You have heard it said to those of old, ‘you shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgement.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgement. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says ‘you fool!’ shall be in danger of hellfire.
I do not think Jesus means this anger, this hatred, is bad simply for existing. Anger does not exist as an abstract thing, floating in and out of people like carbon dioxide. Our anger does not always manifest itself as murderous rage, but it never sits quietly. It eats away at us, at our friends, communities, churches, and our world. This anger we have towards the other, be they black or white, male or female, gay or straight, it may not be overtly violent. But it can and does have the same result. Anyone who says the smallest thing against their brothers and sisters, has killed this person in their heart. Our hatred can and will manifest itself, no matter how we cloak it.
Last Friday evening, Christian rapper and “former lesbian” Jackie Hill-Perry visited Harvard to talk about the importance of denying one’s homosexuality at any cost. She cautioned us that if we bowed to our own “lusts,” we would be following our own laws, rather than those set forth by God. Over and over she condemned the lives we lead through which we finally found the love of God. I cannot count how many gay friends of mine have left religion entirely because of speeches like hers. Yet those of us who have kept our faith against all odds still showed up on Friday to feel our hearts stabbed over and over and over by poison that called itself love.
This hatred cannot be masked by words. Whether it calls itself “humility” or “putting God’s will first” or “speaking truth in love,” this hatred is murderous. It kills and reaps the judgement as if it were. The parent or pastor who turns away a gay child is guilty of murder, whether or not they are the ones to deal the fatal blow.
You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives a light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:13-16
Perry framed her long-term committed lesbian relationship as sinful because homosexual love necessarily supersedes love of God. In order to justify the hatred and suffering of their LGBT siblings in Christ, too many evangelicals frame the love of God and the love of one’s neighbors as an either/or. One thing that struck me when I confronted my evangelical friends who shouted “amen!” from the audience while Perry talked about being delivered from “homosexual sin” was how much they tiptoed when asked directly. They knew their beliefs were unpopular, so they refused to assert them. So much of this hatred goes unsaid, leaking into communities like mine like a toxic smoke. If this homophobia really is loving, if telling people to deny their very humanity and immolate themselves lest they risk rejection from their communities, then it should speak its truth in love. It should bravely show all its requirements, if following it is the only way to escape eternal torment. What kind of lamp is this, giving light only for those who twist themselves into knots in order to see it?
The only times this evangelical group’s homophobia was mentioned publicly was in denying it existed, saying that denying LGBT people the right to love just as their straight brothers and sisters love is not at all homophobic, denying that praying away their sinful sexuality really counted as “conversion therapy,” claiming that even if it was conversion therapy, that it was all worth it for Jesus, who paid the ultimate price. It frames itself as taking up one’s cross for the sake of eternal glory.
What salt is this, that springs on the unwary, speaking first love and then rejection? Is it the righteousness that Jesus speaks of in verse 20, that exceeds that of the Pharisees despite its giving with one hand and taking away with the other?
Whatever salt this is, It does not reflect the reality of love and hatred.
LGBT youth who are rejected by their communities, often for religious reasons, are nearly ten times more likely than their peers to commit suicide, despite that queer youth in more accepting environments are already at an elevated risk of taking their own lives. And ultimately this is where this so-called “self-denial” leads. It leads to death, not just to oneself, but in the literal sense. People have died. People will continue to die.
What love is this? What love is this that will bring the world to glorify God in heaven, yet somehow also the love that chains people to the ground, demanding they self-flagellate until their very souls cannot stand the body in which they live? The perfect love of God does not restrain itself, it will not hide behind conditionals and feels no fear when confronted. I do believe that many of Perry’s words were genuinely taken to heart. I think my evangelical friends have good intentions. Yet I do not believe those intentions come out of love. They come out of fear, fear for our souls, perhaps, but also a fear of looking bad, both of being considered homophobic by friends they have hurt and of being considered affirming by their church communities.
As I and other gay Christians will tell you, it is not the virulent hatred that Jackie Hill-Perry spat at us that hurt half as much as the communities it brought to mind. It brought to mind the two Catholic parishes from which I have been all but expelled, one of which is mere blocks away. It brought to mind family members that completely rejected me, it brought to mind my Christian friend who refused to be at my baptism if I did not dress “manly” enough. It also reminded me of my evangelical friends who were standing nearby at the protest, gaze downcast, refusing to make eye contact with me lest they see the vibrant colors of the flag I wore. It reminded me of the many times Christian friends admitted that they cared about me, just not enough to risk “creating division” or losing their friends who consider me an abomination. Too often the basket is lowered over the lamp to avoid disruptive rays of light.
I don’t want to end this on a dark note. So I will rewind the tape a bit. Before Perry began to speak, a number of friends, mostly fellow Christ-followers gathered outside Emerson hall to distribute pins and flags so that anyone, whether they came to protest or not, could stand with us in solidarity. So many did. The elders of our community in particular showed up in force, because conversion therapy used to be much more common than it is now. At least a dozen of the four-dozen-odd protesters had confessed to me that they had been through that psychological torture themselves. We made hundreds of buttons, filling bags and baskets full. By the time the night was over, there were no buttons left.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.
Before the event started, we smiled and laughed together, tears brimming but not yet falling. We braced for an emotional suicide mission, and the fire and brimstone that greeted us more than lived up to my worst nightmares. We did this for love of God and for one another. We took up this cross knowing that the pain would come, but persevering because of our Christian conviction that to love your neighbor is to know God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
Just as the disciples mourned Jesus before he rose again, so we must also feel the sadness following these events. Tonight I ate the first full meal I could stomach since Thursday night. We are all slowly starting to limp again. This is only the beginning. This fight will not end here, it must not. I urge you to love your neighbor, to endure this dark period of lent, this time in which we long for God’s unending love. Endure with us, all of us, until one day we shall all rise like Lazarus, perfect in our differences for which we are all loved, the differences which make us all human, all family, all reborn children of God.
Liam Keohane ’19 is a psychology concentrator in Pfoho.