Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Risk of Patronization

This article is making the rounds on Facebook. There is a lot of lively debate, as you can imagine. One big discussion point is whether it is overly 'patronizing' and whether Christians should be 'patronizing'. What do you think?

Some of you fundamentally disagree with the premise of this article - that homosexuality is somehow inferior to God's preferred approach to sexuality. Please don't upset yourself by reading this article, and please be very cautious commenting (comments attempting to change such fundamental components of each other's worldviews will likely struggle to have any constructive effects whatsoever).

But ASSUMING the premise is correct, I would like to hear suggestions on how you would encourage people into God's best, WITHOUT seeming patronizing. I struggle to do this - I don't want to be patronizing, I want to be humble, loving, and dedicated to pursuing the truth alongside my fellow struggling humans. But I can't seem to avoid it.

Maybe we CAN'T avoid it, because 'encouraging people into God's preferred approach to sexuality' ALWAYS WILL equate to 'being patronizing' (at least to some people). In which case we have three possible approaches:
  1. We could do our best to continue to encourage people in this direction, just accepting that we will appear to be patronizing to some people.
  2. We could stop addressing the issue, favouring 'bigger' problems like modern day slavery. But try doing this without appearing patronizing to those who promote slavery! Is there something about slavery that makes us willing to take the risk of patronizing someone? Is it conceivable that there could be something about homosexuality, that means we should also be willing to risk patronizing someone?
  3.  We could stop addressing the issue, favouring the 'ultimate' aim of 'just loving' everyone. In this case, how does this view of 'love' fit with God's (Biblical) concept of 'love'? Does 'love' automatically exclude all forms of apparent patronization? How does 'love' deal with the problem that homosexual people are not living in God's best? And how does the 'ultimate' aim of 'loving' people mix with the 'ultimate' aim of glorifying God?
I believe there are clear answers to all these questions, provided by God through Scripture, and supported by our natural sense of relationships, beauty, and logic.

  • To me, loving God means loving people, which means encouraging them into God's best, which means making every effort to speak the truth in a way that matches is beauty and avoids unnecessary distractions. 
  • This gets very complex, because it requires making every effort to avoid patronization AND speaking the truth whenever and however we think it will be constructive. And this requires accepting risks due to our fallibility - risk that we will be unnecessarily silent at times, and risk that we will be unnecessarily patronizing and so distract people from the truth at times.

Blanket statements and blog posts will automatically exaggerate these risks, because by nature they can't be as contextually tailored. Is this acceptable? Should we use blog posts to do this? What about letters to all Christians, or entire cities (like the ones written in the NT by the Apostle Paul)?

I'd like to hear your thoughts below!


  1. Something else to consider - patronisation means 'portraying kindness which seems to springs from a position of superiority'. This is extremely broad - what kind of 'position of superiority' are appropriate, and which are inappropriate?

    Can we portray kindness springing from a view that we are fundamentally more holy or wise? Or that God cares about us more? I would say 'absolutely not!'.

    But can we portray kindness springing from a view that in this isolated aspect of reality, we have caught a glimpse of God's beauty which others have not yet seen?

  2. Hello,
    1 Corinthians ch. 5 v. 12 and 13 says that we can not judge those outside the church, it is God that judges them, but Job ch. 22 v. 21 also tells us to agree with God and be at peace. However, I do not see that we have to say anything unless a situation comes up where we are required to say something.
    I have had two experiences that come to mind regarding this issue. One was when I was asked by two people who knew I was a believer what I thought about homosexuality. I just mentioned these two scriptures saying that I could not judge those outside of the church, but that I agree with what God says regarding issues.
    I also mentioned that God loves all and wants all to be saved. The two people were very happy with what I answered them.

    I also was in a nearby town with my friend handing out poetry and scripture that we believe the Lord has had us put together to hand out in the streets. We came across a young man sat at a table outside a café who, when we asked him if he would like a leaflet, asked us what the Bible said about homosexuality. He told us that he had always felt as if he was female, not male.
    We spoke with him for about half an hour, talking about scripture and sharing our testimonies, answering the questions as much as we could. It was a nice conversation we had, and at the end of it he thanked us.

    I believe absolutely that God sets up the situations and we walk into them. No man can come to Jesus except he is called by God, and it is the Holy Spirit that does the convincing and the convicting, not us. Also, God's word can not go out and come back to Him void.

    I also believe that we can portray kindness to those who do not know Jesus, especially when we have testimonies of being rescued spiritually from situations that give us empathy and sympathy, even if they are not exactly the same, and being brought into a realm of love that is above any other. This young man was asking these questions for a reason which only he and God know.

