I’ve been struggling with what to make this post about. I’ve personally had a really rough few weeks, and I managed to generate far more conflict than I liked with some of my public opinions. I shut down and shut out the world for a few days, and I was seriously re-considering this Call that I’ve responded to.
Thanks to a very good friend (whom also happens to be a stellar mental health professional), I was able to weather that particular storm. She reminded me that sometimes even Jesus had to go out in the boat, away from the crowds. If Jesus had to do it, then Michael Woywood certainly has to… just as I know I must return to what God has called me to do when my soul is sufficiently rested.
So, that brings us to today’s post.
I read an article yesterday that I think is the most disturbing piece I’ve read from a Christian publication in a long time. The full text of the article is here. (If you have never heard of Charisma News, it is a fairly widely-read Christian magazine.)
The specifics of this article deserve to be addressed – mostly the fact that this author seems to have take the demonization of homosexuals to a very literal level – but, I’m far more interested in addressing a general trend across Christianity. That trend is “speaking the truth in love”, and while it sounds like a truly wonderful practice, it is something that I have come to fear from the worldwide Body of Christ.
This post is not intended to be wholly about my own religious views on the LGBT community, but those views are central to my response. And, because my own post is a reaction to the above article, it may seem like I’m primarily talking about the LGBT community. Well, let me clarify: the LGBT community is simply the most recent in a long list of people that the religious community has demonized, persecuted and kept out of community throughout history. As to my views, unlike the author, I see nothing sinful in two men or two women having a committed relationship with one another. Sexual ethics have always been a part of our faith, and I see no reason that Christian same-sex couples should not be held to the same standard of fidelity and commitment that Christian opposite-sex couples adhere to. If those standards are met, I see absolutely no compelling reason that we should not bless and validate their relationships as righteous.
Again, that’s not really what this post is about. However, I’ll be talking about sin and forgiveness, and I don’t want anyone to think that I believe loving same-sex relationships require forgiveness simply for existing. I do not. Now, we can continue.
When I hear a Christian say that they’re “speaking the truth in love” (as the author opens his article with), I feel that I’m hearing a religious equivalent to “I don’t mean to be rude.” As I’ve said many times, to many people, opening a sentence with “I don’t mean to be rude, but…” is a sure sign that you’re about to be terribly rude. The qualifier simply exists to minimize your own feelings of guilt at saying something hurtful.
When a Christian says, “I’m going to speak the truth in love”, chances are that what they’re about to say might be the truth, but it will almost definitely not be loving. The speaker in question seems to feel that adding the word “love” to otherwise hateful words somehow changes the content of the rest of the sentence. In fact, it is my personal opinion that if you have to qualify a statement with that phrase, you’re about to avoid the truth in favor a heaping helping of judgement.
Reading the article forced me to dissect the statement that I abhor. First, there’s the gold standard of “Truth” that we are, indeed, called to speak. Common culture would have us believe that “truth hurts”. I have seen several Christian memes that say things like “The Truth sounds like hate to those who hate the Truth.” We seem to have adopted this idea that the Truth is inherently unpleasant, that it should produce an immediate defensive reaction among the ungodly, and that the level of offense that people take to our “truth” is directly proportional to how “true” it is.
Contrast this attitude with Jesus’ statement in the Gospel of John: “You will know the Truth, and the Truth will make you free.”
The Truth doesn’t bind us up and leave us in knots; the Truth makes us free. Some people would argue that all they’re trying to do is make people free when they point out their “sin”, but to that I would ask the following questions:
Does it make people free to tell them that they are sick, unnatural, twisted and under demonic influence?
Does it make people free to tell them that their love and commitment is invalid, simply because they are only capable of feeling that way about a person of the same sex?
Does it make people free to tell them that their only way to be both gay and Christian is to abstain from the loving, committed, romantic relationships that opposite-sex Christian couples enjoy by default?
Those “truths” aren’t freeing; they shackle people with burdens which can’t reasonably be borne – which was something that Jesus wasn’t unfamiliar with. The interpretation and application of the Jewish Law during Jesus time did much of the same thing, and it was in response to this that Jesus said, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart. My yoke is easy; my burden is light.“
Given what we know about the time that Jesus walked the earth and the culture that He lived in, and what He said – especially as it pertained to burdens, oppression and freedom – is it possible that we have completely misunderstood this entire Truth thing? If we are speaking the Truth, why are people not free?
And then, there’s the “love” part. I’ve read many, many articles about the kind of “love” that many Christians show people that we disagree with, especially when it comes to “loving the sinner, hating the sin” (a great article on that is here.) “We love them too much to let them go to Hell.” “We love them too much to let them live in sin.” And, hot on the heels of that love, comes the “speaking the truth” which judges, condemns and further ostracizes people.
Where did we learn this? It certainly wasn’t from Jesus.
Jesus didn’t spend much time “speaking the Truth in love”. He simply spoke the Truth, and it was Love.
Jesus didn’t spend much time railing about people’s sins, or their sicknesses. He simply touched them, He healed them, and He brought them back into community.
Jesus spoke the only Truths that ever mattered: “You are loved, you are forgiven, and you are welcome.“
The religious community of His time believed that people’s ailments and disabilities were a result of sin: Jesus forcefully confronted that attitude by spending His time among them. When a paralyzed man was brought to Him, Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven.” And then He healed him. By doing that, Jesus was directly attacking any preconceived notion that it was sin keeping this man on a cot and He was welcoming a person that the religious authorities said was a “sinner” back into the loving arms of the community. There were no preconditions, no “speaking the truth in love” – simply healing and acceptance.
This is the radical, controversial, narrow path that we should be following: love, forgiveness, healing, acceptance.
There is nothing “controversial” or “radical” about demonizing homosexuals, calling them sick and sinful: we’ve been doing that, and worse, for literally hundreds of years. It has, until recently, been a crime in our own country to engage in same-sex relations; it is still a crime in many countries, with the penalty of death. Up until 10-20 years ago, it was almost universally acknowledged as “truth” that there was something wrong with homosexuality. There can be no controversy in speaking a “truth” that has been commonly held wisdom for most of human history.
But, when people stand up and say, “No. We love you, we accept you, we affirm you, we validate you” – even as their own religious communities that they’ve grown up in call them heathens and heretics – now that is controversial, that is radical.
The “narrow path” doesn’t consist of speaking out against people that are different than you, that privately disgust you, that seem “unnatural”; that is the easiest, most natural thing that a human being can do.
But, when someone says, “I am you, you are me, we are one“… that’s difficult. That flies in the face of thousands and thousands of years of tribal instinct, national pride and human nature. That is a narrow path that most people are unwilling – and even incapable – of walking.
But, that’s the cost of following Jesus, that’s the path that is narrow that leads not just to Eternal Life, but abundant, fulfilling life in the here and now. That’s the Truth that sets us free: that salvation, grace, mercy, forgiveness, healing and community are available to all. There is no condition, but the cost is that we must extend all that we’ve been given to everyone: especially the people that we might feel personally revolted by.
I don’t do this well, at least not as often as I’d like to. The people that I think of as “revolting”, “sinful” or “unnatural” might not be the same as my Conservative brethren, but I still have those people in my life that I am required and demanded to love, forgive, heal and accept. I can only hope that God gives me the Grace to “practice what I preach”, and offer community to those people that anger and disgust me. It is not an easy path.
But it sets me free.
Grace and Peace to you, wherever (and whoever) you are,
Michael Brian Woywood