Last week a former colleague from my first job out of college (I'll call him Bob) found me on Facebook. Within moments of accepting his friend request, we were leaving jokey notes on each others' pictures and status updates. It was so fun to reconnect with someone I had once shared so many laughs at work.
But then he noticed a picture of my husband standing next to one of those life-sized cut-outs of Sarah Palin and John McCain. Bob wrote on my wall: "Is your husband really standing next to Palin/McCain? If so, why?" So I sent back a jokey note explaining the picture. Apparently, I wasn't so amusing since Bob immediately sent me a message saying I had to tell him right then if my husband supported Republicans or if I, in fact, had ever voted Republican. He said in no uncertain terms that he could not be my friend if either of us had.
Still hoping he was kidding, I made light. The tone and content of his email meant business. He was dead serious. It was bad enough I was a Christian. He wanted nothing doing with someone who might share the "vile beliefs" of Christians and/or conservatives.
Here's the deal: My friend Bob is gay.
In particular, he's a gay man who hasn't encountered many friendly Christians or conservatives in his life. So now that he no longer saw me as his former funny friend from work, but instead as a Christian, possibly conservative, suburban mom, he apparently imagined me marching with a "God Hates Gays" placard shouting venom about where homosexuals will burn.
I can't say I blame him for his hurt and anger - I too shudder at the placards and taunts that have come from "Christians" toward the homosexual community. But the trouble was, Bob was angry at me personally for views he supposed I held, choices he imagined I made, and actions he assumed I took to "oppress" gay people, to keep them out of churches, the public square, and maybe even Heaven!
His anger was misguided. If he had taken the time to ask, to listen, to share, to question, if he had taken the time to know me and not the stereotype, he'd have heard a different story than the one he'd conjoured up. We probably would have continued to disagree on many areas, but not in the ways he thought.
I have to tell you: I'm surprised by how much this episode has saddened and hurt me. But it's opened my eyes, to a hurting person and probable community, and also to my own behavior, and the way I often I lash out - at the wrong people - when I'm hurt and angry and feel victimized or oppressed.