Love Has Yet to Win

A reflection by Sarah

I don’t like to write depressing entries for our blog. I’d much rather get back to writing meaningful reflections on living celibacy as a layperson in the world. But that’s not where my mind is right now, and I can’t force it to be there. I suppose one benefit to blogging is knowing that I never have to be isolated. No matter how often Lindsey is away at work, no matter how infrequently I can get out of the apartment to meet up with friends and get my freakishly high extrovert needs met, the blog is here and I’m not alone. Thank you all for reading and bearing with me today.

I’m feeling pretty weary this weekend. Maybe it’s because of my upcoming surgery. Maybe it’s because spending a lot of time at home in bed means more opportunity to see the ugliness of the internet in the aftermath of nationwide marriage equality. But I think mostly, it’s anger at Christianity. Anger is exhausting. Last week, Lindsey and I were sitting in our living room and discussing the processes by which each of us learned that it’s normal to experience anger at God. That got me thinking about how I’ve never come to terms with experiencing anger at the Church.

It feels safer to be angry at God than it does to be angry at the Church. If I pull out my prayer rope and begin praying each knot while feeling absolutely fed up with a particular lesson God seems to be teaching me, the result is not going to be an offended deity making my life more difficult just for spite. If I curl up in a ball on my bed and cry for hours from rage about a difficult life circumstance and yell in anger, “Why, God? Why?!” I’m not going to be shamed for my emotions. But with the Church, it’s a different matter. In the opinions of many people I know, being angry at the Church (whether you mean “Body of Christ” or “official teachings”), is not okay. Expressing anger at the Church often results in assertions that I don’t actually desire faithfulness, that I’m being a whiner and need to toughen up because “following Christ isn’t supposed to be easy,” or that my pain is caused by my own sin and my own lack of willingness to let the tradition teach and transform me. Christ will not dismiss or berate me regardless of where I am spiritually in a given season of life, but plenty of his followers will.

Over the past week, Lindsey and I have written our respective reflections on how we are feeling after Obergefell vs Hodges. We had little energy to comment on much more than our fears about losing access to domestic partner benefits, but there is so much more to be said, and not just about gay marriage. I’m going to state the obvious: the internet is a dark, cruel place where people created in the image of God treat other people created in the image of God as though they haven’t even the dignity of bacteria on the bottom of my shoe. No reasonable person ever expects to find utopia on the internet. Nevertheless, I always hope that the people who make up the Church will surprise me during intense news cycles; yes, I’m more than a little idealistic.

This weekend, I’m angry because the Body of Christ needs to be engaging in repentance and reconciliation after the ways we have treated people who are different from us. I’m angry because we have allowed issues of difference, whether ideological or otherwise, to divide us. Within the same week, I see one friend stating publicly, “Any church that lets queers in needs to have its whole congregation stoned to death,” and another friend proclaiming, “If you think for any reason that gay sex is a sin, you’re a hateful bigot!” Both are members of my Christian tradition. Both claim to love Christ and do their best to follow him in their daily lives. What have we come to when one member of the Church would have another stoned to death? When theological disagreement even after prayerful reflection and discernment means that the person who disagrees is hateful?

I’m angry because white Christian America has been sitting back, content to wave either a rainbow flag or a Confederate flag as black churches have burned to the ground and black Christians have been murdered while worshipping. White LGBTQ Christians previously engaged in meaningful discussions about racial reconciliation abandoned those conversations in favor or gloating over marriage equality. Some will not pick up that discussion topic again until there’s a lull in the LGBTQ news cycle. Folks who do not consider themselves allies to the black community but were still engaged in conversations about Ferguson, Baltimore, and Charleston have ceased participation in order to mourn because “the gays are destroying America.” How quickly we’ve forgotten about the nine human beings who lost their lives while attending church not even three weeks ago, or at least pushed their deaths to the back of our minds in favor of spouting off bad theology about sex. What happened in the United States on June 26, 2015? Why will future generations remember that date? Certainly not because of the Reverend Clementa Pinckney’s funeral. And I’m ashamed of myself as a white person for forgetting his first name and needing to Google it before adding it to this post.

