A Case for Forgiveness for the People who have Offended Us

In high school I had a friend who hated conservative republican christian pro-lifers with a passion I had never witnessed before because one of them had rescued her from abortion and then abandoned her family. We argued about them several times. I insisted they couldn’t be all that bad, that they were just people who’d had different experiences and different perspectives. Yes, I strongly disagree with them but they are not evil.

“Have you ever actually met a conservative republican Christian pro-lifer?” she asked.

“Well, no.”

“Because, I’ve known a lot of them and actually taken the time to talk to them and got to know them on a deeper level. Next time you meet one, don’t run away. Make friends with them. Really get to know them, and you’ll see for yourself what pure evil they are.”

But I didn’t buy it. I just didn’t believe in evil. 

Spoiler: I still don’t.

Then, shortly after high-school, I met two brothers who were conservative, republican Christian pro-lifers and I remembered what my high-school friend had said, so I specifically sought them out so I could see this evil for myself. We quickly became friends. They seemed like sweet and wonderful, caring people. For three years we hung out regularly and drank, occasionally talking religion or politics but never delving too deep into it. We did frequently disagree but I could still see their perspectives were coming from a different set of life experiences and not from malicious intent and certainly not evil.

But I realized one day that I hadn’t been asking the right questions.

My girlfriend and I were hanging out at their house when she asked a more direct question: “Do you two believe Kalin and I are going to burn in hell for all eternity simply because we’re atheist and agnostic?”

And to my surprise, my two loving, caring friends, two of my best friends, responded, “Yes. Absolutely. You’re going to suffer forever.”

“And you support that?” she asked. “You think that’s a good thing?”

“Of course. We’re Christian. That’s part of what it means to be Christian.”

They went back and forth for a minute, as she gave them multiple opportunities to back down from their position but they continued on, explaining that we deserved to suffer forever for who we are and that they wholeheartedly support that without question.

To be fair, we’d all had quite a bit to drink at this point.

She said something about not understanding how they could feel okay about this, equating it to hate. And my two friends admitted that technically this could be interpreted as hate. They also loved us and cared about us, but underneath, they hated us for what we believed.

Then she started crying. At first at least one of them literally laughed at her, then they gave a half-hearted “sorry, I’m only speaking the truth” kind of apology and changed the subject.

A few days later my girlfriend brought up this incident and laughed about it. Two of the most loving and caring people had spoken some of the most hateful and vile words she had ever heard and the contrast was funny. I had to admit too that this was one of the more downright hateful things I had ever heard from a full-grown adult.

Then she asked if I wanted to give them a call to see if they wanted to get some beer and hang out again.

So we did. And we drank with those two many times after that.

A decade later I randomly logged onto Facebook, which was rare for me, and I saw one of them had posted a couple paragraphs explaining how he no longer believed that non-Christians go to hell. He had just come to that conclusion on his own without any interference from me.

And now, every year when I go back home to visit, I’ll sleep on their couch at least once and catch up on old times, and I still love those two like family, even if we don’t agree on everything.

In 2016 my conservative Republican Christian friend told me that he would have voted for Bernie Sanders, had he gotten the nomination. He explained, “I disagree with a lot of what he says, but he seems honest and is genuinely working for the people instead of his himself. I prefer that over the lies and greed of everyone else.”

So essentially my friend did for Bernie Sanders what I had done for him: he looked past the disagreements to see the human underneath.

I think about this story every time I see someone abandoning Harry Potter because J.K. Rowling sees gender differently. This thing that they loved so dearly, that connected them with the community, that taught them about life, and — I don’t know. I never understood the appeal of Harry Potter but I know it means a lot to a lot of people. To abandon something that improved the lives of so many people over a few differing opinions doesn’t seem practical.

J.K. Rowling is anti-trans. I do not deny that. Being anti-trans is not a good thing.

However…

J.K. Rowling has received death threats. Lots of them. She now must spend the rest of her life looking over her shoulder, wondering if someone is literally going to murder her for her beliefs. As an atheist, this hits too close to home. It breaks my heart that some of my friends are celebrating the fact that we made her feel this way. 

I highly doubt that J.K. Rowling would wish this kind of treatment on transgender people, even now.

I am an atheist. I’m anti-religion. I believe religion is inherently harmful to the human race going forward. To a Christian, this is every bit as hateful as anything J.K. Rowling has said. By being anti-religion, by claiming God is a lie, I am attacking them at the very core of who they are as people in a way that is far more ruthless and less apologetic than J.K. Rowling. And yet, I posted numerous atheist writings over the years, including a chapter-by-chapter mockery of The Bible, and I did not receive the kind of hate from Christians that J.K. Rowling is currently receiving from the trans and queer community.

I think we can do better than this. If the Christians can see past people’s differences, the queer community can too.

Couldn’t we read Rowling’s explanation of her beliefs and actually respond to the points she makes instead of burning books and spewing death threats?

I wonder what would have happened to my friendships in life if I had reacted the way people have reacted to Rowling’s opinions. My girlfriend and I would have walked out on my friends that very night and never spoken to them again. I never would have gotten an understanding of Christian values, many of which I agree with. It’s conceivable my friend never would have changed his mind about hell or liberals.

And when I read about what J.K. Rowling or Ru-Paul said, I ask myself, is it really as hateful as saying that you deserve to burn in hell for all eternity for who you are and then laughing at you when you cry about it? Are their words really that bad? Are they truly so evil that they could never see the light? I know first-hand that even people who say hateful things can actually be wonderful human beings underneath. Is it really worth it to respond to people with more hate after everything they’ve done for us? Is that really the most efficient way to meet our cultural goals? Wouldn’t it be healthier for trans people to tell their stories, to help them understand what it’s like? Shouldn’t we listen to their side of the story? Don’t we all gain more from talking to people instead of lashing out at them?

Please take a second to read some of the tweets below and really think about how hetero-normative people must view us when they see things like this. Is this really how we want our trans and queer community to be publicly represented?

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