What follows contains some references to sexual violence and may trigger some readers, who may not want to read any further because of that. I understand. That said, this is gonna be a bit long and a bit of a rant so buckle up.]
I spend very little time engaging with Conservative Evangelical voices or blogs these days. Mostly, I find the folks in that community are closed to open conversation and self-reflection and all too often seem to actually enjoy reveling in stupidity (sadly, this is just as true of many of their “intellectuals” as it is of the lay people, as evidenced by skimming through the material presented here or here). Frequently, they remind me of the blind dwarfs that C.S. Lewis writes about in The Last Battle — no matter what you do or say, they will remain convinced that the mud they are eating is the most wonderful food they have ever devoured. When that’s the case, it’s best to just leave them be.
The problem is that a good many of the things that they believe actually end up causing harm to other people. It’s one thing when they choose to sit in the dark eating mud by themselves — it’s another thing when they try to imprison another person in the dark with them and force feed mud to that person. All too often, it is the children of Evangelicals who experience the brunt of this violence firsthand.
Over the years, one of the ways in which I have seen that violence enacted by Evangelicals towards their own children is the way in which Evangelicals have responded to children who identified with a form of sexuality that falls outside of the boundaries established by heteronormativity (for ease of reference, I will use the umbrella term “queer” to refer to this group, as that seems to be more of a norm within scholarship and is less unwieldy than acronyms like LGBTTIQQ2S). All too often, in my work with homeless and street-involved young adults and teens, I have discovered that the primary reason why the individual before me was homeless was because he or she was kicked out by his or her good Christian parents because he or she identified as queer. Often this “kicking out” was also accompanied with physical violence (and sometimes sexual violence).
Anyway, all that to say that one of the few Evangelical blogs that I do read on a semi-regular basis recently posted a link to a post by somebody named Stephen Altrogge. This post is called: “What I Would Do If My Daughter Told Me She Was Gay” [NB: since I first began working on this draft, my computer now tells me that Altrogge's blog is a virus risk so you may not want to follow the link -- I quote the entire post in what follows below].
I think Stephen is trying to distance himself from the gay-bashing violence that we’ve all seen Evangelicals practice, so he does not say that he would beat or rape or disown his daughter and throw her into the gutter if she came out to him. That’s good. Instead, he takes time to try and appear sensitive and loving. Unfortunately for Stephen, this is also the way in which fathers who beat or rape or disown their queer children like to appear in public — and when you’re dealing with kids all too often it’s the parents who are able to manipulate and control the ways in which other view and understand the situation. Be that as it may, I’m willing to give Stephen the benefit of the doubt. Let’s assume he is more loving than a lot of Evangelicals and let’s assume he won’t beat or rape or disown his daughter… that doesn’t discount the possibility that he is a terrible father. As C. S. Lewis wrote in God in the Dock:
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
Let’s keep that in mind as we turn to a more detailed analysis of what Altrogge wrote.
The first thing one sees when viewing Altrogge’s post is an image that proclaims that “jesus > desires” — i.e. the person, work, and words of Jesus — as interpreted by Evangelical Christianity — is “greater than” or more fundamental to our self understanding and character formation, than any desires we have. From this one can already discern two things about what follows:
(1) the author thinks homosexuality is bad; and
(2) the author is probably a straight white male who is comfortably situated within the middle-class (or higher) and who had never felt anything close to a serious conflict between what he desires and what he has been taught to think about Jesus (I initially wrote “what he thinks about Jesus” instead of “what he has been taught to think” but there is little evidence that many of these Evangelicals have ever learned how to think for themselves so I thought it best to modify that sentence).
