I am not the only person who wonders why the evangelical preachers cannot let go of their three issues: guns, gays and God. It has seemed to those on my end of the spectrum that there is obsession there, and that the mere existence of gay Americans seems to prompt a feverish determination not to let them live unmolested. In the case of guns, the lie that the President--any President--can simply give orders and send out somebody in trucks to pick up guns continues to drive the low-information right wing to put "I'm going to start killing somebody" videos on YouTube and then lapse into stupefied amazement when their gun licenses get suspended. And the idea that some Christians are not evangelicals seems to infuriate those who don't want to stop "talking about Jesus," ever, for any reason.
Is there a common thread here? It seems to me that there is, and it is to be found in the place that I used to write about when I discussed religious addiction: in the hormones. What we are seeing in the screaming, sweating preachers and their hysterical congregations is addiction at work: addiction to endorphins. This addiction is as compelling as heroin, and it is as hard to break its hold as an addiction to needle drugs.
President Barack Obama said--correctly--that low-information, bigoted citizens cling to their guns and their religion, and we might add that their religion always points them at LGBT Americans for a sanctioned target. You might think that anyone who teaches a four-year-old child to parrot a ditty about "ain't no homos gonna git to heaven" is seriously disturbed, but when that person has been encouraged by a preacher swinging a Bible in one hand they can become extremely convinced.
And yet the many recovery groups testify to the fact that there are people who do see the error of these ways. They repent and change their minds, leave their benighted congregations and start over, perhaps swearing off religion as their last act of rejection towards the preachers who taught them to hate in the name of Jesus.
I admire anyone who can tear themselves away from the sick poison of endorphins that kept them shouting and hating for years. I admire them because I overcame a similar addiction when I managed to quit smoking after trying for a long time. Those who quit primitive religion and the yelling preachers have to learn to live in the state of being deprived of an addictive physical substance, and it is very difficult. Many people give up and fall back into the feelings that they enjoy as they listen to the preacher who fills up his collection plates by preaching hate.
But the bottom line in this behavior is that it isn't religion; it is emotional and physical addiction to a behavior that produces that physical substance that is so compelling. My friend Rosie, who is battling an addiction to "pray away the gay" evangelism, has once more dropped out of our congregation at the Episcopal Church of St. Michael and All Angels in Tucson, which means that she has gone back for more of the preaching that tells her that there is something wrong with her. Only Jesus can fix her, she thinks, so she has to accept being an inferior person until she prays away her gay. When that will happen she does not know, and we continue to reach out to her and try to persuade her that she is beloved of God just as she is. She still doesn't believe it. She is praying and waiting to be fixed.
Those on the outside looking in continue to wonder why preachers do this. If you have talked to them about St. Paul or the Gospel in the New Testament (since there is no such thing as Old Testament Christianity) they will reject what you say. You can see their emotional level ratcheting up with every sentence you exchange; you are threatening to take their drugs away.
Another friend of mine, Liz, who was the most unhappy woman that I have ever known, actually walked out in the middle of an Episcopal Mass when I persuaded her to come and visit for a Sunday. She rejected the silence, the serenity, the concentration on the prayer book and the order of worship. What turned her on--and I mean that literally--was the excitement of waiting for the preacher to stand up and take the podium. She hardly cared what he was going to say; it was all about raised voices and shouting out agreement. Whatever the preacher was going to say was fine with her as long as it moved her to tears or brought her to her feet in ecstatic testimony.
Liz didn't live long enough to see some of the evangelical practices in the un-Christian Church today, which has now come to be symbolized by the Westboro Baptist Church. For better or for worse, they are now the face of evangelical Christianity. I find it fitting and proper, because although you will hear more measured tones from the head of the Southern Baptists, underneath their beliefs are the same.
Why are evangelicals obsessed with "missionary" work? Because they believe that all us Catholics, Episcopalians, Jews and Methodists are on our way to eternal torment, that's why. They just don't like to actually say it, but the very fact that the Baptist Church has not in any way disciplined or even restrained the Westboro congregation speaks for itself. If you think that God hates gays, you can drop by any Baptist congregation in Tucson and find a spiritual home. Or you can visit the website of Billy Graham, which has now been hijacked by his reprehensible son, Franklin, and no longer cares what Billy Graham preached for his entire adult life.
If you can't stay away from the emotions that course through your body when you listen to some good preachin', I suggest that you are addicted to it, not convinced that it is true Christian teaching. People in the congregations that sweat and shout at every service are addicts and their preachers are their candy men. It will take some doing, but until you can get beyond that, if you are trapped in it, you will not be much different from the clients who are getting their drugs from the local neighborhood crack house.