Why It’s Not My Job To Highlight Where Other People Are Wrong

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Last weekend I was with my church at our local Gay Pride festival. We were giving out hugs and high-fives to everyone who came within in a 5-foot radius.

Two men walked up to us. They had driven up from a conservative church in the South and wore T-shirts with inflammatory statements:

Jesus is the Judge, therefore:
Abortion is Murder
Homosexuality is a Sin
Islam is a Lie
Evolution is a Delusion
Feminism is Rebellion
Liberalism is a False Religion
Conservatism is Pretend Salt

As someone who had recently written about the harm caused when the church had judged and rejected the gay community , I strongly felt like it was my duty to fight with them. It was a black and white issue. I thought to myself, “look at these idiots spreading their hate to everyone. Thank God I am here to tell them what Jesus really thinks.”

But then I remembered:

God hasn’t called me to argue with people or to point out where they’re messing up. He’s called me to love.

As much as I enjoy arguing and as much as my ego gets a boost from being right, at my core I want to be a peacemaker.

I decided that even though these two people were looking for a fight, I would give them a friend. I’m sure they were expecting people at this festival of sin to be angry with and oppose them. People were angry with and opposed Jesus, after all. But since I’m an aspiring peacemaker, I decided to practice something my dad taught me a long time ago: selective agreement.

The first guy launched into a speech about how important the Bible was and how we shouldn’t follow the crowd – we needed to read it for ourselves and make our own decisions.  This actually seemed to true to me, so I agreed.

In fact, whenever he said something that was true, I noticed and encouraged it. Whenever he said something which wasn’t true, I just ignored it.

And that was it. After a while I hugged the first guy and they both left.

Other Christians did end up engaging with them and telling them the truth: Jesus didn’t spread hate and we shouldn’t either. Don’t get me wrong, I do think that some people are called to do this. Some prominent Christian leaders have been recently talking about how to ban gays from our churches and how to keep Muslims from immigrating to our country. Those leaders need to be held accountable by someone, but that someone isn’t me.

I’ve come to realize that in battles like these, I’m called to be a medic, not a soldier.

Soldiers fight. They attack and withdraw. They lead charges. 

But not me.

I don’t win battles. I don’t get medals. I kneel beside the wounded and bandage them up. I speak truth to them: I tell them that they’re strong and brave. I remind them of who they really are. 

I pour love into their wounded sides. I take off their crown of thorns.

In his sermon the mount, Jesus said, “bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Maybe you’re called to stand up to people. How could you bless them while not compromising your beliefs? Maybe you’re called to be a medic. How can you help nurse people back to spiritual health?

How I Came To Reverse My Position on Homosexuality

As a Christian, I’ve always felt like my beliefs were constantly at odds with secular culture. The Bible said that the “World” was bad and constantly trying to compromise your beliefs. But if you had courage to stand with God, God would stand with you in the end.

The most recent example was with homosexuality. Our entire country used to agree with the Bible that it was wrong and a sinful behavior, but because of secularism, people were becoming okay with sin.

In college I decided to do something about it.

I created a blog where I defended the (conservative) Christian position on any issue I could think of. I soon wrote articles on why homosexuality was wrong. To me, it was like alcohol. Even if you didn’t choose your desires, you still had self-control. If we always gave into what we wanted, the world would be chaos.

After graduation I joined a new church where they preached on topics I had never heard before: justice for the poor, respect for the environment, equality for women, and expecting healing when you prayed for the sick. In many ways the church seemed to take all the beautiful things from conservatism and liberalism and put them in one place.

I remember being in my car where I was listening to a sermon on homosexuality. The pastor said that even though homosexuality was wrong, the Church’s reaction to homosexuals was equally wrong.

These people had been rejected so often by their own friends and family. Drawn to the church – no doubt inspired by the “come as you are mottos” – we rejected them again.

