Loving Our Straight Neighbors

Last July, I attended a close relative’s wedding shower that had the misfortune of being held one day before Congress voted on the Federal Marriage Amendment. Not having had the clairvoyant luxury of knowing SJR 40 would get shot down in cloture, I was, understandably more than a little bitter about the otherwise joyous occasion. Add to this the fact that I’m not out to this particular family member and her new husband and…damn it, I felt angry, downright hateful, even.

“So get this,” I said to my girlfriend a few days before the shower, “I get to go to her shower and stay in the closet while people ask me when I’m going to be engaged. And then, this November, she and her little husband get to go to the polls to vote on my civil rights.” (For the record, I live in one of those states with an anti-gay marriage state constitutional amendment on the November ballot).

So all of this hostility and malice kept going through my head like a feedback loop even as I handed my relative her presents and sat down to a continental dinner to listen to her recount how she and her fiancé met at a symphony. Somewhere between the brie and the black cherry layer cake, I thought my worst nightmare was coming true. My aunt mentioned that she’d just bought her new boat from “two gay guys.”

I nearly choked on my brie expecting the worst. With all the press the FMA had been getting in June and July, surely someone would start ranting about those vile homos who want to destroy traditional marriage.

I waited as the group at my table nodded at my aunt.

I waited as another aunt said “Oh. That’s nice.”

I waited as they all went back to their food.

And by the time I began blinking again, I realized I was the only one still waiting for a condemnation that didn’t seem to be coming any time soon.

Now, I don’t know whether or not those ladies at my table will vote yay or nay on adding discrimination to my state constitution when they stand in the voting booth this November. But I do know, from that one exchange, that they aren’t the anti-gay crusaders my paranoid, somewhat closeted mind had made them out to be. If so, I would have been subjected to a rant that was clearly not forthcoming. And this troubled me. More than the situation at hand, the hatred with which I greeted shadows made it hard for me to sleep that night.

A couple of weeks ago, my parish priest delivered a homily about the parable of the Good Samaritan, one of my all-time favorite readings from the Gospels. In this sermon, the priest said that Jesus had commanded us not just to have “warm fuzzy feelings” about groups of people we despised, but to “go and do likewise” towards these folks as the Samaritan had done to the wounded Jewish man. I thought about this homily quite a bit that hot July night. Who was my neighbor here, (at a wedding feast no less!), and how had I wronged that neighbor? By dawn, I decided I’d had some answers.

My neighbors were an innocent straight girl and her fiancé, who most likely were thinking of nothing else that evening but their impending wedding and all of the challenges and joys married life would bring them. My neighbors were the rest of my family and their friends, who were probably thinking only of the same things. But most importantly, my neighbors were the straight community at large.

The first two should have been obvious to anyone (unlike me) in full control of his or her senses. The last one, however, probably isn’t quite so apparent. But nonetheless, it is important enough to merit some discussion.

After listening to some of the vile things certain straight people say about those of us who are any combination of the letters LGBTQ, and after watching some of these straight people try and write their personal dislikes into federal and state documents, it can be very difficult not to become, well, prejudiced. “What’s that?” you might say. “I know, blah blah love thy neighbor, but these people are out to get us! We didn’t start this whole marriage debate. They did. They were the ones who began talking about banning gay marriage constitutionally in the wake of Lawrence vs. Texas! We had nothing to do with it!”

And I agree. I don’t think gay people are responsible for this current situation any more than I think we’re collectively trying to destroy marriage. But that isn’t the point. Jesus isn’t asking us to determine who started what in this “culture war.” He’s only asking us to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to love God with our full strength, hearts and minds.

As most of you probably know, Samaritans were outcasts in Jesus’ time. This is part of what made Our Lord’s parable so profound. If a priest and a wealthy man wouldn’t stop to help a neighbor, a fellow Jew, then why should a Samaritan stop to help? Especially if he probably couldn’t expect even a “thank you” from the Jew in return. So why did he show this injured man such loving care? And additionally, why should we show straight people who seek to hurt us the same such treatment?

St. Paul tells us that love is patient and kind that it bears all things and endures all things, that it doesn’t hold grudges and never seeks revenge. It is the only thing in the world that is good for its own sake because it’s the only thing I know that can ultimately make this world a better place in which to live. This is the reason we should continue to love our straight neighbors even if (or when) they wrong us, lie about us, and seek to do everything within their legal power to make our lives difficult or unbearable. We should do this not just because Jesus says so, but because it is an inherently good thing to do even if it’s one of the most difficult things in the world to accomplish.

But isn’t that just, pardon the expression, being the gay equivalent of an “uncle tom” to a bunch of dangerous people? Although I see the reason for asking such a question, I’m sad such a thought could ever cross our minds. Loving your neighbors doesn’t mean allowing them to hurt you. To allow someone to do this in the name of love would be Satanic! First and foremost, such behavior would violate Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Further, it would show a profound lack of love for one’s abusers.

As several “conservative Christians” seem fond of saying when criticizing “homosexual behavior,” you don’t show love for someone by letting him or her persist in something that harms self or others. While I think this message has been largely directed at the wrong target audience these past few years, this argument is actually quite a good one. If I truly love my neighbor (even if s/he is a straight senator who supports the FMA with every fiber of his/her being), I will not sit idly by and let him or her cause harm to others. Instead, I will gently and reasonably rebuke his or her actions. If I’m unsuccessful in this, I should try my best to kindly and effectively oppose this action or behavior while making sure I do not disrespect or harm the individual in the process.

But, isn’t that how a lot of anti-gay straight folks treat us?

Precisely! Like circumcision in Paul and Peter’s day, the debate over homosexuality’s place in Christianity is one of the most important, if not the most important issues in almost every denomination today. And how did Peter and Paul solve their theological differences? Sure they had some harsh words (after all, asking Peter to open the church doors to Gentiles was a pretty tall order!) but ultimately Peter was willing to listen to his brother in Christ – even if Paul had to tell him off in public (Galatians 2: 11-21).

This is precisely why Jesus asks us to do good to those who seek to do us harm, and to regard everyone as our neighbors. If we were to truly do as He commanded, there would be a hell of a lot more understanding along the straight/gay axis, and a hell of a lot more cooperation.

I don’t think that the Federal Marriage Amendment is ultimately going to “go away” any time soon, even if it doesn’t come up for discussion again in 2004. But when it does rear its ugly head again, we should not resort to hating straight people, even though the temptation to do so may be great and even if some of them would like nothing better than our destruction. At the very least, hatred will only cloud our eyes, mar our judgment and divide us among ourselves ­ the lat thing we as LGBTQ folks need in this hostile political climate.

But even worse, hatred may blind us to our family members, as my hatred over being mistreated nearly did to me last July. In a country where issues of sexuality too often split families apart, this to me would be the ultimate act of uncharity, the ultimate sin against the love Christ preached and died to teach us.