About that Tim Keller quote (Part 2)

Yesterday, I blogged about the following statement by Tim Keller:

If you say to everybody, ‘Anyone who thinks homosexuality is a sin is a bigot,’ . . . you’re going to have to ask them to completely disassemble the way in which they read the Bible, completely disassemble their whole approach to authority. You’re basically going to have to ask them to completely kick their faith out the door.

In that post, I talked about the quote from the perspective of seeing the fear that seemed to motivate and permeate it.  Today, I want to talk about it from the perspective of seeing the privilege that seems to motivate and permeate it.  Because if I may be honest — and I’ll try to do so as graciously as I know how — I find something deeply ironic about an evangelical minister objecting to the fact that other people might be asking him to change the way he thinks or even “kick his faith out the door.”

Dear readers, that’s exactly what every single evangelical Christian is asking of every single person who follows a different religion or no religion at all:  “Give up your faith and what you believe and believe what I think is right instead.”  So effectively, Tim Keller is objecting to other people (allegedly) asking him to do exactly what he calls upon every Jew, Wiccan, atheist, agnostic, Buddhist, Hindu, and Santerian[1] to do without giving it a second thought.  That’s boilerplate unexamined privilege right there.

It also underlines to me the biggest problem with unexamined privilege:  It’s often the enemy of empathy.[2]  Here’s an opportunity for Tim Keller to consider how (feeling like he’s) being asked to give up something so important to him feels to him and try to imagine how those he evangelizes to might often feel the same way.  And yet, because I suspect he doesn’t even make that connection (or avoids it by insisting it’s somehow different), he’s missing out on an opportunity to (1) empathize with those he’s trying to evangelize to and (2) think about how that empathy might influence how he handles his attempts to do so.

I don’t necessarily want Tim Keller or others like him to quit sharing his beliefs or inviting others to join his faith.  However, now that he and those like him have experienced being on “the other side” of the conversation, I’d like them to let that experience and their capacity for empathy to inform their mission.

Also, it would also be nice if their empathy would help them to understand that yes, if they really want others to be open to their message, they’re almost certainly going to have to be likewise open to others’ messages.  Otherwise, they’re expecting something from others that they are unwilling to offer up to others.  And one thing I that think is near-universal if not truly universal among humans is that we tend not to like double standards.

Note:
[1] Not an exhaustive list, I assure you.  But hopefully I’ve named enough religions and non-religious people to make the point that it’s a lot of people he’s asking this of.

[2] Or maybe the lack of empathy contributes to one’s failure to examine privilege.  Personally, I suspect it may be a bit of both, not to mention a self-reinforcing cycle.

10 thoughts on “About that Tim Keller quote (Part 2)”

  1. Totally agree with you Jarred, I shouldn’t attempt to convert someone else if I’m not prepared for them to try to convert me . There’s alot of fear about losing faith in evangelical Christianity – the whole ‘if you question this, then where will you stop?’ fear. I think that’s pretty scary – being worried that your faith is that shallow that it can’t stand up to questioning.

  2. Ah, that’s an excellent point. I’ll be sure to remember this if I ever end up in a discussion with an evangelical on this topic.

    I think Keller’s post is still worth keeping in mind, though, because even if it’s not exactly true that is what we’re asking of them, that’s what they feel it is what we’re asking of them.

    And while they may only be seeing the matter from their side, and are asking for consideration they don’t extend to others, that doesn’t mean that we should take no notice of this.

    On the pragmatic side, this is useful information. It’s a reminder why we encounter such resistance from such people. They’re attacking same-sex marriage (just as an example) not because they have an enormous animus against gay people, but because they feel their faith is under attack.

    And on the moral side, we should be aware of what impact we’re having on others, even if they are blind to what impact they’re having.

    And it is kinda true that we are petitioning for a somewhat radical reformation of their faith. If you’re so hung up on ‘biblical inerrancy’ and your authority figures and their injunctions against gaydom and godless liberals, then saying ‘for God’s sake, have a look around you! does what you’re doing really look like love?’ really is asking for them to rethink what their faith is all about.

    Even getting them to be conscious of their privilege is going to involve some pain and distress on their part.

    That’s not to say we shouldn’t do it, mind, but we do need to be cognisant of what we’re doing.