I’m angry because able-bodied Christian America is clueless about how to be loving to people with disabilities. After the Supreme Court ruling, more than one article about disability and marriage was published. People with disabilities in America who receive SSI benefits risk losing resources if they marry. Some people with disabilities were married or living with a partner before becoming disabled and cannot qualify for help because of the spouse/partner’s income. These are real problems that the Church could be addressing, yet most of what I’ve seen from Christians on these issues is, “Just go with other programs that aren’t income-based” (never mind that you have to be out of work and likely broke anyway before qualifying) or, “Stop whining. It’s not the government’s job to take care of you. You could work if you really wanted and had more motivation.” How many members of the Body of Christ actually care about how broken our social programs for people with disabilities are?

Speaking of ableism, I’m angry about an entirely different issue I’ve been dealing with for several weeks. I’m angry about the nonsense that passes as d/Deaf and hard of hearing ministry or “deaf inclusive ministry” in Christian churches. I’m angry that hearing people at Christian publishing houses profit by selling ministry resources that co-opt American Sign Language and Deaf culture, throwing random ASL signs into spoken songs and calling that inclusion. I’m angry that when I try to educate on how wrong this is and why it is not actually welcoming to the Deaf community, hearing people engaged in ministry become defensive and argue with me about how hearing children in Sunday School need something to do with their hands and doing a few signs seems like a good idea. And I’m angry that on the few occasions when hearing people do listen to me about this, they’re almost always more willing to accept my perspective as a person with hearing loss who grew up hearing than they are to acknowledge arguments from my friends who have grown up in Deaf culture.

Perhaps more than anything else, I’m angry that there are Christians who are more concerned with policing identity than with building relationships. If you’re a straight, white, hearing person, it’s easy to judge a gay person, a black person, or a deaf person, “Your cultural identity isn’t important. It’s not who you are. Who you are is in your relationship with Christ.” We need to stop saying that all people are equal and should be treated with respect if we are going to pretend that some aspects of identity do not exist. If I tell one of my black friends, “Skin color doesn’t matter. Everyone is the same to me,” I have just erased a huge part of that person’s life experience. The same thing happens when Christians tell me, “You’re not really a lesbian. You just struggle with liking women, and we all struggle with sin,” or “Just accept your deafness as a limitation. There’s nothing positive about it. You’re going to be healed in the eschaton anyway.”

When we erase people’s experiences, we drive them away. It doesn’t matter if you think race isn’t important. It is in American society, and white people are the ones who have made it so. It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand why a person would want to identify as gay. For many people, it’s an important term, and straight Christians ought to be willing to engage in conversation and consider why. It doesn’t matter if you believe that deafness and other disabilities will be eliminated in the hereafter. No one person knows more about the eschaton than any other person does, and it would behoove members of the Church to reflect more deeply on how social stigma has created what we consider to be “disability.” And let’s not forget that progressive, social justice-y Christians are also good at erasing the experiences of conservatives and traditionalists.

Cultural identities may or may not matter at all in the next life. As Christians, we are not called to ignore the here and now or excuse ourselves from treating others well and working for justice on the grounds that someday none of our differences will have meaning. When I look at the Church this week, I have seen it seething, oozing, and pulsing  with the emotional illnesses that make it hard for us to do life together. And it’s challenging because part of me wants to shove everything and everyone aside, screaming, “Eeeeeewww! Ick!” But then I’m left looking at the same festering assumptions and judgments within my own heart. There’s relief that comes when we look in the mirror at our human failings and own them. That’s what I’m experiencing now. I’m much less angry. But where do we go now as we journey towards reconciliation?

EDIT: Thanks to a reader for pointing out a typo where I had misgendered Reverend Clementa Pinckney. I assure you that it was an honest typing error and not my thinking that this person was a woman. I blame this one on vertigo. Apologies to all who read the first version!

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19 thoughts on “Love Has Yet to Win

  1. Rev. Pickney was a man. I had very similar feelings this week. I also wondered if anyone would give me insight into their wonderful communities that I have no experience with. Thanks for your thoughts. The Church sometimes plays the role of Job’s “friends” who stood by and accused him of being wrong instead of helping to bind his wounds.

    • I know he was a man. There was a very unfortunate typo in the first version of this that went out. It was the worst possible sort of typo that could’ve occurred in this post. I corrected it immediately, probably before the post had been shared even 5 times, but apparently the corrected version isn’t showing up everywhere yet.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

      Sarah

  2. Yes. Your anger is justified. Christ does not dismiss or berate you. It is awful that people in the church do. We live in such a broken world. You expressed some key ways to live like Christ even in the midst of this mess. Thank you for this post!!! I agree!!!

