Conservative Christians in general — and the Religious Right in particular — have distorted the faith by emphasizing the issue of sexuality to the detriment of Christ’s other concerns, such as care for the poor and fighting injustice.
So says Episcopal Priest Tom Ehrich in his farewell column for Religion News Service,
“the Christian right has worked hard to identify a single “Christian” perspective on life, centered in a moral agenda having to do with sex. There is far more to be said. Injustice and gross inequalities matter more to the nation and to God. Jesus, after all, taught mostly about wealth and power, with hardly a word about sex.”
Ehrich is not the first to make this charge against conservative evangelicals. As early as 2006, Episcopal Priest Randall Balmer made a similar complaint in his book Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts Faith and Threatens America,
“Not only have the leaders of the Religious Right betrayed scripture, but they have shamelessly manipulated important issues-gay rights, abortion-for partisan matters, all the while ignoring Jesus’ teachings on other matters…such as care for the poor” (Balmer, 33-34).
This charge is echoed in secular world. Harvard University’s Robert Putnam complained that
“The obvious fact is that over the last 30 years, most organized religion has…been entirely focused on issues of homosexuality and contraception and not at all focused on issues of poverty.”
Putting aside the fact that Christ had plenty to say about sex and abortion (John 10:30, Lev. 18:6-18, 20:10-21, Jer 1:5, Ex. 20:13), is it true that conservative Christians are obsessed with sex issues and have no concern for the poor?
In an piece for the Washington Post, Rob Schwarzwalder and Pat Fagan added up the financial reports of many of the Christian organizations that are largely dedicated to the issues of marriage and abortion (Alliance Defending Freedom, Family Research Council, Susan B. Anthony List, etc). Their estimated total came to about $270 million at the combined state and federal level.
That number is dwarfed by the $2.8 billion the evangelical group World Vision spent towards the betterment of the poor in 2012.
Then there’s Franklin Graham’s relief mission Samaritan’s Purse, which has programs that bring food to the hungry, provide clean water to the impoverished, give care to women, and fight human trafficking. It receives $425,262,500 (93.2% of its total revenue) in contributions, gifts and grants alone.
Putting the issue to rest, Schwarzwalder and Fagan note that Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability:
“represents groups that provide food, medical care, education, adoption services, orphan care, post-prison assistance, substance abuse help and other critical services at home and abroad. In aggregate, the more than 600 evangelical ministries represented in the ECFA provide more than $9.2 billion in relief assistance” (Emphasis Added).
So with all of these financial and personal resources dedicated to the betterment of the poor and the oppressed, why are conservative Christians perceived as callous sex-obsessed maniacs with no love for the downtrodden?
Some may be tempted to say they brought this perception on themselves by defining themselves by what they are against rather than what they stand for.
Pious as this may sound, this is a shallow answer that fails to take into account the fact that you cannot completely define how others perceive you.
You can be as kind and loving to others as humanly possible, but it will do nothing to change the mind of someone who only wants to see the negative in you.
This leads to the second problem with blaming this image of conservative Christians largely and exclusively on their own bad PR: the religious left and secular crowds are not neutral groups that merely react to conservative Christian input. On the contrary, they are by default hostile to faithful Christians. In their book So Many Christians, So Few Lions: Is There Christianophobia in the United States?, George Yancey and David Williamson observed,
“anti-Christian hostility in the United States is primarily animosity directed toward conservative Christians or the image of Christians as conservatives…it is clear that not all Christians experience the results of that hostility equally” (Kindle Loc 82 of 4038).
Christ warned that the faithful would be hated by everyone, that they would be hated as He was and He was hated for exposing sin (Mark 13:12-13, John 15:18-25). This is not a picture of a group of people who misunderstand and want to make peace with conservative Christians. This is a world that demands affirmation of its behavior on pain of hate. Jesus was the most loving man who ever lived and he was still despised by his enemies. It was not his message, not his delivery that provoked his enemies to anger (Luke 7:31-34).
Simply put, conservative Christians are perceived as sex-obsessed lunatics because that is how the religious and secular left wants to see them. It is the left rather than the Church that wants to define God’s family agenda in purely negative terms. While the typically proposed solutions of better PR, cultural outreach, and self-examination have their place, this issue cannot be addressed without recognizing the fact that conservative Christians do not have a monopoly of blame for the way the hostile culture characterizes them.