(I should start by making it clear that while I have strong beliefs about God’s plan for human sexuality, I don’t want to muddy the waters here by discussing them. This is about choosing the words we use to talk about one another, not deciding what we should be saying.)
I’ve heard the phrase “anti-gay” used three times in the past week. Once by a friend describing a classmate, whom she suspected was “anti-gay,” but who, according to my friend, “gave off vibes like [the classmate] was probably gay… seems like a military type.” The second time was by a pastor describing members who left her congregation after a vote to become RIC (Reconciling in Christ, an organization that “advocates for the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Lutherans in all aspects of the life of their Church”), saying, “He worked in construction… not that they’re all anti-gay, of course…” An openly lesbian pastor expressed her personal anger at “anti-gay self-proclaimed evangelists” from the neighborhood coming to her church in an effort to convince her of the sinful nature of homosexuality. All of these women believe that LGBT individuals should be welcomed into the life and ministry of the Church and that homosexuality is not sinful.
Their words make it seem as if there are two kinds of people. There are the “anti-gay” crowd, who seem to include certain groups, groups who use words like “evangelist” and work in construction or join the military. They’re convinced that LGBT people simply spend their time passing around STDs, and, well, they’re probably just so far in the closet they can’t see the light, poor souls. Then there’s the other kind, the kind that’s well-educated and loving and welcoming. They know how kind God is, so they reject anything that could make people feel unaccepted. These people have “done their research” and left behind archaic and misunderstood dogmas about sexuality.
Some pastors and friends might describe those groups differently. The first group is Biblical, defends the sanctity of marriage, and recognizes the hard truth about human sin. They fight against cultural relativism, protecting children from exposure to unrepentant sin. They love sinners, but hate sin, recognizing that God is just. The second group, on the other hand, is made of “happy-clappy, godless liberals” who have abandoned the clear teaching of Scripture in an attempt to become more palatable to a degenerate society.
I hope reading that made you angry. Or reminded you of the words you use. Or at least raised a vague feeling of defensiveness.
On my best days, hearing those words makes me angry. Usually it just makes me a little uneasy as I try to forget the way I caricature people for my convenience.
It’s not just sexuality that brings out the name-calling. When was the last time you heard an advocate of abortion refer to an opponent as anything but “anti-choice”? How often are pacifists simply written off as “hippies” by their opponents? A woman who stands up for her sex risks being labeled a “feminazi.” I can so easily dismiss people who oppose women’s ordination as misogynists, accomplishing nothing besides giving myself a pat on the back for being the better person.
I am not the “better person” when I belittle others because their beliefs are different from mine. I am condescending, self-righteous, and distinctly un-Christ-like.
I am not following the 8th Commandment, which tells me that I should not tell lies about my neighbors, but instead, as Martin Luther puts it, “defend them, say good things about them, and see the best side of everything they do.”
I am wrong quite often. I will continue to be wrong quite often. I may even be wrong more often than I am right. I believe, however, that I am quite right about this: the manner of our disagreement says as much about who we are as the subject of our disagreement.
So I am learning that even when I don’t want to, God calls me to be gracious to my opponents. Because God doesn’t want my manner to say that I am condescending and self-righteous. God wants my manner to say that I am humble and compassionate, with a heart and mind open to truth.
So instead of using my own words for other people, I will learn to use theirs. When that fails, and all I want is to call them names, I will pray for the grace to call them the same name God has given: precious child of God.
Because that’s who the LGBT-affirming and LGBT-challenging, and the pro-choice and the pro-life, and the complementarians and egalitarians, and the conservatives and liberals, and the rich and poor are: precious children of God. That’s who your friends and enemies are: precious children of God. That’s who you are: precious child of God.