On my way to St. Louis to speak at the Urbana Student Missions conference, I had the opportunity to re-read Jean Vanier’s book, “Finding Peace”. If you haven’t read this little gem – go get it and read it! In its pages I was again inspired, revitalized and focused to continue our bridge-building work as an expression of the peace-making heart of God.
Vanier says, “The world is divided into many thousands of more or less hermetically closed groups. If each group is sure that it is better than others, how can peace ever come? It is difficult to dialogue with others if we cling arrogantly to the idea that we are right or that our power and technology are a sign of our humanity and goodness. Walls and barriers exist between people because of language, but also because of fear – each group fearful of those who are different, fearful of losing its identity. People resist opening up to others. Aren’t we all in one way or another enclosed in a secure group, in our culture, our religion, our family, our network of friends? Family and different types of groups are needed for human growth, but when they become sealed they engender rivalry, conflict, elitism.” (p. 16 emphasis mine)
Last night I heard Oscar Muriu from Kenya speak at Urbana. He spoke about the incarnation and the movements that Christ embodied in this choice to enter our world vulnerably as a newborn child. The movements from pride to humility, from power to powerlessness, from position to poverty (and he had one more which I’m not recalling) are the incarnational postures to which we are called as those who seek to nurture shalom. Here was a passionate African leader challenging 16,000 students to lead the way through vibrant expressions of incarnational mission, to extend grace to the generation before them who made lots of mistakes but who did the best they knew how in obedience and faithfulness to Christ, and to lead by forging a new and radical path that refuses the way of empire, colonialism, power and money. How grateful I was, how hopeful I was to think about partnership and engagement with our African brothers and sisters who embrace and embody such incarnational paradigms.
I continue to have many questions about how to best engage the situation in Uganda. I am keenly aware of our tragic legacy of colonialism and the danger of imposing western culture into their unique context. One of my deepest personal core values is to not be patronizing in my engagement with others – but to extend honour and respect by experiencing mutuality with the expectation that there will always be opportunity to learn even as there is opportunity to offer personal experience. And I am concerned that I not speak into a global situation (of which I would be the first to say I have no first-hand experience) with an unconscious yet arrogant presumption. At the same time, have we not learned some things in the 40 plus years since Stonewall? Are there not some things that can and ought to be offered and shared in both a spirit of humility and the conviction of valuing the image of God and the belovedness of each glbt person?
As I have continued to ponder and pray, I continue to return to this idea that seems to be generating powerful fear behind the Ugandan legislation and broader misconceptions about glbt people. It is this idea that gay people are recruiting “our children”. It seems to me that this is one of the core drivers behind the perpetuation and justification of devaluing the lives of same-sex oriented individuals in not only Uganda, but many parts of the world.
As a mom, I well know, that if you want to see me turn from a meek & mild, gentle & nice woman to a ferocious mama bear in 3 seconds flat – then just threaten my children. The gloves are off, I don’t care who you are – I’ll take you out. If I am honest, I may not take the necessary time to investigate if the threat is real or fabricated – because in that moment all I care about is protecting my babies. And if I don’t have access to reliable information about the perceived threat, then I will likely be incapable of making clear decisions consistent with the universal core value of treating others as I would want to be treated. All of that goes out the window in light of my gut level passion to protect my children.
And it is this kind of fear-inducing, manipulation (often promoted in the name of Christ) to which I feel I must speak. I must speak because this whole notion of widespread recruiting of children by average gay people is not true. And because stirring up fear that turns one human being against another is completely inconsistent with the way of Jesus – who chose incarnation: humility, powerlessness & poverty.
It is a sad reality of human sexuality that older adults seduce the young. This is indisputable. But this is not a gay issue – this is a human issue.
And it is a tragic reality that sexual abuse can cause tremendous woundedness and confusion in victims. But it is not accurate to insinuate that all gay people should be viewed as offenders until proven innocent – anymore than it would be to insinuate that all straight people should be viewed as offenders until proven innocent.
And it is not accurate to insinuate that homosexuality can somehow be “caught”, that it will “spread”, or that extending dignity and respect to our gay neighbours will increase the prevalence of homosexuality among our youth. The question of causation is complex and currently inconclusive. So while there seems to be a unique combination of both nature and nurture factors impacting different people to different degrees, what we do know is that a homosexual orientation is not something chosen or simply adopted. (And really, given the climate in Uganda towards gay people – who in their right mind would choose that?)
The reality of an increase in same-sex sexual experimentation, particularly in our western context, is, in my opinion, an alarming one. In my understanding, it is alarming because it fosters an unhealthy promiscuity for which young people seem to be often oblivious to long-term consequences including the potential of confusion in one’s experience of sexual identity. But such experimentation, I would suggest, is far more the result of our own consumeristic, lust-oriented, celebrity-fixated, individualistic culture than it is the fruit of extending fair and just treatment and hospitality to our gay neighbours.
So, as someone in the west who desires to humbly acknowledge that I do not fully understand all the complex cultural realities influencing attitudes about homosexuality in a context like Uganda, I do wish, as a follower of Jesus Christ who in serving gay people has experienced much heart change, to offer such distinctions on these matters as they impact our children.
It may be that you continue, on the basis of Scripture, to hold a theological perspective that homosexual behaviour is inconsistent with God’s guidelines for human sexuality. If you hold such convictions may it be not from fear, misinformation, or prejudice – but from prayerful, humble wrestling with Scripture. But let us, who name the name of Jesus, recognize that such conviction about God-honouring behaviour cannot negate the truth of God’s love for our gay neighbours and our responsibility as his followers to challenge fear-inducing misinformation that would oppress or marginalize.
Vanier: “This passage, this crossing over the barricades that separate cultures and religions, is not a rejection of one’s own faith, tradition, and culture, but rather a fulfillment of them. Faith, religion, and culture find their deepest meaning as they become a way to permit us to be bonded to God, the God of love and compassion, which give us the strength, the courage, and the wisdom to meet others who are different as persons. We can only become peacemakers if we believe that every person – whatever their culture, religion, values, abilities or disabilities – is important and precious to God and if we seek to open our hearts to them. Such encounters between people are deep, wonderful moments that seem to transcend time and space, religion and culture. They bring people together to a place of trust and mutual respect as they listen to one another and their sacred stories, not from the place of their own certitudes and ideologies, but from the place of inner silence. They imply a fundamental equality: no one person is superior to another. As we enter into this relationship together, we are opening our hearts to one another and somehow losing some of the things we want to possess in order to feel superior and to have power. Walls that separate culture, religion, social status, and people start to weaken in this gentle encounter.” (p.40)
Across unique and complex cultural realties, may our shared love for Christ remind us to speak the truth (not generalizations, assumptions, or unsubstantiated threats), cast out fear, and extend dignity and respect to all our neighbours.