Published on January 3rd, 2020 | by Candace Simpson
To Be Known by Our Love
“If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him.” –James Baldwin
Two Black women and a White man meet in a Harlem coffee shop for Bible study. Let me back up—some time ago, my colleagues and I began to co-design Bible studies with an anti-oppression lens. We used the Bible as one tool of many to understand and resist the systems that have plagued us for thousands of years.
So there we are, and I see who I perceive to be two women snuggling and touching each other’s hands flirtatiously. Both of them are wearing rainbow pins on their bookbags. Immediately, I am mindful that we probably do not appear to be a safe group to them. Why would two young queer folks feel safe around three people with their noses in a Bible? I begin to panic.
I find myself wishing that we in the LGBTQ+ community had a secret signal to recognize each other in the wild. And then I stop myself. Why am I trying to control what strangers believe about me? Why am I trying to prove myself a Good Christian? Does being “one of the good ones” negate the harm any of the other ones do?
For every church with a rainbow flag outside, there are twenty that exclude queer children from the choir or dance ministry. For every sanctuary that says, “Love is love,” there are just as many where you can hear a sermon about how “a man needs to be a man and nothing else.” For every congregation that marches in Pride parades, there are thousands of children ejected from their homes because somebody said, “My house, my rules, and we don’t allow demonic behaviors here.”
What kind of faith is this? What kind of love do we mean? How do people who profess a loving God also become experts at creating hell on Earth? I lament the number of people lost to churches that have chosen not to love them. It seems counterintuitive when the aim of the faith is “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.”
There’s a story about Simon and Jesus. Jesus meets a bunch of desperate fishers who’ve not caught anything all night. He tells them to drop their nets, and, by some miracle, the once unfortunate pond produces a mountain of fish. Jesus, being the dramatic pedagogue that he is, says, “from now on, I will make you fishers of men”(Luke 5:2-11).
The phrase might also be translated as, “you will be catching humans alive.”
There’s nothing worse than dead fish on a boat. The fish’s flesh may become sickly, and bacteria can spread. A contraption called a “live-well” can help to prevent this. It’s a container filled with aerated water that allows the fish to be held safely until the next thing. Sadly, for the fish, the next thing is often our dinner plate.
But that’s not what it is for us
as The Church.
As communities of faith, we are called to catch people, to love them, to hold them alive until they’re ready for the next thing. Love them by paying off their debts. Love them into starting that business. Love them into writing that book. If we’re going to come together, let’s be live-wells. Our places of worship should be safer places than the rest of the world. Our churches should heal and not harm.
Imagine how strong we could be if everyone felt safe in our midst? Can you conceive of the ripple effect this might have on our world? Imagine just 100 well-adjusted, well-loved, thoroughly supported people. What exploitative regimes could we overthrow, what new worlds could we know, and what new discoveries could we make? We ought to give people space to grow, to dream, to be held accountable, to flourish, to be in community. That work is hard enough on its own.
If God is useful as a concept, it must be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. The God concept must make us bail people out of jails because no living creature belongs in a cage. It must make us share meals because ain’t no use in wasting good food. It must make us open our homes as a safe place for weary travelers as well as visit the homes of the sick and bereaved. It must make us sit with the lonely. It must make us more loving. It must make us more free. I cannot wait for the day when we spend more time strategizing around that.
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35
Candace Simpson is an educator, minister, and writer. She believes that Heaven is a Revolution that can happen right here on Earth. She invites others into that philosophy at www.fishsandwichheaven.com.