Yesterday a funny thing happened to Craig Gross, co-founder of XXXChurch.com (for those nervous about the link, it is a Christian site whose primary ministry is against p()rnography) and author of the new book Jesus Loves You, as he and some colleagues, as part of promotion for the book, spent time with the legalistic hatemongers at Westboro Baptist in Topeka, Kansas. (They are the Fred Phelps gang, the "God Hates Fags" people who say 9/11 was God's judgment on America and who picket soldiers' funerals, among other things.)
Craig and his buddies went to church at Westboro, got to know some of the Phelps clan, and went to counter-demonstrate as Meghan Phelps and other Westboro protesters held up their ridiculous and offensive signs at The American Idol tour stop, ostensibly to let Idol runner-up Adam Lambert know God hates him. (Craig and his team held up "Jesus Loves The Gays" signs and such.)
But what was really interesting is how human a face Craig and the Jesus Loves You team were able to put on these folks. The tweets, the videos, they all show these people laughing, playing, joking around. I don't know if I've ever seen them not screaming and looking angry. It is scarily easy to stereotype them, and yes, while they are idiots, they are broken people awash in bitterness and rage and false religion. And it takes a guy who spends his time ministering to prostitutes and p()rn stars to bring some humanity out of them. (So much so that, at a few points, Craig wonders if the whole thing isn't some elaborate joke, some kind of religious shtick.)
But a funny thing happened. As Craig Gross showed love to the haters, the ones the haters hate assumed Craig was a hater too. If you followed some of the Twitter brouhaha, you could see many Adam Lambert fans and supporters of gay rights causes cursing out Craig, telling him that God hated him, and saying plenty of things that make the Westboro crew sound downright genteel. They didn't know he didn't agree with the Westboro people; they just saw his proximity and saw him loving them. That was enough. They got confused and thought Craig was with Westboro.
Which says something really profound about a ministry of love. If you love everyone, no matter their brokenness and no matter their sin -- prodigal or pharisaical -- you're gonna get slammed by both sides.
I don't like all of what Craig and XXXChurch do, by the way. I use the X3Watch Accountability software their organization puts out. I commend his desire to reach with the love of Jesus people most of the church has given up on or won't touch. And I am grateful for their continuing ministry to Christians and non-Christians alike who are addicted to p()rnography and who are otherwise broken sexually. But some things they do strike me as needlessly provocative and borderline crude for marketing's sake. Nevertheless, what I saw in Craig's documented experiences yesterday was a guy who, like Jesus, was willing to get his reputation sullied in order to treat sinners as if they are people made in the image of God and to show them the love Jesus showed us.
It just happened that yesterday Craig's reputation got tarnished among the prodigals for loving the judgmental legalists.