Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Choosing Sides

In liberal Protestantism, there is a growing spirit of ecumenism--that cooperative, non-judgmental perspective that allows us to honor and affirm the traditions, perspectives, belief systems, and life choices of a diverse global community. Yet within this "room for all" spirit, too often we hesitate to assert our own faith and views for fear of looking like religious extremists (for liberal Protestants, any parallels to the Christian Right are anathema).

And so when a situation arises in which we must choose a side and declare a definitive position (or else choose silence, which is a "side" in its own way), many Protestants become guilt-ridden and uncertain. How can we know that we are on the right side? Implied question: Aren't we just as bad as "them" for asserting our right-ness and righteousness in a given situation?

This past Saturday afternoon, I stood (literally on the other side of the fence) watching protestors at an LGBT Pride festival. Their signs and t-shirts said such things as: "Jesus Saves From Hell" and "Homosexuality Is A Sin." The protestors told families entering the festival that they were going to hell; they shouted "It's not too late...repent!" to same-gender couples. And when I carried a rainbow umbrella with Silent Witness PA (www.silentwitnesspa.org) at the festival gates in support of those entering the festival, one protestor mocked the silent witnesses, saying that our umbrellas wouldn't save us when the world came to an end and fire rained from heaven.

Several of the festival-goers I spoke with that day were visibly disturbed. How can the protestors say those things? How can they yell at children? How can they believe in that kind of God? .....and that nagging question, how do we know we're right? To one person who asked me this last question, I replied (perhaps too glibly) that I'm willing to go to hell if I'm wrong for being pro-gay. But I, too, couldn't immediately shake the protestors' shouts from my mind on Saturday evening. I might accuse the protestors of erroneous biblical interpretation, but they would only say the same (and more) of my interpretation. Is it all relative? If/When we move past our liberal universalism and choose sides, do we have any assurance of right-ness with God?

Years ago, on a wall in the office of my college chaplain, there was a beautiful, poetic quotation that I read often. These days, I only remember the first two lines and that the author was a Sister So-and-So. But it read:
Choose life--only that and always--
And at whatever cost.
We must remember, and we must claim, that taking the name "Christian" means that we are choosing a side. Granted, there are many people who claim this side, but mainstream and liberal Protestants too often sit on the fence (and/or sit in silence) for fear of offending or creating waves. To claim the side of Christian, I believe, involves claiming and proclaiming the side of life....tangible, incarnate life....
life that nurtures,
life that celebrates,
life that understands resurrection after death in everyday living,
life that pays attention to and works to lift up the oppressed and discouraged,
life that resists the lethargy of the status quo and the greed of the powerful.

The protestors at the Pride Festival missed the mark by preaching a kind of "good news" that preserved the status quo, that upheld the position of the privileged (white heterosexual men), that relied on scare tactics, that proclaimed judgment at the expense of justice, damnation at the expense of celebrating life. The good news of Jesus is not disconnected from this incarnate life:
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18)
As long as I am able, this is the good news that I will proclaim and the side that I will choose.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Life is choice.

Two thinkers - polar opposites in many ways - who have influenced me since college ( a very long time ago) are Soren Kierkegaard and Jean-Paul Satre. Kierkegaard said: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” I think he was proclaiming that each of us must arrive at our own faith by whatever means we can, through whatever process we can develop. That search (journey) does not come with any guarantee that we will finally arrive at the “right” conclusion or that we will ultimately find the “truth.” Thus, the “fear and trembling.” The fact is, however, we must choose; we must decide. Each of us must struggle to find a truth that is a true for us. A truth, as Kierkegaard said, “for which one is willing to live or die.” You are right: to do nothing is to decide.

On the other hand Satre, who had no room for God in his thinking, said: "It's what one does, and nothing else, that shows the stuff one's made of." We can SAY we believe anything. What we DO really reflects our deepest beliefs. I like to think that I do the “right” thing most of the time but I probably don’t. Then, again, few of us do. But what we choose to do reflects who we are. It seems to me those who shout hateful things (at events like the Pride Festival) are really hate-full people; they are what they do. They can say they believe in “the love of God” but their actions deny this - they don’t love their neighbor as themselves. They can say they follow Christ, but their actions say they don’t - they don’t stand up for the poor, oppressed and imprisoned. Actions DO speak louder than words. They reflect what we really believe.

I’d like to stand on the side of the weak, the oppressed, the hungry and the imprisoned also. But I’m still trying to discover what that means for me.

Skeptic