Precious God, Forgive Them, Because They KNOW What They’re Doing

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Posted on January 29, 2015 by Marg Herder

This post is the last of the series of posts inspired by the 2015 Gay Christian Network conference held in Portland, Oregon.  The series introduction is here.

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girl prayingI’ve always argued that if the Christians who oppose our equality only understood the extent to which they were hurting us, they would stop.

My argument went like this:

Christians have been isolating themselves from us for so long that they just can’t know how bad it is.  In conservative or evangelical Christianity, the first thing that happens when someone comes out (as LGBTQ) is that other Christians turn away from us. They restrict access and build walls with rules and invalidation.

Since we’ve been exiled in the first act, nobody among the group that banished us ever knows what happens next.  We’re not around.  They don’t see the anguish in our eyes, or sit with us as we cry.

There’s nothing in what Jesus taught that condones hurtful behavior. The Gospel doesn’t urge us to wound each other.  The Gospel urges us to love and breathe life into ourselves, our neighbors, and the world.

So, I reasoned, if the Christians really were followers of Jesus and knew they were hurting us, they would stop.

But after spending a weekend with over a thousand LGBTQ Christians at the 2015 Gay Christian Network conference, and listening to story after story of injury and thoughtlessness, I am ready to admit that my previous explanation of Christians’ unawareness as an excuse for the pain inflicted is certainly no longer true.

Today, the evidence that Christian judgment and unkind behavior results in emotional injury— and sometimes even causes LGBTQ people to kill themselves, as we witnessed recently with Leelah Alcorn’s suicide— is clear and persuasive.  It’s only personal and institutional denial that enables people to pretend they don’t know the results of their injurious words and actions.

With all the LGBTQ people courageously coming out in conservative Christian settings, with all the information available freely on the internet and through print and broadcast media, with our new host of educators and speakers (both LGBTQ people and allies) reaching out to conservative and evangelical Christians, it would be impossible for someone to miss the obvious wounding of our people.

I am convinced that something that may once have been invisible is now visible. And yet the violent campaign of words and actions continues.

Perhaps those who hurt us see our pain and dismiss it as the wages of our sin.  Perhaps this is why they seem not to feel any responsibility.  Perhaps those who hurt us feel they have a divine mandate to make our lives uncomfortable.  Maybe they figure if our lives are comfortable— if we feel integrated, safe, and loved— we’ll have no motivation to return to what they determine to be the acceptable way of living our lives.

But these rationalizations don’t change the fact that they know we are in pain.

There are Christian parents who think the sobs of their children are an indication of how committed they are to fighting sin in their child.  These Christian parents disregard the pain they see with their own eyes, while saying only, “How can I make you stop sinning.”  Never saying, “How can I help you stop hurting?”

They know their child is in pain.

There are Christian leaders who have learned that fear mongering and creating and promoting outrageous claims about LGBTQ people, our community, and our intentions (the lie of the “Gay Agenda” is only one example) are useful and productive marketing and fundraising tools.

They know their actions cause a tidal wave of wounding in faith communities. They know.  But they don’t  show any evidence of caring.

Hurting LGBTQ people with words or actions is not acceptable behavior. It’s not “freedom of religion.”  It’s not “freedom of speech.”  It’s hurting people.

I’m not talking about what people believe, I’m talking about what people do.  People are free to believe what they will.  But it’s not okay to hurt a group of people because you disagree with them, or because you don’t approve of them.  It’s not okay.

As long as I believed in my heart that they just didn’t know, I was able to engage.  I was able to patiently explain the case for speaking and behaving in a more loving manner.  I was able to say, “It’s better to err on the side of love.”  I was able to say, “Ask me anything.”  I was able to believe that God had called me to try to help Christian people understand they were wounding people like me deeply, and doing so in the name of Her son.

But I no longer believe that they just don’t know.

They know.

And I don’t care what kind of mental gymnastics keeps them from integrating that understanding.  It doesn’t matter.  What matters is that they see our pain and it doesn’t move them.  They see us hurt; they see us begging them, as fellow believers, to love us. And they are unmoved.

We’ve been providing convincing biblical arguments for almost 40 years.  We’ve been telling our stories, asking for an end to this war on our souls.  And they remain unmoved.

