“Then Jesus called the crowd again and said to them, ‘Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile’.” – Mark 7:13
Although I constantly strive I do the very best I can to select my words carefully and constructively in all circumstances and regardless of my given mood at the time, I have to admit that I as many others will attest to doing at times, miss the mark. And I have to admit that I find myself perplexed that given the vast and diverse lexicon of the human vocabulary, why it is at the times we are the most vehemently passionate on an issue, we on occasion more often than not select the most crude verbal fashion to emphasize our passion, enthusiasm, disgust, frustration, or elation on the situation at hand.
I am speaking of the profane, rather than the sacred, or the “dirty words,” the “bad words.” As a young child growing up in a Baptist household in Atlanta, and reaching young adulthood in an even more conservative Southern Baptist church in the Midwest, cussing and swearing were often right up there with mortal sins and egregious no-no’s in the eyes of the concept of God we were led to believe in. While I did not imagine that God Cared all that much what words we said-so long as we were not being hurtful to another-I imagined God viewed swearing as more of a spiritual misdemeanor than a felony-I know that my elders sure as hell seemed to (uh, sure as “heck”, I should probably correct myself.)
Once, when a friend of mine and I referred to the neighborhood bully with what we thought was the ultimate, big bad curse word – we said he was a “doo doo snot” – my Mom chastised both of us immediately and threatened that we would be gargling a bar of Camay soap if we persisted with such language. God Knows what she would have said if she knew what other words we knew at the time.
My friends and I just giggled about most of the forbidden words, daring each other to speak them in scarcely more than chuckled whispers during late night sleepovers when all judgmental ears were fast asleep. Some were names for body parts, others were words Mom and Dad said when the person in front of them was going to slow, others were foreign to us completely as we had no concept of their meaning. All we knew is that we were engaging in something we “weren’t supposed to” but that we felt even in our young and developing minds was essentially harmless. That and most of them just sounded funny to our young and inexperienced ears.
I didn’t discover or possess any knowledge of what is arguably today the champion and perennial favorite obscenity – the legendary “f” word (and I am not speaking of “fear,” “fundamentalism,” “fake” or “foolishness” or “fudge,” you know which one I mean) – until I was 7. My parents called me for a family meeting regarding a call they had received from the principal at my school and informed me that there would be a subsequent conference with the principal regarding “something terrible I had done.” I was confounded by the accusation, because I did not recall anything which would even begin to warrant such a harsh and potentially punitive recourse. My parents seemed a bit skeptical that I was capable of what was in their eyes at the time, an absolute travesty, mortal sin, and atrocity.
Apparently, a classmate of mine in Miss McCall’s second grade class had received a note from someone which insulted their mother and made use of the “f word.” It was written in red pen on the same kind of paper we practiced our cursive writing skills on and was but a sentence: “Your mom is a f***er.” But it was what was below the sentence which was considered to incriminate me as both the author and the culprit: my name and first initial, presumably because they had no idea how to correctly spell my last name. As the naughty note was delivered to the poor girl who received it-a girl who I had not spoken two words to all year and harbored absolutely no animosity towards-by some phantom thief in the night in stealth mode-I was the one who was singled out as a bewildered culprit.
Disregard the fact that it did not even closely resemble my writing; even then my penmanship was neat and not sloppy. Pay no attention to the fact that I never used a red pencil to write things, and that I always put my first and last name AND my middle initial on anything I wrote in class. No consideration was given to the fact that I never even so much as called any of my classmates a “doo-doo snot” or said or did anything to hurt anyone’s feelings. And mind you, I didn’t even know what that “f” word was or meant, if I recall correctly, I think I had only heard one time when my Dad had let it slip when driving and caught in traffic. After saying it he immediately issued the obligatory parental disclaimer of “you never heard that” and changed the subject to where I wanted to go and get an ice cream. It was blatant to me, beyond obvious at the time, that this was some hatchet job on me; I had been framed, and was getting a bad rap for something I never did! Unfortunately, it would be the first of many difficult lessons in life about the mean things people can try to do to make us look bad, get us in trouble, or just plain outright be mean to us.
