Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin: More Fun with Mars Hill

Well, Monday is upon us again, and that means Mars Hill deacon Joel Fariss is once again over at Grey Gallery and Lounge, winning souls for (his version) of Christ.   Followers of this blog will recall that one week ago today, I met with Fariss and wrote about our encounter.  The overwhelming response has been positive; both Christians and non-Christians in my community have given me gracious feedback on my post.

Today I learned, via a blog post from Stephanie Larsen, a friend of Fariss’s and fellow Mars Hiller, what at least one church member thinks of my efforts:

So many people promised [via the SLOG] to come meet up with Joel that some guys from our church offered to go with him so there’d be strength and safety in numbers.  Turns out, for all the talk on the blog, only one girl showed up to talk with him and gave her own perspective on it. (Beware! There is one VERY inappropriate picture on there. The rest of her blog, however, is the most thoughtful argument I’ve ever seen from someone who hates Christianity about why they hate it. To give you a quick recap, she was able to say that she thinks Joel as a person is cool, and she just hates his religion. Fair enough.)

The “inappropriate picture” was a homoerotic photograph by Seattle artist Steven Miller, and given where she’s coming from and who her audience must be, I understand her objection.   But the rest of this paragraph absolutely blows my mind.  I hate Christianity?!  If that is the case, I must hate it in some twisted way that makes me obsessively devote myself to its study; like how Josef Albers hated color, or Freud hated sex!

Rene Magritte. Philosophy in the Boudoir. Painting, 1947.

Rene Magritte. Philosophy in the Boudoir. Oil on canvas, 1947.

As of this writing, Stephanie has yet to approve my response, so I will recapitulate the crux of it here:

I was very surprised to learn that something you took away from my essay was the notion that I “hate” Christianity!  I would have been just as surprised if someone had taken a critical review of a particular art show as evidence that I “hate” art.

My stance on Mars Hill is no different than that of liberal Christian theologians like Bishop John Shelby Spong. I believe that your exaggerated simplification of where I’m coming from is fundamentally dismissive of my sincere desire for open and honest communication between members of Mars Hills and those like myself who take issue with the church’s stance on social issues for theological reasons.

This exchange is telling.  Nowhere in my post did I use or mean the word “hate,” or imply any blanket negative emotional reaction to Christianity whatsoever.  Yet this is the response my reasoned objection to the theology of Mars Hill elicited.  In psychology, this is called projection.  “Love the sinner, hate the sin” is a page from their playbook, not mine.

I suspect that Stephanie Larsen reads hate into my motives because that’s what she expects to see from my kind.  She calls Capitol Hill the “liberal, gay-rights, anything-but-Jesus part of the city” and says that folks here “want nothing to do with anything that even remotely smells of church, Jesus, and the like.”  Not only is this dismissive of the many Christian congregations that meet peaceably in this neighborhood, it is willfully ignorant of the political and social diversity that exists within Christianity, as though the concepts “liberal” and “gay-rights” are fundamentally incompatible with Christian faith.

Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin. Sermon on the Mount. Photograph from Ecce Homo, 1998.

Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin. Sermon on the Mount. Photograph from Ecce Homo series, 1998.

Incidentally, this is exactly why I am often critical of The Stranger’s coverage of religious issues.  Engaging fundamentalists in shouting matches might feel good and attract web traffic, but it also strengthens their resolve by playing right into their characterization of what their enemies are supposed to be like.  Perceived persecution is the fuel that their machine runs on.  Let’s refuse to play that game, shall we?

On that note, I guess I’m heartened that Stephanie Larsen had to completely invent an outlandish motive for my perspective, in that  it seems to indicate that at least I’m coming from a place she does not expect.  I am less heartened, frankly, by the implications for the egalitarianism with which I would love to be able to regard the believers of all faiths.  (Larsen’s not doing my opinion of Mars Hill any favors.)

UPDATE:  Stephanie never did approve my comment.  Instead, she switched her blog to protected mode, which is to say our heathen eyes are no longer welcome to read it.  I guess she prefers mischaracterizing me into a vacuum!

~ by emilypothast on June 15, 2009.

