Monday, June 29, 2015
Social media exploded in the wake of the SCOTUS decision on marriage equality. My Facebook feed filled quickly with lots of opinions, some expressed with kindness but many were not so kind. This didn't surprise me. More important, though, was the number of people who expressed how silenced they felt by the public discourse, how uncomfortable they felt expressing their own opinion for fear of provoking an avalanche of hate from "the other side."
We live in America. Freedom of speech is an inalienable right. Yet so many people feel alienated right now that it breaks my heart.
How we use our words matters. "If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging symbol."
Have your words added to the cacophony, the mud-slinging, the hate? It's so easy to get sucked into the trenches of this world; the battle lines seduce us with the sirens' song of power and righteousness and indignation: I'm right, you're wrong so screw you all the way to hell!
When we have to push others down to lift ourselves up, both sides lose.
Let's take a look at the entirety of I Corinthians 13, an oh-so-familiar passage that is forgotten oh-so-often in the times of conflict for which Paul wrote it. I invite you to read the words slowly, meditatively. Let them sink in.
13 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast,[a] but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly,[b] but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
In this chapter, Paul addresses the subject of spiritual gifts. He's responding to conflict in the church at Corinth over which spiritual gifts are "best." Who is better? Who is right? Today's universal church in America seems a lot like Corinth in the first century, and Paul's message of love seems particularly relevant.
Consider verse 6: love "does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in truth." Many Christians feel that marriage equality for the LGBT community is wrongdoing based on their interpretation of the Bible. Many others feel that marriage equality is the truth of love in action based on their interpretation of the Bible. Both sides feel so strongly opinionated that love has been lost. The church is stuck in conflict.
Who is right? God only knows.
We see through a glass darkly, and we know only in part. I could share in excruciating detail why I support marriage equality. I could bring in scripture and personal experience and reason, like a good follower of John Wesley's Methodism. I could describe how my reading of the Bible leads me to support love in all things. I could share stories of my gay and lesbian friends, of my transgender niece, of love and acceptance and my conviction that God doesn't make mistakes.
But in the polarized environment of social media (which includes blogs like this one), those who disagree with me wouldn't listen. Those who agree with me would gather my words up, twist them into sticks with which to flog their opponents. This is the lesson social media teaches us. There is no conversation anymore. There is only yelling...the rhetoric of the closed fist. The rhetoric of trench digging. The rhetoric of military victory and defeat.
How do we talk with each other any more? Where has love gone? How do we bring it back?
Let's begin by striving for patience. For kindness. For humility. After all, none of us sees truth clearly. We could all be wrong in our opinions as we peer through the dim glass of our imperfection. At the last supper, Christ made very clear--with no equivocation or qualifications or loopholes of legal opinion--what His followers were to do in the world: love one another.
Love is the lesson Christ teaches us.
If we don't have love, we are nothing. Let all Christians be unified in sharing God's song of love in an age of noisy gongs and clanging symbols. Choose your words carefully, kindly, compassionately, constructively. The complete Kingdom Love will come. Let us choose to be a part of it.