A Person not a Position

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Last night, Andrew Marin and Michael Kimpan stayed over at my parent’s house. Yes, you read that right. The two are here to speak at my brother’s church about the work that the Marin Foundation is doing and how the congregants can join in the effort.

Their timing couldn’t be more perfect. Minnesota is still reeling from the exhausting and absurdly poisonous “dialogue” that took place leading up to the November Marriage Amendment ballot initiative. I voted against it for the same reason many of my peers did- we wanted to give dialogue another shot. We recognize that we still have much to learn from God and one another and it would be shame if we effectively cut out a whole group from the conversation.

Over coffee this morning, Michael, my brother and myself, spitballed about how to facilitate a conversation between the church and the gay community without letting all hell break lose. At my brother’s church, they had already tried this over the marriage amendment issue. It didn’t really work out that well. The attendees had come to throw bombs, not extend hands.  Some folks showed up with their opinions literally Sharpied all over their shirts.

It’s important to note, Michael explained. This is the most emotionally charged issue of the day. Defusing those emotions can only occur if we change the way we relate to one another.

He relayed to us how he could see the avid intensity behind both sides. You hear a Church is talking about building bridges with the gay community and a conservative Christian may feel the need to bring a Leviticus 18 sign, in the name of slowing down the slippery slope and out of love for his church. But the mom of recently out gay kid may going to go to try to find some affirmation of her son’s sexual orientation, out her love for her child.. Get those people into the same room armed with prepared talking points and close ended questions, and the beautiful reconciliation bubble may burst.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said,

“If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”

Michael reminded me of the purpose of this foundation in the first place. So often as Christians, we look to the definitive answer on this issue through books, pastors, culture and the wells we drink from. Rarely do we ever simply sit back and watch Jesus walk. He was a relational being. There was no place he wouldn’t enter and no person he wouldn’t touch. He lived and breathed reconciliation. The end result of his journey was to square us away with Him. For eternity.

If we start removing the weight of the issue, the insult of difference, the mark we place on those who disagree, the names we call them, where we make them sit… when we finally stop projecting our own fears and prejudices against the other, we may actually get somewhere. We may start seeing the person instead of the position.

Our discourse has become so dysfunctional.

But it’s a wound that I know Jesus can heal.

If we let him.

RR

Runaway George

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Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Among many things that have captivated my attention in this book is it’s handling of Christian theology in relation to slavery.

Here we find George, a runaway slave. In this scene, his former employer, Mr. Wilson, recognized George inside a hotel lobby and promptly approached him, asking if he would accompany him to his room to have a little chat. Mr. Wilson is a good man, but he fears that George is going against God and country, and thus requires his guidance.

First he tries logic.

Then he tries scripture.

“But you know how the angel commanded Hagar to return to her mistress, and submit herself under her hand; and the apostle sent back Onesimus to his master.”

“Don’t quote Bible at me that way Mr. Wilson,” said George, with a flashing eye, “don’t! for my wife is A Christian and I mean to be, if ever I get to where I can; but to quote Bible to a fellow in my circumstances, is enough to make him give it up altogether. I appeal to God Almighty- I’m willing to go with the case to Him, and ask Him if I do wrong to seek my freedom.”

“These feelings are quite natural George,” said the good-natured man, blowing his nose. “Yes, they’re natural, but it is my duty not to encourage ‘em in you. Yes, my boy, I’m sorry for you, now; it’s a bad case-very bad; but the apostle says, ‘Let every one abide in the condition in which he is called.’ We must all submit to the indications of Providence, George,- don’t you see?”

 

George stood with his head drawn back, his arms folded tightly over his broad breast, and a bitter smile curling his lips.

 

“I wonder, Mr. Wilson, if the Indians should come and take you a prisoner away from your wife and children, and want to keep you all your life hoeing corn for, if you’d think it your duty to abide in the condition in which you were called. I rather think that you’d think the first stray horse you could find an indication of Providence- shouldn’t you?”

 

I resonate with George’s story.

That’s not to say that I think slavery and homosexuality are parallel tales of misunderstood scripture.

But I’ve got my fair share of Bible burns.

They tell me, “but both the New Testament and the Old Testament speak against homosexuality”

I say, “I understand, but there are others who view-“

“1st Corinthians 6:9-10, 1st Timothy 1:9-10, have you not read this?”

I’ve been reading and rereading these since I was in the sixth grade.

“It sucks, but you know what? It’s God’s word, and Christ calls us all to sacrifice in one form another.”

Usually my thoughts echo George’s response to Mr. Wilson.

The detachment from empathy is so palpable in today’s Christian culture when it comes to homosexuality.

In these rock and hard place moments, I just want to pull out every Bible verse that should convict them of the same charge.

Perhaps what Jesus said about the wealthy, or the proud or the judgmental.

But by now, I’m burnt out.

So I bite my tongue.

Beyond George, there are countless runaways out there, carrying the card of some form of Christian contradiction. Divorce is one. Just the other day, I heard one coworker open up about his sisters painful divorce. The listening, coworker, my sister in Christ, said something akin to, “A vow is a vow. It seems they didn’t try hard enough.” Unwed mothers are another. I’ve heard people say about a friend of mine, “I wonder how many baby daddy’s she has? So sad.” Or the poor, “Why should my dollars go to their drug habits?”

Our Christian culture has become a bag of wonder bread, and if you’re made of a different morsel, you’ve been misplaced. I know better than to generalize about a whole group of people, and I fully believe that there are those quietly keeping their cupboards locked tight.

But the trouble with tribes like ours is that we thwart any attempt at transparency. Tears belong behind closed doors. Support calls for a certified shrink. The Bible is a bludgeon, not a buoy. Dialogue destroys doctrine, leading us down that oh so slippery slope towards hell. Raise your hands high and give us that sweet smile.

A couple months ago I had the opportunity to attend one of the Marin Foundation’s “Living in the Tension” gatherings. There I was, surrounded by fellow travelers on a similar journey of my own. All of us came for the same thing, reconciliation between the scriptures and our sexuality. All of us, looking around, greeted each other’s eyes with an “I get it.” When the meeting came to a close, I was embraced, told I was loved and encouraged to keep searching and questioning. It was a transformative night for all of us. My mom, who went with me, said later on, “that’s what the Kingdom looks like.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Runaway George had a similar experience. Having reached refuge outside the grasp of slave catchers, and finding his son and wife there as well, he reclaimed his faith in the father. Looking around the dinner table at the Christians that saved his life, he reflected:

“This, indeed, was a home,-home, –a word that George had never yet known a meaning for; and a belief in God, and trust in his providence, began to encircle his heart, as, with a golden cloud of protection and confidence, dark, misanthropic, pining, atheistic doubts, and fierce despair, melted away before the living Gospel, breathed in living faces, preached by a thousand unconscious acts of love and good will, which, like the cup of cold water given in the name of a disciple, shall never lose their reward.”

When we roll up our sleeves and trade tales of our bruises, we deny the lie that we’re alone.

May our community become that “golden cloud of protection”.

RR