Conservative Christians have reached an all-time high in portraying themselves as victims of persecution. Let's call it "self-persecution." Even the antigay bakers who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex couple's wedding were shown in a video crying over possible bankruptcy in an attempt to really solidify their victimhood.
Perhaps it's that emotionally driven video that encouraged gay Christian and activist Matthew Stolhandske to attempt to raise $150,000 for those bakers, to cover the punitive fine issued by the state of Oregon.
In a widely circulated op-ed explaining his motives in TheWashington Post, Stolhandske argues that Jesus calls us to love our enemies. As a Christian myself, I am in total agreement with that sentiment, but I just missed the part where loving your enemies equals paying them $150,000.
"The Kleins say the $150,000 fee will bankrupt her family. I'm raising money to help offset that cost," Stolhandske wrote in the Post. "I'll send whatever we raise along to the Klein family with a message of love and peace. I don't want them to suffer. But I am also pleading with them and other Christians to stop using the name of Jesus to explain to the LGBT community why we don't deserve access to the civil rights afforded to heterosexuals through the legal institution of marriage."
Stolhandske is raising the money via Rally.org. The site is a bit lesser-known than other crowdfunding sites, like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and GoFundMe. If Stolhandske reaches his goal, Rally.org will make $7,500, because it takes 5 percent of whatever is raised. Stolhandske doesn't mention in his plea that he works for this company as part of the "Fundraising Team," according to its website. Regardless of whether this is a marketing ploy or a sincere gesture, it puts forward a wrong-headed argument about what our responsibility is here as Christians.
You can't paint yourself as a victim in a situation you created in the first place. No one forced this couple to refuse services to a lesbian couple. I doubt the bakers inquire whether all wedding cakes are ordered by virgins, for example. They refused due to their homophobia, and yes, religiously-based homophobia is still homophobia. Then they were fined $150,000 for breaking the law.
By raising the money for their fine, Stohlandske is rewarding them for their behavior. Especially since the couple hasn't even apologized and would do it again if given the chance (although they've closed their shop so they don't have to serve any gay couples).
I'm sure Stolhandske wouldn't raise money for a restaurant that wanted to practice segregation or that refused to serve a group of people due to their religion. No, we don't put up with those things for other groups of people -- so why is Stolhandske making an exception for his own community? Does he even realize how this looks to the lesbian couple who brought the discrimination charges against the bakery?
This misguided fundraiser is even worse considering Stolhandske is a board member for Evangelicals for Marriage Equality, a month-old group dedicated to changing the minds of evangelicals on same-sex marriage. Although his affiliation with the group was touted in the Post op-ed, Evangelicals for Marriage Equality says it's not an official action of the group itself.
"Matt's op-ed and fundraiser have generated considerable conversation -- and even a bit of controversy," says Brandan Robertson, spokesman for Evangelicals for Marriage Equality. "Among board of members of Evangelicals for Marriage Equality, there are a variety of beliefs and opinions about issues of religious liberties, and Matt's position represents just one of those beliefs rather than a consensus opinion." Apparently one of the beliefs allowed on a board for a group dedicated to marriage equality is footing the legal bills for homophobes.
In an email, Robertson said, "Matt's position is his own and is not the consensus view of EME. However, we do not believe that there is any conflict between his work here and his participation on the board. He has been clear that his position is not to support the Kleins' anti-LGBT position, but to show the radical love and grace of God to those who are perceived to be his enemies."
This is where Robertson, someone I consider a friend, and I strongly disagree. This is a clear conflict of interest. You cannot serve on a board for marriage equality, then financially support someone who wants the right to refuse service to LGBT people. It's full equality or none at all. Stoldhanske's action is putting the oppressors over the oppressed, and that is the opposite of what Jesus modeled while on earth.
Discriminating against LGBT people is no longer something you can get away with if you want to avoid a lot of public scrutiny. More importantly for Christians, though, you can't refuse to serve LGBT people if you're truly a follower of Jesus. That's not what Jesus did. Jesus went so far as to serve Judas and wash his feet at the last supper, knowing he was going to betray him. This couple doesn't even want to bake a gay couple a cake. What I mean is, even if you believe same-sex sex is a sin, you're not following Jesus' model of service by refusing to serve LGBT people.
If he's an LGBT activist, Stoldhandske's time and energy would be better spent actually working for LGBT equality instead of funding those who actively work against it. The moment you prioritize complaints of the privileged over the experiences of the marginalized, you've contributed to oppression.
So, Matt, let's have a come-to-Jesus talk, from one Christian to another. How about you raise money to fight the LGBT homeless youth epidemic, the youth that get thrown out of their homes because of religious parents like the antigay bakers, instead of raising money for homophobes? If you want to show them how to love, model it through example and work for LGBT equality. Or if you still want to do something, I have an idea -- send them a cake.
ELIEL CRUZ is a writer on issues related to bisexuality. In addition to The Advocate, Cruz frequently writes on the topics of sexuality, religion, pop culture, and media at The Huffington Post, Believe Out Loud, and Mic. You can follow Cruz on Twitter @ElielCruz.