THE TONY CROSS COLUMN
Article No. 14
Them and Us
Have you ever been going along in good style in your life and then, suddenly, been brought up sharply by something, and never quite been the same ever again? This has happened to me today. There I was, sitting comfortably in the garden reading a book and, suddenly, I sensed that the Lord was shining his light deep within my heart, and I realized from what I was reading that I was, indeed, a sinner needing forgiveness.
The book was ‘Soul Survivor’, by Philip Yancey. I had been reading this book on and off over a week or two and had just reached the chapter on Robert Coles – not someone I had ever heard of, much less knew anything about. But Yancey quotes Martin Luther King, and as I read I suddenly heard or felt that the Lord was focusing the words directly at me and at my thinking and my attitudes.
Yancey was quoting something that Martin Luther King said to his intimate fellow-workers one time when they were on a peace march. They had been battling through various States and various situations – often under actual physical attack and living with the strain of it all. They had gathered in an office prior to setting off on that day’s march, and Martin Luther King spoke to this little group of intimate friends who were marching alongside him on this campaign. He told them, in effect, that he was uneasy because he sensed that they had begun to let the strain get to them. Heaven knows that was understandable, but he sensed that they were beginning to feel that what they were up against was a battle between ‘them and us’. Opposing them were policemen with dogs that they set onto the marchers. There were crowds of shouting militants opposing all that Martin Luther King and his friends stood for. And his little group of friends was beginning to respond with the same partisan attitude that they were meeting in the people and law officers as they travelled south on their march.
Martin Luther King said to them that, if they once started to think in terms of ‘them and us’, they were on the slippery slope to becoming just like the people who were attacking them, and making life so difficult for them. To feel superior – perhaps calling their attackers ‘racist’ in their hearts – was to lose the battle, because then they had in their hearts the same incipient anger and hatred that met them from the police and crowds each day. Instead they were to have love and acceptance of other people at the centre of all they did.
He said that they must never think in terms of ‘them and us’, otherwise they had already descended to being just like the people who attacked them.
As I read these words I saw in a flash that I too was just like those members of Martin Luther King’s group who were beginning to lose their objectivity and as a consequence, perhaps even more importantly, their love and acceptance of all.
I saw that I was beginning to think of homophobic Christians in terms of their being ‘fundamentalists’ and ‘conservative evangelicals’. The weight of the constant need to battle against what seems an unchristian attitude from Christians sometimes piles high and gets to you. By thinking of people in categories I was able to objectify them. In this way I allowed myself to feel somewhat superior to them. I was losing the fact that God was their Creator too and that he loved them – just as much as he loved me. I was also forgetting that my heart was just like theirs.
By calling someone a fundamentalist I was really saying to myself, deep down, that they were stick-in-the–mud people who held views I did not agree with, about all sorts of things. People out of touch, I felt, with real life. I was categorizing conservative evangelicals as people who clung to an outdated view of the bible – who just stayed in well-worn ruts of thinking because of tradition or laziness, or even, perhaps, fear.
In a flash of insight – given me, I believe, by the Holy Spirit – I saw that the superiority that I felt towards those I called fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals was actually a deep sin in my life. The more I went down that road the further I thrust myself from living the life that Christ showed me was right, or from becoming more Christ-like in my life.
It is so easy for me to categorize people like that. So easy to see them as bad, while of course I consider myself ‘good’. So easy to feel superior – better than them.
Gay people are often in the position of being on the receiving end of all sorts of prejudice, all sorts of discrimination, many different degrees of oppression. We see it happening all day long, often coming from people who are not evil or callous – people who just do not realize that their attitude is so corrosive and painful for the gay person.
As a minority, the gay community has learned to cope with all of this. Many are used to it. We have made a virtue of necessity and worn the title ‘queer’ with pride. We are used to a majority of Christians just not understanding our position, and being antagonistic. We are accustomed to the fact that most Christians are unconsciously anti-gay – why else are so many of us still in the closet?
I was moved recently when reading the biography of Henri Nouwen – that much-loved author. He suffered a nervous breakdown and in the depths of his depression he literally clung to the men who understood him, who were themselves gay, and felt fellow-feeling with him in his dilemma of whether to come out (and risk losing some of his influence as an author) or to stay in his closet but suffer all the problems that that entails. The burden of secrecy is heavy – but the dangers of the pre-formed anti-gay ideas and opinions of others (even Christians), is so strong that many gay people stay in the closet as the lesser of two evils.
But whether we stay in the closet or come out, fully or partially, we are still up against the ‘them and us’ danger. We can still categorize or even despise homophobic Christians and others. We can still take refuge in a kind of secret superiority – ‘they don’t understand’, we say – and feel virtuous. This is the general reaction of many non-Christian gay people. And who can blame them? If you do not believe in God, nor understand that love is the central reality of all life, why should you bother to try to think kindly of those who persecute you?
The cold-shouldering of gay Christians by straight Christians tends to propel gay people to seek out other gay people for friends and a social life. This already happens because there is no need to try to explain oneself in such company and one can find friends and perhaps love. But the unchristian attitude of Christians towards gay people is a powerful additional factor in this process.
What is to be done? I have asked for God’s forgiveness of this almost unconscious attitude of superiority. I have recognized that many really fine Christian men and women are going to hold views which are widely different from mine – but that that does not mean they are wrong, or inferior. Some may not actually be homophobic! They may genuinely see homosexuality as a sin or a sickness. Whatever their ideas are, I have asked God to forgive me for my wrong attitude, and I sense that, in his infinite mercy, he has forgiven me.
But the next step is not easy – amendment of life. Whenever we discover some fresh seam of sin in our make-up, repentance and forgiveness are only the first steps. Next must come a decision to amend one’s life and, if you can, to put right any of the wrong done by you previously. I am still working on this one!
So, here and now, may I say to any fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals who might happen to read this page – I apologize for my previous attitude. I ask your forgiveness. And I would like to join with you in the common search for truth. I would like to understand better why you think and feel as you do. And, if we cannot agree finally, I would still hold out a hand in friendship and fellowship to you, as a fellow Christian pilgrim, on this fascinating but deeply dangerous road we all tread.