Steven Alexander Soward Archives

Hating in the Name of Jesus

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Protestors Someone I respect once told me that every century or two a significant portion of the Christian community enthusiastically participates in at least one terrible injustice. I don’t know exactly why, but this observation has really effected me. Every time I see Christians on the news in mobs with signs yelling about people they hate I have to wonder if what I see is this generation’s version of Christian white supremacy. I want to know what causes us Jesus followers to undermine our identity as gracious, loving people. My best guess is insecurity. From white supremacy to the Inquisition, most of the blunders in which Christians have been involved seem to have at least this one thing in common. Sometimes it’s theological insecurity, sometimes it’s political insecurity, and other times racial insecurity; the ultimate end is that a particular group of people is identified as a threat to society and dealt with. During these times of injustice, Christians make enemies, and they believe that when he said things like “love even your enemies,” Jesus wasn’t talking about these enemies (see the Sermon on the Mount).

I’m supposed to be writing about worship. So how is injustice and insecurity even remotely related? They pertain to the disposition of the Christian community toward one of Christian music’s own worshipers. This particular worshiper has recently announced that she is a lesbian, she has been a lesbian for some time, and will continue to be both a worshiper of Christ and a lesbian. The Christian community which I am involved in responded, for the most part, with overwhelming insecurity. Jennifer Knapp—in case you haven’t heard the hubbub—is the worshiper that I am talking about. I have enjoyed her music for years and have worshiped God while singing songs she has written.

I must admit that I feel some theological insecurity myself when I think about the ramifications of her coming out. Can I listen to her music? Is it really worship? She always seemed to be a Christ-like woman. Is homosexuality compatible with the gospel? Wait, people genuinely worship with her songs all the time. Does that mean they weren’t really worshiping? If they were really worshiping, then her music must have been used by God. Does God like gay music? Wait, I like gay music—crap.

God Hates Shrimp So why does injustice fit in? It fits in because of the rising insecurity in Christian circles regarding homosexuality. Well, insecurity isn’t the best word; rage would be more appropriate. Disapproval and hatred toward homosexuals are both beginning to be treated as if they must come hand in hand. Can’t I disapprove without hating? In a century or two, will my descendants look back at the Christians of my generation with regret as does my generation now look back at Alabama lynchings done in Jesus’ name?

My mind is constantly haunted by the phrase “make a stand” regarding this topic, because another person who I respect has accused me of neglecting to do so. Even though I think homosexuality is wrong, I would much rather make a stand for grace and Christ-like love (the gospel) than rabid heterosexual totalitarianism (hatred towards other sinners justified by theological insecurity). There is no danger in showing grace towards someone who is wrong. In fact, it is what we are called to do. It’s what Jesus did. It’s our only hope. Grace is safe because grace and moral endorsement are not the same thing. Grace is loving acceptance despite rigid disapproval. Injustice happens when your disapproval lacks love.

If any of us wants the world to be better, God-fearing, or more righteous, it seems obvious that hatred and condemnation are the wrong tools. In other words, if I believe that homosexuality is wrong and I want to make sure wrongness is made right, then my most effective tool is not hatred but love. I cannot show this kind of love if I am trembling in fear and insecurity because the wrongness is icky and gross. God showed grace to whores even though they were icky. Jesus prescribed grace for the lowest of people. A large population of Christians think homosexuality is icky. Are we really going to let that keep us from carrying out God’s greatest commandment?

Jennifer Knapp So what about Jennifer Knapp? If you think she’s wrong, should you make sure not to sing her songs in church, delete her MP3s, and torch all of her CDs? Maybe the right response is neither “yes” or “no.” Maybe it’s “grace.” I’ve decided not to be discouraged from that grace by icky-ness and to remember how I want to be treated whenever my own filth is uncovered.

I can’t pretend that I don’t remember that Jesus also fiercely turned over tables at the temple, told early Christians to separate themselves from immorality, and warned us about “wolves.” I want to do that too, but I want to do it out of strong faith and steadfast love—not insecurity and hatred. I want to be a part of a generation of Jesus followers who understands love. Maybe my generation can be the loving generation without hallucinogenic drugs.

Steven Soward is an avid music listener and teaches guitar to youth and adults in his community. He enjoys religious and philosophical study and has a degree in Religion from Oklahoma Baptist University. He is a Jesus follower.
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