Why Hearing the Word “Christian” Makes Me Sick

            Let me begin this piece by saying I love the story of Jesus the Christ. I love what the Jesus of the Gospels stands for. I love it that Jesus reached out to and accepted everyone – from disgraced women to diseased Gentiles. It was Jesus’ capacity to love and accept people, not judge and exclude them that made me love what Jesus stood for, even as a child.

            I grew up believing that we were supposed to love everyone because Jesus did. We didn’t have to like them, but we were obligated to love them. I grew up being taught that we were also to forgive everyone. It was a tough lesson, leading me to write one of my earliest books, Forgive WHO? The Struggle to Obey God’s Awful Command. Jesus’ capacity to say he forgave the people who lied on him and to him, who subjected him to a mock trial and ultimately sentenced him to death, was remarkable to me.

            I grew up believing that I would not be completely successful in trying to do what Jesus said to do – or maybe would not even come close – but I grew up committed to trying. It was my belief in what Jesus taught that made me understand that forgiving even the racists that worked to keep non-white people in spiritual, economic, and social bondage was necessary. And I believe that carrying that mandate within me helped me from becoming bitter about the things that certainly seem unchangeable in American society.

            But I learned that not all people learned the way of Jesus like I did. I learned that pastors in churches taught and preached from the pulpit the “rightness” of segregation and bigotry. I learned that people who said they believed in Jesus would stand in the doorways of their churches to keep non-white people from coming in. Gandhi experienced that and said “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” He made this statement after being prohibited from entering a Christian church in Calcutta by ushers who, as he tried to enter, told him he was not welcome because the church was just for high-caste Indians and white people. He was too brown and too poor.

            How in the world could anyone who professed to love Jesus do anything like that? And yet, it was common practice. Many who call themselves Christian believe that it is God’s will for them to discriminate against people of color. Many fought and still disbelieve in the concept of the necessity for all people to have civil and human rights. 

            I still shake my head when I think of the testimony of the late Sam Bowers, convicted in the murders of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman and also for the murder of  Vernon Dahmer, a Black man who dared register people to vote. Bowers, who became the Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, shared that he had been told by God, in a Damascus Road experience (his words) to “save white supremacy.” Whose god is that?

            There are preachers who teach that attention to social justice – i.e., liberty and justice for all – is anti-Biblical, in spite of words in the text that say the opposite. They teach versions of the Great Commandment – that we should love the Lord our God with all our hearts, all our minds, and all our souls, and our neighbors as ourselves that make their students believe that loving and caring for each other is not required by God. I heard one preacher teach that the common understanding of the Parable of the Good Samaritan is wrong, that the lesson is about salvation, about getting right with Jesus, not extending love and assistance to someone, including and especially one whom you might not like or approve of.

            I am no longer puzzled but angry and offended at and by people who call themselves “Christian” but who use the name of the Christ to push and practice bigotry, exclusion, and hatred. I am angry that they are using the word “Christian” to describe actions that are clearly anti-Biblical and in violation of the very spirit of the Christ.

            Louis Gohmert made a statement that the mass shootings would stop if prayer was again required in public schools. (https://africa.businessinsider.com/politics/texas-rep-louie-gohmert-says-more-prayers-could-stop-mass-shootings-as-the-house/jy3bced) I disagree, but my observation is that Gohmert and others believe that the nationalist god and their religion – not Christianity at all – is the god to whom all should pay obeisance, a god who apparently does not care that so many people are suffering at the hands of people who say they despise big government but are advocating huge government to keep everyone under their control.

            My skin crawls when I hear the word “Christian” applied to people who believe in and practice exclusion and bigotry of any sort. I have a violent physical, emotional, and spiritual reaction to those who use the name of the Christ even as they make policies that would take freedom and dignity away from so many people. 

            There is no way I would or could pray to their god. It is not the same God that I worship and follow.

            This betrayal of the Gospel and the slander of Jesus’ name is not new; it has been a part of the American political and religious landscape since the time of this nation’s inception. I agree with Frederick Douglass, who said that Christian ministers …” strip the love of God of its beauty, and leave the throng of religion for the oppressors, tyrants, man-stealers, and thugs. It is not that pure and undefiled religion that is from above

            I don’t want any part of their god or their bible, both of which they have compromised to fit their racist, sexist, political, and ethnoreligious ideologies. They might be religious, but they are not Christian. At best they are religionists who have grabbed hold of the word “Christian” because they realize that Jesus the Christ did spread a message of empowerment that encouraged and strengthened all those who were left behind and left out. Their religion is based on dominating others and has done too much damage to too many people to allow it to be called Christianity or for them to call themselves Christian.

            They are imposters of the great religion and they defile the name and the work of the Christ.

            Jesus deserves better.

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…