The battle is over and they have won.
The great inspiration in that phrase is that in speaking this we leave off the last two words of the sentence and forget that they have won the day.
The battle is theirs, but perhaps not the greater war.
August 1, 2012 was another one of those days in a long progression of brother against brother and father against son in a debate that should not even be a discussion or a question: one corporation’s statement about the owners’ stand on same-sex marriage, how that effects their corporate stewardship, and how it impacts the consumers who got caught up in a great cataract of hate.
Weeks before, August 1, 2012, would have been of singular importance to me because it was on August 1, 2010 that I was in the middle of my own same-sex wedding, a bright clear and cool morning in Washington, DC, of standing by a fountain in a small urban garden and remembering the wedding words that come to us in flashes: honor… love… always… will you here today witnessing this union do all that is within your power to uphold this family, nourish them, and embrace them as a living example of Christ’s love for his church?
OK so we didn’t use that last one but it is the central point of a wedding that the marriage it represents is witnessed, ordained, and upheld. And it shows us that it is a human and so-imperfect reflection of the love of God-in-Christ for us, that oh-so-perfect ideal.
As I said, that was August 1, 2010. Since then the acknowledgements and acclamations made that day have not changed and I have learned that in these past 731 days our lives continue to see that Christian example of unquestioning love as much (maybe more) on the days full of tears and anxiety and anger than on the days of laughter and good times (the ultimate fellowship.) We are as a married couple all of those things in a great full-colored spectrum of emotions and energy and coming together in peace at the end of each day, ready to stand together in the sunlight of each tomorrow.
The same is true – in theory – of Christ’s church.
Now, two years later, on August 1, 2012, I find myself quite literally standing in the middle of the battle of the most hateful and destructive part of Christianity: the great war of Us and Them. The We side has all the sanctity while the They side holds all the sin and brokenness.This is in no way different than the news of the world in 2010 but today the devil that tempted Christ on the mountain top is given a face and a name, and shadowy wings on which to fly.
The news of this story is that the chief operating officer of a closely-held corporation admitted with some glee that his company is “guilty as charged” of supporting many anti-gay hate organizations such as Exodus International the debunked “ex-gay” ministries whose leaders and former leaders can’t seem to keep themselves out of trouble with backsliding in gay bars and reverting to their old innate “unnatural” (sic) ways. And to the Family Research Council, the Marriage and Family Foundation, and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. The largest donation on the list is $1.1 million to the anti-gay, Marriage and Family Foundation, donations financed indirectly by purchases made in this company’s stores.
A corporation’s charitable donations are of course their choice, particularly in a company that does not have publicly traded stock. These numbers were already available for 2009 and 2010 so the conservative slant of their charity was no surprise. The president of the company simply put those donations on the front page. Under the premise that no publicity is “bad” publicity:
Jesus Sells Burgers. Would you like some fries with that?
The statement from the man said that the company is family-owned and family-led (even married to their first wives – a generous Old Testament boast) and that they operate their company based on “Biblical principles.” He then negates his own statement by saying the company has “no agenda against anyone.”
And so the ugliness started flying back and forth from both sides of the argument as to whether this is indeed discrimination or hate speech, while others defend a corporation’s owners right to have whatever opinion they desire and they (the consumers) support it. This chest thumping on both sides culimated with a “support” day on Wednesday (typical night for mid-week Baptist church services) August 1 for those in agreement to show up and purchase the goods, and the bill of goods, this company has to sell.
I had completely forgotten about this prayer meeting with fries and glossed over much of the rhetoric because I have been through these protests and short-lived “boycotts” before. Coors beer. Nestle milk products (I bet you missed that one!) even anything to do with the entire state of Colorado back in a time when a single state passing anti-gay legislation was a newsworthy event. Since the mid 1990s and the Colorado boycott, the news goes more in the other direction and it becomes noticable when states do the opposite, while blatant discrimination written into states’ constitutions becomes the norm.
Then completely by happenstance we drove to our favorite frozen custard shop up the street from our house, which just happens to be right next door to a restaurant of the company in question. The room was packed. The parking lot was filled and lines of cars double-looped around the building. My only thought as we drove through all that trying to find a place to park was that here was a group of a couple of hundred people bringing out their kids and grandma and their church youth groups, in a singing celebration of how “bad” my life is, and that they support a corporation which has told them so.
I have never seen a Phelps family protest and if I had, I don’t think my reaction would have been the same because those mini circuses involve a very small group of brainwashed, hateful people spewing out whatever foolishness their leader has fed them from the pulpit that week. Theirs is nothing more than religion-as-photo-op, and if you stepped into the pool of deep truth inside their beliefs, you wouldn’t get your ankles wet. Their work is so stupidly bad that it is comedic. It’s very easy for anyone with a semi-rational mind to agree that the Phelps family is as with any mob of thugs and bullies, not of their right mind.
