I’ve come to believe that Christianity is largely defined by its relational nature. What I mean is, authentic Christianity is characterized by the interpersonal relations it encourages and fosters, especially those between historically alienated groups. We find true justice and mercy not in impersonal, faceless bureaucracies and second-hand charity, but in going to and identifying with those in need, in joining with them in their space and looking within them seeing their Thou, as Buber puts it. Only through this kind of face-to-face human interaction do we experience God, and start to bring the Kingdom here on Earth.
Consequently, much of the bigotry and hatred we see expressed towards people who are different is a result of a deficit of relational interaction. Being tribal beings, we herd together with those like us and view the strange and different as dangerous and bad. It’s basic evolutionary psychology that we have yet to consistently be able to overcome. Only by breaking down walls and barriers, by bringing disparate groups together and facilitating relationships, will we finally begin to defeat the aforementioned bigotry and hatred.
A lack of respect and love for our neighbors in on display here in my home state of Oklahoma, as it seems to be every year when the Legislature goes back into session. Our House and Senate seem characterized by fear and reactionary legislation aimed at those that are different and not understood and thus scary. Usually, that manifests in discriminatory legislation aimed at LGBT individuals, Muslims, women, or black and brown people. This year is no exception, and I particularly want to focus on the latest hate being directed by our elected leaders towards the LGBTQI+ community in Oklahoma.
This has been a banner year for LGBTQI+ rights in America, with the Supreme Court finally upholding marriage equality for all people, and acceptance becoming more common across the nation and in most arenas of public life. Despite this amazing progress, someone forget to clue in the Oklahoma legislature. Three pieces of legislation in particular are coming to a committee near you:
- SB1014, which protects us from the nonexistent and imagined scourge of trans people using public restrooms to molest unsuspecting patrons.
- SB440, which brings back the tired fight for “religious freedom” for your friendly neighborhood bakers and hair dressers and photographers who feel that having to interact with LGBT folks somehow will send them to hell
- And HB3044, probably the most disgusting of all, which forbids school counselors from providing any counseling or resources to kids who are feeling conflicted or confused about their sexuality. That was authored and introduced by the legendary Sally Kern, who really needs no introduction from me.
It’s that last one that really has my blood boiling and my heart filled with sadness. Questions of sexuality and gender and attraction are some of the toughest things teenagers have to deal with. These feelings can be terrifying, and often times, families are unwilling to help. Especially in the case of those who may be feeling that they are LGBT, families and pastors are often the most unwilling, and the first to condemn. Thus, the school counselor may be the only friendly face they have, the only knowledgeable, supportive adult that may be preventing them from becoming another terrible, tragic statistic. For our state legislators to presume to insert themselves between a counselor and his or her students is unconscious able and immoral. If this piece of legislation gains the status of law, then the blood of every LGBTQI+ child who takes their own life because of the despair and alienation they feel will be on their hands.
Would they feel that these kinds of legislation were called for if, say, it was their child who was LGBTQI+? This brings me back to where I started: this kind of hate and bigotry comes from a lack of relations with those classified as “different.” Our legislators act this way, and thousands of Oklahomans continue to vote for them, because they essentially have no contact with LGBTQI+ people, or Muslims, or black and brown people, or basically anybody who is not a straight, white Christian. If they did, if they had to face up on a day-to-day basis with those they spend so much time condemning, they would be confronted with their lack of love, with their abdication of our Christian, and human, obligation to live in peace with one another. They would be convicted of their hate, and maybe begin to come around. But instead, so many live in bubbles of safety, shunning and hating all that is different, justifying that hate in the name of Jesus and the Bible and whatever else it takes to soothe their souls, knowing deep down that love is the only honest way of living in the world, but unwilling to take that chance.
If this bill passes here in Oklahoma, maybe next year a related piece of legislation should be considered. Maybe we should mandate that every student denied the services of their school counselor should instead get partnered with a legislator who votes for this bill, who then has to sit with them through their anguish and fear, and see what their actions have done. And every family who loses a child due to the feelings of guilt and shame encouraged by our “leaders” should get an hour alone with a legislator to let them know what they think of their legislative cowardice and pandering.
Of course, they would never dream of giving themselves such responsibilities. Instead they will continue to invoke the name of their god in the defense of their hate, and continue to live in their disconnected little bubble, away from the people who they are hurting every time they make that trip to OKC to encode their bigotry in law. And in so doing, they will continue to reject the Way of Jesus, the only way to God, which is through love of neighbor.