So much has been said and as I begin to type my ring finger lingers over the backspace key, trying to make sense of what kept me up last night, wondering if I should leave space and silence to do the shouting.
Breathe, for goodness sake.
I’m white. I’m rich. Educated, and employed. Married – and straight. I am in a position of privilege. And I’m painfully aware that in that sense, I don’t know much. I don’t know what it’s like to be afraid of being myself, kicked out or bullied or harassed, or ignored or rejected by a community, or scared for my life. I am privileged.
And with privilege come two duties, I think.
The duty to speak up.
And the duty to shut up.
Because I have a voice, I should raise it (especially when others can’t, or aren’t, being heard.)
A bakery in Northern Ireland was yesterday found to have discriminated unlawfully against a client who ordered a cake on which he requested a logo that supported gay marriage. I’m still trying to get my head around the case and its verdict (which did surprise me). There seem to be two lines: one suggesting that business for profit should not discriminate between one client and another, which I agree with; and another suggesting that discrimination against ideas is lawful and should be protected in order to preserve the freedom of all, which I also agree with.
The story is much, much wider than the legal case. The story involves people. People who have inherent and beautiful value as humans. People who are not ‘issues’. People who are straight, and gay, and Christian, and of other faiths, and not of faith backgrounds. And when we reduce stories down to ‘issues’ or ‘sides’ we forget about the people. The reality is that the LGBT community in Northern Ireland has suffered. And it isn’t right, or fair. People have ended their own lives because of the rejection they have felt from society, from us. When they are refused service. And when they hear the word ‘gay’ thrown around as an insult. And when they are yelled at by strangers. And when they are called ‘an issue’. And when they are bullied at school. And when they are preached at with articles or out-of-context Bible verses sent in the drowningly loud absence of relationship. And when they are kicked out of their homes. And when they are ignored. And when they are compared to paedophiles or ISIS. And when people use terms like ‘hate the sin, love the sinner’ that make them feel their identities were a mistake. Like they are mistakes. And I, as a straight person with a voice, will do all I can to make it known to the LGBT community – and to the rest of us, too – that they – that you, dear heart – are not a mistake. That you are to be dearly valued, and that you have a place at the table of Love and Respect.
The story is also about people who want to obey the Bible and who want to follow the example of Jesus. I won’t get into the theological debate about LGBT relationships here, other than to say that there are not two ‘sides’ to it and that Christian is not the opposite of LGBT, and that theology has hands as well as lips. The McArthurs are doing their best to do this as they know how and have conducted themselves well in what has been a difficult chapter for their family and their business, and while I disagree with the conclusions they drew and the actions they took (nowhere in the Bible do we read of Jesus even commenting on homosexuality, but many times do we read about him spending time with – and lest we miss this: eating with – people who were marginalised) they also deserve generosity and grace. I won’t steer this post in a political direction, but I am concerned about the people and organisations and agendas who have benefitted from the McArthurs going through the case in the way in which they did.
And because I have a voice, I should also know when to not raise it.
We rush, you and I, to form opinions and make them heard. When tuning into Talkback yesterday, I noticed several callers seemed to have phoned in just to be heard, without anything to say – passion can do that to us sometimes. And we take sides and paint black and white, us and them pictures with our words. We are good at this, especially in Northern Ireland (and in humanity). We are Catholic and Protestant, we are North and South, we are local and foreign, we are male and female, we are gay and straight. We let our differences define us and lace our interactions with the othering of each other. And this is not how we will move forward. It hasn’t worked for the generations who have gone ahead of us, and it will not work for ours.
So I am shutting up. I am not picking sides. I am listening to people’s stories, and to opinions that are not my own, and I’m hoping to learn.
I’m not ending with a strong and rousing conclusion, either. It isn’t really mine to make. This is about us. Not about me, or my voice. But if you will allow me one final thought?
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A PS: a few things I have read and found helpful.