Growing Up Christian

Whenever someone says to me, “I am a Christian,” or when I hear that “there is a war against Christians,” I shiver.

In spite of having Jesus as the master teacher and role model, giving people instructions on how to live as God would want, Christians, unfortunately, have too often fallen short, and they do not seem to care.

I have been stunned as I have read how Christians kept black people out of their churches, how white churches adopted “whites only” membership policies, and how so many Christians meted out horrific violence against black people in this country. Christian pastors have endorsed and sanctioned racism and sexism, pointing to the Bible as justification, a sacred text which has been manipulated for literally centuries to fit certain political ideologies.

I have been hurt and bothered as I have seen Christians treat people with HIV/AIDS like pariahs, keeping them out of their churches, away from a place that is supposed to be a place of healing, warmth and love.

Christians have engaged in shaping and adopting the most vile and discriminatory public policies that make life miserable and unfair for the masses. Christians have blamed horrific storms that devastate the lives of innocent people on the LGBTQ community.

While touting the God of love, Christians have openly and unabashedly hated others who are different – different races, different ethnicities, or who have different views.

In the current political race, Christians on both the right and the left have engaged in name-calling of those with whom they disagree.

I remember when the HIV/AIDS crisis really hit, and visiting a young man in the congregation I served who had full blown AIDS. Nobody from the church had been to visit him. He was terrified of dying because he was afraid he was going to hell. He was gay…

When I went to the hospital to visit him, he seemed genuinely terrified. He had been visited by Christians already. They had told him he was wrong and bad, and that his condition was the result of his “sin.” He was dying thinking he was part of the very scum of the earth. When I touched him, he drew back. When I told him God loved him, tears welled up in his eyes. Nobody had told him that. Christians had told him God was punishing him.

I was angry and hurt for this young man. I was angry at Christians.

The hateful rhetoric that comes too often from Christians doesn’t quit; the tendency to resort to that kind of hateful language does not abate or decrease with the passage of time. Franklin Graham, the son of the Rev. Billy Graham, is a case in point. Nowhere in his language do I see the presence or the evidence of Jesus the Christ. He pushes hatred and intolerance, following a long line of Christian clerics who have done the same. http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/07/franklin-grahams-turn-toward-intolerance/398924/.

Christians in leadership positions in churches everywhere initiate and perpetuate horrible “messes” in church, spreading lies and discontent because they want their way. So many Christian pastors end up walking away from their pulpits because they cannot take it. Too many commit suicide. (https://www.onfaith.co/onfaith/2014/06/25/why-half-of-all-pastors-want-to-quit-their-jobs/32683)

What Sunday School lessons are we being taught? Clearly there is a disconnect between what Jesus says to do and what our Sunday School teachers teach us. And it’s not enough to be a “missionary,” going to lands which white supremacists have labeled “barbaric” to minister to the “savages.” That doesn’t cut the reality of the hate-filled Christians here in the United States.

What would Jesus say, really?

In this political season, Evangelical Christians, those who purport to be closest to Jesus have embraced a man who seems as far away from the Christian ideal as humanly possible. They seem not to care that their candidate comes off as racist, misogynistic, Xenophobic and sexist. Even fellow Evangelicals are confused by the enormous support Evangelicals are giving the GOP nominee for president. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/philip-yancey-donald-trump_us_57e95557e4b08d73b8328566)

Growing up Christian should produce a crop of people who understand the difficulty, yet the power, of being Christian, of paying the cost of discipleship and risking whatever must be risked in order to be within what the Christian Bible says is the will of God.

That isn’t the case, though. Growing up Christian seems more to have produced a crop of self-righteous people who see nothing wrong with being racist, sexist, hateful, people, causing more angst than comfort amongst “the least of these,” who are many. It was that group of people, the masses, that Jesus the Christ admonished us to care for, and you can’t care for people you hate and/or disrespect.

What would happen if Christians rose up, as a group, against the economic, political, racial and sexual injustice in this country? Would America look different?

I think so, but I don’t think we’ll see it, because growing up Christian has not resulted in the creation (in general) of kind and compassionate “soldiers” for justice and righteousness. We Christians are sorely deficient in the ways of God – as taught and outlined in the Christian Bible.

A candid observation …

Being Religious Doesn’t Justify Bigotry

How in the world did religion become the operative excuse to justify bigotry?