11 Responses to “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin: More Fun with Mars Hill”

  1. Brilliant! Well, if the Mars Hill Borg do any taking over of Capitol Hill, it will only be through invasion, not through conversion. They have nothing to offer, but if they’d sit down and listen for a change, they just might learn a thing or two.

  2. You know, that’s a good point. There are a lot of dull, classless condos in this neighborhood sitting empty…

  3. You hate Christianity? Gee, they really have you pegged. Shallow, shallow, shallow…..*sigh*

  4. Well done Emily. Perhaps people on either side will come to understand it’s possible for differing minds to meet and discuss the things they don’t agree on, and even further to the point, find that perhaps both sides can learn something from one another. Analysis, criticism and discussion are critical elements of any system or belief, aren’t they? I swear I remember something from the bible about skepticism and asking questions being encouraged.

  5. Your patience and determination with these people is so much greater than mine. You’d have to LOVE Christianity to work as hard as you do to defend it against its own churches.

  6. Perhaps people on either side will come to understand it’s possible for differing minds to meet and discuss the things they don’t agree on, and even further to the point, find that perhaps both sides can learn something from one another.

    I wish. Instead, I discovered this morning that Stephanie had made her blog password protected, so none of our heathen eyes are welcome to look upon it any longer! She’s definitely not interested in a dialogue, but she wants to be able to tell her audience I “hate” Christianity. [sigh].

    Whatever happened to taking ownership of one’s own opinions? If you’re ashamed of or disinterested in defending your own words, why say them? (I guess it’s a good thing we don’t all have a religion we can use as an excuse to avoid treating others with dignity and respect.)

  7. Hrm. Way to reach a broader audience – or maybe she’d rather just preach to the chorus, making my misplaced optimism very premature – how sad.

    Respect and ownership would make everything so much more credible if people would simply be responsible and follow through.

  8. I wish. Instead, I discovered this morning that Stephanie had made her blog password protected, so none of our heathen eyes are welcome to look upon it any longer! She’s definitely not interested in a dialogue, but she wants to be able to tell her audience I “hate” Christianity. [sigh].

    This is why I decided not to attend the little powwow. I don’t grasp how it will do any good for anyone (except to make the M.H. folks feel like they’re Doing Something out in the Secular World). I have yet to meet a devout Christian who is interested in real dialogue; conversations on points of faith (or faith-influenced politics, ugh) usually turn into battles to convince the other party, to proselytize, or, at worst, as a gross excuse for masochistic self-congratulatory snobbery (see above). There’s no intellectual openness or curiosity, let alone any gray area for them. The same can be said (I think) for most people who use religion in such a dumbed down, formulaic kind of way.

  9. Ok, I have to renege a little. I’m being overly enthusiastic, and I will concede there are some who will dialogue. But they are so incredibly few and far between that I’m always entirely skeptical of a possibility of real dialogue, and this recent interaction of yours has proved my rule rather than its exception.

  10. I still remember my mother teaching me that you never argue with a Jehovah’s Witness at your door. If you want dialogue, you don’t meet on the battlefield.

  11. Touché! I am, of course, the type who invites the Jehovah’s Witness in, and have actually had some interesting experiences that way. I don’t think the Joel Fariss thing was all that different from engaging a JW. He didn’t come to my house, but this whole thing began because he announced his intent to come to my neighborhood to sit in my gallery and give people his point of view about something I care a lot about, too. And to Joel’s credit, he was kind and courteous in the face of dissent. (We strongly disagree on some things that I consider moral imperatives, but there’s basically a nice guy in there.)

    This lady is another story. How on earth did she come to the conclusion that I “hate” Christianity? I wanted her to respond to that question on her comments thread. I only wrote about it after several hours had passed (during which time she was adding new blog content, so she was clearly online) and it became increasingly clear she had no intention of approving my comment.

    The response I left for her was respectful, but challenging. If someone had left a comment like that on my blog, I’d use it as an opportunity to start a conversation. Maybe I’d end up having to admit to being wrong, but that’s what happens when you make public declarations. (And it should happen sometimes, or else you’re not growing!) The important thing is to have some integrity and stand behind your words and actions. But this person wants to be able to throw stones from a glass house that she can dematerialize at will. I think it sucks.

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