My field placement supervisor often repeats to me a saying that she picked up from her spiritual director: “you can’t hang a picture on the wall without a hook.” What this means–or at least, what I’ve gathered that this means–is that one can’t grow unless you have people, influences, instabilities, and idiosyncrasies that give us some kind of resistance. Not unlike the necessity of resistance in developing physical strength, these resisting factors–or “hooks”–become, in the hand of the God the resistance that will cause us to grow spiritually and emotionally.
One of the hooks upon which I’ve been snagging my sweaters recently is, ironically, the hook of other people like me, who seem to identify with certain elements of my identity and speak out in ways that make me immensely uncomfortable. People speaking out of hatred, out of prejudice, out of utter ignorance. People who have chosen to sacrifice love on the altar of being right. People who imagine that they are speaking in love, but don’t realize that the love out of which they have chosen to speak isn’t a genuine love for the Other, but rather a love for a worldview that they cannot bear to see challenged by opening their eyes to new possibilities. People who seem to have a monopoly on the Spirit of God, yet won’t listen to her speaking. People who seem to be genuinely jerks.
The hilarious aspect of all of this is that it’s easy to frame this argument from an “I’m a gay man being upset about conservative Christians being mean to me” perspective. And I’m sure that’s the angle many of you, dear Readers, were assuming that I was presently taking. Indeed, that has been a source of upset for me in the past few months; I won’t lie. To see people trampling the name of the God of Righteousness and instead sacrificing to their self-made God of Rightness–this wounds me deeply, and I still find myself uncomfortable in churches where I have yet to build up relationships of trust. I get uncomfortable when people sit down at a table next to me in a restaurant and begin a bible study–I fear the things that will be said, the laments made over the state of our country, the blame piled upon us gay people whose only crime is our existence.
The issue is, however, Christians are not the only one speaking out of a fundamental need to be right; no, there have been voices from the LGBT community speaking with such lack of charity towards others of differing viewpoints that I have trouble aligning with them, even when I agree with them. What a handful of leaders in the LGBT community who have come out of a conservative Christian milieu have utterly forgotten is that the journey from rejection to acceptance is a journey of healing and a journey of reconciliation and it cannot be rushed. I began to support equal rights for LGBT people after years of being virulently homophobic as I was wrestling with my own sexual identity, and that was before I even came out. But even then it was a journey, a journey of getting to know others made in the image of God, a journey of finding those hooks and hand-holds along the rocky and twisting path that enabled me to climb upward step by tentative step towards a life of love.
But even as I mention a journey of reconciliation, I must point out that the journey of reconciliation is NOT a journey to rightness. More harm has been done in the name of being right than I care to admit; statements like “love the sinner, hate the sin” are indicative of this kind of attitude, and it is precisely this kind of attitude that makes the deeply-wounded teen struggling with identity decide to swallow a fistful of sleeping pills. If a word spoken in service of the God of Rightness results in death, it is not a word spoken in love.
Perhaps the God of Rightness is today’s Molech, into whose sacrificial fire we throw our friends, our family, our sons, our daughters, our loved ones. I stopped believing in this false god long ago, when I chose to stop sacrificing those dear to my heart on his bloody altar. The thing is, both sides of any debate seem to love serving this particular abomination.
What is hammer that will tear down his image, the wet blanket that will put out his sacrificial flame? Love. Love transcends differences of opinion. Love turns the need to be right into a need to be righteous. Love is that power that says “I relinquish my say as to whether x is a sin or y is an incorrect assertion. I choose to embrace you and affirm you regardless of my own opinions.” And I think love requires the radical trust that the God of Love, the God of Righteousness, will deal with each of us on God’s own terms, and those terms will be simple.
“How well did you love?”