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Luke 10:25-37 (NIV)

I thank God for Letha Dawson Scanzoni, Kristyn Komarnicki, Susan and Rob Cottrell, Wendy Gritter, David Gushee, Danny Cortez, and all the other straight evangelicals who understand we are their neighbors, and who minister to us by doing what they can to end the Christian assault on LGBTQ people.

I cannot express the depth of my gratitude.

But for me, I’m going to turn my attention toward my own people.  I’m going to try to figure out how to help the wounded among us move through our trauma and pain to become the extraordinary spiritual human beings that Christ/Sophia created us to be.

I know that She forgives the Christians who know what they do, when they see us lying wounded by the road and show no mercy.  I know She forgives them.

Maybe with Her help I’ll be able to, someday, as well.

© 2015 by Marg Herder

 Index of GCN 2015 Conference Content on Christian Feminism Today

Introduction to the #GCNConf Series
Introduction to weconnect Featured Speaker Wendy Gritter
Interview with weconnect Featured Speaker Wendy Gritter
The Wall of Love at the Gay Christian Network Conference (on the Patheos Emerging Voices blog)
An Opportunity to Practice Grace and Love (guest post by Criselda Marquez)
Trauma and the LGBTQ Christian
Our Job Starts and Stops with Loving Each Other
Together At the Table: Inclusive Communion and Intimate Conversations (guest post by Erica Lea)
The Words of the LGBTQ Christian Experience
Precious God, Forgive Them, Because They KNOW What They’re Doing
The Gay Christian Network Conference: The Kingdom of God Unfolding (guest post by Marcy Bain)

Links:

Gay Christian Network Website
Conference Website
Livestream Conference Plenaries (Jeff Chu, Danny Cortez, Vicky Beeching, Justin Lee)

Social Media:
The hashtag to use is #GCNConf
Conference Twitter Feed Follow @gcnconf
Gay Christian Network Conference Facebook Page
Gay Christian Network Conference Instagram Page

 

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Marg Herder
Marg Herder is the Director of Public Information for EEWC-CFT, a Christian feminist organization working for gender (and LGBTQIA) justice in Christianity since 1974. She is the content manager and developer of the organization’s website, Christian Feminism Today. Marg identifies as a trans* lesbian writer, musician, and feminist spiritual seeker. She works to draws attention to the ongoing violence directed at women and LGBTQIA people in this “Christian” society, the desperate need for an understanding of God that includes the Divine Feminine, and Christ/Sophia’s desire that each of us move deeper into our own practice of non-violence.

5 COMMENTS

  1. PS The list grows. Christians may hurt those they view as sinners because
    1) They think sin deserves pain.
    2) They think pain may cause someone to give up sin.
    3) Fundraising overrides all other concerns, including the well-being of another person.
    4) Hurting people hurt people.
    and
    5) They are following orders from someone in authority, whom they think they should obey despite any instinct to feel for the person whom they are hurting.
    6) … (There are more reasons, no doubt)
    7) …

    This “following orders” possibility for hurting others came up in my adult ed class at church today, where a psychologist (Mark Baker) spoke on “Are people good or bad? Can people change?” He discussed the Stanford Prison Study by Philip Zimbardo (students obeying instructions to be prison guards almost torturing the students being prisoners–The Lucifer Effect, 2007). He also mentioned the electric shock study by Stanley Milgram and–on the positive side–the beautiful work done to treat prisoners well at Angola Prison in Louisiana.

    His point was that we are fundamentally relational, situational people. When immersed in a bad situation under an authority figure, most will do and say some horrendous things. When immersed in a situation of respect and human dignity, people (even convicted killers) do better than we could ever imagine.

    It’s another reason to give dignity and respect to all persons, LGBTQ, whatever race or class. As soon as we start to hate and hurt others, we reproduce the whole Nazi thing.

  2. Marg, thank you for this last reflection on your weekend attending the 2015 Gay Christian Network conference in Portland.

    Your words are very moving: “…they see our pain and it doesn’t move them. They see us hurt; they see us begging them, as fellow believers, to love us. And they are unmoved.”

