Friday, February 28, 2014

for those of us who need our hearts changed

**Note: this is not about whether homosexuals should be preachers or should be allowed to marry or should be allowed to adopt or should have their names posted in the newspaper so that they can be publicly shamed by their country or should be served by any and every florist.

This is about how Christians are failing to love this group of people well, and it needs to change. 


I think I'd be more indignant towards the people who call homosexuals "disgusting" while signing bills to incarcerate them for life in the country next door if I couldn't remember a time when I used the exact same descriptor to encapsulate this entire group of people. 

It hurts so much to remember, but homosexuality used to make me cringe too. You can blame the media or the "liberals" or higher education or whatever you want for why it's now only these memories that make me cringe; or I can save you the speculation and tell you why. It's because now I have the privilege of actually knowing and loving people who are gay. And, I also think I know Jesus a little bit better than I did before. But ultimately, it's because He supernaturally changed my heart because I was wrong--so wrong. 

When I was a teenager growing up in a conservative Georgia neighborhood, the only surefire way to prevent anyone from thinking you yourself are gay (which was the most horrible thing imaginable at that time, in our little world) was to be dramatically disgusted by it. It wasn't that difficult. I was disgusted by it in many ways and I was horrified at the thought of anyone thinking it of me. 

I remember well the girls we whispered about in the bathrooms and the boys whose high pitched voices we didn't believe when they shouted "I am NOT gay!" to the 7th grade taunters who sat behind them in class. As long as I stayed on the side of the predators and not the victims, I felt safe. Sometimes all it took was a quick smile at a joke or silence when people were being treated like trash right in front of my eyes. Other times it meant huddling in tight and listening while the obviously-heterosexual-girl-who-had-a-boyfriend dished about her softball teammates. 

I often stood up for people being made fun of and tried my best to keep company with those who didn't thrive off of gossip and tearing others down. But there was something that silenced me when it came to people being mistreated because some 13 year old somewhere thought they might be attracted to their own gender -- I was a Christian and people knew it. In my mind and most of the minds I was surrounded by, Christians were known to be against homosexuality. If anyone were to stand up for them, let it be others who were gay or at least people who didn't consider the Bible their "rule book for life." Being disgusted by homosexuality, and thus homosexuals, seemed to be a requirement of Christianity. 

That was then, but this is now. I have seen a few changes for the better since then, but I'd still say we have a freaking ugly reputation among homosexuals and I believe the blame lands on us for that. I blame myself and I blame the rest of us who have either silently looked on as the stones are thrown or have been the ones hurling them at that scary, sinful person whom we don't understand--the person whose sin is easier to point out than the ones that are secretly rotting our own hearts. 

Even for those of us who try earnestly to ascribe to the "Love the sinner, hate the sin" adage -- I would say it is not really working for us. Sin is disgusting and ugly and messy and it deserves our hatred, but I have plenty of sin in myself to hate before I start making it my duty to hate your specific sins. And I like the way Micah J. Murray reminds us that Jesus' business card didn't read : "Jesus Christ. Hater of sin, lover of sinners." 

"They say Jesus was a friend of sinners, but he didn't describe himself that way. His motto wasn't "eating and drinking with prostitutes and tax collectors." Those were the labels used by the religious community, by the disapproving onlookers. What's amazing about Jesus is that when he hung out with sinners, he didn't act like they were sinners. They weren't a "project," a "mission field." They were his friends. People with names. Defined as beloved children of the Creator, not defined by their sins. Icons of God's image. His brothers and sisters."
--Micah J. Murray 

As I said before, being on a similar page with Musseveni is unfortunately not a distant memory for me--it is a much more recent recollection than I like to admit. But thankfully there is grace for that, too. There is grace for my Kenyan friends who think Musseveni is a hero and there is grace for Musseveni himself.  For those of you who think homosexuality is "disgusting" (though you most likely have learned better than to say it with those words if you live in the US), there is grace for you. I know because I was there a few years ago and there was and is grace for me. 

The more I get to know Jesus and see the way He lived, the more I want to busy myself with loving people--all people. The ones, like me, who have debilitatingly prideful hearts that are fairly easy to hide and the ones whose sin is on display and on whom we can easily place the one-size-fits-all bumper sticker of "I love you, but I hate your sin." Does that really work for anyone? It never worked for me. 

A few years back, I finally grew tired of making it my job to hate someone else's sin, especially my friends. So I simply asked Jesus to give me his heart for other people, all types of people who struggle with all different types of things. He did it. He still does it, and I am forever grateful. 

So yes, I am absolutely heartbroken about how people are being treated. I have cried tears over the new legislation in Uganda and have felt genuine anger about the ways I believe we are getting it so, so wrong. But I believe it is God's grace that I can still remember when I was on the other side of that line drawn in the sand. I am still somewhat new to feeling overcome with grief that these precious brothers and sisters are being persecuted by us--the ones who are absolutely, undeniably called to love them. 

My repentant tears have begun to run dry as He allows me to have real relationships with real people who struggle with real sin, just like me. Now instead of throwing hate at homosexuals, you are throwing hate at my friends. In the name of the same Jesus I call my own. It is confusing to them and it is confusing to me and I truly think Jesus is shaking His head at how we are getting it wrong, like we are prone to do. If you think you are "with" God as you hurl hate on anyone in His name (...even murderers, child abusers, traffickers, and rapists), I believe you are gravely mistaken.

The good news? There is grace. It's never too late to stop hating and start loving…Jesus is fully capable of changing hearts and he proved that to me personally. Also in my experience, the gay community is pretty darn good at forgiving us who have at one time treated them like they are somehow less worthy of love than anyone else. 

"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." -- Matthew 22:36-40