Deciphering the Meaning of Christianity

Following the announcement that his wife would be working at a school which bans homosexual teachers and students, Vice President Mike Pence said that the found the resulting criticism “deeply offensive.”

In an interview which aired on NBC, the vice president said: “…to see major networks attacking Christian education is deeply offensive to us.” ( https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/mike-pence-calls-criticism-wife-s-job-anti-lgbtq-school-n960091) He continued, saying, “this attack on Christian education should stop.”

Pence’s remarks are a reminder that there apparently is no standard definition of what Christianity is and what Christians should do. While Christians throw around the words “love” and “mercy,” claiming them as the nucleus of what Jesus the Christ taught, in reality, many Christians practice neither – at least not in an undiscriminating manner.

Some of the most devout Christians are also the most rabid racists, sexists, homophobes, and xenophobes. In spite of there being one Bible, in which the Gospels are fairly clear about the requirement that those who follow Jesus the Christ treat all people with dignity and love them as siblings, many Christians ignore that requirement and defend their right to do so.

In her book Mississippi Praying, author Carolyn Renee Dupont concludes that “the racial crisis precipitated conflict of the meaning of Christianity.” As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King noted over 50 years ago that the “most segregated hour of the week” happens on Sunday mornings, Christians are known to exclude people of different races, colors, and ethnicities.

In Mississippi and all over the South during the 60s, activists sought to integrate worship services at white churches, only to be turned away at the doors. Mahatma Gandhi tells the story of how he was once carried down the stairs of a Christian church he tried to enter. (https://www.kansascity.com/living/religion/article18756585.html)  “Were it not for Christians,” he is reported to have said, “I might have become Christian.”

Racism sparked bitter debate about what Christians should do and how they should act, with Christian ministers preaching the “rightness” of racism from their pulpits. The records of what they preached are troubling; one pastor preached that “Liberals delight in talk about making God relevant for our day and his idea of making the Gospel relevant is finding in it the social messages for the issues of the day.”

It is clear that people read the same words read by “Christians” are read in entirely different ways, depending on one’s race, culture and political proclivity. To some, a Christian teaching in a school which openly discriminates on the basis of one’s sexuality is a bold obfuscation of the meaning of Christianity. Some believe Jesus said to love everyone; others believe that the Gospel gives Christians the right to practice bigotry. There is still, as Dupont noted, “a crisis in the meaning of Christianity.”

There is likewise no agreement about the meaning of the cross. For many black people, the cross is the symbol of victory over death and injustice, but for many whites, including members of the Ku Klux Klan the cross is a symbol of hatred.

Methodist Minister Joseph Simmons initiated the practice of burning crosses in this country in 1915 on Stone Mountain, Ga. The Ku Klux Klan would wear white as a sign of purity and would burn crosses to signify the “Light of Christ.” They would also use the Bible as a weapon to justify and support the practice of white supremacy. (https://www.sltrib.com/news/nation-world/2018/04/10/revisiting-the-preacher-who-used-christianity-to-revive-the-ku-klux-klan/)

Clearly, those who have been oppressed by the white supremacist system would not, have not and did not view the Christ in the same way. To them, Jesus the Christ was and is the sign of hope, one who urged love, respect and service to and for “the least of these.” Jesus was the one who showed us how to live, according to those who are oppressed, and that “way” is not the way that Pence and his wife – and countless others – have chosen to practice Christianity.

The crisis was precipitated by racism but has been fed by the other phobias which exist in human society. Jesus loved and talked to the misfits – from women who had committed adultery to lepers. It was his unconditional love for all that helped Christianity become the world religion that it has become, but those who practice bigotry in the name of Jesus would challenge this argument vociferously.

It is disappointing that the wife of the vice president is willing to participate in bigotry based on sexual orientation and gender; it makes one think that both she and her husband probably practice bigotry in other areas as well, comforted by the way they believe in Jesus the Christ and what he stood for.

If Christian education promotes bigotry, something is deeply wrong – but one feels that way if one reads the Bible with a certain set of eyes. Apparently, the Pence’s eyes and my own are as far apart as the east is from the west.

A candid observation…