The Christian Decision to Rejoice or Weep Over the Past Weekend

The apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans of his day has been described as an “all-encompassing…[summary] of the Christian faith,” at least by the Devotional Study Bible I’ve held on to since I was a child. As a result it contains a number of passages that will be all too familiar to the present and former church-goers among you. Romans 10:9, for example, is a pithy primer on salvation for the would-be evangelist, whereas 8:28 is a verse that’s often brought to bear in tough or uncertain times. A particular section that’s been weighing on me is more broad in its usage: Romans 12:15.

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

Photograph kindly shared by Erin Latimer. Photo credit: Christopher Katsarovluna (@catsarov)

Photograph kindly shared by Erin Latimer. Photo credit: Christopher Katsarovluna (@catsarov)

It brought to mind an event from several years ago, in the hazy span of time between my tween years and my early twenties. My family was all together for a summer in Toronto, and it was the weekend of the city’s Pride Parade. I remember it raining that Sunday, and hearing my mother muse aloud that it was a good thing the weather had taken a turn for the worse as it would undoubtedly put a damper on the festivities. She intimated that for her this was a time of great sadness.

I couldn’t help wondering if she felt the same way at the beginning of this week.

It wasn’t until very recently (for which I have no excuse) that I learned more about the Stonewall riots, which began in late June of 1969 and are the reason this month is dedicated to LGBTQ+ Pride in the US today. The historic event stands out as a moment when a community decided that they weren’t going to be pushed around anymore. The riots were a form of protest against unjust laws, physical and sexual assault by police officers, and a society that wanted them to either conform or die. For members of the cleverly labeled “Alphabet Mafia” Pride and especially the day of the parade is a time for rejoicing and celebration. Look at how far we’ve come, isn’t it amazing to be alive?

While it may be too big an ask for Christians who follow a traditional interpretation of the Bible to rejoice alongside their LGBTQ+ siblings, would welcoming clear and sunny skies really result in a crisis of conscience? There are few more unadulterated expressions of exultation than what I’ve seen in the queer community when June rolls around. The streets are packed with people who are simply happy to be who they are, surrounded by their supporters and propping them up in turn. 

Ironically, or perhaps totally expected, for those with a lower opinion of organized religion, purported Christ-followers also appear to struggle with the latter half of the verse.

Five days ago the US Supreme Court overruled both Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, two cases which upheld a person’s right to an abortion. It almost goes without saying, as the day so many feared would come after the previous administration packed the court with conservative justices finally arrived.

What came next was an outpouring of rage, indignation, terror, and abject hopelessness. Trigger laws that had been set in place in red states to ban abortion as soon as Roe v. Wade was overturned will result in people bleeding out from ruptured ectopic pregnancies, dying from sepsis due to incomplete miscarriages, or even being killed by their partners (thanks to ideas42 Policy Lab Director Kelli Garcia for compiling these dangers and more). Even beyond that many were mourning the loss of a right they had held for almost fifty years. Their bodies were no longer truly their own.

Looking ahead to the future, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that in light of their decision a number of rulings ought to be reconsidered as they were “demonstrably erroneous,” specifically (emphasis added):

Griswold vs. Connecticut, the 1965 ruling in which the Supreme Court said married couples have the right to obtain contraceptives; Lawrence v. Texas, which in 2003 established the right to engage in private sexual acts; and the 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which said there is a right to same-sex marriage.

With the precedent having been set that even a firmly established landmark decision can be walked back, this news rightly horrified countless people both in and outside of the United States. There were those who reacted to the ruling very differently, however-

These absolutely ghoulish responses are two right-wing political commentators and self-proclaimed Christians reveling in the news. What’s more, they’re aware of the grief and sorrow that’s being felt by others, as evidenced by a follow-up tweet from Walsh:

In stark opposition to the call to mourn with those who mourn, he explicitly tells his followers to delight (see: rejoice) in the crushing despair of those they disagree with. Not to simply sit happily in the news but to “Have fun with it.” These two men are not alone, either; the engagement on their tweets is confirmation enough that they represent a sizable population, many of them Christians. One response, as seen below behind a content gate, is a gif of Kramer from Seinfeld giddily declaring “I’m lovin’ every minute of it!”

A German word that has wiggled its way into the English language is schadenfreude, defined by Merriam-Webster as “enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others.” It’s an incredibly useful term, and an explicitly un-Christian emotion.

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

These are Paul’s words to the Romans, in a book that outlines how believers in Christ should conduct their lives and found under the heading the New International Version titles “Love in Action.” It’s a call to empathy. More than that, it’s a call to act on it. What does it say when such a simple exhortation feels like an impossibility for those who follow a loving God?
As with anything related to politics, sexuality, and morality, this topic is far more complex than what I’ve even begun to explore, but my observation is a simple one. If Christians are to be empathetic to the point of sharing the emotions of others and acting on them, then why are so many doing the polar opposite? Why is it that in the face of joy is the conscious decision to mourn, and outright celebration when others are on their knees in pain? If Romans 12:15 is “Love in Action” then what is the conscious choice to live out its inverse?

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