This post is one in a continuing series for the month of March that aims to examine the American Church’s response to homosexuals in their midst, whether they be believers, agnostics, or atheists. This month’s series was spawned by the Harding University Queer Press publishing a zine on March 2 featuring the voices and stories of past and present LGBTQ students at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas, my alma mater. The zine can be downloaded in its digital entirety at http://www.huqueerpress.com.
A Sabbath has passed. Hopefully respite for the weary came on the wind. Hopefully minds sought One greater than themselves, eager to see what they could learn from him, rather than yearning to say they had a thing or two to teach him. Hopefully clarity arrived on the wings of rest. Before this Sabbath my last post was about grace and how both Harding University and Harding University Queer Press’ supporters need to show it to one another.
It is typical for us to have the gut reaction of retaliation when we are offended. Some would say that’s okay, that it’s just who we are, that it is our nature, but this is not true. Such a response is animalistic. It does not smack of the deeper substance of what it means to be a human being.
The reason I say that is because when something like HUQP’s zine occurs, often a fire is stoked down low in the bowels of who we are. It simmers, grows hot, and eventually begins to boil the blood, and in our unchecked mental, emotional, and physical irrationality we lash out at the other side. In this case that other side could be the gay and lesbian students, especially when you have a group calling themselves Harding University Straight Press and publishing an incredibly infantile parody response to the HUQP zine. But also in this case that other side can be Harding University herself.
This is when hypocrisy runs rampant, though. Why? Consider that HUQP wants to see the better treatment of humanity come about, the expression of love and acceptance begin to take place. But if bloggers, past Harding gay students, or whomever get so angry at the university to the point they no longer treat people at Harding like human beings—and they are fellow human beings, even if we don’t agree with some their principles—then we are not saints. We are soldiers.
Does Harding need to change some of her policies? Yes. Do many supporters of HUQP need to change their tone? Yes. Harding won’t be moved to change, though, if she is only shown anger, bitterness, and rage; if she is shown forgiveness, love, and acceptance, then something good can happen. That is my prayer.
If the inherent humanity of the individuals occupying Harding’s administration is lost and altogether missing from the perspective of the irate, then this entire endeavor is a sham. And I can confidently say I am glad to not be on Harding’s campus right now.
We do not downgrade and belittle fellow humans (Harding) so as to make sure other humans (LGBTQ students) are no longer downgraded and belittled. This is when you work against yourself. This is when you think you’re building a foundation of progress, but in reality you’re setting its cornerstone on fire. We, as humanity, do not tear down one group to build up another. We do not operate in the realm of “tit for tat.” We do not give credence to the idea that retaliation is the appropriate response in the face of social injustice. If we do begin to believe such lies, then we have rejected the ways of Jesus Christ, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King and are instead emulating the Crusades. This does nothing to honor humanity or God (who, after all, is love).
We pray for restoration. We pray for healing. We pray for grace and love from all sides. Above all, we ask that God would give us the boldness to effect such good ourselves, would give us the strength and audacity to begin to do our part today rather than next week or next month. We desire for apathy to perish. Such is possible, but only when the humility of servitude begins to be employed by all involved.
It’s interesting that for every seemingly important tiff we as humans construct, the life of Christ has a potentiality capable of topping it. Jesus’ ministry was full of opportunities for him to be enraged and indignant, yet he would not embrace them. Thinking of humility and servitude, my mind goes to Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, but what puzzles me the most is not the fact that he washes all twenty-four of their dirty, cracked, putrid soles; the thing that confounds me is he washes Judas’ feet. He does it willingly. He does it eagerly. My mind is blown.
There’s still enough civility left in the Harding University/HUQP zine episode to where we know neither side is planning to murder one another. And yet many are letting their emotions run wild . . . on both sides. In contrast, though, Christ knew Judas’ plans, he knew what was coming, and he still served him. He still put Judas’ needs, comforts, et cetera before himself. Jesus sustained his executioner.
Nobody in the zine vs. Harding furor is an executioner. If you believe one side is, then you’re overreacting. So why bring up Judas? Because if Christ remained undeterred from his mission to humbly serve in love the very people around him who were trying to end his life, then how childish does the squabbling at Harding, around Harding, and directed at Harding become? Severely.
Harding is full of good people who are employed there. They go to work, they work hard, they invest in the lives of students and colleagues, they go home to their families, and they give everything they have to try and make sure their families are taken care of. Are they perfect? No. Do we always agree with their administrative choices? No. But should we love them, accept them, pray for them? Without doubt.
Harding is full of good people who are students, some of whom are gay or lesbian. They go to class, they work hard, they invest in the lives of fellow students and professors, they spend time with their friends, and they’re also frightened. Are they perfect? No, they’re not either. But should we love them, accept them, pray for them . . . reach out to them? We should and without condition because the insane thing is that Christ did just as much for us when he didn’t owe any of us a thing; when being God incarnate, you don’t really have too many debts (curiously, though, some people feel God owes them something). It is grace alone that causes God to reach down to us like that.
