And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper? And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground. Genesis 4:9-10.

Wars have flesh-and-blood victims, however phony and rhetorical, and these our culture wars murder far too many. The blood of these victims crying out should silence every hateful, careless sermon. It should silence every wagging radio show host. It should silence every unsupportive whisper from a parent around a kitchen table. Yet, the ideas of our phony, rhetorical cultural war continue killing. When will it stop?

The blood of Tyler Clementi cries out. The blood of every LGBT suicide cries out. The blood of every AIDS patient who died alone and without comfort weeps in the dirt. The blood of Roy Cohn, that vile, hateful closeted man — yes! — even his blood cries out. Do you hear it? Their blood screams upwards from the ground to the silent vaults of heaven. They scream for the Lord to mete out justice. When will it stop?

By all means, then, preach your sermons. Post to Facebook. Twitter away your rage. Put it on a bumper sticker. Bang the loud gongs and crash the clanging symbols. Maybe we can speak over their screams? Maybe we can be so loud that God of glory won’t hear their blood crying out! Maybe we can drown out their cries!

And the phony, rhetorical culture war just goes on killing. Killing our brothers and sisters.

“Man is not an idea”, Camus wrote. Man is neither a puzzle nor a riddle to be solved. A woman cannot be parsed out like verb, or divided into a checklist. Humanity will break all your ideas, all your rules. You tell me we’re evolving towards something better? I point to Aurora, Colorado. You tell me humanity is bound for hell? Then, I show you Beethoven and Rothko. Humanity is not a changable idea you’ve thought up  — humanity is a mystery beyond telling.

Some conservative Christians say that it is impossible to love a man if you’re a man, and still be a Christian. The say sexuality defines you. They treat you like they’ve got you figured out, like an idea. Some LGBT activists demand you to be out of the closet and in a parade. They might even force you out. Treating you like an idea, they, too, say your sexuality is defining. They both tell you who you should be, not who you are. They both mete out formulas and clinical answers. Being two sides of a very narrow coin, they both choke on mystery. When will it stop?

If man is mystery, then man is one of the holiest mysteries of God. Indeed, CS Lewis wrote that after the Eucharist, our neighbor is the holiest thing presented to us. If we approach God with our shoes off, knees bent and heads bowed, can we not even remove our shoes when it comes to those around us? Can we not just sit and listen without judgment or desire?

The chicken is not evil. The words of others are not evil. This “phony, rhetorical culture war” of ours is not evil. What is evil is the human heart: the liberal heart, the conservative heart, the hateful heart, the judgmental heart, the Atheist heart and — yes — especially the Christian heart. Evil does not reside out there, beyond the no-man’s-land of your phony rhetoric. No, it grows in your heart.

It grows in my heart whenever I hear “fag” or “queer” uttered and I do not cringe. The evil grew in my heart when I met a gay NASCAR fan and we spent thirty minutes talking about how weird that was. It grows in my heart when I hate my conservative Christian brothers and sisters for following their convictions, however misguided. It grows when I judge someone who is promiscuous or who is celibate.

The evil grows when two of my best brothers-in-Christ are ostracized for their love by my fellow Episcopalians and I do far too little to help. The evil grows when I expect someone to be something they’re not. The evil grows when I treat humanity like an idea — when I do not treat them like a mystery, a gift of the Divine. That blood crying out is on our hands.

What wretched men we are! What wretched women we are! Who will save us from this heart of death? This is the battleground. This is where the real war takes place. We run from this battle. We make such a clamor avoiding it. Because the only one who needs to die is ourselves.

It is not about the chicken. It’s not about the fact that what’s-his-name said what he thought. It’s not about those carelessly stupid sermons. It’s not about the bad theology. It’s not about marching in parades or banging a can for being gay. It’s not about boycotting or supporting this or that corporation (they’re all evil, after all). It’s not about your justifiable rage. When will it stop?

It’s time to sit with the dead. It’s time to take our shoes off. It’s time to put our ears to the ground. It’s time to listen to the blood that cries out.

(Part I. Special thanks to Prof. Daniel Silliman for telling me about the Jonathan Merritt forced outing, which I reference above. Continue to Parts III & IV.)