Loving Haters

Hate.

There’s so much of it.  If there’s one thing I hate, it’s hate.  I get to hating hate so much that I become a hater.  Who do I hate?  People who hate.  Hating hatred does not solve the problem, but I find myself struggling to control it anyway sometimes.  I hate haters, and in it, I become one.  God help me.

Here’s someone I don’t hate: John Smid.  In fact, I rather admire him.

John Smid is the former director of Love in Action, a controversial and well-known ex-gay ministry which featured a live-in program for teenagers seeking to change their sexual orientations.  In 2011, several years after leaving Love In Action, John publicly admitted that he had never been able to change his own sexual orientation and he was, in fact, still gay, though he remains committed to his marriage and family.  John issued a public apology to the many teens and families that the programs at Love In Action had injured over the years, and has since been seeking forgiveness and restitution with them through personal meetings and interactions.  John’s apology and public voice last year created a bit of a media firestorm, including an interview on Hardball with Chris Matthews.

John is now the director of Grace Rivers Ministry, which works towards cultivating spiritual growth in individuals and groups.  The signature of John’s vocational ministry is his honest, vulnerable, straight forward and open style. No matter what John is speaking or writing about, his life application and story is always included in what he has to share.

In a phone conversation a couple of weeks ago, John shared with me his testimony, his stories, his insight and advice from one who has gone before, and his friendship.  It was one of the most rewarding conversations I’ve had within the past year.  When I spoke with John, I encountered Jesus.  The freedom, humility, joy, and submission to the Lord that rang in his voice as he shared his heart for God and for others with me was unmistakeable.  The air between us on the phone was charged with God glory and presence.  It was one of those conversations that makes you want to burst into tears and applause all at once, for all God has done and is doing.

When you boil it all down, John Smid is one of the bravest people I know.  He had the courage to stand up and in front of his peers, colleagues, supporters, and haters and do the right thing.  He was obedient, even while knowing that he was about to become the target of both the Conservative Christian community and the LGBT community.  That’s moral courage folks.

I asked John to share some of his reflections with us and he’s graciously obliged.  I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the topic he had written on, loving those we hate.  This topic is of utmost importance for our discussions in particular, since hatred is perhaps the most unwieldy of problems in the whole mess of attempting to create safe places to discuss faith and sexual orientation.  Sadly, Christians on all sides of the ‘issues’ at hand are often at risk of being the most hateful of all.  Myself included.

So, with that very lengthy introduction, here are John’s thoughts on loving our enemies:

Love Your Enemy: by John Smid

I have heard “love your enemies” all of my life. I also learned that it was a biblical principle but I never really believed it was possible. It sounded good, but how hard is it to love someone that appears to be against you?

I experienced a situation where this passage was illuminated brighter than I could have imagined. It was one of those “aha” moments that blew my mind away. The circumstances of the event have been chronicled in a new documentary called “This is What Love In Action Looks Like.”

In June, 2005 I encountered a group of people protesting the ministry that I led called “Love In Action. The protesters upset my entire world. They interrupted the foundation of my life. Their actions brought about huge consequences that were very difficult to overcome. This group was led by a man whom at the time I referred to as my “enemy”. From what I went through it appeared he was seemingly trying to destroy my very soul. His name was Morgan Fox and I didn’t like him very much even though I had never met him face to face.

A few months after the main thrust of this attack Morgan requested a personal meeting with me. I very reluctantly agreed to the meeting but I thought this may get him off of my back. With a second person for support we met in my office for about an hour. I found the meeting to be quite surprising because I saw something in this man that I didn’t expect. I saw a human being who had a heart and a soul. I had previously thought of him as a man with an agenda. He shared some very vulnerable things about his life which were surprising to me. His openness was disarming and we had a good talk.

From this meeting something deep inside of me began so shift. Several months later he attended a ministry meeting I was leading. He was kind, and socially friendly. I found it easier to be around him this time, but I was still curious about what he was thinking and why he would come to a Love In Action function and seemingly be connected to the group within the event.

