Are We Prejudiced?

Harper's Ferry Church

Like most liberals, I like to think I don’t have prejudices.  I have friends of different races—close enough to vacation together.  I have friends of other faiths—close enough to share our faith traditions.  I believe knowing people who come from backgrounds different from my own enriches my life and my understanding of the world.

But occasionally something happens that forces me to admit that I, too, have prejudices.  Like today.  I read in this morning’s paper that Westboro Baptist, the church that pickets at military funerals and believes that tragedies are God’s judgment, plans to protest at the Newtown funerals.

I held my breath as the blood rose to my head.  I was livid.  I became a child again as I read the page, transported back to my early years among church leaders who preached so hard about God’s wrath that they had to gasp for breath in the middle of every sentence.

Reading the string of angry comments from both people who attacked the church members and people who responded by attacking the attackers, I became even more incensed, caught up in a vicious cycle of anger.  I wanted to respond in the same rabid tone to people who I feel have tried to hijack my faith.  And in that moment, I knew that I had a visceral loathing of people who are absolutely certain they know the mind of God.

I took a breath.  And I remembered that Christ, too, got angry—angry enough to knock over tables in a place of worship.  But we don’t really know how that worked out for him because the story shifts immediately to how he helped the blind and the lepers, who deserved his—and our—attention far more than people like this do.

What did work for him, though, was that he often outsmarted the religious leaders who asked him questions just to try to trip him up.  And he did it by quoting their own holy texts back to them and leaving them with a question.

I could do that.  I’ve read the Bible three times in three different translations, and though I have forgotten many of the stories, I’ve read the Gospels again and again—many more than three times.  And never once have I seen a glimpse in the stories of the small god of Westboro Church.

And while I suspect that they will no more listen to me than the know-it-alls in Jesus’ time listened to him, perhaps I’ll try his approach.  Whenever I have the chance to challenge such people, I will swallow my prejudice and challenge them in the same tone that Jesus used when he calmly drew in the sand with a stick before he gave them answers that have reverberated for over 2000 years.

And though I find this church group ludicrous for their web site URL and their clownish videos insisting that God hates, I will tell the stories of how God’s love has come to me many times in my life through the very people they say God hates—through my lesbian girlfriend who drove me to social events when my family didn’t have a car, through my gay pastor who prayed with my family when I had surgery for Stage 3 cancer, through a lesbian neighbor who takes care of my dog when I must leave town to be with my ailing mother, through a lesbian colleague who gave me her mother’s secret recipe for Chocolate Ganache Torte because she wanted me to have it when she was no longer around, almost as if she sensed that she would die an early death a few years later.

Through people who, if I took out the words identifying their sexuality, you would assume to be no different from me than in their eye color or the length of their limbs.

We all have stories.  And our stories are stronger than hate—stronger than small, hate-filled gods and idols.  So let us tell our stories, again and again, even when we feel they can’t hear them.  And maybe 2000 years from now, our descendants will tell stories about how the Spirit became flesh through the love reflected in our faces and in our voices and in our stories.

So come now, tell me your stories of grace and love.