Apparently my little skit hit a nerve with some people. As a preacher friend of mine from Louisiana once said, "Did I step on your toes? Good!" Sometimes folks just don't get it, so I want to focus on a word that's been batted about quite a bit... bigot.
Merriam-Webster defines the word bigot as, : a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices ; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance." The Online Dictionary takes it further as, "A person who regards his own faith and views in matters of religion as unquestionably right, and any belief or opinion opposed to or differing from them as unreasonable or wicked. In an extended sense, a person who is intolerant of opinions which conflict with his own, as in politics or morals; one obstinately and blindly devoted to his own church, party, belief, or opinion."
Now I know quite a few people become offended when the word bigot is brought out. However, let's face facts here. The opinions of the "orthodoxy" on same sex relations and women's ordination come from a fundamentalist reading of the Bible. The mantra I remember growing up was, "The Bible says it. I believe it and that's that." There is no room for discussion on this, because they feel they are right beyond a shadow of a doubt and that's all there is to it.
Now I can already hear folks like Phil ( I don't mean to pick on you, Brother, but you are the best example I have at the moment) who would say that my own views would also make me a bigot as well. And he may have a point. I am unwilling to waiver in my views too. But how we came to our conclusions are probably very different. While I can't speak for Phil's faith journey, I can talk some about mine. Let's just say that I believed as Phil does at one time. But then some revelations happened that made me reconsider what I believed and finally brought me to where I am today.
It started with a roommate of mine my second semester at a fundangelical college called Hannibal-LaGrange. He was a man in his mid thirties who had the "salvation experience" and was now an ex-homosexual. He was even engaged to one of the women in our "Star Trek Club". One night I came home from being out with my then girlfriend to find him sitting in the dark crying. Somehow, he had developed a crush on another friend of ours, who was a straight male. I talked with him at length to try to comfort him. He told me how even though he had accepted Christ as his personal Lord and Savior, he still had these feelings that he hated but could not get rid of. He knew how he "should be", and could not reconcile it with what he still felt. Every day and every night he prayed to be delivered from this sin. He was full of guilt, shame and self loathing. All I could do was cry with him, pray with him and wonder. One barrier shattered.
Next was when I found out one of my cousins was gay. But watching my family's reaction was almost comical if it had not been so sad. Many of them said they always knew he was "a little funny". But in the very next breath they could talk about how he was living a life of sin and that he chose to be that way. He died in a car wreck a few years ago; never fully accepted by my family. Another barrier shattered.
Months later, I joined the Navy. I made quite a few friends, and, as it turned out, some were gay. These men and women were some of the best Corpsmen and Marines I have ever seen. Another barrier shattered.
The final barrier gave way when I joined All Saint's Episcopal Church in Bentonville. Here I met gay and lesbian friends, all in committed monogamous relationships, some even caring for children. Seeing them and getting to really know them as people opened my eyes to what God had been trying to tell me in that dorm room so long ago: that I was wrong. What I had been taught as a child was wrong, and that I could never shut people out again. It also spurred within me a desire to act on that epiphany. If I could come to this realization, why couldn't others?
I was once a bigot. Now I am not. My views are held not out of blind obedience to an institution or to a sacred text. They come from years of conversation, what this listening process should be. They come from hours of prayer, questioning God, studying not just what our Bible says, but what was underneath: the things that we don't see in the text. And finally, they come from the transformative process that allowing the love of Christ to work through brings.
I pray for Phil and many like him. I pray that one day God will open their hearts and allow them to for one moment feel the pain that they have inflicted. I pray that some day they will have the epiphany I had. I also pray for the men and women like my former roommate James and my cousin Jeremy. Men and women who we have cast aside or attempted to fit them into a mould that never will. I close with these words from Paul.
Galatians 5:1 and 3-4
For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery...4You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
Thanks be to God.