Sunday, August 21, 2016

Anti-Gay Church Moves into the Gayborhood

The IndyStar recently had an article about Traders Point Christian Church (TPCC), which has purchased a large facility in downtown Indianapolis, and has already started holding religious meetings. The exurban-style megachurch has a long history in Whitestown, in Boone County, but recently expanded to Carmel, and now to the near-northside, on North Delaware. While there is no true "gayborhood" in Indianapolis, like Castro in San Francisco, Chelsea in New York, and West Hollywood in Los Angeles, the area around Massachusetts Avenue is about the closest there is, with a history of a number of gay-owned, gay-themed businesses, as well as a high concentration of openly gay residents. This is the neighborhood where, just last year, an anti-gay bakery had a short-lived existence--opening shop, refusing to make a gay wedding cake (whatever a "gay wedding cake" is), and then closed due to an abrupt end to their customer base. This is where TPCC has decided to open its own shop.

The United States has a long history of using religion to persecute various minorities that it deems morally unacceptable, or just plain inferior. Let's ignore the way that Christianity was used to approve and solidify the legal standing of slavery for Black Americans, Native American massacres, "witch" massacres, and the subordination of women. I doubt TPCC would, today, support any of these positions. In fact, the Stone-Campbell movement, of which TPCC is an offshoot, has a history of anti-racism here in Indianapolis. Ovid Butler, founder of North Western Christian University, which later became Butler University, was a strong opponent to slavery. He worked with a Stone-Campbell church, Second Christian Church, which, according to Emma Lou Thornbrough (the late historian from Butler University), was "founded during the Civil war as a mission church for freedmen, ... [and] was one of the most influential black churches in Indianapolis" (p 18). Butler University itself originally had a seminary feeder for the Stone-Campbell movement, until that department broke off to form it's own separate entity, which continues as a Disciple of Christ institution, Christian Theological Seminary.

However, that history is for the "liberal" branch of the Stone-Campbell movement (the Disciples of Christ). TPCC is from the middle-branch, not the most conservative of the branches (that title belongs to the non-instrumentalist congregations), but still theologically very conservative. Many theologically conservative churches continue our country's ideal of a separation of church and state, holding to Augustine's "two cities" paradigm (secular institutions are fundamentally different from godly institutions), as well as Tertullian's famous rhetorical question, "What has Jerusalem to do with Athens?", which was always the Evangelical approach to politics until around the 1970s. However, with the religious-political movement known as the Religious Right, the "Christian Churches/Churches of Christ" (the "middle" branch of the Stone-Campbell movement) has largely been far more active in trying to impact the political system, with a goal of reshaping secular, pluralistic life into their religious vision. TPCC is no exception to this.

On the one hand, TPCC has every right to teach and preach in its churches whatever it deems theologically appropriate, and it does so. For example, on their "Resources" web page, they sell two books (one wonders what Jesus would think about this) that affirm and explain their anti-gay theology in detail, one by Kevin Deyoung, who believes that LGBTQ people are the moral equivalent to pedophiles and people who have sex with animals (engage in bestiality), and another by Sam Allberry.

Similarly, on their "Beliefs" page they specifically highlight an anti-gay paragraph about what they think God's intent for marriage is:

We believe that the term “marriage” has only one meaning: the uniting of one man and one woman in a single, exclusive union, as described in Genesis 2:18-25. We believe that God intends sexual intimacy to occur only between a man and a woman who are married to each other (1 Corinthians 6:18; 7:2-5; Hebrews 13:4). We believe that God has commanded that no intimate sexual activity be engaged in outside of a marriage between a man and a woman.
While many contemporary churches would consider private beliefs about sexual orientation to be part of an individual's conscience, much like beliefs about capital punishment, war, guns, etc, this church believes so strongly in their anti-gay theology, that it has become part of their core theological system, from which they allow no deviation. In many areas of the country, perhaps even Whitestown, IN, this dogmatic position may be acceptable. However, when moving into a largely pro-gay community, this level of anti-gay dogmatism is unlikely to be received well.

