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The Enemy Within
As a lesbian woman coming from a fundamental Christian background, I have heard the words "love the sinner, hate the sin" more often than I'd ever care to remember. Applied to me, as the "sinner" object, after I've spoken honestly about who I am or about the committed relationship I'm in with my partner of ten years, they're trite words, said as a "friend" bids a hasty retreat from my life without any intention of ever re-entering it or of saying the good-byes we all need to have closure in our lives.
As a survivor of sexual abuse, I've often had those same words pushed in my direction...except these times, I am to do the loving. On these occasions, the words are meant as a preamble to more words that tell me I am to forgive the ones who hurt me.
I often hold up these two concepts, and try with all my might to make sense of them. After all, they're said to me with such conviction that they must be direct "God-commands", and I, striving to be the spiritual being I long to be, must accept them and believe them...or must I? These two concepts seem so diametrically opposed to me...
Recently, a wise woman reminded me of the Christian teaching that we humans are made in God's image. She ventured further with that idea... We, having been created in God's image, are male and female...then God must be both female and male. We, having been created in God's image, are straight and gay...then God must be both gay and straight.
It's an interesting theory that would be immediately discarded by almost every Christian theologian I know. But even if we discarded that (very reasonable) theory, the facts keep pouring in, and in the nature/nurture debate of just "how one becomes homosexual", the nurture side is steadily losing ground. Less than two years ago, researchers studying gay men discovered a genetic marker relayed through the fathers. A study recently completed at the University of Texas has found a significant biological similarity in lesbian women: the structure of their inner ear is different than that of straight women. So science is proving what many gay people have believed all along: we are born this way. Taking it a step further, we are created this way. The next step beyond that? If we are created gay, then being gay does not make us sinners. Even the most fundamental theologian I know could not hold to the fact that a loving God created us to BE sin, or created us in a way that would force us, by our nature, to live out a life of sin...
But I need also to address the other concept: that I, as a survivor, am to be loving --translated "forgiving" --to the ones who hurt me. In the middle of the night, when a sound startles me into waking and my body goes into such panic that it's hard for me to remember that I am, in fact, an adult now, safe in my own home. When I'm busy gagging, my stomach leaping into the back of my throat, it's hard to remember it's not something being thrust so deeply into my throat that it will close off my life-line. At times like these, when my heart pounds so hard that I see the veins in my closed eyelids and I'm positive at any moment it will explode right out through my chest, it's hard to be loving and forgiving. And the truth is, after those too familiar physical symptoms have finally subsided, it's even harder to be loving and forgiving. You see, it's then that I'm conscious of the history that caused the feelings that I have.
The awful things that happened to me as a child, didn't happen because someone was living out who they were created to be. They happened as violent acts of will perpetrated against someone who was smaller, weaker, and in relative terms, absolutely powerless to stop them. They happened because I was coerced into believing that they were good for me...then shamed into believing that I enjoyed them...then threatened into believing awful things would happen if I told. And when I finally found the strength somewhere in that little five-year-old soul to disclose my reality, they continued to happen because no one cared enough to ensure that they stopped.
The phrase "love the sinner, hate the sin" takes on new meaning when viewed from the frame of reference of my life experience. It challenges whether "sinner" is about our state of being or our acts of will. In this new meaning, addressing it from my perspective as a Christian lesbian, I realize I am free to be who God created me to be...because I was not created to BE sin. In this new meaning addressing it from my perspective as a survivor of sexual abuse, I've come to accept that sometimes, the loving thing we are called to do with those who have hurt us so badly is to turn them over to God. You see, the spiritual part of me, the part that longs for God-connection with a God-created universe and God-created people, would like nothing more than to be loving and forgiving. It's just that I haven't found a way to do that.
"Love the sinner, hate the sin." Words that hung over me, judging me and finding me wanting every time I heard them... Slowly, I'm reclaiming the positive power in them as I learn that they have nothing to do with the condemnation they have been used to wield over me and everything to do with grace...
Maybe, I have found a way...
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