It must be emphasized that there is literally a world of difference between having a relationship with God and one’s adherence to the construction of man-made religion! A relationship with God defines love and compassion as its essence, and when legalism and perfectionism enter the framework and dialogue of religiosity we can be sure that “religion” has trumped any “relationship with God” that that person may or may not have had. Just because a person is a member of the clergy, or is a professing Christian lay person, doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she has a relationship with God! We can safely say that he or she might be “religious,” but that might well be far different from his/her having a relationship with God! For example, many people have a relationship with God through one or more of the Church’s sacraments, and that is authentic and meaningful for them; there is absolutely nothing wrong with having the sacraments be a vehicle or a vessel upon which to base and reinforce that relationship. Others may have a relationship with God that is experiential apart from sacramental worship, and that, too, is authentic and meaningful for them; there is absolutely nothing wrong with having that experience or series of experiences be ones upon which to base and reinforce that relationship. In other words, in Christianity, as in life, one size doesn’t fit all! However, regardless of the dynamics of one’s relationship with Christ, Christianity is based solely on the Person of Christ! Christianity knows nothing of man-made constructs that seek to replace Christ as the center of our lives! Neither the Bible nor any other man-made artifact is to substitute for the Person of Jesus in the lives of those whom He chose from the foundation of the world (e.g. Ephesians 1:4); no authentic teaching and preaching is to have as its subject anything other than Christ! Jesus clearly tells us how to live the Christian life in the Gospels; His teaching is elaborated primarily by the Apostle Paul who is the main Apostle who explicates the Gospel (primarily in the Book of Romans and the Book of Galatians) that Christians, disciples of Christ, are to preach and live out. As I’ve written many times, the only Gospel to be found in Christianity is comprised of: Grace (God’s unmerited favor to us); Faith (trusting God over and above seen circumstances); Love (agape love which is love not based upon one’s feelings but upon an act of the will independently of how one feels); Peace (“cessation of againstness,” where we are at peace both with God and with others to the degree that the latter is possible); Reconciliation (with God and with each other to the degree that the latter is possible); Inclusiveness (where we recognize that we are all brothers and sisters who are equal in the eyes of God). The purity of the Gospel reflects the purity of Christ, and to be a follower of Christ requires adherence to the Gospel that is implanted in the hearts of each and every one of Christ’s disciples. And the ability to adhere to the Gospel is made possible by the Holy Spirit Who is implanted within us by God! Anyone who perverts the Gospel does a grave injustice to the life, teachings, and ministry of Jesus; causes untold harm to vulnerable people in society who are victimized by the perverters of the Gospel; causes untold harm to people who are gullible enough to believe what the perverters call “Christianity,” comprising and manifesting the false gospel of legalism and perfectionism; sticks a knife in the heart of God with each and every utterance and/or action that reflects that perversion. Toxic religion in the name of “Christianity” has as one of its major consequences the understandable perception by many decent and intelligent people that a Christian is some harsh, censorious, judgmental freak who obsesses over what I call “The Theology of Genital Placement!” In the view of these perverters of the Gospel, genital placement becomes the litmus test of one’s morality and one’s standing with God, which tells us a lot about their own likely emotional/sexual insecurities and/or pathologies! And this toxicity has infected most of the institutional Church; the perception many people have of Christians and of Christianity; the framing of what is called “Christianity” in most of the institutional Church and in the public square; the psychological, social, political, and even judicial dimensions of our lives. Toxic religion has most notably spawned generations of guilt-ridden people who are made to feel that God doesn’t love them because they are Gay! Although nothing could be further from the truth, the big lie perpetrated by the perverters of the false gospel of legalism and perfectionism has so infused our culture that the psyches of virtually everyone, Gay and Straight, have been affected to the degree that even seemingly reasonable people have come to accept many clergy’s preconceived prejudices having to do with a distorted view of love and sexuality, and their perverted theology of genital placement that seems to be the hub of the wheel that defines their own form of what they mistakenly call “Christianity.” This article, entitled, “Gay Liberty University alum recalls repression at school” is about a young gay man, Jud Brown, who went to Liberty University founded by the late Jerry Falwell in 1971, and tells a bit about his struggles with being a Christian and being gay. It is not a particularly good article, but it’s worth briefly exploring, given the destructive impact that toxic religion has had on him and on countless others. I’m grateful to my good friend, Don Charles who blogs at “Christ, The Gay Martyr”, for forwarding this article to me, and that I hope you will read in its entirety! Here are some key excerpts from that article to which I want to call your attention: Brown said there were other gay students at Liberty University who were having difficulty coping with their sexual orientation. He said he found gay porn on his roommates computer after using it one day. Im not proud of it to this day, but because I was so guilt-ridden about my own sexuality, I was very intolerant toward him and I turned him into my [resident advisers], he said…. Despite the experiences, Brown said he enjoyed his time at Liberty University because the school espoused Christian values that he shares. I have Christian values and identify myself as a Christian and theres a lot of things that I believe that Liberty taught that are right even though I dont live up to them sometimes, he said. Brown said he doesnt believe that its healthy to be promiscuous, drink to excess or do recreational drugs values that he said Liberty University teaches. [My note: Even most atheists believe in living decently; “decency” is not restricted to Christians.] He