What will also not likely be well-received is their promotion of the long-ago discredited "ex-gay therapy." In fact, in 2007, TPCC hosted a national "Love Won Out" conference. The history of this organization is somewhat complicated. Early on it became an arm of James Dobson's organization, Focus on the Family, but was then taken over by Exodus International, an ex-gay support network. The LWO conferences were designed to encourage gay people to "become straight," to encourage participants to engage in anti-gay activism, and trained parents how to tell if their children were gay so they could send them to Christian therapists to be "fixed." All of the licensing mental health organizations, as well the primary licensing medical organizations had, by 2007, issued institutional statements clarifying that not only was "ex-gay therapy" not effective, but that it was largely harmful, for example the American Psychological Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Counseling Association. This type of "therapy" has been banned in several states.

However, all of the preceding discussion is what they do inside their church walls. What is far more problematic is their secular political activism on this issue. Specifically, the church's relationship with Curt Smith, a current "team leader" for the Indiana Family Institute, and IFI's former president. At issue is the core part that Smith has played in both of these institutions. In addition to his activities with IFI, Smith "attends Traders Point Christian Church in northwest Indianapolis, where he served as an elder for 14 years and was Chairman of the Board from 2005 until 2008." His past and present relationship with TPCC is not trivial, nor is it coincidental. The church has anti-gay theology as one of its core beliefs, which is also one of the three core beliefs of the IFI. But more than just holding and promoting a system of religious beliefs, the IFI's primary mission is to create political change, shaping our pluralistic society into their own theological vision.

A primary example is their participation in the recent Indiana "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" debacle. In this image, governor Mike Pence is shown signing RFRA, surrounded by many of the state's religiously-affiliated anti-gay activists. Smith is in the back row, representing the IFI, one of the key actors in this statewide (and later national) drama.

While the strength of the backlash eventually caused Pence and the legislators to add a "fix," reducing its enforceability, Smith opposed any changes to the law they originally passed. In fact, in a recent book about Evangelicals' requirement to engage our society to a move towards theologically conservative political & legislative changes, he implies that Mike Pence is a New Testament Judas, selling out those religious-political activists who spent a significant amount of time, money, and political capital to get the original RFRA passed, yet Pence signed the "fix." Like the author of the anti-gay books sold on the TPCC web site, Smith also believes that gay people are the moral equivalent to pedophiles and supports the banned ex-gay "therapy."

Similarly, not satisfied with keeping their political beliefs inside the walls of their congregation, pastors at the church advocate for political opposition to basic gay civil liberties. For example, here, and here, the lead pastor, Aaron Brockett, tweeted links to anti-gay news articles. The downtown congregation will have a their own pastor, Petie Kinder, with a similar penchant for tweeting anti-gay articles, for example, here and here. Again, while this type of rhetoric may bring in the politically-conservative residents of Boone County, my guess is they will have an uphill battle bringing an anti-gay message into the gayborhood around Mass Ave, and may go the way of the anti-gay bakery.

Finally, on a slightly different note, all of this came to my attention by way of a discussion on NextDoor, when one of my neighbors posted about the fact that the church had purchased one of the old buildings for its new church plant. When I posted about the irony of the anti-gay church moving into this particular neighborhood, my post was flagged as inappropriate and deleted. It started an interesting conversation that seemed to contain three types of people--one that was concerned about the "outdated" theology the church was propagating, another that agreed with the church's theology and welcomed them, and a third that was annoyed by any talk of the theological, but were simply excited about the economic impact of a megachurch moving into a building in their neighborhood (perhaps they will put a Starbucks in the lobby?). After my post was deleted, I appealed the decision to the company, who affirmed that my contribution was unacceptable. I promptly deleted my account with NextDoor.

[Edit: In a previous version of this, I mistakenly associated online anti-gay sermons by Jeremy Paschall with Traders Point Christian Church, when in fact, he is associated with Traders Point Church Of Christ. I have deleted this reference]

4 comments:

  1. Thanks, Jeramy. I saw that they had bought this building and had some vague memory that they were a "less than welcoming" church, but had no details. I also wonder how they will fare in this are of downtown. Time will tell, but I will certainly now keep my eyes open to be sure that they stay Honest about their beliefs.

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  2. they have ruin american politics & many lives based on there lies & fear based montra of hate & division

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  3. You've certainly done your legwork with this article, but I believe you have incorrectly affiliated Jeremy Paschall and TPCOC (a Church of Christ in Castleton) with TPCC. Those churches aren't related to one another.

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    1. You're absolutely, right, thank you! I have corrected this error.

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