Communities of privilege tend to respond to those they oppress defensively. This has been seen recently in the discussions about misogyny after the shootings in Santa Barbara. The hashtag #YesAllWomen went viral, showcasing millions of testimonies from women all around the world about the struggles they face in their respective countries' patriarchal cultures. But as quickly as #YesAllWomen came about, countless men responded defensively with the hashtag #NotAllMen.
— ELIEL CRUZ (@elielcruz) May 25, 2014
This defensive response is seriously flawed and misses the point. The #YesAllWomen hashtag was not meant to say that all men are sexist but that the vast majority of women face specific aggressions because of their gender -- and that it's a systemic epidemic.
The defensive responses, most of which were incredibly condescending, are all too familiar to me as a bisexual man of the Christian faith. There hasn't been a time that I've written a piece about the religious homophobia that's also a systemic epidemic in our faith that a Christian hasn't said #NotAllChristians. The same has happened to many LGBT individuals in the church.
A gay Christian friend of mine recently wrote an open letter to Christians explaining why he felt disenfranchised. He described personal experiences, and experiences of his LGBT friends, of instances in which Christians showed condemnation instead of acceptance. The piece clearly took energy and courage to share.
The very first comment on this letter was, "Not all of us are like that."
This may seem like an attempt to show that there are many Christians who are tolerant, accepting, and even affirming of LGBT individuals in the church. But the message of "we're not all like that" is defensive, and a defensive remark innately causes division.
Those of us who say a variation of #NotAllChristians are wanting to make clear that there are Christians who treat LGBT people with love (or some minimal form of tolerance masquerading as love). It's usually prefaced with "I know a homosexual..." and ends with some sort of disclaimer highlighting your opposition to certain "lifestyle choices." The phrase is meant to distance yourself from the grossly offensive homophobia of the likes of the Westboro Baptist Church, because it's those people who give Christians a bad name.
Let's face it: Christians have been giving Christianity a bad name for thousands of years. We continually leave communities of people alienated with our less-than-biblical approach to dealing with the "other." Then, ironically, we turn around and claim that we're victims, due to situations that we created in the first place.
It's hard not to defend a community we belong to. It's almost instinctive for us to be protective of its reputation. But it's exactly that type of defensive response that creates the negative reputation we try to dispel. If we call ourselves Christians, we should be wearing that badge with pride. However, the baggage that comes with that label is also our burden to bear.
Trust me: I carry that burden when I call myself a Christian in the LGBT community. Staying true to my beliefs through the religious homophobia is a feat that many LGBT people don't accomplish. When I call myself a Christian despite being in LGBT circles, I represent the main fighting force against equality for our community.
It's easy to become defensive. I'll admit that I've responded quite defensively a number of times. But the way to reconciliation isn't through division; it's through unification in community. My defensive remarks would only push away someone who has already been othered by Christians. What good would that do to our calling of preaching the gospel?
It's time we started being less defensive and more reflective.
If the statement that was made doesn't apply to you, there shouldn't be any reason for you to feel defensive. But perhaps you feel defensive because it hits too close to home. If that's the case, then it is the perfect opportunity for you to be reflective -- and we shouldn't feel ashamed about that.
It shouldn't be the responsibility of someone who has been hurt by the church to find out who is a safe Christian and who isn't. Not all Christians are safe for LGBT people. In my experience, most aren't. When you are a part of the majority, you don't get to complain over generalizations, especially when we've made the same if not worse generalizations about the LGBT community. It's our responsibility to make sure that the only generalization made about Christians is one whose definition is deep in the affirming love and acceptance of the gospel.
We should start by listening to stories, validating those experiences, and defending those who are brave enough to share their experience. It takes a lot of guts to share something that has deeply hurt you. If you're in a space where someone has opened up about their experience, you should be honored. Those spaces are sacred; they are holy. We defile them when we attempt to negate experiences.
Until LGBT people feel safe around people who call themselves Christians, we shouldn't have a problem with anything they might have to say about their experience with Christianity. We can start by being a part of the solution instead a part of the problem. We're the ones who started the LGBT-vs.-Christian divide, it's up to us to begin to heal it.