also said he enjoyed attending Liberty University because it was controversial and provoked interesting responses when he told people where he attended school…. Brown said he enjoyed his experience at Liberty University so much that, after obtaining his undergraduate degree, he went on to work to obtain a masters degree in education through the school…. Im very comfortable being gay, but to be honest, I have one foot firmly planted in that past, and one foot firmly planted in being OK with being gay, he said. I have to kind of balance or find a neutral territory. Brown also said Liberty University shouldnt be blamed for being intolerant of homosexuality. Its a Christian culture and they have their own traditions, they have their own belief structures and you cant go into a Christian structure and say, You got to be OK with being gay, he said. They dont believe it. This young man’s mindset greatly disturbs me! And I’m afraid that he represents not an insignificant number of Gay Christians who are ambivalent about their being able to reconcile (as if there has to be any attempt at reconciliation in the first place) between their being Christian and their being Gay. Like so many others, he doesn’t seem to see that God makes each and every one of us according to His/Her sovereign will, and we are to never chafe under the sovereign choices of God! There is no greater gift that God gives us than the ability to love others and to make a commitment to another human being with whom to share one’s life! This young man while at that university turns in his room mate, believing that his room mate will likely be expelled or, at the very least, be profoundly embarrassed, and he betrays him anyway. This alone says a lot about his degree of self-loathing that he sought to displace by undoubtedly using the defense mechanism of Reaction Formation, in part to likely deflect attention away from his own sexuality which he seemingly viewed at that time as being “sinful.” By turning in his room mate, he may have thought that no one would question his own sexuality and, therefore, he acted in this traitorous, despicable, manner. Also, he is apologizing for Liberty University, ignoring the tremendous harm that Jerry Falwell and that university did, and continue to do, to LGBT people and their families. And, to top it all off, he calls Liberty University “a Christian structure” and says it’s not OK in that university for one to say it’s OK to be gay because “They don’t believe it.” It never seems to occur to him that just because “they don’t believe it” doesn’t make it true, and doesn’t demand confronting within a professing “Christian structure” the lie that one can’t be a Christian and also be a Gay man or woman who lives an abundant life as Jesus calls each of us to do. And, despite his saying, “I’m very comfortable being gay….”, his statement doesn’t ring true to me, and I doubt that deep down he really believes it either, because he goes on to say, I have one foot firmly planted in that past, and one foot firmly planted in being OK with being gay….I have to kind of balance or find a neutral territory. Toxic Christianity seems to have inculcated within him, and within so many others, the false belief that he feels that he has to “have a kind of balance or find a neutral territory,” when that is a false notion and still shows him to believe that there is an inherent contradiction between being a Christian and being Gay. He fails to recognize that he is already “balanced” in his being a Christian and his being a gay man! Like every other person who has experienced toxicity in his (or her) past, he doesn’t have to “have one foot firmly planted in that past,” and yet he still does, indicating his not perceiving his God-given “balance” as a Gay Christian. Self-loathing people don’t really believe that God makes each of us according to His sovereign will and, therefore, many feel the need to do something to “balance” their past with their present; their Christianity with their sexuality; the hateful messages “in the name of God” to which they have been exposed and the reality of their own experience of their lives. They don’t realize that they are already “balanced” because God created them as balanced, and only they can let others’ prejudicial rhetoric and/or actions blind them to and/or interfere with that balance. And, tragically, many succumb to a falsely perceived lack of balance (often accompanied by despair and often by a whole host of risk taking behaviors) or spend the rest of their lives searching for that balance (also often accompanied by a whole host of risk taking behaviors), not recognizing that the balance they seek they have always possessed because that balance was given to them by God even before they left their mother’s womb. And, to make matters worse for himself, Jud seems to apologize for Liberty University, affirming that it is manifesting Christian virtues and values. Indeed, he even went to graduate school at that university, even after knowing and living through its antipathy toward same-sex love, and after hearing so many of the demagogic diatribes that the late Jerry Falwell visited upon Gay people, their families, and Straight people who were gullible enough to accept his perverted version of Christianity that was and is antithetical to the Gospel. I don’t know this young man, but I was very disturbed by this article and by my distinct feeling that he is not all that comfortable with the integration of his Christian life with his emotional/sexual life. He still seems to be in turmoil, and professes to have evolved to a place that he doesn’t seem to occupy. He strikes me as a person who is likely fraught with guilt and some degree of self-loathing, as he also announces for the world to hear that Liberty University is “a Christian structure,” thereby consciously or unconsciously affirming the hateful rhetoric of Jerry Falwell and those of his ilk who falsely teach and preach that Christianity is antithetical to one’s being Gay. How purveyors of homophobia, ignorance, and even hate can be considered to be housed within the Christian paradigm, within “a Christian structure,” is a mystery to me!
Rev. Dr. Jerry S. Maneker, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at California State University, Chico, served as an ordained priest in the Congregational Catholic Church, a division of the Independent Catholic Churches International (ICCI). For many years he published a weekly column in the Sacramento Valley Mirror titled “Christianity and Society,” where he dealt with a variety of social issues from a biblical and sociological perspective. Maneker also published a blog called “A Christian Voice for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Rights” and the website Radical Christianity.