Our Feet on the Necks of “The Least of These”

We Christians should be standing shoulder to shoulder with the freaks, geeks, and outcasts of society. Not out of some source of nobless oblige or charity, as if we’re above them, but because really following our Savior should make us outcasts, too.

Why? Because the way of the world is seeking power, seeking status, and seeking to secure that power and status against all threats. Thomas Hobbes explored this in depth in Leviathan.

Bruce Springsteen summed it up neatly in Badlands: “Poor man wanna be rich, rich man wanna be king, and the king ain’t satisfied ’til he rules everything.”

America has democratized status-seeking. There is no subset of scheming aristocracy as opposed to hardy commoners that ‘know their place.’ You can call this good or bad, but it’s hard to deny it. We all now have the freedom and resources to seek our own power and security.

Even the common American has a luxury only noblemen had for centuries: the ability to claw his or her way up the social ladder, climbing over the broken hearts and souls of the weak, the slow, the “sinners,” and the outcasts.

We as Christians should be above this primal urge to claw and climb our way up. But too often, we are the chief participants. We keep up appearances and never admit weakness, not to our church “family.” We pretend our lives are fine, and our souls are spotless (aside from a vague spattering of socially acceptable sins).

We oppose anti-bullying measures because they partially focus on protecting gay kids. And we spend a lot of money making sure gay people don’t have the same legal rights we do.

We sometimes actively discriminate against people of other religions (try getting a teaching job in Mississippi is you’re openly atheist or Wiccan. The good Christian administrators will hire someone else, anyone else, faster than you can say “Christopher Hitchens”).

We rage against “welfare queens,” while asserting a rugged independence we manifestly do not possess. We lift our “self-made” wealth up like a bronze serpent on a pole, and look to it for our earthly salvation.

Jesus walked among the poor, the socially unacceptable (those the Pharisees called sinners, as if that brood of vipers weren’t worse sinners themselves), the sick, the outcast. He loved and healed them, including lepers (unclean), tax collectors (traitorous collaborators), a Roman Centurion (an occupying soldier, and worse, an unclean gentile), a Samaritan woman, the possessed, the insane.

But we too often stand with the vipers, the social climbers, with our feet on the necks of the least of these.

And that is unquestionably wrong.

No matter how many Bible verses we produce to prove a particular point, we can never justify turning the Gospel into a weapon, or a mere tool of social or political power.

Does Welcoming Homosexuals Mean Accepting Homosexuality?

Shaking hands

As Christians, we like to think that we’re unpopular because we take a principled, Biblical stand against homosexual sexual relations.  But the things that stain our reputation most are not at all theological.  They’re not about the belief that same-sex sexual contact is sinful.  They’re about the way we so often treat homosexual people.

There are plenty of churches that actively seek to welcome lesbians and homosexuals into to their midst, while still holding to the theology that homosexual sexual relations are sinful in god’s eyes.

They believe that those who are completely homosexual (and not at all bisexual or attracted to the opposite sex at all) should be celibate, and those who are bisexual should focus their romantic and sexual attention on members of the opposite sex, effectively living as if heterosexual.

These churches are occasionally called intolerant or anti-homosexual, but they actually have homosexual people in their congregations.  They love and worship with and share communion with people who are sexually attracted to the same sex.  They do not hold themselves sinless or blameless or better than their homosexual neighbors.  And so they are able to witness and minister to people who are so often excluded from the Church.

People act like the alternatives are the Family Research Council (which spreads horrible, often false, ‘information’ about homosexuals and works against all their civil rights) or the Episcopal Church (which ordained its first homosexual priest in the seventies, and has created an official blessing for same-sex marriages).

That is a false dichotomy.  You do not need to change your theology to change the way you treat your least popular neighbors (Don’t get me wrong: I believe you can be a faithful, prayerful Christian and not believe homosexual sexual relations are sinful.  But those Christians aren’t the ones I’m writing this post to).

In other words, the evangelical churches of the United States do not have to start blessing same-sex marriages and ordaining homosexual ministers.  But we do need to stop actively working to use the government to attack homosexuals.

In many states, homosexuals can be fired because of their sexual orientation for no reason.  In many states, they cannot adopt.  In many states, they are excluded from hospital visitation for their partners.  Until 2003, having homosexual relations was felony on par with forcible rape in many states.  That’s oppression: “if you’re gay, we treat you like a rapist.”

In other words, homosexual people are treated like second-class citizens, and it’s mostly because of political pressure from conservative Christians.

As Christians, we are called to love all sinners, not just sinners who sin like we do.  As Christians, we are not called to use the empire’s hammer to beat down people we don’t like.  That is antithetical to Christ’s behavior when He was on earth, and I believe antithetical to Christ’s message.

Jesus ate with the outcasts of Jewish society – Samaritans, tax collectors, and more – and He loved them.  He loves them still, just like he loves the outcasts of our American society.  If we love Him, we need to suck it up, step up, and start feeding His sheep.

