When I Hated People in God's Name
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