“Frank, there’s something I wanted to tell you tonight. I’m gay.”
Sitting across the table from my friend Bart, I quickly glanced from my food to his face, almost as if by reflex. “What?” I uttered without thought.
“This last year has been really hard for me. After having my first experience with a guy, as confusing and heartwrenching as that was, I’ve realized that I am attracted to men. I broke up with Sarah a few weeks ago.”
“Are you sure it’s not just a phase?” dark words I still wish I could take back.
“Truthfully, I don’t know.” As we paused a moment to let both our meals and thoughts digest, I realized that Bart has just become the first of what would be several of my friends to come out me.
Bart and I were no strangers. While he eventually became one of my groomsmen, we met when we both were voted to freshman hall council, him vice president and me president. Even in the most stressful situations, he’s a guy who can’t lose his cool, and his integrity never falters. Also, I owe my penchant for solid-color fitted dress shirts to him (see any picture of me…ever).
What’s so pivotal of this experience isn’t how this experience impacted how I saw Bart, but how I saw the LGBT movement at large. My understanding was largely built on awkward exchanges with strangers, marriage law debates, and some absurd notion of “the gay agenda.” It wasn’t my moral opinion on the issue that was troubling, it was my complete lack of empathy and humanization. And this is of not much surprise if you take into account where I came from.
I grew up outside of a small town north of Portland, Oregon, called Battle Ground. Our idea of religious diversity in the area was the one catholic church and one mormon church in the entire northern half of the county. As a young evangelical, I attended Portland Christian High School, where I was given more apologetics than critical thought, and even less empathy. Only years later did I discover the irony of finding how unJesus-like the place was, considering it was named after the guy. Instead of loving as Jesus loved, I carried with me a judgment of those different myself.
I feel this otherism has plagued the Christian community on all sides. To this day, evangelical leaders throw the word “atheist” around like an epithet, nomenclature of shame for the morally void. Whether it’s the presumption that morality is only possible with faith, or the mad assertion that God punishes cities of “heathens” with natural disasters, too many voices seem content to pin with prejudice all wrong among the non-religious.
And yet it gets worse still. If “gays have an agenda” and atheists are pissing off God, Muslims are vehemently despised compoundedly so, like a gay Darwin in a kafiya. This has been especially true in the post 9/11 era, as we’ve seen in the Park51 debate, the Murfreesboro mosque protests, and the Burn the Quran Day.
And yet, throughout all of this, the clear example of Jesus is missing. While diversity may feel “new” in America, the Gospels are littered with examples of how Jesus engaged with people different than Himself. It wasn’t just lived out in His actions, but a central component of His teaching. None was more quoted than the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
As a brief recap, this parable told in Luke (10:29-37) talks of a man who is beaten and robbed, and left for dead in the road. A priest, then a Levite (also a religious leader), simply walked around the man and continued on their way. It was a Samaritan, a sect seen as apostates by the Jewish community, who stopped to take care of the man. The two who walked by could have used religious law to justify their inaction, as touching an injured or possibly dead person would be seen as “unclean.” But Jesus didn’t praise them. Rather, he focused on the one who took care of someone, putting a stranger’s need above their own. Jesus finished the parable by saying, “go and do likewise.”
Most important to the parable, is that Jesus made the good person a Samaritan, not a Jew or Christian (or one of his followers, since ”Christianity” didn’t exist yet). But why would Jesus do that? It illuminates a question for us in our own time. Who are the Samaritans of today? Could a Muslim show me how to live more Christ-like? Can I learn how to be a better spouse to my wife from Bart? If the answer isn’t a resounding yes, then we really need to check our prejudice. It should bother us how easy it is for Evangelical leaders in the media to dismiss our modern day Samaritans with such disdain.
It’s pretty hard to learn from someone if we only see them by their external identity. Bart isn’t my gay friend, he’s my friend who just happens to be gay. Without this level of humanization, we’ll never have a chance to build community with others, learn from them, and be able to be Christ-like examples in their lives or our own.
So here is our dilemma. If we define ourselves through diminishing the humanity of others, not only are we damning Christianity to become a relic of times past, but we’ve unequivocally failed to follow Christ’s example. Rather than a sect defined by opposition, we can become a community embraced as benevolent.