In amazement I have watched and listened to reports of state legislatures passing bills that use religion as the seedbed from which the determination to refuse civil rights to the LGBTQ community.

Shaken and angered by the United States Supreme Court’s upholding of the right of same-sex couples to marry, and now being made to deal with the reality that transgendered individuals are a part of society, state lawmakers have gone over the edge.

All this change has been too much for them to bear. They yearn for the way America “used” to be, where LGBTQ people stayed “in the closet” and would not dare even suggest that a law be passed to make their marrying legal. And …they yearn for an America where “girls were girls and men were men.”  Archie Bunker, Norman Lear’s choirboy for “the good old days” when white supremacy reigned unfettered, put his yearning into song with his wife Edith every time “All in the Family” came on. (http://artists.letssingit.com/archie-and-edith-bunker-lyrics-those-were-the-days-48fhzf1) Lear’s ability to portray bigotry in a comedic role was brilliant, but the reality of bigotry in real life caused no such laughter.

Bigotry seems to be antithetical to the beliefs of all religions; a study of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and other religious dogma reveals texts that admonish the faithful to treat each other with respect and dignity. So it is puzzling that religion is so often, and has so often, been used to justify bigotry of any kind – racism, sexism and homophobia for starters.

Historically, the Christian faith in America was used and quoted as the basis and justification of racial segregation and hatred . Though racial discrimination based on the Bible was most obvious in the South, white churches in the North were not much better.  Douglas Hudgins was a well-respected theologian who lived in Mississippi. White believers in the South in general had convinced themselves, based on selective reading of the Bible, that God deigned that the White church remain just that – the White church. They believed that changes in race relations that permitted integration was a defilement and violation of “all that was sacred and pure.” (Charles Marsh: God’s Long Summer: Stories of Faith and Civil Rights, p. 83)  Hudgins preached the rightness of keeping white folks’ religion pure and said that civil rights, or the reach for civil rights by black people, was a “defilement of social purity and irrelevant to the proclamation of Jesus Christ as God.” (God’s Long Summer, p. 89, emphasis mine) ) Hudgins said in that same sermon that the cross of Christ had nothing to do with social movements or realities beyond the church;’ he believed that the Cross should inspire “decent white people toward the preservation of the purity of the social body.”

Even as the Civil Rights movement continued to move forward, fighting religious bigotry as hard as it fought political inequality, religion continued to rear its ugly head against “the least of these.” When Ryan White, the Indiana teen who contracted HIV/AIDS from having received contaminated blood used to treat his hemophilia, he was shunned by …his church. Church members, some of them, refused to shake his hand. (http://www.hemaware.org/story/remembering-ryan-white) No doubt, some of them refused to shake his hand because so little was known about the disease that people were genuinely afraid of contracting it, but some religious people shunned people with AIDS because they believed it to be the “homo” disease, meaning they understood that only gay men got the disease and gay men, the would tell you, were an abomination to God.

The dis-ease with different sexualities has persisted to the present day, with acceptance of it culminating for some in the ultimate affront against God: same-sex marriage. A wide swath of religious people are infuriated that the United States government has endorsed what they think is a sin. They repeat over and over their belief that “the Bible says” that marriage is between a man and a woman. Conversations about transgender individuals are almost non-existent, the thought is so heinous to many “people of faith.”

And so, as in the case of fighting racial discrimination, the Bible is being used again as the weapon to discriminate against the LGBTQ-Transgender community, and state legislators, individuals who take an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States as well as the constitutions of their states, are passing laws saying their rights as religious people are being threatened by the rights afforded to the LGBTQ and transgender communities – and they’re not having it. God is on their side, they believe. God would ordain and sanction their discrimination against these people. No “agape” love is to be afforded these people. They are an abomination and an affront to God and they, good, religious people, are going to make sure their religions remain “pure.”

Laws impinging on the rights of LGBTQ people, and transgender people,(http://www.cnn.com/2016/04/06/us/nationwide-bill-religious-freedom-sexual-orientation/index.html) have little to do with God and everything to do with a segment of the population wanting religion to remain “pure.”

