Seekers of Shalom
tw – references of abuse, spiritual abuse, and homophobia
Growing up, I had very little understanding that the majority of people throughout the world lived radically different lives from mine. I had little context for diversity, the complexity of life and family and region, how religion is everything to some and nothing to others, how some families are large and happy and others are blended and dysfunctional. My mind was naive, my perspective stunted within a community of like minded folks.
I barely knew gay people existed, and certainly did not know how to befriend or even respectfully engage with a person so unlike myself and my little world. It wasn’t until college that I first met a gay student. To this day, I feel shame for my overwhelming prejudice, the cruel judgment lodged within a hard heart convinced of her own rightness and everyone else’s wickedness. Every June I see evangelicals posting about the sin of pride, almost as an excuse to continue dehumanizing the LGBTQ+ community. But if pride is sin, I was the chief of sinners. In my naivete I walked around with a holier-than-thou complex, casting invisible stones, internally judging the “lifestyles” of others while pride and prejudice swarmed within me. My own cultural and social limitations led to shock and horror, rather than kindness, curiosity, or hospitality.
The Sin of Buzz
Over the past few weeks, I’ve caught wind of evangelical outrage over the new Buzz Lightyear movie. Some evangelical parents are furious a brief same-sex kiss was included. Some are condemning it, canceling Disney+ memberships and even vacation plans. I imagine many parents will wait and stream it so they can fast-forward through the incredibly quick kiss. I’m not a parent—I understand media and movies have an effect on impressionable young minds. I understand a movie like Braveheart (for instance) is not appropriate viewing for a four-year-old…but this canceling (or outrage) of a movie that shows the existence of a same-sex relationship is deeply troubling to me. Some parents are so hell-bent on preventing their children’s awareness that they’re conditioning them in prejudice under the guise of holiness.
The impressionability of a childish mind can be impressed towards hate and condemnation too. If parents aren’t careful, their avoidance of culture and differences and unfamiliarity will prepare their children to enter college and the workforce as preconditioned jerks, unable to offer kindness—let alone friendship. It’s one thing to refrain from violent and sexually-explicit media, it’s another to bar any reference at all of the existence of gay and trans people. Perhaps we Christians should be more concerned about the agendas residing in our own camps, our own denominations and revered leaders, thinkers, pastors, and entertainers.
White Evangelicals Are Not Without Blemish
There is unhumorous irony when a Christian comedian, who harmed and abused numerous women, is still platformed and offered a book deal. Many evangelical parents will watch his Youtube special with their kids and take their children to his performances despite his abuse (and continued jokes about being canceled)...Or a famed son of a famous preacher who befriended and excused a corrupt president, used a martyr's wife for his own clout and sent her back to her abuser…Many evangelical parents will buy cheap gifts and wrap up boxes with their children this year. Some will travel to headquarters at Christmas time and continue volunteering and serving with their children…What about the famous California preacher (still revered in evangelical camps) who disbelieved multiple female congregants about domestic abuse and failed to contact police, further endangering children to predatory fathers? The “threat of secular culture” is like a scarecrow distracting onlookers from reality.
How easily prejudice detracts from true dangers, how willing we are to point fingers at everyone else but ourselves. Growing up, we heard many warnings to be careful about our witness to a disbelieving world. For a very long time, I thought “my witness” was being vocally opposed to gay people. But rarely in The Gospels do we see Jesus walking around and heaping condemnation. He understood sin was linked to deficient love—our unwillingness to believe in our own belovedness and our continued lack of love (sometimes even hate) for the people around us. Marty Solomon of The BEMA Podcast talks about the dichotomy between empire and shalom—power over peace. It is not just a problem within secular culture. It is rampant within the church as well, from the celebrities we platform to the authors we read and the denominations we support. We are continuously tempted to choose power. We are continuously lacking in love for our neighbor, especially those we’ve been conditioned to despise.
Madeleine L’Engle wrote about how Christians are often too concerned about what happens “below the belt.” I’d argue we only seem to be worried about it when it’s consensual. When it’s nonconsensual, when wives approach their elders about abusive husbands, and teenagers seek help for manipulative youth pastors, when comedians are caught in webs of abuse, and pastors willingly cover up their fellow elder’s violence, far too many aren’t concerned at all. Far too many Christians choose the way of empire, citing forgiveness instead of action, sending victims back towards abuse instead of offering safe haven. It’s easier because it requires nothing of us. In fact, it’s easier to cancel Buzz Lightyear and walk around silently judging our gay neighbors.
Seekers of Shalom
In caring for the impressionable minds of children and teenagers, we must be seekers of shalom within our communities. In protecting children, we must be willing to protect them from the harm that may reside in their own households. In loving the body of Christ and the community beyond church doors, we must hold leaders accountable for the ways they’ve allowed their own power to corrupt and leveraged forgiveness to silence the vulnerable. Our witness to the world cannot be that we’re opposed to the slightest reference of gay people in a kid’s movie. Our witness is that we will not bend to empire, we will not abandon the hurting in our midst.
I have caused harm and unaffirmed the dignity of my fellow image-bearers. In ignorance, I condemned. In prejudice, I judged. I used Jesus as a scapegoat instead of a pillar of love. I viewed the sacraments as conditional and believed my own sin lesser than the sins of my neighbors. I did not love unconditionally or routinely seek shalom. In disbelieving my belovedness, I also disbelieved it in the people I encountered.
I do not possess absolute answers about many things. There is much we can continue to question and investigate together. But I do believe that white evangelicals have been duped to fear culture while excusing our own prejudices. Without care, we too can become whitewashed tombs with glistening exteriors and hardened hearts. I believe goodness abounds. I believe love was embodied in the personhood of Christ and his hospitality and compassion is what we should seek to emulate. Instead of bemoaning kids' movies, may we fight for safety within our own traditions, may we seek the wholeness of the most vulnerable and tear down abusive empires in pursuit of shalom.
Loving & Savoring
Podcast: She Is Kindred – a conversation between me and my new friend Brittany Smith about imposter syndrome and the need for better care and support for women in the church and ministry spaces.
Book: The Lord is My Courage – This beautiful book from my friend KJ Ramsey released into the world this week! Walking us word by word through Psalm 23, KJ writes of sustenance and individual significance. In the dark valleys and dry deserts, when we’ve become lost, separated from safe have and safe community, there is a shepherd who seeks and saves. There is a table set to refresh and restore.
TV Show: Somebody Feed Phil (Season 5) – Season 5 recently released and it’s a continued joy fest with Phil’s quirky kindness and love for food all over the world! Watching this show makes me want to travel and sit at tables and hear all the stories about regional food and the people who make it.