Writing is difficult.
No kidding, right?
But I don’t mean writing is difficult because it’s hard to find something to say or because saying it well takes a lot of practice. Those things are true, of course.
What I mean in this case is that writing is difficult for another reason, one that’s just as crucial, but much less well understood: We often don’t know how others will read our words, how they might misunderstand our meaning. We thought we were saying something perfectly clearly, only to find out later that the person reading our words thought those words meant something completely different from what we intended.
You know what I’m talking about. You get email from these people. They think they’re being clever, but you walk away wondering if you’ve just been insulted. They probably didn’t mean it that way, but who knows? There’s too much passive-aggression in modern society to dismiss the possibility out of hand, right?
“Of course, you would think that.”
What does that mean? Should be simple, shouldn’t it? You understand every single word in the sentence. But you could read it so many ways.
Of course, you would think that.
Of course, you would think that.
Of course, you would think that.
Of course, you would think that …
Of course, you would think that!
See what I mean? They’re just words, but when you write them, it’s difficult to know how someone else is going to read them.
I sense that some of that same problem is going on right now in the aftermath of the SCOTUS decision on marriage, by people who fear the world is racing past them … probably toward perdition. But racing past them nevertheless.
What do I mean?
Characteristic of many of the posts and pronouncements I’ve read since SCOTUS announced that marriage and the choice of a partner is a right that should be extended to everyone is a philippic/jeremiad/augury/rant/cry-of-despair that goes something like this:
The time has come to prepare ourselves for persecution. Our identity has put us at odds with the culture, which is now going to do everything in its power to punish us. Our commitment to living authentically is going to cost us–perhaps everything–because we refuse to compromise what we believe to be the truth. The dominant voices in our culture hate us, and will stop at nothing to eliminate us. Our jobs, our families, even our lives are now in jeopardy because of who we are. Who will speak for us?
I’ve read some variation on this from any number of conservative Christians, and it pains me. First, let me point out the irony that that paragraph could have been written in the past by LGBTQ people.
But second, and without irony, let me say that I am sympathetic to the panic of my sisters and brothers who are afraid that the levers of power are now unfairly arrayed against them. I know many of these people. I grew up with them. I learned at the feet of the same teachers as they did. Most of them aren’t hateful. They are sincere. I take no pleasure in their suffering. This isn’t about schadenfreude. That I believe them to be wrong about the issue of LGBTQ people doesn’t mean that I can’t hear the very real anxiety in their concerns.
But that’s not all that pains me, though. Their distress grieves me acutely because I don’t think they know how they sound when they express their fear of a future in which they’re no longer in obvious control. My conservative friends say these things without hearing what their words sound like in someone else’s ears.
So, I thought I might provide a little pastoral interpretation in an attempt to help people I care about understand why they seem not be getting much sympathy when they point out that they are now the target of potential persecution.
You see, it’s hard for people who’ve actually experienced persecution to take seriously the cries of persecution from folks who’ve been riding at the front of the bus for so long, but who’ve just recently been told that the time-honored seating arrangements have been completely discombobulated–and now the people who are so used to it are no longer assured of a first class seat.
When they hear you decry potential persecution, LGBTQ people want to ask: What actual persecution have you experienced? Not being able to assume that you’ll automatically be selected the cultural homecoming king and queen isn’t persecution.
If you’ve been bullied or beaten because you’re LGBTQ, if you’ve lost a job because somebody at work found out that your roommate was something more than the person who shared the rent, if your home congregation has told you that “it might be best if you found another church that catered to ‘your kind,’” if you’ve had grown ups perform all kinds of unspeakable acts on you to help you overcome your “gayness,” if you’ve been watched with an eagle eye because, you know, you probably like molesting little kids, if you’ve had everybody you care about turn their back on you because “that’s what God would want,” if you’ve endured the burning looks of disgust just for holding the hand of the person you love, if you’ve been told repeatedly that you don’t deserve the same socio-economic breaks the rest of us enjoy, if you’ve resigned yourself to living your life alone and without children because you couldn’t figure out how that could ever happen for you, if you have children and they no longer want anything to do with you because you’re such a disappointment, if you’ve lived on the street because you had no place else to go after your parents told you you weren’t welcome to live at home anymore, if you’ve woken up in an emergency room after attempting suicide because you just couldn’t take not fitting in anymore, if you’ve had friends and loved ones killed because of how they were born, then (and here’s the really difficult part) it’s a herculean task to work up much sympathy for the anxiety you feel because you read about some baker with a legal problem in Eugene or wherever.
Please understand, I’m not saying you don’t have some legitimate concerns about the pendulum swinging too far the other way. And when it does, I’ll be standing right there with you, because injustice anywhere is an open invitation to injustice everywhere. What I’m trying to help you understand is how you sound to people who’ve lived their whole lives with real fear.
Of course two wrongs don’t make a right. But from these folks’ perspective, the ratio of wrongs isn’t 1-to-1; it’s like 800 gajillion-to-1. Please be a little patient with people who feel like they’ve spent all of history close to last in line while they get the hang of what it feels like to be accorded an equality many of them never dreamed they’d see.
You don’t have to agree with all this; I’m not trying to persuade you to change your mind on this issue. I’m just trying to help you understand how you come off, and how you might actively take the initiative to engage in some healing.
It’s up to you. I’m just a writer.
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