And before we did the visit to the principal, I had to endure a very uncomfortable conversation with my Dad (and far more embarrassing than he imagined it could be at the outset) about what the word meant. True story: Unbeknownst to my poor Dad as he stumbled through an awkward but honest description about how a man and a woman create a baby, I was reading far above my level at that age, and had actually read a science book on the human body at the public library describing in medical terms the act of conception. So when he was done, I looked at him, and honestly, and displaying precociousness he had no concept, awareness or expectation of, I said, “So it’s a bad word for sexual intercourse?” Following his retrieval of his lower jaw from the floor, I explained to him how I knew this. As I recall, his response was something along the lines of “Yeah, but you probably don’t want to talk about that to anyone. Look, I know you didn’t write the note. Just don’t use that word, or the bad one you said that you wrote to that girl, and as far as the principal knows, you have no idea what it is.”
We saw the principal. I saw the note, which to me had previously been unseen by me. He asked me, “Did you write this?” and I confidently looked him in the eye and told him, “No sir.” I wanted to add, “That is not even my writing, sir and I would never do something like that, sir,” but even at that age I knew to think better of doing that. You have to remember, this was Georgia in the 1970s and at that time, when the principal talked, you listened and only responded with “Yes, sir,” and “No, sir.” He asked me if I knew who did write it, to which I replied the same.
And that was it. The issue was dropped, and it never arose again (although as I recall I was watched more carefully when I went to the library with my Dad to ensure that I was not unwittingly curiously perusing any other forms of forbidden carnal knowledge for my age). To my knowledge, the identity of the “stealth phantom f-bomber” was never discovered. I know it had to be someone in the class who didn’t like me all that much. I was not “like” the other kids in my class. Although I enjoyed being active, running and playing, I was just not “into” team sports at all, and I was often picked on for being kind, gentle and sensitive by some of the “bullies” in my class, so it was more than likely one of them who set me up. I have often wondered if they recall doing this today and where they are now.
As unbelievable and as akin to something out of that movie “A Christmas Story” or some 1980s John Hughes comedy that tale may seem, that is how it happened and that was my big introduction to not only the injustices that can take place in school as well as to how people used bad words to hurt others’ feelings. I learned at that tender age-however further along I was in maturity than some of the other kids the true value of “watching your tongue.”
I steered far clear of saying any forbidden words for years (aside from the times friends and I would giggle over them in private) until I got to junior high and high school and then I rediscovered them anew. Attribute it to peer pressure, the process of entering young adulthood and adulthood and wanting to use words the “big kids” used, wanting to be “cool,” attending PG-13 and R-rated movies, or just wanting to break the rules, but I did.
And lasted well into my adulthood as well, and I have to admit, I still engage in some swearing to from time to time, although it’s definitely not a facet of my personality I care for. But there are those slips of the tongue. I don’t like it when I do for a multitude or reasons, and when I do, there are a vast amount of them I avoid saying like the plague.
It’s not that I hold an opinion that using profanity is somehow an affront to God, as if God offended in the least by whatever descriptive terms, however crude, we might elect to describe something. It is merely the negativity of it for me personally.
One aspect which I feel bothers me the most is how many of what society deems as the “most offensive” or powerful profanities intended to insult or offend are crude terms for sexual acts, or parts of the male and female body which are parts of sexual acts. This to me speaks volumes of how much shame humanity still must have internalized regarding sexuality, and in my opinion could very well be an underlying cause of internalized guilt and shame. On the rare occasions where I envision God as a human figure, I imagine She/He just shaking His/Her head sadly wondering if we will ever find peace with such a wonderful and natural part of the human experience.
While sometimes I will out of old bad habits drop the f-bomb if I get really upset, I swore off (every pun intended) any other use of profanity which refers to body parts or sexual acts as profanities or descriptive words attributed to people who I might be upset with at the moment. Doing this actually enabled me to have a more positive attitude about sexuality in general and even assisted in the process I went through years ago of coming our as bisexual and reconciling my spirituality and sexuality.
