Mercy

"I Love the Sinner" Is Often What Abusers Say

By Derek Penwell

“I love her, but she’s got to learn right from wrong,” he said … after beating her half to death. And there she lies, one foot in this world and another in the next—but fully “loved.”

I imagine that’s what LGBTQ folks hear when yet another Christian says, “I love the sinner, but I hate the sin.”

Now, I can imagine that immediately upon reading the connection between those last two thoughts, cries of righteous indignation will rise as a chorus unto heaven. “We’re not abusers, simply because we hate what homosexuals do with their private parts. We’ve never actually, physically struck a gay person because of their gayness.”

Hmmm … Maybe not, I don’t know you. In fact, I’m perfectly willing to believe you’re not part of a roving band of homo/transphobes out trolling the streets for fresh bodies on which to work out your frustrations with the dismal state of America’s godless culture. Nevertheless, I don’t think that gets you off the hook for the violence that is done in the name of your religious commitments for two important reasons.

First, when you fight against anti-bullying laws written to keep LGBTQ kids safe from being abused, you are propping up a system of violence that steals the dignity, and often the lives of those children you say you love. If a gay or trans kid commits suicide because you want to retain the right to loudly and repeatedly announce to the world your moral disapprobation, giving energy to a system dedicated to never letting LGBTQ kids forget that they are sinful aberrations for which the fires of hell are regularly stoked hotter, you bear some responsibility for their death. When LGBTQ kids get beaten, when they’re kicked out of their homes and forced to live on the streets and struggle to do some of the despicable things they have to do to stay alive, you may not be raising a hand against them, but you’re certainly massaging the muscles that do the damage. When you support a vision of the world in which LGBTQ people daily have to live in fear for their livelihoods, their homes, their right to a peaceful and flourishing existence just so you can proudly announce your doctrinal purity and your commitment to a world where only your religious beliefs matter, you may not be drawing anyone’s actual blood—but don’t kid yourself that there’s not blood on your hands.

Second, physical violence isn’t the only kind of violence. The abuse that takes place in families, for instance, is often not physical abuse. You can lay claim to having never physically harmed a person, while at the same time being guilty of killing that person’s soul. As anyone who’s suffered abuse by an abuser who claims to love them can tell you, some of the worst things that can be done to you have to do with being humiliated, devalued, dehumanized, made to feel alone and crazy. For how many years, for instance, did we gaslight LGBTQ people, makinghomosexuality a mental disorder? [Answer: Even though homosexuality was removed from the DSM-II as a disease in 1973, it wasn’t until 1987 that it was completely removed as a disorder, “ego-dystonic sexual orientation,” from the DSM. In other words: “Gay people are crazy or, at least aberrant” gave shape to the world we now inhabit.]

Take a casual glance at a list of behaviors considered emotionally abusive in personal relationships; then, read that same list through the eyes of someone who is LGBTQ, and try to persuade them they’re not victims of “loving” abuse. As one of my favorite theologians, Fred Craddock, said, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words … can kill me.”

Now, someone might object: “We really do love them. We just think what they’re doing is wrong.”

Fine. The problem is that if you talk to many abusers, they will say the same thing … and mean every word of it. Punching someone in the mouth because you “love” her and “want to correct” her, can’t help but be heard by the person being so punched as a blatant form of patriarchy (i.e., I know better than you do what’s appropriately “not sinful”; you’re just going to have to trust that I have your best interests at heart), or as a way of justifying the hatred and violence of the puncher, or simply as a cynical lie. Whatever the case, your attempts at “loving” the object of your disapproval always seem to come off as a self-righteous assertion of your moral superiority (at best), or downright antipathy (at worst).

Let me see if I can make this any clearer (and I know it doesn’t feel good): Participating in a system that belittles, punishes and commits violence against those who are often in the weakest position to defend themselves, frames you as an abuser in the eyes of those whom you claim only to be trying to love.

Here someone might wonder: “But how can they not know I love them? I said I love them, didn’t I?”

That’s the whole point. Saying you love someone as you punch them in the mouth, or standing by (while cheering or remaining silent) while somebody else punches them in the mouth or loudly fighting for laws that will continue making punching them in the mouth legal in the name of “religious freedom” isn’t love.

A cursory reading of the Gospels suggests that, for those of us who follow Jesus,love isn’t the perpetual need to make everyone else conform to our understanding of righteousness; it’s the merciful realization that Jesus has freed us from the responsibility of thinking that’s even our job.

