When there is any debate engaged in the public sphere on the role of religion or conscience or rights there is a lot of talk of belief. How beliefs shape the way we live and act, what we think is right or wrong and how that manifests itself in how we treat each other. Yet, in the midst of all the media reporting and blogging and tweeting about the Asher’s case there has been one voice that has not been mentioned by Christians in all the furor.
Now before I lose you, and maybe I’ve already lost some of you, this is not an attempt to get you to believe one side over an other. This is not an attempt to bring you round to one understanding or to lay out an array of Bible verses to support or reject gay marriage. It is simply my attempt at bringing the central Christian message that Jesus came to share of Peace, understanding, Grace and Love for all people, back into focus in this conversation.
Stay with me, you may just be surprised.
Let me explain.
As a Christian my primary goal has to be to live in a way that not necessarily directly mimics the way Jesus lived but to mimic the principles that he exhibited in His interactions with normal people on His journeys prior to and also after his death. To copy a life that sought to show people what truly being alive feels like; to show how we can creatively live in ways that allow everyone to be part of something that includes but is so much bigger than themselves.
If we were to study Jesus life, we’d see that He rarely took concrete stances on issues like many of us feel is our Christian duty today. He didn’t protest, He didn’t refuse to speak with certain people, He didn’t gloat. What He did was to see what was going on above and beyond any issue and dig deep into the root of what it means to be a human with all our flaws, especially our flaws. He questioned His own religion, He remained calm when dealing with those who thought He was a threat, He got angry only with the religious. He was never defensive.
Yet why do many of us who claim to be followers of His teachings insist on maintaining such a posture?
One reason is I believe is, that Christians have allowed our beliefs to become more important than the reason for the belief. (Tweet This)
Where you stand on gay marriage determines how welcoming or how apprehensive we are towards each other.
Take for instance, the time when Jesus was found by the Pharisees, the religious fundamentalists of the day, to be picking grain on the Sabbath. A seemingly innocent enough activity, but one which was forbidden by the Law. The very Law that Jesus was brought up on and was the central teaching of His Jewish faith. (Yeah that’s right, Jesus wasn’t a Christian, He was Jewish). Like Jesus put to the Pharisees, what good does is it do for anyone to leave their ox stuck in a well on the Sabbath (least of all the ox, poor thing), just because you’re forbidden to do any work.
When questioned on it, Jesus made the point that the Jewish Law was made for man, not man for the Law. Simply put, these ancient rules were to bless and give life, rather than for us to blindly remain loyal and obedient to the Law.
For Jesus, beliefs were fine until they got in the way of sharing life with others. Or got an ox killed.
This means that when it comes to the Laws and ideals for us to live by as Christians, we are not called to follow them blindly if it means others are oppressed or hurt.
Put another way, Christians don’t need to protect themselves because that leaves us unable to be loving and compassionate.
Sometimes we behave as if loving others and being vulnerable is going to end up with the end of Christianity. (Sidenote, we’ve done a pretty good job at self destruction over the years and we’re still doing alright)
But what does this have to do with the Asher’s case, the broader issue of religious conscience and especially how Christians should approach these types of situations?
To answer this we must first answer a question that I was posed on Twitter several weeks ago.
Well, I’m not sure. But I do know that his reaction would have shocked and surprised us. To understand a little about how Jesus would have responded, let’s consider other instances in which Jesus used examples to show us how we are to react to those that we may fundamentally disagree with and the fears that underlie them.
An argument that I have heard throughout the Asher’s trial is that if we’re forced as Christians to support ideals and beliefs that we fundamentally disagree with, then somehow our Christian voices will be completely removed from the public sphere.
Whilst I can understand how one may come to that conclusion, like Jesus demonstrated this is a simplistic and closed view of how we are able to influence our communities for Him.
In one famous illustration, Jesus commanded his listeners to not just carry a Roman soldier’s bags one mile, which was well in the right of the Roman soldier to demand, but to walk a further mile. Something that would have made the soldier a very naughty boy (Well done if you get this reference).
What Jesus was doing here was showing another way of reacting to someone rather than being defensive. We could very easily read this as Jesus demonstrating total and complete agreement with the way the Romans ruled the country since He was willing to go further than He was required. Yet, Jesus suggestion of walking the extra mile did not mean that He was asking His listeners to simply bow down and lay down their beliefs and morals, but like we have already seen, as a way of showing that we don’t need to fight for our beliefs.
