I met them while on a trip to see a friend. She’s gay, too. Don’t judge. I know you’re tempted to.
In all candidness and transparency, I was nervous about meeting them. I created outlandish scenarios in my head of what the interaction would be like, all of which, I must confess, were of the worse-case variety. I live in a Southern, “religious” culture that has demonized people who do not conform to the expectations of acceptable belief and behavior. Labeled them as weird, sinful, abhorrent, liberal, militant, demanding, and destructive to society. I’m afraid to say that over time, this underlying current of prejudice and smugness has permeated my own thinking, like chemical runoff poisoning a stream.
When the couple first arrived, I tried to treat them as I would any heterosexual couple at a dinner with my husband. I asked questions about their careers (one was an teacher, just like my husband). I asked how they met. I asked about their families and their favorite meal at the place we were eating. I asked about their marriage (in California). While my questions were innocuous, my interest was more like investigating a culture I’d never encountered before, like a sociologist who discovers a previously hidden civilization. Nell meets Star Trek meets National Geographic. It was us (me, the conservative Christian [minister]) against them (the liberal gay). I’m not proud of my attitude. Not then, not now. But the lines were drawn by my assumptions and arrogance.
Then it happened. Us against them became we.
The shift was subtle and unexpected. One of my (seemingly) innocuous questions was “What plans do you have for the weekend?” I was not expecting the answer I got. One of the women had lost her brother just a few weeks before, and she and her partner were driving to a special place to spread his ashes.
In that moment, my dinner companions were no longer specimens in a jar to be observed (don’t tell me you don’t do the same thing); they became we—fellow human beings who are more like me than different.
I’ve lost a sibling. And her ashes have been spread in a special place.
I could identify with her grief and her pain. I knew from experience how she was feeling, weeks after the death, when everyone else moves on with their lives and you just can’t seem to move. She wasn’t liberal, demanding, or destructive. She was hurting. And every human being, regardless of your political or religious views, can identify with that. At least I hope so.
Not long after that, I was listening to a sermon from a pastor in Colorado. The minister (or preacher or whatever the label in that denomination) made a statement that rocked my theology: Whenever we create an “us against them” scenario, we typically put ourselves in a superior position and the “them” in an inferior one. We’re wiser and holier. More enlightened and informed. “They” need to learn the truth, and we are just the people to tell them exactly what the truth is. Think through your “us versus them” labels; none of them makes you the one in need of change, right?
Conservative versus liberal.
Sinner versus saint.
Straight versus gay.
Stay at home versus working mom.
Homeschool versus public school.
Immigrant versus citizen.
SEC versus the rest of the world.
Whatever side we choose to identify with becomes the morally (or spiritually) superior role, and we in good conscious must enlighten and educate (judge) the other side.
Except that we as believers are not called to judge. We are called to love.
Remember when the expert in the Law (i.e., superior morally) asked Jesus which commandment trumped everything else? “Love the Lord your God…and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself'” (Luke 10:27). Love Him. Love others.
When Jesus commanded the disciples to go into the world, He commanded them to make disciples, not to judge sinners. Nowhere in the New Testament does it say, “Make sure that people who disagree with your politics, theology, or lifestyle know just how much God will judge them for their sin. And it’s best to do that by making them feel like crap.”
I’m not saying that homosexuality is ok. What I am saying is this: There is no “us vs. them” at the foot of the cross. We are all the same. I have no stone to throw. I have no right to play judge and jury when I am one of the guilty. The gospel is for all of us fallen creatures, and I am not in the position to determine whether my brand of sin is morally superior to someone else’s.
I have long wondered what would happen if the Christian community would rise up and love others with the same intensity and ferociousness that we’ve used in judging them. The addict. The man who beats his wife. The homeless. The Wall Street swindler. The slacker who skips Sunday night church to watch the Superbowl.
James said that mercy triumphs over judgment (Jas. 2:13).
Maybe, hopefully, one day I’ll be able to see it in action. In my own life.