There are at least two ways to become a despised person. Do something that a significant number of people deem despicable (and thus become a despicable person in their judgement). Or hang around despised people enough and the same folks who despise those they perceive to be screw ups, hedonists, misfits, or miscreants will begin to despise you, too.
Given a choice, I’m pretty sure that most people would prefer to be loved, respected and admired than despised. If I’m any indicator, then we put all kinds of energy and effort on a daily basis into not being the target of people’s derision. We don’t leave home before looking and smelling presentable, even desirable. We edit what we say so as not to offend others or embarrass ourselves. We make sure that our behaviors, our work habits, even what we do in our free time, will keep us in the company of the esteemed.
Becoming a Christ-follower and being part of different communities of other Christ-followers only serves to amplify these proclivities of presentability. Lord help us if we do anything that violates a Scriptural prohibition or admonition. Let me back that up a bit: Lord help us if we fail to heed only certain commandments or if we fail to conform to our Christian-circle’s standards and expectations. In spite of the dire warnings not to love money, for example, if most of our fellowship loves money or harbors racist or sexist attitudes, we’re in no danger of them despising us. Even if, in the end, we all run the risk of Jesus despising us (Matt 7:21-23; 25:31:ff), no matter how safe and sound we think our doctrine is.
Some of us, however, don’t get to decide whether we’re going to be known as despicable people. Like modern-day lepers, we either pop out of the womb as those who don’t match what is mainstream or the circumstancs of our lives conspire against us ever being seen and treated as acceptable. I was going to suggest that an example of the first category would be those born with serious mental or physical challenges. But while they might not be shown much hospitality because many feel uncomfortable around them, they are ignored or marginalized, not despised. To be overlooked or diminished is a terrible outcome, to be sure. But is still a step or two above being despised.
Historically, being born Black or with much darker pigmentation than the dominant group deems preferable or beautiful are better examples of this. Or, depending on the culture, country, prevailing religious paradigms and time in history, being born female can set a person up to be treated as less valuable, less desirable, even detestable. There are even places where rigid caste systems are still in place. So regardless of your gender or complexion, if you had the misfortune to be born into the lower tiers of this oppressive pecking order, you are seen as despicable and no amount of integrity, education, or success can remove this trenchant label from you. It really sucks to be born you.
Perhaps a very relevant example of this would be those who have concluded that they were born with something different than opposite sex attraction or with gender identity confusion, i.e. LGBTQ. Years earlier, when I would assert that a gay person wasn’t born that way but was making a sinful choice, he would often reply, “I don’t ever remember choosing this. And why in the world, if I really had an option to ‘remain’ straight, would I choose to be despised and vilified?” The American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association have long since declared that being gay is not a mental malady to be treated and being transgender is a diagnosable disorder that has a prescribed mode of treatment. So, at least according to the APA (1973) and the AMA (1994), gays have standing to say that non-gays should not despise them because they’re simply another form of what normal and healthy people are. (http://teachthefacts.org/resources-professionalorgs.html) And transgendered persons have a right to say that they shouldn’t be despised because they have a recognized, treatable disorder. It’s like each are making the exact opposite arguments that they hope will lead toward the same outcome: not being despised by people in general.
While the change in clinical opinions have been a significant factor in reshaping the non-LGBTQ-public’s perception of them, it frankly hasn’t done much to alter that of many conservative Christians, Catholics, Muslims, Jews, etc. To them, if their sacred text(s) clearly condemn homosexuals and homosexual behavior, it doesn’t matter what secular experts say: homosexuals and transgendered people are despicable, not because they have no worth, but because they are squandering their God-given worth in the pursuit of deviant sexual behaviors and lifestyles.
I don’t know if most Buddhists view LGBTQ people as despicable. Those that believe in reincarnation probably don’t simply because there’s a good chance that they might have been LGBTQ in a previous life, or they might be in a coming one. While I certainly don’t believe in reincarnation, in this case, I appreciate the value of a spiritual framework that essentially teaches, “Live in harmony with all people.” Hey, you might not be despicable now, but you might have been before and if you mistreat people now, you will be down the road.
