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When I Hated People in God's Name

2748074767_aa6294215d The neon orange sign said “HOMOSEXUALS GO TO HELL: REVELATION 21:8.” A young man held it, alone, on the corner of a busy intersection near my community college. “HOMOSEXUALITY IS AN ABOMINATION TO GOD” read another sign taped to his parked truck.

I was 18. I thought I was taking a stand for God.

He had collected a small crowd of critics, who were trying to shoo him away with boos and hisses. The man, who looked about my age, quietly stood his ground.

I felt sorry for him, and although I didn’t love his delivery, I genuinely believed he was standing for the truth.

This is what I did next. I ran into 7-11, bought a cold Coke, and delivered it to him.

“You’re doing a good thing,” I told him.

“You’re doing a good thing,” the opposing group of students sneered at me in falsetto voices.

Their scorn made me feel like a real warrior for Christ.

Feeling very godly, I thought Jesus would probably buy a soda for his persecutors too. So I went back in 7-11, bought a few more sodas, and passed them out to the crowd. The Persecutors softened and thanked me for the gesture. I probably said “Jesus bless you,” or something like that.

I drove away feeling proud of myself for this Divine Appointment. I stood for what was right, yet showed compassion – the perfect balance of loving the sinner and hating the sin. Thank you Jesus for emboldening me, I prayed in the car.

Ten years later, the encounter haunts me. I allied with a man spewing hate speech in the name of Christ and I told him he was doing a good thing. In five words and a carbonated drink, I condoned and perpetuated hatred and gave the glory to God.

Then, after being an accomplice in religious bigotry, I threw a soda in the direction of the others, thinking that by doing so, I was showing them the love of Jesus. As if my 75-cent gesture of surface kindness counteracted the core of my repulsive ideology.

For many years, this was my Christian worldview: that righteousness meant hating people and compassion meant buying someone an ice-cold Coke.

It is easy to tell stories in which I am the victim of fundamentalism. But it is so much harder to talk about the ways fundamentalism victimized others through me.

Maybe some of you can relate.

Those of us who have found refuge from our religious pasts know that we didn’t leave because we were abused under heavy-handed church structures, although that may have played a part. We left because we woke up one day and realized that we hated people. We left because we were exhausted from deciding who is and who isn’t in the margins of God’s mercy. We left because we fantasized about grace, and gave into our suspicions that condemning people to hell while buying them a soda isn’t love at all.

As I slowly, cautiously, rediscover the gospel, I entertain a question I would have denounced as heresy a decade ago. I ask it, I let it sit there. I marinate in it. My body relaxes into it, my spirit drinks it in.

What if Jesus really does love everyone? Not the in the charitable disapprove-of-their-behavior-but-buy-them-a-Coke-anyhow way, but in an authentic, deep, real and complete way – no exceptions?

If that is really true – and we believe it – everything could change.

Photo: Hope For Gorilla, Flickr Creative Commons

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20 Comments

  1. AlissaBC on March 12, 2014 at 9:30 am

    “We left because we fantasized about grace.” Lovely.

  2. AlissaBC on March 12, 2014 at 9:30 am

    “We left because we fantasized about grace.” Lovely.

  3. Heidi Rabbach on March 14, 2014 at 12:37 am

    I’ve been following your blog for a few weeks and everything I read so far made me think “So I’m not the only one!” Thank you for your encouraging words. I’m still recovering from what I call my spiritual burnout ten years ago and your words have often been like a gentle spring rain.
    I think if you lived close by my friend hunt would soon be over 😉

    • Carly Gelsinger on March 14, 2014 at 6:53 am

      “So I’m not the only one” are about the most powerful words any of us can hear. Thank you.
      Wish we did live nearby; I’m in California.

