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Being here in Washington, DC, I sometimes cross paths with staff members of the Institute for Religion and Democracy, a far right advocacy group within mainline Christianity. I have occasionally gone out of my way to ask them their opinion about certain issues because I believe they do represent the views of some people within our mainline denominations.
I like the IRD people I have met. I assume that some of their ideas are partially true just as I assume some of my ideas are partially wrong (if I only knew which parts!) and that conversation between people who disagree is a good thing.
Because I like the people I know over at the IRD offices, it pains me when they try to hurt people. It doesn't happen all the time but occasionally they target someone and try to damage or even destroy her or his career.
Right now they are trying to hurt a Pentecostal scholar who has publicly stated that Pentecostals are not of one mind on the issue of homosexuality. They are doing this, they say, because they have "little doubt" which side of the debate the scholar comes down on (the accepting side) even though they have produced no direct quotes of him saying this.
Understand that they are not just disagreeing with him about his alleged opinion. They are going after his ordination in the Assemblies of God church and they are trying to get him fired as the co-director of Evangelicals for Social Action, a position he is scheduled to assume in June.
The scholar is Paul Alexander, an ordained Assemblies of God pastor, who teaches at Palmer Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and who recently served a term as president of the Society of Pentecostal Studies (SPS).
Jeff Walton, an IRD staffer, attended the annual meeting of the SPS. In his report of a speech Alexander gave at the event he quotes Alexander as saying:
This is presented as a direct quote from Alexander's speech. No problem.Some Pentecostal churches believe that homosexuality is a sin and oppose civil and human rights for LGBTIQ people. And some do not. Some members of SPS think homosexuality is a sin and some members of SPS think homosexuality is not a sin and want to work against heteronormativity and heterosexism.
But then Walton says:
The SPS president left little doubt that he was among those in the latter category, detouring into a scolding about how an SPS member who presented a controversial paper on sexuality at the 2012 annual meeting experienced difficulties with her denominational officials after her presentation was brought to their attention.Walton is able to produce no actual evidence in his report about Alexander's own position on homosexuality. He just says he has "little doubt" that anyone who acknowledges Pentecostals are not of one mind and who supports the freedom of a scholar to express an unpopular opinion about sexuality must be in favor of accepting gay people.
As a result of Walton's article, the head of the Assemblies of God church has issued a statement promising to investigate Alexander, saying: "I trust that there will never be a day in the Assemblies of God when a credentialed minister can continue to hold credentials and support any form of sexual immorality."
Mark Tooley, head of the IRD, has issued a press release calling for Alexander to be fired by the Evangelicals for Social Action because of his "flexibility on Christian sexual teachings" and his tendency to sound like a liberation theologian.
However, at the same time the SPS is challenging the accuracy of Walton's report. Lois E. Olena, executive director of the SPS told The Christian Post that Walton's report misstated the facts concerning Alexander's speech.
Walton replied with a statement that said, in part:
My coverage of Alexander’s address to the society is based upon his orally delivered address, which I was personally present for. During this address, Alexander at times expanded upon and varied from his prepared statement. I stand behind the accuracy of the quotes.
No one seems to be noticing that Walton never actually quoted Alexander as saying that he was in favor of the acceptance of LGBTQ people in the first place. Walton just said it was of "little doubt" to him. Walton's accusation was all innuendo.
I suspect Alexander may believe that LGBTQ people ought to be accepted by the church. He seems to me to be an intelligent person. Nonetheless, each of us should be able to decide how much of our thinking we want to reveal at any particular point. If we acknowledge that opinions about homosexuality in our institutions are divided and support free speech about the topic, a reporter should not be permitted to announce our personal opinion about homosexuality because he has "little doubt" what it is based on those statements.
When I've had personal conversations with IRD staff, they have not seemed to be mean people. I am confused about where these periodic attacks trying to destroy people come from (in this case not even based on fact but something IRD just felt to be of "little doubt").
These attacks are more than expressions of disagreement. They are attempts to hurt and punish people for their viewpoints or even for what IRD assumes their viewpoint might be.
Something about this doesn't make sense. What is it that sets off such unprincipled ruthlessness in what seem to be otherwise rational people?