Monday, August 25, 2014

Tyranny By Definition (Romans 12:9-21)

Become the good you want to see in the world.

     Love must be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good. Show family affection to one another with brotherly love. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lack diligence; be fervent in spirit; serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. Be in agreement with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Try to do what is honorable in everyone's eyes. If possible, on your part, live at peace with everyone. Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for God's wrath. For it is written: Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay, says the Lord. But
     If your enemy is hungry, feed him.
     If he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
     For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head.
Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.
Romans 12:9-21 HCSB

     In this passage the apostle Paul seeks to describe what genuine love is. First and foremost, love hates and detests what is evil. Already I have a problem. My problem is not that love is the antithesis of evil. Rather, as the meme above indicates, my problem is with who gets to define what is evil.

     Part of the history of the church is that when it tends toward tyranny it does so by defining who is a sinner. The infamous Salem Witch Trials are a good example of tyranny-by-definition. The present "gay hunt" in some African nations is another example of abuse by those categorizing who is favored by God and who is loathed by God.

     Paul is part of a minority group which itself is defined as "evil" by the wider majority. Paul and his kind are the target of tyranny-by-definition. As a person caught up in the active persecution of the nascent Christian movement, Paul understands that one of the cruel outcomes of being picked on and victimized is diminishment of our personhood. When Paul writes to the congregation in Rome, he does so already headed to the great city in chains as a criminal against society. Which means, that Paul's ideas are not born out of abstract and theory, but out of shackles, bloodied lips, and angry jailers. Centering himself upon the teachings of Jesus, Paul grounds himself not in giving out hate, but in giving out good.  

     As a queer person of faith, this passage has snared me. What does it mean that I should not return angry spiteful hate with angry spiteful hate? According to scripture, the answer is not that I don't get angry, but that I turn my anger over to the Sacred. Yet, as one who has suffered under the tyranny of being defined as "sinner" I am compelled to cry out: We have suffered pain, who is to answer for that? 

     The deep insight of the Christian faith is that pain is taken into the very being of God through the execution of Jesus. In my humble opinion the Maori Christian tradition holds the most sacred name of God: Pain Bearer. This name recognizes that the evil of diminishment strikes even the heart of all that is Holy and grieves the very Center of Existence. God bears our pain and we are free to bless. 

     Blessing is an active verb in scripture and operates in opposition to cursing. Where cursing diminishes, blessing amplifies and strengthens. Notice the very ways of blessing in the passage. If our haters are hungry - feed them. If our haters are thirsty - give them a drink. By choosing to bless we become the good we want to see in the world and overcome evil.