Sunday, May 01, 2005

Lord, When You Said, “Love Your Enemies,” You Weren’t Speaking Literally Were You?

Life is composed of jarring juxtapositions. Moments that seems vulgar and surreal when placed beside each other. Moments that split our worlds into a sort of ghastly ying-yang paradox. Moments that, in an instant, serve to crystallize what we believe in and what we find utterly reprehensible—who we are, who we’re not, and who we hope to be.

I few minutes ago, I stepped out of the gothic comforts of Grace Episcopal Church into the brisk cold of a Colorado spring that is really doing its best to mimic winter. I had just experienced one of the most moving and articulate interpretations of the Eucharist I have ever heard. Part of a confirmation class in Anglicanism, we were studying the liturgy of the church, and more specifically the role of communion both in the worship service and in our daily lives. “The mysterious question,” Father Theron had said, “should not be how Christ gets into the bread and wine, but rather how Christ gets into you and I.”

Profoundly moved and with tears still brimming in my eyes, I opened a door to the outside and emerged to face a sign that read, “God Hates Fags!” Scattered in front of the church were a half dozen or so protestors, shouting something about “feces” and “hell” at the congregation as we exited the building.

Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church from Topeka, Kansas—composed almost entirely of his own extended family—does not, by nearly anyone’s standards, represent Christianity or anything even remotely resembling it. No one I know—not the most conservative or fundamentalist among them—would consider this group legitimate. They take it upon themselves to travel the nation in what they ironically dub, Love Crusades, picketing various organizations, churches, and groups who they feel have strayed from the true gospel. Their website has virtual memorials to homosexual victims of hate-crimes in which they gleefully proclaim the number of days which the “offender” has been roasting in hell. Touting signs that depict stick-figures in homosexuals acts and emblazoned with such slogans as, “God Hates Fags,” “God Hates You,” “Thank God for 9/11,” and “God Blew Up The Space Shuttle,” they’ve condemned everyone from the Far Left to the most virulent of the Religious Right as homosexual enablers.

Which is why they are in Colorado Springs—for the third time in as many months. Tomorrow they bring their protest to James Dobson’s “Focus on the Family” headquarters. He is, in their eyes, too liberal toward the gay community. For anyone familiar with Focus’ right-wing rhetoric, God knows where they got that idea. In a bit of supreme irony, “Soulforce,” an organization whose purpose is to change the hearts and minds of religious leaders who engage in anti-homosexual campaigns will also be protesting at “Focus” that day, decrying the organization as too conservative in its agenda.

It’ll make for great news tomorrow night.

But here’s where things get sticky. Downright impossible actually.

I don’t hate homosexuals. I love homosexuals. Some of my wife, Stephanie, and my dearest friends here in Colorado Springs are gay. They are not my enemies. They are my friends. Misguided? Yes. Sinners? Yes. But then, so am I. My sins simply have other stripes, inhabit other camps. If there is to be real change in their lives (and mine) and if they are to see that their sin separates them from the freedom and reckless love of their Savior (as do mine), then they must be shown that Savior’s love. I am commanded, by my Savior, to be His love here on earth.

Oddly, I do not find that difficult. Perhaps it is God working within me, birthing His compassion in my heart, forming His thoughts in my mind, making me more of a reflection of Him—a dramatically flawed, cracked, and blurred reflection, there is little doubt—but, perhaps, a little clearer today than I was yesterday.

No, it is not the proverbial sinner, the tax-collector, or the prostitute that I find difficult to love. It is the person who preaches hate from the same Bible I love. It is the person who twists the words of my Lord into devices to judge, wound and maim others. It is the person who claims to speak from the same source of authority upon which I have built my own life, and then turns that Gospel, that story of out-of-control love and compassion for broken, hurting people into a cultish freak show.

The simple truth is, I don’t want to love them.

I want to hate them.

I want to join arms with those they rail against and rail back. I want to scoop up the dozens of darling children they bring with them and take them to a place where love, not hate is their spiritual nourishment so that their spirits will not grow up to resemble the twisted, gnarled, misshapen, malformed shadows of souls that fester inside their parents. I want to shout them down, tear their First Amendment protected signs from their hands and split their heads with them.

But that is not what I am called to do. I am called to love my enemies. To add insult to injury, I am called to pray for their well-being.

I did not reflect Christ a few minutes ago. Oh, I didn’t do anything so harsh as beat the shit out of them. Although I wanted to. I didn’t even cuss them out. I ignored them. I rolled my eyes, groaned, and walked past them to my apartment. I was not Jesus. Jesus would have loved them. He would have approached them with the sort of barrier melting adoration and laser accurate insight that would have sealed their mouths and split their hearts.

What I would want to see Him do is throw them from the grounds and into the street as He did when overturning the money changer’s tables at the temple in Jerusalem. And who knows, He may have done just that. My Bible—the same one Phelps and family claim to read—is stuffed to the seams with incidents in which Christ condemns the pompous self-righteousness of the religious community, calling them “vipers” and “villains” and instead chooses to spend his time with those the “church” of the day deemed untouchable, reprobate sinners.

