One of the best new shows this season has definitely been the screwball comedy known as Raising Hope. This blue collar comedy from the boys behind My Name is Earl are back with another madcap comedy featuring working class dimwits with hearts of gold (or least gold plated hearts). Tonight’s episode was a great example of a comedic plot with a deft touch of respect and love for the crazies at the heart of the madness. In tonight’s show Jimmy gets a surprise visit from check-out girl crush Sabrina, but she seems more interested in looking at the family photo book than sitting in the sofa pit. Looking at said photos reveals all kinds of Chance family craziness as Mom Virginia’s desires for just one moment of sanity captured on film are rebuffed by the inabilities of the Chance family to behave like ‘normal’ folk for the one second it takes for the shutter to open and close. The one ‘perfect’ picture comes courtesy of the red light cam which keeps the family mid-rendition of Dad Burt’s favorite song (as inspired by MawMaw’s off-key version). Looking at the picture Sabrina admits that the perfect smiles of her family are the epitome of hyped tolerance and acceptance of social standards; while the Chances’ forced grins on picture day, and smiles upon reconnecting after another stomach-churning, hair-eating (don’t ask) day at the photo shop reveal moments of true love, respect and joy. This stubborn, and crazy insistence upon being real with one another is enduring enough to cause her to skip a nice chat with her perfect boyfriend to have dinner (it’s TV dinner night at the Chase household) with her imperfect hosts.
This episode about acceptance and true familial bonds seemed an apt episode to come the day after National GLBT tolerance day. The ongoing debate over “gay rights” continues to burn as hot as the hatred of Jimmy, Burt, and MawMaw for family picture day. The GLBT groups state that they just want the space to hold the rights of other Americans. Members of the opposition claim that they cannot support such contests because the GLBT wants not rights but acceptance (something cannot on good conscience do). Both sides are right about the desires of their varied legislative and judicial thrusts and parrys. Much like the Chance family, the photo op (passing the bill, winning the case) is about more than the photo op, it’s about that for which the photo op stands. The GLBT does want the rights, they feel are denied. Yet, if they were to be honest, they also want more than to be just tolerated and given these rights, their aim is broader, they, do, want to be accepted by American polite society. This seemingly vast difference between the two aims incites some little rage and ill will on the right much as the pressure of Virginia wanting something more from photo day elicits stress from the Chance men.
So what can we do, how to break this seeming impasse? I cannot speak to all the issues at the hearts of those in the GLBT (as I am a heterosexual male); but I can speak to the hearts of those who claim, like myself, to be followers of Christ (and more often involved in blocking rights legislation and passing definitions of marriage into law). For one thing, I feel we need to step back a minute and ask what it is that the GLBT asks from us, and just what we have to give. We most all hold to us conscience on the meaning of marriage as defined by scripture, but we also must look to our conscience as to the definitions defined by our agreed upon Constitution. Do we believe that all men are created equal with the equal right to pursue life, liberty, and happiness? Do we believe that all men are created in the image of almighty God and desiring of certain inalienable rights? If we do then we must admit that all men means all men. We cannot pick and chose who gets what rights under the legal framework of our country. We can choose to live lives based on different sexual mores, but we cannot choose to discriminate against, demean, or destroy the lives of those who have chosen different lifestyles. This is, I think, a moral issue in and of itself; yet has great practical value. Our own scriptures state that we will be judged by the same standards we apply to others. When we judge harshly the “sins” of another; we are asking God to judge our “sins” in a similar manner. We must not be the man freed from a 1000 dollar debt, only to imprison another for owing $100. The GLBT states that they deserve the rights which the government gives us, and they are right to demand them, and we would be right to give them willingly and maybe even lovingly.
There is, however, another issue at play. Beyond simple tolerance of the GLBT, there is the issue of love and acceptance. A column I read recently stated an obvious but often overlooked coda: no one wants to be simply tolerated; everyone wants to be loved. To be tolerated is the most odious of situations. In our childhood, many of us have been a kid in a room with a grown-up that “tolerated” our presence. In our adulthoods, many of us have been “tolerated” by a classmate, associate, or in-law. Any of us who have been tolerated can attest to the horrors of such polite behavior (just ask Gaylord Focker). Here we must confess they we have made a horrible mess of things (worse even than our support for issues which infringe upon basic rights like health insurance, or equal opportunity in the workplace).
So what would it mean to provide the love and acceptance that the GLBT asks? This is the point of the essay at which I bring out the big guns by saying we are called to love the sinner, and hate the sin. Yet in many ways this only amounts to the crummy kind of tolerance at which many of us have rightly bristled. It also does not seem to be the kind of thing I can see Jesus, himself, saying. For one thing such a separation is impossible to make, especially when the ‘sinful’ party sees their ‘sin’ as a key part of their own identity. For another the demand we make for GLBT people ‘to get their lives right’ before approaching Christ and His church is, pardon the expression, bass aackwards. None of us have gotten our stuff together yet, much yet had all our moral issues worked out before becoming Christ followers. No Christ, himself, met us where we were and has begun the practice of following Him to where we are going. We need to allow this same journey to be made by our friends in the GLBT. We need to meet them in love and accept them for who they are now. We need to introduce them to our Savior and initiate them into conversation with Him about what their lives will mean from that moment forward. Talking about these issues with a friend last night, she remarked, “I can’t dog someone for trying to find happiness.” Nor such we. A long and honest dialogue needs to be had between us, our friends and relatives, and our God. This promises to be a long dialogue and at any given time, no one party may seem to be living up to their responsibilities, but we should fret not and judge not. This also promises to be a hard and tough dialogue in which we are called to give up things that we think may provide temporal happiness in order to attain the lasting and true joy that comes from following Christ. For a heterosexual Christian like myself that may mean giving up deep-seated hatreds, and discomforts around those whose sexuality differs from mine. And for anyone member of the GLBT, that may mean, well we have plenty of time to talk about that (and that is solely up to you to weigh out and decide for yourselves).
In the meantime let us think back about the lessons learned from the Chance family portraits. It is OK to disagree. It is OK to have fights, and say mean things in moment, but when MawMaw starts singing the dingaling song, we all have to smile, join in, and smile for the camera (even if it is a redlight camera costing us a $200 ticket). Because that’s what families do. They fuss and fight about what’s right, but in the end they allow each other to be real, and to be themselves. And above all they love each other regardless of who’s right and wrong. We love each other in spite of our imperfections, and that is a good enough (if not perfect) message to share on a day of tolerance.