may have been inaccurate. In particular, Repent America has informed me that they were not at the Albuquerque event, and that Ruben Israel is not associated with their organization.

    Because of this, I am removing your comment.

  11. Banners and bullhorns are great!

    And thank Jesus for guys like Michael and Ruben!

  12. Look and live! says:

    Jesse Morell is a loser and a flase teacher who teaches and preaches a works based salvation, he is part of Ruben Israel’s (Sahves) group of “preachers”.

    Michale Marcavage is nothing like these jerks.

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