News broke two weeks ago about terrible things taking place in the ostensibly holy Duggar household.
Last week, Vanity Fair introduced Caitlyn Jenner to the world.
The response of many Christians to these two events -- one a crime, the other an act of liberation -- couldn't be more different.
Though the sexual abuse itself was condemned, countless Christians quickly and unquestionably came to the defense of the abuser -- not the abused -- as well as his parents who went out of their way to do as little as possible in response to their son's grievous actions. Any criticism of the Duggar's apparent disinterest in seriously addressing either their son's crimes or their daughters' trauma was condemned by many Christians quick to forgive and even quicker to pretend like sin has no consequences if someone says "I'm sorry."
When Caitlyn Jenner graced the cover of Vanity Fair, the compassion that once flowed so abundantly for the Duggars' crimes suddenly and conspicuously vanished. Instead of impassioned pleas for grace, understanding, and forgiveness, many of those same Christians who unquestionably defended the Duggars in turn unquestionably condemned Jenner as a perverse, mentally ill sinner worthy of their social media wrath.
As a Christian, the profound ignorance and obscene hypocrisy have been difficult to watch.
On the one hand, the countless Christians snidely dismissing the courage of people like Caitlyn Jenner are oblivious to the fact that it is their own condescending, crude, and hateful comments that, in part, make it so difficult for trans people to even talk about either their very real struggle or the peace they've found in who they are. Likewise, these same folks seem clueless when spouting off high suicide rates in the trans community as proof that being trans is inherently problematic when, in fact, the harassment, condemnation, rejection, and marginalization fostered by these same people is so often the very thing that drives such deep and self-destructive depression in the trans community.
On the other hand, it's impossible to take seriously calls to love like Jesus, forgive like Jesus, and extend grace like Jesus from folks who only seem interested in doing so for people they already love. Forgive Josh they said. Extend grace and understanding to his parents they said. Love the Duggars they said. And we absolutely should! But when Caitlyn Jenner stepped out into the world, the love, grace, and understanding were all gone.
All that was left was utterly un-Christlike vitriol.
And therein lies the crux of the matter.
And I don't just mean the matters of the past week. I'm talking about the selective approach to love, grace, and understanding that has prevailed in the Church for far too long.
We're quick to love like Jesus when the people who need that love are already one of us, but when the people who need loving are people we don't like, people we're afraid of, or people whose lives we "don't agree with," we quickly and unapologetically exchange that love for just wrath as if the call of Jesus was to righteously condemn our enemies, not love and serve them.
But it's what followed that famous call to love your enemies that has been stuck in my mind this week.
After Jesus told his disciples to "Love your enemies [and] do good to those who hate you," he had this to say....
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
In Matthew's gospel, that final command is slightly different, but I think more helpful in understanding what Jesus is saying here. According to Matthew, Jesus said, "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Contrary to what you might think, this isn't so much a call to never make mistakes, but rather a comment on the radical nature of God's love -- and the call to go and do likewise.
Perfect love, that is to say the love of God, isn't perfected, isn't even really worthwhile until we begin to love people who don't love us in return.
Until we begin to love people we don't understand.
Until we begin to love people we consider unrepentant sinners.
Until we begin to love people we find it hard to love.
Until we begin to love our enemies.
We Christians do a great job talking and singing and preaching about love. We even do a halfway decent job of loving our own...most of the time. But when it comes to loving people outside the Church or people we've decided are on the outside, we don't do such a great job.
Worse than that, too often when the rest of the world actually gets it right and extends love, grace, and understanding to the least of these, we inexplicably freak out -- perhaps out of shame and embarrassment -- and start condemning not only the target of the rest of the world's love, but the very act of extending that love and grace in the first place.
But most of us are blind to this sin because we've convinced ourselves that true Christian love is found in sticking to dogma no matter what and denouncing perceived sins wherever we see them. And so we pat ourselves on the back for empty claims of love that are often little more than the sanctified condemnation of people we don't like, people we don't understand, people we consider our enemies. You see this often, particularly in articles about the LGBT community. Claims of just trying to "speak the truth" are wrapped in condescending language that essentially says "they" (whoever the target of the moment is) don't realize they're a mistake, sinner, heretic, or a heathen and thus it's our Christian duty to enlighten these poor folks to their inherent evil in order to save them from hell as if a handful of biblical proof-texts entitles us to be judge, jury, and executioner of our neighbors' souls.
But the Church doesn't need anymore self-appointed Judge Dredds and the world doesn't need anymore of our judgment and condemnation.
What we need, what the world needs instead is actual love, not empty rhetoric and sanctified condemnation that's veiled in the language of love, yet infused with political and cultural ideology. Actual love actually serves and embraces and welcomes people, even people "lost in sin."
What we need, what the world needs is for the Church to stop placing ideology over people. When we kneel at the altar of dogma, our idolatry doesn't makes us holier. It makes us enablers of sexual abuse and conspirators in cover-ups. When dogma becomes an idol, we become the legalistic and close-minded Pharisees and Sadducees we so love to condemn.
What we need, what the world needs is for the Church to stop spending so much of our time condemning and excluding and start spending more of our time loving, serving, and welcoming the people we'd rather ridicule and belittle for not being and believing exactly like us.
That being said and in spite of the overwhelming amount of vitriol that Christian have spewed this week -- particularly towards Caitlyn Jenner -- I do believe there is love in the Church today...but that's the problem. It too often stays in the Church. Yet, as Christ reminds us in the gospel of Luke, the love we can't stop patting ourselves on the back for is no credit to us so long as that love stays within the Body of Christ.
This lack of credit, of course, is on full display in Matthew 25 when the goats on Jesus' left look at him and say, "Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?" In response, Jesus famously says, "Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me."
It seems to me that this is what being a Christian is all about.
It's not about agreeing to a certain list of beliefs.
And it's not about loving family and friends. That's a good thing to be sure, but anybody can do that and doing so doesn't change the world.
Being a Christian, living like Christ means loving the people we don't really want to love.
That kind of love is hard, really hard. It's a sometimes painful sort of love that calls us to a life of sacrifice and service towards people who don't love us in return, people we don't understand, people we consider unrepentant sinners, people we want nothing to do with, people who are without question our enemies.
But this the only kind of love that can properly be called Christian.
This is the only kind of love that can actually change the world.
This is the only kind of love that is truly good news.