Out of Xanadu

Right-wing Christians, these days, seem to live in a cozy little Xanadu all their own. And sometimes I really envy them. When I came out as a lesbian, I was kicked out of its cozy confines, once and for all. Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Christians are forced to wander in a wilderness of spiritual exile.

Xanadu is not Eden; it is the anti-Eden. It is the land of Egypt. Xanadu is not a paradise planted by God. It is an exclusive and luxurious gated community, constructed on the desert sand by human hands. However tempting Xanadu’s leeks and fleshpots may be, it is a potentially-deadly trap.

Of course, not everybody on the Religious Right is bad. Many are very sincere and well-meaning people, genuinely searching for the best possible way to serve God in Jesus Christ. The Xanadu trap is artfully baited; it seems like the real thing, but gives chilling evidence of being a fake. This is what makes the trust so many good-hearted folks place in the conservative Christian establishment all the more tragic. Their consciences are gradually being corrupted, their souls slowly spoiled.

It’s high time we told them that. Sure, they will likely react by going prehistoric with rage. (Something tells me they’re a whole lot better at dishing that sort of thing out than they are at taking it.) But many of them really are worried about the fate of our souls. Not only is this not a reason for us to get mad at them, but our anger blinds us from being able to recognize that it may be our task to help save them.

In Jim Wallis’s newest book, God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It, as well as in his previous books and his magazine, Sojourners, he warns of the wrong turn conservative Christianity has taken in America and calls the way back to faithful service. Wallis opens his readers’ eyes to the many ways Christians can — and must — have an impact. He rightly indicts our culture of the soulless materialism that is the real culprit in the collapse of the American family. And he is bold in his defense of sexual minorities, making it clear that GLBT people are being unjustly scapegoated for the country’s moral failings.

Rev. Wallis can relate to the sense of loss and soul-starvation so many of us feel as we wander in our wilderness. When, as a young man, he asked “too many” questions that made the religiously-comfortable upset, questions about the injustices of race relations in this country, he, too, was tossed out of Xanadu. Many of those in the church of his youth had less of a problem with his leaving the church (and very possibly his faith) behind than they had with the danger that his questions might make them squirm. When people are ready to turn their backs on truth for the sake of their comfort, then their faith has lost all meaning. His willingness to keep faith even as he unflinchingly follows the truth is what makes Wallis such a powerful spiritual leader today.

We have no time to hesitate, or to look longingly back at the luxury God may be asking us to leave behind. “We must do the work of God while it is day,” Jesus reminds us, “for the night is coming, when no one can work.”

Those Bible publishers set Christ’s words in red so we’ll pay more attention to them — not, as too many on the Religious Right seem to think, so they’ll know which parts to ignore. These cafeteria Christians will pick through every sub-clause of Leviticus looking for passages with which to clobber sexual minorities (somewhat strange, when you consider that they themselves violate this ancient code every time they eat pork chops or shave their faces). And they love to remind us that Jesus spoke more about sin, Last Judgment and Hell than did anyone else in Scripture. But what they conveniently forget is that He didn’t just tell us we wouldbe judged, but he also spelled out exactly how.

Our eternal relationship with God depends not upon being heterosexual, or upon belonging to the “doctrinally correct” denomination, but upon how we treat others, especially “the least of these.” We are to love one another as Jesus loves us — something even those who aren’t Christians can do! What we now know as the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” is the very soul and inspiration of progressive social justice. Social justice is Christ’s Golden Rule writ large.

God’s politics bring us closer to God and help us grow in faith and love for “Him,” even as we serve “Him” by radiating “His” love to other people. The politics of God give us reason to hope in God; they show forth God’s true character. The politics of the Religious Right defame God’s character because they lead people to act in ways that violate God’s law of love. The true character of God is revealed to us in Scripture as “He” liberates the oppressed from bondage and welcomes the outcast into fellowship with “Him.” People whose politics reflect a preoccupation with their own comfort, security and self-flattery worship something quite different than the God of Jesus Christ.

Christian conservatives love to proclaim that the Hebrew prophets foretold Christ. What they don’t seem to remember is that their moral teachings also foreshadowed His. No society that reckons godliness according to the guidelines of the Bible can possibly excuse the exploitation of the poor by the rich, or the deliberate targeting of civilian populations by mighty military forces. We’ll kill anybody who seems to get in the way of our sense of security. A “culture of life,” indeed!

Just to avoid feeling “weak” or “not in complete control,” many in this country would prefer that innocent people — even small children — in other lands die in the agony of war. Though all we, as a nation, would have to do to prevent the support of terrorism in the Middle East would be to actually listen to the people’s concerns. (It is, indeed, far more likely that those who support terrorism feel they have no other recourse than it is that they “hate our freedoms.”) Had we not been so addicted to convenience and ease, perhaps we could have conserved enough oil not to need to go to war to protect our supply of it. And we’ll all weep for Terri Schiavo (as well we should), but we can’t be bothered to worry about the thousands of patients whose feeding tubes will be removed simply because they can’t afford to pay their medical bills.

Of course, this is not simply a gay-rights issue. If our experience of exile from Xanadu has taught us anything at all, it should be something more transformative than simple “once I’ve gotten mind, that’s all that matters.” God uses our life experiences to mold us into the individuals “He” wants us to be. The lessons GLBT believers are meant to learn seem peculiarly connected to compassion, tolerance, and empathy for “the least of these.”

