When my grandmother—who I think was the epitome of a true Christian—would get really upset with a bad situation, she would often say, “It’s enough to make me lose my religion.”
Sadly, I know many people who had chosen to do just that. They rejected the designation of “Christian,” opting instead for the nebulous “spiritual, but not religious” or the indefinite agnostic. Some will now say they are atheists.
And you know what?
I completely understand!
Earlier this week I got into a discussion on a Facebook friend’s page about (of course) the issue of same-sex marriage and the Bible. The point being made was that homosexuality was not only a “sin,” it's a sin unlike any other (i.e., worse), and Christians must actively resist any recognition of that “lifestyle.”
I began my response respectfully, acknowledging there’s disagreement about the Scripture on this subject. But I stressed that personal religious beliefs should not determine civil rights, according to the Constitution. I also identified myself as a Christian, who also happens to be gay.
This prompted a series of personal attacks from a “christian” man who employed standard references to the Bible, laced with extreme profanity, to convince me I'm going to hell, simply because I’m gay. He likened me to a whore and called me a “stinking piece of shit.” (Pardon the language, but I wanted to convey the intensity of the exchange.)
He used obscene language—complete with body parts and sexual acts—to describe his assumptions of what comprised my private life. He said the only reason I go to church was to seek sexual "conquests" and then described in explicit details what I’d do to them. (I won’t share those graphic statements, but I did tell him I thought it was "interesting and revealing" how much time he spent thinking about gay sex...and in such precise terms.)
He got so angry when I assured him I was a Christian. "You don't get a vote in this," he said. "Only God and me [sic]. And I am here to tell you that unless you turn from your godless lifestyle, you will burn forever in the flames of hell. And it's what you deserve." He then assured me that he was only telling me this out of Christian concern for my immortal soul. (His tirade has been edited, but I've retained the essence.)
Is that what Jesus meant when He said we would be known by our love!
The next day, I gave the conversation some thought, and (after unfriending the person who started the thread) I wrote this "confession" in my journal:
If anything could ever cause me to turn my back on my faith, it would NOT be those nagging doubts, my ever-present questions or those many unanswered prayers. It would NOT be complex, hard-to-understand theological concepts. It would NOT be because someone with a different faith or no faith convinced me to leave. It would NOT be the tragedies, difficulties or struggles in my life. Through the years, my faith has been a great source of comfort when there were no answers, an unwavering assurance when I was confused and an inner fortitude when I felt overwhelmed.
No, if I were to cease calling myself a Christian, I imagine the catalyst would come from within my “family of faith.” My decision would probably be motivated by a fervent desire to separate myself from those visible and vocal folks who present a perverted portrait of the faith I hold so dear. It would be to protect myself, to recover from the wounds inflicted by those who are supposed to be my brothers and my sisters, but instead have set themselves as my accuser, my judge and often, my enemy.
If I exited the Christian Faith, I think it would be because I’d grown weary of hearing love professed in one breath, then damnation in the next. Possibly I became exasperated with a system that esteems preachers who lie and exaggerate, while demonizing those who seek to live in honesty and integrity. I suspect my departure would be linked to a distaste for those who condescendingly purport to speak exclusively for God, who arrogantly use the Bible like a battering ram, with no concept or concern they are hurtful, much less the possibility they could be wrong.
If I ever made the decision to reject the designation of “Christian,” I am certain it would have nothing to do with Christ, and everything to do with not wanting anyone to think I supported or condoned such a twisted expression of my faith. Why would I want to share a moniker with those who loudly screech warnings about a vengeful god I don’t recognize, or preach an indifferent, Americanized Jesus I don’t serve?
Call me judgmental; I will own the accusation. But I've run out of patience with dogma and doctrine that uses fear to control instead of facts to inform. I am done tolerating intolerance. Honestly, it makes me ashamed to be associated with people who promote hate, resist peace, honor violence, practice discrimination, uphold oppression and ignore injustice...in the name of Christ. I am weary of those who happily quote verses about health and prosperity, but ignore the poor, the hungry, the widows, and the orphans—the very people Jesus instructed were our primary mission.
And quite frankly, this includes those who refuse to speak up. (None of the Christians on the Facebook thread had any response to this man's repeated attacks on me, nor any dissent to the harsh words he used in condemning me. I see their silence as assent.)
Note: Now this is not my first confrontation, and I am not overly impacted by his attacks on me. I’m not seeking sympathy nor acclamation; I shared this to make my point.
I think it comes down to a paraphrase of the famous exclamation from that wise modern philosopher, Linus Van Pelt: “Lord, I love your church, but I can't stand your people.”
(For the record: My faith is secure and intact. I would never give them the satisfaction of having that kind of power over me!)