The bio of the author provided on the “About” page seems to confirm the latter point. Altrogge is a pastor who summarizes his role as “generally being awesome.” Not exactly the bio of somebody well acquainted with struggle and suffering, eh? Apparently he is also the author of a book called Game Day For the Glory of God: A Guide For Athletes, Fans, and Wanabes which, according to the description on Amazon, is about how sports fit into a god-glorifying life and talks about how the Creator of the universe cares about Monday Night Football. Reading through the reviews on Amazon I don’t see anything that suggests that Altrogge explores the broader social, sexual, and economic matters related to sports. Does Altrogge address the culture of rape that exists in the NBA and how one can participate in that culture in a godly way? Does he talk about the machismo, misogyny and sexual exploitation of women that comes with hockey culture? Does he talk about the relation of domestic violence to professional football? Does he talk about the ways in which the Olympics are inevitably a part of a sustained assault upon marginalized populations within host cities for the benefit of developers and how they are used to transfer massive amounts of public funds into private pockets? Does he talk about how organized sports in general actively participate in practices that are oppressive to those who fall outside of the boundaries of of heteronormativity? Somehow I doubt it. The Table of Contents seems to reflect more of the standard Evangelical themes: rejoicing in our “gifts” and using them for the glory of God, losing with grace, fathers and sons bonding over sports, all that jazz.
Of course, in all likelihood Altrogge has heard some of these arguments about professional sports — I haven’t known any hardcore sports fan who wasn’t at least aware of accusations like these, and Altrogge has written a book about sports, so I take that as evidence that he is a hardcore fan. However, it is also likely that he never gave them much credibility or ever looked into them in much detail. Instead, like most hardcore fans, he has probably found ways to brush them aside without ever really confronting them. Why? Because Altrogge likes sports. And Altrogge wants to keep on liking sports. Therefore, they must be good.
But, wait a second here, that means that Altrogge desires something — the pleasure he derives from enjoying sports in various capacities — and this desire is shaping his understanding of his Christian faith (i.e. Altrogge comfortable weds his love of sports with his understanding of Jesus). The desire to enjoy sports is what is definitive because, as far as I can tell, Jesus would have a problem with things like a culture of rape, sexual exploitation, domestic violence, and the rich robbing the poor. Thus, instead of Altrogge’s initial diagram (jesus > desires) one should propose the following two diagrams as more accurate reflection of what Altrogge believes:
desires (to enjoy sports) > jesus
(my understanding of) jesus > desires (that goes against the conventions established by heteronormativity)
The point here is that Altrogge doesn’t really believe that the example, words, person, and actions of Jesus are more definitive for who we are than any desires that we may have. Rather, the point is that Altrogge has found a way of accepting or creating a Jesus who fits perfectly with what he desires and the only desires that Jesus trumps are those that Altrogge does not have — i.e. the desires possessed by Others. In other words:
jesus > your desires, not mine
Now let’s turn to the words Altrogge actually has to say to his daughter. Altrogge begins by openly recognizing that one day his daughter, Charis, or one of his other kids may experience “homosexual attraction.” Thus, he begins by asking himself this question:
What would I do if Charis told me that she was experiencing homosexual attractions?
Notice how Altrogge has shifted the nature of his post — his post is titled “What Would I Do If My Daughter Told Me She Was Gay?” but now he changes from a question related to being gay to a question about experiencing a certain kind of attraction. Why this shift? Because Altrogge does not want to grant homosexuality any kind of formative ontological status. Conveniently, then, this also relieves Altrogge of any shame or disgust he may feel in relation to having a child who is gay. “No gay kids here, boss, I’m all man! I just got some straight kids who sometimes experience homosexual attractions!” Really?
It makes you wonder a little about how much experience Altrogge has being in relationships with members of the queer community. Who knows, maybe Altrogge’s first husband was gay, but it kind of seems like he is talking about something he doesn’t know anything about.
The first proof of this is that no person I have known would ever broach the subject with his or her parents in this way — and this is doubly true of young children and teens. Whoever came out by saying, “Dad, I think I’m experiencing homosexual attractions”? My guess: nobody. No, what the kid will say would be something more ontologically rooted: “Dad, I think I might be gay” that sort of thing. Or, maybe they would be more circumspect and say: “Dad, I think I like girls.” Then, if dad blows up you can always try and retreat from the implications of that statement: “Shit, I’m not saying I’m gay — that’s fucking gross! I’m just saying that I enjoy being around girls more than boys.” Really, though, the kid is saying, “I think I am gay” but in a way that takes a tiny bit of the edge off of a risky self-disclosure.
