I have a friend in the ministry who likes to make the following opening: I was born this way. This is part of who I am. You cannot judge me for that. Then ask what he is talking about. It seems to me that perhaps we need to update that opening.
Looking at the arguments flying around the media, I cannot help but wonder about the Gay Marriage debaters and the Rebel Flag Debaters; because it seems to me that both sides are having a similar argument even as the sides seem to flip on the debates. On the one hand gay marriage advocates say this is who I am and you should not judge me; to be countered on the other hand by conservatives we say this is sin and so, yes I can. Then every swaps sides of the answer and we move on to the Rebel Flag debate.
If you are not with me yet; then lets muddy the waters a little more. Over the past decade we have seen a growth in people advocating homeopathic remedies. In advocating for their convictions, the homeo crowd say, “this is natural so it can’t be bad and this is manufactured so it has to be.” Yet I can think of millions of things that are “natural” and bad; while also picturing many things that are made but good. Cocaine is natural. So is tobacco. So is heroin. Yet most of us agree that they are bad. There are a great many drugs that are made; but preserve life. And most of us agree they are good. For the homeos, nature equals good and manufactured equals bad. But this equation just doesn’t work. Nature does not equal good; nor bad; and not even indifferent. Nature is. It just is. Not good. Not bad. Not neutral.
With this mind let us rethink the current hot topics. I am a lot of things: American, Southern, White, hetero, male, and so on. I did not choose these things. They were not planned. Some days, most days, I enjoy being any or all of them. They are privileges to each that I often take for granted. They are also days that I don’t quite enjoy them. When I see America needlessly invading another country, I am not as proud to be American. When I see other Southerners dressing up in blackface and not getting why the internets are angry, I get frustrated by my region of birth. And so on. Being me is not bad; not is it good; or even neutral. I am a murky mix, awash with pros and cons. My natural self is sometimes good, sometimes bad, and sometimes indifferent.
The Rabbi Abraham John Heschel once said that when he took comfort in the fact that when he died God would not ask why he was not Moses; just why he was not Abraham Heschel. I too take heart in this. When God comes back to set this world to right; he will not ask me why I was not the Apostle for whom I am named. He will judge me as Matthew Rickman. That is a comfort and a torment.
That is why I hate this main line of argumentation occurring in both debates. To be Southern is to some degree outside the “norm” of life in other parts of the country. We stand in a heritage and a past; one that is decidedly mixed. There are good parts to our heritage; and there is the bad. Our heritage just is. To be LGBT is to have sexual attractions different from the “norm.” There are good parts to sexual attraction and bad parts. To be LGBT is to just be.
Yet the issue for many of us is not being Southern or being LGBT. I could care less about who you are in these terms. I care about how you are living out these “natural” parts of who you are. Both can be lived out in ways that are robust, healthy, and dynamic. Both can be lived out in ways that confirm stereotypes and lead into sin. The debate is not about who you are; it’s how you’re living.
Yet this is something that we cannot see in either ourselves or our debate partners. When someone critiques the Rebel flag and Southern heritage saying that racism is wrong and sinful, some of us start yelling, “why do you hate Southerners?” Some start yelling “Southerners are weird and yucky.” We all start yelling about nature, original sin, and saying “YOU CAN’T JUDGE ME. THIS IS WHO I AM.” When someone states a conviction that sex outside of the boundary of marriage is wrong and sinful; some of us start yelling, “Why do you hate LGBT people?” Some start yelling back “all LGBT are weird and yucky.” We all start yelling about nature, original sin, and saying “YOU CAN’T JUDGE ME. THIS IS WHO I AM.”
And we get lost in all the noise. We cannot see the other for who they are. We cannot let the other see who we hope they can be. In our rush to offend and defend, we lose sight of what it is important. It is not what think about the rebel Flag. It is not my convictions about sex. What is important is helping each other lead better, more fulfilling, more honest, more healthy, more prosperous lives.
It makes me think. If we could just skip ahead, and pass this line of reasoning; maybe our discussions could be more profitable. Maybe it is time to stop making it so personal. Maybe we need to hear the other out without recrimination. Maybe we need to listen and give each other the grace we need and want.
it couldn’t make the debate worse, or less pointless.