By The Bakersfield Californian
Jesus is just too much sometimes. In Luke 6, he tells us to "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you ..." (Luke 6:27). I read this Gospel aloud in 2001, just after the attacks of Sept. 11, in a Confirmation class with a group of high school juniors. I remember they thought that, at the moment, it was just too much to ask. Jesus couldn't have meant those heartless terrorists.
Then we talked about what it meant to love, and how it didn't mean to romance your enemies with flowers and chocolates. The students came to the cautious understanding that, by loving, Jesus meant for us not to wish others ill, no matter how badly they've behaved. But I think one student got it exactly right when he said, in a moment of revelation, "What if we pray for our enemies? Isn't that loving them?" Our class that night may have been the only Americans praying for Osama bin Laden in 2001.
So I tried to heed Luke on Aug. 1, better known as Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, wherein the good folks who love straight marriage as much as they love fried chicken took to the franchises. As the lines around the country grew longer and some restaurants ran out of chicken, I tried to love those patrons of Chick-fil-A, but I get emotional at the thought of my fellow Americans, under the guise of liberty, voting with their dollars against the right of gay and lesbian Americans to marry. Sometimes it does seem like Jesus asks too much of us broken, imperfect humans.
But this is America. You can buy all the chicken you want. You can open as many restaurants as the market will bear. You can donate to every cause you embrace. And I am still called to love you.
The endorsement of hate by various church leaders who purport to teach love was in evidence on Aug. 1, as their followers came by the busload to support a business that funds initiatives intended to make gay Americans second-class citizens. "Kindness and truth shall meet / Justice and peace shall kiss," promises Psalm Psalm 85:10. But not that day on the corner of Stockdale and California. This intersection, the site of Bakersfield's Chick-fil-A, has long been a gathering place for protest and support. There are also many food choices near those corners. I must confess that as a consumer, I was sad when Krispy Kreme made way for the new Chick-fil-A.
As a vegetarian, I have not been tempted to eat anything called a Chick-fil-A. As an obsessive-compulsive speller, I am bothered by the name. But I digress. As I took in the crowds of gleeful eaters on Appreciation Day, I wondered with a heavy heart: How do I love those who would persecute my daughter and daughter-in-law, and every gay American along with them?
I can line up sensible arguments for equal civil rights. I can cite facts and figures about the institution of marriage, about gay families, even about the divorce rate among those who profess reverence for the sanctity of marriage. I can remain calm in the face of bigotry or ignorance. I believe that those with bits of Chick-fil-A in their teeth are on the wrong side of history.
Still, how do I love them?
How do we love each other? The people who write me that they despise every word I write are indeed called to love me, which I imagine must strike them as too much to ask. The people who think "God hates fags" are actually called to love those very "fags" themselves. How do they do that? It's surely too much to ask.
I wish I knew the answer to the profound question of how to love in spite of our instinct to hate. I wish I could follow St. Paul's instructions to the Ephesians, and thus to us, that "all bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice," (Ephesians 4:31). I know I mustn't follow my first inclination, which is to wish clogged arteries on those who would fill up on the Chick-fil-A Spicy Chicken Sandwich Deluxe. I must remind myself to love them, to do good to them. Even more, I must see in them the son or daughter whom God loves. And it feels like so much to ask.
Jesus knew this. Gandhi knew this. All the prophets of peace throughout history knew this. Yet they continued to call for limitless love and light in the face of darkness and hate. It is too much to ask, this love that Jesus shows to us.
Yet our earthly work is to seek understanding, to teach peace, to bring love where none exists. In spite of fundamental differences, we must struggle to put aside all malice and pray for each other. Kindness and truth may not meet in my lifetime; justice and peace may not kiss until the hereafter. For today though, Jesus asks much of us, and we must respond in love.
These are the opinions of Valerie Schultz, not necessarily those of The Californian. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.