But back to Altrogge’s hypothetical scenario. By rephrasing the titular question, he is already crafting a fantasy land that is conducive to affirming what he believes and that prepares the way to affirm the story he wants to tell himself about himself (i.e. “I’m a good and loving father and my affirmation of heteronormativity won’t interfere with me being a good and loving father even if my daughter ends up
being gay experiencing homosexual attractions”). Along the way, this means that he has already begun to deny the validity of the world as it is experienced by his hypothetically gay child. Even before he gets a chance to show how sensitive he is, Altrogge has already marginalized the child questioning him — she is not allowed to speak in her own words. She may only speak with the words Altrogge gives her. Now for an Evangelical, where men speak for women, parents for children and straight people for queer people, this may seem like the divinely arranged order of things (so if you’re a female and a child and experience”homosexual attractions” it’s probably best if you never speak) but that perception doesn’t make the outcome any less violent or oppressive.
So how does Altrogge respond to this self-affirming question posed by his hypothetical child? Let’s see:
The first thing I’d do is give her a giant hug and tell her that nothing, nothing, nothing can ever change my love for her. She’s my precious little girl, and nothing is ever going to change that. I’d thank her for telling me about her feelings and tell her that she can always tell me anything, no matter how big or small. I want my kids to feel comfortable telling me anything, and to know that I won’t get angry with them no matter what they tell me.
Question One: What does this reaction communicate to the child about herself? Answer: That something is terribly wrong with her. This is I what I hear: “nothing, nothing, nothing [even the worst imaginable scenario -- i.e. you experiencing "homosexual attractions"] can ever change my love for her”… “she can always tell me anything, no matter how big or small [and this is massive]“… “I won’t get angry [although I damn well have the right to get angry about this -- or, at the very least, nobody would blame me for getting angry]… and “I won’t get angry with them no matter what” . This, of course, puts a confession of homosexuality on par with a confession of any thing else — a similar confession to Altrogge would probably be something like: “Hey Dad, I accidentally killed mom in a car accident while I was drunk and making out with your brother,” to which Altrogge would respond by saying, “nothing, nothing, nothing can ever change my love for you… you can always tell me anything… I won’t get angry with you no matter what…”
Question Two: what does it communicate to the child about her father? That he is a far better person than she can ever be — not only because he is straight but because he
loves claims to love her unconditionally. Beyond that, the implication seems to be that, by experiencing “homosexual attractions,” his child has somehow wronged him yet he, the long-suffering father, is capable of limitless forgiveness. He appears to be a saint of sorts, someone akin to the father in the parable of the prodigal son.
So, from the outset, Altrogge makes sure to establish the power dynamics he wants to define his relationship with his child, and the moral overcoding he uses to both mask and justify these dynamics — she, the queer child, is terribly fucked up (although, like a good loving father, he finds a way to make her feel this way without putting that into words); he, the straight father, is incredibly patient, kind, and loving.
What Altrogge is actually communicating is that he is the victim in this situation. He is the one who has been wronged. Not his daughter. Not the girl he is teaching to loathe a part of herself. She’s the offender, the one who is wronging him with her confession. Yet, due to his incredible magnaminity, he chooses not to be angry (although it would be understandable if he was), he chooses not to love her less (although it would be understandable if he did), and he chooses to hug her (although it would be understandable if he never showed her affection again).
Question Three: Is this response really an expression of concern for this hypothetical child or is this actually about Altrogge, the way he wants to perceive of himself, and the way he wants others to perceive him? Is Altrogge writing for his daughter or is he writing for himself? Uh-oh…
Question Four: If this is actually about and for Altrogge — i.e. if he actually takes his daughter’s confession about sexuality and makes it all about himself — what does that say about the kind of father he is? Double uh-oh…
From there, Altrogge goes into a pretty standard Evangelical presentation of what they consider to be the Gospel:
I’d tell her that God loves her even more than I do. He created her in his image, and because of that, she is precious to him. He sent his son to die for her sins, which also proves that she is precious to him.