  3. About being angry over church teaching: I always thought people who get angry about church teaching on anything were just wrestling with it, like how being angry about a lesson from God just meant you’re wrestling with it. At least that’s what my priest tells me, and my friends fortunately don’t get upset if I’m mad at the church over something.

    Not sure why people don’t see it that way. May be that people see being angry at church teaching as a slippery slope away from the church, and then from God.

  4. GLBT people including those of us who are not Christian did not forget about those who lost their lives in Charleston. Are we not allowed to celebrate a momentous occasion for us because of the tragedy. We are able to be outraged about the treatment of POC and racism and still be glad we are closer to having equal rights. It isn’t an either/or.

    • I didn’t say that it was. But unfortunately for a lot of people, one discussion was dropped in favor of the other.

      • Of course it was at that moment. It was a huge victory so it will grab the limelight for a while. Racism and homophobia are not going away. They are a long battle. So at that particular moment people focused on the victory. We can now get back to the fight against institutionalized racism. We also need to fight harm for GLBT rights. Marriage equality was a small piece. We already see religious people trying to carve out exemptions to allow them to discriminate against gay people.

  5. Thank you so much for your care, insights, and compassion, I am sure that you are bringing grace and healing to many. I am sure that many would agree with M. Robinson that, “…if you wonder what you’ve done in your life, and everyone does wonder sooner or later, you have been God’s grace to me, a miracle, something more than a miracle.” Marilynne Robinson, “Gilead.” Much obliged.

  6. I just wanted to say thank you to you and Lindsey for sharing a bit of your lives in this blog. As a heterosexual who has few non-hetero Christian friends I so appreciate your willingness to share (some of) your thoughts, concerns, and joys here. I continue to wrestle with what I think the bible says about homosexuality, but I am incredibly clear that the Church has sinned (and continues to sin) with how we have treated homosexual people. I can’t take away what you’ve endured. I’m so sorry you’ve had to endure it. Thank you for your example of seeking to walk with God and to be faithful to Him. May you feel His presence ever more clearly.

  7. First of all thank you for this enlightening post. I am inspired when I read about others’ experience with religion and the RCC. I believe very strongly in the inherent dignity of every one of God’s children. That dignity however does not translate to accepting all of the actions of each of God’s children. The people of Sodom had the inherent dignity of all creation and chose a different path. So clearly there is a difference between inherent dignity and acceptance of the actions of children of God. Apparently, at least in the Bible, the actions of people mattered very much to God. God was pleased with some and displeased with others. But he never stopped loving his creation. Even David was not permitted to build the temple because of his sin. Moses was not permitted to enter the promised land because of his sin.

    I am not judging you. I am responding to your post and pray you will understand my point of view which is not intended to be hostel to you or anyone. It is meant to open this discussion further to another point of view which chooses not to judge or demean. If I do, I apologize and would welcome correction.

    Why is always “white heterosexual people need to understand” others? Because of white conservative politicians? They do not represent the vast majority of WHMCs. We, for a large part, have relatives that were immigrants (Italian in my case) that fought hard to fit into this country. We don’t understand the experience of people who prefer not to work and cheat the system which is something accepted in other “communities”. We also don’t have the experience of insisting the government change to our language. We further do not have the experience of demanding rights because we “chose” to live a different lifestyle than Americans. Nope, we just opened the best restaurants, brought a old world values and work ethic to our work and never blamed anyone but ourselves for our failures and difficulties. So those who you claim that I need to understand, perhaps need to understand my “italian american experience”. It may help them understand our
    reaction.

    Then we can start a real conversation with both sides respecting the others’ opinions and most importantly understanding the inherent dignity of the human being in God’s eyes and those of his children.

  8. Hugs and prayers from Michigan as you prepare for surgery and continue to embrace your joyous and challenging path too often attacked and misunderstood by both extremes.

    We are moving to a smaller house on the other side of the state to be nearer my partner’s family and have several small icons we would love to donate to your monastery of two. Please send me your snailmail address (laura@grimes.ws) if you’d like me to put them in the mail.

    I’m very grateful that the Spirit has led me to finally returning to blogging and finally found the right way to come out in my new profile–totally inspired by you and other wonderful writers I’m linking to. Many thanks and If you’d like to check it out: http://wisdomsfeast.blogspot.com/.

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