It has been almost a full year since I quit my full-time, professional job as a VP of Sales and Marketing to stay at home and take care of my son. To state that it has been absolute bliss would be hardly believable. However, it has helped me to clarify where my own character flaws are in terms of being able to be long-suffering with those whom I am helping. It has given me more insight into how often I may find myself living a different kind of life than the majority of my peers and neighbors, but how not to give in to the temptation to become like them for the sake of not standing out. Where I live now, it is definitely not the norm for a grown, able-bodied man to be pushing around a baby during the middle of a workday. A neighbor who shouldn’t have had any idea of my personal situation told me he was glad I had found work because he had heard I wasn’t working, after I mentioned in passing that I took on contract work now and then. At some basic level, I am sure that my presence as a stay-at-home dad who drives a Subaru and doesn’t sound like he’s from around here is an offensive thing to people in this town. There is a strong insularity in Waco, even among people who you might think more or less like you do. The ability to reach out and accept a stranger seems to be greatly muted. I don’t think I would want to really know what most of my neighbors think about Obama, guns, Muslims, the LGBT community, etc.
I’ve been fortunate not to really encounter anyone who openly talks like they might be perfectly aligned with the Westboro Baptist Church, though I suppose that is more born out of my careful attempts to avoid churches and places full of people who might think like that, and avoid making conversation with my neighbors, than it is born out of what the real sentiments might be. Most of the people I’ve spoken with at my church seem to strongly disagree with the way many fundamentalist Christians talk about the gay community, even if they are more tight-lipped and not as openly loving and welcoming of gay people as folks were at my church in Austin. This is, of course, to be expected, being in Waco and all.
On many levels, it simply doesn’t make sense to me why you would think/feel the way many so-called Christians do about the gay community, if you decide you are Christian. The way we choose to interpret the Bible does shift from generation to generation, no matter how much a fundamentalist would like to believe otherwise. My own mother, who was very much a Pentecostal fundamentalist and one who disapproved of homosexuality, would counter that many of the prohibitions in the Old Testament were part of the Old Covenant, and she based her beliefs primarily on what was in the New Testament. Like other like-minded people I have known, she didn’t seem to be hung up on Paul prohibiting women from preaching or his instructions on how slaves should behave, though she had inclinations to become a pastor herself and was very much against any bigoted or racist talk that might suggest more recent forms of slavery would be appropriate. While my mother was strongly against divorce except in very extreme cases of spousal abuse or adultery, I have been fairly surprised at the number of times I meet someone in this area who is a staunch Conservative, evangelical Christian and is on their second or third marriage. In my reading of the New Testament, the prohibitions against divorce ring out much more clearly and stronger than the ones against homosexuality.
All of this is to say that we Christians are very good at stating that the passages of the Bible we don’t like were written in a certain context of that time and place, while happily taking literally those passages that support whatever is our agenda. And, this is not right at all. Either you can be a grownup and come to terms with the fact that most of it (especially Paul, since Jesus said nothing about homosexuality) was written within the context of the time and place, or none of it was. And, if you truly believe that you are among the latter, fundamental group, and seek to literally interpret and apply the Bible’s teachings (even if primarily those found in the New Testament), you will find yourself bumping up against the impracticality of this, not to mention the realization that you have no business judging anyone and only the business of loving everyone. But, who is going to gouge their own eye out when it offends them? I don’t think even the staunchest, fundamental and literal interpreter of the New Testament would gouge his eye out if he found it following an attractive behind that wasn’t his wife’s.
The ability for a person to possess faculties of reason and compassion, and desire to be a follower of Jesus because Jesus offered us a glimpse at a better way that wasn’t simply endless war and tit-for-tat violence, is not an easy one to perfect as an adult. The older some of us get, the more we crave laws and rules that are precise so that we can know what we can and can’t do. Whether we our Christian or not, we like to have a neat set of boxes to check to state unequivocally “I am this and not that, and therefore I am good and not evil.” Such thinking I have witnessed among progressive Atheists as well. However, at the end of the day, when most people are given over to much deeper meditation and contemplation on how they would like to see the world become a better place, or when most people are put in a place where they really do wish for only Love to matter and nothing else, the majority of people still choose to be their better selves and dismiss those ideas which have only led to persecuting others and declaring them to not be fully human.
After all, I think that’s the really dangerous and evil place to reach in your mind whether you are able to see it or not–when you stop seeing all human beings around you as being fully human and worthy of the dignity and freedom you cherish. Perhaps you might even be in this dangerous place where you see yourself as not fully human, and only beautiful celebrities and the wealthy who have “made it” as being the fully realized humans of our species. It’s more or less the same thing. You have permitted there to be degrees of humanity, or more or less values to be placed on human life. Whether you are fully conscious of it or not, you might have had a knee-jerk reaction of dismissing the Orlando shootings as not quite as terrible as, say, the shootings in Aurora because most of the victims were gay and Puerto Rican. This is where I find Jesus’ actions and teachings the most powerful. For Jesus (and Paul, too), there was no distinction between Jew or Gentile, rich or poor. I see these teachings as an attempt to completely disrupt the multitude of power structures that existed between people who were citizens of the Roman empire. Is it incredibly ironic that Christianity was eventually appropriated by the Roman empire and used as a means of legitimating power for most of its history? Certainly, but I don’t think that diminishes the original intent of the teachings, and I do think there has been an undercurrent or subtext of a greater power moving through the course of history beneath the histories of kings and presidents and wealthy business owners.
Okay, I think I’ve rambled enough. I hope some of it made some sense. My hope is for seminary to put some structure and clarity into these things I’ve been reading and thinking deeply about, without changing me into any sort of hypocritical monster I don’t want to be. We shall see…