Wednesday, June 15, 2016

A Vigil and a (Very Wrong) Bible Verse

A rainbow heart above the word "Orlando." Image source.
[content note: anti-LGBT violence, anti-LGBT theology]

So. I mean, what can we even say about the Orlando shooting? It's just... it's not okay. I have so many feelings. We all have to live in a world where this is a real thing that happened, and that world is not okay, but we have no choice. What are we supposed to do? How are we supposed to feel? I don't know, you guys.

I guess I'll tell a story. Two stories, actually. From back when I was in college.

This one time, there was a candlelight vigil for LGBT people who had been murdered. I don't remember the details- I don't think it was in response to a specific event or anyone personally connected to the college, it was just like "anti-LGBT hate crimes are a thing that exists in the US, let's have a vigil and remember the victims from this year."

So I decided to go. That was back when I was trying my best to "hate the sin and love the sinner." I hated how Christians were always accused of hating LGBT people, and I wanted to learn how to show love, in order to disprove that stereotype. (I pretty much wanted to be like Andrew Marin.) More than anything, I was motivated by evangelism- nobody's going to choose to become a Christian if they think Christians hate them.

I told the leader of my bible study group about the vigil, and she decided our whole group would go. So we did. And we did not say one word about "it's a sin" the whole time we were there. We were very well-behaved, wanting to express love more than anything else. (Or... well, like I said, I was motivated by evangelism. It wasn't actually about "I want to show love", it was about making Christianity look good. Err, actually, I believed "love" meant doing everything I could to get people to become Christians so they wouldn't go to hell. So in that sense, I was motivated by love.)

It was about making Christianity look good- that meant I couldn't say anything about "I disagree with that lifestyle." I was playing the long game. Gotta prove to people that I love them before I reveal that I "disagree with their lifestyle." Otherwise it'll never work.

And also, I wanted to learn. I knew that I knew nothing about LGBT issues. I knew I wasn't in a position to preach about it. I would need to listen and learn much much more before I could be a missionary to them, right? There's no way I would be able to convince anyone they were wrong if it was obvious that I knew nothing about their culture.

I'm glad I went to the vigil, and sort of tried to open my heart a little, and learn more about love- even though I believed in a horribly unloving theology. Trying to take seriously the "love" part of "hate the sin, love the sinner" was the start of my journey to accepting LGBT people, with no caveats, with no "but." Praise God.

Here's the second story: Back in college, I had two friends, who we will call Joshua and Caleb. There were "on fire for God" just as much as I was, but their methods were different. They were more along the lines of in-your-face, not-ashamed-of-the-gospel, we-don't-care-what-people-think. They were that type of Christians who think the rules don't apply to them, because their allegiance is to God, and they're following God's rules, which are way superior to any earthly rules. They were confrontational in their evangelism. They said and did harsh things to other people and called it "being bold for Christ."

In contrast, I did care what people thought. Because, like I said, my highest goal was evangelism. I wanted to present Christianity in such a way that it would be convincing to people and they would believe it. Joshua and Caleb kind of freaked me out sometimes, the way they were so... uh, bold, for lack of a better word. I thought sneakier, nicer-sounding evangelism was more likely to "work". Please understand, it's not because I believed treating people with respect is an intrinsically good thing. Nope. My reasoning was 100% practical. I wanted people to get closer to Christianity, not be freaked out and pushed away.

But I never expressed any disagreement with Joshua and Caleb, because I very much believed they were real Christians acting out of whole-hearted devotion to God, and how could I argue with that? Maybe it's good for different Christians to have different methods. They were more like Old Testament prophets, and that's fine, there's a place in the body of Christ for that, I figured. They were boldly speaking the truth- I couldn't articulate why I was uncomfortable with it.

Anyway, there was this wall outside the student center, that campus groups used to paint to advertise their events. One time, Joshua and Caleb painted this on the wall:
"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord."
Romans 6:23
(And they also painted their email addresses on it. I guess because it's kind of cowardly to just anonymously paint such a ... mean bible verse in such a prominent place on campus.)

Now, you have to understand, I believed that Romans 6:23 was the essence of what Christianity is. We deserve death because we are sinners, but Jesus can get us out of it. (I no longer believe this is the gospel- mainly because it's not good news.) But I was uncomfortable with just painting it up there and letting people read it themselves, with no context, no carefully-constructed friendship that could make them more likely to trust.

Anyway, you know how it goes with walls for advertisements, after a day or two another group comes and paints theirs over yours. So Romans 6:23 was painted over. (And I would not be one bit surprised if it was painted over by people who weren't even advertising something, they just wanted to cover that up and replace it with a message of love instead.)