But here in this restaurant is a room full of happy singing Christian people whose specific purpose in being so tuneful this night is to stand in unity and celebrate how wrong my life – my marriage – is, and how smugly correct theirs is by pointing that out to me.
And here beginneth the lesson.
While everyone is certainly entitled to their own opinion, and even more so entitled to keep it to themselves, we must apply some Christian ethics to this situation. First and the most obvious is Christ’s parable of the mote and the beam, in Matthew 7. This is the one that you’ve likely heard a zillion times in paraphrase and is Christ’s teachings on judgmentalism. In the passage He teaches that before we are qualified to speak about the shortcomings of others, we should be aware of our own, and also teaches in one short sentence, the dangers of false allegiances:
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? …” (Mtt 7:1-4)
…“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” (Mtt 7:6)
The image is quite clear: before we can be happy in pointing out our perception of “sin” in others, it behooves us to be fully aware of all the sin within ourselves. Take corrective action first, before speaking of others. In the second parable of casting pearls before swine, we must be very studied in the people to whom we give our allegiance (and our cash.) It may be that they simply ignore our tributes (“take the money and run“) and then turn on us and quite literally tear us – both morally and physically – to shreds.
I put forth the charge here that this is what this COO has done in his statement: he has placed himself in a seat of judgement (even with the facile “but we don’t have an issue with anybody” deflection) and has pointed out by saying that they have no issue with others (like me) that they are more than happy to take my money and give some centime of it away to folks who really DO have an issue with me, and are doing everything within their power to get rid of me.
Think of this as Nazism by Proxy, looking back historically to a european example of “We don’t have a problem with the Jews; it’s just those crazy National Socialists. We didn’t put anyone in a death camp; all we did was give support to this political mob and what they did with the Jews… well … hey. All I did was vote.”
A second and more important dive into religious error I saw last night was spoken of in the parable of the sheep and the goats, again in the gospel of Matthew. In this illustration Christ makes a simple lesson of a shepherd who separates his flock into the sheep on his right side and the goats on the left. The final coming of God (the ultimate goal of the Christian faith) will be like this in that God will say to those on the right hand side, “you’ve done well, come into heaven.”
The writer gives us the striking image of:
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
In the parable, the righteous folk were confused by this complement and asked the king, “When did we ever see you being a stranger or naked or in prison?” The answer was very easy and the most magnificent calling to Christian service:
Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.
That’s it. Just that simple. The entire core of the Christian faith curled up into one very neat little statement. As you are treating the people around you in your every-day life, so you are treating God.
So You Are Treating God.
My response to what I saw last night was that for a while, sitting there eating my frozen custard that quickly came to taste like cold cardboard was that I am the outsider, the one who was not part of the wedding feast. I was not in that room with those happy people. In fact, they were in a room being happy together for the simple reason that I was not in that room. All of those people chose in their moments of Christian Flag Waving jingoism to ignore the direct teachings of Christ: did you feed the hungry? … did you clothe the naked? … did you visit with those who are in prison, and yes children, even in the prison of discrimination, of other-ness, of “hate the sin and love the sinner”?
Have you failed at being “guilty as charged” of showing the people around you absolute love?
Did you do all of those things for the people outside? Did you stand up for what is in fact the real Bible-based reason for any corporate body mentioning the name of Christ should use: Rescue. Care for. Feed. Love. Support. Cherish. Is it no surprise to me that so many people around the world so ardently dislike Christians and their strange beliefs that are completely disconnected from the Bible.
Jesus – it would appear – is merciful. People, in all their faults and foibles, have a lot yet to learn.
August 1, 2013 will arrive and with it the memories of this day will be back in some dusty corner along with Coors beer boycotts and Cracker Barrel sit-in protests. We will face an all-new set of worries and bothers and little mosquito bites that hurt our feelings, make us cry, or just piss us off. There has to be something that is a constant in our lives that gets us through both the summer of pride, and also the winter of being thrown under someone’s political bus. As each one of these irritants moves from a bang on my nerves to just some forgotten grudge that I’m happy to have lost the details on, I realize we still have great constants spoken of in a marriage covenant that always will trump politics.
- Do you love this person and do they love you?
- Will you do every thing possible that is within your power to ensure that this love continues, through all its forms and permutations over the years?
- Will you in your turn as a witness to that union do every thing possible that is within your power to support, uphold, and promote this marriage as the perfect example of Christ’s love for his people?
Will you try in every way possible to be the fallible, imperfect yet loving attempt at becoming the example of all that is good in life, and by doing so, move closer to God by passing that example to others?
Keep the faith.