Musings on “Torn”: Christians showing grace

As I mentioned in my previous entry, I want to spend some time examining Justin’s advice for moving forward and away from the “culture war”[1] that he offers in chapter fifteen.  After all, most of the rest of the book consists of him telling his story or explaining his own take on Christian theology in regards to homosexuality and same sex relationships.  The former deserves no response beyond careful reading and the encouragement of others to also read it.  The latter holds little interest to me, as I don’t consider my life to be bound by Christian theology.

But finding a way forward to living peaceful lives with the many Christians that share my workplace, my shopping centers, and the rest of the world with me, that’s something I can get on board with and discuss.  So in this post, I want to consider Justin’s first suggestion:

Christians must show more grace, especially in the midst of disagreement.

In this section, Justin focuses on how Christians approach gay people.  He reminds us of his own exchange with a high school friend that he shared in the second chapter.   He focuses on the fact that his answer boiled down — as Sean pointed out — to the old adage that just about every gay person has heard:  love the sinner, but hate the sin.

In this part of chapter fifteen, Justin reflects on his own experience of people who loved him, but hated his “sin:”[2]

Yes, I know I’m a sinner, as we all are, but something about the phrase feels condescending and dehumanizing, as if I’m now the “sinner” rather than the person’s friend or neighbor, and “loving” me has become the new project they’ve taken on out of obligation to God rather than a genuine interest in my well-being.  For this, it seems I am supposed to feel grateful, as if this were a great imposition on someone who could easily have passed me by and left me in my sinful state.

In addition to the dehumanization of being turned into a “love project,” I’d also note that a lot of Christians who “love sinners but hate sin” have what I would consider some strange ideas of what it means to love other people they consider “sinners.”  You will often hear many Christians talk about “love” in these situations about needing to “lovingly correct the other person,” which often leads to constant streams of preaching about the sinfulness they hate so much.  Not only does this mean once again telling gay people the same things we’ve heard dozens of times before — a reality I noted elsewhere — this kind of preaching about the sinfulness prevents such Christians from getting to ways in which they relate to and show love in more recognizable — and dare I say more traditional — ways.

Love is not an abstract comment.  It’s something that is tangible and can only exist in a real relationship.  And I’d argue that Christians don’t need to just show grace, but need to learn to love in relationship better.  They need to start getting to know LGBT people and knowing what their individuals troubles, concerns, and needs are.  To make an allusion to a popular myth, they need to find out who is actually naked, who is actually starving, who is actually in prison, and act accordingly when dealing with each of those people.  Some needs are somewhat universal among all LGBT people, but can even manifest in different ways among individuals.  Others are more specific to individuals or subgroups within the larger community.  The only way Christians — both as individuals[3] and collectively — can respond to these needs is to become familiar with them first-hand and on an up-close, personal level.

Christians also need to be prepared that meeting LGBT people’s needs may cause them discomfort.  After all, part of loving someone means loving all of them and living with all of them.  That’s the problem with the “hate the sin” part.  Christians who want to “love the sinner while hating the sin” want to conditionally accept some parts of the “sinner” while ignoring the rest.  This does not make for a healthy or desirable relationship.

Over the years, I’ve had a few Christian friends who believe that same sex relationships were wrong.  They loved me — or at least tried their hardest.  We’d get together and talk.  We’d discuss our work, our families, theology (mostly when I was still a Christian), and just about every thing else in our lives.  Then on occasion, I’d fall into a false sense that I really could talk about anything and I’d talk about my love life (or my attempts to find love).

Suddenly, the conversation screeched to the halt at an awkward silence.  The other person would say something rather non-committal, then change the subject.  Just like that, I was reminded that there were just some aspects of my life that were “off limits” for conversation because they were things the other person would rather not think or wrestle with.  If I wanted that friendship to continue, I had to be willing to hide that part of my life — one that I considered (and still consider) extremely important to me.

Needless to say, those friendships faded away over time.  Christians would do will to remember that “love” offered with conditions or limits is not felt as love by those so limited.  That’s a hard truth, but experience teaches me that neither grace nor love are easy.

[1]  I also want to note that in my experience only one “side” refers to it as the “culture war.”  To LGBT[4] people, it’s not a “culture war” so much as a struggle to be treated with the same basic human dignity and allowed to enjoy the same legal protections that heterosexual, cisgender people already enjoy without even having to think about it, let alone worry or struggle.  So I’d say that the way forward would go much greater if Christians would drop the phrase “culture war” and similar rhetoric altogether.

[2]  I don’t accept the idea that same sex relationships are inherently sinful, so I’m choosing to use quotes around the term.  Then again, I don’t buy into the whole theology of “sin” anyway, so there you have it.

[3]  As an aside, I think that an essential key to moving forward is for Christians to stop thinking in terms of “The Church” on an institutional level.  Institutions don’t have relationships.  People do.  It’s why Justin’s point says “Christians need to show grace” rather than “The Church needs to show grace.”  Until Christianity as a whole lays aside the power structures — those structures most vested in seeing things in term of a “culture war,” I suspect the way forward will be treacherous and possibly downright impassable.

[4]  I’m a bit divided on being inclusive in “LGBT people” in this blog post/series or just coming right out in saying “gay people.”  Truth be told, much of the book, while applicable to trans people, focuses on sexual orientation (and gay male sexuality at that) rather than trans issues.  This leaves me torn between wanting to acknowledge other sexual minorities and fearing that by including them in a rather nominal way, I’m belittling their importance and the importance of issues that affect trans people far more harshly than they do me.  Quite frankly, trans people get that kind of treatment enough and I’m still working out ways to do a better job of not contributing to it.

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