THINK | The Light Of Things Hoped For
We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light." - Plato
Reading the news regularly during each day is a thing for me. A habit I've found impossible to break over time. I have this weirdly voracious need to know what's happening out there in the world. I read in a way that suggests if I go one day not looking at what's happening, inevitably that will be the one day they...I don't know. Discover a new planet. Or something cool like that.
But sadly, no Earth 2.0s this week.
Instead, I've been reading a lot about a 'Christian' couple in Canberra (for all our international guests playing at home, Canberra is Australia's capital city and the seat of our nation's parliament), claiming that if the debate on marriage does not go their way, they will divorce.
To give you a bit of background - if you're reading this from somewhere else in the world - in light of Ireland's historical decision to amend their constitution to allow non-heterosexual couples to marry, the leader of the Opposition - Labor minister Bill Shorten - immediately moved to put a marriage equality bill before the Australian parliament. That happened a couple of weeks ago.
The move evoked a strong reaction on all sides, ranging from fully fledged support to utter outrage. It has been a political and social hot potato for a very long time now; it's only been recently however that the heat has really turned up to inferno level. Nobody is without an opinion. A lot of people are making statements. A lot of people are making counterstatements. And a lot of people are doing a whole lot of talking on a whole lot of platforms - TV, print media, social media, public discussions, radio; even just around the dinner table. People are getting super fired up, and their two cents on the matter is just burning in their palm, ready to spend.
On the flip side, very few people seem to be doing any real listening to anybody else.
Now, I don't usually like to come on here and make politicised statements, because this is not a blog about politics. I'm not here trying to convice you to vote a particular way, support a particular cause, or believe a particular thing. That's your lot to choose. I'm just here, being me, speaking up from within my tiny sphere of life experiences, successes and mishaps. Knowing I'm limited, but knowing that my voice has equal worth to anyone elses, so I'm going to honour my own equality and use my voice, with thankfulness that I can.
But this week, when it came to politics, it was too much to say nothing. Originally I posted these sentiments just to Facebook, for all my friends and family to see. Because in all honesty, the opinions of the world about what I think don't really bother me that much. It's the people who know me and who I care about that I'll tell when this stuff is affecting me, because that's where the rubber of conversation will really hit the road. That's the place where the impact of my words, for which I am responsible, will be felt first and hardest and keenest.
But the more the people I care about have reacted to what I said, and the more I have though about it, the more I wanted to share it with you too. To hear what you think as well.
So here goes.
Firstly, for now I'm just going to put the whole marriage thing *over here* and try to say all this on a deeper level.
I have a lot of Christian friends, whom I love dearly. I am Christian myself. I also have a lot of gay friends, who I love dearly. Both sides have a lot of really strong views about the other. Both say a lot about each other. Neither - at least in my experience - seem to say a lot TO each other, in direct dialogue, especially with a view to listen.
To my dear LGBT friends.
I want you to know that when you see horrible stuff like the story about this couple in Canberra, in the news, you aren't looking at Christian behaviour when you see these people. If you were seeing true Christian behaviour, you would see grace. You would see it overflowing. You would see people who seek first to love the way Jesus loved. You would see people who are humble enough to know that no human has the right to cast the first stone - or any stone - at another, in judgement, because even on our best day, our broadest perspective will always still be limited, where God's perspective is vast.
I say that, because it's what I believe. I say that, knowing you may think the exact opposite, and that I don't judge you for thinking what you think. I respect our differences from each other.
I want you to know that regardless of whether we always agree with each other, I will never respect you any less or love you any less if your beliefs are different to mine. I want you to know that even if you are the most staunch critic of my faith, it will not change how much I seek to care for you and love you as my friend. Likewise, though I cannot control your behaviour, as my friend I would expect you to afford me the exact same courtesy and respect. I do that because I know for myself what that feels like; because even when I was his worst enemy, God still loved me. Enough to wade into my darknesses, and pull me out at the cost of his Son, even though in my abject, pig headded stubbourness, I kick against it so often. God still loves me enough to keep listening to me, even now, even after all the times I've walked away.
I want you to know that I acknowledge and respect the struggle - your struggle - of what it must be, to be different. To be misunderstood. To be judged by others before you are known. I honour that because I see you going through it, and because I see my Christian brothers and sisters go through it, when idiots like this couple in Canberra make the ridiculous statements they have. Because it is so easy for the world to tar Christians with the same brush, and often that brush is covered in anything but Christ. I see the resulting awful headlines about Christians, that lump all our people in so easily with the right wing bigots who use God as the figurehead for their own agendas, but very rarely to keep themselves accountable in matters of humility and grace.
