He Ain’t Evil, He’s My Brother

IMG_4466Danny knew he was going to get himself into trouble.  He was a pastor in the very conservative Southern Baptist Conference who made it very clear that homosexuality was a sin and would not be tolerated in their denomination.  Danny had been doing conversion therapy for the church helping folks see that homosexuality was simply a bad habit or addiction like alcoholism that could be “fixed.”  But Danny had met a lot of very nice LGBTQ folks and he suddenly found himself unable to discriminate against people who, like himself, had been made in God’s image.

Things especially changed for Danny when he was having coffee with a lesbian woman whom he was trying to convert into being straight when she pointed at a man sitting in the cafe and told Danny that she wanted him to develop feelings of physical attraction for the man.  Danny told her that such a thing was impossible and she pointed out that it was precisely that which he was asking her to do.  Nobody could develop an attraction for those whom it was unnatural for them to be attracted to. 

After this event, it became increasingly more difficult for him to look at these people and think of them as sinners who were any worse than he was.  So, he began to have intentional dialogue with those in the LGBTQ community.  He heard their stories, broke bread with them, shared coffee with them and walked away realizing that it was wrong to be discriminating against people on the basis of their orientation. 

As he continued to mull over how to pass the message along to his congregation without stirring the pot too much, Danny was driving his son home from school when a song about gay love came on the radio.  Danny turned the radio up and when the song was over, he turned to his son and said, “I kind of like that song.  What do you think about the whole ‘gay thing’?”  His 15 year-old son looked at him and said, “Dad, I’m gay.  I just never thought it was safe to tell you.”  That statement started a more intentional journey of love and inclusiveness for Danny.

Danny began to preach a message of acceptance to his congregation and told his church that he wanted to welcome LGBTQ people.  This earned him some quick backlash from both his congregation and his denomination.  The church eventually held a vote and the church split over the issue.  He was then summoned to Nashville to meet with the grand poobahs of the SBC.  As he sat across the table from the men who would revoke his credentials and the church’s status as an SBC church, he told them that he would never hate them nor talk poorly about them for what he knew they were about to do.

Jesus stood in the synagogue before a group of people who were amazed at his poise, his presence, the power that he exuded.  He spoke with authority and wisdom.  He didn’t talk down to people and give them demands; it wasn’t the type of authority that is dictatorial.  Instead it was a natural and confident message spoken from a place of knowing what is right and being passionate about it.  Just as the crowd was getting fired up, somebody in the back shouted, “What are you trying to do!?  Are you trying to get us killed?”  Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit within the man and it came out.

Was this a supernatural event?  Was the man possessed by a demon that hated Jesus?  That’s how we typically look at this story at the end of Mark 1 and that’s fine.  But, how about another way?  The key to this event is why the man became upset.  Jesus must have been saying something that got the man going.  Luke 4 sheds some light on the message that Jesus spoke in the synagogue as he quoted from the scroll of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come” (Luke 4:18-19).

In a congregation of Jews who had “an understanding” with the Roman government that if they behaved themselves and did what they were told, there would be no trouble.  No heroics.  No subversion.  Just sit quiet and you won’t get picked on.  Jesus was fully aware of this and so when the man heard that Jesus’s primary focus as a social prophet was to undo the oppression that the Romans were inflicting on a complacent and compliant people, the man knew there would be trouble.  “Have you come to destroy us!?  Why can’t you leave well enough alone?”  The kicker in this discourse is when the man says, “I know who you are, the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:21-28).  The man was fully aware who Jesus was and what he came to do, or what he came to show us to do.

Jesus could have easily had a debate with this man and perhaps he did.  The beautiful thing is that he doesn’t attack the man for his beliefs.  Jesus, through some act of persuasion that was apparently loving and understanding, convinced the man to change his mindset.  It wasn’t easy.  His spirit of dissension went kicking and screaming, but he finally changed his mind.  The gospel should be uncomfortable.  “God has anointed me to bring good news” – the gospel.  It’s no coincidence that John the Baptist and Jesus kept saying, “Repent!  Repent!” and the literal definition of repent is metanoia or to change one’s mind.  When the people saw that Jesus could even convince such a strongly opinionated man as this, “They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching – with authority!  He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’”

Jesus was gentle with the man.  He was a gentle healer.  He didn’t attack the man.  He didn’t tell him he was a stupid hate monger.  He loved the man and, in a loving way, helped the man to see the light.  Our job is not to tell folks how wrong and bad they are.  Our job is to love anyway, despite our disagreement, even in the face of obvious injustice. 