There is, however, a very real sense in which gender concerns (so central to the Right’s crusade against sexual minorities) influence politics — even on issues that seem to have little to do with gay rights. How many of the young, male blowhards who harass gays and lesbians are actually trying to compensate for their own, hidden feelings of inadequacy? And why shouldn’t Joe Gay-Basher feel inadequate? Some girl, just out of high school, is over in the Middle East getting shot at (in a war HE loudly claims to support) because he fears that in the face of gunfire, he’d react not like G.I. Joe, but Betsy-Wetsy. How much better he feels if all he has to do, instead, is beat up a few “fags” (or, better yet, merely talk about it).

We would be wise to recognize how pathetic our antagonists really are. In fact, the very experience of exile we are so prone to see as a curse may, indeed, turn out to be a blessing. Once, I would have given almost anything to trade places with the comfortable dwellers in Xanadu, but now I wouldn’t trade places with them for all the oil in Araby. I’ve come to feel very sorry for these people. If they stay in thrall to the Religious Right long enough, it will ruin even the best of them.

When I emerged from my closet and prepared to leave the larger comfort of Xanadu, I promised I would never abandon God — as long as “He” did not abandon me. Though there have been times, on this desert journey, when I wondered whether the covenant had been broken, I have since come to recognize that though I wander in the wilderness, God’s pillar of fire is always there before me. “His” faithfulness in my life is continually astonishing; it not only touches, but moves me. We, who have suffered so much from others’ lack of mercy, have come to realize we’ve never lost the treasure of God’s invincibly inclusive love. And we must concern ourselves with God’s politics, because we have come to see that they truly are God’s way of working in this world.

We must get over the idea that our faith-walk must always be comfortable, happy and fun, and that we need to be welcomed and lauded by all who claim to be people of faith. How was Jesus treated? And why should we expect better treatment than that which He received? If being reviled and spat upon was not too terrible a thing for Christ to endure, then we can hardly complain that it’s beneath us.

The way of the Christian — the true Christian — is the Way of the Cross. Unlike so many other Christians, GLBT believers can never escape this reality. And it comes to us only by the grace of God. In this burdensome journey to Calvary, we find a tremendous opportunity for spiritual growth — one it is all too easy for Christians to bypass when (as do the denizens of Xanadu) they’ve become accustomed to living the coddled life.

This, of course, by no means gives our tormentors the right to persecute us. They are not helping us toward salvation in anything close to the sense that they intend. They can hardly be said to be showing us the right moral path, as their behavior makes amply clear how far they are from it themselves. They can no more legitimately claim to be concerned about our moral guidance than the Pharisees were about Christ’s.

Modern Right-wing Christianity has sold out to materialism, greed, selfishness and gluttony to very nearly the same extent as has the rest of our decadent culture. They have become so blind to the teachings of the Gospel that they care more about wielding the power of conservative culture-warriors than they do about being faithful servants of Christ. Since they demonstrate such an unfamiliarity with those red-lettered portions of their Bibles, I guess they don’t realize that they cannot serve two masters. They may take their marching-orders from George W. Bush, Rush Limbaugh or Pat Robertson, but those who would truly follow Jesus must be led by Jesus.

GLBT Christians are never allowed the illusion that we can have all the worldly goodies we want and a life free of all pain and contradiction. In this, we have indeed been given a rare gift. What so many of us fear will lead us away from God — our expulsion from Xanadu — can actually help lead us closer to God. That cross we carry on our shoulders, far from crushing us, may only make us stronger. Like Lot’s escape from the cities on the plain, our flight from Xanadu may lead to our salvation.

Suffering is not an end in itself, nor should we accept life’s hardships simply to give joy to those who hate us. There is good in suffering only when it helps us to feel the pain of others, moving us to reach out to them in alleviation of that pain. We bear our cross so the load of others may be lighter. Those gay and lesbian believers who find new welcome in the Body of Christ, only to become as self-righteous and self-absorbed as many of those who condemn them (and I’ve met a lot of people in our community like this) have become just like their enemies. All their suffering has been in vain.

When most Christians hear that phrase, “the least of these,” they automatically think of unpleasant people: dirty, difficult, smelly and grubby people – people far different from themselves. But when we hear that phrase, we understand that Jesus is also talking about us. And we can help refocus the energy of the faithful in general toward a greater compassion for others because of the degree to which we can relate.

Jim Wallis inspires me to want to spend my life for God — wholly and passionately — like he does. I don’t yet know, for certain, what that will mean for me, but I look forward to finding out. Despite the burdens he has taken upon himself, Rev. Wallis is clearly a happy human being. The road to Heaven may be hard, but the peace and joy of knowing you’re living the life you were created to live can’t be surpassed by any fleeting, earthly pleasure.

How utterly tragic that so many on the Religious Right sincerely wish to bear Christ’s Cross — and yet, all they do is end up making it still heavier. But we bear that Cross alongside Jesus. Who will ultimately answer that bumper-sticker prayer and save us from His “followers.” Like Jesus, we will experience the glory of the Resurrection – which does not depend on our welcome in Xanadu, but comes solely through the awesome goodness of God.