Last week, celebrated novelist, Anne Rice, created a Facebook update that turned into a media proclamation that caused quite a reaction by my fellow christians. She communicates that she's still a fan of Jesus but giving up association to christianity.
Another popular and heated newsworthy topic among christians this season is the construction of a Muslim mosque at the former site of the World Trade Center towers.
Both of these issues have elicited a christian response that doesn't mesh well with the character of Jesus I receive from the gospel story.
The excessive confidence in determining whether Anne Rice was right or wrong in her decision confuses me. From my study it appears less than 5 times in the gospels that Jesus provides a quick and direct answer to questions. Far more often he tends to respond to questions slowly and creatively by means of parable or paradox. Seldom does he provide a black and white answer like the loudest and most public christian figures seem to today. More often than not Jesus went the route of advocacy and acceptance. Voicing approval or disapproval came later if at all. (See woman at the well, woman caught in adultery, Zacchaeus in the tree, etc.)
What if our first response to Anne Rice and others like her was more like what we'd hope for from a loving Father and less like dedicated moral security guards? I hold what I believe to be a very high view of the scriptures, but when I'm deeply struggling in life I can't remember ever being transformed and uplifted by a stranger quoting what they believe to be just the right scripture verse for the moment. When I'm in a place of despair what I long for most is the love of the Father manifested through human flesh and bone. When I'm lost in a funk what I most desire is your sincere acceptance of me not your approval. This is what the Incarnation, God made flesh, most represents.
In this conversation many christians turn to the phrase, “Love the sinner and hate the sin.” This is especially referenced in the conversations surrounding homosexuality. I understand where people are coming from with that idea, but carefully pause and consider the posture and perspective represented in that phrase. If I've been gay for as long as I can remember and I'm caught in the tension of being a gay man who also happens to love Jesus and you somehow attempt to convey to me that you love me but hate the fact that I'm gay, how accepted and loved am I supposed to feel?
I believe that lurking behind EVERY individual in this world is their shadow of shame. It's that inner darkness and disconnectedness we all experience that made Adam and Eve want to cover themselves with fig leaves. For many American Muslims they are forced to carry this heavy burden of shame due to the 9/11 fundamentalist extremists who associated themselves with the Muslim faith. And as we adamantly protest a mosque being built near ground zero we are inconsiderately holding that shame over the heads of our Muslim brothers and sisters.
My committed response to Jesus entails radical love in the face of shame. Regardless of how much I may disapprove or desire someone (or myself) to change their mind the movement is ultimately up to God. Tonight I get the opportunity to be with alcoholics, crack addicts, and several others who are sexually confused. They are my teachers and without friends like these I'd have very little chance of seeing what Jesus was getting at throughout his life expressed in the gospel. A life that teaches me acceptance beyond approval.