Another use I came to try to avoid over the years was the use of any type of swearing directed at someone, regardless of how upset they might have made me. Once I developed a relationship with God through the Christ I know, I had immediately focused on never using any “bad words” to insult anyone, obscene or otherwise. I know that swearing at others can hurt feelings or offend them, which to me contradicts my efforts to be loving in my dealing with others even when they are not extending me the same courtesy, which is what I feel Christ Instructs and Advises us to do.
Interestingly, aside from a few angry times in my teenage and young adult years, even before I became a follower of the teachings of Christ, I always made a concerted effort not to “swear at” others; well, at least, not directly. (I could always justify the ones on the freeway as the person in the other car more than likely could not hear my opinion of their driving.) Over time, I came to realize that it was irrelevant whether I called someone a “doo-doo snot” or something far more colorful, swearing “at” or hurling negative words “at” another was hurtful just the same, so I would strive to avoid it.
But there is one that is my absolute least favorite curse word or phrase, and it is the one I used most frequently before I really came to know the Loving God in my life: asking God to condemn someone or something, to damn something. In the years when I adamantly refused to have anything to do with God or Christ, that was my predominant obscene epithet of choice to describe any person, thing or situation I was angry at, frustrated with, or struggling with. And I can discern why, for at that point in my life that was exactly the kind of toxic idea of God I subconsciously feared and believed in: one quick to damn anyone who did not fit a certain mold, and a mold that I knew I did not, and would not ever fit.
Once I had let go of that toxic and negative ideation of God I once had, the idea that the Source of All, the Loving God I knew could or would “damn” anything no longer resonated with my soul. I could no longer justify attributing such a negative act to the God of Love I had come to Know. It is not because I feel or felt that this epithet is a “sin” or somehow an affront to God, although it does to me seem to be a fitting definition of “taking the name of God in vain.”
The God I know and Love would not judge anyone based on their use of the phrase. But I sincerely feel that it is a highly unhealthy spiritual pattern of thought to attribute the act of destruction or condemnation to God that, as I wholeheartedly believe that God would not do such a thing. God is not a God of destructive force and condemnation, and I never again want to image or envision such a concept of God in my consciousness, regardless of how frustrating a situation may appear to me.
One day while sitting in church about 15 years ago, the Minister stated “God wants to bless us, not ‘blast’ us” as part of a sermon, and shortly thereafter, I adopted a new phrase whenever I am met with the same type of anger and frustration that had at one time prompted me to ask God to condemn something. These days, whenever I spill coffee all over the clean rug, break the key off in the lock, get cut off in traffic, forget to save the file I have been laboring on when Windows suddenly decides to update and force a system shutdown, or I see a customer complaint come into my e-mail or any other assortment of unexpected and unfortunate events which transpire and cause me to let anger get the best of me over it, I always say, “God Bless It!” Since doing that – as strange as it may sound, not only do I feel a more sincere sense of immediate relief, but situations like that do not seem to occur as frequently. There really is credence for that “power of positive thought” stuff, and the benefits of focusing on positive rather than negative, in my experience.
Just as everyone else, I am not perfect, nor do I think any of us are ever expected to be. In addition to the aforementioned euphemism of “God Bless It” I still use words from the “forbidden dictionary.” I still drop the f-bomb once in a while, and use certain other naughty words, but strive to never use them in a destructive or insulting manner because I don’t feel the words themselves are bad, it is the intent they carry and the purpose and manner for which they are used. And I have no judgments against anyone who uses copious amounts of profanity, if they elect to express themselves in that fashion.
For the words in and of themselves to me are not “bad.” I have come to learn in life over all of these years what the real bad words are. They are not always the ones our parents will threaten to wash our mouths out with soap if they hear them. They are always the words which are utilized as weapons with the intent to wound, or, as with any instrument with the potential to wound, are not handled carefully.
