Tag Archives: tolerance

Not Welcome

“Your values aren’t our values. We know about your plans to open doors in our city, and we want you to know you’re not welcome here.”

Sound familiar?

Maybe… but I’m not talking about Chick-Fil-A and Boston (or Chicago… or probably a list of cities that will want to jump on this bandwagon to show how progressive and tolerant they are…)

The “threat” to America

I’m talking about Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and the unremarkable but apparently controversial mosque being built there.

Based on the estimate in the July 19th news story in the link, the worshipers might have already had their grand opening. I sure hope so. I hope they’re having the best Ramadan ever.

And I hope their opponents are choking on bile as they see it happening.

There’s a thing called the First Amendment in the Constitution. It goes something like this:

These apply to everyone,
Not just people we like.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

In this case, no one’s worried about Congress. The Federal government is (to my knowledge) not involved at all. But what the folks in Tennessee seem to be forgetting is that the amendment that lets us freely step into our churches on Sunday wherever we’d like is the same amendment that permits Muslims to build a place for worship wherever they’d like.

Intolerance and fear are clearly a part of the issue. One resident talked about the Buddhist place of worship in town and how no one seems to pay those guys any mind.

“Well, with 9/11 and the whole terrorism thing, people are just a bit nervous about having a mosque in town.”

That’s a paraphrase, but you can read the sentiment in the article for yourself.

To that I’d say,

“With the vandalism and arson on private property, and the open hostility, maybe the Muslims are a bit more frightened of you than you are of them.”

I’d say that, but I’m afraid that (were they ever to read my pointless rant in this corner of the Web) the perpetrators of this fear-mongering would feel proud at the thought. “Look at how we stood up to those Muslims! We sure let them know they’re not wanted here.”

Yeah, good job. Way to go against one of the key reasons America was founded. Way to stand up against one of the freedoms men and women have fought and died to protect for the last 226 years. Take that, religious expression!

Regrettably, our freedom of speech (see First Amendment quote above) doesn’t create any hindrance or safeguard concerning spewing ignorance. Anyone can say pretty much whatever they want.

I approve that. I applaud that. I don’t want the government telling us what is approved speech and what is not. And I know the vast majority of Americans feel the same.

But that allows for voices of thinly-veiled hatred to speak terribly insensitive and frightening thoughts.

Horrible thoughts like the North Carolina preacher a few months back with his “I got an idea… we build an electric fence, and we take all the gays an’ put ’em behind it.”

Horrible thoughts like the mindless venom pouring out of the mouths of Westboro Baptist Church members. I won’t even quote their signs. You’ve seen them on the news, or you can google them and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

Horrible thoughts like that of one of the leading opponents of the Murfreesboro mosque. “I know we weren’t going to win the legal battle… I just wanted to show ’em they’re not welcome here. And I plan to keep up the fight.”

What fight? Once the mosque is built, as is permitted by local, state, and federal government, and by our fundamental freedoms in America, what fight is there? 

I have several friends and coworkers who are gay. Some have made the point that they have come out in public because they don’t want to give anyone the impression that they will sit quietly while people malign or threaten them. They’re all sensible, thoughtful people who would love to leave that part of their lives off the radar. It’s such a minor thing to them, and it’s so not anyone else’s business. But oftentimes the terrible treatment they receive from others necessitates a harsh response, so they stand up and are counted. They stand up and say, “This mistreatment will not stand,” because they know there’s probably someone else sitting in quiet fear, too afraid to speak out in their own defense.

To my fellow Christians, I’ll say, how long are we going to sit in peace and quiet, shaking our heads, muttering a little tsk-tsk in shame, looking at stories like Murfreesboro or Westboro or the electric fence guy? I’ve often heard people ask, “Where are all the moderate Muslims to denounce what the radicals are doing?”

Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

Maybe we think it goes without saying. “Everybody knows” that Westboro Baptist Church is a bunch of nutjobs that have nothing to do with Christianity. “Everybody knows” that what that NC preacher is saying is horrific and wrong. “Everybody knows” that the First Amendment protects the rights of these Muslims in Tennessee.

Apparently everybody doesn’t know.

Welcome to America.
Check your hate at the door.

 

It’s time we stand up and be counted. Make sure that those who would wrap themselves in the American flag while clutching a Bible to their chest properly understand the significance of both of those symbols.

Make sure we speak out to those who would spread hate and fear in the name of Christ, and let them clearly understand:

“Your values aren’t our values. We want you to know you’re not welcome here.”