A few days later, it rained, and part of Romans 6:23 was visible again. A Christian acquaintance emailed me and asked me to tell everybody to pray for rain so that the whole verse would be uncovered. I never replied to her email. I did not pray for rain. I wanted it to be covered. I didn't like that method of evangelism. You have to gain people's trust and make them think of you as a loving friend before you spring that on them. For practical reasons.

But I never told anyone that I didn't like Joshua and Caleb painting bible verses on that wall. Because for them, it was about how "unashamed of the gospel" they were, and how could I argue with that?

Well. So there are my two stories. The vigil and the bible verse. But, in a very very unfortunate coincidence, these two stories happened at the same time.

Yes. Joshua and Caleb painted that bible verse, and then 1 or 2 days later, while it was still there, the vigil was held. The wall with the bible verse was on one side of the student center, and the vigil was on the grass on the other side. Same time, same place. Remembering LGBT murder victims just around the corner from a massive wall that says "For the wages of sin is death."

I truly believe this was just a coincidence. They weren't trying to say anything about LGBT people specifically deserving death- they were just sharing the gospel with the campus. They were saying that EVERYBODY deserved death (that's the gospel). They didn't know or care about the LGBT hate crime vigil when they decided to paint the wall.

I used to talk to Joshua a lot about Christianity, so I can tell you pretty confidently, I believe his views were the same as mine. (Only his methods were different.) And it never made sense to me when people asked "are gay people going to hell?" because aren't we all going to hell? Being gay has absolutely nothing to do with it. You go to hell because all humans are sinners. Yes, "acting on homosexual desires" is a sin (I believed), but it doesn't affect your status as a sinner who deserves hell- because, you already are, just by being human.

The Christian groups I attended all preached that LGBT people aren't worse sinners than we are. You know, the whole "you can't accuse me of judging you unfairly, because I admit I am a sinner too! For example, sometimes I am selfish. Now let's get back to talking about how your entire identity and deepest loving relationship are sins."

In a theoretical sense, we believed it was wrong to make such a big deal about LGBT people while being silent on other sins. But make a big deal we did.

Anyway, because I was coming from that perspective, the "we have to warn them about their sin" perspective, it wasn't really possible for me to understand the existence of hate crimes against LGBT people. We saw LGBT rights as an issue where society was abandoning its good Christian morals, and we were the ones bravely taking a stand. When you believe that, it's very hard to also believe that society is cruel to LGBT people- cruel enough to kill.

And it's impossible to take a stand against anti-LGBT bullying and anti-LGBT violence when you're already sure you know what LGBT people need, and it's not protection from violence. No- they need God and they need to quit their "homosexual lifestyle." They don't need marriage rights. They don't need anti-discrimination laws. They don't need anti-bullying programs. More than anything else, they need to obey me when I tell them "God's" rules for sexuality.

And when that's your worldview, how can you really *get* the fact that anti-LGBT hate crimes exist?

I didn't get it. I really didn't get it back then.

I knew Joshua and Caleb had painted Romans 6:23 on the wall. And I attended the vigil. It never occurred to me to think that those two things might be related, until I heard some other students talking about it a few days later. They thought the "for the wages of sin is death" was a direct reference to the LGBT murder victims we were honoring. You guys, I truly believe this was just a very bad coincidence. Joshua and Caleb (and me) believed EVERYONE deserves to die and go to hell. Not just LGBT people. They were "spreading the gospel"- they weren't trying to say "ha, serves them right."

Anyway, when I heard that some students thought it was related, I was very surprised. And actually, my opinion was that it revealed more about the consciences of the people who were complaining than it did about Joshua and Caleb. The complainers were the ones who connected the ideas of sin and death with LGBT issues. Hmm, maybe subconsciously, they know "the homosexual lifestyle" is a sin. Ugh, yeah I didn't get it back then. (And I did not yet know about "intent is not magic.")

And maybe I had heard so many times about how we all deserve death and hell that it just sounded like Christian-y jargon to me. Like, ho hum, the wages of sin is death, yeah, I know, what else is new. Ever since I was a child and adults told me I deserve to die because of my sin, but it's okay because Jesus. I didn't get what I was actually saying when I "shared the gospel", how it must have sounded to others. I didn't understand that it really is a shocking and offensive statement, to say someone deserves death.

I didn't get it, and I couldn't get it, not with that theology. We believed that "loving" LGBT people meant trying to get them to stop being LGBT. I never heard a church preach that loving LGBT people means doing whatever we can to stop hate crimes. I never heard a church preach that love meant we don't want them to be murdered. I never heard a church preach that love meant caring that LGBT people have a much higher risk of suicide.

If you believe that a certain action is a hate crime, doesn't that also mean that taking a stand against that hate crime is an act of love? But no, that's not what my theology said love was. Sure, if we were asked directly, we would say of course murder is wrong and terrible. But our theology said it wasn't important. So unless someone asked us directly, we didn't really care.

I didn't get it. I couldn't get it back then. And I'm sorry.

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