He then applies this to matters related to sexuality:
Then I’d tell her that if she follows Jesus, her sexuality is not her identity. Her identity is rooted in Christ. She is a child of God who has the Holy Spirit dwelling in her. Her fundamental identity is not her sexual desires, her fundamental identity is as a forgiven sinner, united to Christ, full of the Holy Spirit. That’s what Paul was talking about in 2 Corinthians 5:17 when he said:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
I’d say, “Sweetie, if you follow after Jesus, your identity is as a new creation in Jesus. These desires that you’re experiencing don’t define who you are. Jesus defines who you are. You are his. You belong to him. That is your identity. It’s who you are.”
Okay, what’s going? Granted there is an almost pathological drive that Evangelicals have about sharing “the Gospel” at every possible opportunity. or, more accurately, they possess almost pathological drive to have other Evangelicals think they share “the Gospel” at every possible opportunity and that’s probably a factor here. The the reader response Altrogge is probably hoping for is something like this:”look at how amazing this guy is — if I was in that situation I be thinking, ‘Ahhhh! How dare you shame me and force me into this, you dyke bitch!’ and he is finding a way to share the gospel with her!” Hmmm… who is this being written for?
Apart from that, what is this doing here? Well, Altrogge is still trying to tell us that he is telling his daughter that she is beloved. He’s still trying to ease into the hard part of the conversation (the bit about how God fucking hates “fags”), and so he wants to make that easier to accept by telling his daughter that God loves her. Sort of an “I love you, you’re perfect, now change” thing. He’s also furthering his own status in his own eyes and in the audiences of his audience. Because he’s crafted a story where he ends up looking like God — you know, that God who loved us so much as to die for us, the long-suffering God who will continue to love us no matter how much we betray Him (never Her). Sounds a lot like Altrogge’s presentation of himself. right? Maybe we should resketch that original poster once more:
jesus = my desires > your desires
Following this declaration of love, Altrogge starts paving the way to make it okay to tell his daughter that homosexuality is wrong. He does this by distancing her from her sexuality. She is a “new creation in Christ” and is not defined by her “desires.” In other words: she’s not gay, she’s a Christian. Phew. I’m sure she’ll feel relieved to hear that.
That said, I should insert some nuance here: I’m actually quite sympathetic to the argument Paul and his co-workers (and co-authors) make in 2 Cor 5.17 and elsewhere like Gal 3.28, which states:
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
The point of this fundamental shift in one’s understanding of “who one is” is to break down walls of division, and to create a community free from the socially, politically, and religiously supported hierarchies that dominate the status quo of the Roman Empire. Each member of the assemblies of Jesus followers was to relate to every other members in material and tangible ways as an equal or, more accurately, as a sibling. In this regard, the Collection is the best example of what Paul means by equality — indeed, it is only in reference to the Collection that he uses the Greek work for equality (isothes). The new creation that one is in Christ, the new union experienced by Jews, Gentiles, men, women, slaves and freed people, is not strictly the new spiritual status one has before God. It is that, of course, but that only makes sense and is only believable when people do things like gather the little bit of excess that they have and give it — free of charge, just as Christ also gave himself free of charge — to those who lack what they need to survive. In this manner the hierarchies and abuses fostered by dominant perspectives related to ethnicity, nationality, gender, or social status were to be overcome by those who are now described as “in Christ.” Making one’s location in Christ the fundamental aspect of one’s identity is an important part of accomplishing this new liberating union.
Now the purpose of these remarks about Paul and his co-workers is to demonstrate how Altrogge is utilizing this call to a new identity in Christ in a rather different way than Paul used it. Altrogge is using it in order to support the values and hierarchies of the status quo and to actually foster the marginalization and exclusion of some in the community. That is to say, Altrogge is using words written by Paul and his co-workers to accomplish exactly the opposite of what those words were intended to accomplish. That which was intended to be liberating, most especially to those who were marginalized and oppressed by others, is now being used to further marginalize those who are queer — an already oppressed segment of the population.
