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Disclaimer: The following stories were told to me by a coworker, who is gay and has lived her entire life in an area of the country where religion rules and equality for gays falls by the wayside. Names have been changed.

Kerry and Susan, recently married in Ontario, Canada, returned to their home in Georgia. In their town, jobs are hard to come by—especially jobs that correspond to their education and interests. As a newlywed couple, they found the first jobs available and moved into a small apartment. They couldn’t afford much–but its coziness couldn’t be matched. Susan found a wonderful little bedroom set on Craigslist for a little over a hundred dollars; Kerry bought a small television at Goodwill. Happiness, for them, came from the love that they share. Their apartment may not have ceiling fans or a dishwasher, but they didn’t care. Susan goes to the library to use the computers. She checks do-it-yourself sites for cheap homemade furnishings and decorating ideas and writes them down. Occasionally, when she gets a few extra coins in the tip jar at work, she prints off some of the pictures—in black-and-white, of course. The color pages at the library cost an extra ten cents to print. Kerry’s position at the local supermarket is less lucrative, but somehow they make ends meet.

Their life together would be much easier, of course, if they didn’t have the legal fees. You see, Susan was married before and has a young son, Samuel. Susan’s ex-husband, Mike, is a car mechanic and a drunk—and is fighting Susan for custody of two-year old Samuel. The custody battle has been vicious and ugly—and Susan and Kerry aren’t sure if they can continue fighting for custody with their limited income. The newlyweds have a home, but without Sam, their home seemed incomplete.

 ****************

Across town, Billie and Jordan have been together for several years and are enjoying financial stability for the first time in their relationship. Billie has been working at the local discount store for several years as a part time employee—it was the only place that hired her after her injury, and even though the pay is low, she remains loyal to the company for hiring her. The source of their financial stability, however, comes from Jordan’s new job as a custodian in the local prison. Benefits, full-time hours: it’s everything they needed in this difficult economy. That is, until Billie fell again.

 ****************

James still remembered the first time he saw his daughter.

She took her first breath and unlike other newborns, she didn’t cry. She looked up at the doctor, wide-eyed, and then squinted to shield her eyes from the light that she was seeing for the first time.

The doctor looked at James, “It’s a beautiful girl. Would you like to hold her, dad?”

James, with tears leaking from his eyes, couldn’t muster a response. He nodded as the doctor gently handed over his daughter. They had waited so long for this baby—so many treatments, so many years—and he was finally holding his daughter in his arms.

James thought about that moment as he drove home. Louise, his beautiful daughter, was now finishing her last year of high school. He wiped away tears as he drove. How is he going to explain to her that her mother left? How is he going to explain why she did? He could never show Louise the note that her mother left behind.

James,

By the time you read this, I’ll be gone. You will never see me again, and Louise won’t either. I can’t take it. I can’t raise a daughter that will never have children. That will never have a boyfriend. Where did we go wrong? Where did I go wrong? How could our daughter be gay? Good luck Jim. I guess you can handle her sin, but I can’t and neither can God.

Mary Beth

 ****************

When Billie fell, Jordan panicked. She had to get to work, but Billie could be injured badly and needed to get to a hospital. Billie had a medical condition—every once in a while, she would simply faint. But this time was different. When Billie fainted, she collapsed and her head hit the corner of the coffee table.  There was a lot of blood on the carpet, but Jordan knew that she had to get Billie to the emergency room—she was still unconscious. Billie’s insurance didn’t cover ambulance rides. Jordan would just have to explain to her boss, the head custodian of the prison, that it was an emergency.  She wrapped Billie’s head in a towel to stop the bleeding and lifted her into the backseat of her beat-up Corolla and sped to the hospital.

 ****************

Kerry and Susan have come to a crossroads. The judge presiding over the custody case for little Sam has a strict ideology about situations like theirs. Judge Phillips, Susan’s lawyer explains, does not believe that a household led by two women can adequately raise a young boy. The prospects do not look good. Their legal marriage from Canada does them no good in Georgia .There is a likely chance that Susan’s ex-husband will be rewarded full custody of little Samuel, despite the evidence of his drinking. Judge Phillips might also decide to award custody to the State and send Samuel into the foster system. The lawyer has one last idea: if Kerry and Susan live separately, the judge might change his mind. He has some precedent of awarding custody in such situations to single mothers.

