Yesterday I watched something play out on Twitter that should not have surprised me. A "progressive" author started tweeting about an issue involving gender, and when people chimed in with how her thinking could be problematic, she reacted by accusing them of bullying her. The word "transphobic" was thrown around, as were lots of sarcastic, incredulous tweets (you can read some of the exchange here.)
Why did this surprise me? Because the "progressive" author is a Christian, and despite all evidence to the contrary, I still believe that we Christians should be the ones who apologize the most. If anyone should be able to simply say, "I'm sorry" when someone claims we've offended them, it should be Christians, the people whose God told us explicitly to "turn the other cheek."
That raises a big question though: Who is the person actually being hurt? The one being called a transphobe, or the person outside the gender binary who was offended by their comments?
Do people of privilege have any right to cry victim in a discussion relating to gender or sexual minorities?
Christian people of privilege don't. Not if they're truly seeking to exemplify the gospel by striving to love others. You can't love someone if you're purposely misgendering them, or refusing to address them rightly once they've corrected you. You also can't love someone if you're seeing them as a bully for trying to educate you. Loving a person requires understanding. You can't love "at" someone, you have to know them or seek to know them. Doing this often requires a checking of privilege.
No one wants to admit to having privilege, but almost all of us have at least some privilege that others don't. When we refuse to acknowledge this, we dismiss the experiences of others. Privilege isn't just about money, or ease, or a life without hardships. It's about acknowledging that if you've never had to deal with being a sexual minority, or a woman, or someone with a disability, you can't know what these experiences were like, firsthand. You can't know how this person feels. You also can't, or shouldn't, dismiss their complaints simply because they don't make sense to you. The tricky thing about privilege is that it's blinding.
The chances are, if someone calls you transphobic, or homophobic, or sexist, you said something offensive. Maybe not offensive to you, but offense to people who have different lived experiences. When this happens, you have two options; 1) insist that you are not phobic, defend yourself by saying things that probably make your initial comments worse and accuse everyone of attacking and bullying you, or 2) apologize.
Guess which one is easier? Or, for Christians, more filled with grace, love and an attitude that reflects the greatest commandment to, "love your neighbor as yourself."
Apologizing costs nothing, other than perhaps a smidgen of pride. It opens a door for a relationship, further discussion or education. Saying, "I'm sorry" to someone who has rarely heard those words from people outside their shared experience shows that you care more about a person than being "right." All Christians should care more about treating other people with respect than being right. Especially people who are sexual or gender minorities, and have been treated as "the least of these" by a society that has chosen to judge instead of understand them.
The downside of apologizing is... nothing. There is no downside. The next time you offend someone, especially someone who's a member of a marginalized group, just apologize.