My husband and I had just finished loading up my little Nissan Cube with groceries the other day when a man passing by commented to his friend as my husband got into the driver’s seat, not so much under his breath, “he’s gay.”
(Not the word he used.)
A friend told me about a church staff member who, in casual conversation, told her (a new church member) that their congregation was great, but she’d better watch out because “if they have their way, this church will be full of gays.”
(Not the word he used.)
Specific church leaders.
It’s hard to tell the difference sometimes.
The recent “It Gets Better” campaign on YouTube features celebrities and leaders, like President Obama and ELCA Bishop Mark Hanson, encouraging bullied teens with the sentiment that life for those who are different somehow “gets better” with age.
As much as I want to believe the inspirational video clips, and as much as I would love to see teenagers turn the other cheek in hopes that one day the bullies will grow up and repent, I don’t have to look very far from my front doorstep to see that adults are setting the bar pretty low when it comes to respect for the dignity and humanity of others.
Sometimes teenage bullies just get taller, drive more expensive cars and buy houses in the suburbs.
What’s a follower of Jesus to do?
Some of us choose silence.
That’s what the “goats” in Jesus’ sorting sermon did. It’s not that they were the bullies, but that they did nothing (Matthew 25:41-46):
“Then he will turn to the “goats,” the ones on his left, and say, ‘Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because – I was hungry and you gave me no meal. I was thirsty and you gave me no drink. I was homeless and you gave me no bed. I was shivering and you gave me no clothes. Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’
Then these goats are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?’
He will answer them. ‘I’m telling the solemn truth. Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me – you failed to do it to me.’”
Some of us choose a side.
That’s what the apostles in the early church did when Peter extended the grace of God to the unclean outsiders, sharing the Gospel with them and watching as the Holy Spirit showed up (Acts 11:1-3):
“The news traveled fast and in no time the leaders and friends back in Jerusalem heard about it – heard that the non-Jewish “outsiders” were now “in.” When Peter got back to Jerusalem, some of his old associates, concerned about circumcision, called him on the carpet: “What do you think you’re doing rubbing shoulders with that crowd, eating what is prohibited and ruining our good name?”
Some of us have no choice.
That’s what happens when a believer sells out to the indwelling Spirit of God. The way that seems right to me only leads to death (Proverbs 16:25 and 14:12), but Jesus has made it abundantly clear which way IS RIGHT for me:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40
When it comes right down to it, there’s no denying that for Jesus, it’s all about LOVE. When I follow Jesus, it follows that the defining characteristic of my every word and action will be…
Love for my God.
Love for my family.
Love for my friends.
Love for the rude and insulting.
Love for the cruel and the angry.
Love for the overlooked and ignored.
Love for the outsider.
Maybe it doesn’t really get better for those of us who are different, who don’t fit in. But maybe it can seem better over time, because the more we’re exposed to the fiery darts of the haters, the thicker our skin becomes. The lower our expectations are. The less surprised we allow ourselves to be by the looks and the whispers and the fingers that point.
Maybe it’s time we stop blaming teenagers for the failure of our families, our churches, our communities and our world to set the standard of care for others at least as high as the standard of care we expect for ourselves.
The words of Isaiah chapter 61 scream to be heard by Christians whose fingers have been stuck in their ears far too long:
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners…”
As followers of the One who was bullied to death, may we also rise again, pick up our crosses and shoulder the burden of our loving God:
“… to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”
Church! We can do better than “It Gets Better.” We can be more than just a talking head.
Bullies may wield a big stick and words intended to wound, but isn’t that what we’ve come to expect from this world? I’m tired of cowering in the shadows, afraid of catching the bully’s eye!
You may choose silence.
You may choose to pick a side.
But from this day forward, I MUST CHOOSE LOVE.