The Slippery Slope of Compassion

from xkcd.com

In my last post, I pointed out that the conservative evangelical church has a listening problem. Instead of paying heed to the chorus of voices stating concerns and asking to be heard, evangelical leaders invent their own reasons for why Millennials are leaving the church (among other things) and trumpet them as fact. Loudly and ad nauseum.

As I thought it over, I realized that this antipathy to listening is built into the far right evangelical worldview. The trigger word in evangelicalism is “compromise,” and the faithfulness of every believer is judged by how much he or she is “compromising” with the world. Listening to secular music? Compromise. Kissing while dating? Compromise. Attending a secular college? Compromise.

The eager young evangelical is conditioned to avoid compromise at any cost. After all, you wouldn’t want anyone thinking that you approved of smoking by seeing you in the company of your smoking friends, right? But worse than that, compromising will lead you straight down the slippery slope to sin. One moment you’re reading Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self-Reliance for a homework assignment, and the next you’re running off to join an atheist commune in socialist Europe.

The belief is not merely that secular ideas are seductive; to conservative evangelicals, they’re aggressively penetrating. You can’t read Full Frontal Feminism or listen to a Neil deGrasse Tyson lecture and remain spiritually or theologically pure; you now have that knowledge in your brain corrupting everything you think and affecting how you respond to people.

And that’s why you can’t listen. You can’t listen to those who don’t believe like you do. Because when you start listening, your mind becomes open to ideas and feelings that lead you away from your mission and from God. Your mission, of course, is to convert the unsaved. Lead them into your way of thinking. You can’t convert someone to your way of thinking if you let them fill your head with conflicting information. Why would you do that, anyway? You have all the correct answers, after all – straight from the mouth of God to the pages of scripture. Best to not let them speak at all. Their eternal soul – and yours – is at stake.

To wit, I have been on the receiving end of a lecture like the following by my evangelical caretakers. Let me know if any of this sounds familiar:

“I see you’ve become friends with Sarah. That’s great! Sarah isn’t a Christian, and I know God has put you in her life to be a witness to her. Be sure to invite her to come to church with you. However, it’s important that you don’t spend too much time alone with Sarah, especially at her house. I heard that she’s gay, and I don’t want you thinking that’s ok. God’s not ok with it. If you want to hang out with Sarah, do it in a group with your Christian friends.

“I know Sarah will tell you that she was born that way and that she’s tried to be straight. She’ll tell you very sad stories of people not accepting her for ‘who she is,’ and it will be very convincing. That’s what she believes, and you’ll want to feel sorry for her. You’ll be tempted to tell her that it’s ok, that God accepts her, and that you’ll support her dating another girl. You may even be tempted to think that endorsing gay marriage is a loving thing to do for people like Sarah who are searching for acceptance. But it is the opposite of loving. If Sarah doesn’t change, she will go to hell. And if you tell her that God accepts her in her sin, you will be responsible. So don’t listen.”

Evangelicals know that empathetic listening produces compassion, and compassion is a slippery slope to all kinds of compromise with the world. If you listen to the homeless, you might start advocating for big government social welfare programs. If you listen to the feminists denouncing the evils of patriarchy, you might start supporting divorce in cases of domestic violence. If you listen to those who have been hurt by abusive doctrines in the church, you might decide that church isn’t a place you want to be.

That’s a risk evangelicals can’t afford to take. Compromise is the enemy. Compromise means we’re no different from them. And if there’s no difference between us and them, then we share the same fate: destruction. So the conversation must remain one way. If people won’t accept the answers you give them, preach louder. Shut them out until they decide to change. In light of hell, that’s compassion.

But as my fellow blogger Rebecca Trotter once pointed out, you can either have love or theological purity. You can’t have both. Love is just too messy to toe the rigid line of legalism. If you love someone and want to show it, you’re going to have to compromise at some point. You’re going to have to get in the gutter with them.

You’re going to have to listen.

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14 responses to “The Slippery Slope of Compassion

  1. I’m still listening… Tell me more 🙂
    Hope the family is all fine and settling into normal sleeping patterns again!

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  3. I am so glad not to have been raised in a Christian fundamentalist or conservative evangelical church. I am so glad to not be a fundie. It is not because I am a better or worse person than them. We all reside within the circle of sin. I just enjoy the fresh air of being different and not being burdened by unnecessary crap. Sarah can come over to my house, hang out with me and my children, watch TV with us, etc.

    We might even watch the movie “Lucy” together. Have you seen that? It has quite a lot of violence and a little bad language—but the story line is rather amazing. My guess is that it is the next stage of evolution beyond where we all are right now—perhaps the “spiritual body” that the Apostle Paul said would be given to Christians. Right at the end of the movie, I remember saying, “Holy Crap!!!”

  4. you can either have love or theological purity. You can’t have both.