  3. By the way, a friend of mine from ages ago who had an Irish evangelical upbringing but gave it all up for analytic philosophy, Dharma lessons, Canada and living in sin with his girlfriend, he reckoned that religious freedom is an excellent point to open dialogue with evangelicals, especially North American evangelicals.

    Religious freedom is an important part of their history, and often (with Baptists especially) part of their theology as well (hence adult baptism). So while your average evangelical might not think about this much, or if they do mistake ‘religious freedom’ for ‘religious privilege’, it’s still there as part of their cultural background.

  4. Oh, I just realised that my points about understanding where Keller is coming from were more or less the same points that you were making to evangelicals…

  5. Hi Jarred – been reading with interest
    as a sort-of evangelical (as in I am a follower of Jesus who doesn’t sit well within normal evangelical parameters) can I suggest you ask them about the history of the evangelical position on slavery?
    There were many very serious evangelicals who upheld slavery because it was in the Bible. They were violently anti-abolitionism as being against God’s word.
    Now we think it ridiculous that anyone would read the bible and support slavery (at least within evangelical circles in the UK). But they did. And most of them managed to keep their faith…
    I think in 50 years time we’ll have the same understanding of the whole gay debate
    It saddens me that Jesus gets represented so badly by his followers

  6. Hi All —

    I read more of the transcript and i think you are misreading Keller. He certainly believes that evangelicals (and Muslims and others) ask others to abandon their former beliefs and ‘convert’. Of course he would say everyone has the right in a democracy to do that, as long as its not coercive. The point he’s making is that when more secular people ask evangelicals to accept gays they are essentially doing the same thing–but they won’t acknowledge it as such. Secular people don’t want to think that they are ‘proselyzing’ just like the evangelicals do. But they are. That’s his point. To ask evangelicals to change their understanding of the Bible’s authority and the inter-connectedness of beliefs and adopt a more modern view of individual freedom and is really to be asking them to convert–and not admitting that is what you are doing.

    1. Of course he would say everyone has the right in a democracy to do that, as long as its not coercive.

      Can you back that up with a quote from Keller?

      The point he’s making is that when more secular people ask evangelicals to accept gays they are essentially doing the same thing–but they won’t acknowledge it as such.

      I actually disagree with this assertion. I disagree with both the idea that secular people are asking evangelicals to give up their faith when they call for the acceptance of gays — the fact that gay and gay-affirming evangelical Christians exist tends to contradict that the former implies the latter — and the idea that secular people who are asking evangelicals to give up their faith are denying that they are doing so. Maybe you — and possibly Mr. Keller — would do well to quit claiming to know the minds of secular people.

      Also, “accepting gays” is a terribly vague phrase. Do you think that it requires people like Mr. Keller to give up their faith in order to “accept gays’ in terms of accepting their basic human dignity? In terms of accepting that they have a right to make choices that are contrary to his views? In terms of accepting that they may be brothers and sisters in Christ who have come to different conclusions about human sexuality and morality?

      Also also, there are more than just “secular people” and “evangelical Christians.” There are even many evangelical Christians who believe in and support secularism and pluralism in government. Please don’t erase so many people in your attempts to uphold a false dichotomy between “secular people” and “evangelical Christians.”

      To ask evangelicals to change their understanding of the Bible’s authority…

      So tell me, do you think that banks and credit card companies should cancel all debts owed them every four years? Do you think banks and credit card companies should refrain from charging interest? Do you believe that anyone who has more than one shirt should give up their extra shirts to the poor? Truth be told — and I’ve already covered this in the comments of Part 1 of this series — the evangelical Christian approach to “Biblical authority” is quite variable, even among those who wish to still read the clobber passages about homosexuality “literally.”

  7. If you read more of Timothy Keller or listen to him speak, then you would understand that he does not condone ill-will toward any other person. His argument is regarding theological concepts, not how to relate to another person. When Christians point to an issue that is biblically labeled “sin,” we are not saying to mistreat or reject the person. That is a false assumption.

    Regarding the following quote:
    “If you say to everybody, ‘Anyone who thinks homosexuality is a sin is a bigot,’ . . . you’re going to have to ask them to completely disassemble the way in which they read the Bible, completely disassemble their whole approach to authority. You’re basically going to have to ask them to completely kick their faith out the door.”

