The International House of Prayer (IHOP) hosted its annual OneThing conference on December 28-31 at the Kansas City Convention Center in Kansas City, Missouri. Stuart Greaves, a member of IHOP's senior leadership team, delivered a talk on December 31st entitled "Walking with Joy in the Midst of the Growing Crisis on the Earth". When I listened to Greaves, I heard a fundamentalist man who seemed to be struggling against his own empathy.
Greaves began by telling listeners about how he and IHOP prayed against same-sex marriage in 2015. When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, Greaves was filled with joy that he couldn't understand.
"Several months ago, in April, when the Supreme Court began the deliberations concerning the issue of same-sex marriage, at the House of Prayer we had set aside the whole day to cry out to the Lord, for the Lord to touch the judges with wisdom and the fear of the Lord, that the deliberations toward same-sex marriage would not take place. Of course, they started the deliberations and it would take several months before the conclusion would be made know.In other words, Greaves decided that his strange joy was a reminder that God will be victorious someday, even if "dark and evil" events are happening now. At the 7:26 mark, he elaborated on this belief.
As Mike [Bickle] mentioned earlier, I'm on the Night Watch, so I went to bed as normal and I woke up in the early afternoon, and my wife Esther, she happened to walk into the room. It's June 26th, and she tells me that the Supreme Court had come to a verdict and that they decided to legalize gay marriage.
And when she told me that, a very strange thing happened in my heart ... My heart was filled with joy, and it troubled me. I went, 'Wait a minute. I shouldn't be feeling joy right now. This is not good news. Why am I feeling joy in my heart?' And for a couple of days, I just didn't want to talk about it, because I did not know what to do with this joy in light of this horrific news about this very dark and evil decree that came from the Supreme Court.
As the days unfolded, I felt directed to go to John 16:33 ... Jesus said, "These things I have spoken to you, that in me you may have peace." He says, "In the world, you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world."
"Our joy and our peace is rooted in our understanding of where this thing is going, that it's rooted in understanding of what it is that is in God's heart. Nations will rise and nations will fall, but under God's leadership, he is preparing a bride for his son and he's preparing his people to rule and reign with his son in the age to come."I don't know Greaves personally. I don't know what triggered his unexpected joy, but have a theory. What if, deep inside, some part of him was happy for LGBTQ Americans? What if this joy was suppressed empathy for the LGBTQ people who had just won the right to marry? Was that empathy fighting to break through, in spite of his anti-gay beliefs?
Fundamentalism encourages people to suppress their empathy in favor of obedience to an infallible authority (in this case, the Bible). Obedience to that authority supersedes all other moral concerns, including respect for the rights of others (in this case, gays). Fundamentalism also erodes empathy by demonizing the "other". That other can be the apostate, the LGBTQ person, the abortion provider, the feminist, the Muslim, or any number of other targets. Demonizing a scapegoat allows fundamentalists to unite against a perceived enemy and envision themselves as righteous and superior.
However, this process is imperfect. Empathy cannot always be silenced. Sometimes, it asserts itself no matter how much dehumanizing rhetoric one has absorbed.
We see this process happening with the exodus of American "nones" from organized religion. More Americans empathize with their LGBTQ brethren and find the homophobia of some Christian churches offensive. Slowly, empathy is undermining bigotry. I hope that Greaves' strange joy was actually his empathy struggling against his homophobia.
Greaves said something else later in his talk that made me wonder if his empathy was warring with his fundamentalism. He talked at length about the book of Habakkuk, describing how God raised up the Babylonians to wage war on the nations. The prophet Habakkuk was horrified, crying out to God that "your eyes are too pure to look on evil!". Greaves used the story to remind listeners that they must defer to God, even if God's actions shocked them.
At the 29:35 mark, Greaves admitted that a passage in scripture angered him so much that he threw his Bible down in disgust. He quickly stifled the feeling and deferred to his God.
"Beloved, in this hour, as we struggle with God's leadership, we must assume though that his ways are right. Reminds me of a story several years ago ... I remember reading the scriptures and I came across a scripture that so bothered me that I literally grabbed my Bible and I threw it to the ground. I threw it to the ground! I said, 'NO! This is wrong!' ... As soon as I said that, I went, 'Ohhhh.' I said, 'I'm so sorry.' I just realized what I was saying, who I was talking to, and I said, 'I'm so sorry. Let me rephrase. Please let me rephrase.' I said, 'I don't agree. You are right. I don't understand. Help me understand.' And then I felt good again on the inside.What passage disgusted him? Was it one of the many inhumane passages in the Bible? Did a passage about genocide or slavery or honor killing awaken his empathy? I don't know. Whatever passage it was, it triggered such strong emotion in him that he raged against his own holy book, if only for a moment.
Beloved, that is the attitude that we must have. I say, 'Lord, I'm not even sure I agree with all of this stuff. I know you're the sovereign of all the nations, but I know you're good. I know you're righteous. I wouldn't do it that way if I was you, and I'm not you. You're you, but you know what? I'm wrong. Help me understand. Help me know your ways.'"
I wish I could have told him, Stuart, that anger that shook you? That was your empathy speaking. Listen to it. It's part of what makes you human. You were outraged for a reason.
For those of us who oppose fundamentalism and value social justice, empathy is vital. We must cultivate it in ourselves and others, for it is a strong tool for dismantling oppressive systems. We must help fundamentalists listen to the voice of their own empathy instead of stuffing it down.