We stigmatized them. We were the pharisee in the story that knelt down and said, “God, I thank you I am not like other people – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this homosexual.”

A gay person was created in the image of God, and we had rejected that image.

I was floored. The pastor said that he would take the first step in repenting, and I knew I had to do the same.

My heart had been softened, but my mind couldn’t escape the fact that the Bible was still clear: homosexuality was wrong. It had lopped them in with liars, adulterers, and people who worshiped pieces of stone.

Things began to shift again over 5 years later. One of my mentors told me about a book written by a friend of his who was a pastor. This pastor had planted a church in a liberal part of the state and had many people in his congregation who were gay. He believed being gay was a sin, so he felt justified when he excluded them from membership, leadership, and getting married.

But over time this approach seemed to backfire. Parents would come to him for counseling, thinking that their kids were defective. They knew it was just a sin, but they felt like there was something deeply wrong with them. The kids would in turn come to him for advice because they felt like their core identity was being rejected.

The pastor decided that it was time to re-examine the Biblical texts on homosexuality. If his approach was going to cause so much harm and disunity, he wanted to be certain that there were no other alternative views out there.

To his shock, he discovered a sharp debate between Biblical scholars on the meaning and interpretation of the texts. For example:

  • In the ancient world, there was virtually no concept of sexual orientation. (Homosexuality didn’t appear in print until the 1860s.) (1)
  • The Old Testament passages in Leviticus (18:22, 20:13) were understood by first-century Jewish commentators as talking about male shrine and cult temple prostitution. (2)
  • The New Testament passages were likely speaking out against men in exploitative relationships: men having sex with prostitutes, slaves, and adolescent boys. (3)

After doing an exhaustive study of the passages in question, the pastor came to this conclusion:

I think it adds up to a reasonable possibility that the texts are not addressing the morality of what happens between same-sex couples who love each other as equals and express their sexuality in the context of a loving, monogamous relationship….[The traditional readings] may be correct. But [they] are not indisputably correct, as is often assumed. (4)

The pastor recognized that while the Bible didn’t seem to be speaking about modern gay relationships, the church had handled this issue poorly. Views on homosexuality became a litmus test. Christians would simply not associate with other Christians who had different views. Recognizing that this was not a settled issue in the church and wanting to create space for people of differing viewpoints, the pastor decided to take a Third Way.

My views were cemented a year later when I became friends with several gay Christians.

As I mentioned before, I had grown up believing that because homosexuality was a sin, it would naturally lead to various problems in the person’s life. After all, you can’t go against God’s natural order and get off scot-free. Just as there are no well-rounded alcoholics, there could be no well-rounded people who were gay. As Jesus mentions in Matthew 7, bad trees bear bad fruit:

“By their fruit you will recognize them. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, by their fruit you will recognize them.”

But I didn’t see the bad fruit in them.

In fact, when I looked at my gay friends, all I saw was love.

While I obviously couldn’t see into every part of their lives, Jesus was pretty clear that bad trees didn’t  produce good fruit.

In the end, it was really love that took the day. In the face of love, any arguments I had feel flat. As the Apostle John wrote in the New Testament:

Beloved, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. – 1 John 4:7-8

My gay friends were full of love and therefore I knew they were from God.

One of my favorite quotes I’ve heard recently is from Sheik Ehab, a historian and lecturer at Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. He said,

“Stop hearing about us and start hearing from us.”

It seems not a day goes by that we’re faced with a controversy where we’re tempted to look past the people.

Big issues involving other people’s lives end up becoming abstract arguments we talk about over the dinner table.

But what if we could look at the people first? We obviously don’t want to throw our minds out of the windows, but what if we changed the order? What if we met people first, and formulated our opinions second?

What if we could stop hearing about people and start talking with them?

-Citations-

1 – http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/homosexuality/

2 – Wilson, Ken. A Letter to My Congregation: An evangelical pastor’s path to embracing people who are gay, lesbian and transgender in the company of Jesus (Kindle Location 1018). David Crumm Media, LLC. Kindle Edition.

