“I’d hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters…” ~ Trini Lopez

So, there’s a controversy swirling about our town and it’s almost like the division between people, which is already great in our current political climate, is worsened because of it. I’m actually going to use the name of the university and the Reverend simply because it’s all over the media here as well as the rest state, including Chicago news stations. Here’s what happened:

Millikin University (a well respected private institution…I taught there adjunct for a few years in the 2000’s) had their Fall graduation on Dec. 12th and Rev. Wally Carlson from a local Methodist church gave the invocation. Sounds good so far, right? But instead of simply invoking the blessing of God (which is what ‘invocation’ is), Wally pretended to take a phone call from God and apparently, God said this while chatting on his Samsung Galaxy:

“First of all, let’s take care of the gender issue. He understands and he’s sharing with you that there’s no theological justification for it but he’s choosing he and him today, doesn’t like them and they and just because this is probably irritating enough people that it’s coming out this way we’re gonna stay away from she and her…” 

Wally Carlson

Now, before I unload all of this (which is a shit load), MU officials were quite upset with this holy proclamation (🙄) and  immediately issued an apology to all who attended the commencement and said Carlson’s comments “neither reflect nor represent the values of our university.” And I believe that whole-heartedly.

Anyhoot, when I first heard about this, I was of course gobsmacked by these words but it also pissed me off when the Rev said GOD was calling HIM and telling him this. I’m sorry, but I think it’s blasphemy to pretend to take a call from God during a commencement and maintain that what you’re saying is a directive straight from the Lord’s mouth. I don’t know about you, but I would like to believe that God is too busy to interject in a graduation when there are wars, famine, abuse…you get the point…that might be of more concern to him.

You know, I’ve been a Christian all my life and have never shied away from proclaiming it. My favorite verses are from 1 John 4:7-8 which says: Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. (NKJV).

That’s a pretty clear, isn’t it? And for the Rev to say that God is ‘choosing’ the pronouns ‘he’ and ‘him’ and doesn’t like ‘them’ and ‘they’ and is also shying away from ‘she’ and ‘her’ is, to me, saying that transgender individuals are not accepted by him. Not loved by him. Not recognized by him. I just can’t believe this to be true.

So, why in the world would the Rev think that promoting his obvious platform in terms of transgender (and I’m wondering if homosexuals are also included in his catalog of sinners) was appropriate for a graduation? What the hell? Really…you have to bring up something that has absolutely nothing to do with the commencement? Was it supposed to be ‘funny’? Lord I hope not, particularly since there were transgender individuals in the audience who were stunned and hurt by this message on a day that was to be a celebration of their accomplishments.

Obviously this Rev doesn’t abide by the good ole “Judge not lest he be judged” from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:1-3). Unless of course he’s perfect…which I guess he must be since God calls him personally. I have yet to receive one.

Yes, Wally needed to be called out for this and apparently he made a Facebook apology (does God do social media too? 🤔) which was later taken down. Why would you take down an apology? I don’t get that unless the apology wasn’t sincere.

But, let’s all be honest here: we judge. Period. We all do. According to Dr. Elizabeth Dorrance Hall: “Our brains are wired to make automatic judgments about others’ behaviors so that we can move through the world without spending too much time or energy on understanding everything we see.” So it’s prewired in us to make these calls.

Then there’s the issue of situational attributes vs. personality attributes. Situational ones are when we believe a person’s behavior is due to something going on in their environment where personality attributes are about the person’s character like traits, abilities and feelings. And, like you might guess, we tend to judge more on a personal level since it’s easier. Right? Looking at situations takes more time and understanding…something that our fast paced, social media driven, everyone just write whatever they want while in front of the anonymity of a screen culture seems to promote.

And I do it too. And, I’m ashamed that I have. I’m the first one to say “HEY! Don’t judge me! You have no idea what it’s like to live in my world of mental illness!” yet I’ve judged others while ignoring their situation…circumstances…environment, etc. I’ve popped off to people that are being rude without thinking that maybe they have a sick relative or a child that kept them up all night. I’ve judged the decisions of others without taking into account what was going on around the person when they made them. It’s easy to do, isn’t it? And isn’t it easy to judge this other person so you don’t have to look at yourself more closely? Hmmm…

As I’m writing this, I’m crying. In fact, Eddie just ate the Kleenex I threw on the floor. I know I’ve hurt people because of these quick judgements…just like I’ve been hurt. So why do we do it? Understand how much judgement hurts, but do it ourselves? There’s no easy answer to that but we do know that humans are programmed with both a negativity bias as well as a need to feel inflated. Both of these helped our ancestors who had to see things negatively since so many life or death threats were posed to them. And of course we know that that bias still exists now: that’s why ‘bads’ are so much more powerful than ‘goods.’ Likewise, we also have the need to feel superior since our ancestors quickly learned that it’s the strong that survive…not the weak.

I guess this speech just made me think of the judgement that swirls around all of us. We each have imperfect things about us…decisions we’ve made…behavior we’ve carried out…words we’ve said…that cause others to judge us. All of us. And we have all judged others for their decisions, behavior, words. All of us.

There’s no way this will ever be ‘fixed’…it’s something primitive inside of us that’s almost a knee-jerk reaction. But we can all stop heeding these reactions and look at the whole picture instead. We can consciously work to look at the circumstances surrounding the person and honestly try to put ourselves in their shoes. We can slow down and think about these reactions and use our higher level of cognition to negate them. And, we can all look in the mirror and admit something a friend and I were just talking about the other day: we are all imperfect. And we truly do need to treat and love others like we want for ourselves.

Kristi xoxo

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