My post yesterday was something of a necessary, calculated rant expressing nearly a decade of frustration. For me and for most of the people commenting on my blog, it was cathartic, putting words to what we have always felt. For some people, though, it felt like an attack out of nowhere, perhaps making me no better than those whom I criticized. People have gone so far as to call me a hateful person.
I can understand this response to a degree. Humans are conflict-averse. Please, though, if you were on the receiving end of my criticism yesterday, take note: my post helped and encouraged a lot of people. The responses from other liberals, progressives, and other “deviants” (I really don’t think of us as all that deviant, but I digress) were not so much “Yeah, you tell ‘em!” or “That’ll show those conservatives!” No, the responses I got were “Thank you”s. Read some of the responses:
“I am astounded at how well you captured the feeling of many Christians who are reluctant to be identified as such because of the religious fundamentalists. Thanks for a great article.“
“You have expressed a bit of what I’ve been feeling and probably why I haven’t been able to find a church that I enjoy going to recently.”
“I too was exposed to much abuse and scare tactics in fundamental churches growing up. … Thank you for voicing this with such courage.”
“This is (almost) word-for-word what I tell people from my evangelical past.”
“Thank you for making feel like I am not alone with how I feel.”
These things are serious. People have issues coping with the ways people have treated them previously because of their beliefs or actions. Their prior spiritual abuse makes them feel like they can’t be a Christian or that they should stay away from church. They live with feelings of inadequacy and guilt. My post yesterday was me throwing off those chains and saying, “I am who I am, and you’re not going to tell me otherwise, so get over yourself. I’ll take it up with God, not you.”
The mere fact of our disagreement is tangential to the main issue here. As it so happens, every last one of my groomsmen at my wedding last year do not share my beliefs. In fact, my best man is likely the most conservative out of the bunch, though that is only a guess. Only a select few of my really good friends share my views, but honestly, that’s not what’s important. A friend is, among many other things, someone who cares about you, who loves you like a brother or sister, and who may make mistakes, but, at the end of the day, you know that you can rely on him or her.
So here’s what you can do instead of telling me I need Jesus: love me. Love isn’t trying to tear apart my life, no matter how you may disagree with my beliefs or my lifestyle. Love isn’t just giving me a stock Bible answer when I come to you with a problem. It’s not shaming me because I have issues you don’t think I should have. Love means getting involved with my life, supporting me and reasoning with me so that I can make good decisions, not repeatedly trying to make my decisions for me.
Honestly, I shouldn’t have to tell you this, because most of us know how to be a good friend, but we weaponize our beliefs and use them to justify all sorts of mistreatment in the name of “love.” My honest advice to you is to pretend you have no religious beliefs and to ask yourself then how you think you should treat another person.
Example: a friend of yours tells you he’s going to have sex with his girlfriend. With religious beliefs, you give him the Bible answer: That’s a sin, and God does not approve. Without religious beliefs, you can give him a real answer: make sure you know what you’re getting into, and please be responsible about how you do it. It’s his (and her) decision, not yours. A friend cannot cross those bounds while still acting as a friend.
When you start manipulating people into your viewpoint, or worse, you punish them in some way for doing something with which you disagree, then you are only adding to their suffering. If you think something is a bad idea, you don’t necessarily have to enable someone to do it, but let the action bear its own consequences rather than heaping your own judgment on top of the natural outcome.
If you can’t do that, then I will have to keep you at a distance or cut you off, because while I may forgive what you do, I can’t have someone hanging around hurting me continually. And fellow liberals, progressives, atheists, pagans, or even conservatives — heck, just everyone — I would encourage you to do the same: if there are those in your life who repeatedly injure you because of your beliefs, don’t mistake forgiveness with allowing someone to abuse you again. That is not healthy, and we should be courageous to live our own lives.
I can’t — and won’t — live such that I am constantly in fear of you condemning and shaming me for having a different opinion or doing something you don’t like. Whether you like it or not, that is a real and well-founded fear that many of us share. It’s not about whether you’re conservative or not, though I would suggest that there is a non-coincidental overlap between those who are conservative and those whom I must avoid. More than that, though, it is about your ability to love me and to respect me as a person. I need that — no, I demand that — of you. If you can’t do that, then I must insist that you stay away from me, because I have a life that needs living, and you are getting in the way.