Yesterday, I was scrolling through Grindr (as one does) and a man with the name “repent” messaged me, telling me that I would go to hell if I did not repent and pray, with a reference to Sodom and Gomorrah. I responded by telling him that his interpretation of Sodom and Gomorrah was thin and unjustified (it is more meaningfully about inhospitality, gang rape, etc.), and that I went to school for religious studies; I knew my Bible. And so, he sent me a quotation of Leviticus, and I sent him an article on the translation of the words he was using to condemn me (apparently, the article was “only opinion”). And he invited me to his church to chat, and I told him I’d have this discussion over coffee or something (because I believe in talking to people who disagree; how else will you change their minds??), but only if he was willing to listen; he seemed receptive. And so I quickly searched his age, because he had no picture (21, young enough to have an open mind), and planned to get gelato. Mostly—and my curiosity will kill me one day—I wanted to know why a Christian, who identified as straight, thought it was a decent idea to get on Grindr and preach to the gays.
And so I went to the pier (had a great conversation with a Mormon!), and got a call from this guy that the Gelato place was closed, and that we would be meeting at a restaurant nearby. I walked up through a crowd, saw a man about 50 years old sitting at an outdoor restaurant table, and, jeeze, I actually sat down in the middle of the stupid noisy crowd to hear him out. He bought me chips and deep fried ice cream in exchange for a chat—I told him I did not want any, because I was suddenly deeply uncomfortable, but I had promised a conversation, and he insisted on the ice cream ("the best ever," he said), so I let him buy some. He told me I was “tense” (no really!) and proceeded to talk about something, I don’t really know, about his childhood faith or whatever.
And then, he dropped bible verses on me—I braced for impact—but he said “I don’t want to create any boundaries between us,” (I wondered “what else do you think you’re doing? How do you think boundaries work?!”) and I said “no, no worries, but I have studied this a lot, and enjoy sharing hermeneutics with people, and so I will get defensive here” and he restated “the Jews did not affirm homosexuality,” and so I asked him “well, they also did not approve of mixing fabrics, so how is it that we get to decide which rules to keep and which ones to ignore?” and he quoted something from Revelation at me, but I could not hear: the crowd was loud, the ice cream tasted awful (but, he said, “it is the best ice cream in the world!”).
"This tastes like Frosted Flakes glued to vanilla ice cream," I said, and he replied "I don't know if it's Frosted Flakes."
And somehow, he began to complain about liberal churches conforming to the ways of the world, and I asked him “isn’t the ‘Word of God,’ by nature, conformed to the world—a text exists as a cultural production, so if God is infinite and transcendent and beyond intelligibility, then his intention would be confined to a text that we can read, which is a conformation to the world…AND isn’t Jesus an embodiment of that same conformation, by his incarnation?” and he did not follow. It was incredibly loud in the restaurant, an environment of just noise, but I kept going: “aren’t we all trapped in a conformation to this world, too, by our very existence? How would we even escape that?” but, again, he did not follow, although he liked the thing I said about texts. (Now, reflecting, this is a question of "what counts as the 'World'? and how would you know?" which is the "reason vs revelation" theology issue). And I apologized: “I’m sorry but I get philosophical, but I’ve had to get philosophical because this issue is deep, and that’s the only way to survive.” And he said that he knew that many gay people have been deeply hurt by Christianity, even those he was preaching to on Grindr. I told him how it was an institutional thing, how a theologian I like talks about how the simple church doctrine of rejection of LGBTQ people leads to the gay hookup culture that he said was so harmful, but he did not understand. So, he went on about reading the Constitution, about how BLM is, apparently, a Marxist organization, or “like the Nazis,” and how his black girlfriend (only for a bit: I think he was gay and closeted, so it didn’t work out) blindly supported the “Black Lives Matter” movement, apparently. And he presented so many arguments that I had heard so many times before, with the weight of truth, an esoteric, desperate, but novel truth, and I thought, “I hate this ice cream” and he paid and we left, because he wanted to walk, while I made a “help” face at the waiters on the way out.
I told him to read Richard Niebuhr’s book “Christ and Culture,” and he said he had, but that it was too difficult, and I was baffled but not surprised, because Niebuhr argues that all Christian ethics are mediated through culture, through the help of reasoning—something this man clearly did not believe. So, we walked and I told him that I was cold and wanted to leave, and he said “ok, pray about your decision because your salvation is at stake” and I can’t believe that this man eats that bad ice cream.
I cannot believe that a person would think it’s a good idea to proclaim salvation to people he knows have been hurt by that same message; I cannot believe that I, once, believed the same thing as him, and have come so far from it; I cannot believe how secretly hurt I was by the mere existence of that man, that he would have the audacity to lie about his age and buy ice cream and tell me to pray about my decisions because I was going down the wrong path. I thought there would be some well-thought-out rationale behind this man’s decision, and there technically was, from his perspective, but it was so ignorant and so narrow-minded (everyone who disagrees with him only has an “opinion”), built on a pretense of knowing with little attempt at truly understanding. Hannah Arendt says something about the banality of evil, and I believe that this man’s evil, through his bad theology, was more than banal—it was masked by bad ice cream. So, I reported him on Grindr and now he is banned.
For those reading: it is not my responsibility to deal with people like this guy. I am a gay man, who has spent most of my life dealing with shitty people like these, and I am exhausted from it. Dialogue with this man should not be my burden to bear; straight people, Christians, this is your man! This is part of your crowd! Tame him!!!
But, most of all, I learned that when you’re used to the instability of encountering people like this frequently, of living with them, of being so immersed in an environment that denies your own existence, then it’s no big deal to meet and dialogue with a bigot—it feels like habit. But that habit is horrible. So, I need to remind myself, I need to stop. Someone else do it, not me.