Please do not be put off by the title. I am inspired by C.S. Lewis. A great man, a great author, and an even greater thinker. One of his best known works is also the inspiration for my thoughts on relationships where we are merely tolerated.
When Westboro Baptist trots out their family and pickets a dead soldier’s grave with their hate filled signs it reopens the fresh wound of losing a loved one. You cannot reconcile a senseless death with vulgar displays of hatred. For many gay people, their demands for a “holy” lifestyle feels like a tortuous proclamation to deny the uncontrollable, entirely-human desire to love and be loved.
When a politician stands up and pontificates about the sanctity of marriage, the necessity of DADT, or the all-around “unnaturalness” of a gay relationship there is that brief moment of anger. Your throat tightens, your heart rate quickens. But it passes … gays have been used as a punching bag by politicians seeking to rally the troops for so long that they sort of get used to it; in fact, ignorant and idiotic statements directed towards gay people often just raises more awareness on the issues that the gay community faces.
When a slobbering sports fan starts flinging slurs directed at gay people, one can only wonder what repressed feelings and self-loathing the person must feel. It becomes clear that the bigots are often the ones who are incapable of living an undisguised and genuine life: their fear of being “outed” manifests itself in ugly verbal attacks.
So, where am I going with this? These are not the greatest challenges that we face. Mere tolerance is.
For many gay people, the aforementioned people are not the ones who cause the heartache. What does a complete stranger’s opinion mean to most of us? Not much! No, it is the ones that claim to love you most that cause the deepest wounds. The family, the close friends, the church … how do you respond to “I love you; I just hate who you are”? How do you respond to “God loves you; He just hates what He made”?
These people and churches are often the most important relationships in a gay person’s life, yet if the relationship is nothing but an empty house made of paper you had better take a match to it. There is a subtle, gentle, but all-too-real hostility beneath this house, with its façade of “normalness.” It is mere tolerance.
Their soft murmur of “I love you; I just hate your sin” slowly becomes the deafening groundswell of “you’re an abomination to God.”
Their soft murmur of “I love you; I just hate your sin” slowly becomes the deafening groundswell of “you’re an abomination to God.” They speak softly, with a silver tongue, extending the hand of friendship, meanwhile shoving the dagger of judgment an inch deeper into your back. The conditional acceptance is the most painful … and often the most damaging. Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” They may not be able to kill your soul, but they can gruesomely savage it.
At some point you might relish the open hatred of Westboro, the sharp criticism from a politician, the public rejection. At least there would be no question as to where they stand with you. Instead, the relationship of mere tolerance, the relationship that is less than full support and acceptance, the relationship of soft, grinding contempt is the relationship that opens the chasm between man and God. Somehow their “love” can suffocate like a dark cloud of smog; you can drown in an ocean of conditional, artificial acceptance. And while our attention is focused on these bits and pieces of our soul being pulled apart, we cannot focus on our relationship with God. We cannot fully appreciate ourselves as the created beings he intended if we allow ourselves to remain in bondage to mere tolerance.
Ties to church, family or friends that are made of manipulation, judgment, and mere tolerance are often the toughest to break. Ultimately though, if the relationship is not authentic, if it is not driven by genuine love and acceptance, it is not a relationship worth having.
We need not burn any bridges. We merely need erect a gate that allows for the passage of genuine love and denies access for anything less. When we fail to break off unhealthy relationships we cannot fully enter into our personal relationship with God.
For the sake of our own authentic life — even our emotional and spiritual survival — sometimes we have to find the strength to break free from those insincere and poisonous connections. It can be a painful process. But that process can be what transforms us, and makes our spiritual journey that much richer.
For those who have been injured by a relationship of mere tolerance, the following are some beautiful words that may help put our scars into perspective:
“A pearl is a beautiful thing that is produced by an injured life. It is the tear [that results] from the injury of the oyster. The treasure of our being in this world is also produced by an injured life. If we had not been wounded, if we had not been injured, then we will not produce the pearl.” – Stephan Hoeller
KIENAN MICK is a resident of the beautiful, lake filled Twin Cities. He has a degree in Economics from the University of Minnesota, and recently finished a MS in Applied Economics from the University of North Dakota. In his spare time, he enjoys amateur photography, nature hikes, and bird watching. His interests lie in “alternative” economic systems where the public, unions, and co-ops take a greater stake in our economy.