There exists an “unwritten rule” about topics of conversation in the workplace: “Thou shalt avoid conversations concerning religion or politics, or both.” Given the “loaded issues” that are often associated with these two topics, and especially in recent years, I have (at least in the past few years) usually made it a rule of thumb not to engage in any type of political or religious debate among co-workers, but recently I found myself involved in a conversation about both with a co-worker, which led to some interesting thoughts and later reflections.
We were carpooling back on a three hour drive back from a grueling and hectic trade show. The topic shifted from work related matters to the conflict in Iraq (which we both agreed was not a war that we chose to support, although we did agree that we supported the troops and their safe return home), and then we got into talking about the current political climate in America and the involvement of the “radical religious right” in American politics in recent years.
This lead to a rather interesting theological and political discussion. I likened the emphasis placed by our current government (and in many cases, the media as well) on fear and terror to the emphasis placed on fear and terror by many fundamentalist Christian groups (fear of other religious paths, fear of the unknown and the unseen, fear of diversity and equal rights for LGBT people, and so on). I made the analogy that instilling fear about terrorism in people in order to get them to agree with surrendering personal freedoms, or to persuade them along blindly with a government decision to go to war without questioning and wanting to know all the facts and demonizing anyone who disagreed with this decision as at least suspect and at worst, traitorous, or to sway people towards voting against their own best economic and social interests out of fear was not the least bit unlike what I witness a great majority of the fundamentalist conservative evangelical Christians doing.
I stated that what I see being done is not much unlike the manner in which a great many fundamentalist Christian groups brainwash people into following a certain literalistic, legalistic system of dogma or doctrine. Instead of a possible “terrorist threat,” they utilize one of the greatest and most devious psychological tools at their disposal-the fear of the unknown, be it fear of a burning hell for eternity after death, unseen devil and demons meant to orchestrate their downfall from Grace at every turn and lurking around every corner, especially the areas of the mind where logic, reason and the natural human instinct for questioning come into play, or fear of that which they do not understand (case in point: the alleged and – at least in my opinion – laughable “Gay Agenda” theories). Many catch phrases are used, meant to not merely push but to lean on emotional buttons which most if not everyone universally possesses. How many times have we heard of a case of proposed censorship or the proposed revoking of LGBT rights to “protect the children” or to “protect the sanctity of marriage”? And possibly the most tragic of all, they seem to promote and instill the idea that the Creator is not a source of Life and Love to approach with love, reverence, gratitude, awe and wonder, but a harsh, legalistic judge, incapable of any type of truly unconditional, caring love, to be feared.
I made the assertion that in both instances – the drive to rally people behind the current government and the drive to indoctrinate people into legalistic Christianity – the same page was being drawn from and the same hand of cards seemed to be being played. Nearly identical axioms and modus operandi seemed to be present: First create an “other,” an enemy, a “them” to be feared, be it another country, people or religion, or be it the devil and demons and hell, a day of judgment and the Rapture (never mind the fact that Revelation was supposed to be metaphorical; metaphor is not allowed unless it serves an agenda). Then, offer the only “true” way to safety, be it a preemptive war, a new set of rules and laws, a chosen leader or a surrender of personal freedoms and thought, a new set of legalistic rules intended to exclude certain elements which would be considered anathema to the group mindset, and a mandate for conformity to this group mentality in order to receive protection from the perceived threat, which is taught as fact without any breathing room for individual interpretation. Finally, ensure either conformity or the ostracizing from the group by the punishment of any questioning of any statements made by the leaders of the group. In the case of the political issue, call those not supporting the political ideologies of the group traitorous or “one of the enemy” and in the religious camp, accuse them of being heretical or “in league with evil.” And another key factor: identify the group as being the only “True” group of its kind; as in “the only ‘real, patriotic’ Americans” are the ones who support this political line of thinking, or “the only ‘True, real, Godly’ Christians” are legalistic fundamentalists.
In both scenarios – I stated that I thought that both the current government and the radical religious right were following the same general scheme: Most importantly of all, keep the followers afraid, dependent, and keep them from actual facts, differing opinions or information, or any type of questioning. In this manner, you can dictate their thoughts, actions and feelings, and you will have them under your control. I added that one only hopes that that level of control and power would not be abused, lest the followers of said group be frightened sheep in search of an answer blindly following to the slaughterhouse. He thought my analogy was well said.
