What you should do instead of telling me I need Jesus — love me

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.

Toddler Hug

Long before they knew to argue about gay marriage or evolution

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.

Toddler image used under Creation Commons BY license. Attribution to Flickr user johmichaelmayer.

About Chris Attaway

Chris Attaway is a Christian philosopher seeking to refine the way we live through reasoning and reflection. Be sure to follow his blog, The Discerning Christian, for challenging articles which offer new perspectives on old problems.
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20 Responses to What you should do instead of telling me I need Jesus — love me

  1. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Reblogged this on James’ Ramblings.

  2. Ken Nichols says:

    Chris,

    While I agree with you that love is the answer to our disagreements, I don’t know if telling people to “stay away from me” is a very effective way of approaching this issue.

    Since you have a public blog and put out your views for all to see, you have to assume, EXPECT even, that people are going to take issue with some things you say, and that some (most?) of them are NOT going to be kind about it. That’s just the nature of the internet. You can’t put out your beliefs publicly and then expect everyone who disagrees with you to either, A. love you and be encouraging, or B. ignore you because they can’t be ‘A’. That’s just unrealistic. If what people say in response to this blog is truly injuring you emotionally, then maybe it’s YOU who needs to pull back from such a public space and recharge your emotional batteries.

    People will be as they always have been — judgmental and blunt. You can let it affect you or ignore it and move on. But asking THEM to change or to leave you alone is not going to work, my friend.

    I wish you all the best and hope you DO keep posting your ideas/thoughts. Though I may not agree with all of them, I appreciate your point of view and you DO give me things to think about and a perspective that I truly NEED in my life. We don’t learn anything from people who are the same as us, and you and I are very different. That’s a good thing.

    But I would also support you if you decided to STOP posting for a time just for your own emotional health. I’d rather you be happy and confident than post prolifically. Some might view such a move by you as a “loss” or “defeat”, but your emotional well-being is more important than what anyone thinks of you.

    I hope I have not “bullied” or hurt you in any way here or in any other comments when I disagreed with you. If I have, I apologize, and I’ll try to do better in the future.

    All the best.

    • Virtue on the Internet is one of my side-interests that I haven’t really discussed, but I think it would be an interesting topic to explore. I don’t agree that I should accept the fact that people say rude things on the Internet. I should hope for better, and if people cannot be civil, then I should do whatever is in my power to keep them at a safe distance.

      For me, this means moderating my comments. Believe it or not, I have to hit “accept” on just about every comment that I get. And in almost all cases, I do hit that button. If someone is rude and condescending, I will give them a heads up that I won’t tolerate them indefinitely.

      One thing, though, is that although this is all online, much of what I discuss on here is actually going on in the real world, not just in Internet comments sections. That is where much more of the pain emanates. Online interaction doesn’t bother me nearly as much — though occasionally it is significantly troubling — because these people don’t have a direct impact on my life. It is little problem for me to continue writing.

      As for you, you have been very kind in your disagreements, and I certainly have no problem with you continuing to write and comment on here. I appreciate your input.

      • Ken Nichols says:

        I commend you for approving even rude comments. Honestly, I don’t think I’d tolerate that at all. If you can’t be civil, there’s no need for me to post your negativity. That’s just me, I suppose.

        I did not realize you were being attacked outside of this forum (since this is the only interaction I am aware of). Sorry to hear that and I agree that sometimes it’s best to simply remove yourself (as best you can) from negative people, at least temporarily. You should pray for the “right” opportunities to arise to interact with them again in the future, hopefully on better terms.

        God knows we are emotionally vulnerable people, and he doesn’t expect us to remain stoic and unphased in the face of repeated abuse. He would want us to be free of unnecessary negativity, especially if it doesn’t lead to any furtherance of His kingdom, and merely feeds the pride of one or both parties.

        May God grant you peace and rest in Him.

  3. rogerwolsey says:

    Amen. And…. if we love each other, we give each other Jesus. Funny how that works. ; )
    Roger Wolsey, author, Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity

  4. Doug Wooley says:

    John 13:34 Love one another. Not Love one another except gays or Hindus or Republicans or people who don’t think exactly like you do. Love one another. Love Doug

  5. I wonder how much of this is a result of larger sociocultural entities promoting nonautonomy – not just Christ-following churches, but any faith institution or secular organization. Even though few would explicitly state their views on control and conformity, we’re all familiar with the inflexible, us vs. them debates and conclusions that so many “leaders” communicate, whether it be a pastor or a talk show host. I suppose it’s more comforting to be fed that certainty, and told that anyone outside our circle of agreement is flat-out wrong, but that inflexible mindset unconsciously erodes the ability to have an engaged, open, nonconclusive dialogue in the vast majority of those who consider themselves in that circle – and that’s what really frightens me. It’s separating and suffocating and clearly the opposite of what Jesus taught.

  6. Megan Dickinson says:

    Hello,

    I haven’t read the orginal article, but my immediate reaction in reading this was to agree with Ken Nichols’ comment that telling people to stay away from you is perhaps not the best approach to the situation, and that this did come off as possibly more aggressive than intended.

    I have been dealing with this a lot lately in my personal journey of faith and in my observance and interpretation of others’ journeys: we as humans tend to read the good things in the Bible and assume they are talking about us, and read the bad things and assume they are referring to the others (gentiles, pagans, pharisees, sodomites, etc.). Of course, I am not equating your writing with the Bible, (though my understanding of the progressive christian movement is that the Bible does not hold the same all-knowing power as in other sects) however, there is much to be gained for me personally from this article, because it reminds me to first examine myself before evaluating and condemning others, including you.

