You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting someone in pain, whether physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. So it has always been, so it will always be. Suffering is an unavoidable fact of the human condition.
Our fellow suffering humans evoke natural compassion in us for all kinds of pain: sometimes concerning temporary teenage love, or a longsuffering battle with cancer, unfair discrimination, or the bitter loss of a child. It takes a pretty stony heart not to shudder at the suicide of 17-year-old Josh Alcorn last year, the transgender young man who threw himself in front of a moving semi to escape the anguish he felt trying to find his place in the world.
Our relationship to pain and suffering is undergoing twenty-first-century recalibration. What used to be a common understanding that we all have our burdens to bear has become a zero-sum game of victim and victimizer. God help you if you’re the latter. God help you if you aren’t LGBT. Or at least on board with the LGBT agenda.
A few troglodytes among us want gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgenders dead, and no one is saying the marginalized haven’t suffered untold torment over the years. I know my gay history, I know my Stonewall Riots, my Imitation Game, my Matthew Shepard (albeit a controversial example). The twenty-first century has taught us that lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders have always been and will always be with us.
We Can and Must Coexist
Good, decent people can agree to disagree. Science may or may not discover a gay gene. The debate over gender—nature vs. nurture—rages on. The existence of God as a moral force will never be proven, as matters of faith never can be, but abiding God’s word is no less eternal life-or-eternal death for believers.
The ideal of America is that we all have a place here if we respect each other and agree to the principles of freedom, accountability, and agency. As a nation, we were founded on the unsurpassed brilliance of a rock-paper-scissors game: no branch of government has more power than any other (at least in theory). They each check and correct each other.
Good public policy flows from the same concepts of respect and distributed power. But respect and distributed power depend for their success on the recognition that we are all in this together. Suffering varies across individuals, races, cultures, sexual and gender identities, but we’re all Americans, and we all have to give a little to make this work.
People On the Other Side Suffer, Too
The American ideal, the success of respect and distributed power, breaks down completely when only one kind of pain matters. I’m not in favor of gay marriage, but I recognize the pain opposing it causes my LGBT brothers and sisters. My faith doesn’t preclude me from participating in a gay wedding, but I recognize the no-win situation of Christian bakers, and florists, and photographers who sincerely believe they are mocking God to do so, at the risk of their eternal salvation.
I have experienced the pain of good friendships dashed by differences of opinion. I have witnesed families torn apart by a transgender parent, a gay adoption, or a gay wedding. I watch good friends flail between unbridgeable worlds of the church they have cherished since birth and the announcement by a gay child that he no longer wants to be a part of that world, their world.
The truth is, we’re all hurting. The fundamental questions of who we are and what we believe are core to life itself; they undergird all faiths, families, and foundations of self. If we are on our way to new understandings of all three, so be it, but rock-paper-scissors is still the way to go.
Agreement, consensus, victory, or whatever you call it is simply not possible where there is such profound disagreement and such primal pain. Much wiser I think, to carve out a space where each of us may dwell. There will be Disney cruises specifically for gay families, there will be churches who don’t flinch from the idea that marriage is between one man and one woman, and there will be bakers, florists, and photographers everywhere in between.
Gay Activists Treat Their Opponents’ Suffering Unequally
Most Americans favor gay marriage. The Supreme Court is expected to make gay marriage the law of the land. Plenty of churches embrace LGBT clergy and parishioners. Most states allow gay adoption. The fight for equality, such as it is, is nearly over. Except for one thing.
We aren’t allowed to have our pain recognized if we’re not LGBT. Ironically, the LGBT movement inspires itself with the ideal of equality. I don’t agree gay marriage is an issue of equality. but rather a redefinition and therefore nullification of the institution of marriage itself.
But if the LGBT movement is going to march under the banner of equality, don’t we all get equal respect for wrestling with who we are and what we believe? Especially when it costs so many of us our friendships, faith communities, livelihoods, and reputations?
Mocking God by baking a gay wedding cake or death threats for not baking one: It takes a pretty stony heart not to shudder at the pain of that dilemma.