Last Tuesday night, Stephanie and I attended a dialogue at a local church here in town. As a response to the joint “God Hates Fags” and “Soulforce” protest of “Focus on the Family,” a number of pastors got together to try to imagine a way in which the community could come together in respect and love of one another and dialogue in such a way that the dignity of both sides of the argument could be reflected. The idea behind “A Community Discussion on Homosexuality” was to remove the firebrand homosexual issue from politics where it has been co-opted and return it where it belongs—a conversation among those in a community.

Two panels, both “conservative” and “liberal” were allowed to present their views and take questions from an audience of a thousand or so intermingled hetro and homosexual participants. It was not an evening in which anyone attempted or expected to change another’s mind. It was not about changing viewpoints—it was about changing approaches. And it was beautiful.

“We must love as Christ loved,” one of the panel members stated near the end of the evening, “without fear of defilement.”

And here’s where things get sticky. Downright impossible actually.

So long as I try to love in my own sinful, prideful, and selfish power, such love is unattainable. But not once “Christ gets into me.” Once Christ’s love gets into me, I begin to see each and every human being the way in which God sees them—innumerably precious, valuable and unique. Even those…especially those who have blinded themselves to that worth in others. Genuine, authentic love cannot be manifested in how I treat my friends. It is shown in how I treat my enemies, how I show care and compassion for those who hate me.

If God can unreservedly adore those who so blatantly and maliciously misrepresent Him, can I do any less?

I failed today.

I will start again tomorrow.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree Brandon. Here is a thought to consider that compliments yours, "Once we seek and eventually find even the smallest portion of a person that reflects or resembles Christ's love it will then be impossible for us not to them."

8:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find myself thinking about Dobson the way you think about Phelps & Co. The God Hates Fags group doesn't really bother me, because they are so screwed up no one takes them seriously. Dobson, on the other hand, has millions of evangelicals eating out of his sweaty little hand. It troubles me how he is allowed to peddle hate in the name of God.

I relate to the inner struggle. I have a very difficult time thinking of how I could love James Dobson. All I can think is Matthew 23.

When I saw his picture on the news Sunday, I sincerely hoped that it was a story announcing his death. I'm sorry. That's how I felt. Instead, they were reporting on "Justice Sunday," and how Democrats were not people of faith, according to him.

I struggle with a righteous anger. Let me know how it goes for you. The other day I was asked to speak at an AIDS benefit. I will do it. And I hope the God of Love inhabits me as I try to turn back the tide of hate that is spread by so many of my "brothers and sisters."

9:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amazing... absolutely breathtaking. Thank you so much Brandon. I remembered again today why I want to learn how to love better.

Seriously, please write a book - and mention somewhere in there your "biggest, slightly cult fan Bethany"

11:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Brandon, How I love to read your writing!

I did not know you and Stephanie were going to the Episcopal church. Guess I should say...welcome to the Anglican Communion!

11:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are a great man Brandon Fibbs, and i love you so much. Thank you for being the compasionate, caring, understanding and Godly man that so many fall short of, or don't care to attain. And thank you for loving me dispite my short comings. You are one of my lifes' heros!

your little sis

3:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I interviewed the family that was arrested today at the demonstration.
It's here:

10:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brandon,thank you for expressing God's truth. He has indeed called us to love as He loves, to see people as He sees them. So often we fail - many Christians do fail at the command to "love one another," as stated in John 13:34-35. Just like anyone else, your (my/our) sin also separates you (me/us) from God, and only our repentance from that sin and acceptance of Jesus as Savior redeems us from an eternity in hell. God did not call us to hate, beat, cajole, strike out against, or damn other "sinners;" rather, we are to show them the love of their Father - we are to be Jesus with skin on. Were it not for the grace and love of God as shown to me through the Godly people in my life, I too would be far from God.

Brandon, also Reacher, I struggle not so much with a hate of those Christians who appear to exemplify the opposite of Christ's love, but more with a desperation and sadness that Christ is so misrepresented to the world, the world wants nothing to do with Him - who would, if this is who God is? Reacher, it strikes me that we would not struggle with "righteous" anger - if it is righteous, it is God-given and appropriate for the situation, rebuke or correction. I do often struggle with my "un-righteous" anger, the kind of anger that roils up my insides, causes hateful or hurtful thoughts towards others, and generally accomplishes nothing for righteousness' sake.

Daily, God puts before me people I find difficult to love, both Christian and non-Christian, and He has been stretching and challenging me in my ability to love my enemies in both groups. I fail often, and succeed occasionally.

God, help me to love all people as You love them; to see all people as You see them; and to know that You desire that NONE should perish, but that ALL should come to a saving knowledge of You and receive everlasting life. Help me and others who follow after You and Your Word to produce, not the fruit of bitterness and hatred, which does not last, and is rooted in darkness instead of Light; rather, help us to produce fruit that lasts, fruit that is rooted in love, Light and in the Spirit of God.

3:10 PM  

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