Other Voices: It is love that transforms, not judgments
In the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 10, a lawyer asked Jesus how he could inherit eternal life. Jesus merely confirmed the answer he already knew: We are to love the Lord God with all of our hearts, soul, mind and strength and love our neighbor as we love ourselves. The lawyer went on to ask, “Who is our neighbor?” I believe that we cannot look into the eyes of another human being, and not see our neighbor looking back. I am your neighbor. Let me tell you more about myself
When I was 18, I prayed to receive Jesus as my savior. The Christian life was the center of my universe. I was the president of the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship at UC Irvine for two years, I led Bible studies and attended the first Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa.
When I was 20 I committed what felt like the most horrendous sin imaginable. I had sex with a man. The experience sent me into a dark period of extreme guilt. It was at this time that I came to understand that I am gay.
The realization sent me into a period of intense self-loathing. Because of the attitudes in my church about sexual sins generally and homosexuality specifically, I did not feel free to discuss my situation with anyone. I prayed and I begged God to take the cup from my hand, so to speak. God never did.
I contemplated suicide but never gave up hope to the point of following through. I dated a woman and tried to establish a heterosexual lifestyle, but I continued to be plagued by my desires. Without support of the church I spent five years in a guilt-ridden struggle. My body and my emotions were telling me one thing and my faith was telling me another. When I finally did confess to people in my church, I was presented with doctrinal arguments about how wrong homosexuality is. I was made to feel inferior and confronted with dogma, devoid of compassion. The words fell on deaf ears.
I learned that all of the knowledge of the doctrines in the Bible mean nothing if they are not presented with love and compassion. Over time, my faith was whittled down. First, I lost any interest in being a part of a church, feeling little support but tons of judgment.
I tried to go it alone, assuming that I could maintain a personal relationship with Jesus and no church. Over time, my relationship with Jesus and my conception of Him and church morphed in a variety of ways. Today, I do not consider myself to be a Christian, and I see Jesus and the Bible as only metaphors, but not literal truth.
I want to make it clear to you that I have no interest or desire to change people’s beliefs about the propriety of homosexuality. But I would like others to consider the way that those views or attitudes manifest in the world and particularly in the minds and hearts of gay people.
Why does this matter?
The spread of HIV in our country is rising at a disproportionate rate among young gay men between the ages of 18 and 25. Why would a group of people, who are fully aware of how HIV is spread and how to prevent it, place themselves at risk? I think that the answer lies in the notion of self-esteem. If we do not love and respect ourselves, we will not protect ourselves. If we feel devalued this will be reflected in our behavior.
In our culture, gay men are made to feel devalued. They commit suicide at a rate that is higher than any other population. How much self-hatred does someone need to slit their wrist or put a gun to their head and pull the trigger, and why?
Perhaps because they hear messages of political efforts to eradicate gay unions, gay teachers, gay clubs and gay sex. These messages are often presented via legislative reform, or doctrinal analysis, with little or no foundation in care and compassion. The message that comes across is simple. Being gay is wrong, bad, evil, dirty, and sinful. This message, void of compassion, could only lead to an internalized self-hatred that in turn leads to poor choices and risky behavior.
In our culture, 82 percent of people identify themselves as Christian, so we need to look to the church to help change attitudes in our culture. Not necessarily by changing views on legislative reform or doctrinal analysis (although I would welcome an open debate on these issues) but by refocusing energies toward love and compassion as exemplified by Jesus himself.
It does not seem to me that Jesus’ quest was to make people more moral, or to point out their moral folly (with the exception of greed, which really seems to have set him off) but rather to love the un-lovely. It was the Pharisees who preached morality with no expression of love. But Jesus taught his followers to love the sinner regardless of the sin. It is love that transforms, not laws, rules, or judgments.
My question to you is, “Can you truly love the homosexuals?” If so, can you do it in a way that they feel your love and your love bears fruit in the life of others?
This letter is a plea for compassion. I know that the philosophy by which Christians live has its very foundations in compassion. Their god has shown them compassion enough to sacrifice his only son. Could those of you with children ever do that for someone else? Probably not, but could you love a young gay man so much that he feels your love and that your love makes him feel like he is a valuable member of the human race? It is my hope that you can.
Mark Schaefer lives in Penn Valley.
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