World Magazine today posted Andree Seu Peterson’s column, “Remember the Signs,” from their upcoming July 26th issue. The piece is about Exodus International disbanding and presents the Gay Christian Network as the enemy (remember, in christianese, “the enemy” means “satan”) leading Alan Chambers away from the truth. Oh, yeah, and she pretty much says that Alan Chambers is also a tool of satan and a heretic now too. It doesn’t matter that he still believes basically the same thing that World does, their one time “Daniel of the Year” decides to be nicer about it and stop being used as a tool of anti-gay religious right politics and they turn on him.
This was going to be a snarky and sarcastic rant like my post about Marvin Olasky’s persecution complex DOMA scare piece was, but I think instead I’m going to to talk about how Christian culture uses people and then discards them like so much yesterday’s garbage when they’re no longer useful to the agenda.
Before I get to that though, I need to point out that Peterson shapes her narrative around a story from C.S. Lewis’ children’s novel, The Silver Chair. It’s one of the Narnia books, and in it Eustace Scrub and Jill Pole are taken away from their horrible boarding school and brought to Narnia, where they’re sent off on an adventure to rescue the now King Caspian’s son, Prince Rilian, who has gone missing. It’s the Narnia book that scared the crap out of me when I was five, and it’s now probably my favorite–a grand adventure across foreign lands with strange giants to rescue a bewitched prince. It’s also probably the story that’s closest to Lewis’ goal of writing a fairy tale and not allegory.
In the story, Aslan gives Jill and Eustace four signs to guide them on the journey and things go wrong for them whenever they’re lulled into forgetting the signs. It’s pretty classic fairy tale stuff, with our heroes falling into and getting out of perils along the way as they remember the signs. That’s what Peterson is referencing with the title, “Remember the Signs,” and in this quote:
“With our tongue we will prevail” (Psalm 12:4), boasts the evil one. But temptation never comes in the form you expected; otherwise it would not be temptation. And so the command in Narnia: “Remember, remember, remember the signs. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs. … The air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind. And the signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart and pay no attention to appearances. Remember the signs and believe the signs. Nothing else matters.” (emphasis mine)
See, for some reason that I’d really like someone to explain to me, Christian culture has elevated C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia children’s fairy tales onto the level of scripture. Throughout the whole piece, Peterson repeatedly acts as though the words from a fairy tale (the out-of-context words from a fairy tale, I might add), are guiding principles tantamount to the 66 books of the Bible. C.S. Lewis would be turning in his grave if he knew that’s how his stories are being used now.
Peterson has some exceptionally nasty words in her piece that are directed at the Gay Christian Network–an organization that’s not even run by some liberal Christians, it’s run by a good Baptist boy, Justin Lee. Perhaps if Peterson took a break from calling GCN proxies of Satan and the enemy and read Justin Lee’s outstanding book Torn, she would at least have an understanding of what they stood for and why. It’s bad form for one Christian to call other Christians proxies of Satan because of a disagreement over something in scripture, but since Peterson is busy warning everyone of the “signs,” I doubt she’ll ever pick up the book lest she too be deceived by satan masquerading as a gay Christian.
Her real scorn, however, is directed at Alan Chambers. See, unlike Andree Seu Peterson, who seems to think the best approach is to stick her fingers in her ears and go, “la la la, I’m not listening, it’s satan,” when confronted with disagreement, Chambers actually had the decency to go sit in front of a hostile audience of gay Christians–many of whom had been hurt by the ex-gay world–and to listen. And to Peterson, that is unforgivable. It’s unforgivable because in listening, he was willing to consider that he might be wrong about something. See, you can go eat with sinners (and heaven forbid the possibility that they’re picking the wrong Bible story and it’s not Jesus eating with sinners), but don’t you dare actually listen to a word that they say and consider the possibility that you might be in the wrong about something.
But see, this is how the evangelical world works. They build you up while they can use you, and when you aren’t the marionette that they want you to be, they discard you like so much of yesterday’s garbage. It doesn’t matter that Alan Chambers’ change of direction is just to apologize for pseudoscientific therapy that doesn’t work, and that he still believes just like she does that same-sex relationships are sinful and that marriage is between a man and a woman. Nope, just announcing that he’s ducking out of the culture wars (in a way that’s gotten him major flack from pretty much every progressive Christian and liberal activist on the planet) is enough to write off the guy they once put on the cover of their magazine and lauded. I’m no fan of any approach that boils down to just telling churches to be nicer to the dirty rotten sinners, but that’s still too much compromise for World. You either tell gay people that they’re horribly broken sinners who need to put themselves through the deep psychological agony of conversion therapy or else you’re a tool of satan in their book.
Fall in line, us versus them, if you’re not with us you’re on the side of satan. Dare to step outside of our camp even the slightest and we throw you out as an anathema. Dialogue and discussion? Nope. It was daring to have dialogue and discussion with the other camp that made you suspect to us to begin with, so why would we want to dialogue with you or anybody who’s not on our team? Someone on facebook described it as a kind of tribalism–stick with your tribe and don’t you dare talk with any other tribes. Those other tribes don’t believe exactly what we do, that means that they aren’t even Christians, they’re instruments of seduction by the enemy.
And so, to steal from my facebook commentor, the message of the article isn’t Remember the signs and believe the signs. Nothing else matters, it’s Remember the tribe and believe the tribe. Nothing else matters.
Us versus them, forever tangled in a culture war, refusing to talk and realize that it’s not “the other side,” we’re all Christians trying to figure out how to live our lives in ways that are pleasing to God.
How is that what God wants?