Monday, May 18, 2015

Bad at Being Christian

I'm not at all good at being a traditional Christian. It's resulted in a strong mistrust of the church at large. People admit to me, "I don't like Christians," and I admit back, "Neither do I, and I am one."

Christians are behind the curve by at least a decade when it comes to social justice. The church is only just realizing racism still exists, and you can forget sexism and homophobia (I'm willing to argue the church is the biggest propagator of the two). Meanwhile, our well-meaning missionary work has caused more problems than it solved. We ignore the laws of economics, politics, and even nature to remake the world according to our vision, rarely counting the consequences.

Some Christians are still trying to fight science, as if denying evolution and climate change were an important tenet of our beliefs. That's really the ground we choose to die on?

But it's hard to express any of this. When someone wonders aloud if the church is doing things right, if the theology is sound, or if God is real, the church network gets busy. Soon everyone quietly knows and is praying for them. As soon as someone hears news--"she came to church again, hallelujah"--they quietly pass it on to the group.

Watching from the inside as words flew about people I care about didn't bode well for my relationship with the church. We claim we're looking out for each other in love, but this constant monitoring feels an awful lot like gossip. People become prayer requests, instead of richly complex beings on a unique journey.

We should treat everyone in love, be loyal always. We shouldn't have inner Christian circles. Jesus was constantly accused of being a friend to sinners because he hung out with non-religious peeps: the ultimate in those who disagreed with him. People say Jesus had a close-knit group of Christian friends, but for the first year or two, the Twelve considered him another rabbi. Jesus' besties were a bunch of "nonbelievers."

That's a radical idea in today's church, where one of the unspoken rules is that your besties should all be Christian.

If you made me list the people I rely on come hell or high water, the scale would be tipped so much to the non-religious side that everything would slide off it. I feel more at home with non-religious folks: they judge less, are loyal, and are genuine about their like and dislike of people. When it comes to spiritual matters, their differing opinions help me see the world in all its complexity and grow my worldview to fit. My non-religious friends have in fact made me a stronger, better follower of God.

I like who I am around them. I like who they are.

These friends pose the biggest problem I have with Christians: so many of them were burned by the church. Some were raised in church and left when their questions weren't tolerated; others were hurt and hunted until they got as far away as they could.

Their painful memories make me extremely distrustful of an institution which claims to love people and so often has not. The church not only creates the problem, it ignores people's pain. We've injured many through our ignorance and blamed the victim for the crime. We almost never apologize.

I know many individual Christians who aren't like this at all. But the church as an entity has caused too much pain for me to react positively to the label. When I meet a Christian, I'm wary, waiting for them to prove themselves non-bigoted independent thinkers before I give them the thumbs-up.

I'm more than a little embarrassed to be a Christian myself.

I think this dislike and mistrust comes from the fact that I'm so different. My friends, beliefs, and lifestyle are all different from the traditional Christian. It's hard to feel intimacy with a group you hardly understand.

Credit: William Warby.

I believe in God more fully than anything else in my life. I believe in a loving God with whom relationship is possible. I believe the Bible is a collection of stories about humans trying, succeeding, and failing to have a relationship with God.

But I also believe the call, "go and make disciples," has absolutely nothing to do with traditional models of missional living, and everything to do with chatting, listening, and making friends without ulterior motives. If someone wants to know God, then we can do it together, because I'm still getting to know him. "Proselytism is solemn nonsense."

I believe all sexual orientations are good and beautiful, and you should be able to be with who you love. I believe all genders are 100% equal, and less different from each other than we think. I believe that the heartbeat and brain activity infants develop at 6 weeks are good signs we're dealing with a human, but before that I'm not so sure. I would rather give women control over their bodies.

I'm not sure I believe in hell, and I'm not sure the Bible does, either. I believe in evolution and that we're all descended from amoebae over the many billions of years the Earth has been around. I believe human technology is changing the climate and we have a responsibility to do something about it.

I believe open-mindedness to new ideas and willingness to learn from those who disagree with us is maturity, not weakness. I believe secular education can make people wiser and kinder. I believe doubts are healthy. I believe culture can always get better, and we ought to actively work at it.

The best word to describe me is intersectional. Everyone has a few of these intersections, places where a Bible Belt Christian agrees with a queer tree-hugging academic and vice versa. Nobody follows the dogma of their group 100%.

But there are a growing number of us who exist at the margins of Christianity, not really fitting any of the labels. I'm not alone in my "strange" assortment of beliefs.

This, to me, is the beauty of being a sucky Christian. I'm good at being other things, like a highly progressive Christian, and a theistic intellectual. I'm not a good model for either Christian or secular living, but I'm good at being me and good at meeting other margin-huggers where we're at.

Maybe being culturally and religiously intersectional is a good thing. My beliefs can't be summed up in a pat little phrase and I have to explain them from day to day. It gives me a desirable flexibility, able to reform my perspectives as new information comes along and cross lines that others can't because they're afraid to overstep the bounds of their group. I guess I'm outside of that fear-of-rejection now. I left rule-following behind long ago.

There's a certain freedom in not fitting into the box. Freedom is always scary, but that's just something we'll have to get over. To those of us at the margins-- it's okay. We feel like we're bad Christians and also bad progressives: we're bad at everything. But we're really good at being ourselves.

In the end, I think that's what really matters.

"Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them. That would be enough to make the world a better place."

--Pope Francis

Word count: 1,246.