I have, as a human being who marches to the beat of my own drum and the unique individual God Created me to be, experienced more than my fair share of time on the receiving end of words intended to harm. Long before I came out as a bisexual in adulthood and even before I knew what sexuality or sexual orientation was or entailed, I was the kid who got picked on in school and called every name in the book. I was the “sissy,” the “queer,” the “loser” and I will not even get into the others. In high school, I was the “long haired faggot” (which carried on into adulthood) and all multitude of other insults.
As an adult, once I did come out as bisexual, I was called a ton of names by both conservative evangelical Christians (everything to the standard issue ‘sinner,” “heathen” and “abomination” to words I would never type here; I am still consistently amazed today at how even the most adamantly moralistic “family values” crusaders possess such a crude vocabulary; maybe it goes back to that sexual shame thing), I was called a “fence sitter” and “traitor” by some in the LGBT Community, and when some people find out that as a bisexual I am in honest and committed relationships with both a female and male partner, I get called all sorts of names as well. As a liberal Christian, I have received a vast array of insults from others as well, mostly conservative Christians, but some of other faiths and no faith (who are threatened and offended by my faith in the same fashion some are offended by my sexuality and sexual orientation) as well. I am a veteran of being the victim and unwilling recipient of name calling, the insult cannons, and the recipient of other harsh, discouraging and unkind words from all sides at one time or another.
Tragically, as a member of the LGBT Community, I know I am assuredly not alone in being victimized by the harsh words, verbal condemnation, and vitriolic persecution by others lashing out in fear and misunderstanding, sometimes in the most hateful and hurtful ways. The media seems to have a field day with it, at least it has been overwhelmingly prevalent in the media lately in light of the election, but this always seems to be the case. I have heard more hateful words – however beautifully and eloquently they are attempted to be conveyed – spoken by those purporting to speak for God – from pulpits to condemn the LGBT Community which are more potentially spiritual harmful to the well-being of others than the worst verbal excrement I have heard uttered in insult in any schoolyard. Now many of those who engage in this hateful speech are claiming that they are being “persecuted” for their beliefs – that it is “Christian bashing” for someone to ask them not to speak hurtfully to those in the LGBT Community. I do not think they should be surprised by this; they are, in my opinion, reaping the very form of judgment they are sowing.
The phenomenon of “hate radio” unfortunately is not declining in popularity, and to me epitomizes the deliberate use of words to cause harm better than anything and defines the use of words as ammunition perfectly, with nary a need for one four letter word. Whether it be religious based or just fear based in general, it is media which to me seems driven by the intent to incite more anger, more hatred, and more persecution of others; it is a prescription for vitriol.
One need only spend a few hours online to see the power of the Internet misused as a vehicle to spread harmful and discouraging words rather than helpful and encouraging ones. In the past, it was internet forums (and to some extent it still is – I ended up taking a break for some time rather than engage in them) where people felt the most empowered to attack others with words that harm. Now, in this age of progressing requirements for instant gratification, we need look no further than hateful posts to Facebook and Twitter to broadcast potentially harmful comments. Sure-you can unlike, ban, or de-friend, but the words need only be spoken once to leave a lasting impression.
And whatever the source of words that hurt, they are all based in my least favorite four letter “f” word, fear. The most tragic aspect of the whole situation is that many times those who hurl insults and seem to have no discipline over their tongue not only many times are just parroting what they heard without any thought or recognition to the meaning of what they are repeating, and even if they do, have no idea of the potential negative impact, harm and detriment their words can create for others. It is too frightening to me to imagine that they do realize this and continue to perpetuate it regardless.
In light of dealing with times when others have attempted to utilize words as a weapon against me, the following come to mind:
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” -Eleanor Roosevelt
The above two phrases are ones which for many years were, and to some extent, deep in my subconscious, extremely beneficial to me in dealing with any type of words or “name calling” intended to attempt to devalue or denigrate me in some way. And to a point they work, but their effectiveness is limited, in a way.
