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I’ve seen a joke several different times in different variations, usually involving a teenage boy who is struggling to get up the courage to go speak to a girl he and his friends consider to be out of his league. Wanting to be encouraging, his friend will urge him, “Just be yourself!” Then the punchline comes: after a reflective pause noting the stereotypically unattractive traits about him – nerdiness, height, awkwardness, he’s dirty or sweaty, dresses poorly, etc. – the friend issues a retraction, “Nevermind, be the opposite of yourself.”

Then there’s the Hollywood cliché of the nerdy or frumpy girl who is transformed into pure elegance and beauty after a two-minute makeover montage set to some peppy music. One common thread I’ve noticed about these makeover movies (yes, I’ll admit to having seen more than three) is the point of the makeover is to meet or conform to the expectations of an individual or an audience by altering their authentic or original “self”.

Those scenarios might make for good sit-coms or romantic comedies, and perhaps the reason they persist in different variations is because we connect on some level with our own daily micro-makeovers to present ourselves approved to our own audiences – our spouses, co-workers, bosses, customers, or children. But that is not the pervasive and stentorian message of our modern cultural philosophy. The serious arts wouldn’t dream of minimizing the importance of the “true self,” and psychologists would shudder to counsel inauthenticity for the sake of conforming to societal expectations. No, the supreme virtue in today’s philosophy is to elevate and liberate the authentic self above all else.

The latest example I’ve seen of this is the Human Rights Campaign’s self-help/religious proselytizing tract called “Coming Home to Evangelicalism and Self.” In true existentialist form, it presents its case why evangelical churches should celebrate the LGBTQ lifestyle as righteous and holy by presenting a series of short vignettes illustrating the individual and existential angst of persons dealing with external factors.

I’ve read the 32-page pamphlet twice, and it’s grossly offensive to Christian orthodoxy and to those holding orthodox Christian beliefs. It would take too long here to dissect all of its points (like the absurd statement that Adam was a non-gendered creation???), but it may be helpful to point out its overall theme. Contrary to what one might expect in a religious pamphlet, the message is not about God. Instead – as is contained in the title – the message is exclusively about the elevation of the authentic self.

In the introduction to every pamphlet in the series – with the exception of Judaism, interestingly – Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, exalts those “working to live openly and fully, as their true and complete selves.” Throughout the booklet, each existential crisis that is presented is a result of the angst, shame, and guilt catalyzed by an individual’s feeling that is morally contrary to the teachings of a given evangelical church.

I’ll admit: that’s kind of the point of the Christian church. Or at least it has been until the last century or so. Far from being an institution that glorified individual concupiscence, orthodox Christianity has preached the depravity of man for millennia, and any who does not fear and glorify God, “their inmost self is destruction; their throat is an open grave,”[1] and “their minds and their consciences are defiled; they profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.”[2]

Yet the message of the Human Rights Campaign (echoing some in the professing evangelical church) is that fear is not from God. They’re not speaking as Paul did to Timothy, saying “God did not give to us a spirit of fear,” or cowardice[3]; they are saying we don’t even need to fear God – which fear should be a real fear (not just reverence) due to the supreme authority’s perfect holiness and our continuous sin.

The reason there is “pain, and sometimes deep and lasting trauma, to the LGBTQ who seeks to remain faithful both to God and to their understanding of themselves,” is because they are being told their “selves” are equal to or superior to the will of God. This does not just apply to the LGBTQ community, mind you. ANY person who elevates their created “self” above the supreme and ultimate authority of the universe – from whom all existence proceeds, and upon whom all existence depends! – is absolutely guilty of the same thing. Myself included.

In the pamphlet, there’s a heroized atheist professor who tells a gay student, irrespective of her atheism and her student’s theism, “my job is to help my students become the best self they can be.” I wouldn’t expect a professing atheist to remember this, but every professing Christian should know that even our best selves are putrid, stinking, festering rags, unworthy to be worn at all, much less to the marriage feast of the millennium.[4] To repeat, the cis-hetero-traditional population is NOT exempt from this condemnation either.

While acknowledging there are scriptures explicitly condemning perverse lifestyles, the Human Rights Campaign goes to great lengths to minimalize those condemnations, insisting the overall theme of the Bible is a message that actually validates those perversions as holy. If that were the overall theme of the Bible, then they would be putting faith in a philosophically inconsistent and contradictory scripture.

But perhaps the reason they see this overall theme is because they are participating in their own, what they call, “selective literalism.” They point to Jesus’s Golden Rule and “love your neighbor as yourself” as the quintessential “big-picture” theme, while never even mentioning – according to Jesus – “the Greatest Commandment,” which is “Love the LORD your God with all your heart, mind, and strength.”

You see, it’s only by understanding and following this commandment FIRST that we can ever even hope to understand what it means to love our neighbor.

Yet any kind of love for God is scarcely mentioned in this book, much less the type of love He expects of us – one of complete obedience to His word, complete submission to His will, a complete recognition of His perfect holiness and our total depravity.

Neither does the Human Rights Campaign call for repentance anywhere in this book. There is an oblique reference to “the good news” contained, but that good news is actually antithetical to the “Good News,” also known as the Gospel. The Gospel of the Bible – not of man – is that even though our selves are putrid with the stench of death, God can cause us to be regenerated, give us a new nature, a nature capable of faith, repentance, and a real selfless love for the law of God and His creation. The gospel of the Human Rights campaign is one that glorifies our authentic self and then demands God and others accept and love that “self” just the way it is. It’s the most selfish Gospel we can have.

The tract’s conclusion to the reader – the solution and purpose – recalls the ministry of Jesus, “which calls for a loving and affirming welcoming to all peoples, from all walks of life.” If they had not included the word “affirming,” I could agree with this statement. But as is so abundantly clear, this word is absolutely crucial to their thesis. They would never dream of removing it.

In Matthew 23, Jesus gives 7 examples of people to whom he would never give an affirming welcome. “Woe to you!”[5] he says 7 times; in the third he says, “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.” This is not an affirming welcome.

What Jesus is denouncing here is a population that has completely reversed its priorities in what it values. They consider their measly offerings – their gold, their sacrifices, and ultimately their “selves” – to be of more importance than the thing to whom the offerings are meant – the temple, the altar, and ultimately God. That is the same Gospel of the Self that today’s culture of existentialism preaches – the gospel that says if we DO believe in God, He – the sovereign maker and master of the whole of creation – MUST accept us as we “live openly and fully, as our true and complete selves.”

Imagine we are not an awkward teenage boy or a frumpy, nerdy girl trying to make a good impression on the object of our desire; but instead we are a rotten, decaying, corrupted, and putrefied corpse trying to convince the king of the world we are worthy of his value. That is a nearer analogy to the reality of the case, and that corpse’s best self will never be worthy of anything except disgust in the eyes of a holy and perfect God. No makeover would help. Again, this is not an analogy exclusive to the LGBT community. It applies to anyone who at any time has worshipped creation instead of the creator. I was that corpse, but for the grace of God the Father through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, who bore the punishment for my sinful lusts, desires, motivations, and my worst “self,” so that I may repent and have an eternal life glorifying and worshipping HIM – not my “self.”

[1] Psalm 5:9

[2] Titus 1:15-16

[3] 2 Timothy 1:7 – The Greek word (deilia) connotes timidity or cowardice, and was to Herodotus a chargeable offense.

[4] Isaiah 64:6; Matthew 22:1-14.

[5] Matthew 23:13-34.