After coming to one more event we were hosting, I received an email from him. He was actually complimenting me on aspects of the ministry that were helpful to him. I couldn’t go any longer without asking if we could meet one on one. I rather enjoyed the first meeting we were able to set and it became clear that there was a connection being built between us that didn’t seem so negative. I was growing from my interaction with him. He was teaching me things that were interesting and valuable to me. But I kept our meetings somewhat secret assuming many would question why I would want to have coffee with my enemy, the protest organizer.

After a couple more years, he and I were sitting in my office and talking about the events surrounding the protest. I told him I saw him as an enemy and right then, something blew through my brain like it came from heaven! The message in the bible about “loving your enemies” all of a sudden had pertinence. I looked at Morgan in the middle of my amazing revelation and directly and said:

“I can’t imagine using the term “enemy” in describing you anymore. You are my friend”

He smiled and nodded in agreement. I think it might have been a little uncomfortable for him to hear that, but this was his response to our meeting:

“Hey John. Had a good time yesterday. I am continually excited and feel more and more enriched as more of the evolution of our friendship becomes clear in the ways we’ve affected one another. So cool!”

I pondered the concept of loving your enemies and found that God had led me through an amazing life lesson. I wondered what could be in store for us if we could learn to love our enemies. We may find new friends who will teach us amazing lessons of life. When I looked back at that day so long ago, I started out thinking I was fighting against a man who was leading a group. I didn’t want to talk to him and wished he would just vacate my life.

My relationship with Morgan began with opposite passions over homosexuality.  I think each of us had some hidden agendas to change the other one in the beginning. But the change I expected didn’t come about. Morgan didn’t fall to his knees and say he was wrong for leading the protest. Rather I was the one that changed. I was humbled by the way Morgan was able to value me as a person and show such deep respect even when we didn’t always agree.

Today, I really like this guy. He is gracious, kind, thoughtful and faithful. He is a servant, a giver, and loves people. He thinks deeply, he is intensely creative, loves his family and follows convictions that are significant to his life values. I have a new name for the seeming enemy of my life years ago, it is Friend.

While “This is What Love In Action Looks Like” was a recorded history of the event, for me the real message of the film is that two enemies became friends when they were willing to listen to each other. As a result of Morgan Fox entering my life, many changes have come at a very deep level. I feel embarrassed each time I watch the film, but it is a great evaluation of my life and a reminder of who I used to be and never want to be that person again.

Thanks to John for sharing with us and reminding us of God’s call to befriend our enemies.  Hating haters will get us nowhere.  The late Martin Luther King, Jr. put it best, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Who do you hate?  LGBT folk?  Conservative bigots?  What about other populations?  Do you hate child molestors?  Bullies?  Spineless and weak people?  Rapists?  Victims?  People who smell funny?  People who suck you dry?  People who are dumb or ignorant?  People who are smart and pompous?  Have you ever tried to befriend one of those ‘others?’  Or have you scoffed at them, as I have so often been guilty of doing?  Share your story.

2 thoughts on “Loving Haters

  1. I hear a theme in this post that never gets named but is central to the whole thing: the utter messiness of loving one’s enemy. Everyone in this story had their categories messed with: who’s “good,” who’s “bad,” etc. John’s story reminds me how all of us are beautiful superheroes and wildly hot messes at the same time–how we’re all capable of doing great damage and great healing. Each of these folks has exposed themselves to a lot of psychic messiness: Morgan by attending the Love in Action meeting, John by publicly calling his enemy his friend, Heidi by potentially calling the wrath of the twitterverse down on her head by calling John “one of the bravest people I know.” I’m thinking that if we’re ever going to find our way to truly loving our enemies, the process will be messy, and we will get hurt. Without that oh-so-close presence of the Spirit in the depths of our hearts, I don’t know how we’d get it done.

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