A More Excellent Way
And I’m going to show you an even better way.
-I Corinthians 12:31
I remember several years ago reading a newsstory about the same-sex marriage debate taking place in the Canadian province of Alberta. Two men who wanted to get married took the province to court and won. When asked about the verdict, one of the men responded with a snarky comment to the other side.
I remember being rather bothered by the reaction. Why the man using this experience to taunt his opponents? This was a moment of celebration, of building up and not tearing down.
That event was one of the first showing me how much bitterness and anger that LGBT folks have towards the rest of society.
A lot of the animus is not without warrant. For many centuries, sexual minorities were treated with contempt by the wider society. We were kicked out of our homes, shunned by loved ones. This experience of being devalued can tear our hearts asunder. The tears in time scab over, to protect us from others who mean to harm us. The scabs and scars heal our hearts and protect them, but at a terrible price. We become hardened and distrustful. We use the pain we feel as a weapon to keep danger away. I don’t think that Canadian man who was taunting the plaintiffs was wanting to be mean, but it was a defense weapon to protect himself and hopefully to bring the offender to some sort of justice.
This is common, at least to me, among the gays I meet. We carry past pain and harden ourselves to protect from the next attack.
But the thing is, for those of us who are called Christian, we are also called to love our enemies as well as pursue justice. The Jesus that drove the money changers out of the temple, also sat down for lunch with Zaccheus, a tax collector for the dreaded Roman government.
How do we love those we disagree with? Do we even love them at all?
Brandon Ambrosino wrote a post today taking on the topic of those who oppose same-sex marriage. He asked if it is possible for someone to be against gay marriage, and not anti-gay? Or do the two go hand-in-hand? Ambrosino, who is gay himself, thinks that we should give those who might disagree with us the benefit of the doubt. He writes:
I would argue that an essential feature of the term “homophobia” must include personal animus or malice toward the gay community. Simply having reservations about gay marriage might be anti-gay marriage, but if the reservations are articulated in a respectful way, I see no reason to dismiss the person holding those reservations as anti-gay people. In other words, I think it’s quite possible for marriage-equality opponents to have flawed reasoning without necessarily having flawed character. When we hastily label our opposition with terms like “anti-gay,” we make an unwarranted leap from the first description to the second.
To me, recognizing the distinction between opposing gay marriage and opposing gay people is a natural outgrowth of an internal distinction: When it comes to my identity, I take care not to reduce myself to my sexual orientation. Sure, it’s a huge part of who I am, but I see myself to be larger than my sexual expression: I contain my gayness; it doesn’t contain me. If it’s true that my gayness is not the most fundamental aspect of my identity as Brandon, then it seems to me that someone could ideologically disapprove of my sexual expression while simultaneously loving and affirming my larger identity. This is what Pope Francis was getting at when he asked, “When God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?” The Pope probably won’t be officiating gay marriages any time soon. But because he differentiates between a person’s sexual identity and her larger identity as a human being, he is able to affirm the latter without offering definitive commentary on the former. Maybe his distinction between Brandon and Gay Brandon is misguided, but it isn’t necessarily malicious, and that’s the point.
I think what has been missing in our civil discourse is grace. The culture wars has made us all calloused; distrustful of those who aren’t like us. I think that has to change. Yes, there are people out there who are truly homophobic. But being against gay marriage doesn’t mean that you are Hitler incarnate.
During my years with the Presbytery, I had the opportunity to serve folks from accross the theological spectrum. What I learned is that conservative Christians are not as scary as I once thought. I will disagee with them, but I stopped seeing them as the Other. I’ve learned to see them as children of God.
None of this is easy. But what if God is speaking through them?
Yes, we need to be careful about safety. Yes, there are some real bigots who mean to do us harm. But what if we welcomed those who disagreed with us to the communion table. What would that be like?
Maybe a foretaste of the king of God.