Kerry and Susan, despite their finances, find an apartment for Kerry nearby, and tearfully they move her out into a separate home, despite the fact that they can barely make ends meet as it is.

 ****************

James wants to send Louise to college but can barely afford it, now that he is a single parent. He still hasn’t told Louise the reason her mother left—and doesn’t plan to. He can’t bear the thought of her feeling guilt over her mother’s absence.

James takes on a second job that takes him away from home almost every night. When his wife left, she took their second income with her.

Louise, having been abandoned by her mother, now rarely sees her father. She cries herself to sleep almost every night, wishing things could go back to how they were.

 ****************

Kerry and Susan can’t afford to live apart. Their two incomes simply don’t support their two apartment payments. Kerry’s parents live in Pennsylvania and they offer to take her back in during the custody battle.

The once-happy newlyweds who dreamed of their life together on their long drive back from their wedding weekend in Ontario now live separately in Georgia and Pennsylvania.

Susan cries herself to sleep every night, all alone in their apartment, as she wishes she could see her son and her wife. She wonders if life will ever be like the dreams that they once shared.

 ****************

Jordan races to the hospital and admits Billie into the Emergency Room. After Billie is taken into an examination room, Jordan calls her boss at the prison to explain that she had to rush her partner to the hospital. He asks her to meet with him early the next morning—and adds that she shouldn’t bother to dress in her normal custodial uniform.

Billie, thankfully, only has a mild concussion and gets twenty-seven stitches. As they drive home, they worry about Jordan’s meeting with her boss the following morning, aware that it will probably be her last day in her new job that allowed them their first taste of financial security.

 ****************

Susan and Kerry have now lived apart for nearly a year and have grown apart. They cannot afford plane tickets and cannot afford the time off work to make the long drive from Georgia to Pennsylvania. They haven’t seen each other since the separation.

After several months of depression about their situation, Kerry and Susan find that the tears don’t flow as easily anymore. They cry less at sappy movies. Their conflicting hours at their jobs don’t allow them to talk on the phone very often, and six months into their separation, the custody battle is still unfinished.

 ****************

In most states, an employee cannot be terminated for missing work due to a spouse-related medical emergency. In most states, a gay couple cannot legally become spouses.

Jordan was fired from her job for missing her shift to drive Billie to the hospital.

 ****************

Louise never saw her father after he picked up the second job. She began spending time with people who led her into some bad situations—and even though her father picked up the second job to be able to afford her college tuition, Louise ended up in jail for drug possession after high school instead of a college dorm.

James used some of the money he had been saving to post his daughter’s bail on the night she got booked.

He had been working particularly long hours recently. When he picked her up at the jail, it was the first time he had seen Louise in over three weeks. Neither of them had seen Louise’s mother since she left.

 ****************

Kerry and Susan, after more than a year apart, decided to end their relationship. Living apart, not being able to see each other, and the stress of the custody battle proved to be too much for their young marriage to bear. Not long after, custody of three-year-old Samuel gets awarded to the state, as Judge Phillips deemed Susan an unfit mother due to the fact that she will never have a man in her life to be a father to the little boy.

She still lives by herself in Georgia.

 ****************

Epilogue: If you thought these stories were going to have happy endings, then I am sorry for letting you down. But this is the environment for too many people in this country, a country that claims it is the land of the free. Inequality can be tangibly measured, in things like custody battles and terminations from jobs. It can also be an immeasurable force—such as the devastation a family feels after a mother leaves because she can’t stomach the idea of her daughter being gay.

The state of Washington has a unique opportunity to be on the cutting edge of equality this Tuesday. Legal marriage is just a step to erase the stigma that LGBT people feel every day in this country, but most certainly a step in the right direction.

In speaking with just a few LGBT people here in Georgia and South Carolina, I realize even more fully that the people of Washington state have a huge opportunity. Referendum 74 is a step forward on an issue that LGBT folks here in the South could only dream of.

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Homosexuality is one of the most hotly contested issues in America today. Between marriage rights to theological debates to scientific analysis, this issue doesn’t look to resolve itself anytime soon. And typically, when there are these types of issues that find a familiar set of (different) demographics on each side of the issue, there are going to be factions that form outside of the realm of debate. One of the most obvious examples is the role of mainstream Christianity in the debate.