Since Christians don’t believe in living, dying, and coming back as a completely different person if you haven’t finished working out your accumulated bad karma, it should come as no surprise that it doesn’t come as naturally to us not to despise others. Even though the Son of God taught us to be peacemakers, we have no problem disregarding or discriminating against those we see as being outside the purview of God’s unconditional love and unfathomable mercy. “The Lord God has high standards, and God expects us to uphold them.” Even if it means that we end up despising those that Jesus loved enough to die for.
To identify yourself as a Christian, historically, has sometimes meant choosing to be despised. Jesus warned that this was going to happen, that we would be reviled and persecuted simply by claiming to follow after him (John 15:20). In some countries Christians have had to go through life as a despised minority. With conservative American Christians in particular feeling like a despised minority these days (a far cry from the triumphant days of referring to themselves as the Moral Majority), you would think that more of them would have greater empathy for other groups that are also reviled and persecuted. But so far that hasn’t been the case. Oddly enough, one of the primary reasons that more conservative Christians today are despised is because they are viewed as despising LGBTQ people. In spite of insisting that they are “not hating the sinners, just hating their sin,” they are seen as having it out for LGBTQs, unmoved by the AMA’s and APA’s conclusions, unwilling to reboot their understandings about why these people are the way they are for fear of disregarding what the Bible says. Despite their earnest protestations and perhaps in part because of how the mass media has chosen to portray them, more conservative Christians are characterized as ones who despise LGBTQ people. So it should come as no surprise that many secular gays despise Christians–not just the really conservatives ones–back.
At the outset of this already-too-long blog I wrote that there were at least two ways to become a despised person. Some do nothing more than make the mistake of just being born into this cruel and unfair world. Some though, because of their beliefs, behaviors, or even failures, later end up being despised. But it turns out that some of us eventually are despised simply because of the company we keep.
This is where this blog becomes deeply personal. I haven’t kept it a secret that God has called me on a journey to figure out how earnest Christians who have accepted that they’ll always be LGBTQ can become beloved and contributing members of evangelical churches. Heck, we’re making a documentary film about my current faith-challenge, so I am definitely NOT cowering in the shadows. Little by little, more and more, as this subject comes up in different places, with different people, my name eventually is mentioned because I’ve chosen to be identified with the LGBTQ communities. However, in this highly polarized atmosphere around this issue in regards to churches, a growing number of Christians are interpreting my willingness to be associated with some (not all) LGBTQ people as my endorsing the entire secular and Christian LGBTQ agendas. It’s the old “guilt by association,” I guess.
Last summer, I was one of the primary preachers at an annual week-long Christian camp for adults with their young children. I used the book of Hosea to make the oft-missed point that we are unfaithful wife Gomer to God’s long-suffering and unconditionally loving husband Hosea. I hadn’t preached at that camp in over twenty years, and I’m sure that most weren’t prepared to dive into the deep end with me. But as the week progressed, countless people told me how much they appreciated my ministry that week. A few months later, after reviewing the evaluations, the host organization invited me back for the 2014 camp. I agreed. At this year’s camp, apparently some of the talk among the conferees was my involvement with the LGBTQ community. Some might have even known about the documentary film we’re making on this issue. “Depending on where he comes down on this issue, I may or may not attend next year’s conference.” Do they realize that the other speaker that’s been secured has staked out a much more radically-accepting position on LGBTQ issues than me? To the credit of the host organization, so far they haven’t flinched in asking either of us. That’s reassuring. But it’s definitely a new experience for me to feel the threat of a boycott because I’ve chosen to identify with a currently despised group.
Jesus came to this planet because he loved all sinners and wanted to bring us back to his Father’s loving arms. He came, knowing full well how he would be received. “He was despised and rejected by men…” (Isa 53:3) Once here, he wasted no time in making it clear that his love was especially for those that others couldn’t stand. “He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things–and things that are not–to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.’’ (1Cor 1:28-29) And when some of the most despised people of that day flocked to him, Jesus chose to be identified with them (Mark 2:13-17), even as it outraged the religious establishment. They saw his doing that as proof that he wasn’t spiritually legit, that he was in fact a dangerous and corrupt heretic.
I’m not complaining, by the way. I’m merely describing what it feels like to follow Jesus, to love people who don’t expect us to love them. Even if it makes me uncomfortable at times (and it does). Even if I end up speaking to half empty rooms. Who knew that trying to be like Jesus–including identifying with the despised–would mean being despised by fellow Christians? Jesus knew.