I started writing this piece a few days ago, but wanted to wait until Sunday to finish and publish it. A notion had nagged at my consciousness for several days, and finally I called a friend to discuss the matter, or at least what I thought was the matter. At first, I thought it was a simple question, but as we chatted, I realized I was troubled by a much, much larger issue.
My friend is something of a religious scholar with a specialty in Judeo-Christianity. I opened our discussion with what I thought was my actual question. I wanted to know how Jews interpreted the Old Testament law when it instructed the community to initiate a death sentence. The Book of Leviticus is filled with do’s and don’ts, and what you have to do to undo a don’t that ya did! In some cases the penalty is death. OK, so that was a long time ago, obviously no (civilized) country is going to condone something like honor killings.
I’m not really sure how the conversation turned (perhaps because it had been in the news lately), but after a few minutes, I focused in on how the Jewish faith addressed issues like homosexuality. He asked me what I felt about same-sex marriages. I told him that I had gay friends and that I thought they were wonderful people. He gave me a smirk and continued. His answer to the basic question was simply that Judaism does not condone murder for acts against God. Good to hear. But as he applied his Socratic method, he pulled from my bones a vile poison I did not realize was present. Our conversation consumed the next two hours and I walked away a much humbler person.
He pointed out that it’s human nature to look at other people and compartmentalize them. We do this as a means of self-comparison. Perhaps the most common example of this is employment. She’s a doctor, he’s a teacher. Where do I fit in the room with them? Our identity is our professions, and by extension our income, which then implies our level of influence. Given this, as a struggling writer I would be lucky to have influence over the wait staff, and that’s only because they are paid to be there. But I digress.
Now let’s add a little spice. Let’s assume you find yourself at a cocktail party. You look around the room and start picking out people that you know. The guy in the corner with the blue tie and the black jacket owns a construction company. He over charges on his city contracts and gives half to the politician he talking with. The woman on his arm is his secretary with whom he’s having an affair. On the other side of the room (literally and metaphorically) there’s a brain surgeon, a Rabbi and a teacher (sound like the opening to a joke). They represent the good people. Now, perhaps, you begin to evaluate yourself by virtue. You judge that you are better than former so you don’t want to be seen over there, but you’re not quite as good as latter so you can’t really hob-knob over their either. But, maybe you can stand near them, just in case there’s a photo op.
“OK,” I concede. “I guess there’s some truth in that.
Now he really turn up the heat.
“Let’s say you are in the room and you see a man with dark skin. He’s holding the hand of a woman with fair skin. Behind him, two men enter the room holding hands.”
“I have no issue with mixed or gay couples,” I say proudly.
My friend cocked an eyebrow. “How would Jesus see these people?” he asked.
“As people.” I shrugged. “He wouldn’t see color nor would he see fault. Jesus loves us all.”
“Right,” my friend said. “But you saw a mixed couple, and a gay couple. Why not just a couple? You identified the people by their faults or virtues rather than just being people. If you call yourself a Christian, shouldn’t you see people more like Christ sees people?”
At this point, I fell silent, closed my eyes, and sighed, “Of course.”
Now in truth, for the sake of brevity, I embellished that narrative a bit, but the end is accurate. I realized that although it was not my intent to label someone (gay, black, Hispanic, etc.), I do it. I defend this in that I’m merely trying to be accurate in a description. But in so doing, I minimize the people. In his novel A Time to Kill, John Grisham’s character Carl Lee says to his attorney, “When you look at me you don’t see a man, you see a black man.” His attorney, Jake, had the same epiphany as I.
OK. I’m not trying to preach here, honesty. But ya gotta admit, there is a rising tide of hate in the world and a lot of the hateful things are being said by people claiming to be Christians.
OK, identifying someone as black isn’t necessarily hateful, but segregation in any form is contrary to Christ’s teachings. We say, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” That’s fine, but too often lump them together – it’s the baby and bathwater analogy. Should we hate the evils of ISIS? Absolutely. But should we extend that same hate to the family next door who worship at a mosque? Should we hate the violence we see in cities like Ferguson and Baltimore? Of course. But we need to discover and correct the root cause of the issue – on both sides.
We are not born with hate or distrust; they are learned. Sometimes we learn them from our parents who learned them from their parents. Other times we learn them from firsthand experience and then extend those feeling onto the next person who looks like the one who hurt us. They become habits. Good habits can save our lives: fastening your seat-belt when you get into a car, or looking both ways before you cross the street. It’s the bad habits that we need to fix, and as anyone who has ever tried to quit smoking will tell you knows, bad habits are tough to break. But when we break them, it is like breaking the shackles that have held us back. We are free.
Tolerance has become something of an obscenity, these days. Yet, and again I will reference Christ, Jesus was big on tolerance and warned against being judgmental. We are tearing our world apart. We are heading for the abyss. We need to change. Jesus said to love God and to love each other as we love ourselves. We’re pretty good at the first part of that, but as for the second, we can do better!