Unfortunately because of the Asher’s case, many outside the church, LGBT or otherwise will know exactly where many Christians stand on homosexuality but will not have witnessed very much of the love we’re called to show to the world.
Jesus example of the Roman soldier shows us that even if we are forced to work and serve (or bake a cake) for those who we completely disagree with, there is a more imaginative and creative way of reacting.
In this case I think that Asher’s had a wonderful opportunity to do just that. But I don’t blame them for not taking it. We’re just not used to this type of thinking in the church. We are afraid of thinking outside the box, or loving others in surprising ways.
We’re so consumed with what we believe about something and making sure that that isn’t compromised that we fail to see that all that demanding our rights to be heard and obeyed leads to, is our love for others being compromised.
Another fear is that a defeat for Asher’s will open up a whole can of worms which would allow those who are intent on causing trouble to demand services from others, simply to cause them pain. Even if this would be true, there is one example from Jesus life that shows what a wonderful opportunity this would be to bring healing.
Along with the previous example of carrying a Roman Soldier’s bags two miles instead of one, Jesus, shockingly and puzzlingly suggested allowing someone to hit you twice. You know, because there’s nothing worse than having just one side of your face in pain.
This has often been taken to mean that as Christians we are to let people walk over us in this world as if God is biding His time and in the end will smite our enemies for being a dick towards us. But this isn’t the Old Testament we’re living in.
What Jesus is doing here, is cleverly showing us that by allowing someone to hit us twice we can ultimately alter perceptions of hate into Peace. One slap to the face, using the outside of the hand signified a stance of control over you. Effectively showing the person being hit who exactly is in charge. But rather than offering the other side of your face as a way of cementing that control, it would be essentially forcing your oppressor to punch you. A significant move, only when we understand that for Jesus listeners, they knew this meant that you were equals. As you only reserved using the inside of your hand to hit someone on a par with you.
So what does this have to do with Asher’s. If we have a cream pie jammed into the side of our face, turn your cheek for a banoffee?
Like carrying bags for a Roman soldier, it means there are more imaginative ways to deal with those who we feel, whether it’s true or not, are persecuting us.
Jesus had so many opportunities to turn down his Love for those that stood fundamentally against the faith He grew up with. He had dinner with Zacchaeus, a tax collector which was the worst type of job for a Jew, as it meant cheating your own people out of money for “the man.” He gave a woman caught in adultery, something that demanded by Law for her life to be taken, freedom and hope. He promised a Samaritan (big enemies of the religious establishment) woman, everlasting life. He healed the daughter of a soldier of the oppressive Roman government.
What religious stance He was “supposed” to take in regards to Samaritans or people who slept with others spouses or Israel’s enemies, wasn’t Jesus chief motivation for His actions towards them. That’s why He was such a threat to the religious; He didn’t act the way He was “supposed” to. He saw the bigger picture.
The way he acted towards these people went against everything He was supposed to believe in. But ultimately the most important belief for him was Love.
And Jesus saw something else equally important. He saw that we’re all really the same. Jewish, Roman, Protestant, Catholic, straight, gay, not sure, male, female, baker, candlestick maker.
Whatever the final verdict from the Asher’s case, there is no winner. The lines are wonderfully and fantastically blurred. We’ve had quite enough of that in Northern Ireland. This is not an Us V Them case.
And this is exactly what ties all the examples from Jesus life that I have used together. Jesus, time and time again with subtle, creative, beautiful ways, broke down this decisive and dangerous idea of Us and Them. He blew open the expectations of what it means to be His follower. And what it meant to be for someone to be your “enemy”.
He doesn’t operate in the ways in which we have regularly and aimlessly fought to protect.
It is time for Christians to really stand up for what we believe in.
But that is not what we believe about homosexuality. But Love and Hope and acceptance.
When I left Northern Ireland almost 18 months ago, it was a diverse country. In that time, I believe it has become even more diverse than ever and this is a beautiful thing. We need to be different, not simply because it would be boring otherwise but because we can learn from each other.
This applies to whether you live in Belfast or Detroit.
But the temptations still exist to pigeonhole each other. It makes life so much easier for everyone if we make huge assumptions about someone when we meet them which saves us the trouble of actually sitting down and talking to “themuns”.
Because Heaven for fend that we might actually come away seeing how we are similar.
But the real problem with ignoring our diversity is funnily enough that it leads to ignorance and arrogance.
