Thursday, April 27, 2023

Snide Remarks

While it's important that we talk to one another face-to-face when it comes to Christian ideas like forgiveness, we have to be careful about how we do even this. This is because sometimes, we are tempted to use Christian-sounding language in order to be judgmental about someone else. Or rather, snide. We use this language in a condescending way, reminding others that we are stepping down to communicate with them or to include them or to "bless" them. 

Think about this example: have you ever told someone you're praying for them when they didn't ask you to? Sometimes, of course, this is honest and good. Sometimes, however, it is because we have made a judgment about someone else's life and concluded that we don't agree with it in some way, so we tell them we're praying for them and they just kind of give us a confused look because they don't interpret their situation the same way we do. So our offer to pray for them is quite offensive. (And sometimes, we mean it to be. We mean it to say, "You are wrong, or you are in the wrong, and as an act of condemnation, I will "pray" for you.) This lets us come off as religious and good while at the same time speaking our own opinion in no uncertain terms. 

This happens a lot to LGBTQIA folks in the church. A lot of church folk, upon finding out that someone is homosexual, step forward in absolute confidence to "pray" for them. And they tell them as much. "I'm praying for you." But...most of these persons haven't asked you to pray for them. What you've actually done is condemn them, declare that their sexual orientation is wrong, and set yourself on a moral pedestal. 

(Now, before we get off track, let me say that this is not to take a stand one way or the other on issues of sexual orientation within the church or before God. That's not the point. I do believe that if you believe that homosexuality or queerness is "wrong," there are far better ways to approach the subject than this snide, backhanded, condescending, "I'm praying for you," which is never helpful, never earnest, and never meant to be. It's meant to be a judgment, 100% of the time, and it's not the heart of Christ.)

This is what I'm talking about with forgiveness, too. 

Sometimes, when we tell someone else we've forgiven them, it's not really because we want to set them - or ourselves - free from the burden of an ongoing grudge. Not entirely. Sometimes, it's because we want one more time to remind them of what we think they've done wrong. We want to hammer it into them one more time. We say it because we want them to remember what a horrible person they are, and then look at us as though we are merciful and a really good person. 

It's standing in front of a prisoner with the key to their cell, unlocking the door, but not letting them walk out of it. Then, having the audacity to declare, "I have set you free!" as you continue to stand in the doorway, waiting for thankfulness. 

As long as that prisoner is still in that cell, you are no help. You are no gift. You are not mercy to them just because you have unlocked the door; you do not deserve their worship or praise. As long as you continue to block that door, by reminding someone else what side of if they are on, you haven't really rescued them. 

You are, as Paul would say, a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. You're making noise, but you're not doing anything Christ-like. 

That's why we have to be careful about how we talk about these things in our Christian language, even with those that we ought to be talking to. We've been talking about how important it is to share with someone directly that you have forgiven them, but today is a cautionary tale because here's the thing: you have to actually act forgiving when you do it. If you get this wrong, if you come off as snide or condescending, if you intend to be snide or condescending, then you aren't really forgiving; it's just another way we abuse our Christian language. 

So, as in all things, the act of forgiveness is finding the balance between grace and truth. Which, I know, is easier said than done, but it is so, so important. 

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