DISCLAIMER: I stole the title of this blog from Chapter Thirteen of Philip Yancey’s book What’s So Amazing About Grace? I haven’t actually read the whole book, but I’m constantly drawn to that chapter, and it’s informed the opinion that I’m writing about today. I highly suggest you buy the book, read it, and read that chapter, as Mr. Yancey does a better job of writing than I.
Facebook is a warzone.
Ever since a few days ago, when Manny Pacquiao made his controversial statement about the LGBT community, my newsfeed has been a firestorm of violent opinion. It’s been almost painful to read. No, scratch that—it has been painful to read. I’ve never dealt well with conflict, and seeing a world erupt in it is frustrating, upsetting, and…terrifying. I can’t count the number of posts from friends and people I admire that I’ve had to “hide” because their angered sentiments towards the Christian community—towards the God I love—have me shaking in a mix of rage, grief, and…guilt.
Do they know? I ask myself. Do they know what I am? And if they do, do they think I’m the same way too?
The labels sting. They’re supposed to. They’re labels, spoken in justifiable rage. The LGBTQIA community feels like it is under attack, because, frankly, those words—whether or not you believe they were taken in and out of context—are attack words. Calling someone sub-human because of something they believe they can’t change about themselves? Actually, calling someone sub-human period? That’s wrong, no matter what you believe in. They’re hurt. And hurt people have a history of hurting other people, because the grief is sometimes so big it can’t help but spill out.
Christians, I am writing this mostly for you. Your neighbours—the ones Jesus commanded us to love as ourselves—are hurting, and that is why they are lashing out in anger. They are bleeding. They are scared. They just want to love and be loved. And while yes, as Christians, we believe (I believe) in that offensive black-and-white fact that homosexuality is a sin…we have to remember we’re sinners too.
I do. I have done some really bad things, and in the spirit of…proving a point(?) I’ll tell you a story about one of the worst things I ever did. When I was twelve I cyber-bullied a girl named Cara. She was the best friend of my then-best friend, and somehow I became her friend by association. And I bullied her, for no good reason but that at the time, I thought she was stupider than me and so was fair play. I messed with her head in ways that were as ingenious as they were cruel. I called her brother a—excuse my French—bastard, at her own birthday party. I offended her family and shamed my own and if I could take back all that systematic abuse, I would. But I can’t. It’s done.
(Cara, if you are somehow reading this, thank you for forgiving me. I am still so, so sorry.)
There is filth on my hands, and in my soul. I don’t deserve to be loved. But that fact doesn’t stop me from wanting to be loved, from craving human connection, from wanting someone to see me and say that I am still somehow worthy of being cared for. And it doesn’t stop me from hurting when I don’t get that. Far from suffering in silence, I still lash out when the loneliness rips me apart. I hurt someone, but I am hurting, and so I hurt someone again.
The cycle continues, and the only thing that can break it is real love.
Christians, before you rush to God’s or Pacquiao’s defense…listen to the pain under the words. These people—and I will keep repeating that they are people—feel rejected and under attack. Maybe now they feel a little vindicated, since Nike’s just dropped Manny as an endorser (not surprised), but that doesn’t completely take away the sting. If I think Facebook is a battlefield for me, I’m sure they think it’s one for them too, because for every comment lambasting Pacquiao and religion and “backwards thinking” there is another that brutally declares that gay people are being intolerant and brutal and unforgiving.
Friends, I’ve learned that when you say sorry, that’s no guarantee that you will be forgiven. You hurt someone. You face the consequences. Manny is facing them, and I hope he is facing them with grace. But I’m not here to talk about Manny. I’m here to talk about us.
I know the comments hurt, and it’s tempting to react in kind. God is…important to us Christians, to say the least. To have our faith in Him blamed for proliferating hate is painful, because it’s just not true. 1 John 4:19-21 says “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” God would not condone any hate, commands us to have our speech “seasoned with salt” and full of grace so that we don’t hurt anyone unduly, “…for an offended brother is like a fortified city.” This debacle is not God’s fault, but because we profess to be Christians he is dragged into this mess and we feel we need to defend Him, to “stand up for our faith.”