What If…

What if Abraham Lincoln was really a vampire hunter?

Oh, they’ve done that, have they?

A “What If?” comic

One of my favorite comic series growing up was “What If?” comics by Marvel.

They’d take key story lines from their most popular characters’ series, and then change one decision, one action, one coincidence. The rest of the book would tell you what would happen if, say, the popular jock got bit by the radioactive spider instead of nerdy Peter Parker… or if Wolverine’s girlfriend(s) never died… or if Victor Von Doom was part of the Fantastic Four instead of being the villain.

Sci-fi shows like Star Trek often use time travel to create a “What if?” of their own. There are series of novels exploring what-ifs. What if World War II was interrupted by an alien invasion, and the various powers of the world had to come together to fight back?

If all of that is too geek-chic for your tastes, a perfect example is It’s a Wonderful Life. George Bailey explores the question, “What if I was never born?”

Maybe it’s all the Chick-Fil-A and Jim Henson Company pics on Facebook…

But I have been thinking about a “What If?” for a while now.

What if it is scientifically proven that homosexuality is a genetic trait?

Now, I know many of those who might read this are probably convinced that it is genetic, or at least, not a choice.

I also know many people who are convinced it is a choice – at least on some important level.

Individuals being the strange and unique creatures that they are, I doubt that there will ever be conclusive universal proof one way or another. Our internal motivations are a whole mix of genetics, environment, outside influences, and past experiences.

But my point is, even though there’s no “conclusive” evidence on the subject yet, the consensus is forming quickly that in many cases, sexual orientation isn’t something we up and choose.

What does the church do with that?

I think we have a few options.

If I don’t believe it, it’ll go away.

1) Go full ostrich. This, I fear, is our default position. “Science is a conspiracy of well-meaning but misguided atheists who were trained in liberal colleges to reject God and accept whatever the Leftists tell them.”

But you’re reading this on a computer or perhaps a cellular phone, accessing my published rants across streams of information being transmitted over fiber optic cable or simply through the air from your 4G network… all brought to you by the advances of, yes, science.

That science is ok. The science that appears to disagree with the Bible is bad.”

It should go without saying that ignoring reality is a poor plan. But I’ll use a biblical example to make a point about healthy faith instead. Look at Abraham: he knew what God said about him having a child was nigh impossible. He considered his aged body and that of his wife. But he also knew that God promised, so he trusted what God said. (See Romans 4:17-21 or so… or read in Genesis from chapters 12 through 22 for the full story.)

Abraham didn’t ignore reality or “faith” it all away. Neither should we.

2) Abandon our position. We could always edit our Bibles, stop preaching about homosexuality, and give up political causes concerning “defending” traditional marriage. I’m sure some would appreciate this greatly. If we’re not vilified for “hate speech,” we’re mocked for backwards, ignorant, Bronze-Age religious standards. Forty years from now, the church’s crusade against homosexuality today may look like how we now view those who railed against interracial marriage in the sixties.

That said, our calling is not to adjust ourselves to whatever the majority believes. We’re not to be conformed to the world, but transformed by God so that we can show His love to the world.

3) Examine our position. There are several theological arguments concerning translation and context for verses that, on the surface, condemn homosexuality. It can’t hurt to double-check our sources and see if maybe we’ve missed something along the way. We may claim that God’s Word is perfect, but we also proclaim that we are not. As we learn more about the world around us, it makes sense to consider how that might affect what we have always “known.”

Religion is notoriously difficult (as in impossible) to prove. Much as we’d all desire it, God hasn’t shown up on CNN and Fox to announce His presence and put all the debate to rest.

For the Christian, we’ll say, “The Word of God and the incarnation of Christ is all the proof people need.”

But it’s not.

It’s more than enough for some, and rational arguments can be made. But God isn’t known for cooperating in scientific experiments or providing empirical proof, and that is what some people genuinely expect.

If we’re convinced we know it all, to the extent that we don’t ever need to question or reconsider any subject, then we’ve missed some of the mystery and majesty of the God we claim to serve. Check the “Love chapter” in 1st Corinthians 13. We only know in part. We haven’t achieved perfection, and we don’t know God the way He knows us. So if you have been led to believe that “the perfect” in that chapter is the Bible, well… look around. We’re not there yet.

Hey bud, God’s against gluttony too. So… three fingers pointing back at you, I guess.