    There is neither hatred or acceptance in this quote. It is a general statement of fact about a system of belief. You cannot ethically compare the imposition of a belief with a Christian’s concept of conversion. We do not force conversion (well, evangelical Christianity doesn’t… but Orthodox Christianity has a history of doing so). Also, a belief in a theologically right/wrong action does not result in bigotry.

    Regarding your statement:
    “the fact that gay and gay-affirming evangelical Christians exist tends to contradict that the former implies the latter”

    A person who claim to follow Jesus and “affirms” (not simply accepts) a person in a homosexual lifestyle must ignore Christian scripture regarding morality. What does Christianity teach about homosexuality? That it is against God’s design, therefore it is sin. Nothing about hatred. You can point to Judaic law that is hate-filled toward homosexuals (old testament), but not Christian.

    Hopefully, people can be loving and caring toward others, while still disagreeing with certain attributes. This is what Christianity teaches (and Timothy Keller re-teaches). However, a Christian cannot disregard New Testament scripture and still truthfully claim Christianity. Makes no sense.

    There may be certain sects who claim Christianity and are either bigoted or affirming, but neither would hold up as truly “Christian” according to its own standards. You can accept an individual without affirming everything about his or her life. Claiming a person who is not “affirming” is “bigoted” is an ignorant argument.

    1. His argument is regarding theological concepts, not how to relate to another person.

      The idea that you can separate these two things when it comes to a person’s sexuality is laughable.

      we are not saying to mistreat or reject the person. That is a false assumption.

      Again, you cannot separate a person’s sexuality from the person itself. This is something that you need to grasp. Compartmentalization of people’s being like this is harmful to them.

      There is neither hatred or acceptance in this quote.

      You are arguing against something I did not say.

      It is a general statement of fact about a system of belief.

      It is a general statement of belief about a system of belief.

      You cannot ethically compare the imposition of a belief with a Christian’s concept of conversion.

      I find it curious that you find “if you don’t change this belief, you’re a bigot” to be an imposition, but “if you don’t change your beliefs, you will go to hell” a-okay.

      Note that saying that a belief is bigoted does not impose any belief on the person who holds such a belief. People are entitled to hold bigoted beliefs. I suggest that the real problem is that you don’t want to live with the discomfort of the idea that one of your beliefs might be bigoted.

      We do not force conversion (well, evangelical Christianity doesn’t…

      Actually evangelical Christianity has a long history of using manipulative and coercive tactics in their evangelistic efforts. Things like, “We can help you with your physical needs (clothing food), but first you have to listen to this sermon” Granted, I’m not sure any evangelical organization has actually demanded conversion before providing aid. But the fact that you suggest that no outreach by evangelical Christianity was ever coercive suggests that you either aren’t all that familiar with the wide history of evangelical outreach or you’re unwilling or unable to look at your own religion’s behavior with critical honesty.

      A person who claim to follow Jesus and “affirms” (not simply accepts) a person in a homosexual lifestyle must ignore Christian scripture regarding morality.

      No. One merely has to approach biblical interpretation differently than you do.

      What does Christianity teach about homosexuality?

      The bible says nothing about homosexuality. The Bible says something about certain instances of same-sex sexual pairings (and exactly how broadly those certain instances can be applied is debated by various Christian theologians), but it says nothing about actually being attracted to members of the same sex. Or are you among those who still stubbornly insist that “homosexuality” only refers to sexual activity and there is no such thing as sexual orientation in terms of attractions? That wouldn’t surprise me, considering you also still use the term “homosexual lifestyle.” Even most non-affirming Christians have moved beyond these concepts and terms. Several years ago.

      Hopefully, people can be loving and caring toward others, while still disagreeing with certain attributes.

      I have yet to see anyone do it. I do not consider being reduced to a “theological issue” — or even the belief that you can talk about my sexuality as a “theological issue” separate as a person from me — an act of love. I consider it an act of dehumanization. To give just one example.

      There may be certain sects who claim Christianity and are either bigoted or affirming, but neither would hold up as truly “Christian” according to its own standards.

      This is a No True Scotsman Fallacy. There is no universal agreement on the defining characteristics of Christianity that would exclude all the Christians you wish to. The only way you could come up with agreement is by discounting those definitions who disagree with yours on the grounds that they “aren’t truly Christian,” which is a circular argument.

      I’m also invoking blogowner discretion at this point. I do not wish to continue this argument with you. Please respect the boundaries I choose to set in my space.

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