Christians have traditionally held the view that homosexuality goes against God’s intention for humanity. I say this not to validate the viewpoint—rather, it’s an important acknowledgement to understand the historical context. I also would hesitate to use the fact that it’s “always been this way” as a validation in itself. Christianity has a history marred with historical precedent that eventually gives way to progressive societal norms. Incest (Abraham), polygamy (too many biblical characters to name here), slavery (an overwhelming majority of pro-slavery arguments made during the Civil War era used Scripture as a divinely-inspired defense), Holy wars (too many instances to name here, from the Old Testament to Bible verses engraved on guns during the United States involvement in Iraq)—all of these prove that historical precedent of mainstream JudeoChristian thought/practice is hardly a reason to continue other antiquated practices.

However, what if there is an angle to the whole debate that both sides seem to be missing?

There are 5-6 passages in Scripture that seem to address homosexuality (or, at least, some realm of homosexual behavior). The interpretation of these verses is under debate, with most Christian Biblical scholars falling on one side and most secular Biblical scholars falling on the other.

But what if, in this modern era, the interpretation doesn’t matter? (Disclaimer: I think it does matter, not necessarily for the cause of homosexuality but for the overarching theme of Scripture misuse/mis-scholarship.)

What if everyone is getting the foundation of this debate entirely wrong?

Anti-homosexuality advocates frame the debate utilizing specific gender assignments. For them, men are to be with women and women are to be with men. By this uniformly understood view, everyone on our planet—and everyone ever created—is either a man or a woman. Every human ever created falls into either the category of “man” or “woman.” It has to be this way, right? Because “male and female (God) created them.”

The whole premise rests on this—philosophically, it has to. For a philosophical idea to maintain its soundness, it has to be followed to the infinite implications. And to define marriage, or love, as something that can only exist between a man and a woman, we have to have clear, unequivocal definitions of what “male” and “female” are that applies to every human being. If the definitions break down at all, then the argument is not sound. The totality of the anti-homosexual stance rides on the unequivocal belief that there is a clear distinction between the two genders. Gender itself has to be defined by two clear, separate groups. A human being is either one or the other.

However, this is most definitely not the reality.

 Gender, despite the primitive definition of the word, is not a dualistic lens through which every human being can be clearly designated. In fact, as we are learning more and more about the intricacy of the human body and its development, there is becoming an increasing understanding amongst the medical world that gender, instead of being a situation of being “one or the other,” is actually a scale of extremes. In this scale of extremes, “male” is a designation of one side and “female” is a designation of the other. Humanity, however, cannot be so neatly categorized—every individual falls somewhere on the scale between male and female. A growing number of studies have identified a human biology that doesn’t follow the precedent of the male/female dichotomy. The term for this gray area is “intersex,” and it is being widely recognized as a key factor in the gender stereotype debate. In short, intersex is the area on the scale between “male” and “female” that doesn’t neatly fit either category—and a significant portion of the human population is born in this gender gray area, where phenotypically understood definitions do not apply.

Intersex can occur in a number of different ways that are typically classified as disorders. These disorders occur in a number of ways and can be a result of genetics, hormones, and others. Allow me to give a rundown of the biology.

Humans are given a chromosomal designation. Women are (typically) created from two ‘X’ chromosomes, while men are (typically) created from and ‘X’ and a ‘Y’ chromosome. The mother always provides the first ‘X,’ while each of the father’s sperm carries either an ‘X’ or a ‘Y.’ The embryo, after the fertilization of the egg creates a zygote, is phenotypically asexual until roughly seven weeks after fertilization. Hormones begin taking over, and in typical biological processes, the physical distinction between male and female becomes more divergent up until birth.

Essentially, there are two basic ways to determine the gender of a human. You can look at the chromosomal nature: is the person XX or XY? You can also look at the physical evidence (genitalia, gonads) and phenotypically determine if the person is male or female.

However, this is not always the case—and the combinations of biological variance are all important. There are cases where human can be born with an incorrect designation of chromosomes—instead of XX or XY, the individual may be born XXY—or a person can be born with physical evidence of both male and female gonads/genitalia. There are many combinations thereof and I won’t go into all of them.