4) Adjust our priorities. Maybe this issue could stop being the focus of so much political or cultural effort. We don’t picket against fat people, even though gluttony is a sin. (For many of us, myself included, the hypocrisy would be too obvious.) We don’t picket against nonbelievers, be they atheists or adherents of some other religion. We don’t hold rallies against arrogance or greed (two sins that probably deserve a lot more hellfire-n-brimstone preaching in the West).

Perhaps we could stop caring about whether someone is gay, and start caring about that someone.

“But they have to know what the Bible says about their sin!”

First, it’s not a secret. Second, I know a lot of proud people, and selfish people, and angry people. I know rude people and promiscuous people. I know people who steal and people who lie and people who just don’t care about anyone else. That doesn’t mean I rage against them. I’m supposed to love them regardless, and I try to do so.

Third, and most important,  the Lord knows I still struggle with a bunch of my own sins, and I do know what the Bible says.

I find I benefit more by learning about the grace and mercy of a holy God that reaches out to me in spite of my sin. That inspires me to live better.

I assume the same is true of others. It’s that whole Golden Rule thing.

Hey, I thought of another “What if?”

What if we cared more about people than about what those people do?

That would be a story worth telling.

Breaking with History

Imagine this description in a news story:

The young men gathered at the event were able to stand for the first time in openness and honesty before their peers. They were no longer required to cover up their private lives to save their public reputations. The burden of secrecy was finally lifted off their shoulders after years of living a lie.

And fears of violence or reprisal proved unfounded. Despite being a minority — just 10% of the population, on average — the attendees talked of the acceptance and tolerance they experienced. 

“It’s just not a big deal to my friends,” one man shared with a wide grin. “They know me, and they know this is a part of who I am. Our friendship matters more than our differences.”

I received a forwarded opinion piece in an e-mail from a Christian friend today. The article expressed deep concern that the Pentagon “broke with history” by celebrating its first gay pride event.

In the realm of “blinding flash of the obvious,” let’s do the math. The policy change allowing homosexuals to serve openly went into effect in September of 2011, three months after the last LGBT Pride month.

So… duh. This is the first such month that the Pentagon could even remotely support that without blatant hypocrisy.

They acted in accordance with the policy changes they’ve put into effect. Were we wanting duplicity instead?

But the tone of the article is what really got to me, with its one part fear-mongering, one part disgust.

We — the Christian community in America — are mostly operating under a double standard.

That “news story” description at the top could easily apply to Pride month. But that wasn’t my intention. I’m thinking of the way many of these same Christians would respond if the situation was different. What if this was a news story about a church function in a predominantly Muslim country? Or perhaps if it was an account of a meeting in China under communist rule?

Most of the Christians I’ve met would rejoice at the thought. Our brothers and sisters across the world, permitted to serve God openly in a place formerly hostile to expressions of faith? That would be wonderful news!

It would also be “breaking with history.”

My news story is fictional, but I know the hopes and the prayers of my fellow believers… and my own, for that matter. We look for change in governments that are opposed to open expression of religion. We desire a shift toward freedom and individual rights, even if that’s not the historical way of the nations in question.

Abandoning social norms is acceptable if the change agrees with us.

And we act like our stance on religious freedom makes perfect sense; why doesn’t everyone see it our way? Why shouldn’t Christians be allowed to believe in God in a public fashion in these other countries?

But God forbid that homosexuals in America should have a chance to live openly instead of hiding who they are.

Shortly after joining the military, I learned that the standard I use to judge or limit other people’s activities can very easily be turned around against me.

It’s natural that we believe our moral standards are the best. People can call that arrogance, but that’s a silly argument. I believe what I believe precisely because I think it’s the best, most accurate choice. And everyone else does exactly the same thing. If I thought my beliefs were flawed, I would give them up. I expect we all would.

The danger in having a strong belief or moral standard is that you risk applying it to everyone else, regardless of what they believe.

It’s great that I believe the Christian Gospel and the moral standards of the Bible. That’s the choice I’ve made based on my faith.

But why should I act like that’s everyone else’s choice too?

We set ourselves up for needless conflict and miscommunication when we expect others to align with our beliefs when they do not share those beliefs. I expect people who claim to be Christians to act like Christians. I expect people who aren’t interested in Christianity to live how they choose, not necessarily according to my rules.

News Flash: they didn’t sign on for my moral standard.

People of other faiths or no faith are going to live in accordance with their beliefs. That’s a good thing.

We always hope that our missionaries to other countries would be permitted such freedom. We want them to be able to worship and live out Christian values even if they are the minority.