Let’s take the first. That was the one from my childhood I was taught to recite. As with many well intentioned concepts, it sounds fantastic on paper, and the principle is excellent. However, I find it difficult to believe that the person who wrote that verse was thinking beyond simple playground teasing. Because words CAN hurt, they can hurt far worse than any stick, stone or worse could even begin to, regardless of whatever resolve we may have to avoid any words thrown our way with malicious intent.
One example: there was a study done by a Japanese doctor named Masuro Emoto (I won’t go into the study here, but there are numerous places it is covered online) where he discovered that crystals formed in frozen water revealed changes when specific, concentrated thoughts were directed toward them. He found that water from clear springs and water that had been exposed to loving words showed brilliant, complex, and colorful snowflake patterns. In contrast, polluted water, or water exposed to negative thoughts, formed incomplete, asymmetrical patterns with dull colors. I know that may seem a bit too “New-Agey” for some, but when you take into consideration how much of the human body is comprised of water, it is to me food for thought about the impact of negative words on our well-being.
Another recent report from research done at the University of Michigan: a study found the commonly used phrase “that’s so gay” to describe something undesirable or negative could result in negative effects on LGBT college students. They reported that, “Hearing the phrase more often was found to increase students’ risk of health problems and feelings of isolation.”
And I am certain I need not mention the horrific amount of psychological damage, substance abuse, self-hatred and suicide which can be attributed to constant years of hearing words intended to condemn and denigrate LGBT individuals. I have tragically lost numerous friends and acquaintances to suicide as a result of low self-esteem and deep depression brought on by years of conditioning. For many years, I abused alcohol as an escape from internalized self-hate I once allowed others to make me feel.
Even the second quote from Eleanor Roosevelt – which is the one that I still refer to today whenever I feel as if I am being persecuted by another, only goes so far. Although it is true that we must make a conscious decision to allow the words of anyone to have a negative effect on us, consider the impact of repetition and constant exposure to negative speech. It works miracles for many of the fundamentalist memes and spiritually unhealthy ideas about God as well as LGBT people; even if some of the parishioners may not initially subscribe to the ideas, they are drilled in over and over and over and over until they are absorbed and take root in the subconscious as a belief; the media knows the same modus operandi and uses it well for other means. The repetition, should we persist and continue in allowing ourselves to be exposed to it, can over time wear down even the most resilient of souls.
We can, as I did and many others have successfully done, allow our faith in the Loving God we Know be our armor against words intended to condemn and foster low self-worth. Although we can make conscious decisions not to deliberately expose ourselves to words that could be damaging, especially at times when we are at our most vulnerable and others seize that as a perfect opportunity to attack, we cannot and should not isolate ourselves from others in fear. Although the majority of others I know are either LGBT or accepting, I have many friends of all walks of life, some of who agree with me and some who do not.
It does not matter if we see eye to eye; I know that God Created me to be bisexual, and that my natural desires, sexuality and sexual orientation are a gift from God to be used lovingly and respectfully, I know that my being in honest and caring relationships with both a wonderful woman and a wonderful man is natural and a gift as well, and I know that as quirky as I may be and as liberal and different as my understanding of God and Christ may be from some others I know that we were all Created by the same Loving God.
I know in my heart and soul that all of those negative words people have said to me in a vain attempt to influence me that God does not Love me just as I am are not even close to God’s Words and are just someone projecting their own fear and prejudice and attempting to sign God’s Name to it like that kid in second grade tried to falsely sign my name to a hateful note. That is all I need to protect me from feeling any negativity at the times when some who I know may not understand or agree. But the primary difference is that these people agree to disagree, and that regardless of how vastly different our beliefs might be, we do respect the beliefs and feelings of one another so much that we are mindful of the impact our words and feelings might have.
I have found what works for me in dealing with this, but what about those of us out there who have not yet experienced God’s Unconditional Love, or the freedom and peace to be discovered in the Teachings of Christ? What about those in the LGBT Community not yet fully aware that they are NOT alone, or cast out? What about those who are not yet cognizant of the reality that it does, in fact, get better? How do they find the strength to not give consent to feeling inferior?
