My hands are shaking as I stand at the sink. I pause with the sponge in my hand, try to breathe. I don’t know if I can say anything right, just now, don’t know if I can speak without the words crumbling as they fall out of my mouth. So I listen.
“She’s hating people! And she says ‘God’ is the one telling her to do it. Right here, in the paper!”
He’s spouting words like these, and he’s angry. In his eyes, this is discrimination—this is hate. The clerk refused to sign same-sex marriage licenses because she’s bigoted and hateful and homophobic, like all Christians who use the name of God to tear down other people.
I turn and I look at him and the thought ripples across my mind: Do I tell him I’m one of them, one of the Christians? Do I make my new boss even angrier?
“I don’t think…” I breathe, words fluttering, fragile. “I don’t think all Christians see it that way.”
“But look, it says it right here—” He stabs the newspaper and reads a quote, emphasizing all the wrong words. “She’s hating homosexuals.”
“I’m a Christian and I don’t hate homosexuals,” I say. “I may not agree with them, but I don’t hate them.”
“How is it something you can ‘not agree with’?” he spouts.
And as he continues to rant, I’m floundering, floundering with these soap-suds that crust on my hands, swoop over the lip of the sink, curl down the drain. “The Bible says…” I start, but he already has an answer, each word sharp, stabbing.
“The ‘word of God’ was written by human beings. Not God. God hasn’t ever spoken to anybody, ever. No one has ever heard God.”
I’m not sure any of my logic or reasoning would break through this anger, so I close my lips, swoosh the suds against the pan, and listen.
“And isn’t Christianity supposed to be about kindness and respect? Do you really think Jesus would single out the gay people and say, ‘Hate them’?”
“No,” I say. “No. He wouldn’t.”
“You believe God created everything, right?” My affirmation only corners me, and he presses on. “So if being homosexual is a sin, why would he create people as sin?”
“He didn’t…” I say. A customer creaks the front door open, stops at the menu on the wall. He greets them, takes their order, and I face my pile of dishes again. Hoping, let’s not argue in front of customers, please—
he comes back for another round and the final say.
– – –
Sometimes being silent doesn’t mean succumbing—it means listening.
My heart is crying the whole time as he speaks. It’s crying because I know. I get it. I’ve been hurt by Christians and I’ve been hurt by the church. I don’t know if God really, outright, speaks to people. And this whole time, I’m thinking of my gay friends scattered across the country, how they wrestle and hurt and strive and dream, how they laugh with me when I’m happy and listen to me when I’m confused.
I want to tell him, yes, I know, and it’s my dream to change this whole cruel face of Christian culture, make the love of Jesus real again, and more valuable than anything else.
But I don’t. I don’t know how.
I don’t know how to explain this real kind of love when the whole earth is crying for this, crying for the people we’ve beaten and abandoned, crying for the lost and broken heart, crying for a grace and redemption that it can’t feel or see or know, not without us reaching and offering and understanding.
The cry is filling the silence and when we try to speak over it, shut the words down, we only close up the bleeding mouths of souls screaming for relief.
They are screaming Help, help! And we only pat down their firestorm of a cry, tuck away this ravaging wildfire of pain, and say, Help yourself.
– – –
I’ve seen it in the headlines over and over again these days, this incessant echo of accusation:
Homophobic Christian vs. LGBTs.
Privileged White Man vs. Black Man.
Heartless Conservatives vs. Kind-Hearted Liberals.
It hurts and it’s confusing and I want to shut my ears as I listen to the people on “my side” scream back. Nothing makes sense and it’s beginning to look like we’re all hypocrites, ranting, blaming, name-calling.
None of us are handling this well.
What if we stopped the yelling–let the silence fall over our throbbing souls–and then… listened?
Maybe if we listened to this crying, we could hear the help that people need, and we could be that help. Maybe then we could begin to see what they’re seeing, feel their pain and bear it with them.
– – –
I’m beginning to see it as others might see it, the intolerance on our side: the self-righteousness and judgment of the Christians, the gay-hate of many conservatives. I can understand that, far too often, pro-life proclamations ignore the woman, seemingly insensitive to her pain. And when we defend the free market, have we forgotten to help the elderly and the women and the children who might not have enough to eat without welfare?
There are starving and homeless people in our nation, raped women and abused minorities, and how are we doing anything to help them? Are the liberals more loving than we are?
I could hear the unasked question in his voice when he said, “Why would God create people as sin?”
He really meant, You say your religion is all about love–then why are you condemning so many people?
We’ve been naming people as their sin.
And in turn, we’ve shown them that’s how God sees them, too.
But he’s right: Jesus never did that. He knew the sin was there, and he wasn’t afraid to talk about it, but he didn’t come to condemn. He said it himself: “’For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.’” – John 3:17
And I know, I know what follows this verse, the uncomfortable truth: anyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus is already condemned, anyway.
It is not our job to condemn. It was never Jesus’s intent for us to condemn. So why, oh, why do we feel the need to keep condemning an already-condemned world?
Weren’t we condemned once, too?
It seems we’ve forgotten the beauty of the message:
Redemption is offered to anyone, anyone, who believes. Regardless of political views. No matter what our differences are.
I think we’ve forgotten this intentionally because it scares us. That person—that person could have grace as easily as me, when they’ve done so much more wrong? When their viewpoint makes me feel uncomfortable and their past seems too taboo to talk about?
But I also think we’ve forgotten this because we’ve forgotten just how loved we are. All of us. You and I, we are both loved by our Creator, loved endlessly, loved from before our existence and into eternity. And we don’t deserve it.
Once we remember that incredible kind of love, the kind we could never earn or imagine, how can we withhold it from others? Once we truly know the heart of our Jesus, how can we say that any human being isn’t worth listening to?
I’m not saying we should stop talking about these issues. These issues are important. The truth is important. We need to start talking about the uncomfortable things. We need to be willing to listen to different people, to consider other opinions, to empathize with their stories. We can’t keep isolating ourselves from the problems and lashing out from our hidey-holes. We need to foster honest and open discussion and invite people of all opinions to join us. We need to talk about sexuality. We need to talk about racism. We need to talk about mental health and suicide. We need to talk about divorce and abortion and hypocrisy.
But before we speak, we must first remember that behind every issue is a person, a person and a story and pain. A person who is loved by Jesus, no matter who they are. A person who is hurting and crying for help. People cry out because they’re broken. If we remember this before we start talking, then perhaps we can use our words to build, not to break.
And perhaps more than talking, we need to be willing to listen. We have to listen to what makes us uncomfortable. There is no better way to validate a human soul. Because when you listen, you stop dismissing the pain—you welcome it, understand it, then, kindly, offer a way out.