On June 24th, New York became the 6th state to legalize gay marriage. I've read quite a few blogs and articles on the matter over the last week but one stood out to me because of the universal truth it conveyed. Namely, that knowing someone or getting to know someone messes up all your preconceived notions, your ideas on what they are actually about.
One of my best friends is gay. I've known him since high school when my group of friends and I took him under our wing. He was about as nerdy as you could get- he probably wore his choir t-shirt three times a week, he had chubby cheeks, he was top of his class and the most hideous sandals you can imagine. (He also was fluent in Elvish. Yes, from Lord of the Rings) This kid was a major brown-noser and tattle tale. But if he loved you, you knew about it. And despite all I just described to you, he was pretty lovable too. We adopted him, roughed him up a bit, and finally forced him to have some fun.
Towards the end of high school rumors started to swirl about our friend and his sexuality. He denied them all vehemently, and even though I had suspicions of my own, I chose to believe him and defended his story to every one of the rumors I heard. By the time I had been out of high school for about three years though, it was getting harder and harder to believe he was telling the truth. Another close friend and I prepared to confront him about it. The three of us were pretty close, so what it came down to was us basically forcing him out of the closet. We even read him a list of all the reasons we thought he was gay. Haha, in hindsight, probably not the most effective/sensitive method, but it worked. He admitted that he was gay and confessed that even though we were his best friends, we were pretty much the last to know besides his family due to the fact that we were Christians. We had such a good talk and re-affirmed how much we loved him and that we would be there for him as he struggled to figure out what this meant in regards to his relationship with the Lord.
The reason I tell you this story is to bring home the truth that we are relational beings. When we love someone, our hearts get tied to their hearts. Issues like homosexuality aren't so black and white anymore. We live in a world filled with labels: gay, straight, Christian, atheist, refugee, terrorist, fat, skinny, prostitute, prude. We have all been labelled and all of us label other people. Labeling makes it easier for us to get on with our own lives. It condenses people down to one word and allows us fit them neatly in a compartment that we don't have to interact with much. But sooner or later, life happens and we meet these labels, really meet them, get to know them, and eventually love them. The label becomes human.
Jesus' life and ministry consisted of His encounters with labels. The tax collector, the leper, the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery- all of them became individuals in His eyes. Knowing someone as an individual doesn't automatically mean you want all the same things they want, it doesn't mean you agree on everything, but it does almost force you to consider what it's like to walk in their shoes. A while back I was having one my deep conversations with my Dad that happen almost every time we're together. My Dad knows how much I wrestle with the idea of hell and whether it exists in the traditional understanding. At one point in the conversation he asked me, "Do you think one of the reasons you struggle so much with this issue is because you spend so much time with friends who aren't Christians?" My answer was, "That's exactly why I struggle with it so much." To know someone is to acknowledge their humanity, to acknowledge that we're all just trying to make sense of this life. Jesus knew that and He saw past the label, into the heart.