Anne Fausto-Sterling is one of the premier chroniclers of gender ambiguity today. In her book Sexing the Body, she writes that “While male and female stand on the extreme ends of a biological continuum, there are many bodies […] that evidently mix together anatomical components conventionally attributed to both males and females. The implications of my argument for a sexual continuum are profound. If nature really offers us more than two sexes, then it follows that our current notions of masculinity and femininity are cultural conceits. […] Modern surgical techniques help maintain the two-sex system. Today children who are born ‘either/or-neither/both’ — a fairly common phenomenon — usually disappear from view because doctors ‘correct’ them right away with surgery.”

This is the kicker though—according to the Intersex Society of North America, between 1% and 1.7% of live births exhibits some degree of sexual (gender) ambiguity. Between 0.1% and 0.2% exhibit enough ambiguity to become the subject of specialist medical attention.

So what does all this mean? What does intersex and sexual ambiguity have to do with the homosexuality debate that is currently going on in Christianity?

The entire framework of the debate rests on a clear distinction between male and female. The whole framework for calling homosexuality “sinful” means that a line has to be drawn, somewhere, between males and females. And yet, for up to 6.8 million Americans who are born with some level of gender ambiguity, there is no line. For the 400,000-800,000 people in America who were born with enough ambiguity that required surgery or gender assignment, it means that the line was drawn by doctors or parents, not God.

So, for an argument to be philosophically sound, it must follow its own implications infinitely. It must always be true or it is not considered sound. If a definitive distinction cannot be made between “male” and “female” that holds true for every human, then how can it hold true for anyone? Is someone male if they are genetically male, yet have female gonads and genitalia? If someone born this way is attracted to men, is it considered heterosexual or homosexual?

What about the small population who are born in a way that essentially makes the doctors and parents the determiners of the gender? If the parents determine to raise their child as a girl because she has female genitalia, yet is chromosomally XY (male), who should the child, according to Christianity, marry? Which option would be sinful, according to anti-homosexuality advocates? Or does the individual have the option?

The problem with the homosexuality debate is clear. It assumes that all people are created as either male or female. The Bible doesn’t really seem to address intersex humans. Yet, even as God created Adam and Eve male and female, doesn’t He also create intersex humans as both male and female? Or part male, part female? Isn’t it true that God doesn’t create mistakes?

The truth is, it is not a cut-and-dry situation. If homosexuality was so sinful, why would God create people who do not even know what gender they are? Are they simply supposed to guess which group they are supposed to be attracted to? If God’s law for love is based on classic gender definitions, then why would He allow people to be born who could potentially not fall into the classic definitions? Is God really that petty and confusing?

It hardly matters what is “normal” or “typical” when it comes to this debate—if God were to have only created ONE person that didn’t fit inside of classic gender definitions, then the entire debate would be rendered meaningless. And yet He has created millions.

Perhaps we can lose this talk of “heterosexuality” and “homosexuality” altogether. Wouldn’t the terms “homosexuality” and “heterosexuality” be somewhat obsolete, based on their linguistic limitations to accurately describe humanity?

 If all people, genetically and physically, actually fall on a gender scale that includes various shades of gray, can’t we just let love be love, no matter who is involved?

If God is the author of Love, even defined and described as Love, can we stop determining who gets to love and who doesn’t?

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A narrative has been percolating in my mind for several months now. I have spoken bits and pieces of it in random conversations and in various group settings, but I believe that it’s not going to feel complete unless I write it down. Hopefully, however, through the writing of this I can allow my thoughts to more neatly organize themselves in a way that is neither caustic nor judgmental—rather, I hope to bring to light a fresh view of something that is, well, really not so fresh.

This narrative begins several months ago on a Monday night.

I am a part of a young adult Bible study group that meets Monday nights. On this particular night, we were wrapping up the book of Ezra. I am not going to take the time or space right now for a background on the book (but I encourage you to read it and draw your own conclusions). At the end of the book, beginning in Chapter 9, an interesting theme arises: intermarriage.

The Israelites, led by the leaders and the priests, had entangled themselves with surrounding tribes and had not been faithful to the law that was set by God that strictly called them to not marry or make covenants with a long list of people groups (Exodus 34; Deuteronomy 7, 23). Ezra, being the spiritual leader of the people, was confronted by the leadership of the Israelites about this. They admitted that the people have been making covenants and engaging in the practices with these surrounding tribes.

