Oh, Ick, a Christian

“I don’t like telling my friends that I am Christian,” she told me. “I always have so much explaining to do.”

Maybe you have felt patronized, judged, or violated by someone’s attempt to evangelize you. Others may know the discomfort of identifying yourself as Christian and watching people stiffen, bristle, and look for an easy exit from a conversation. I cringe when news media sum up Christianity with a one dimensional sound bite, which shrinks nuance, metaphor, and a 2000 year history of religious thought and lived expression to nail clipping snippets.

The image of Christianity in the United States has suffered a major setback in the past twenty years, and not without good cause. Dan Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons call this “a growing tide of hostility and resentment toward Christianity.” From the beginning Christians have disagreed about interpretation of faith. They have treated one another terribly in the process, as well as many non Christians, who have crossed their path over the centuries.

Yet outsiders in the twentieth century held a favorable view of the disparate followers of Jesus. In 1996 eighty five per cent of the people on the outside looking in at Christianity had widespread respect for Christianity. However today, only fifteen years later, younger people outside the faith, as well as some inside the faith, have lost much of their respect for Christianity.

Among the twenty four million outsiders (agnostics, atheists, and persons of other faiths) who are age sixteen to twenty nine, thirty eight per cent have a bad impression of present day Christianity. One-third say Christianity presents a negative image with which they do not want to be associated. Seventeen per cent maintain very bad perceptions of Christian faith. (David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, Un Christian – What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity  … and Why It Matters, Baker Books, 2008, pp 24-25.)

Clergy today are held with suspicion and even contempt by some people. Professional misconduct, the flagrant abuse of those entrusted to their care, scandals, and fraud have left a bad taste for all of us, and deeply scarred many.

I recently heard about a congregation which observed a day of repentance for the sins of Christians against others and against the earth. I like this idea so much that I think it ought to be incorporated in church calendars – a day of atonement for sins committed in the name of religion.

Once in a while I come up against hostility in thoughtful, intelligent, open minded people and am stunned to find a bigot.  At such moments I give thanks I am not in Rome when Paul was, or other places today where Christians are persecuted and killed. And in such moments I get a glimpse of what Muslim brothers and sisters must endure from those who perceive them as potential terrorists.

I also realize with a sigh that I have a lot of explaining to do, if I want to do the work of developing a more intimate and honest relationship with this person. This is not because I think the person needs to be saved, but because Christianity so deeply defines me, that for us to have an authentic relationship, we both need to be known as we are.

So why am I Christian? I will do a little explaining. My mother was a Quaker and my father, Mennonite, and faith was as common and sustaining as the air they breathed. When they got married, they joined the Presbyterian Church and there I was raised. Unassuming faith, which never had a conflict with science or a searching mind, was woven into our lives and led my parents to take stands to protect the environment and to respond to injustice.

In my early twenties I stepped back from the faith of my father and mother and did some exploring. Then in my early thirties I had a crisis of faith. It was not a crisis in my faith in God. No. It was a crisis in my faith in myself. I painfully discovered that I could not find wholeness and peace by how smart I was, how good I was, by how hard I worked, by what people thought of me.

In the giddy 1970s psychology and the human potential movement were going to save us. I remember clearly the day when I came up against the endless striving of my ego and saw the emptiness and futility of all my efforts to establish my well being on what I could do, or know, or possess.

I began to discover that peace and joy seemed to hinge more on my capacity to love and forgive others, my willingness to risk my personal well being for another’s well being, and to help those who suffered.

For as long as I can remember, Love has burned in my heart, as a nameless yearning, an aching desire for more, for expansion, and connection. Love has opened my heart to its breaking, driven me to the limits of my hope, my intellect, and my strength over and over. Love continues to draw me beyond myself, and my known world, toward what I can neither fully name, nor live without.

Because of this Love, which will not let me go, I want to live well, even nobly, while I am here on this earth. Faith helps me to do that. I suppose, given all the bad press and worse behavior of some Christians, if I could avoid it, I wouldn’t be a Christian, but it is the best way I know to be whole and free and full of joy.

My friend, Jeff Bean, recently posted this on his Facebook page:

Why do I love the Lord? To learn to love my wife better. Why do I love my wife? To learn to love the Lord better. Life is about perfecting our love.

Like Jeff, life is for me is about perfecting my ability to love, and boy do I need help. This is why I am a Christian.

