Sometimes I have things to say that have nothing to do with sewing. This is one of those times.
I have two personal goals for my life that, if I accomplish them by the end of it, I will consider myself successful. First, I want to learn how to love. Second, I want to be kind. If all you ever know about me is that you felt love and experienced kindness through me, then I will be satisfied.
That is the lens I am doing my best to use as I address the topic of gay marriage.
Two more things you need to know about me: I follow Jesus Christ, and my brother is gay.
Please understand, I do not relish conflict. I grew up in a culture where it was demanded that personal beliefs be rigorously researched, and inferior arguments reflected the inadequacy or illegitimacy of the belief. The results of said arguments left the losing party feeling rejected, misunderstood, and unloved. So my reticence to engage with controversial topics is, by admission, a learned, self-protective behavior.
But when someone I love more than words could ever express came out a decade ago, I was sent on a journey into the depths of my own heart, my own fears, and my own faith. Now, in light of the polarizing nature of yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling, and recognizing that behind many vehemently-expressed beliefs is real pain and some confusion, I think it is time to speak.
There are several principles that guide my perspective on the matter of gay marriage. First, each individual person does not exist alone but represents his or her family, culture, whatever groups he or she belongs to, and his or her ancestry. So as much as I am my own unique self, I am also a female, White, Southern, Christian, middle-class, university-educated, English-Scottish-Irish-German-Cherokee American 30-year-old pregnant newlywed in 2015. The values of these groups, both good and ill, have nurtured my innate genetic composition to shape who I am, and though I might not exhibit all qualities associated with these groups, I am comfortable representing them.
I believe this principle is important in addressing gay marriage because the complexities of the issue depend on the interplay between individuals and groups. As with any controversial issue, cases might be made to defend individual situations, thus allowing for the creation of arbitrary, exclusionary criteria on both sides. But such criteria only further confusion between sides, and as it is a much lighter cognitive (and, in this case, emotional and spiritual) load to generalize the characteristics of an opposing group rather than understand its nuances, an individual, case-by-case approach is seldom used. Hence the parades, demonstrations, and stereotypes.
This reflects my second principle: multiple realities exist depending on how individuals experience the same situation. What is inoffensive to one person is extremely hurtful to the other. One party may not intend to hurt the other, but the innocence of one’s motives does not negate the consequences (i.e. experience of pain) affecting the other. (I am sure that few drunk driving incidents are motivated by people desiring to cause suffering, yet no one begrudges victims and their families the right to strong emotional reactions, however penitent the sobered driver may become.)
I don’t think Christians who publicize their Biblically-based beliefs about homosexuality do so with the intent of causing pain. I would imagine they are applying the phrase “speak the truth in love” to the best of their abilities. But the motive to love can get lost in translation (ask any pregnant woman with an aversion to belly rubs), and I postulate that it is rare for a gay person to feel loved when, for example, Bible verses are quoted at them.
This relates to the fundamental question which divides sides: is homosexuality biologically based, or is it learned behavior? Each side has its reasons for believing the way it does, solid evidence and proofs based in experience and third-party input (such as the Bible, research journals, or anecdotal evidence from others). These perspectives are, I believe, both valid, for if I can say that my personal experience with the Love of God through Jesus convinced me of His truth, then I must also allow that others’ personal experiences are equally valid in drawing them to their conclusions. Beliefs shape realities. The failure to validate or acknowledge a different reality negates the possibility of relationship.
And relationship is key. It is, in the end, the only thing that matters in a Christian worldview. The phrase “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” motivates evangelists and believers to continue in their faith, to “preach the gospel”, “go forth into all the world, teaching them to believe”. The Bible reflects a resurrected Christ who has delegated authority to those that follow Him, such that, as much as Almighty God limited Himself to become a human capable of experiencing suffering and death, so He has also limited Himself to partnering with people to accomplish His will. It is God’s desire to demonstrate His love through people who love Him.
That puts the proverbial ball in Christians’ court. If we are interested in following the Father of Jesus Christ, then we are interested in loving. It then behooves us not just to love from our own perspective but to learn whether what we consider loving is actually effective in accomplishing our intent. (Does that mama really want her belly rubbed, or do I take the time to respectfully ask if my touch is welcome? Maybe she’d consider $10 for diapers a more salient means of expressing affection for her child.)
Sometimes the hardest question to ask is, “How are you experiencing me?” Does my behavior make you feel safe or defensive, accepted or rejected, happy or angry? What about my words? Trust is the foundation of relationship, so if someone cannot trust me, then there is little chance that person will listen to what I have to say. My well-intentioned Scripture quotation is a “clanging gong” – there is no love detected by the listener.
Best practices in conflict resolution often refer to making “I-statements”, but it takes a tremendous amount of courage and trust to articulate the tenderest parts of one’s heart, especially when the person one is addressing has not demonstrated trustworthiness, but often the opposite. I cannot say I have had many frank conversations with my brother about how my faith makes him feel, or even how he experiences me, but I can make an educated guess. To simplify the exchange, I like the sentence, “I feel _______ when you ______.”
I imagine him saying something like this: “I feel rejected when you tell me homosexuality is a sin.” Or he might say, “I feel hurt / confused / angry / defensive / unsafe / afraid / sad / alone / annoyed / misunderstood / misrepresented / unable to relate to you / shut down / disgusted / unloved / helpless / judged / belittled / accused / grieved / ashamed / hated / apathetic / numb…” If my expression of love – “speaking the truth in love” – is eliciting any of those emotions, whether or not I as an individual caused them (here is where group identity comes into play – I acknowledge that as a representative of a group, I appear responsible for things which I personally had no hand in instigating), then I have failed to communicate love. If I love this person, then the impetus is mine to change how I am communicating until I have accomplished my goal. And that can begin with something as simple as an apology: “I am so, so sorry that you felt those things as the result of my behavior. That was not at all what I wanted. How can I help you to regain your trust in me?” In saying so, I invite Jesus to partner with me to express unconditional love to this person. It is His responsibility to change hearts. It is mine to give Him the opportunity.
But how can someone experience love without trust? And how can I be trusted when I represent the enemies of one’s heart? And if I am not actively pursuing the demonstration of an opposite reality than the current one (i.e. “Christians hate me, so God must hate me”), then I am working against the One whom I profess to represent.
The Bible asks, “What shall separate us from the love of God?” God forbid the answer be, “Christians.” So as a follower of Jesus Christ, let me take the time now to examine my heart, to make relationship my highest priority, to acknowledge and validate the pain of those whom Christians have rejected, to “bind up the broken-hearted”, and to create an experience of kindness instead.
My ability to love has nothing to do with the Supreme Court, nor whether the Bible I believe in condones a dissenting perspective. The New Testament is full of stories in which Jesus’s best friends disagree with Him, yet He continued to love, even until the very end, even this very day. How much more is He accepting of people who have every reason to dismiss Him, having no experience of the love He embodies. How dare I approach Him in any other manner than to say, “If I’m going to fall, let it be from leaning towards learning to love.”
Because this is one of my life’s goals: to learn how to love. If I do not take into account the fact that my expressions of love might be ineffective, then I have ceased to learn, and I have failed.
Jesus commands two things: love God, and love others. This fulfills the Bible. This is what life is about. Anything hindering that is not worth mentioning.
P.S. To J & A: I love you. That is all.