And some words can still be dangerous and potentially harmful even to those who have a firm resolve that “words can never hurt me” or not to allow the words of others to have a negative effect. Assume for a moment that someone is at peace with who they are. Let’s say they are an LGBT individual who has found peace with themselves and with God, hurtful words and opinions bounce right off of their soul, and they utterly and adamantly refuse to give consent to allowing words to cause them to have inferior feelings.
And what if that person is brutally beaten or worse, murdered by some individuals who were out doing what they sickeningly deemed to be “God’s Will” due to the constant influence of hateful and derogatory comments and teachings and memes about LGBT people? Or what if they are fired from their job because there were so many vocal about stopping legislation to prevent employment non-discrimination against the LGBT Community? What if they are denied basic rights to visit their same gender partner in times of illness because of the constant words intended to prevent equal rights for committed same gender couples, or lost the right to see children and family members because the words of others were permitted to take that right away from them? I acknowledge that these are extreme examples, but it is a short and dangerous step that can happen if words are not selected more carefully.
Words misused and not selected wisely CAN hurt indirectly, and they can cause damage regardless of how resilient we can be. So what could we do to facilitate using our words with care to the best of our ability, and express the need to and assist others to be mindful of the same?
In Mark 7:14, Jesus was speaking more of our nature and what we are capable of as people, rather than what it is we say (and I know he was not referring necessarily to profanity). On the surface level, He was attempting to convey to those in His time that none of the legalism regarding foods or the purity laws were what mattered, but rather what was within us, our intent and what we choose to call forth which can be for good and loving or hurtful and detrimental. I think He was teaching about the power each and every one of us God has Blessed us with to not only be mindful of our actions, but our words as well. He was advising us to use our abilities and our gifts-which of course includes our ability to articulate and express ourselves, and the words we use to do so, wisely and with care.
The other instance where I feel Jesus admonishes us to be mindful of our words is when He “curses” the Fig Tree in Mark 11:14, which I feel is a metaphor of being mindful of keeping our thoughts, words and actions attenuated to the positive and constructive rather than negative or destructive. However, even given my personal interpretation of those verses, I feel that the Great Commandment to Love One Another encompasses all we are required to know to comprehend that we should constantly strive to be mindful of what are we saying, and how we express it.
Even with those we love, and those close to us, sometimes it is not an easy task to always select our words carefully. I know for a fact that there have been numerous instances where I was not certain I had said the right thing, or the most loving thing, or times when I have let something stress me out, let fear or anger get the best of me, and say something I later regretted and atoned for. Most times, I want to attend to that as efficiently as possible. This is one motivation for me to strive to always ensure that last words to any loved one in conversation to always be “Love you”, for you truly never know what the future will bring. Just a week ago, I had sent an e-mail to a co-worker asking a question but never received a response; the next day he suddenly suffered a fatal heart attack. I was grateful that the last thing I had said to him had been kind and thoughtful.
It is, for myself and I feel certain for most of us, easy to feel an inner predisposition and reflex to select our words with care and caution whenever we are communicating with our colleagues, friends, relatives, partners, spouses, and loved ones. For me personally, it has also over time become less of a challenge for me as it did at one time to be more mindful of what I say to everyone I encounter in day to day life and considering the impact which what I say may have upon a stranger or anyone I encounter in day to day life.
It is all too easy to become distracted in the day to day. Often times we are in too much of a rush to give a second thought to asking someone who their day has been going, to take a few minutes to ask about a loved one they told us was ill, how the job interview went or whether the recent vacation they related to us that they were going lived up to their expectations. Yet I always make the effort when I am able, and strive to let my last words in conversation to them be to express my wish that they experience a pleasant remainder of the day, evening, or afternoon. And on occasion, should someone’s words or actions towards me cause frustration, I ask God to Guide my heart to be more patient, and more loving. I never desire to say anything – intentionally or carelessly – to create any negativity or hurt to them. And I feel that is likely easy for many of us as well, to strive to allow all of our words to be based in Love, and expressing our joy about the Unconditional Love God Has Shown us.