    Stating the obvious, I guess, but if your theology can’t be pure if it embraces love, maybe the theology is wrong. Reminds me all too much of the Pharisees.
    Fun fact: The Pharisees of today read about the Pharisees back then and don’t recognize their kind…
    Maybe evangelicals should stop preaching about socialist Jesus and preach more about righteous phariseeism…

    • I once had a fundie try to convince may that the ancient scribes and pharisees were the theological liberals of 1st century Judea because they believed in radical left field ideas such as resurrection and stuff like that. That did not seem right to me because they were ultra conservative with scripture and added enormous extra stuff to it in an attempt to cover every possible permutation for intentionally or accidentally failing to follow scripture to the letter.

      Boy!!! Did Jesus ever rain on their parade in that Matthew 23 rant!!!

  5. Wow… I am ever so familiar with that type of thinking… Grew up in it. Was like it for a while. Then realized there was a better way. Now, have people still in the conservative evangelical circles afraid I’ve…. Compromised.

    It’s so frustrating.

    • I think it was interesting that April brought up the word “compassion.” More and more in fundiedom lately I keep running into that word, and when I do, the author is putting it down as an evil thing. I ran into one yesterday that said that our human concept of compassion is not a part of God’s love. I had a former British fundie, who still thinks like one, tell me that God is not a mammal, so the feeling of love that a child experiences when cuddling up tight to mom is in no way part of God’s personal concept of love. How he would know that—I dunno.

      I guess the thing that troubles me most is that fundiedom now has a growing set of words that it considers to be evil in and of themselves or evil because they lead to other evil. I know for certain that the first two words are on their doody list, and i cannot help but think the others below will follow it onto the list:

      Love (a super bad word)
      Compassion (bad word0
      Empathy
      Sympathy
      Warm-heartedness

      You can probably think of other words to put here.

      Why is this happening? When I read the red words of Jesus and read about the things He did, He is saying and doing the words on my list above. How then can one who claims to be a Christian also claim that these good words are instead evil words. I think they would say: “If you cannot see that these words are evil, then it means that the Holy Spirit does not dwell within you like He does in us.” Then I just sit there in baffled amazement that anyone could think so stupidly.

      Where is all this coming from, and what does it mean? It makes no sense at all to me when I view it through my Jesus filter.

  6. Then the other thing I am running into is the statement: “Liberals always act on emotion only, whereas we conservative Christians see things in their right logical and practical perspective.” What does that mean?

    Best I have been able to figure it out, it means:

    “Little Leah is losing blood fast and has passed out. In a rush of emotion a stupid liberal Christian would panic and call 911, whereas a real Christian mom would logically and practically realize that she has only $10 in her bank account—not enough to pay the Emergency Room—and then do the logical thing as dictated by the cold hard facts of the situation—leave the kid to die from blood loss at home.”

    I fail to see Jesus anywhere in that sort of thinking, but I run into these jerks all the time in various contexts.

    What is going on with them? It just baffles me. There is a conservative, church-going Episcopalian who writes a column for my local metropolitan newspaper. He thinks like this in his newspaper column. He has a CPA mindset about everything—and if it all comes down to a choice between money and the way of Jesus—then the money wins!!! If I were his pastor, I would have a good, long “come to Jesus talk” with this guy. It just seems to me that these people have never even smoked a quick cigarette with Jesus, much less gotten to know him.

    Where is this crap coming from? Oh, I know. If I REALLY had the Holy Spirit dwelling within me (like they do), then I would easily see how the bottom line on the ledger sheet trumps what Jesus would want to happen.

  7. What about feminist fundamentalism? Any time I tell a feminist to wear modest clothing or learn self-defense against a potential non-violent date rapist, I’m afraid she’s going to ban me from her blog and accuse me of supporting “rape culture” (as if I don’t condemn date rapists too).

    Speaking of which, if you criticize Bruce Jenner for dressing like a woman, you know you’re “transphobic” now (because they want you to call him “Caitlyn” and praise him for being “brave” and “beautiful”), even though he has male genitalia and is attracted to women (which seems to imply that he’s actually a heterosexual man).

    It’s the same sort of intolerance. It seems there are very few free thinkers in the world who can explore both sides of an issue. Most people are afraid to compromise.

    • You are supporting rape culture when you make those comments. You don’t stop rape by asking the victims to change. Men rape because they feel entitled to sex and don’t respect women as fellow human beings. If you’re so opposed to rape, why aren’t you out telling your fellow men to stop raping?! When you say that a woman has to dress in the way YOU think is modest (because there are no universal, objective standards of modesty) in order to avoid rape, you are putting the responsibility on the victim. And when women are raped, people start asking what she wore or did to cause it. To suggest that violence and dehumanization are understandable responses to wearing the wrong article of clothing is disgusting and evil. Just. Plain. Inexcusable.

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