I recently shared an article on Facebook that said something positive about the President’s religious faith and practice. As you can imagine, it was like kicking a hornet’s nest in an abandoned barn. Getting folks stirred up is not a problem for me; I don’t mind a lively discussion, as long as everyone is civil.
When I shared the article I expected a few comments. I have a bunch of good Facebook friends who are not afraid to speak up. However, I must admit, I was caught off guard with the response. The second comment took the conversation in a totally unexpected direction.
The article I shared was a description of the President’s activities and comments about Easter. Immediately, a pastor who is a Facebook friend essentially said he did not believe the President was a Christian because of his belief about gay marriage. I can live with someone making that statement in today’s political/theological climate. It seems that gay marriage has become the default discussion for every conversation.
However, he kept insisting that I declare my position on gay marriage. He wouldn’t give it a rest, even calling out others who commented during the discussion. For some reason, it was extremely important to this man that we all declare our stance on the issue of gay marriage.
I understand that some have a need to put everyone neatly in a box. It makes their life simpler. “I can relate comfortably with those in this box, but I need to be careful around those in this other box, and I must stay away completely from those in that box over there.”
Several years ago I was trying to build a consulting business, helping churches and individuals arrange their lives around good stewardship principles. A friend in another state was trying to expand his similar business to Texas, and it appeared that by working together we would both benefit greatly.
One day, after we had been discussing and planning for several months, this friend called and asked me to confirm that I was a member of a church that had been recently accused of being “soft” toward gays. When I confirmed that I was indeed a member of that church, he quickly declared that we could not do business together. He went on to explain that he could not afford to have his reputation sullied by associating with me.
Incredulously, he added, “Terry, I love you like a brother, but we can’t work together.”
Pardon my language, but I replied, “What the hell does that mean? You love me like a brother but you want nothing to do with me!”
I guess to him, brotherly love means seeing eye to eye on certain issues. Essentially, once he discovered there might be a “problem” with my theology, he was able to put me in a box for those he must not relate to. The amazing thing is that if he would have been willing to have a discussion, we probably would have discovered there was very little difference in our personal beliefs about this issue. However, we would have discovered there is a huge difference in the way we believe about relating to one another.
This experience is the precise reason why I refused to answer my Facebook friend’s question about my belief on his make-or-break issue. It is not a make-or-break issue for me. I don’t really care what he believes about the issue. However, I don’t like being shut away in someone’s box.
We are all guilty of putting others in boxes; me included. It does make life easier. If I can see your Facebook photo, or your name on the caller ID, or know the church you attend, or anyone of hundreds of other identifiers, then I don’t have to really think when you say something. I already know what you mean because those in your box all say the same thing.
After several attempts to pin down my position on gay marriage, my Facebook friend resorted to saying, “Just a yes or no, that’s all I want.”
This has been the most volatile issue within the church for decades and he wanted me to reduce my position down to a simple “yes” or “no.” I refused to do it because I didn’t want to jump into one of his boxes.
If he really wants to know what I think about the issue, I will be more than happy to have an extended email exchange, phone conversation, or personal visit (if he comes to my place, I’m not interested enough to travel to see him). If he is struggling with the issue himself, I would love to help him think through all the ramifications and nuances, and approach a reasoned conclusion. But he is already firmly planted on his opinion, he just wants to know how I should be judged.
Yet, my Facebook friend’s approach is the one most often employed by folks. I wonder if the reason we take this approach is because we don’t really care enough about one another. If you and I can sit down and talk about the issue of gay marriage, I don’t think it matters if we arrive at the same conclusion. I really believe that two rational people can disagree on very important issues, yet still love one another, or at least be loving toward one another.
I have good friends who disagree with me on significant theological and political issues, yet we are still good friends. We have had conversations, sometimes long conversations about issues, and we know we disagree, but it doesn’t matter. We still love one another.
I think I learned this from my father. I was a teenager during the Vietnam War years, and many of my friends were being drafted and sent to fight this war. My father was a Marine who fought on Iwo Jima during the big war. We disagreed on most issues concerning the war, and we had frequent heated discussions, so much so, that my mother wouldn’t let us watch the evening news together.
My father and I also disagreed about a couple of theological matters that were especially important to him. Again, we had a few lively discussions.
However, my father never put me in a box. He seemed to appreciate my willingness to think for myself. In fact, when I served as a pastor of a church, he was my biggest supporter and best resource for help. He knew I didn’t lead the church to practice what he believed on his issues, but he loved me more than his theological positions.
I like to think I can do that with other people. I don’t need you to agree with me on everything, or really, anything. All I need, all anyone needs, is to be loved, respected, and treated with kindness. Don’t get mad if I refuse to jump in your box. Be willing to live with me, even though you might think I jump from box to box. If you take the time to get to know me, you might actually like me, and I will probably like you.
Now John answered and said, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side.” (Luke 9:49-50)