Those, to me are not the challenging circumstances, so long as we remain focused on God and Love. Kindness and the desire to engage in good conversation and loving words towards our loved ones and others in general can come easy for the most part. But what course of action to best be mindful of our thoughts and controlling our tongue when someone else’s words, or actions seem to draw forth the worst emotions in us, such as fear, defensiveness and anger? Therein lies the challenge.
More so than ever in these times when the rhetoric towards the LGBT Community is ramping up to a fever pitch with a forthcoming election, there is a prevalence and abundance of discouraging words directed at us as a Community. While I many years ago thankfully let go of the idea of God as a Being who “tests” us, this is a challenge and a shining opportunity to allow our best light to shine forth in the face of adversity.
I have a three step process which I have developed over time to cope and effectively deal with situations where the hurtful and condemning words of another might influence me to respond from a place of fear and defensiveness, exacerbate the problem, and leave me feeling worse that I will share:
1. Try to find your common ground, but stand your ground.
I feel that each and every one of us has one thing in common with everyone else; we are all Children of the same Loving God. At times, that can be the only common ground, but that is more than sufficient for me to value the person confronting me as a complete equal to myself, regardless of how we might disagree.
In one situation, where I was dealing with stranger who was talking politics and decrying certain candidates as being anti-God, I was asked if I was a Christian, and when I responded yes, they probed deeper about beliefs, and rather than go into extensive detail I just stated, “I love God and follow the teachings of Jesus,” all the while fully knowing that the semantics of that statement had entirely different meanings for me and this other person. As the conversation continued, I expressed that I was opposed to some of their chosen candidate’s views, which led to a bit of anger on their part.
I was cautious to be congruent in my identity as a bisexual and did not apologize for who God Created me to be, my firm faith that there is no contradiction in between who I am and being a Christian and my support of all LGBT rights as well as the rights of all others; yet I did so respectfully. I attempted to shift the conversation about values to other issues, such as how I would feel most comfortable with someone in office who had a faith in God, and valued the emphasis of Christ on us all being more loving to one another, and we were able to find a few points in that regard we did agree on. The conversation ended with them certain that I was still a terrible person for who I was, but at least I did not leave them with a sense that I was there to preach to them and that I treated them with respect and kindness even when I was in complete disagreement. I feel it is completely possible for us to find common ground with another while still maintaining steadfastly in what we believe and is the only courageous step towards civil conversation and communication.
Note: this does not always prove to be effective. On the occasions where it seems to be a battle to be the victor of the “Last Word,” and the person who is lashing out at me is actively seeking a fight, it is fairly obvious when to say, “I may not agree, but God Bless you” and part ways. I don’t want to leave them saying “You’re wrong” or “You’re right” or martyring myself by listening to abuse or pretending to agree with something I don’t to appease someone. I just want to wish them love and walk away. That way, no one is defeated.
2. Never ever fight fire with fire.
It can be so tempting when we are met with condemnation, ignorance and injustice to throw it right back at the person throwing it at you, and if you are already having a stressful day, the temptation is often multiplied as an outlet for other unrelated frustrations. Resist it.
There is already a plethora of accusations at not only the LGBT Community but at non-legalistic Christians in general from what I have seen to demonize us as some perceived “threat” to “morals and values” and the rights of Christians. To respond on the defensive and fight back only throws gasoline on a fire that never should have been lit in the first place. And, in getting right back in their face, it just gives them more ammunition to attack and justify their fears. Like begets like, and returning fear with fear just perpetuates the blaze to a fury.
It can be all too easy to forget the fearful mindset their condemnation is drawn forth from. It helps me to visualize them as someone living in belief of a fearful and legalistic God, one that at one time I was a victim of, and then I cannot feel anger in retaliation whatsoever, only compassion and love. They might be wishing me to hell because they feel as if they are already in it. I want the God of Love to shine through in my words and dealings with them, not one of conflict and anger. Sometimes it helps if I imagine them as a child, before they were taught to believe in a version of God which excludes some who do not fit a specific mold and understand that it is not God speaking through them and perhaps not even themselves, but the fear, and all I want to do is wish them love for I know it is the absence of it which is causing them to attack me.