Ezra was chagrined. The rest of chapter 9 is devoted to a mournful, apologetic prayer to God concerning the terrible transgressions of the people. Surely God was enraged at these practices, especially since He had finally allowed the people to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. He publicly wept and prayed until a crowd gathered around him, also crying out with guilty tears. One man, Shecaniah, stepped up with a seemingly perfect solution: “We have been unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women from the peoples around us. But in spite of this, there is still hope for Israel. Now let us make a covenant before our God to send away all these women and their children, in accordance with the counsel of my lord and of those who fear the commands of our God. Let it be done according to the Law. Rise up; this matter is in your hands. We will support you, so take courage and do it.”

So they followed through with these plans. They kicked out all non-Jews. Mothers and wives and children were suddenly banished, homeless and destined for poverty. They dealt with the unclean men who were willing to engage in the intermarriage with discipline as well (but not banishment).

As we began to discuss this story that Monday night, the initial consensus was that the right steps toward purity had been taken. God had given them some fairly clear laws and the people had disobeyed. They remedied the situation by amputating the reason for the problem, right? In fact, they had very religious and Godly reasons for ostracizing the group of foreigners and half-breeds (which is what they called them)! God had called them to purity, and they were standing up for truth, for the law, for God. They were standing up for what was right.

In fact, it’s pretty straightforward. If you don’t fit within the confines of the law (and the half-breeds didn’t) then you were religiously ostracized. After all, it’s what God commanded. Sometimes standing up for truth is ugly, right? When people don’t fit within the plan, God’s people have to stand up and do something!

Flash-forward several hundred years.

One of these ostracized half-breed groups, the Samaritans, had long-since settled in the northern part of what is now the West Bank. They were, in fact, descendents of the intermarriage discussed in Ezra: modern day Y-chromosome studies and mitochondrial DNA analysis has shown that they descended from both Israelites (including priestly lines) and mostly Assyrian women.

And they were religiously hated. The full-blooded Israelite populations referred to them in derogatory terms and were not to speak to them. The Samaritans could not worship at the Jewish holy sites (though they considered themselves mostly Jewish). Centuries later, the Jewish community was still standing up for the purity and righteousness God had called them to—and they were good at it.

That’s what it takes to follow God’s law, right? An unwavering commitment to the truth that God had laid out for them—the impure be damned (literally).

It is in this context that a man who had been listening to Jesus preach asks him a question. It should be noted that this is no ordinary man—this is a man who Luke calls an “expert in the law.” This is a man who was very familiar with the story in Ezra–a man whose disgust with the Samaritan people ran deep. This is a religious man who had very religious and even godly reasons for believing what he did. In fact, being an expert, he could probably name the very spots in Deuteronomy in which God forbade marriage and covenants with the Assyrians, the very ancestors of the Samaritan people.
And this expert has one question for Jesus: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

And Jesus asks, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” It almost seems like he’s asking the man, “You are an expert—but let’s see if you really understand the ideas behind the laws.”

The man answers by quoting parts of the Law from Leviticus and Deuteronomy: “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.”

Jesus responds positively: “Good answer, do that and you’ll live.”

It’s at that point that the man seems to notice his hypocrisy. He looks for a loophole, a way out—it’s almost as if it suddenly dawns on him that he hasn’t been living this way. You can almost imagine him going through the people in his life, gauging whether or not he has loved them, and hoping the people he hasn’t loved weren’t his “neighbors.” He responds with, “And who is my neighbor?”

You can see him trying to justify his way of life. This devoutly religious man, who has undoubtedly spent his life trying to understand and study the law of God, has had religious reason to follow through with his marginalization of others (read: Samaritans). He has been standing up for God’s law, right? He has been standing up for truth, for purity! He is an “expert” on what it means to follow God’s law!

And Jesus responds with one of the most well known stories in the Scriptures.

He begins the now familiar story with a man who is walking on a road and then getting robbed, beaten within inches of his life, and stripped naked. He is left for dead. A priest sees the man and passes by, unwilling to help. In fact, he doesn’t just pass by; he walks to the other side of the road, perhaps so that he didn’t have to be bothered by having the man in his sightline. (I’d imagine that puzzled looks would be exchanged from the people listening to this story—was Jesus calling out a religious leader? Can you imagine the modern day equivalent to a priest? A mega-church pastor, maybe? Or another kind of Christian leader—an evangelist, maybe, or an author?)
Then a Levite does the same thing. A Levite was someone who worked in the temple. Again, people would have been shocked and even angry. Was he just going down the hierarchy of the religious elite, calling them all out as being someone who doesn’t love their neighbor (which, you remember, he said was how someone gains eternal life)?

