I earned a new nickname this week: “Comrade Pastor.” Wow!… My new moniker was part of a lengthy email we received in the church office this past week. I’m not sure how I feel about being dubbed “Comrade Pastor.” Part of me feels resigned to the fact that this is just what happens when one dares to take a stand and speak out for justice. I know I’ve definitely received stronger “hate mail” and have been called much worse in recent years!… Yet I confess I’m also a little confused, because while I am a pretty outspoken progressive Christian, I don’t consider myself a “communist,” by any means! Communists are oppressors, and I certainly don’t seek to oppress anyone!… Mostly, though, I think what I feel is a deep sadness. But I’m not sad because I regret anything I’ve said or done. I don’t!… I think my sadness has more to do with feeling separated from the person who wrote that about me, because this is a person I don’t even know and who doesn’t really know me. Part of me wonders where this person is getting their information from: They aren’t attending worship at the congregation I’m serving, so are they reading the sermons I’ve posted online? Are they trolling my Facebook page? Even if they are, what is it they find so repugnant? Are they threatened by the fact that I proclaim God’s radical, all-inclusive love revealed through Jesus Christ? Are they offended that I try to call out injustice and point to our Christian responsibility for those whom Jesus called “the least of these who are my sisters and brothers?”
I feel sad that a stranger has judged me in this way, and yet I don’t regret speaking out. In fact, I’ll continue to proclaim the radical truth of the gospel: the truth that God loves everyone and everything. I’ll proclaim the Word in full awareness that it comforts the afflicted, even as it afflicts the comfortable. I’ll continue to speak love and stand for justice, because I believe that’s what God has called and gifted me to do. It’s not an easy task, to be sure, but Jesus shows us that tough love that casts the mighty down from their thrones and lifts up the lowly is the only way to bring healing and new life to this broken world God loves so much….
I remember when I got my first “hate mail” about five years ago. I was serving with a congregation that was deeply immersed in working for justice for LGBTQ people and for Palestinians. “Congratulations!,” a friend said to me at the time, “You’ve finally made it! You got your first hate mail! That’s what happens when you stand up for what you believe….” It happened again about three years ago: I received the most hateful letter ever. I was told that I was “the devil,”“evil,” and–as if it weren’t already evident from that context!–that I was going to “go to hell.” What did I do to earn such harsh condemnation? I was in the middle of guiding a congregation through the process of becoming “Reconciling in Christ.” (This is the Lutheran designation for congregations that engage in intentional study and conversation before voting on a statement of welcome to those who’ve traditionally felt unwelcome in the church, especially people who happen to be LGBTQ.] I have to admit it was very painful to receive such a letter, but the pain I felt wasn’t so much about my feeling personally attacked. My pain was more of a deep sadness that someone who professed to be a follower of Christ could harbor such hatred in their heart. My pain was further magnified by my concern for vulnerable people inside and outside of the congregation, who would once again suffer fear and the pain of exclusion, if this kind of hateful vitriol were to be unleashed within the congregation.
So, here’s where I stand five years after receiving my first “hate mail” and a couple of days after being dubbed “Comrade Pastor.” I’m still sad that there is such separation between God’s children, and I have a hard time fathoming the hatred that’s being spewed at me and at many others, although I did recently read that “hatred is the bodyguard of fear,” so perhaps those who are unleashing hate on others are doing it because they’re afraid to look at themselves too deeply…. And so, even though I still feel sad and a bit puzzled by their attacks, I want my “haters” to know two things: First, I don’t hate you; in fact, I’m trying my darndest to love you, even though I confess it’s not always easy! Second, because I’m trying to live out God’s commandment to love everyone, including my enemies, you need to know I won’t back down. You can call me “Comrade Pastor,” or you can call me “Suzy Snowflake,” or anything else you want, because I know that my true identity is “Child of God….” In fact, it occurs to me that perhaps I should thank my “haters” for helping me better understand who I am and what God is calling me to do. So, to all my “haters,” let me say: God loves you, I love you, and thank you for helping me grow and become a more faithful witness to the gospel!