Today is a bad day. Two powerful blasts of bad news damn near knocked me off my feet, coming as they did within minutes of each other. Two deaths, and an unfortunate connection.
A good friend of mine from high school passed away last night. We haven’t had much contact since graduating; we reconnected on Facebook not long ago and, in viewing our interactions there, I see that most communication we’ve had was his yearly “happy birthday” messages to me. Unrequited, I’m afraid.
Back in high school, he and some of the other guys used to go to youth group with me. They weren’t evangelical Christians like I was; they were raised in Catholic families and were fellow inmates at our all male Catholic high school. None of them really liked going to my church, I don’t think. It was too strange for them. I was too obviously evangelizing. But we didn’t have many friends outside of each other, and I’m sure that’s why they came.
My friend was bisexual. This all came out years after high school, and in the time since we reconnected he lived his life right out in the open on Facebook. He had some trouble with drugs and alcohol in those intervening years, too, but seemed to have it under control. Ultimately, from the time spent in the homophobic halls of an all male Catholic school, through the rest of his too-short life, I get the impression that due to the competing pressures regarding his sexuality, he was never comfortable in his own skin. He described himself, casually, as, “a lil bit of this and a lil bit of that.”
I don’t know what he thought about me after all those years of trying to “witness” to him, of being judgmental about petty teenage taboos like swearing and smoking. There is a lot I regret about the kind of Christian I was in high school. I can only hope he didn’t think I judged him still, or thought any less of him after he came out. I can only hope, but I’m not so sure.
Also last night, in Uganda, a country I visited while living in Kenya, another man, David Koto, died. He was murdered. Though the police are blaming his death on a robbery, those who knew him, and knew his story, are drawing the obvious connection between his death and the fact that his picture was recently featured on the front page of a Ugandan newspaper under the headline “Hang Them.”
He was gay.
Already, people are assigning blame for Koto’s death to the U.S. evangelical preachers who visited Uganda a few years ago and stoked the fire of anti-gay ire in the country, and to the groups in the U.S. that continue to support that cause. It has been widely publicized that after the evangelical preachers visited Uganda, hosting rallies and talks, some Ugandan legislators proposed a bill that would make hanging the penalty for a person found to be homosexual.
The extent to which the preachers who have been frequently accused by name are guilty of Koto’s death is unclear and probably immeasurable. But what is clear is that Christians, and evangelicals in particular, are guilty of demonizing homosexuals. We are told — despite Jesus’ example — that it is up to us to throw the first stone of judgment at those we deem sinners. In fact today, with unfortunate timing, Albert Mohler wrote, responding to Joel Osteen’s nearly forced pronouncement that he believes homosexuality is sin, that “those who express confidence in the Bible’s teaching” will have to make such a judgment.
But when we do this, we put an unbearable burden on the shoulders of our gay brothers and sisters. Even the most “love the sinner, hate the sin” believer among us is guilty. We have mistakenly labeled homosexuality as an unforgivable sin, a malfunction, a distortion, or a disease. And we are guilty of a million counts of making life miserable for so many people, and of making life unlivable for countless others.
I’m calling for an end to this life threatening judgmentalism. I’m calling for a moratorium on debates over what qualifies as sin in other peoples’ lives. I’m calling for a change in priorities, a shift back to what we should have been doing all along. I’m calling for love, acceptance, and a global admission that we have wronged so many people. Ultimately, I’m pleading with my fellow Christians to change, to make a marked transition from being the most judgmental and angry, to the most accepting and loving. From being the police of others’ morality, to the bearers of others’ burdens. Peoples’ lives, it’s clear, are at stake.
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