I heard Peter Rollins speak once, and he talked about the internal war of the subconscious vs. the conscious and how we, as humans, try unceasingly to keep our subconscious from rising to the surface. Reason being, if people knew the true us—what really goes on in our minds and hearts—they wouldn’t want to be within a thousand yards of us. In other words, at our core we’re not very good.
To an extent I agree with Rollins, simply because I know the blackest parts of my own heart, and sure, I try to keep them beneath the surface. But I can’t go far enough to say it means I’m not good at the core of it all. And I say that because of the wisdom of the apostle Paul, when he says, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.” Make no mistake: humanity is not righteous. But we are good.
Or I also come back to how one man at my church put it during communion: “The value of something is only determined by how high of a price a person is willing to pay for it.” You’ve had a very high price paid for you. We are not shining treasures; we are rusty ones. We are not gleaming, but we are valuable. We are good.
But if this goodness that is inherent in all of humanity is lost in the perspectives of those writing blogs against Harding University, then the restoration attempted by the zine has all been for naught. Sadly, such vocal emanations of the blogosphere do just that. It’s understandable, perhaps. The majority of those writers had never heard of Harding University until this zine. To them it’s just a conglomeration of buildings centered on a few policies that irk them, and it’s faceless. It’s just concrete, glass, and oppression to them; there’s no human element to it. Therefore, what the majority of people are writing isn’t worth reading because we can say with honesty, “They don’t know what they’re talking about.” Sure, they know a little more than they used to because HUQP published the zine, but these writers still don’t know anything about what it’s like to be a student there. And because of that they can easily remove themselves from having a reason to acknowledge how humanity, too, resides within the confines of Harding.
And when we purposefully remove the human element, we just drafted for ourselves a license to take off the filter of rationality and levelheadedness. We can then bare our teeth, sink them deep, and masticate until we feel the insatiable taste of blood running down the backs of our throats. This is not reason; this is madness.
For a while I’ve been watching one guy who’s been commenting on blogs, and his absolute disregard for maintaining respectful dialogue makes my heart ache. It aches because this guy went to Harding. He actually has a point of reference other bloggers do not; he’s seen the humanity of the people of his alma mater, and ultimately he chooses to ignore it. This man is, himself, gay, and I don’t doubt he was hurt, scared, and suffered while a student at Harding; that’s nothing at which to laugh. But that doesn’t excuse the platform he’s since felt allowed to adopt as his soapbox. When someone asked this man what he bases his ethics upon, he replied, “Reason and science.” This does not impress me.
This does not impress me because, as great as those two things are, his earnest modernistic search has caused him to turn cold and forget the primary mandate of love for all of humanity. He may say he’s acting out of love and compassion for those gay students, but when he does so at the expense of showing that same tenderness to other humans (Harding) and places what he withholds from them on a sacrificial altar, his hypocrisy is his undoing and hinders his ability to bring about full, holistic restoration to everybody. Reason and science are great, and I’m thankful for them, but this man’s facts and figures interest me not; his heart, however, does matter to me. And his heart is hard.
I appreciate intellectualism; I value it very highly, more highly than most things, actually. I like well-reasoned arguments, respectful thought, and compelling discussion, but I also know that reason and research die away, for the mind is fragile and will deteriorate just like everything else. We long for that which is permanent, and the mind of man simply is not that. But when we convince ourselves the mind possesses such intransience and uplifts our ability to reason beyond its actual capabilities, we become so focused on what our head knows that we begin to ignore what the heart yearns to do, which is love, and our brains can not fulfill such a function. Our minds are a beautiful gift, but they are not given to us so as to replace our emotive response to all of humanity around us, but we see this happening in the blogosphere’s reaction to Harding.
It will take soft hearts for reparation and understanding to take place at Harding University. Bloggers can not bring this about; the students and faculty who are currently on that campus can. (This is why I put little stock—if any, really—in this blog.) This is their struggle, not ours. All we can do is offer our voices, and the only reason I added mine and keep adding mine is because people continue to ask for it and are encouraging it. But ultimately this is not my struggle, for I no longer claim Searcy, Arkansas as my place of residence, which is why I’m ending this topic when the month of March comes to a close; I simply don’t want to write about this all the time. It’s important for a moment, but there is more to life than this.
We, as humans, support the love and acceptance of fellow humans because at our very barest state of existence that’s how we want to be treated. I firmly believe that’s why Jesus—whether you believe he was the Son of God or not—was one of the most dynamic individuals to ever walk the face of the earth . . . because he showed people that life-giving care, that tenderness which empowers, that compassion which emboldens us to go out and live our lives with confidence. It’s a love shown to us that reminds us who we are, tells us over again where our identities reside. We are to love people in the same way. If we do not, then we cease to be capable of building the kingdom of Heaven on earth; we instead build a slaughterhouse.