Why is it we’re fine with the majority imposing values on the minority here in the States?

The standard I use to limit someone else’s freedom will sooner or later be used to limit my own.

For example, some of my Christian friends would balk at the thought that other religions could use Base Chapel facilities for their own religious ceremonies and meetings–especially those pagans and Wiccans! The latter term would come out in the hushed whisper that somehow conjures a mental image of spitting on the ground. “I can’t believe they let them into the Chapel!”

One of my Wiccan coworkers tried to get a rise out of me by pointing out how the Chapel opened its doors and permitted them to meet in the facilities.

“Good,” I said. “The day they tell you that you’re not allowed to meet there, they can come tell me the same thing.”

Celebrating freedom is more than just getting to do what I want. Freedom for all means that I also celebrate the opportunity for others to do the things I oppose.

I don’t need a back-seat driver in my life telling me what to do. I don’t need to be one for someone else either.

Pride

PRIDE

Disclaimer: This is a *fictional* story, not an actual personal experience. I hope to do something like this some day, and to live out love like this every day. But this is just a short story.

It’s common knowledge that “God goes against the willful proud; God gives grace to the willing humble.” – James 4:6 MSG

I step out of the van and ignore the immediate hostility of passers-by.

Two cross-dressers glare at me as they head toward the parade route. A man is crawling on the pavement in leather chaps; he has a leash around his neck, and another man is ‘walking’ him. He barks at me.

These are among the more tame participants. It strikes me as odd that in such a crowd, I am the one who gets strange looks.

If I am embarrassed at all now, well… it’s going to get a lot worse.

I make my way to the edge of the crowd and try to squeeze through to the front. I need to be visible if this is going to be of any value. When people turn and see me, they assume they know what I’m here to do. I get jostled and shoved a few times as I gently push my way through. “Bigot,” one person says. “Homophobe! Go home!”

“Get out of the closet already, Bible-thumper.”

The police are out in force. Pride parades often get a lot of attention, not all of it good. That one church from Kansas is lined up farther down the street. Some local churches have put up their own signs, not willing to be outdone by these famous out-of-towners with the “God hates fags” posters.

The cops are busy keeping people marching in the parade from getting into fights with the various protest groups. None of them notice when I finally reach the rope that marks the edge of the parade route.

I stand at the edge and lean out, a Jesus in Teva sandals, a wig, and a polyester white robe with a red sash I borrowed from our church drama team. The beard is mine, scraggly but full enough after two months of growth.

The first few people to see me react in anger, swearing, shaking fists. “You don’t belong here,” they yell, along with some other choice words. People in the crowd throw half-empty Starbucks cups and large sodas and McDonald’s cheeseburgers. Ketchup and mustard splatter across my white sleeve.

No one throws rotten fruit any more. It’s not readily available, and it’s too expensive.

The folks marching in the parade are not happy to see me, either. Rainbow signs with witty slogans are shoved in my face. I don’t know if they’re meant to block my view with their message, or block the view of the other marchers so that no one else has to see another religious jerk condemning everyone in sight.

“What’s another name for the Crucifixion?” one guy asks the girl next to him, loud enough for me to overhear. She shrugs.

“A good start,” he says.

She laughs, and glances my way, her smile turning into a sneer.

I reach out a hand to those marching, and someone spits at it. The next person ignores me, stepping away.

“I am sorry,” I say, and he looks back, brow furrowed. But he’s too far past me now.

Mostly all I get from the faces in the crowd is the strong sense that I am unwelcome–a defensive posture and wounded expression that demands to know, “What are you doing here? You don’t belong here. This is ours… go away.”

I catch another guy’s hand, someone in a leather jacket, boots, and briefs. He recoils in disgust, but then I say, “I am sorry for how we have hurt you,” and he pauses.

Someone else spits on me. “Go back to the tomb, Jeebus.” His partner winks at me and says, “Hey, baby, I’ll nail ya.” They walk away laughing.

The man in the leather jacket, whose hand I grabbed–he simply nods to me, and I think I see his eyes glisten as he turns and continues in the parade.

A thin guy explodes into a rant with more f-bombs than actual words, arms waving, fists clenched. “What the f’ing f are you f’ing trying to do, f’er? You f’ing f’s think you’re f’ing doing any good with your f’ing ‘God hates fags’ signs and your f’ed up little white dress? Do you really f’ing think I give one good f’ing G-D what the f you f’ing have to say to me? F!!! I f’ing hate you, I f’ing hate your f’ing book that does f-all to teach love and tolerance, and I f’ing hate the f out of the f’ing God you represent! What now?”