    You consider the reality that some Christians probably do know they are hurtful in their opposition to LGBT people but nevertheless continue to cause pain. You cite three possible reasons for this choice: 1) that sin deserves pain, 2) that pain may cause someone to give up sin, and 3) that fundraising is more important than any pain inflicted.

    I’d like to propose another possible cause for Christians inflicting pain: They themselves are in so much pain that they feel entitled to overlook the pain of others. As Virginia Ramey Mollenkott has told me on occasion, “Hurting people inflict hurt.”

    The sources of the pain people carry can be many: the death of a parent or child, abuse experienced in childhood, the end of a marriage, the loss of a job or of self-esteem, or any other kind of loss. This free-floating pain can cloud thinking and result in a feeling of entitlement and in lashing out at innocent persons for no rational reason.

    I applaud your decision: “I’m going to try to figure out how to help the wounded among us move through our trauma and pain to become the extraordinary spiritual human beings that Christ/Sophia created us to be.”

    God has called you to that work, and at some point you will be given the gift of a forgiving heart even toward those who know what they do. Probably it will come from a one-to-one encounter that opens your eyes to the pain behind someone’s irrational hatred. Don’t worry about when or if it comes. Just trust Her.

  3. Don’t assume non-LGBTQ really understand the pain merely because they see it from the outside. Clearly most of us are starting to become aware because of the sudden and rapid changes in attitudes throughout the United States (even in “Bible Belt” areas of the nation) accepting LGBTQ lifestyles. Most of us see racism around us; but not being a recipient of the racism, it is difficult to see the subtle, less obvious examples of racism. It is difficult to feel the pain of anyone who has been marginalized. We are starting to get it. Don’t give up on educating Christians to recognize the pain and reminding us all that Jesus’ message was not about judging others but rather to love our neighbors. This is difficult for many to do because of references in other parts of the Bible that seem to condemn homosexuality. Helping educate and put in context those biblical sections and to remind Christians that Jesus did not say those words (and He could have but didn’t) will eventually open the minds and hearts of more Christians.

  4. I think your article confuses the real issues. I think most Christians do. People know how we are called to treat sinners, and how we all often fail to say, neither do I condemn you to all manner of sinners. The core of this debate is not is it OK to hurt each other, or does God forgive us, or how we should treat one another when we disagree on important issues. The fundamental issue here is; is homosexuality a sin? If you look at the history of the church this is not the only issue that has divided us and caused differences of interpretation to drive new denominations of Christians. Everything else you describe is just what happens when sinners can’t see eye to eye. But writing off people you see as sinning to focus on your own people sounds an awful lot like the title of this article.

  5. Thank you for this thoughtful and heartfelt reflection. I agree that many Christians do know what they are doing when they hurt and persecute us. In many ways they are no different than the Roman guards that brutally tortured, humiliated and crucified Jesus. Those guards knew that they were inflicting horrible pain upon Jesus, yet Jesus was able to look at them and forgive them – forgiveness that had not been asked for, but freely given. Forgiveness does not excuse in appropriate behavior, but it releases the power of that inappropriate behavior; it frees the heart of the wounded so that it can openly love – regardless if that love is returned or even acknowledged.

    Forgiveness is not easy, because it asks the wounded to let go of their wounds and see through the eyes of compassion. There have been many times when I have read the crucifixion narrative in the gospels and would say, “What do you mean by saying they do not know what they do? They knew full well what they were doing.” Yet Jesus was able to look beyond what was on the surface – what was visible – and look deep into the heart and see the wounds and ignorance that is there, but also see the glimpse of the Divine essence that is there as well – the Divine love that was being covered up.

    Yes we need to focus our attention on helping one another through the pain, but part of that process is finding a way to forgive, let go, and move forward – regardless of what does or does not change in the persons that have caused the wounds. If we choose to wait until “they” change, then we are letting them be in control of our healing. I have lt them be in control of my life for too long, and I will no longer let them dictate how and when I will find healing. This doesn’t mean I will not continue to be hurt in some ways, but I am no longer dependent upon their response. So I can love them and wish them well, knowing in my heart that we are one in Christ – even though they are not able to acknowledge that oneness. My faith is no longer dependent upon them accepting or welcoming me; my faith is dependent upon God’s love.

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