Let me ask you about love.
Earlier this year, Dr. Willie Parker came to speak at my school. Dr. Parker provides abortions at the only abortion clinic in Mississippi, flying in from Chicago twice a month. I did not attend the talk, but the advertisements said that Dr. Parker would speak on how his Christian faith animates his work.
After the talk, one of my classmates, who is ardently pro-life, stayed behind to ask Dr. Parker some questions. He asked some strongly worded questions, including how his reliance on his faith to justify the killing of innocents is any different than Islamic jihad.
After the questions, Dr. Parker reached out his hand for a handshake, but my classmate refused and walked away. He later said that he refused to shake the hand of a mass murder. He refused to shake the hand of someone who is destroying the lives of the vulnerable and the voiceless. The event caused a stir of comments on Facebook.
Last week, I was at a talk for public interest summer interns in San Francisco. The speaker was a prominent leader of a national LGBT-rights legal center. She spoke about how we need gratitude, passion, and humility in advocating for others. It was inspiring.
After the talk, I asked her a question. She had mentioned that part of humility is learning to accept losing, since “you will lose often.” I asked her how she has learned to talk about losing, particularly to the other side of a case. She mentioned that she doesn’t communicate much with her most ardent opponents. “Those anti-gay groups, like Alliance Defending Freedom? I don’t really talk to them. I don’t call them up and say ‘Congratulations’ when they win a case. In fact, one time I was in the judge’s chambers with ADF’s attorney, Jordan Lorence. I saw that my seat was next to him. I asked if I could move my seat, but I wasn’t allowed to. Later, when we moved to another room, I made sure to sit away from him. I didn’t even talk to him.”
“After the meeting, Jordan reached out his hand for a handshake, but I refused. I said ‘Don’t even bother.’ Now, I don’t necessarily advocate that you copy this behavior, but honestly, I refuse to shake the hand of someone who is so against the rights of community.” In effect, she refused to shake the hand of someone who is destroying the lives of the vulnerable and the voiceless. The comment caused a stir of nods in the audience.
My intent in presenting these two scenarios is not to attack or denigrate anyone. You know that it is not my character to be involved in petty personal insults. Besides, if I were trying to cast shade with this story, it would be as subtle as throwing a lamp across the room. But I know that some of my friends will support one action and condemn the other, and that such opinions would fall along partisan lines.
But what should be my response? My calling as a follower of Jesus is to love as He loves. What does that look like? Jesus had said that His followers are to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them. And He practiced what He preached. It is written that after Jesus had been arrested and accused, after He had been whipped and spat upon, after He had been denigrated and humiliated, after He had been nailed and raised up on the cross, while the guards were casting lots for His clothing, He said, “Father. Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He saw the vile hatred of His enemies, and He responded with love.
These two stories are not the same. The people involved are not the same. But I think about how I would respond in such a situation, and how Jesus invites me to choose a different way. May He grant me grace to follow.