Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
1 Peter 3:8-12
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
In the general category of Human Behavior the tendency to distinguish between people we want to treat well and people we expect ought to suffer a bit should rank fairly close to the top on the list of things that cause us perennial difficulty. The rush to judgment is so completely natural, it seems, that it takes conscious effort to restrain the impulse. Two slightly different, but intimately related, aspects of this predisposition are the practice of lumping people, who share often-superficial traits, into broad classifications upon which we can cast aspersions (prejudice), and the practice of crafting behavioral standards to which we hold others accountable, but from which we exempt ourselves (hypocrisy).
The Progressive Christian response to this is to confront it head on, and suggest that we – Know that the way we behave towards one another is the fullest expression of what we believe. It is not enough to hold a solidly defensible theological line, if that theology is belied by our treatment of others. It is one thing to say that we serve a Loving G-d, but if our behavior is decidedly un-loving it kind of turns our splendid confessions of faith into so much fertilizer.
I see this dissonance at play very often in religious debates about public policy issues. Very fresh in my mind are the various reactions of those in religious circles who are opposed to Marriage Equality. In the wake of the landmark Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, many opponents were resigned to the ruling, though disappointed, but a number of Christian voices were raised with the concern that their continued opposition would increasingly be seen as bigotry. Part of me thinks, “well, you know, if it walks like a duck…” but I also find the response curious. You want to be able to discriminate against people on the basis of their lives being at odds with your belief system, yet you don’t want to own it. You don’t want to be perceived as bigoted when you act bigoted.
This is the kind of odious casuistry that gives religious faith a bad name, but it is an entirely human response to the glaring disconnect between faith espoused and faith lived. It is a hard, hard thing to align a radically inclusive theological position with our own behavior on a day-to-day basis. Surely every one of us can list at least a few categories of people who jangle our nerves and set our teeth on edge. It is necessary that we be honest about that if we are to avoid the pitfalls here. Still, what we really believe about G-d, humanity, and the whole of creation is, moment by moment, on glorious display in how we treat the people, and the world, around us.
“Bigotry is the sacred disease”
“One’s life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion.”
Simone de Beauvoir