It becomes easier to see this when we recognize that no concomitant statements are made about heterosexual desires or, rather, about those who are straight. That are no remarks made to suggest that Altrogge’s heterosexuality is not related to his identity — that it is not simply a “desire” that is trumped by his being “in Christ.” You don’t see Altrogge saying: “there is no longer straight or queer, for all of us are one in Christ Jesus.” Why doesn’t Altrogge say this? Because he doesn’t believe it.
He is actually operating with a double standard. Homosexuality is relegated to the domain of “desires” but heterosexuality is a part of who one is in Christ. From Altrogge’s perspective, being straight is a part of being who we are created to be (I’ve criticized this view in this post). Heterosexuality, then, is taken to be an ontological matter — a core part of one’s identity in Christ — whereas “homosexual desires” are said to be trumped by one’s identity in Christ. Once again, Altrogge takes his own desires for granted as divinely mandated while telling others that their desires are less central and, therefore, more easily cast aside in order to be “in Christ.” This kind of move is pretty symptomatic of those who are located in places of privilege and power. They naturalize their own desires and villainize the desires of those who are more marginal.
Having paved the way to say what he really wants to say — that homosexuality is bad, but I’m still a good dad for telling that — Altrogge finally cuts to the chase:
Then I’d gently take her hand and say, “Charis, following Jesus is really costly. Jesus even said that we have to die to ourselves. He said we have to take up our cross and follow him. That means submitting every facet of our lives to King Jesus, including our sexual desires. If you’re going to follow Jesus, you’re going to have to submit these desires to Jesus. You can’t give in to them because the Bible says that any sexual expression outside of a marriage between a man and a woman is wrong.”
Note what Altrogge does not say. He does not say that it is wrong to be gay. Maybe he’s uncomfortable making a statement with that kind of force, maybe part of him recognizes the violence and oppression that are intertwined with statements like that. Instead, he says that “the Bible says that any sexual expression outside of a marriage between a man and a woman is wrong.” Now I’ve spent a lot of the last 13 years studying the Bible in academic, professional, communal, and personal contexts, and I’ll be damned if I can think of anywhere that the good ol’ B.I.B.L.E. says that. I’m actually pretty confident that the term “sexual expression” never appears once in the Bible. I don’t even know what that means. Is flirting a form of sexual expression? What about holding hands? What about telling somebody they are beautiful, handsome, or attractive? How are these thing not, at times, expressions of sexuality? Does Altrogge really believe that the Bible says all of this should only take place between married men and women?
Leviticus, of course, states that it is an “abomination” for a man to “lie with” (i.e. have sex with) another man in the same way that he lies with a woman, and goes on to say that those who engage in this “abomination” should be “put to death” (Lev 18.22 and 20.13). Now, granted, the New Testament authors seem to universally move away from any support for killing people for any reason — in part because Jesus chose to die for what he valued, instead of choosing to kill for what he valued and, in part, because Jesus was like those homosexuals mentioned in Leviticus 18. The civil and religious law determined that his actions should led him to be designated as an abomination who should be put to death. And he was. So, when your inspiration, whom you also take to be a revelation of God, ends up being legally executed, you start to ask questions about the validity of legal executions.
However, even though the New Testament does away with the killing aspect, some authors still seem to take it for granted that homosexuality is bad. For example, in Romans 1.24-27 Paul takes it for granted that homosexual acts are “unnatural” and demonstrate one of the results of what occurs when people practice idolatry instead of worshiping the Creator.
Now, this actually creates a bit of a problem for Altrogge. His daughter, whom he has already made clear is a Christian (“in Jesus Christ”), is obviously not practicing idolatry, so how can she be experiencing “homosexual desires”? If homosexuality is a symptom of the disease of idolatry, it makes no sense to discover this symptom in a Christian. Yet this is precisely what occurs in Altrogge’s hypothetical example (and in the lives of many other non-hypothetical people). That problematizes Paul’s assumptions.
