Those who live in fear because of shifting attitudes toward same-sex marriage, or because of the browning of America, are simply afraid of losing a power that only truly belongs to God. God is love and this love transcends and connects us all; once we know this love, we are freed. Freedom is much bigger than anything that can be regulated or contained because it is a matter of the soul.
Just before Independence Day, I was engaged in a rather contentious dialogue with a racist neighbor who also happens to be a believer in God. He approached my housemate and her female guest warning them about the vile and dangerous behavior of young Black men who were in the home and how my housemate, her guest and other women in the neighborhood were not safe.
When I joined the conversation to challenge his assertions, he admitted that he had not in fact witnessed the behavior he was previously describing from the young Black men -who are actually my 6 and 8 year old nephews who were staying with me for the weekend and playing yard games and doing nothing threatening or destructive. This neighbor admitted that he was simply uncomfortable with having Black boys running around the neighborhood.
He was, however, relieved to find out that I am a pastor and when I expressed feeling unsafe in the neighborhood and that it’s clear that my nephews and I aren’t welcomed, he said that he’d never do anything to personally harm us but that he was sure that several complaints to the cops may cause the cops to overreact perhaps violently; and he said, “None of us want that here.”
A few days later, I was in conversation with a Black pastor who is adamantly opposed to marriage equality. He went on to describe how we are in the end times and how the book of Revelation is coming true. When I asked him how he could take the Bible so literally yet not feel equally passionate about the verses that describe God as love and how we each need to work out the details of our own salvation with fear and trembling, he couldn’t embrace the idea that marriage can be between any two consenting people who want to live in covenant with one another and that it is not for him to judge one way or the other.
I challenged him to think of how his life would be impacted if he personally embraced the idea of marriage equality. How would his life and his marriage be influenced if he no longer judged the commitment made by two people in love with one another. He refused to even think about it, calling me a false prophet and told me that I will feel differently when I wake up in hell.
Some people are so conditioned by fear and oppression that they wouldn’t recognize the power and presence of God if it literally took up residence in their midst. A prophet is truly not without honor…except in his own hometown. Before my gender transition, I cared more than I should’ve about other people’s judgments and what they thought of me personally. Now that I’ve known joy, it seems almost trivial to live my life in fear. Sure, I can get frustrated or anxious because of certain circumstances, but at this point in my life I am so certain of God’s peace that whether I live or die, whether I am feared or loved, whether I am accepted or rejected, I know that the peace at the core of my being transcends all else.
The caged bird may in fact be caged, but there is a reason why she sings. Her song is not contingent upon the approval of others and her wings are a symbol of a destiny much higher than any confines placed upon her by the status quo.
There is a large difference between career Christians who capitalize off of other people’s oppression by being gate-keepers of the Gospel and called Christians who take seriously the invitation to follow Jesus and live in relationship with God. The former often uses fear-mongering and recycled doctrine as the basis for how they relate to the world around them, and the latter incorporates spiritual practice with discerned beliefs to navigate their contributions to this life.
Everyone has a story and everyone is fighting a battle of some kind. I’ve been homeless before and have eaten out of dumpsters. I have built a home before and have known material security. There is so much more to life than political agendas, inflexible doctrines and societal expectations. Whatever triumph or calamity I experience, nothing can make, break or shake the essence of my soul because in the end, it all belongs to God.