Do Unto Others: The Sexual Identity Version

The subject of today’s post is something that’s been on my mind on and off for a couple of years now.

Individual identity is an odd thing. To an extent, we don’t choose our identities. I don’t choose to be female. I don’t choose to have white skin. I don’t choose to be attracted to men. And yet, I am all of those things. On the other hand, I choose to be a runner. I choose to be a writer. I choose to be an editor. I choose to be a Christian. So as a result, I am all of these things too.

When I was still living in Oklahoma, I became very good friends with a gay male. In the ensuing weeks and months, he and I had lots and lots of long discussions about his life and struggles as a gay Christian. Many of these interactions shaped the foundation of my current beliefs about homosexuality. One thing this friend said to me more than once, in defiance toward those who tried to put him in a box, was, “I’m gay, yes. But that’s not who I am. That’s not what defines me.” I always nodded sympathetically when he said this, but back then, I didn’t really understand what he meant by it.

Sometimes I even wanted to argue, “But that is who you are. How can you say it’s not? You. are. gay. Simple as that.” I’m glad I had the sense to hold my tongue at these times because he needed and wanted support, not a debate. He needed someone to be on his side. And I’m proud to say I faithfully was, even though I didn’t understand all the ins and outs at that point.

It’s been a couple of years since those conversations, and I think I finally understand the message my friend was trying to get across. Being gay is most assuredly part of what defines him. But it is not the sole definition. And what’s more, the basic sexual mechanics of what being gay entails isn’t even the sole definition of what it means to be gay. It just happens to be the part that Christians choose to get hung up on. What I’ve come to realize is that none of us is a sole definition. I get irritated when people try to shove me inside some boundary outlining who I’m supposed to be. I’m a Christian, yes. That doesn’t mean I’m a nutcase. The people I appreciate most in my life are the ones who give me room to live into my definitions of self  (whether chosen by me or imposed upon me) without forcing me to be confined or restrained by them.

I’m a writer, an editor. Yet sometimes (not often, mind you), I purposely use bad grammar.
I’m a runner. But I hate running, and I’m not going to sign up for tons of races around the city each year.
I love literature, but I hate poetry.
I’ve read a lot of books, but I haven’t read every book, and I haven’t enjoyed all the ones I have read, even the so-called classics.

I often get upset when people try to infringe characteristics upon me that aren’t me just because of their minimal acquaintance with or awareness of some part of my personality. When it comes to personalities, a may equal b, but b does not necessarily equal a. I am complex. I am capable of change. I am not static. I am not one dimensional. Please do not presume to know what I may or may not be like. Give me the courtesy of acceptance, just as I hope you feel I do for you.

I would be absolutely enraged if someone came to presumptuous conclusions about me based only on my sexual preference or orientation. What an extremely private portion of my life for you to think you have the right to delve into. If you found out that I am attracted to men and immediately began asking questions (in public or private) about my sexual lifestyle with men, I’d probably slap you. So why do so many think it’s okay to do that with gay people? Something all Christians would do well to remember: Homosexuality is not synonymous with sexual promiscuity.

There are definitely stereotypes, and some people easily and without question fulfill and perpetuate these stereotypes. But underneath that gay shell that many are so quick to condemn is a human being who loves and feels and hurts just as deeply as you or I. I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for those of my gay friends (and especially those who have chosen to remain Christians) who endure criticism and open ridicule from people who are supposed to be fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, fellow members of their communities, fellow humans on this earth. If you want a living example of grace and unconditional acceptance, spend some time in a gay community. I’m betting it won’t take you long to feel humbled by the amount of generosity and tenderness you find there. All are welcome. Know why? Because they know what it’s like to be pushed aside, ignored, condemned, and ridiculed.

It’s so interesting to me that we all know the Golden Rule but so few of us succeed in keeping it. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” does not mean that you get to think up hypothetical situations by which to justify your judgments of others. You don’t get to sit on a throne and say, If I *were* participating in this particular activity, I hope someone would rebuke me; therefore, I’m going to rebuke everyone *I* see doing it. Rather, you are required to say, Here is a person, just as I am a person. Jesus died for that person, just as Jesus died for me. And that’s really all you get to say.

After all, “Do unto others…” isn’t all that different a command from, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “Do Unto Others: The Sexual Identity Version

  1. Wow, I love this.

    That’s pretty much all I have to say about it, but thanks for writing this.

  2. Crissy

    YOU use bad grammar sometimes? Good thing God doesn’t judge people for that ;)

  3. b longfellow

    “it won’t take you long to feel humbled by the amount of generosity and tenderness you find there. All are welcome. Know why? Because they know what it’s like to be pushed aside, ignored, condemned, and ridiculed.”