The Christian faith helps, even makes it possible for me to strive toward that perfection and to love well. A relationship with Love, which remains ever beyond my possession and control, who will not become anyone’s brand or commodity, who stands always beyond in the mystery of Being itself, informs and shapes my relationship with the universe and everything that is in it.

Being a Christian invites me to forgive, which is the only way I know to bring lasting peace. It calls me to be more than I am, more caring, more compassionate, more honest and transparent. It exposes my brokenness and sin – my greed, selfishness, lust, envy, pride – and asks me to take responsibility for it.

Christianity  bows before a Power beyond my coercion to whom I am accountable for how I live my life. Christianity offers a community to support, teach, challenge, and love me into greater love.

Christianity gives me a story, a narrative of the journeys and wisdom of others who have struggled and learned to love. In their stories I mine my own story, like a vein of gold woven into the layers of the lives of other people, who have responded to and resisted Love’s call and demands. The multivalent resonance of the Bible, echoing, reflecting, and revealing truth and meaning, connects me with a purpose and a reality larger than my own tedious little drama.

The group of believers, the church, (and yes, sometimes they drive me crazy) asks me to trust in the wisdom of a community as the church keeps forming and reforming itself. Since its beginning the church has been falling down and getting up again, which gives me courage and hope, because I fall down all the time.

Christianity takes me to the extreme limits of my self identity, who I think I am, and draws me through the narrow channel of the cross of suffering to the death of parts of myself, which impede or block the flow of love.

Gina Beukelman, Topeka, KS The World Race Mission Volunteer

Christianity asks me to go places I want to avoid, to love people I don’t want to love, and to live with integrity and purity of heart in the midst of a world awash in deceit and greed.  My faith requires me to resist evil, in all its guises – empires, systems, and institutions – and to commit myself to work for justice and peace.

As a person of faith I discover my security not in what I own or who I know or how much power I possess, but rather in how many possessions and how much power and status I give away.

Finally, in the despised and rejected Palestinian Jewish peasant, who called himself the Son of Love, I am met by a most unlikely lover of my soul, who unfurls endlessly before me, the way, the truth, and the life.

I find in Jesus, who was the enemy, both of religion, and the oppressive empire, the grace to make us one. Here I find the generosity, compassion, and freedom to love even the icky ones – Christians, pagans, Muslims, atheists, Jews, rednecks, republicans, democrats, and my own icky self.

Stay in Touch:  lross@fromholyground.org

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5 responses to “Oh, Ick, a Christian

  1. Hi Loretta
    Glad to have found you through a friend. You are going on my blogroll!
    Blessings and grace to you
    Sally Ann x

  2. I found your post thoughtful and thought-provoking.

    I am a middle-aged gay man who is somewhere between atheist and agnostic. I understand that other people believe in the existence of a divine being or beings, but I have never, even as a child, been able to accept this as a given. My family was only nominally religious, with my much elder siblings electing to attend the local Lutheran church and Mom & Dad not saying much about the subject at all. By the time I was ten, I had already long since realized I could not just take what people were saying as – pardon me – gospel.

    I had also realized at a very early age that I was *very* different from all the other boys, not just in my being intellectual while surrounded by down-to-earth, rough-n-tumble farm kids. I early on had crushes on other boys, instinctively knowing I had to hide it. I did think I’d “outgrow it”. By the time I was twelve I had words for what I was. One of those words was cold and clinical, admitting nothing of my heart. The rest of the words? I think we all understand they were not positive terms. By this point I was becoming fearful of being discovered… my home town was not a place to be anything other than ordinary.

    At fourteen I was fervently hoping this would just go away, that I would surely be growing out of this phase *any day now*. At sixteen I finally realized that I was what and who I was, that it was my nature. I accepted it about myself, but the fear was always there. This was in the 1970’s and by this time I was aware of the vitriol and misinformation being presented on the subject in the media. Anita Bryant was in the news. My father had muttered darkly about “faggots” and “queers”. My fear grew, and I was certain that it might actually be fatal to be discovered. I resolved to just deal with it as best I could until I could be an adult and escape from that place. I desperately wanted to talk things over with someone, anyone. But there wasn’t anyone to trust. I thought of going to the county mental health clinic, but knew that it was not possible to do that discreetly and that my parents *would* be notified – as a minor I would not have a right to privacy from them.

    It was also at this time that my parents – especially my mother – began to turn to evangelic Christianity… at first it didn’t concern me too much, but by the time I left home at 18, my mother was rabid, in-your-face, foam-at-the-mouth, hellfire-and-brimstone Born Again, with my father following along, albeit more quietly. I was horrified: who were these people and what had they done with my parents?

