November 23, 2016 by Julia
Our quintessential American family day of Thanksgiving always comes so soon after Election Day. I know the usual line is that we hope political discussion won’t come up at the dinner table because we don’t want crazy Uncle Harry offending everyone. But I’ve never dreaded the political debates. I look forward to them.
Not that I’m brave all the time about sharing my views, but as time goes by I feel convicted to do so. In fact, it makes me happier to talk about my convictions, even if I am standing alone in a semi-hostile environment and I can feel my face turning red as I say the words I so firmly believe. When you have thought through your beliefs, all the way down to their roots, and listened to your own heart on the matter, it becomes a pleasure to discuss them, to test their strength with arguments from those who disagree. I am willing to have my beliefs torn apart if the process makes sense to my mind and heart; in fact I prefer to change if it’s in the name of justice or understanding or compassion. If I am not afraid of personal growth, if I trust my own reasoning and conscience in the process, there is nothing to fear in debates.
This is a huge part of what I love about American culture: we wear our hearts on our sleeves, we let our longings and weaknesses and confidences show, we can say what we mean, and there are a lot – A LOT – of differences among us, which is part of what makes it so interesting. I find it appealing that our citizens are compelled to show their true selves. Our individual differences are what make us strong as a whole. The more I understand and appreciate the hundreds (thousands?) of American subcultures, the richer my life becomes, and the more comfortable I am pursuing friendship with people different than myself.
So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving and American culture and in the devastating, confused wake of this recent insane election (and the alternate universes of politically biased media declaring joy and horror simultaneously, screaming hypocrisy at each other), I would like to share my beliefs, because I don’t think the answer is to avoid all controversial topics at the dinner table. The answer must be to talk about them, to hold them up and see if they do hold up under scrutiny.
Here’s one that comes up a lot for me, as a liberal, progressive Christian:
I believe in God and I believe that if Jesus were on earth right now he would not condemn the LGBT community, but he would unleash righteous fury on those who have shamed and rejected that community. In fact, I believe Jesus would condemn the attitudes of the majority of churchgoers right now, for the way they fixate on certain obscure passages of scripture when it’s convenient or reinforces fear, while doing away with other ancient passages when they serve no modern purpose. Jesus basically says, repeatedly, and with accompanying demonstrations, “Hey people, do away with whatever interferes with your own capacity for forgiveness, love, humility, and willingness to serve those in need. Those goals, those ways of being are more important than any of the others. You already know this in your heart. When you get caught up in pointing out how others are doing something against the rules, you are ENTIRELY missing the point. Ugh!” I hope my paraphrasing doesn’t offend anyone, but to be honest, I am offended that Christians can read the Bible and think anything different.
Just to be bluntly clear, I believe Jesus would say any kind of sex that is not destructive is also not sinful – that is, if it’s adult, consenting, respectful of both parties, and doesn’t hurt established, committed relationships, it’s okay (just like the consumption of wine when it’s not destructive). But it’s not all about sex, anyway; it’s about acknowledging that sexuality is part of someone’s identity, not a chosen lifestyle. If you respect gay or trans people enough to believe what they say about their own life experience – which is that they feel this aspect of themselves was not chosen (and why would it be, when they are up against a more than average degree of repulsion and hate?) – then you can no longer believe that they are “living in sin,” because there has to be some choice involved in sin.
And to love someone, you have to believe what they are telling you about themselves. I can’t love a gay friend while still believing he or she has chosen a “lifestyle” that is morally wrong. That’s not love. No one wants the kind of love that says part of your identity is a bad choice.
I don’t know if the average non-Christian or straight person knows this, but it’s difficult to find a modern Christian community that supports any of these “radical” ideas. But I believe it’s worth saying aloud, especially in uncomfortable company. (In comfortable company, it goes without saying, so what’s the point?)
It’s worth saying aloud because real kids are killing themselves, suffering over these things, as they are pressured to deny a major part of themselves. It’s worth saying aloud because the church is hurting itself, too, getting hung up on these issues. How do you reconcile the existence of these real, loved people in our lives, with scripture that was written a millennia ago? You can try to tear it apart with semantics (love the sinner, not the sin!) in order to distract yourself from the lack of real truth and grace. Or, the church could get over that old interpretation of Old Testament text in the name of love, and finally get busy welcoming the people of a historically outcast and abused community with open arms…if the gay community would even have them, at this point. I don’t see it happening anytime soon outside of especially enlightened, urban areas. And I am infuriated by it, honestly.
Anyway, I feel strongly about that one.
I also feel strongly that racism in this country is insidious and that white people have a lot of inner and outer work to do. That white people need to open up to the black community without neediness (because who has time for needy “helpers”?), that we should actively seek out diversity in friendship or love, and in cultural touchstones and literature in order to understand what we have not been through ourselves, in order to beat back a kind of closed-off ignorance or discomfort. That we need to find the humanity that we all have in common while also learning to appreciate the undeniable differences that have been shaped by our society and culture, be it trends or traditions or roots that go back hundreds of years. That we need to support black lives better in this country, and there is no simple answer, but it’s worth the time and energy of all Americans if we want to be part of a country that stands for freedom and justice. That we need to get to a place – like, now – where we are talking to our kids openly about race. African-American parents have to talk to their kids about it in order to keep them safe. Do you think that is a fun conversation, any more than it would be for a white parent? No. It is heartbreaking and anxiety-inducing and mentally exhausting to explain to a child our history of slavery and how our citizens are still suffering the effects today. But this is how we fight and make things better for the next generation.
Other topics I think worth fighting about at the Thanksgiving table:
-That women across all cultures and generations have it too hard and we need to figure out how to make it easier for them to have families and a life of adventure and fulfillment at the same time.
-That American consumerism is out of control these days, and trying to sell people things they don’t need is actually immoral and brings down the world.
-That we should stop worrying so much about our weight or how we look and just try to be healthy in ways that actually feel good and support us, using that as our motivation rather than shame or vanity.
-That college makes no sense anymore at these prices and somebody better get on that before my kids are college-aged.
-That we can stretch our belief systems in order to accommodate both science and faith, mystery, spirituality, religion – whatever you like to call it. The two modes of thought don’t have to be at odds; they can actually even complement each other.
That should cover it for this year, at least. Here are some inspirational images, poems, quotations, whatever, to help us to maybe, possibly…enjoy Thanksgiving 2016? I will soften the challenges with traditional autumnal turkey-ish photos, and portraits that capture the gorgeous diversity of America. Keep fighting the good fight. I am thankful for our continued freedom to do so.