Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Need for Air and Light

What goes through your mind
when you hear somebody has lost his job
because he's not to be trusted around children?
Looks like the Christians are trying to eat the lions again.   Pastor Mark Brewer and youth pastor Nathalie Estey of Crosspoint Wesleyan Church in Frederickton, New Brunswick have gotten rid of a twenty-year old college kid named Colin Briggs who had been volunteering with their kids the past two years because – are you ready for this? – some parents might object to the fact that he is gay.

That’s the story that Briggs tells, anyway.   Pastor Brewer is suggesting there is more than meets the eye and we need to show a bit more “tolerance” of the church’s perspective and not be too quick to cast them in a bad light.

Fine.  Let’s hear the story and then we’ll judge.

I’m looking for objectivity but I’ll lay my cards on the table.  Whenever I hear of folks seeking to draw connections between gays and child molesters, my blood goes to instant boil.  I can think of very few injustices greater than this one that gay men were routinely subjected to in the past – and apparently still are.  It’s a tired old story and nobody should pretend surprise when this gets our back up.

But let’s hear them out.  Here are the voices on the two sides.  First there is Colin Briggs’ version, told on Canada’s Global News website (text and video).   He doesn’t even need to make the case.  The pastor makes it for him. “Briggs’ dismissal,” the pastor says, “would avoid any potential uproar that may be caused if families were to find out an openly gay male was working in the children’s ministry.”

Say what?

Potential uproar?

Church people would be in an uproar to discover somebody gay had been working with children?

You’re kidding, right?

OK.  So how about the pastor’s side of the story.  That’s available on the church’s own website.    I don’t know how long the video will remain, but it’s currently at the top of the page. 

Mark Brewer, the pastor, starts out claiming he will “briefly discuss what’s happened.”  He then proceeds to ignore entirely what has happened and make a pitch instead to be allowed to avoid discussing the details of the case.   He’s preaching to the choir, obviously, and his remarks are met with regular applause.  “All people are welcomed through the doors of Crosspoint Church,” he says (Applause).   Regardless of who you are – sexual orientation included, he says.   “Love and acceptance has been one of our defining characteristics,” he says.  

OK.  If that’s true, there should be no problem.

After much prayer, he says, this person was let go.  These decisions, he says, “often have deeper and more complex issues than what appear on the surface.  We rarely divulge that information (so) as to protect everyone involved.”  He bewails the fact this firing has hit the internet.  “As usual,” he says, “much of what we read on the internet is not true.”

Point well taken.   But what the good pastor seems to be missing entirely is the fact that by hiding the details about this young man he casts him into the shadows.  One can only wonder what sort of mischief Briggs might have gotten up to.  Did he approach some kid sexually?  Say or do something to suggest he might?  What exactly happened here, pastor?

Instead, the pastor then launches into a lengthy complaint about how all the good deeds of the church have gone unnoticed.

Wait, pastor, I want to say.  Are you really saying, “Why does the world look only at the bad things we do?   Why don’t they look at the good things we do?”  Don’t you realize that going there to make your argument you are in effect admitting there is reason to criticize your actions?

Pastor Brewer starts in on all the good the church has accomplished.   Food bank contributions…  clothing the needy…

By the time he gets to “battling poverty” I’m getting really pissed.  Why are you talking about battling poverty when the topic is casting aspersions on somebody who has worked with the kids in your church the past two years?  Come to think of it, “battling poverty?”  Really?  You’ve actually been “battling” poverty?

The pastor is on a roll.  They collect school supplies, he tells us.  They send mission relief across the planet.  Come on.

When he finally leaves off ticking off the evidence for seeing Crosspoint Church as the center of the moral universe, he finally gets back to the issue at hand.

And here’s where he gets downright sinister.  “Tolerance,” says the pastor, “is supposed to be a two-way street.”   My mind rushes to the Catholic Church’s insistence that we have to tolerate their choice to prevent women from having access to birth control information, as if it was just a conflict of opinion, and not serious harm being inflicted. 

He then brings out what he thinks are the big guns.  “We respect the rights of people to make their own personal choices in these matters.”

In these matters?  What matters?

What choices are we talking about?  The only possible conclusion to draw from this appeal for tolerance – correct me if I'm wrong – is that the Pastor just let the cat out of the bag.  It’s young Colin Brigg’s homosexuality that is the matter.  And we are being asked to tolerate his decision to dismiss a volunteer on the grounds some unspecified people might worry about having him around their children.

The real story here, I’m convinced, is cluelessness.  I am pretty sure if I met this Pastor Brewer he’d be, for all appearances, the really swell guy he obviously sees himself as.  Generous to a fault.  Kindly.  Hard working.  And absolutely clueless about what he has just accomplished in tarnishing the reputation of somebody who has likely done no wrong.

I’ve blogged recently about two recent events involving Christians and their take on gay people , the story of the pope’s urging his flock start paying less attention to the pelvic zone and more attention to folks living in poverty, and the story of “Not All Like That” – that group of Christian folk urging their fellows to stop demonizing LGBT people.”  

I don’t know the whole story behind the dismissal of Colin Briggs.  It could be he’s the bad guy here.  But that remains to be seen and until Pastor Brewer and company show there was something going on to justify Briggs’ dismissal, we are left with what looks for all the world like yet another nasty use of Christian power to demonize gay people.

“Rome wasn’t built in a day”  is the handy cliché to be tossed in here.  Just because the pope says something cool, it doesn’t mean the bishops will take the hint.  And when some people insist they are “not all like that,” we have to remember that many are exactly like that.

The ball is in Pastor Brewer’s court.  Show your hand, Mr. Fine Christian Person Feeding and Clothing the Poor.  You’ve trashed the reputation of what on the surface appears to be a decent young man and made him look like a threat to children.  Nice going, fellah.

How many Christians do you represent, Pastor Brewer?  

And what manner of Christians?

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