What Are We Fighting For? Part 11: Everyone. Belongs. Here.
Those of us who believe God created humanity in his image need to constantly challenge ourselves not to get self-righteous when we decide who belongs among us and who doesn’t. Those whose stories are different from ours - whose anger we don’t understand (or whose lack thereof we resent)’ who make it impossible for us to ignore our prejudices - all belong here. WE ALL need community, and love, and empathy.
If we’re not careful, we can concoct a version of God in our minds that excuses us from the messy, nuanced side of loving one another as He has loved us. We tend to want to fix people to accommodate our discomfort. But “fixing” negates the most powerful thing we have going for us… which is transformational Love.
In one of my favorite books ever, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott quotes a friend of hers who told her: ”You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out God hates all the same people you do.”
Of course, we don’t always call it hate. Sometimes we call it “loving the sinner and hating the sin,” which in our experience usually looks a whole lot like hate. Separating a person’s identity from a part of their story we hate is dehumanizing. This mentality is a perversion of the gospel. The gospel assigns the job of loving one another to us, and the job of Savior of the World to…the actual Savior of the World (who is not us).
If we want to live in a world where everyone has the opportunity to receive the love we need, let’s look at the example of relationship we are given in the Trinity - God, Christ and Holy Spirit - from Whom Love flows seamlessly through both diversity and unity.
Brene Brown has written what might be the most important thing we could possibly read in our current climate. The following is an excerpt from Braving the Wilderness:
Dehumanizing and holding people accountable are mutually exclusive. Humiliation and dehumanizing are not accountability or social justice tools, they’re emotional off-loading at best, emotional self-indulgence at worst. And if our faith asks us to find the face of God in everyone we meet, that should include the politicians, media, and strangers on Twitter with whom we most violently disagree. When we desecrate their divinity, we desecrate our own, and we betray our faith.
Challenging ourselves to live by higher standards requires constant diligence and awareness. We’re so saturated by these words and images, we’re close to normalizing moral exceptions. In addition to diligence and awareness, we need courage. Dehumanizing works because people who speak out against what are often sophisticated enemy image campaigns - or people who fight to make sure that all of us are morally included and extended basic human rights - often face harsh consequences.
An important example is the debate around Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, and All Lives Matter. Can you believe that black lives matter and also care deeply about the well-being of police officers? Of course. Can you care about the well-being of police officers and at the same time be concerned about abuses of power and systemic racism in law enforcement and the criminal justice system? Yes. I have relatives who are police officers — I can’t tell you how deeply I care about their safety and well-being. I do almost all of my pro bono work with the military and public servants like the police — I care. And when we care, we should all want just systems that reflect the honor and dignity of the people who serve in those systems.
But then, if it’s the case that we can care about citizens and the police, shouldn’t the rallying cry just be All Lives Matter? No. Because the humanity wasn’t stripped from all lives the way it was stripped from the lives of black citizens. In order for slavery to work, in order for us to buy, sell, beat, and trade people like animals, Americans had to completely dehumanize slaves. And whether we directly participated in that or were simply a member of a culture that at one time normalized that behavior, it shaped us. We can’t undo that level of dehumanizing in one or two generations. I believe Black Lives Matter is a movement to rehumanize black citizens. All lives matter, but not all lives need to be pulled back into moral inclusion. Not all people were subjected to the psychological process of demonizing and being made less than human so we could justify the inhumane practices of slavery.
Galatians 3:28 reminds us that in the Body of Christ, of all places, there are no differences between races or status or genders because, “…you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
It’s Black History Month. Can we begin by paying attention to the stories of our brothers and sisters who still deal with the writhing pain of generations of dehumanization?
Can we please muster up the courage to invite everyone into belonging? It will mean you don’t get to hate the people you want to hate. Because that’s the only way.
Love is nuanced and complicated. That’s why so many people miss out on it. But that’s what makes it so life-changing, when we learn just how deep and wide it can go when we trust that Love is the best thing going.
The following is the story of a police officer in Florida who is creating belonging and connection for some young men in his community. May we all look for opportunities to see one another with new eyes and live more courageously than ever.