Of course, it’s not difficult to recognize that Paul’s assumptions about what was “natural” and what was “unnatural” were pretty conditioned by his time and place — for example, in 1 Corinthians 11.14 he states that “nature itself” teaches us that it is dishonourable for men to have long hair. Does nature really teach us this? Or does Paul’s culture and his traditions teach him this and he then transpose that teaching onto “nature”? I see nothing in “nature” that teaches anything about how the length of our hair impacts our status as people. So maybe Paul isn’t the best judge of what is or is not unnatural (I wrote a post on this theme here).
So, Altrogge has to pick and choose a bit when he talks about what the Bible says. He wants to allow New Testament passages like Romans 1.24-27 to interpret his reading of Leviticus 18.22 and 2o.13, but he has to hold onto both passages while discarding parts of each passage. He can’t hold onto the link between idolatry and homosexuality found in Romans and he can’t hold onto the link between homosexuality as a recognized abomination and the death penalty found in Leviticus.
So, he kind of creates his own way. It sounds harsh to say that your daughter’s desires are abominable (well, unless you’re referring to an attraction to a particular snowman, but that’s a whole different story!) so he doesn’t say that (even though he probably thinks that — “gay sex? Yuck, that’s fucking gross, dude!”). Instead he sticks to talking about “sexual expression,” “marriage,” “man and woman,” and the costliness of following Jesus. Again, I can’t see how any of this costliness applies to Altrogge’s life but, who knows, maybe at some point one of his female parishioners was sexually attracted to him but he turned her down in order to stay faithful to his wife and his beliefs. That must have been hard. Yep, yep. And I’m sure generally “being awesome” is all a part of the via dolorosa.
That said, we shouldn’t miss the fact that Altrogge has already paved the way to make is daughter feel guilty if she refuses the genuinely costly way that he is holding out to her. After all, he reminded her that Jesus loves her more than anybody — loved her so much that he died for her and that’s a costly act. How could she refuses to die a little (or a lot) in return?
At this point Altrogge starts to sound a little desperate:
She might ask, “Will God take these desires away from me?”
“I don’t know,” I’d say. “But I do know this – he’ll give you the power not to give in to them. That’s the beauty of the gospel. Jesus forgives all of our sins and then gives us the power not to give in to our sinful desires. And it will be hard, and it will be costly, and there will be times when you will feel lonely, but Jesus is worth it. He is so worth it. When you hear Jesus say, ‘Well done good and faithful servant’, it will be worth it!”
Can you imagine saying this to your child? Asking her or him to journey into a life of hardship and loneliness? And how old is he imagining his daughter to be at this point? Young enough that he feels it is relevant to explain the Gospel to her, young enough to hug and hold hands and use really simple language, young enough to try and end the conversation by taking her for ice cream (more on that in a moment). So, let’s imagine she is, oh, a preteen at the very oldest. Can you imagine saying this to a child this young (or of any age, really)? ”Welcome to a long life of hardship and loneliness, baby. Hopefully, while you’re still young and malleable enough to prioritize what I say over what you experience, you will internalize the message that ‘Jesus’ is worth all of this because, pretty soon, your experiences will start to tell you otherwise — and they won’t stop telling you that.” No wonder he repeats (three times!) that Jesus is worth it. Is he trying to convince her or is he trying to convince himself?
The exchange continues and Altrogge starts to get philosophical:
“But why do I have these desires?” she might ask.
“Well sweetie,” I’d say. “Sin has distorted every person’s sexuality. Every time I’m tempted to lust after a woman, that’s a distortion of my sexuality. Every time you’re tempted to lust after a person of the same sex, that’s also distortion. See, you and I are the same. It just works itself out a little bit differently. We both desperately need Jesus. But the wonderful thing is, Jesus is in the process of repairing the distortions. He gives me power to not give in to lust, even though it feels really strong at times. He can give you that same power. And someday, when he comes back, everything sad and broken will finally be undone.”