The Danger of Being Right, Part 1

One of the worst temptations I’ve ever had to fight was the temptation of being right.  Let me explain.

 

When I’m right, when I really, truly believe I’m right, I am without doubt.

When I am without doubt, I stop asking questions.

When I stop asking questions, I start telling other people the answers.

When I start telling other people the answers, I argue with the ones that disagree with me.

When I argue with the ones that disagree with me, I really want to win the argument.

When I really want to win the argument (for Jesus!) I pull no punches.

When I pull no punches, I hurt people and bring shame to the cause of Christ.

 

And that’s why it’s dangerous to be right.

Chick-Fil-A day?  A great day for “freedom of speech,” but a bad day to be gay in America, and a terrible day for anyone who actually wants to bring gay people into the Church.  You want uglier examples?  The Crusades.  Slavery.  Manifest Destiny.  Guantanamo Bay.

Show me one place where Jesus or the apostles operated like this.  Well, Paul did, but back then, they called him Saul.  But one encounter on the road to Damascus changed all that.  When we’re right, and we really know it, we’ll roll over anybody who stands in our way, and we’ll do it in the name of Jesus.

Because if we’re right, and they’re not just like us, they’re wrong.  And if they’re wrong, then we have to defeat them.   And if we have to defeat them, we need to take the gloves off.  And when we take the gloves off, we hurt people and bring shame to the cause of Christ, whether it’s Guantanamo Bay, Chick-Fil-A, or arguing on Facebook.

Doubt is our friend.  Not doubt of Jesus’s resurrection, or God’s love and grace, but doubt of ourselves, doubt of our own rightness, our own righteousness.  After all, didn’t the prophet Isaiah say our righteousness is nothing but filthy rags?

Eet Mor Chiken and the Gratest Komandmint

Chick Fil A Chicken Sandwich

Photo by J. Reed, Creative Commons

I recently saw a letter to the editor in a local newspaper in which the author said he was tired of hearing about Chick-Fil-A.  He wanted us all to shut up about it because America has bigger problems than some fast food guy.  I sent a letter back replying that for homosexual men and women, civil rights, bullying, and marriage equality are hardly yesterday’s news.

I don’t think it’s time to stop the conversation.  I think it’s time to keep talking.  I hope I can say this with grace, and without any rancor or sarcasm.

When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus called us to love God with everything we have and love our neighbors as ourselves [Matthew 22:36-40].  Can we love somebody without every trying to see things from their perspective?  Can we love somebody without taking the time to understand their struggles and what’s important to them?

Samaritans were seen much like homosexuals are today: outside of the faith, less valuable, different, other.  Samaritans were half-breed descendants of Jews who’d married pagans.  They worshipped on a mountain, not in the temple, living a lifestyle that defied God’s holy law every Sabbath.  They were enemies of the faith, unnatural half-breeds, scum.  But when asked “who is my neighbor,” Jesus responded with the parable of the Good Samaritan. [Luke 10:25-37]  When traveling, Jesus took a detour into Samaria and preached to the woman at the well [John Chapter 4], even though she was living in lifestyle sexual sin with a man she wasn’t married to (while most likely still being legally married to one of her five previous husbands).

So if we love our gay neighbors as we love ourselves, shouldn’t we think about how our actions will affect them?  Shouldn’t we consider that our massive Chick-Fil-A rally will look less like “support for free speech” and more like a raised fist to them?

If you lived in a nation where Christianity was a small minority, denounced and scorned by the majority, how would you feel about a huge demonstration of support for a rich man who vocally condemns Christians and financially supports organizations that oppose Christianity?

I’d feel terrible, myself.  I’d feel bullied and persecuted.  I’d feel like, indeed, my own neighbors had turned against me. Not welcome, not loved.

How do you think the average gay person felt when he or she saw long lines wrapped around Chick-Fil-A all day, people lining up to support a business that gives money to anti-gay groups?

But it’s different, we say.  Homosexuality is a sin, we say.  Jesus didn’t say love our sinless neighbors as ourselves.  He said love our neighbors as ourselves.  Believing that homosexuality is a sin (even if you’re right) doesn’t give us an excuse to ignore Jesus’s commands on how to treat his gay children, our gay neighbors.  Being right never excuses unloving, graceless, judgmental behavior.  Nor does it excuse thoughtless behavior that is hurtful to an already vulnerable population.

I hadn’t really written anything about this, but seeing that letter in the editor lit a fire under me.  Sometimes we are so concerned about being right that we fail to follow our Divine Master’s greatest commandments.  And I’m as guilty of that as anyone, but I’m trying to work on it.

What do you think?  In our zeal to critique our secular culture, do we sometimes lose sight of God’s command to love our neighbors as ourselves?  Can a critique that is begun out of love become something unloving through escalation, or perhaps through failure to see things from another perspective?