My sister is the queen of something known as “friendship evangelism.” While my brother-in-law completely rejected the Muslim my niece dated for awhile—refusing to stay with them when they visited, lest he be seen as endorsing the relationship—my sister took a different tack. She was very kind to her daughter’s boyfriend, staying in their home and participating in their lives.
“How will he come to know Jesus if no one will share it with him?” was my sister’s logic. By being friendly, she was certain, at some point, her daughter’s boyfriend would come around and accept Jesus and leave behind his “false religion” of Islam.
I found her tactic offensive. To their credit, so did my niece and her boyfriend. Neither of them were fooled. They saw right through my sister’s veiled attempts at evangelism.
A new book by two pastors with a ministry focus on traditional sexual “sinners” like those in the porn industry and those who “struggle” with pornography, is seeking to revive this sort of “friendship evangelism.” They’re traveling the country, attending gay pride parades, handing out “Jesus Loves You” water bottles and wrist bracelets apologizing for how the church has treated “sinners” like gays and lesbians.
”The gay community has been singled out and condemned by people who have hijacked the Jesus of Scripture,” said Harper, director of community outreach at Capital Christian Center in Sacramento, Calif. “Many people we encountered had never had a positive experience with a religious person or the name Jesus. We desired to talk about their spirituality, not their sexuality, and focus on the hope and love of Jesus.”
While that sounds innocuous enough, when one takes a closer look at Jason Harper and his buddy Craig Gross, who is the “founder of TripleXChurch, a Web network that helps those struggling with pornography and workers in the adult entertainment industry,” their true agenda shines through—especially when you see who they’re working with.
One of their partners in their appearance at Atlanta pride is an outfit called Perimeter Church. A look at their Web site would have you think they’re one of those hip Emergent type churches with open hearts, open theology, and open doors. Not so fast. A closer look shows they’re a member of the Presbyterian Church in America—the ultra-conservative arm of the Presbyterian Church, and no friend of progressive theology or gays and lesbians.
So, while Harper and Gross say they’re sharing Jesus’ “unconditional” love, it’s clear that there are strings attached. In the first chapter of their book Harper and Gross write:
Imagine a church or community where Jesus was communicated in such a way that everyone belonged. They were included. And from this feeling of belonging, over time the message of Jesus made an impact on their belief. And from that newfound fullness of God, their behavior changed.
If this practice won out over religious dogma, rooted in rules and regulations, more people would find hope in the authentic Christ.
Again, sounds lovely, but what they want is the “behavior” of gays and lesbians to change. It’s a kinder, gentler Fred Phelps—whose church, by the way, gave the book a hateful review after the authors went to spread their love to Fred’s in Topeka, Kansas.
The offensiveness of this “friendship evangelism” cannot be overstated. Let me outline what I find most offensive. First, gay and lesbian people are lumped in with porn stars. I agree with them that the porn industry is harmful not just to women, but to men. It degrades both men and women—but women especially. I join with them in their quest to change the behavior of porn stars. However, I am offended that my community is lumped in with them. There is absolutely no comparison. It’s like comparing the heterosexual community to the porn industry. Yes, there are some perverts in the heterosexual community, but that doesn’t mean the whole community is perverse. Same goes for the gay and lesbian community.
Secondly, this form of “friendship evangelism” does further damage to how gay and lesbian people perceive the church. While it’s true you may catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, in the end, the fly still gets squashed. So, some unsuspecting gay and lesbian people may take Gross and Harper up on their offer and accept Jesus’ love—then they get swatted. The strings are that your “behavior” must change—you can’t be gay or lesbian anymore and expect God to love you. So much for Jesus’ “unconditional” love.
Gay and lesbian people won’t be fooled by this kind of bait and switch evangelism. Both Gross and Harper complain in their book about the “hijacking” of Jesus by people who use Jesus’ name to build wealth or worldly power. But, they too are equally guilty of hijacking Jesus and using him to lure in unsuspecting people who are promised grace but are instead given condemnation. In their attempt to win more people to Christ, they only end up confirming the worst fears that the gay and lesbian community already has about Christians. And that’s a sin.