The notion of functioning as a Good Samaritan is one that transcends any particular faith tradition. The idea of humans treating humans in a humane way sounds so simple, yet history and modernity are replete with scenes and scenarios showcasing just how strenuous of a task this can be.
Growing up, one of my favorite television programs was Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. With a focus on reinforcing the values of empathy and compassion Mr. Rogers framed for his viewers how to be a good neighbor. But even before this Presbyterian minister began molding the minds of young people around the attributes of a good neighbor, there was a biblical messiah who had redefined the notion of a neighbor already.
The Bible records in Luke 10:25-37 the parable of the Good Samaritan, wherein Jesus responds to an inquiry from a scribe (lawyer) about the nature of a neighbor by shifting "neighbor" from object orientation to subject orientation. For those of you who may have skipped that day in English class let me say it another way. Jesus uses this parable to shift the focus of "neighbor" from one who receives love to the one who does the loving. It's my belief that Jesus' overarching goal here was to lead this scribe into developing the capacity for loving people that's not dependent upon the identity of the one being loved.
The parable goes on to highlight two "church people" who were passing along the way when they come upon a man who'd been victimized and is now laying in the middle of the road. These "church people" see a need, but choose to sidestep the need and it's at this point in the parable where the man in the road becomes victimized twice. The robbers hurt him by violence, but the "church people" hurt him by neglect.
The rather forbidding and foreboding analysis of the Christian community is that far too many "church people" are seeing needs within the LGBTQ+ community, yet consciously choosing to sidestep those needs. Such neglect occurs when 35% of Black Q+ youth are dealing with food insecurity and 65% are experiencing depressive disorder, and when 21% of Black Q+ youth attempted suicide in the past year and 47% considered it as an option.
With COVID 19 confining Q+ youth to hostile home environments and 15% of Q+ Americans postponing or avoiding medical treatment due to discrimination we can't continue to sit back and say, "Poor them!" When I consider the fact that "church people" see the victimization then sidestep the victim, I say, "Poor us!"
When I read this parable I wondered: How is it that these church people, these followers of God ,could clearly see a need, but sidestep the need? How could they further victimize someone who'd already been violated? How could they see an opportunity to love, but instead leave? Sadly, I find myself raising the same questions of modern "church people."
At what point will we stop limiting our lens of who our neighbor is and broaden our understanding and inclusivity of whom we label as neighbor? As a cisgender heterosexual Christ follower, I challenge other cisgender heterosexual Christ followers to change the question that we either consciously or subconsciously raise. Instead of asking, "Who's my neighbor?" in an effort to filter out whose needs we'll satisfy and whose needs we'll sidestep, our question ought to be, "Am I being neighborly?"
Margret Thatcher once said: "No one would remember the Good Samaritan if he'd only had good intentions…" So here are some questions I'd like for Christians with good intentions, but poor implementation, to consider: Who's off limits to you? What are the boundaries for who you'll treat lovingly? What are the limits to your love? How far are you willing to go for someone in need? Do you weigh a person's background, worth, sexual identity or orientation before you extend help? Do you view all human beings as God's children/God's creation and thus all deserving of the same kind of love, compassion and care?
The parable of the Good Samaritan is one that depicts mercy, and mercy is nothing more than compassion in action. If we're going to love our LGBTQ+ neighbors as we do our self, if we're going to see needs then satisfy those needs rather than sidestep those needs, if we're going to model the behavior of the Good Samaritan then you and I, as the hands and feet of Jesus here on earth, have to:
1. See our neighbor: We have to look into the eyes, hearts and circumstances of our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters and not be blinded by our prejudices. Love is proactive and God often places people in our path to show love to. The question is: Will we see them?
2. Sacrifice for our neighbor: When the Good Samaritan decided to help the hurting man, it cost him something. Becoming a voice for the victimized within the LGBTQ+ community will cost us something, too.
3. Stabilize our neighbor: The Good Samaritan didn't just treat the wounds of the man in the road, he followed through and ensured that the man had a proper environment for healing. We must likewise create safe environments and advocate for comprehensive legislation, such as the Equality Act, to create equal treatment in both law and practice. Being neighborly is about touching, lifting and empowering those in need at their most vulnerable moments of weakness.
It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine, could you be mine, won't you be my neighbor?
Rev. Stephen J. Thurston II is teaching pastor of Salem Baptist Church-House of Hope. He leads individuals and organizations in changing what's within to change what's around.