But then, truly the most shocking aspect of the story is spoken. Let’s be honest, Jesus could have picked anyone to be the hero of his story. He could have picked a Jewish man. He was, after all, talking to an expert in the law. Why not make him the hero of the story? Instead, he does something far more controversial—and I hope you can grasp just how controversial it is, given the preceding two pages of context I have given. In fact, what Jesus says is nothing short of game-changing.

The third man to pass by helps the beaten, bloody man. The third man is the hero. He is the one who exhibits the love that neither church leader was willing to. He is the man who, according to Jesus, is going to inherit eternal life by loving his neighbor. Who is this third man?

A Samaritan. Jesus, speaking to a Jewish expert of the law, picks a Samaritan man to be the hero.

A half-breed. A man who has been ostracized and condemned the church in the name of truth and purity—yet will inherit Eternal Life ahead of the church leaders.

And why? Because he loved his neighbor.

He may not have belonged in the church, but he loved like Jesus calls all of us to.

This story prompts two questions. Primarily—what people groups today do we (as the religious folk) ostracize/marginalize/criticize/hate in the name of truth and purity? Muslims? Gays? Liberals? Evolutionists? Democrats? Postmoderns? Younger generations? Atheists? Would Jesus, if he was telling the story today, pick someone from one of these groups to be the hero? Who have we decided to separate ourselves from for the sake of being godly—only to miss out on the true message of Jesus?

Second—what can we do about it? How can we begin looking less like the church leaders of Jesus time and more like Jesus?

I think the first step is this: we need to begin making these people the heroes of our stories. Like the church leaders, we may have had some very “godly” and religious reasons for marginalizing some people. But like Jesus, we need to stop marginalizing and start interacting. Stop hating those that are different and begin loving them as people who, like the Samaritan, are just as capable of loving God and people.

We need to begin thinking less about who is “out” and who is “in” and more about what we can do to make sure that all people are viewed as “neighbors.”
The truth is that Jesus preached a message of love, not religion. We are all connected as neighbors in humanity.

I hope we can begin tearing down the walls of injustice and intolerance so that people can see Jesus’ love, not the stale religion of exclusion.

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Yesterday, thousands of area high school students made a commitment to love people.

It was a simple gesture, really. It didn’t involve signing up for a movement. It didn’t involve rings or pledge-cards or little rubber bracelets that we so often associate with social movement. The people involved weren’t professional activists. There was no need to boycott any product or service. The people involved simply gave up one thing in their lives for the sake of love.

Yesterday, thousands of area students made a commitment to love people.

They had nothing to gain by doing this. In fact, most of the people involved didn’t necessarily directly represent the cause they were committing to. Most of the students involved simply wanted to recognize the hate and condemnation that emerges toward certain groups in society. The hate may not have been directed at them personally, but they decided to do what they could to shoulder the burdens of another for a day.

Yesterday, thousands of students made a commitment to love people.

In our world, there is a group of people that are torn down. They are ridiculed. They are told they need to be “cured” of their supposed illness. They are condemned. They are verbally and physically assaulted. They are disowned by their families. They endure emotional suffering that no person should ever have to deal with.

Yesterday, thousands of young people made a commitment to love people.

This persecution happens more often than you’d think, even if you think it happens a lot. The group becomes the target of insults and threats. They are called names. They are pushed to the fringes, forced to assume an identity of social posturing, forced to defend themselves against the barbs and arrows of “truth” and “morality.” And the people who represent “love” and “acceptance” are the ones shooting the arrows.

Yesterday, thousands of people made a commitment to love people.

shhhhDespite this, a group emerged that decided to stand up, silently, against this persecution. Instead of retaliating, instead of fighting, they were determined to simply stand and be silent. In the same way that Jesus, hours before His death, stood silently in the face of insults, this group decided that silence was better than arguing, fighting, and hate.

Thousands of people made a commitment to love people.

Yesterday, thousands of area high school students made a commitment to love people. They acknowledged that silence in the face of ridicule could be the loudest, most powerful witness of love and acceptance. They silenced themselves to recognize that hatred and persecution still exist—and to distinguish between defending “morality” and defending love. This Day of Silence, started by students, became a beautiful picture of Christ-like love.