    While in my first year of college I made the mistake of confiding in one of my sisters, who promptly outed me to my mother. She in turn immediately turned the full force of her religious fire on me, and when I was uncooperative to her demands, outed me to my father.

    It was ugly and all the bad stereotypical words flowed. “No son of mine” “I’m sorry you were ever born” “What will the neighbors think?” “You are going to have a painful, lonely life”. And the one that makes me nuclear “Jesus will change you”. They made me an ultimatimum, to come back to my home town, become a good Christian, or else. I picked “or else” and didn’t speak with them again for a couple of years.

    This was when I truly became aware, really understood down deep, how hated I was by Christians. The Moral Majority was in full froth, and one of my friends, the nicest, most harmless person you could meet was murdered walking down the street on his way home… because he he was “a fag” (the killers words). This young man simply pulled a gun and shot my friend in the head from his car as he was driving by. This young man claimed to be a Christian, and at his sentencing his self-proclaimed devout Catholic mother was heard to mutter “Imagine, going to jail for killing a fag. I can’t believe it.”

    I saw demonstrations held by Chrisitians with placards making vile claims and portraying gross untruths, condemning me to Hell and eternal suffering… all because of what I was. Because I had a nature that I had not chosen, a nature that simply was. I heard and read hate-filled rhetoric by Christians on the radio, in the news. I saw in the “entertainment” of the time that the only time a gay man or woman was presented was as a lisping predator or amoral villain or simply weak. Of course the gay man or woman always came to a horrible end and it was considered a good resolution.

    I gradually, tentatively re-established connections with my family, but even then there was always, always, always pressure to be “right with God.” There could not be any conversation of any kind at all that did not slip that in there somehow. For the most part, I elected to be a willow in the breeze, or a rock letting the water flow around me, but my self-control and forebearance have limits. I will only suffer so much abuse. About fifteen years ago, I drew a line in the sand. I told them that what they were doing was abuse and I was having no more of it. I started calling them on it when they would being to preach at me. So here we are fifteen years later, and I am still fending off their blandishments.

    Fast-forward to now. In the last 30 years I have seen increaing levels of vitriiol from the televangelists who are making money from *someone* who clearly laps up their views. I have seen the rise of organizations like Focus on the Family, the Family Research Center, the Liberty Council, the National Organzation for Marriage…. all of them claiming to be working on Christ’s behalf and every single one of them trying to demonize me. I have head pastor after pastor, priest after priest, bishop after bishop say in no uncertain terms how sinful, how vile, how evil, how diseased, how irredeemable I am. When they are talking about “the gays”, they are not talking about some abstract, faceless group: they are talking about *me*.

    There is nowhere I have been able to turn my vision that has not had some sort of Christian or other either sending Hate my direction or taking active steps to circumscribe my life, either through legislative process or through direct interference in my life. I have been physically assaulted (not a good idea as I am 6’4″ 280 and not afraid to skin my knuckles), I have been spit on, I have had people praying for my damnation right in front of me. And all of them have been Christians (OK, there were some Jews and Muslimcs in the mix, too).

    All of this leads to me asking a single question. Don’t you think I have some small justification for being leery of Christianity? So far, I can truthfully say that aspects of Christianity have been the primary source of pain in my life.

    And after all this? Surprise! I do NOT hate Christians. I WILL not hate Christians. I’m better than that. Hatred is something I don’t want for myself. Anger? Oh, yes. Lots of anger on my part. I also know anger is sometimes useful in the short term, but over term it is as toxic a poison as one can imagine. Anger is my own personal failing, of which I’m well aware, and I have worked through a lot of it over the years, because I also understand that forgiveness is the only way to rid myself of pain.

    For me, my understanding of forgiveness is that it is not a one-time here’s-your-forgiven-card kind of thing. It is an ongoing process. It is a working-through, it is becoming matter of fact about “this happened” and draining it of the pain I attach to the event. It may well take the rest of my life to be able to fully forgive the harm that has been done to me and to those I love. I do know that I am not done with it. Not by a long shot.

    Further I *do* know that out of all the hatred and horror I’ve seen, all the pain I’ve felt, all the pain my loved ones and friends have felt, that not all Christians are like those from whom I’ve received such abuse.

