All you have to do is keep out of his mind the question, “If I, being what I am, can consider that I am in some sense a Christian, why should the different vices of the people in the next pew prove that their religion is mere hypocrisy and convention?” The Screwtape Letters, Chapter 2
Mmmm. I love Jesus. And I find it so appropriate that I reread this chapter this week. Last Thursday, I read the interview in Christianity Today in which Jennifer Knapp, one of my favorite Christian artists and biggest musical influences, stated that she has been in a same-sex relationship for the past 8 years. Ever since I read the article, I’ve been tossing it around in my mind, trying to put a voice to how I feel about the whole issue.
Five years ago, I would have been pretty callous to the whole thing. Because I believe everyone has specific areas of black and white in their minds, and in their spiritual lives. I grew up in a highly conservative Baptist family, practically born in the back pew, so for the bulk of my life if you had asked me whether someone could simultaneously be a Christian and a homosexual, my answer would have been something resembling “Absolutely not.” Of course, it was one of those issues that was so easy to be certain of at that time, simply because I had never known a homosexual personally. It’s painfully easy to pass judgment on a faceless mob, you know? A group of people you don’t know or deal with or work with or love…it’s easy to go on not understanding their hearts and, what’s worse, not even desiring or trying to.
But at some point, that changed. There was a period in my life in which it felt like God was saying, “Okay, kid. You know that issue you’re so ignorantly sure of? Well, here. I’m going to bring it inside the safety zone of your picket fence and drop it on your doorstep. Now. How do you feel about it now? How do you think I feel about it now? You stay here and wrestle with that for awhile.” And wrestle I did. In ways that were endlessly painful and rarely brought full resolution to my list of questions. I had to learn to not only tolerate, but love. And not only love, but love without judgment. Love entirely void of hypocrisy.
And as I learned to deal with this culture of people who had been totally unfamiliar to me until that point in my life, I stumbled upon an unexpected reality, one that cut deep and left my heart raw for a long, long time.
I am them.
I am not different. I am not better. I am not more holy. I am in absolutely no place to judge. I am only in a place to love. To minister. To live out the messiness of life with the people God has placed in my life. Not only their messiness, but my own.
I have been struggling with an addiction to pornography since I was in middle school. I was a good girl, a youth worker, a church-goer. I went on mission trips, I led discipleship retreats, and I can write a good Christian song with the best of them. I read my Bible and prayed every day, I graduated from a Christian university…the list goes on. Squeaky clean life on the outside. And yet…I’ve been dirtier than you want to know. We’re making progress, Jesus and I. The addiction is easier and easier to say no to these days. But it still exists. It’s still there. Mental images and still-frame feelings will come back to me for the rest of my life because of choices I made.
And honestly? I’m bitter. To this day, I struggle with bitterness at the way I first stumbled upon my addiction. I hold on to that bitterness. I find myself fighting the hypocrisy from inside the darkness of my own mind. I whisper the phrase, “Who are you to judge?” over and over and over. I get angry for the sake of those who get crucified for being honest people who aren’t afraid to bare their weakness, while others manage to become the golden children of religious institutions because they’ve managed to cover it all up.
And I don’t say this out of anger at the church, or the childish idea that all Christians are hypocrites and we should therefore refrain from seeking that fellowship. Quite the opposite, actually. I say this because it’s time for a wake-up call. We are all planted in the same dirty soil, and no matter how big or small, we all have sins that we cling to. For one man it’s homosexuality, and for another it’s bitterness. For one it’s drunkenness, for another it’s gluttony. We find ourselves questioning that the sins that are harder to hide are actually worse. Less holy in the mind of Christ than other sins, somehow.
I don’t think so.
I think we are them, whether we want to see it that way or not. We are all flawed and frail and in need of grace, in equal parts. And as soon as we start comparing our need for grace to that of our neighbor, and deciding based on that need for grace which person is more spiritual, more holy, more Christlike? We start to fight against each other instead of for each other.
We are them.