The idea of purity has been a central point of much fundamentalist Christianity, again most notably in the South but everywhere. In 1964, as state lawmakers fought the federal government’s  intrusion into their “southern way of life,” those who yearned for the unfettered days of white supremacy and its attendant white privilege were no doubt aware of the poem, “Ode to Sovereignty:”

“O Sons of Mississippi, Remember your mothers; Remember your fathers and grandfathers and great aunts. Remember and salute. How, in this wilderness, they sowed And we reap what they have sowed. It is all for us, the Sovereign state, Of flowing rivers and happy Delta land; O Sovereign state, pure and white, O Sovereign state, where might makes right. O Mississippi, our words are trite But Thou art precious in his sight. O Sovereign state, Dear Homeland, Stand ye firm in these crisis days. Let not Truth confuse thee; God is on our side.”

The poem clearly indicates the belief that God is on the side of bigotry, that God loves the State of Mississippi more than God loves the people whom God created. There are a lot of problems with this theology, but one of the biggest is that the theology being touted as the justification of bigotry is not the theology, the will of God, as found in sacred scriptures. What is being attributed to God is actually the mindset of people; ideology is being presented as and justified as being …the will of God. Such a theology, were it true, would cast doubt on the sovereignty of God, questioning the “state of mind” of God when God created so many different kinds of people. Presumably, since there are in fact, LGBTQ people all over the world, and since there are transgender people all over the world, and people who are asexual and bisexual …there’s a problem if one believes in the ultimate sovereignty of God, which presumes a belief, or the  belief, that God created all things and all people.

Bigots who base their bigotry on their religious beliefs therefore reveal a serious doubt about the very sovereignty of God they claim to love. If God creates all things and all people, then God created people of different sexual persuasions. To reject human and civil rights to any of God’s creations seems to be an abomination in and of itself, based on religious dogma and doctrine that teaches us that God says to love and accept all people.

This line of thinking would come off as poppycock to any of those now fighting for “religious liberty.” Their quest has little to do with God and religious doctrine, but everything to do with personal bias and the inability and unwillingness to love and accept all people. God notwithstanding.

A candid observation…

On Forgiveness

It seemed that those covering the horrific murders of nine innocent people last week in Charleston, South Carolina, breathed a collective sigh of relief when surviving members of the families of the slain said, “I forgive” the man responsible for their pain.

It was noble for them to say that, but I don’t for a moment believe it.

It’s too soon. They are in the throes of the deepest pain ever. They are aching and are in shock. The reality and the full implications of how their lives have been forever changed because of this tragedy has not yet set in.

Whenever a person dies, there is a period where the survivors just get into work mode: they have to work to deal with the funeral home and the funeral/memorial service. They have to pick out caskets and decide what their loved one will wear. Some have to scuffle to find money to bury their loved ones. The time immediately after the loss of a loved one is probably the easiest, because those left behind are just too busy to deal with their pain.

But after everyone goes home, after there are no more donations of food, after the arrangements have been done and the funeral and burial are done, the real work of grief begins.

It is not easy.

And forgiveness, if it is to come, does not come immediately.

Forgiveness is a process. Sometimes it takes years for people to get to the place where it “kicks in.” Before that moment, though, the emotional pain pushes against even the thought of forgiveness. Christians are confounded (some of them) and pressured by the commandment of Jesus that we should forgive “not seven times, but seventy times seven.”  It seems dastardly and grossly unfair that the survivors of extreme circumstances that resulted in the death of their loved ones are supposed to forgive, and Christians struggle with that. We are reminded that Jesus said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” We reject Jesus’ own words and the theology Jesus gives us. We are angry and hurt and resentful and we hurt. Some of us simply do not win the struggle.

Black people have struggled with having to forgive white people for all the atrocities that have been done over the years. I daresay that there has been some forgiveness or else black people as a cultural group in this nation would not have survived to the present day. It was slavery, yes, but it has also been Jim Crow and lynching and injustice via the justice system and discrimination in education and housing and employment. In spite of it, black people have not been eradicated, either physically or spiritually. Forgiveness has to be credited with the survival of black people because forgiveness is for the one who forgives, not for the one being forgiven.

But it has been and continues to be a struggle. Forgiveness is a process.

Only time will tell how and if the survivors of those slain in Charleston will be able to forgive Dylann Roof; only time will tell if the African-American community will be able to forgive yet one more assault on our collective presence in this nation.

But this much is a sure thing: forgiveness for these horrific murders has not come to be yet. We need all be in prayer for those who are working to put their Christian faith into action. The words and commands of Jesus are not easy. Those confronted with this kind of pain know that all too well.

A candid observation …

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