People made a commitment to love people.

Yet this love has opposition. Many people kept their students home from school to oppose the Day of Silence. Last year, a church group voiced their frustration by protesting a local school. They held up signs and yelled (at students) for the sake of “truth” and “morality.”

What was Jesus’ response, hours before his death, when the crowd screamed their frustration at him? Oh yeah—silence.

Interesting, isn’t it? The most complete picture of Godly love in this situation came not from the church group, but from the group that decided to oppose, silently, injustice and hatred. For everyone who participated in the Day of Silence yesterday, may you continue to understand that true love doesn’t need to be the loudest and most vocal.

In fact, true love can even be silent.

“If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both.” 1 John 4.20-21 (The Message)

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A couple weeks ago, I met a very fascinating person.

 

A group of us were in downtown Portland, working with Bridgetown Ministries, and on our first day, we had to live homeless. It was a bit of a silly exercise, as we were returning to the home church that evening for dinner and a place to sleep. During the day, however, we had to get lunch at one of the many food shelters/soup kitchens in the city.

 

As I was standing in line at a neat little restaurant that served and waited on its (mostly) homeless patrons, I began chatting with the person behind me. With short cropped hair and denim attire, the middle-aged person identified himself as Lee, formerly Lisa, and was in fact a transgender person. Born as a woman named Lisa, Lee felt that he identified more as a male.

 

Lee was well spoken, clean, and did not embody any of the stereotypes that often accompany someone who lives on the streets. As we talked, it became apparent that this was going to be a conversation in which I did more listening than talking. I was fine with that—Lee had quite a story.

 

Lee, as Lisa, went to college and eventually got her Master’s degree so that she could become a teacher. She got outstanding grades throughout school and soon became a very good educator. She then officially came out as Lee. Lee was promptly fired from his teaching job and could not find work. Schools simply don’t hire people who are transgender.

 

Lee then began a crusade that got him national recognition. He filed lawsuits on transgender equality and won over $1 million. He began writing a blog, called “Not a Good Queer,” that is now on the Google “most-hit” list on five categories and is in syndication across the country.

 

As he was explaining all of this to me, my first inclination was to be very skeptical and assume that he was either lying or exaggerating multiple aspects of this story. I mean, why would a millionaire currently be eating at a street restaurant that serves the homeless?

 

I (more tactfully) asked as much. I could not have imagined the response.

 

Lee is a lifelong pacifist. So when the United States invaded Iraq, he made the decision that not a single penny of his money was going to pay for the war. He kept his laptop—he updates his blog at libraries and other places with free wireless internet. He then chose a homeless lifestyle so that no property or income taxes could go to the government to pay for the war. He sleeps, with his dog, in a bicycle trailer. He eats at homeless shelters and soup kitchens.

 

I have no idea what Lee has done with the money from the lawsuits, but he is in the middle of another one, and I imagine that most of the money is going toward the legal fees that are incurred when an individual takes it upon himself to get legislation changed through the court system. As he was explaining all of this, I was almost in awe. It led me to think about my dedication (or lack thereof) to certain things in my life.

 

What if those of us (especially me) who call themselves followers of God showed a fraction of the conviction and dedication that Lee shows? I don’t know that I have ever been witness to such a radical life alteration. Imagine what the church would look like if all of those who call themselves Christians (“little Christs”) were willing to make such a sacrifice? What would my life be like if I was willing to make such sacrifices for my beliefs?

 

Lee’s story is both inspiring and challenging: his lawsuits have changed the landscape of transgender inequality. Companies in Oregon are no longer allowed to discriminate against transgender employees. And he keeps fighting for the rights of people like himself so that they may not have to deal with the same things that he went through as a teacher.

 

And he has accomplished all of this while living out of a little bicycle trailer. While spending cold nights at homeless shelters. While eating at soup kitchens.

 

As we ate our lunch, Lee and I moved into other topics of discussion, from politics to sports to Jesus. And I explained what I believe about Jesus—that, despite what many say, Jesus loves him just as much as he loves me. That Jesus stood for peace and nonviolence, just like Lee does. That Jesus is very proud of his willingness to upend his life so that he can exemplify true peace.

 

And I told Lee that he was an inspiration to those of us who don’t dedicate our entire selves to the faith that we profess.