3 – Wilson, Ken. A Letter to My Congregation: An evangelical pastor’s path to embracing people who are gay, lesbian and transgender in the company of Jesus (Kindle Locations 1100-1104). David Crumm Media, LLC. Kindle Edition.

4- Wilson, Ken. A Letter to My Congregation: An evangelical pastor’s path to embracing people who are gay, lesbian and transgender in the company of Jesus (Kindle Locations 971-972). David Crumm Media, LLC. Kindle Edition.

Why My 30s Will Be Better Than My 20s

“Is life getting better for me, or worse?” I’ve been thinking about this question recently, because I think the answer holds the key to what attitude I should approach life with. If life is getting worse, having a negative perspective on life is the most natural, realistic thing you can do. If life is getting better, anything but hope is completely foolish.

A few months ago, I was getting drinks with a friend at a bar-cafe. We sat outside on the patio and were enjoying the cool evening air. As we discussed how each our lives had been going, my friend mentioned that he was constantly tempted to believe that his life was getting worse as he got older. He had seen examples all around him of people who had sharp physical and mental declines as they got older.

We discussed dating. I talked about how I spent most of my 20s in an awkward place with low self-confidence and self-respect. I could’ve counted on one or two hands how many dates I had been on during the entire decade.  When I did finally enter the dating world when I was 29, everything was more complicated. You now had to wait several hours or days before responding to a text message. You had to seem busy and uninterested, no matter how interested you were. If a girl thought I was more into her than she was into me, I would “lose the power” in the relationship. 

Another problem of starting to date in my 30s: there seemed to be a lot less people around who were still single. It seemed that as soon as people got out of college they were focused on getting married. 

It felt like I was in a race, but everyone else had already finished by the time I had laced up my shoes.

I tried online dating, but this ended up providing too much choice. As Barry Schwartz pointed out in his Ted Talk, having too many options is actually bad. You can always imagine something else being better. You are less satisfied with your choice, no matter how good of a choice it was.

Online dating also felt shallow. In lieu of meeting real people and then using dating to explore an existing connection, online dating would have me meet strangers to see if any connection even existed. Since you often only have a few pictures and some superficial facts, you end up practicing how to judge people in a very shallow way. The people with whom you might legitimately connect with get skipped over. Online dating made people seem more 2-dimensional.

I had always heard things like “the right one will come along when you’re not looking” and “I took a break from dating and met the person of my dreams,” so I decided to also take a break. But that didn’t seem to work either.

It’s really hard to go on dates when you don’t ask people out.

This led to an internal conflict: dating is weird and complicated, but it is the gateway that leads to several things that I want most in life. I not only want a deep connection with another person, I want to have children. But being a father isn’t a job I can have alone.

Sometimes it seems like it takes an incredible amount of strength and self-confidence to have your deep desires go unmet and to still not falter.

As I sat outside at the cafe with my friend, I could clearly see the ways the future could be negative. But as I began to look at the facts, I wasn’t confident that this was the direction I was heading. Comparing myself to who I was just three years ago led to shocking results. I am:

  • Healthier (I eat better, sleep more, go the gym regularly)
  • Better off financially
  • More self-aware
  • More independent
  • Better communicator
  • More attractive (I dress better, have more confidence)
  • More emotionally healthy 
  • Wiser
  • Take more risks
  • Have better hobbies (I read, write, and even listen to better music)
  • Closer to God, family, and friendships

When I considered the facts, I couldn’t be pessimistic. Pessimism was just too unrealistic.

So I made a decision: I decided to believe that I didn’t miss out on anything by neglecting to rush to get married in my 20s. I also decided that because I had grown so much, I was going to be a much better match for someone, the older I got.

Do you believe that your life is getting better or getting worse?

What areas of your life have you let pessimism sneak in?

What small step can you take today to focus on growing?