    How do I know this? I know this because there have been real, flawed, loving Christian people in my life all along, quietly doing their best to walk the walk with no hoopla and drama, no beating of drums, no bible-thumping on the street corners.

    I know this because my closest friend of 30-some years now is a Christian and she is dearer to me than any of my blood relations. We have seen each other through all that life throws at people.

    I know this because I do have friends who are Christians and are just ordinary people who don’t hate anybody. Often, I don’t find this out until I’ve known them for some time. If they judge me, they keep it to themselves and it doesn’t show. I know they are saddened by my lack of belief, and I am glad they respect me enough to think my own thoughts, have my own views, and follow my own path. I certainly wouldn’t presume to convince them to change their beliefs. There is, I believe, mutual respect.

    It is not enough.

    If Christians who are really trying to walk the walk are serious, they need to stand up and be heard. They need to let me know, to let all those like me know, that what we have gone through and continue to go through is not really what Christianity is about. They need to get loud. They need to shout. Love is quiet, but right now is the time it needs to be a full-throated roar.

    Why? Because, as Christians, if you are silent in the face of all that I and those like me undergo, you are complicit in it. And I include my friends in this. I will still love them even if they don’t have the strength to do it, but I want to see them at least *try*. And this is not just for my sake or for the sake of LGBT people everywhere. It is also for their own sake.

    I came to this page from a FB site “Christians Tired of Being Misrepresented” [https://www.facebook.com/christiansmisrepresented] which I have begun to follow because after everything that has happened in my life, I still have hope.

    I do not believe in God. I don’t actively disbelieve in God, either. I am sorry that this may offend or pain some of you who might read my words. Faith comes or it does not, and it has not come to me.

    I do have faith, though. A smaller faith that even with all the ill will coursing through the world right now, that love exists. I have faith that humans have a better nature that can be reached. The FB page I mentioned has helped to give my little ember of that faith a little fuel, and I will continue to watch it. I will continue to be hopeful about the world. I will continue to love my friends. I will continue to love my partner of the last 18 years, with whom I have made a whole life.

    If anyone has been kind enough and patient enough to read my words, I thank you for the time and attention. I wish you well. I wish us all well.

    • Dear Justin,
      Thank you so much for writing such a thoughtful and forthright response. And thank you for trusting me with your truth. Reading about the anguish you have experienced at the hands of “Christians” is heart wrenching. I am so very sorry for all you have been through. I am also grateful for your strength of soul to claim your truth and live it out, even in the face of persecution.

      Justin, I especially appreciate your challenge in these paragraphs:

      “It is not enough.

      If Christians who are really trying to walk the walk are serious, they need to stand up and be heard. They need to let me know, to let all those like me know, that what we have gone through and continue to go through is not really what Christianity is about. They need to get loud. They need to shout. Love is quiet, but right now is the time it needs to be a full-throated roar.

      Why? Because, as Christians, if you are silent in the face of all that I and those like me undergo, you are complicit in it. And I include my friends in this. I will still love them even if they don’t have the strength to do it, but I want to see them at least *try*. And this is not just for my sake or for the sake of LGBT people everywhere. It is also for their own sake.”

      You are right. We have been complicit by our silence, our side stepping, our unwillingness to confront the hatred. You and others like you have born the brunt of the bigotry and intolerence. Too often even so called liberal Christians have been huddled with Peter around the fire on the night Jesus was arrested saying to the persecutors, “Jesus? gay? lesbian? We don’t know anyone by that name.” I pray more of us awake early enough to hear that cock crowing three times. For when we let down our sisters and brothers, wherever they are taunted, abused, or maligned, we betray Love itself.

      Your faith in love is the bottom line for me too. A tiny ember at times barely visible, the flame of love is carried from heart to heart. Thank you for leaving your light here. Loretta Ross

    • Justin,

      That is the most heart felt, clearly… and respectfully written response you could have replied with.

      Had I or my children ever been in your shoes, I don’t think I could have been so nice.

      It is so embarrassing to call myself a Christian for these reasons, but I assure you… these “Christians” are not like Christ.

      You are an inspiration to me. And many others, and thank you so much for sharing this.

      I took this following quote of yours to set aside, because it is so very true…. And needs to be remembered and applied…

      ” If Christians who are really trying to walk the walk are serious, they need to stand up and be heard. They need to let me know, to let all those like me know, that what we have gone through and continue to go through is not really what Christianity is about. They need to get loud. They need to shout. Love is quiet, but right now is the time it needs to be a full-throated roar.” ❤

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