    I put myself in your shoes and thought, “Hey this guy is right, I have been unloved and I should tell those peope how wrong they are and ask them to love me more or stay away.” Then I made the connection that if we all did that, I would be told my friends, family and acquaintances that they have felt unloved by me and that I would also be asked to love them or stay away (probably by many of the same people whom I was asking).

    So thank you for this post. It provided a catalyst for some much needed dialogue between my creator and I.

    One of the wonderful things about being daughters and sons of Christ is that we don’t need to expect (or demand, as you said) love from others because we are loved by God. This is a pretty blanket statement I know, but it was part of my reflection that the feeling of being unloved from the earth is a temporary one when I can remind myself of the unconditional love that I find elsewhere.

    -Megan

  7. Amy says:

    I’ve been a nurse for 25 (very long) years, and I wholeheartedly agree with your sex example, but I will go one further with you on smoking. Many of my colleagues smoke. Honestly, many of them only smoke at work because of the stress involved at work. They frequently look embarrassed as they tell me (as health care professionals in their own right) that they are going outside to smoke.
    From the looks on their faces, I can deduce easily that they feel at least somewhat guilty about smoking, and probably feel guilty about willfully ruining their health as a healthcare professional. What is my place in that?
    None. They already know the dangers of smoking. Smoking is legal. It is not against company policy. I am not their parent, I am their peer. It is not my place to castigate someone for a personal, legal choice whether or not I percieve it to be moral. Of course, if I know someone is a murderer, I’m calling the cops, but if someone is smoking weed not so much. The prison-industrial complex is more obscene than pot smoking.
    Love and being able to discuss problems in love is great, but what’s even greater is being able to wait until your opinion is asked for out of love.

  8. Katherine says:

    Thank you. So, so much. I came here because of a Facebook link to this post, and then went and read the one before it. Like so many others, you have expressed the frustration and anger I have felt in my own experiences in a conservative church.
    And I don’t think you’re out of line in telling anyone – in real life or here on line – “If you can’t treat me decently, stay away.” Saying “it’s the internet, what did you expect” is a flimsy excuse at best, and I expect more. Moderating blog comments is sometimes an epic job. Thank you for doing it.

  9. Nice post. I agree with it. I’ve been calling myself a Heretic Christian because it seems to fit my view that modified my old secular humanist views into something that has my faith as a base. It means that I don’t get to consign my closest friend to Hell because she is Pagan or any other person to Hell because God created them with different paths than mine. I think I, too, am going to reblog this. Thanks

  10. rbrtkrt says:

    Another great post my man. Well said.

  11. Pingback: What you should do instead of telling me I need Jesus — love me | Wonderings of aSacredRebel

  12. Robert Smith says:

    I think I agree with the gist of the post, but not all the details. The part I would agree with: if we Bible-believing Christians actually interacted with our friends as friends (with love), it could revolutionize the perception of Christianity, at least in America. But all too often we focus on the “rules” of what we believe, and not what we believe itself.
    Per the example, our response is often as Chris mentions: “That’s a sin, and God does not approve.” What is missed almost every time is the reason it’s a sin. A true friend would explain, “We were designed for a life-long commitment to one woman, and that includes the sexual part. I’m sure you feel the desire now, but waiting until you’ve committed to your wife will bring a more complete experience in your marriage. Of course, marriage isn’t just about one person though. Marriage is intended to be a picture of Jesus and His Bride. As our lives reflect God’s character, He is glorified.”

    A lot of people have fallen into the trap of viewing Christianity as a list of rules. Some cling to those rules without understanding them, others dismiss them as old fashioned or “religious”.

  13. Drew says:

    “If one wants to convince others of the justness of one’s views of anything, perhaps one ought to proceed in as moderate and cautious a manner as one can.  But, then again, perhaps one occasionally should not; some ideas are simply evil, and the persons who conceive them somewhat depraved, and there may be something rather disgraceful in an unwillingness to say so.” David Bentley Hart

    “To speak the truth, or what seems to be truth to us, is not a very hard thing, provided we do not care what harm we do by it, or whom we hurt by it. This kind of “truth-telling” has been always common. Such truth-tellers call themselves plain, blunt men, who say what they think, and do not care who objects to it. A man who has a good deal of self-reliance and not much sympathy, can get a reputation for courage by this way of speaking the truth. But the difficulty about it is, that truth thus spoken does not convince or convert men; it only offends them. It is apt to seem unjust; and injustice is not truth. Some persons think that unless truth is thus hard and disagreeable it cannot be pure. Civility toward error seems to them treason to the truth. Truth to their mind is a whip with which to lash men, a club with which to knock them down.” James Freeman Clark

    It is tough sometimes finding the right balance between the above sentiments.

  14. Just read your FP post and a few others. I like your style. One thing I don’t understand though, is why you bother labelling yourself as a Christian? I have friends like you – liberal and open minded thinkers – who also identify as Christian. To me, many of these views seem rather anti-Christian. I wouldn’t say it’s a case of, Don’t toss out the zebra with the zebra water, cause I, as an atheist, still think that the bible and some religious wisdom has some place in our world, which suggests you can keep the zebra and too toss out the zebra water. Have you any posts that talk about this? Would love to read.

  15. Reblogged this on james clayton brown and commented:
    test 4

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