“I’m fully aware that they’re alive.” – Claire, Jurrasic World
While surfing through channels, we happened to stop at what looked like a big celebration happening in the city. There was a crowd of people wearing normal clothing, kiosks for food, souvenirs, and games set up, and a stage where musicians were playing some loud music where many of the crowd were dancing normally. Four people were being interviewed with standard sorts of questions: “Is this your first visit?” “Do you like the vibe?” and then the question that gave me an indication of what the celebration was about was asked: “Coming off of the heels of the big supreme court decision, do you feel …” It took at least five more minutes of the interview for the person who had the remote to realize what was meant by the use of pride – at which point the television was promptly turned off with some degree of commentary like: “I can’t believe they would show that on public t.v.!”
I probably live in one of the more conservative areas of the states. One of our biggest cities is the capitol of the seminaries that are the foundation of gender role and complementarian teachings that seem to be quite popular in this region. Should the Methodist church divide into two churches one that is for and one that is against them, I’m fairly convinced that every Methodist church in this county would have a majority vote to be in the ‘against’ denomination. Attitudes are deeply entrenched here and extremely slow to change.
By the time that we were beginning to write and have debates in High School, the murder of Matthew Shepherd had happened a few years before. The topic of hate crimes and homosexuality seemed to come up several times every year. At the time I lived up north in a town that was no stranger to the subject. Another particularly infamous murder had happened nearly two decades previously that haunted the town. One of the students in the community had even come out during middle school and had earned the respect of the rest of his classmates over the years. About a year or so after graduation, that student would commit suicide. So for my millennial generation, we would talk about the subject quite frequently and we knew people among them who were kind and decent.
But as a Christian, I feel the tension between what my generation believes and what my brothers and sisters in the faith believe. Some of the vilest, most hurtful rhetoric come not from the mouths of unbelievers, but Christians who utterly condemn anyone that does not match up to the gender roles teaching that is the foundation of their beliefs. It is not enough to know that we should love others, more is asked of us, to love people that we don’t know – that aren’t like us.
‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ – there’s a reason why these are the toughest principles in the entire Bible to grasp. Hate comes like a second nature to us, history shows us that it’s a common thread. Yoda put it this way: “Fear leads to anger; anger leads to hate; hate leads to suffering.” And 1 John 3:15 declares; “Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.” While it is true that in the context of this passage, a brother or sister refers to a fellow believer, we have to remember that every human is a potential believer, everyone is potentially a brother or sister.
Try as I might, I don’t see people as ‘faceless entities’ ‘others’ ‘enemies’ or ‘the nemesis’. I see individual people each with unique stories and human faces. I see people of all walks of life, and from every kind of situation imaginable. When you see people as people, you have a hard time justifying treating them as anything lesser. But when people are ‘something other’ than human, some sort of animal – apes, pigs, vermin – you can justify any sort of mistreatment you can imagine because they’re some sort of inferior being. That’s what allowed some of the worst genocides, worst forms of slavery, and worst kinds of systematic oppression to take root and endure for years, decades, and centuries. Some of it, by the way, was ‘justified’ by twisting scriptures. ‘The curse of Ham’ was offered as an explanation why African-Americans were enslaved. Adolf Hitler promoted Positive Christianity that combined elements of his beliefs about racial purity with elements of Christianity. Under his leadership, there was persecution of any church that did not teach these things. Even today we must be aware of this tendency to avoid using the Bible to justify hatred against the people of the Middle-East or anyone else for that matter.
I know that I’m not perfect either. I was happy for Legend of Korra that they went there, but I wasn’t ready for them to go there, either. I have pretty mixed feelings because I know that I’m supposed to do better, but I know that it’s extremely difficult to change attitudes about something like that. I wish I was better, but I know that I have come a long way from having been somewhat intolerant and that is something to celebrate. I still have a ways to go if I’m to be better at being an ally as I ‘look after widows and orphans in their distress’ those without representation and status in society. That’s not easy given the second half that verse: ‘to keep oneself from being polluted by the world’. To be honest, the ‘pollution’ could go either way – to be careful to avoid giving into hatred or to be so accepting with an anything goes attitude that never says no to anything. Christians often are so fearful of the latter that they don’t recognize how often they fall victim to the former.
I said all of that to say that as Christians, we have this tendency to know that ‘we should’ do something or ‘we ought’ to do something and we leave it at that. As Claire knew for a fact that she was in charge of a park full of living dinosaurs, she didn’t really know it until she saw a dinosaur in the throws of death, touched it as it was breathing it’s last breath, and tried to comfort it in it’s final moments. Christians are often ‘fully aware that they should love others’. But ‘others’ could mean other Christians, or other Bronco fans, or other stamp-collectors, the sort of people they have something in common with. It’s much harder to come to love other people who you are told are sinners, claim their sin for their identity, and refuse to give it up. It’s much harder to love these enemies when they are not your friends and you have no contact with them other than to tell them how much you hate them.
Most of the time it’ll be something like a micro-aggression that you might not even be aware that you’re displaying. I’ve heard of story after story about these inappropriate jokes, racist and sexist comments that are commonplace in churches being the cause of why some people ultimately decide to leave that church. These things plant a seed, over time the accumulation of encouragement to keep on thinking them sprouts into a mighty poisonous tree of evil (can also be caused by the smallest seed of doubt, according to a Prior of the Ori, but that’s neither here nor there.) It reminds me of an old video I saw called the Shadow of Hate, it was about how intolerance leads to murder. It happens because of race and it happens because of sexuality.
I know that by now most of the more conservative Christians will have said to themselves, ‘this person is obviously on their side and isn’t one us. They’re willing to let people sin themselves into eternal damnation and must not really love them at all.’ All too often I hear it explained to me like this: “John has a toddler named Suzie. He can lovingly tell her that the stove is hot / the electric socket is dangerous / she will cut herself if she runs around with scissors and that she ought not do those things for her safety and well-being. Or he can just sit back and watch as she touches the stove and burns her hand severely, gets a nasty electric shock, or gets puncture wound because of the scissors – but that’s not love.” So I guess the point of the message is that God is our father and we are his one to three year-olds who are given a set of rules so that we don’t hurt ourselves because he loves us. That scenario just doesn’t work when Susan is a twenty-something, thirty-something full-grown adult. Rules and love just aren’t the same thing. John doesn’t stop loving Suzie because she broke a rule and got hurt. God doesn’t stop loving Susan because she breaks the rules either. We all break the rules in some way, shape, or form. Being a Christian doesn’t make one exempt at it either, we just have forgiveness for when we do break the rules.
Like it or not, we live in a changing world. It won’t be long before love triangles become love pyramids on our prime-time family entertainment channels. The world will keep on spinning and people in it will live as they normally do. Christians are instructed with two difficult principles to help us navigate the changing times: ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ and ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. It’s probably the best advice for all time, but it’s never easy and it’s got going to get any easier anytime soon.
Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. – Ephesians 4:15