When my worldview is threatened by coming across someone from a group that I had previously neatly squished into their box, I go on the defensive. I don’t want to be wrong; I can’t be wrong. If I am then I have to open myself up to everyone. And that could be disastrous for my beliefs.
I say all this because I have witnessed somewhat recently this very thing happening in Northern Ireland concerning the Ashers case.
Basically there are two camps. The Christian/religious camp and the LGBT equality camp.
At least that is what you may believe but the truth is that there are not two distinct sides but a blurry, kaleidoscope of differing and agreeing opinions. There are those in the church who think that all Christians are (or should be) in agreement with Asher’s and the recent DUP plan to introduce a conscience clause. Then are those outside the church in the LGBT community who think that all Christians are jerks and all look at them as perverse or abominations.
But even that isn’t right because, wait for it, there are those in the church who are gay. Yes, for many of us that is not shocking in the slightest but for a great deal more of you that just can not be true can it?
Not only that but there are those inside the church, who are gay who don’t support the Equality Commission. And if you think that is mad well there are those outside the church, who are gay and agree with Ashers and the Christian Institute on their stance.
You might need to sit down to try and collect your thoughts and preconceived notions.
But this is the beauty of Norn Iron. It’s a country that is changing. And changing for the better. Sure there are still bigots and there are still those who can not or will not let go of their hate. But rather than in the 70’s or 80’s or even for a huge part of the 90’s, when this was the norm, folks like this are now in the minority.
We do not have to agree. We do not have to see eye to eye. But we have to be willing to at the very least look into each others eyes.
Because when we do we may just realize that the beliefs that we hold so closely and vow to fight for so vehemently may well just be causing hurt and pain to others. Does that make our beliefs worth it? I’m not so sure it does.
Of course we still need to challenge bigotry and call out injustice as it happens. We still need to stand up for what we believe in but the minute we start dulling our love for those who are different than us simply because they are treating us poorly, the minute we have lost our own identity, not “them”.
For Christians in Northern Ireland are you willing to take the time to think through how your actions effect those in the LGBT community at large and the LGBT community in your congregations?
Love is a powerful force, much more than we usually give it credit for. I don’t really care what other groups do but as the church, our mandate is clear. It is to love everyone regardless of…..
(You can fill in what you need to here)
It that extremely hard? You bet it is. Is it the only way? You bet it is.
Are your beliefs as a Christian being challenged because someone can be gay and Christian? Or because a Presbyterian Minister can be a speaker at a Sinn Fein conference? Or because a Protestant could vote Sinn Fein and a Catholic could vote DUP?
If they are, don’t run from it. Don’t give into the voice that says they must be written off. Embrace it. Lean into it. Question why this might be the case. Look deep into yourselves and ask..
What belief is most important to you?
That being gay is an abomination?
Or that nothing is more important than loving everyone?
There is a fundamental problem with the term ‘Christian’ which is that it doesn’t have a concrete definition. You can be a Christian and believe very different things than others who also call themselves Christians. Continue reading
As the news filtered through my twitter feed last night that World Vision, a Christian charity organization had decided to allow the hiring of people who are gay, my heart sank. My heart sank because it soon became clear from some of the tweets I read that there were many who lamented the decision but mostly because there were others who were considering the removal of support, financially and otherwise to World Vision.
As the Presidential campaign continues this week with the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, it’s becoming clearer to me that neither the Republican Party or the Democrat Party have been all that good at inclusiveness.
Sure the Republicans brought out the Hispanic delegates last week in an attempt to seem more open in much the same way that this week the Democrats began their convention hailing the soldiers that have given up their lives to defend their country.
But in the end what does it mean to be inclusive? Continue reading
God is not a hipster. He’s not into bands that only you and He have heard of. He doesn’t shop exclusively in Top Man. He loves Coldplay and New York Pony Club in equal measure.
A friend, who thinks like us, looks like us and who cares for the same things that we do will naturally support us when someone questions or challenges our beliefs. But when we view God through those lenses (Hipster thick clear lenses) it’s pretty easy to fall into the trap of thinking God is on one side or the other. We fit God into our perceived ideas of what is right or wrong.
But when I hear that “God so loved the world”, my thoughts don’t directly go to being about how we are saved but rather that God is for everyone. Sometimes this is hard to swallow. Sometimes it would be so much easier if this was not true. But it is. And I am glad it is. Continue reading