He gets in my face.

“I’m sorry,” I say, and a tear runs down my cheek. “I’m sorry for how we have hurt you.”

He opens his mouth to speak, but nothing comes out.

I think of the recent news stories I’ve heard, the angry sermons on the Internet, the callous defenses of indefensible statements.

“I’m sorry for how we’ve let people say we should ‘smack the gay out of children,’ or put them behind electric fences.”

He says nothing now, but he continues staring at me.

“I’m sorry for how we’ve pointed the finger at all of you, instead of preaching against our own arrogance, our own pride, our own prejudice and hatred. I’m sorry for how we act like you are less than human.”

“I came to say I’m sorry for my people and what we have done.”

His friend grabs his arm and pulls him away. “Come on, man.” But he keeps looking back, and I see him mouth the words, “Thank you.”

Another person spits on me, and a big guy just happens to hit me with his elbow. “Bigot,” he mutters.

This pattern repeats itself for an hour and a half, some people accepting my hand in friendship, many slapping it aside at first, some of them turning back to acknowledge the apologies I offer.

One of the people in the crowd behind me tugs at my shoulder. He’s holding a black leather Bible, with the gold edges on the pages and a little fish over a monogram in the corner of the cover. “You’re in the wrong place, brother. We’re all protesting at the other end of this block.” He points to where the angry people are waving their signs and shouting Scripture like a battle cry.

I nod and remain in my spot on the street.

Two women walk by, arm-in-arm. The blonde says, “You want us to confess our sins, pervert? We’ve been verrry naughty.”

They giggle as they approach. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Bible Guy watching.

“I would like to confess my sins to you,” I say.

“Ooooh,” the other coos. “Kinky. Yeah, do it.”

“I am sorry for the double standards we use to judge you,” I begin, and the smiles disappear.

“I am sorry for acting like one sin is worse than any other, for acting like our sins don’t matter to God as much as yours. I’m sorry for behaving like we’re better than you.”

They are quiet, holding hands, waiting as I continue. Bible Guy storms off to rejoin his protest.

“I am sorry for treating you like you don’t deserve our love–like you don’t deserve God’s love.”

The parade marches on behind them. I look at them through tear-clouded vision.

“I love you. We love you. I am sorry for how often we fail to show it. We shouldn’t see you as what you do, but I know we also do that. Please accept my apology on behalf of my people.””

I extend a hand after wiping it off on a clean spot of my robe. They hug me instead, ignoring the chopped onions and ketchup and diet Dr. Pepper.

We stand there, hugging, for about a minute before they thank me and move on.

Bible Guy is back with friends, and they’re not happy. “Don’t you know Leviticus says homosexuals are an abomination and the Bible says it’s a sin?”

“I know,” I reply.

“Yeah, well, maybe you need to get your Gospel straight before you come out here supporting all these queers.”

“I know what the Bible says about homosexuality, and so does the rest of the world,” I fire back. “What they don’t know, what they aren’t seeing, is what the Bible says about loving others!”

“Hey Jimmy,” Bible Guy says to one of his friends, “What do you think we should do with false Christs?”

It takes a couple minutes for the police to respond to the situation and break up the fight. I’m the freak in an offensive costume, so I end up in the handcuffs. “For your protection, bud,” one of the cops tells me as he drags me away from the parade.

Sitting in the back of the paddy wagon, I pull off the wig and rub a bloody jaw.

“Not the smartest move ever for the Son of God, eh, bud?”

“Yeah, I guess not.” I answer. I don’t believe that, though. I felt the hugs, I spotted tears, I saw the faces change from rage to respect. “Then again, things didn’t go so well for Him either, so it’s nothing new.”

The cop laughs. “I thought I saw those punks head back over to the protest after we grabbed you. You sure got them riled.”

“They’re mad because I used to be one of the ones holding signs.”

“Oh… yeah, I used to hate dealing with this parade each year, too. And then my son started marching in them.”

He offers me a cup of water. “Take it you get beat up by Christians a lot?”

“You’d be surprised.” I take a drink. “It was the religious leaders that wanted Jesus dead, not the so-called sinners.”

“Feh.” The cop looks back out to the crowd. “I just wish those guys would go back to their caves sometimes.”

“They can’t help it,” I reply. “They kind of belong here. The event is all about celebrating pride. They’re just full of a different kind.”