One of my challenges as an activist, and as a Christian, is finding the proper balance between speaking about my values and living them out. Too much discussion keeps me unhealthily engaged with self-justification against opponents, while too little can be a form of selfish quietism in the face of widespread misinformation about what the Bible says.
The Epistle of James has a lot to say about closing the gap between hearing and doing God’s word. This recent installment of the Human Rights Campaign’s Out in Scripture lectionary e-newsletter includes some fruitful reflections on that text (boldface emphasis mine):
Our conversation about this week’s lectionary Bible passages began with James 1:17-27. What is the way of God’s wisdom? The book of James suggests that it is the “law of liberty” (James 2:12). And that law starts with doing. Doers of the law’s basic justice requirements place themselves in risky outreach settings in which we are inevitably challenged to know who we really are. Acts of justice hold up the mirror that enables our transformation of heart, while doctrinal obsessions and arguments merely keep us in bondage.
Deeds and words both matter in the book of James. And at the beginning of today’s reading, we are called to be quick to listen, not to speak (James 1:19). This is a kind of listening that calls for inward listening. Sarah, a transgender woman, reminds us: “Before my transition, I needed to step back and away from all the outside advice I was getting from people. I needed to really listen for God’s voice inside, in the midst of all the other voices.” Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people know that it is often a matter of life and death that we distinguish the voices and learn to trust inner listening. The author of James provokes us, however, to remember that such times of contemplation cannot be divorced from habits of service and justice.
Listening to others without a prayerful discerning heart can lead to powerlessness. Words can be hurtful, dangerous and affect others in ways that the speaker may not realize. Those in power in our denomination, local church or civic settings may have power to name the “tradition” or to label others: for example, when only men decide about women’s ordination or only heterosexuals decide about the ordination of LGBT people in the church. Fatigued by the struggle against endless pronouncements, LGBT people may come to this place: “I just don’t know if I can listen anymore.” We cannot ignore the reality of power by idealizing an uncritical, non-discerning listening posture. We can, instead, lift up a reminder that those in power may themselves be transformed when they have the courage to listen to LGBT people for God’s voice.
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