  3. Good points Brenda. I tend to agree - no one can come to God unless called, so maybe we should only speak IF we discern that God is calling someone and wants us to be involved by talking about homosexuality. Often we discern God's calling through the situations He leads us into. I also agree that we should judge those who claim to follow Christ, but not those who claim to be pagans.

    But blog posts can't distinguish between church / pagans, or between pagans who are receptive to evangelism and those who aren't. Is it OK to write indiscriminately in this way? And what about our other responsibilities e.g. to be the 'pillar and ground of the Truth', and to engage with the democratic process (which includes utilising free speech to hold government accountable)?

  4. We can only work out our own salvation Joshua, as we are taught daily by the Holy Spirit. It is that word itself which convicts and convinces me each day, and matures me in Jesus. I would not try to do the whole work of the body of Christ, I am just being what I am in the Lord and interacting on blogs is part of it.
    It is the Lord who is the 'Master chess player', we are the 'chess pieces' when we are obedient in Him, and He is the One who adds the increase. We can only plant or water, doing whatever we are called to do in Him.

    I know that as I mature in the Lord, I also learn to distinguish what is right and what is wrong according to Him, and I also know that He knows my inner thoughts and my heart, so there is a 'fear', or a total respect for Him as I am learning.
    God has a unique way of teaching with each person and ever since I have been born again of God's Holy Spirit the scriptures have become a vocabulary, not a book, and I have felt the leading of the Spirit in my life. The church is God's Israel and the scriptures are discerned spiritually, as I am sure you know. There is a connection with physical Israel and Spiritual Israel, which I also know that you know.
    I believe that as long as we always seek God through the Holy Spirit's teaching then although 'many are the plans of a man's mind', then the Lord will direct our path.

  5. "The Benevolent Hecklers" has been included in our A Sunday Drive for this week. Be assured that we hope this helps to point even more new visitors in your direction.

  6. A little bit of patronizing doesn't hurt much, apart from their ego. After all, someone needs to tell those sodomites that sodomy is a sin.

    The Lord Jesus came to save those sinners just like all other sinners. But repentance is needed, otherwise they will be destroyed just like Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities.

    I wonder what will happen to our cities who sanction homosexual marriages?
    If the Lord Jesus would not destroy our cities, He surely would need to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah for destroying them.

    Any homosexual who has repented and is delivered from this evil spirit couldn't care less whether you have been patronizing him or her.

  7. Hi Paul - thanks for chipping in.

    If we can't escape patronisation then so be it. The truth about God's exclusive goodness must be told - including our need to submit to His ways which manifest this goodness, and including His design for sexuality.

    But remember that Job's friends were rebuked by God, even though everything they spoke was true and 'God glorifying' in its own right. The problem was the attitudes they had toward Job, underlying WHY and HOW they spoke these truths. I don't want to have bad attitudes underlying my 'truth'.

    If they do repent, I don't want them to look back and realise that I didn't really demonstrate all of Christ to them, because I was so focussed on the proclamation of sin that I didn't stop to care any further than that. We should care more, and we should think about how minimise needless patronisation.

  8. Yes Joshua, but how can you convince someone that God is exclusively good when He causes them to be sick and strikes them with plagues and disaster?
    As for the homosexuals, the Lord causes them to suffer and die with AIDS etc. they surely don't believe that God is good.
    I think that all in Sodom and Gomorrah did not believe the preaching of Lot and Abraham, how then would they believe in your and my preaching?

    Concerning Job and his friends, they were not Sodomites but saved believers.
    I don't think that his friends had a bad attitude to Job, they just didn't understand the grace of God and ascribed his misery to sin or transgression.

  9. Hi again Paul. No offence, but you're views continue to baffle me sometimes! :)

    God is exclusively good, meaning that He ALONE is good, and His ways alone can bring lasting satisfaction. This is true even though He does also cause temporary evil (even to people of great faith), and even though alternative sinful ways can bring a temporary shadow of satisfaction (as David frequently points out in his Psalms). We are called to preach the truth in love, with our words and our lives, in the hope that God will work through us.

    Job's friends were men of faith and they made God-glorifying statements, yet God was still angry with them - because their view of Job and of God's interaction with sin was too simplistic. I don't want God to be angry with my bold / simplistic / uncaring statements about Homosexuals and God's interaction with them. We need to care more than simply 'proclaiming truth'. If we really need to offend people, we should at least grieve over this!