I was an early adapter netizen so I ran into Westboro Baptist Church (the God Hates Fags people) in the late 90’s. I was in late high school, attending a Baptist church. I was still parroting the beliefs of my family and their institutions but cracks were forming.
There was one animated GIF that came from Westboro that did more damage to inculcated LGBT prejudices and my evangelical faith than anything else. It was a rather poorly done GIF of Matthew Shepard’s head bouncing around in the flames of hell. The first thing I felt was pure horror and disgust, but the first thing I thought was, “wait a minute, I believe this!“. Westboro Baptist wasn’t presenting anything that the average Evangelical Christian didn’t believe. In fact, in some ways taking things to the extreme the way they did was more honest. Seeing one’s beliefs taken to their most grotesque extreme gives one the ability to examine them more thoroughly. Westboro wanted me to hate Matthew Shepard. Instead I felt for him.
It took me a long time to become an ally. I did lose my Christian faith though for some reason the fear of hell and exclusion stuck. For a long time I was just indifferent but was still angry at the way most Christians excluded LGBT people from church fellowship. The church meant a lot to me, more than the actual faith, and I had trouble fitting in at churches because of a moderate physical disability and mental problems. Seeing the church exclude others over something they had no control over saddened me.
It wasn’t until 2012 that I found a place where I could signal whether or not I was an ally. It was signing the OneWheaton petition (a petition where Wheaton alumni come out as LGBT or LGBT allies). Considering I’m not religious signing this petition didn’t incur much of a cost to me, I know others it costs a lot more to and I sign the petition in support of them.
The party line is you are supposed to forgive others’ wrongs:
The party line call to forgive comes off as perverse. When you tell a kid not to touch a hot stove, they do. When you tell people to forgive they automatically assume you are doing it to aid those who wrong (who usually have more power than you do).
The weight of the wrong falls upon the aggrieved party no matter how they handle it. The aggrieved party loses either way. They fester in immobilizing bitterness or forgive the offending party (which signals the offender to wrong more). A lot of time anger is just part of depression, but the part of it that drives people and trying to snuff out said anger (via forgiveness) just leaves the rest of the depression there minus the anger that was driving the person.
The forgiveness psychobabble brings up the unspoken assumption that you are responsible for what you feel. We don’t like admitting that one can commit thought crimes but the way we label people speaks otherwise. If someone internalizes the negative things about them society has been sending their way we call them insecure. If one holds a grudge they are looked upon unfavorably as if being prepared for the offender’s next offense is the wrong way to feel.
The idea that forgiveness is an act of will is a misnomer. Emotions will reanimate a “dead” wrong and mind games won’t be able to kill it. The therapeutic-industrial complex has taught us to delineate between thoughts and emotions when a lot of the time they are interchangeable (but to study things one needs to put everything into neat little boxes). The human mind is messier than anyone would like to admit. Freaud knew this but later psychologists haven’t taken this to heart.
The scope of the imperative to forgive falls under situations where those without power are the most likely to be wronged. For example, if an employer wrongs you, you are expected to forgive them. But if you wrong someone during a psychotic break, the imperative doesn’t apply at all.
Guest post by Carrie:
It is one thing to grow up in darkness, and find light later on in life. Like searchlights that suddenly find you when you realize that you’re lost. Searchlights are blinding for a moment, but they’re a welcome sight. The intent of a searchlight is to seek that which is lost. Once the lost is found, the light is turned off or moved on to a different target. God himself is the searchlight operator, or at the very least, the dispatch officer who sends out the searchlights.
It’s another thing entirely to grow up in a spotlight. To have never known anything other than blinding light that makes every one of your flaws stand out. To feel the need to squash even thoughts that will bring the judgement of others. To never be able to admit to a struggle or a temptation without fear of reprimand or ridicule. And to find the welcome relief of darkness, stillness, and quiet. Finding the gentleness and grace of a moment when the blinding spotlight is turned off and eyes are allowed to open.
Spotlights blind those who are in them. If you’ve ever been on stage, in a spotlight, you’d know that it makes seeing the audience virtually impossible. Every detail of you is lit up and brought to the attention of the audience. The light is not the point of attraction, you are. You are being scrutinized. You are being watched. The light itself is pretty much ignored.
This is what church feels like to me. A place where people are put in a spotlight and are expected to perform… All while being told to be sincere (real, genuine, without wax filling in the cracks). And, since I was born there, I always felt like I was expected not to even have any cracks. Like there could be nothing inherent in me that wasn’t a choice to do or be wrong.
I have no interest in spotlights.
If you’ve ever stood next to one of those big lights that people use at grand openings to attract attention, you’d see that they’re designed for the light to shine upward, not outward. They don’t actually provide a whole lot of light to their immediate vicinity, but they can be seen for miles. The light itself is the attraction. It is a beacon that attracts. It doesn’t reveal much. It doesn’t blind. This is the kind of light God wants the church to be. A beacon on a hill that draws people to HIM.