SHHH God, You Are Bothering Me

This article, by Rev. Maggie Sebastian, first appeared on revmother.
I hate when that happens.  When I get all self-righteous and decide how I'm going to think or believe about something, and God sticks God's nose into my business.  Such a nuisance. Shhh God, I just got this figured out.

Here's the background:  After some "should I or shouldn't I" this morning, I decided to attend church once again at First Christian Church, Portland, OR.   I wanted to stay home under the covers in this grey place I've moved to.  I thought about visiting the Metropolitan Community Church again, having had an amazing worship experience there last week.  I finally talked myself into attending FCC again. It IS the first Sunday of Advent after all.

FCC Portland is a beautiful, modernized old church in the heart of downtown.  It is space to be envied. People have been friendly and welcoming the few times I have visited, but . . .  I don't know.  I am struggling with what I think the church should look like, sound like, be like these days.  FCC is very traditional in many ways.  Is this where I am supposed to be?  What does church mean?

And then there's the whole Occupy Portland thing.

I have not been "on the ground" much at Occupy, but my husband is a member of the Occupy's  Interfaith Chaplain Guild.  I believe that this movement is just beginning.  I believe in the basic premise that there is an unjust distribution of wealth that needs to be corrected. I believe that we are in the midst of cataclysmic change and none of us know what the end product will be. A few congregations have been openly supportive of  Occupy PDX - FCC not being one of them.  I admit that I've been disappointed by this; however, I've been no more personally involved with the church than I have been Occupy, so who am I to criticize or push?

With all that as background on how God stuck God's nose in my business this morning, let me try to find the point.  I arrived at church just in time as is my pattern and sought out a seat by myself.  Very quickly an elder of the church and leader of the denomination greeted me and asked to be my pew buddy.  Nice.  I like pew buddies and particularly this man.  As we rose to sing the first hymn for the hanging of the greens, he leaned in to point out "the gentleman in the bright tie" walking into the sanctuary- the chief of police for the city of Portland.  My elder companion expressed his compassion for this member of the congregation who had had a rough few weeks.  I could see the Chief's stress on his face.  Crap. Shhh God. You are SO bothering me right now.

For the rest of the service, God and I argued.  Mainly I listened, and God pointed out the obvious.  We are the One Body of Christ.  One.  That means the 1%, the 99%, and those caught between rocks and hard places. We are all the One Body.  Vilifying the man sitting behind me was not productive nor was it remotely in keeping with the Gospel message.  The Chief had come to worship the Christ he loves just as I had.  And in good Disciple tradition, we don't have to agree on our beliefs, but we are called to love one another.  Shhh God.  Stop bothering me.

If I could chat over coffee with the Chief, there would be many things that I would want the Chief to explain to me, to acknowledge, and to hear from me.  I think that there are things that need explaining.  But the Christ whose birth we anticipate, tells me that I must address this man as Brother.  The ideals of the Occupy movement, as I understand them, call for us to care more for each other than profits and to eschew dehumanization.  Shhh God.  It was so easy a few moments ago.

At the conclusion of the service, my elder friend introduced me to Chief Reese and his wife.  The elder had blogged about the Occupy and gave the Chief the web address.  Although the elder said words of encouragement to Chief Reese, the Chief's eyes seemed to dart between the elder and I as he quickly tried to explain (?) apologize for (?) the situation.  I probably didn't help when I mentioned Tim was an Occupy Chaplain.

In front of me stood a Brother in Christ whose fatigue and stress were obvious.  Mistakes were made by both sides here in Portland and those responsible need to be held responsible.  If the Occupy Movement is to maintain its passion, its mission, and its credibility, we must continue to reach out to each other to find peaceful ways to protest injustice.  If the police are to maintain their community trust, they must use restraint and when protesters "must" be arrested, they absolutely must be treated with dignity.  Last Sunday was an excellent example as leaders of Occupy worked out with the police how our march would be conducted.  Portland police basically left "policing" of the march to the the Occupy "safety team" which worked splendidly.

God bothers us.  Continually.  As God yearns for us to move closer to God, God bothers us to love one another as God loves us.  God bothers us to love police and protesters.

Wait - you don't suppose God expects us to - yikes -love  bankers, too?  Shhhh Shhh Shhhh God. You are really bothering me now.