Lynn Hopkins: Choosing Sides

Here is another post by guest blogger Lynn Hopkins. Enjoy!

The Unitarian Universalist Association has a program about standing up in the struggle for justice, for the inherent worth and dignity of all persons, called “Standing on the Side of Love.” Though I am aligned with its aims, I struggle with the title. Joshua’s recent post on inclusion/exclusion helped me to focus the issue that disturbs me about it. It is the dualism captured in the question: Which side are you on?

What does it mean, to stand on the side of love? Does love have a side, opposite something else on the other side? Don’t both sides of a controversy hold claim to godliness, to love, even when each cannot see the validity of the other’s claim?

Sometimes it is clear to us which side love is on, because we hold certain premises in common. We easily agree that heterosexism and racism, for example, are on the other side, the side of not-love. Even so, our tradition of religious humanism and nonviolence informs us that even those opposed to us are included in love, as ‘children of God’ if that is your language. If we fail to extend the side of love to include those on the other side, we place ourselves on the other side, the side of not-love. For love to be love, it cannot have a side.

I tell myself, stop exegeting and just appreciate the intent. Experience it as a sentiment rather than as words to be picked apart. But when I hear “standing on the side of love,” the first image that comes is execution night at the prison in Jackson, Georgia. When you enter the grounds, armed officers are all around. At the gatehouse, one with a rifle stands close to the passenger side of the car and looks in through the windows, while the one with a pistol on his belt approaches the driver’s window. Now you must state which side you are on. You either oppose or support the execution. Based on your choice, you are directed to an area on one side or the other of the narrow roadway, which you may not cross. Believe me when I say that the officers will not be amused if you tell them that you are standing on the side of love.

Which side are you on?

When I went out to stand with the queers and straight allies during the visit of the Westboro Church mob to CDC, I could not get within half a mile of the site before I was approached by a police officer. Police outnumbered the Westboro folks by about three to one, and their job was to make sure that people stayed on their respective sides. As people arrived, the police asked them (when it wasn’t obvious) which side they were on. People were not merely directed, but escorted, across the street, two blocks from the location, so that they could not come within shouting or rock-throwing distance of the opposing side. Once your side is chosen, there is no crossing over.

Which side are you on?

King and Gandhi were on the side of love; Bull Connor and the British Colonial Forces were not. Right? I mean, once your side is chosen, there you are. Oh, if only.

Many of us have had close friends or family members whom we loved, and then learned that they were racist, or heterosexist, or anti-immigrant, or whatever embodies the enemy for us. We cannot deny that we loved those people, the haters, or that (at least according to our religious convictions) they are worthy of love. We may choose to abandon or avoid the person, but we cannot change the reality. Dualistic worldview is simpler, and easier for our ingrained binary way of thinking. Still, our experience, reason and conscience tell us that dualistic worldview is inherently false. No matter how complex you may admit a situation to be, it is never that simple.

Which side are you on?

King and Gandhi were exceptional in their witness, precisely for the reason that they knew and understood this fact. What made their work so prophetic was that they, like Jesus in the Gospel accounts, included the enemy in love. They stood on the side of love, and invited the world not to join them, but to see that they were already joined. As I think of standing on the side of love now, I envision a Möbius strip. Start anywhere, and draw your finger along one surface of the paper to trace the path of one side. You already know what happens. There is no other side. The paper has two sides, and yet they are one.

Which side are you on?

When we stand on the side of love, if we stand still, there is another side, the opposite side, the back. But if we keep moving, as love demands that we do, we find that the side of love covers every side, every curve and corner, every person. It is without limit or end, and that, I think, is the very thing that makes it the side of love — limitless, all-encompassing, eternal and omnipotent Love. And that, I think, is what Jesus meant by, “Go now and do likewise.”

May it be so.