Did Danny force his church to become Open and Affirming and tell all the people who wanted to keep hating homosexuals that they can get out of his church and go to hell?  Nope.  In fact, when faced with the option of declaring his church Open and Affirming, he refused.  He even threatened to quit if the church went that way.  He said that his job was not only to love the oppressed, but even the oppressor.  Danny thought it would be hypocritical of him if he were to preach a message of inclusiveness and then exclude some because their own views were less than inclusive.  Instead of force, he chose love.

As much as we want to change the world to open its eyes to see things the way we see them, the way we think Jesus saw them, we need to love even those we have deemed to be the haters.  Amazing things can happen when understanding and acceptance is the message sent to those who would consider themselves our enemies.

When I was in Phoenix this past week, one of the speakers was Glennon Doyle Melton, a lady who has a blog called Momastery.  She was explaining that there was a woman named Debbie that posted a comment on her blog that seemed to be rather “right-wing” as Glennon is pretty liberal in both her politics and her religion.  After all, her motto is, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for he gave me Lexapro!”  The comment related to communion and basically said that those who do not see eye to eye on all of the church’s doctrines should be denied communion.   When Glennon read the comment, she about flipped and sat down to her computer to respond to Debbie that she should be ashamed of herself for being so closed minded and exclusive.  But before hitting “post” she took a deep breath, sat back, and waited.  She thought of her mantra: WWMVJD – What Would My Version of Jesus Do?  She realized that we all have our own version of Jesus and think that our ideas are correct.  Delete.  Delete. Delete.  She instead posted something along the lines of, “Although we disagree on many things, you are my sister.  I may not agree with your opinion, but I respect it and love you above opinions and ideologies.”  Debbie responded that she was sorry for being so harsh and asked if she could bake the bread for Glennon’s church’s communion that next Sunday.  The picture posted here is of one of the hundreds of cookies that Debbie baked to send along with Glennon to the conference because she knew she would be sharing their story.  Such is the kin-dom of God.  It is not that we all agree on everything, but rather that we live and love in kinship together despite our differences.

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2 Responses to “He Ain’t Evil, He’s My Brother”

  1. jon shimabukuro Says:

    Thanks for sharing. It is a beautiful piece on the attitude I want to adopt. That is the God we worship and the congregant I want to be in church.

  2. John Lovestrand Says:

    Heavy stuff, B.

    I am torn, between what seems to be the highest evolution of humankind (the ability to love thy enemy as thyself) and what appears to be the immediacy of now (regarding social change).

    On the one hand, I am blown away by the teachings of Jesus, or more recently the little I am coming to understand of Buddhism, that permits few among us the grace and humility to treat hatred with love, bigotry with understanding, intolerance with patience.

    On the other, I am reminded of Dr King’s advocacy of change, albeit non-violent, as evinced perhaps most eloquently in his Letter from Birmingham Jail.

    If memory serves (I read it in college, and then again last MLK Day, 2014, with my sons) Dr King authored an epistle to his fellow clergy refuting their notion of waiting until the situation was less volatile — to which he persuasively argued, essentially, procrastination would then always be the order of the day, and change may never come. In short, today is the day to affect that change; not tomorrow.

    Similarly I don’t think we would be experiencing progress in issues such as same sex marriage were it not for brave men and women who chose to take a stand and publicly rebuke the mistaken theological position in some walks of life that we simply need to “pray away the gay”.

    While I rejoice in anecdotes such as Danny’s, and do not mean to minimize their personal importance for those affected families, nevertheless recently civil rights advances in our country have been effectuated by and through people who did reject the notion that a person’s seat on the bus be relegated to the color of her skin, or more recently that another person’s life partner be restricted to the “time-honored” traditional views on marriage.

    And so I must also applaud those who draw a line in the sand, for themselves and their immediately affected cohorts — whether it be congregation or constituency.

    Simply put, sometimes it takes a rebel WITH a cause!

    After all, isn’t Jesus also said to have turned over the money tables in the temple, and to have chastised the money changers …?! 🙂

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