      • Heidi Rabbach on March 14, 2014 at 10:24 am

        That’s a long way from Germany 😉 But I do hope that we will make it to California again once we have graduated from the baby and toddler stage of our kids! And hey, maybe you’ll write a book someday and I’ll meet you at your promotion tour through Europe 🙂

  4. Heidi Rabbach on March 14, 2014 at 12:37 am

    I’ve been following your blog for a few weeks and everything I read so far made me think “So I’m not the only one!” Thank you for your encouraging words. I’m still recovering from what I call my spiritual burnout ten years ago and your words have often been like a gentle spring rain.
    I think if you lived close by my friend hunt would soon be over 😉

    • Carly Gelsinger on March 14, 2014 at 6:53 am

      “So I’m not the only one” are about the most powerful words any of us can hear. Thank you.
      Wish we did live nearby; I’m in California.

      • Heidi Rabbach on March 14, 2014 at 10:24 am

        That’s a long way from Germany 😉 But I do hope that we will make it to California again once we have graduated from the baby and toddler stage of our kids! And hey, maybe you’ll write a book someday and I’ll meet you at your promotion tour through Europe 🙂

  5. William McPherson on March 17, 2014 at 7:08 am

    It is such a fine line between righteousness and hate; that is why it is always wise and good to “err” on the side of mercy. We have the voice of Scripture but yet we see through very dimly; some I am afraid never see through it all. We will never be used to draw anyone to Christ without love and compassion for them; for their plight, for their struggles, and for even perhaps their hatred of us for his name’s sake. But I find more hate coming from conservative Christians when we seek to be like Christ, than I ever do from people who genuinely know I love them, even though I know and tell them they were made for more than what they have settled to be.

    • Carly Gelsinger on March 18, 2014 at 9:14 am

      Yes, yes and yes. I am learning what it looks like to err on the side of mercy.

  6. Marg Herder on March 18, 2014 at 10:14 pm

    Thanks for this, Carly. “But it is so much harder to talk about the ways fundamentalism victimized others through me.” It IS so hard to talk about things like this.

    It’s heart-breaking, the impression that so many LGBT people have of Christianity, Jesus, and his people. It’s all because for many years some Christian people have been taught that it is their duty to hurt us in the name of Jesus. Heart-breaking for the people being hurt, but also heart-breaking for the people doing the hurting.

    I can’t begin to tell you how important it is to speak up, like you have done in this post, when one realizes that Jesus really loves us all, no exceptions. I can’t begin to tell you how healing it is to read words like this, and how it can help LGBT people to begin to understand that it is not Jesus who inflicted the injuries we have suffered. Not Jesus, not Christianity, just regular people doing what they thought they were supposed to do.

    • Carly Gelsinger on March 24, 2014 at 9:25 am

      Marg, I am so glad to hear you say this post was healing to read because I was so ashamed to press that “publish” button. Thank you.

  7. Marg Herder on March 18, 2014 at 10:14 pm

    Thanks for this, Carly. “But it is so much harder to talk about the ways fundamentalism victimized others through me.” It IS so hard to talk about things like this.

    It’s heart-breaking, the impression that so many LGBT people have of Christianity, Jesus, and his people. It’s all because for many years some Christian people have been taught that it is their duty to hurt us in the name of Jesus. Heart-breaking for the people being hurt, but also heart-breaking for the people doing the hurting.

    I can’t begin to tell you how important it is to speak up, like you have done in this post, when one realizes that Jesus really loves us all, no exceptions. I can’t begin to tell you how healing it is to read words like this, and how it can help LGBT people to begin to understand that it is not Jesus who inflicted the injuries we have suffered. Not Jesus, not Christianity, just regular people doing what they thought they were supposed to do.

    • Carly Gelsinger on March 24, 2014 at 9:25 am

      Marg, I am so glad to hear you say this post was healing to read because I was so ashamed to press that “publish” button. Thank you.

  8. jesuswithoutbaggage on March 24, 2014 at 9:21 am

    I can relate.

  9. jesuswithoutbaggage on March 24, 2014 at 9:21 am

    I can relate.

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