“I no longer identify as a Christian . . .”, so many letters begin. The reasons will vary, but only slightly. Because I am a straight Evangelical Christian who advocates for equality and against injustice, I get mail from gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (glbt) people and friends and family who love them. Reading those words is painful to me.
I treasure the gift of faith in my life. I know the peace and joy with which it massages my soul and the comfort it brings to my head when I spin. I know how valuable I feel to the God of the Universe when people near me don’t appreciate me or understand me. I know what it feels like to experience the pleasure of God as I serve Him, and there is no better “high” for me.
Yet, I get letters from people who walk away from that, not because they don’t want the Jesus at the core of it all. They walk and run and get tossed away by Christians who make it so damned difficult to get near Jesus. It is monumentally hard to find the crack in the wall to the Throne of God when the way is blocked by rules specifically designed to bar your entry, when the path is as complex as a pinball machine and the bumpers are Christians telling you to change who you intrinsically are to gain passage.
Last Sunday, I sat in services with a loving, kind-hearted, mature body of Jesus followers in my non-affirming church. The day before, I had seen the documentary on AIDS entitled “We Were Here”.* Oh my goodness, it was heart wrenching to watch the history of the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the US thirty years ago. “Thirty years ago,” I thought, as I watched the movie, “Where the hell was I and why didn’t I care?” I was raising my kids, leading Bible studies and ministries and huddling with the other holies and loving my God. I loved Jesus and “they” were dying. I looked around my church family on Sunday and felt intensely sad. Tears-about-to-bust-out sad.
I love Jesus and “they” are dying. The “they” is the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community at large now. My belief system, right or wrong, is one that offers eternal life or death. I looked at all the fellow-acceptables and hurt for the glbt people who also love Jesus or loved Him once or never met Him to see if they even would love Him. We, the straight folks, are free to worship and come together weekly. Not so in the majority of churches for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, and certainly not so in the Evangelical church with which I identify.
I am growing weary of the Christian community saying our faith is being attacked and we are being persecuted. Is there any non-gay, non-trans person in this country that is not free to walk in any church on any Sunday and publically praise God? No straight person is barred from marrying the person they love or even a person they do not love. No one has ever stopped me from reading my Bible or praying as I walk along a public trail. I am not persecuted.
As unpopular as it is to say, many of those I religiously identify with, have become the persecutors. God specifically tells His people in Isaiah 58 that He is not interested in their external piety and conformity to rules of service, worship and discipline. He tells His people that if they really want to serve Him and have Him listen, they need to “loose the chains of injustice … and set the oppressed free and break every yoke.” He further tells His people to “spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed.”
Injustice means treating people unequally; oppression is exercising authority or power in an unjust manner. Is the glbt community oppressed and treated unjustly? Of course they are.
This country is ruled by a Constitution that guarantees all of us equal treatment. All of us. Being gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender is not a choice or a behavior or something that needs to be or can be changed. Gay and trans people are a class of people. When people of faith lead the charge to withhold rights from a class of people, then they have indeed have become the oppressors.
I love my faith tradition. I love Jesus. And I hate what is happening to the public presentation of my faith and my God. He is not an oppressor; He is a Redeemer of the highest level. I am so tired of hearing “I no longer identify as a Christian . . . ” knowing the reason is not that God/Jesus are not worth the honor of identifying with, it is many of the people that represent Him badly that have caused the turning away.
We are set to have faith duked out in the political arena in the next year. “I represent God” “No, I am a better Christian.” “No, I love God and the faith more because I will not allow those gays to take away our religious freedoms.” If part of a person’s expression of faith means treating people unequally, denying rights of others and making them a target of their fear, that faith is not aligned with the God of the Bible. They may be aligned with a God of a party or a denomination, but they are missing the heart of the Father God, the One who created and loves His children. Every one of them.
Until those of us who understand that oppressing others is not the way of God and are willing to speak up and reclaim the holy expressions of our faith, people will see our faith as poison. For just one month, I would like to not receive a letter that starts, “I no longer identify as a Christian . . .”
*”We Were Here” available on Pay Per View as of December 9, 2011. This documentary is excellent and worthwhile of your time.