 

Would I be willing to live homeless for Christ, if that is what he desired? Would I be willing to upend my entire life to fulfill what Christ has called us me do? I hope that someday I can live such dedication and conviction, and not just sit and write about it.

 

**Immediately after I got back to the church, I looked up Lee’s blog. Everything in his story that was verifiable rang true. As far as I can tell, he did not even exaggerate any aspect of his story.

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The other day, I had an incredibly humbling experience. I was walking around the UW campus with no real agenda (I had about three hours until my next class) and merely trying to enjoy some of the ever-fleeting sunshine.

 

As I walked through Red Square, I noticed a man carrying a large sign—hoisting, rather, for it was incredibly large. It read, “GOD HATES THE SINNER” in bold, angry letters that were meant to grab my attention, lest I be cast into a pit of eternal damnation. The man was shouting, nearly incoherently, about his perception of God as a vengeful, angry, bitter Being who has watched His creation turn on him and on itself. I was intrigued, so I stopped my aimless wandering and started walking closer to him.

 

Did I mention there was a crowd of about one hundred gathered around him?

 

The man put down his sign and began “preaching” as I immersed myself in the crowd of people, listening to the man’s tirade.

 

People were raising their hands, objecting to what he was saying; when he called on them, he would scream at them for being fake Christians and hypocrites. Or he would call them “demons,” “evildoers,” and “hell-bound” if they expressed any disbelief in God. Interestingly, the man was quite a student of the Bible—he recited verses and whole passages as if he was a scholar. But his take on the verses, such as calling God a “hateful, angry God” simply didn’t jive with anything that Jesus taught.

 

He spent a great deal of time discussing the evils of being gay, yelling about how Hell was a place where gay rape was prevalent. As he screamed about this, he became very graphic and crass, seemingly thinking that such language was fine as long as he was using it in a hateful manner towards those “more sinful” than himself. Many people in the crowd became disgusted and left.

 

Disheartening as it was, I stayed for about two hours, listening to the man shout epithets and slurs toward everyone that God “hated.” I need to confess that it would be hard for me to think of an example of another time I have felt such dislike and disgust for another person—especially one who called himself a follower of Christ.

 

Not long before I decided to leave, something interesting happened. A girl walked up to the crowd and immediately raised her hand.

 

He called on her, and she stated, “I’m gay. How come Jesus doesn’t love me?”

 

The man had a perfect opportunity to explain that Jesus’ love was not exclusive. He could have gone into great detail about how Jesus loved her more than anyone possibly could. He could have described that Jesus loved people regardless of sexuality, regardless of sin, and regardless of any baggage that a person had. But the man didn’t.

 

He responded by calling the girl a “muff-diver.”

 

I think the sound of God’s heart breaking was lost in the sound of the collective gasp that escaped from the crowd. The girl paled, then turned red, and then got up and left.

 

I could write pages about how the man was clearly misled in his beliefs. I could go on about how he might have ruined any chance for the girl, and the crowd, to open her heart to God’s love. I could even go into the details of why the man’s theology is clearly incorrect. But I have a feeling that if you are reading this, you are already formulating those thoughts on your own. I’d rather look into something else.

 

The girl hadn’t been listening to the man—she simply walked up, raised her hand, and asked “Why doesn’t Jesus love me?”

 

I have no way of knowing how she got the impression that Jesus didn’t love her based on her sexual orientation, but it couldn’t have been from Jesus’ own words. Scripture makes it very clear that Jesus loves everyone—He is love. She, therefore, could have only gotten that impression from those who call themselves Christians. Not just the berating, yelling man. Somehow, today, the church has allowed the myth of a hateful, spiteful God to be perpetuated to the extent that she, like most, thought that Jesus based His love on lifestyle or choices.

 

When I use the term “church,” I don’t mean the institution—I mean me. I mean you. I mean every individual who allows Jesus to be distorted into someone who died for some, not for all.

 

It is easy to look at the man’s response to the girl’s question as a tragedy. It is easy to find fault in what he did. It is far more difficult for me to look at myself and find fault for smaller, perhaps more unnoticeable things.

 

When the girl got up and left, I didn’t get up and walk over to her. I didn’t try to explain that the man was nuts. I didn’t try to show her who Jesus really was. I simply stood there amongst the crowd, silent.

 

What a tragedy.

 

“If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both.”  1 John 4.20-21 (The Message)

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