But truly: if you know a real Christian, you'll know by simple fact of looking at their life that bigotry and ignorance have no place - none - in a real Christian life. Instead, Christians are called to be salt and light in the world. We're called to engage with people. We're called to be salt to add the flavour of God's grace to our communities, which can only be done by connecting with them. By building relationships and seeking first to understand people, as a means of honouring the fact that they too were created with just as much love as we were.
We're also called to be light in order to try and be a beacon to others. Something bright and bold and good to look to. After all, the word 'light' cannot illuminate the dark, just by being spoken into it. Light has to be shone - has to stand out - and you watch. The second it does? Darkness flees. Where there is light, there is hope. But it's no good me telling you about it: I have to live it, including where you can see it, and you have every right to hold me and anyone who calls themselves Christian, accountable. We're not perfect and we screw up but so does everyone. You, me, all of us. But the point is that ultimately we go on to move forward, understanding each other as best we can, and showing grace as we've been shown grace.
So, my LGBT friends, I guess I just want you to know that there are some really amazing Christian people out there, and that I don't want you to think that the bigoted couple in Canberra - or the Westboro Baptists of the world - are the norm, or what we see as right.
Because they're not, and we don't.
I want you to know that what we want more than anything is to connect with you - wherever you are in your life - and understand your story, and vice versa, that we might love you, where you're at, in a way that honours the Jesus that loves us. We want to share with you where our joy comes from, but know that we respect your right to choose what you believe, even if we disagree with it at times. So please. I ask you to not to lump real Christians together - on social media, in private or even just in general discussion - with those who just call themselves that, when you see two people like this, making a statement as horrifying, limited and ignorant as this couple did.
To my Christian friends - particularly those who don't know anyone in the LGBT community - I challenge you. I implore you. We are all of us prodigals. Yet while we were still far off, God saw us and - despite all we had done - still chose to fling his arms open and call us home. Every second we are alive we have a chance to do better than we did the second before, and every one of those chances is a gift. So please, Christians, in a world where gender and sexuality and belief are dividing opinion left right and centre, I implore you to first see people's humanity, which is no different to yours, before you see their gender, or sexuality, or belief.
I challenge you to get to know them in the same way you would have them get to know you and know Jesus, through you; to hear their stories and hear their journeys with a mind that recognises God created them with the same amount of love he created you with. I challenge you - challenge myself because we're all in the same boat - to be bold with your faith and trust the robustness of the gospel to conquer ignorance on both sides of this debate, with grace.
I challenge both sides to see the humanity in the other.
Because truly, there are some extraordinary humans out there. And yeah. Some of them are gay. Some of the people I love most in the universe are gay and it doesn't make a scrap of difference to how much I love them and how much they love me, regardless of what we agree about and what we don't. And when you make derogatory remarks about them that lump them all together without care or thought or understanding, I take that as personally as I would if I heard someone speaking about Christians in the same way.
Because both of them are my people.
Both of them are my family.
The reason that love exists on both counts is because relationship exists. Communication exists. Is it uncomfortable at times? Of course it is. But we care enough to move past it. We care enough for it only ever to be a comma in the sentences of our lives: never a full stop. Because we're human and we are made to relate, despite our differences. It is our natural state of being. Because there is no greater equality than that that exists in the form of our exquisite, broken, blazing, vivid and fractured - but most importantly, shared - humanity.
So to you, all of my friends who have passionate views on all sides of this great debate - and the greater debate about God and people - I say this. If you are going to claim grace or enlightenment or freedom or whatever you want to call your thoughts, on one hand, but do things like post ignorant, mean-spirited and graceless comments about anyone else in the community who believes something different to you - and you have no intention of altering that behaviour - then with respect, I'm asking you to unfriend me now. Just go.
By all means be bold and know that your beliefs have worth if only by merit of the fact that you believe them. But ultimately remember these are human beings we're talking about; remember that our words have the power to impact the lives of those around us; and that we are no better or worse than anyone else we know.
Because really, regardless of what you believe, the challenge to us all is to love as Jesus loved. To first - before all else - go love our neighbour as ourselves, regardless of their life choices, social status or cultural norms. Respect them enough to listen to them. Listen to them enough to know them. Know them enough to love them past what you come to know. Then decide if you'd speak the same way about someone you love as you do when you make those baser comments.
You never know. You might just find yourself talking for the first time to someone you've only ever talked at or about.
And to that couple in Canberra? Do yourself a favour and read some Shakespeare. Love does not alter when it alteration finds.
You made your promises in faith before God, in an exchange that has a huge spiritual and emotional weight in the context of both the bible, and God's character. If you are willing to break those promises over something as brittle, fickle and fleeting as human politics, then you are no better than those you would accuse of cheapening the institution and blessing of marriage by changing its definition. Your small mindedness helps nobody and adds no grace to the world.
Seriously people. Some things are hard. Some things are complicated. But the foundational things are the simplest. Be kind. Show respect. Be the bright light in the darkness, not just the rumour of it spoken into the shadows.