    Excellent. I couldn’t help but think of the early pictures of the church as presented in scripture. People were sharing their lives, possessions, and money. It seems to have been a veritable communist utopia. (some people had more, some had less, and thus everyone had plenty.)

    There were also instances of persecution. But so much changed when the religion was officially endorsed by the empire in the 4th (?) century under Constantine, and we seem to have run a similar course ever since. Suddenly, we were supported by those in power, eventually even becoming the power-wielders ourselves.

    “Pushed aside, ignored, condemned, ridiculed.” Those are persecutions most of us are left to imagine, at least in any significant portion. And here, it seems one of the beatitudes must certainly apply to the gay community much more than to myself. “Blessed are they . . . ”

    Not exactly a smooth train of thought, but how I’ve arrived here nonetheless.

    A friend preached a chapel message at Biola University recently entitled “The Church, Singleness, and Homosexuality.” (It can be found with a Google search of the same words.) He too, talked about the idea that any aspect of who we are is only that, one aspect among many (single, gay, etc.), and our identity as the beloved of God is what ultimately defines us. Some of his suggested conclusions may not sit well with liberal-minded Christians, for lack of better term, but Audra, you’ve encapsulated the most important part of what he had to say, I believe: if the church isn’t willing to welcome and love each individual (single adults, gay men and women, and etc. if you want), it has no business preaching the gospel. Love is God’s news, and it is the first news we are to live. For each other, for all, with joy and hope.

    • Hey Brian,

      Communist utopia, yes. If only, if only…

      I will have to look up that chapel message sometime, thanks for the heads up.

      And I completely agree about “Blessed are they…” I think there are many stuffy Christians who will be surprised by the people they find in heaven. Actually, I don’t think that. I think they WOULD be surprised if they had the capacity for surprise in heaven, but I don’t think we WILL have that capacity because judgment and things like that will not exist in heaven because they will have no place there. To paraphrase Rob Bell, those things simply won’t be ABLE to exist in heaven. It just won’t be possible.

      Thanks for your thoughts!

  4. Reese

    I love the part where you said “I am an editor. I am a runner. etc.” I think people are things but that doesn’t mean they follow all the stereotypes associated with that “thing.” Still, I have to admit that stereotypes often do prove, if not true, then at least not completely false.
    I’ll say that I do have a hard time not judging people based on one thing I’ve heard or seen, and I am often surprised by people, which is fun. But I suppose one might say (and maybe you’re saying) that I shouldn’t have to be “surprised” in the first place.
    Maybe that didn’t make sense at all. I suppose thinking about it in the hopes that I could post an educated comment didn’t help me as much as I would have hoped.
    Don’t judge me for being confusing :)

    • Yes, Reese, stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason, that is true. But, like you said, it doesn’t mean people can’t break the mold every now and again. I agree that nobody should have to be surprised in the first place, but I don’t think you’re alone in that. I think we all do the same thing. I know I do. I have found that I am a terrible judge of first impressions. I have learned that everybody deserves multiple chances with me because I have never yet been right in my judgment of someone’s character from a first impression. (My negative first impressions have almost always turned out to be wrong, and some of my positive ones have been too!)

      You weren’t confusing. I’m just glad you’ve dispensed with your attempts at italics! :)

  5. This is a beautiful post. I have a very close friend who is homosexual. The term gay is kinda, well… I don’t know, in reality that word means HAPPY and we all love happy. :-)

    I do struggle at times with religion and alternative lifestyles (the media and world’s term, not mine). But my friend is a fantastic person.

    A priest once said (catholic) that the catholic church preaches to love the person but not to condone the activity. That could and should realistically apply to everyone.

    So, I try to recognize a person for and as a person. I have friends and family who are and are not on that page. But, I go with the good and pray for love and understanding for the rest along the way.

    Again, this is a great post but it could apply to so many other biases.

    • Hey FW, thanks for your comment!

      I think that your priest is at least right in that we should love the person. But I think we should stop right there. The activity is none of our business. The sin is none of our business. Judgment is none of our business. That is all God’s business. I believe it is our duty to love people as Christ loved us and leave everything else up to the Father. After all, that’s kind of what he’s there for, isn’t it? At least partly.

      And yes – it CAN apply to many other biases. But, just as racism was the biggest erroneous sin of Christians in the ’60s and prior, I believe the mistreatment and condemnation of homosexuals is that same thing today.

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