So to help hold your tongue and select your words with care, imagine this person when they were still alive with pure childlike wonder, before it was infected with toxic fear, inherited ignorance and dogma. Remember that the best thing that could happen to them is to know and experience the real Loving God as exemplified in Christ, and strive to bring forth the Love within you to dissipate the fear rather than attempt to engage it in futile and pointless combat from which there is no victor.
3. Let The Christ in you shine through at all times.
Most importantly of all, never let your light be hidden. Show them that an LGBT person is not someone to be feared or who is out to create some perceived threat to them, or to anyone else. Show them through your actions, in your words, and in dealing with them.
Time and time again, I hear so many tales of the most homophobic and prejudiced people suddenly taken aback and reconsidering their stance when they are confronted with actually speaking to and befriending an LGBT individual or discovering that the person they know as a good, kind and thoughtful person is LGBT.
I have had this happen more than once. I had another bisexual friend who was upset because some of his friends constantly made use of the term of “that’s so gay” as detrimental, and talked about their opposition to same gender marriages and same gender relationships and poked fun at other LGBT people until finally, one day, I suggested that he politely ask him why he felt that way. He did, and came out to him and all at once, the negative comments not only came to an end, but his friend later was coming to his defense and the defense of other LGBT individuals.
Every opportunity we have in our lives to respond to hatred with love, to respond to ignorance with a sincere desire to foster understanding and acceptance, to prove through our actions and words that not only is there no “threat” which our being LGBT individuals poses to anyone, but that we too are a valued element of God’s Vast and Diverse Creation, is nothing short of a gift to me. Yes, it is tempting when met with so much vitriol and rancor, be it blatant and in your face or sly, stealthy, subliminal and being not so well disguised as “love” and “preserving the sanctity of the family,” and especially in light of all of the other day to day things which transpire in this adventure called life we allow to stress us out at times to allow it to cause us to respond in a less than loving way in retaliation. But I feel it is a blessed opportunity from God for us to let go of any inner need we might allow to overtake us to be “right” and instead, DO the right thing, and live by loving example. Call forth from within words that inspire, that encourage, rather than defile or discourage.
Those techniques are not always the easiest to follow, and they may not always help. But they certainly couldn’t hurt.
There are thousands of words in the human vocabulary, as the Loving Creator has Endowed and Blessed us with the gift of speech, knowledge and articulation. And Christ gifted us with the wisdom that words have a greater impact than we might imagine. We don’t always select the right ones at times; after all, we’re only human, or as someone once said and I prefer to agree with, “spiritual beings having a human experience.” At the times we allow fear to obscure our connection with God and Spirit, or allow negativity to interfere with the Love God Intends for us to feel, we are often careless with words, and they can become as weapons more powerful than the legendary sticks and stones or anything else, capable of spiritual and emotional and at times even real injuries or harm. They can carry the potential to cut and wound more profoundly than any other means; they can leave scars deeper and more lasting than the most sharply honed dagger, or keep us in a place of negativity, and at the very least, they can offend or cause us to be further misunderstood.
But if we allow God and the Loving Spirit of Christ to assist us in being mindful of the power and the impact our words can potentially carry, and take into consideration the value of thinking with our heart before we speak, they can offer a means of healing and be constructive and enriching rather than destructive. Rather than shouting out “spiritual profanity or obscenities” by responding with unloving words in retaliation to those who might persecute us, we can think with our heart and perhaps turn everything around in a phrase. And even in all of our dealings with others, in striving to select our words wisely, carefully and with love, we can build bridges, make a positive difference in someone’s life, and work towards a greater good, and the Creation of Love that I feel God Intended, and that Jesus Taught us the Way to.
John Campbell is a native of Alabama.