He’s wrapping up at this point, so note the final message he gives to his daughter about herself: you are sad and broken. Oh, and distorted. Thanks, dad. Oh, but look, ice cream! Because this follows immediately after as the concluding sentence:
Then I’d say, “You know what? We’ll keep talking about this, but right now, let’s go get ice cream”.
Nothing like dropping a bomb on your child and then easing your own conscience by taking her out for ice cream. The thing is, Altrogge is so rooted in his position of privilege and its concomitant ideology that he probably doesn’t realize that he little girl is going to be unable to sleep that night because she will be so anxious and overwhelmed by her sad, broken, and distorted state. He’s so far removed from being able to understand and identify with those who are Other and marginalized that he’s probably clueless as to the impact of his words. While his is sleeping “the sleep of the just” (to quote Erik Prince, the Christian founder of the world’s largest mercenary army), his daughter will be tossing and turning as she is introduced to the experience of self-loathing.
So, don’t be fooled. Altrogge’s lying when he says: “you and I are the same.” Really, that’s just another way for him to drive home his point about how his daughter isn’t gay — she’s a Christian, just like him. But notice how he reduces her sexuality to the status of “lust” (no ifs ands or buts) whereas his sexuality may be distorted by lust at times but is still fundamental good. He and her are nothing the same.
However, they are the same in one way — he does desperately need Jesus (just as he says she needs Jesus). He desperately needs what he thinks Jesus is and represents in order to convince himself that he is not abusing his daughter. He needs the confirmation he gets from posting this online and getting the applause he got from most of the those who commented — just like they need him to write something like this to affirm what they believe (the Emperor’s new clothes really are marvelous if everyone says so). Destroying Charis’ sense of self worth, alienating her from herself, consigning her to a life of loneliness is worth it, it’s worth it, it’s so worth it. Right, guys? Right, Jesus? Can I get an amen?
So, I’m probably not the best person to ask (you would be better served by speaking with some folks in the queer community, especially those who have experienced the kind of abuse that Altrogge wants to perpetuate) but after all this, how do I think Altrogge could have responded to his daughter’s risky self-disclosure? By changing what he believes about Jesus. Here’s a (far from exhaustive) sample of some things that could be said:
Charis, you’re perfect just the way you are. The creativity of God is a marvelous thing and your sexuality is just one manifestation of that wonderful and good diversity. There’s nothing wrong with what you are feeling. It’s normal and healthy and part of growing up.
I know we’ve spent some time in Christian circles that told us that homosexuality was wrong and it was wrong of us to participate in that. I should have never put you through that and I’ll change that now. I’m sorry, Charis. I was wrong.
I’m sure the circles we’ve moved in, and the beliefs we’ve held, made it incredibly hard for you to share this part of yourself with me. Thank you for trusting me. You take my breath away every day and teach me a lot about what it means to be like Jesus.
Being gay in our society isn’t always easy. Some people may act awkwardly and not know what to say or do. Some people will try and make you ashamed of who you — and some of those people will even tell you they are doing that because they love you. Don’t buy that. And I’ll have your back no matter what. So will Jesus. Jesus isn’t on the side of the gay-bashers. Jesus loves you, and Jesus loves that you’re gay. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.
That, Stephen, is what the costliness of discipleship looks like for you. Taking up your cross means giving up the Jesus you follow. That means you’ll have to find another church and another circle of friends. That means you’ll have to go from “generally being awesome” to being rejected, ostracized, and misunderstood by people who previously respected you and looked up to you. That’s hard but that is what it means to be a good father. And Charis is worth it. She’s so so worth it.
Not only is she worth but you’re in for a shock. You might just discover another Jesus — a Jesus who offers us liberation and invites us into a union that overcomes all divides and all hierarchies of power. Jew, Gentile, slave, free, male, female, intersexed, queer, straight… all of us can come together and find the abundant life that can be shared in Christ. That, Stephen, is new creation. And it is very, very good.