Here’s why I’m not on board with the growing chorus protesting JNF’s honoring Dr. Charles Stanley, one of the most prominent evangelical leaders in the country, and the former president of the Southern Baptist Convention (membership 15 million).
It’s not that he isn’t anti-gay. He is, and I assume he’d be proud to admit it. Over his half-century-long career, he’s said some nasty things, some ignorant things, and some really offensive things like AIDS being Divine punishment.
The reason I’m not on board with the protests is that Dr. Stanley’s anti-gay statements are the tip of the Christian conservative iceberg. What do you expect, when you get into bed with the likes of John Hagee (head of Christians United For Israel, who has said some far worse anti-gay stuff himself) or the leaders of the New Apostolic Reformation who believe that cities are possessed by demons and that Fukushima was a result of the Japanese emperor having sex with the sun goddess?
This should not be a gay issue. Dr. Stanley’s anti-gay statements are part of a holistic, fanatical worldview – and that, not this or that quote about gay people, is what should make him unfit for honor by the JNF Southeast regional office.
To be clear, it’s not that the JNF should balance Dr. Stanley’s pro-Israel actions against his other statements or views. It’s that his actions aren’t in the best interests of Israel in the first place.
Seventy-seven percent of U.S. Evangelicals believe that we are, right now, living in the End Times. Many of them believe (just like ISIS, incidentally) that the trigger event will be a cataclysmic war in the Middle East, specifically in Northern Israel and Syria. The leaders of Christian Zionism have an extreme interpretation of Genesis 12:3 (“I will bless those who bless you”) that results in massive support for settlement activity in the West Bank.
Do we really believe that such people really have Israel’s best interests at heart?
Of course, we can all cluck our tongues and dismiss Christian apocalyptic beliefs. A long-running joke in pro-Israel circles is “When the Messiah comes, we’ll just ask if he’s been here before or not.” Meaning, pay no attention to all that End Times stuff – let’s just take the money.
But the End Times stuff determines policy. It is what engenders fanatical political positions on Israel, Iran, and ISIS. And unless you believe that horrifying bloodshed is part of the redemption, you should be wary of those who do.
And then there are the domestic issues. As it happens, Dr. Stanley is almost a feminist in Southern Baptist Convention terms – he thinks women should be allowed to preach. But the organization which he used to head is leading the fight to gain religious exemptions to civil rights laws, leading the fight against all forms of abortion regardless of the circumstances, and leading the fight to deny that transgender people exist.
Again, none of this should be surprising. When Jews get in bed with the Hard Right, this comes with the territory.
Notwithstanding all the foregoing, JNF, like the Netanyahu regime, has long made the decision that anyone who supports Israel is a friend. Hey, it’s diversity! The JNF tent is big enough for gays, theocrats, wife-beaters, slaveholders, anti-semites – oh, well, maybe not all of the above, but who’s counting, as long as the checks clear?
What’s important, the JNF said in their April 16 press release is that Dr. Stanley’s is “one of the largest Christian communities in the South which has always supported the Jewish people in times of peace and conflict.”
Is it “supporting the Jewish people” to fund only one, extremist sector of the Jewish community?
Is it “supporting the Jewish people” to lead Israel toward apocalyptic war?
Is it “supporting the Jewish people” to lead Israel on a suicidal path to becoming a pariah state, cause the oppression of millions of people, and subsidize the Israeli Far Right, making peace (of any kind) impossible?
Hardly. Sure, it’s supporting one iteration of what the destiny of the Jewish people should be: cannon fodder for the Antichrist. (I’m not exaggerating here; that’s the theology.) It’s supporting the anti-democratic views of Sheldon Adelson, and the delusions of Danny Danon. But “the Jewish people”? That sounds more like Christian Zionist rhetoric than anything the JNF should be saying in a press release.
I’m not willing to untangle Dr. Stanley’s anti-gay positions from the Hard Right knot that they’re part of. That’s not how he sees them – to him, opposing homosexuality is part of an overall Biblical worldview. And it’s not how we should see them either.
Moreover, progressive politics today is about intersectionality and solidarity – not single-issue fixations. What’s problematic about Dr. Stanley is a lot deeper than anti-gay sentiments, and if I lose that deeper context, I forfeit the possibility of solidarity with others who his community marginalizes.
Can you imagine the response of an Israeli Arab, for example, if Dr. Stanley’s award were to be pulled because of his views on homosexuality? Never mind all that anti-democratic, anti-civil-rights stuff – that doesn’t matter. But anti-gay, whoa, that’s a different story.
I’m not even comfortable with words like “homophobia” and “bigot” being thrown around in this debate. That’s too easy. It suggests that this one man is a hateful person, but otherwise, there would be nothing wrong with honoring people like him. That gives everyone else a pass – especially everyone who thinks it’s a good idea to make a deal with the Christian Zionist fringe.
It’s not that these people are bigoted or homophobic; it’s that their subordination of women and LGBT people is part of a deep-seated, patriarchal, fundamentalist, millennialist worldview that is sure the end of the world is nigh – and Greater Israel will help hasten its date.
Dr. Stanley is no different from millions of other hard right Christian conservatives who want a return to Christian hegemony here in the US, and a huge, holy war in the Middle East. Focusing on his anti-gay statements, odious as they are, misses the point. The point is everything he stands for, and everything JNF stands for by endorsing him.
Jay Michaelson is a contributing editor to the Forward.