I agree that you need to stand up for your faith. I’ve done blogs on the agony of that decision. And it has cost me, though thankfully not too dearly. But standing up for your faith means living it, and in this instance it means reflecting grace.
To quote Philip Yancey, “…every gay person has heard the message of judgment from the church.” They know what our stand is. We’ve made it very clear. What’s not clear to them is how our disapproval of the act can somehow exist alongside our profession of acceptance for the person, because that part, I admit, is where I’ve personally been amiss. See, I’ve been tempted to react with “us versus them,” because some posts even go so far as to blame the very core of who I am for all that is wrong in our society. But, and I’m quoting Yancey again. “Grace dies when it becomes us versus them.” Love dies. And that’s a love we sorely need.
A few LGBT people have approached me, and asked how it is that I can say I respect them while disagreeing with something they believe is fundamentally part of who they are. To me, the answer is simple, the frequently-quoted refrain of “Hate the sin; love the sinner.” But that phrase, while true, has basically become a clichéd excuse, because it’s so easy to say but so difficult to see. They won’t believe me when I say that phrase, because they’ve never seen evidence of how that could be possible.
I don’t know what I can do to break through that wall. But I know that reacting in anger to their anger doesn’t help, not when I can’t even begin to imagine what they’re going through. It’s easy to visualise the cliché of “angry gay man” who shoves his sexuality in people’s faces “for kicks.” It’s not so easy to imagine the pain, loneliness, fear, frustration, and internal conflict that fuel that rebellion. These people are hurting (I think I’ve said that 1,000 times in this blog), and while that doesn’t take away the sting of their words it does make clear God’s stand on the matter:
They are hurting, and we are called to heal.
They are hurting, and I am called to heal.
So here’s, I guess, what we can do. Pray. Ask God for wisdom. Refuse to pour further fuel on the fire. Ignore the comments as best we can, and when we can’t—if the fight really does come to our door—acknowledge the pain that the issue has caused, and reinforce the value of our relationships with those who were affected by it. While our stands won’t change, we can at least tell them that we understand why they’re hurting, and we’re here. Not as combatants, but as friends. Because being friends with anyone is a privilege, a gift, and a responsibility.
One of my friends admitted that just the thought of my beliefs already offends him, but he treats me with as much kindness as he can muster anyway. If that’s not a picture of acceptance despite a lack of agreement, I don’t know what is. So here’s what I have to say in response. To my LGBTQIA friends: My fundamental position has not changed, but I know you are deeply hurt by what has happened, and you have the right to be. It has only reinforced the fears that many of you might have. Some of you have parents who won’t treat you as their child. Some of you are afraid that you’ll never find someone to walk with you into forever. Some of you are even trying to still walk in a faith that by definition says what you are doing is wrong. These are wounds that can push someone to madness, and I won’t pretend to fully understand them. But I will be here for you, when and where I can.
I’m not a perfect person, a perfect Christian, a perfect anything. I am sure there will be days I fail to act in love, fail to walk the talk I’ve laid out here, and I’m sorry in advance if and when I do. One day we might have to face each other on opposite sides of a significant line, and I pray our friendship survives it because, frankly, it is my privilege to know you. And while I cannot agree with you—because I cannot deny something that is at the core of my very self and my survival—I will do my best to listen when you need someone to talk to. To defend you when the world is vicious. To remind you that you are a valuable when you feel that you are worthless. To try my hardest to extend to you the same kindness that I want people to extend to me. The people we love most are often the ones who hurt us deepest.
I will take the blows as they come, knowing that many of you have had to do the same with me.
I’m not good at loving people, but with the help of God, I would like to try. I hope you’ll let me.
~a Roaming Tsinay~