But the most interesting thing that happened was when we began focusing on the current drive by the radical religious right to impose their agenda into politics. He stated the opinion that this type of thing had been going on for centuries, and in the past was far worse than it is today, citing such incidents as the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades and even to some extent, the Holocaust. The latest movement of the religious right was no different: it was a group who claim to possess the truth (although in most cases, those assertions of knowing the truth are in reality a mask for fear of what no one truly knows for sure as no one truly has unlocked all of the mysteries of God, and at times are faith misplaced), organized with the intent of attempting to exert their beliefs upon others, with often scarring and devastating consequences. I thought for a moment and I said, “Actually, I think that religious ideas being abused by those who were certain they had the ‘one true way’ and then imposing it upon others began with the Pharisees, and the Crucifixion was the first major example of what can happen when the desire to be the sole possessor of the truth overrides love for God.” He agreed. We also agreed that often those who are imposing ideas about God onto others do not seem to “walk the talk” but rather to “talk the talk.” In some cases, there is no real practice of a religious doctrine, but repetition of “talking points” to solidify the base.
After the conversation it really got me thinking. As has unfortunately been the case for quite some time and even more so in recent years, the term “Christian” is, at least in the eyes of a great many people associated solely with “conservative evangelical fundamentalist,” rather than “a follower of the spiritual and ethical teachings of Jesus Christ,” do not fit the first definition, but in my heart I feel that I do fit the latter.
For one thing, I am a bisexual man in a very happy, honest and caring relationship with both a woman and another man (and in the eyes of some people, both conservative and liberal, that alone disqualifies me as a Christian) and I am wholly supportive of all LGBT issues, including same gender marriage and adoption. I am pro choice leaning towards pro life. Although I have chosen the teachings of Jesus as my spiritual guide and as a way of being closer to the mystery of God, I wholly respect those of other religious paths-Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Taoist, Wiccan, and even those who have chosen no religious paths. I do not see the Bible as a literal tome, but as a book about people attempting to understand the wonder of God. I believe in both evolution and Creation. I believe that there is no literal Heaven or Hell that God sends anyone to but that it is we who find ourselves in these spiritual states based on our relationship with God. For that matter, I do not think God is “out there somewhere” but rather all around us, and in us. And finally, I am an advocate of all types for free speech (whether I agree with all of it or not), any type of mutual sexual expression between consenting, caring adults, and the separation of Church and State.
But despite all of those factors that many would consider to be disqualifiers, I am also a Christian, in that I find my hope and my guidelines for the way that I treat others in the ethical teachings of Jesus, as I feel He was sent by God to tell us all the best way to live. I do not see the fear-based dogma that many place into and seem to write into those, because I do not see God as a Source of fear but one of Love. And even with Jesus’ teachings, I feel there are things that are unsaid and for which there are no black and white, clear cut “answers” that perhaps do not need to be if we look at the basic essentials, they are still all very applicable today, regardless of whatever unique, individual situation we may all find life bringing us. I accept that there are many Christians who may not agree with my path. Does that stop me from loving them as children of God? Absolutely not. Just as I do not wish for them to attempt to change my path, I do not make an effort to alter theirs; it goes back to my understanding of what Jesus meant when he said, “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets”(Matthew 7:12). That merely means to me to not do to another person what I would want done to me, including imposing my beliefs upon them, and for me to falsely assume that my path or my beliefs are for them would be trying to play God in their life, which I feel is not what I am supposed to do. What is right for them is between them and God, and if it is right for them, that should be their decision and no one else’s.
With all of the things that are a part of me and my life, and my thoughts and feelings, and the rejection that most people who were also Christians with different lives, beliefs and points of view have shown me in my life, people may ask (and a few non-Christians and atheists/agnostics have) why I would even bother with being a Christian? Three reasons: One, I honestly believe that God was speaking through Christ; not only through teachings such as the Beatitudes, the Sermon On The Mount, His parables, and the Great Commandment of love God more than anything and love thy neighbor as thyself, but through His actions and the way He treated others, and dying so that His message would be there for us for eternity. Two, the teachings of Jesus have lead to a better life for not only me but those around me. They have not always made life easier, nor have they always kept the bad things from happening or made them go away (and I do not think that was ever God’s intent), but they have enabled me to feel closer to God during my life, and more able to see God in others. And most of all – it boils down to one key point: I am grateful to God. Grateful for all that God has done for me and for all of those around me, and for all of my life-and all of the wonderful and sometimes not so wonderful things in it; for the ability to feel the highs and the lows, the good and the bad, the sadness and the joy; for simply being. I honestly believe that I am called to show that gratitude through graciousness to others and being loving to others as a way of thanking God for all that I have been given. To me it truly is that simple. Yes, that can be a complex task at times, and not easy, but still possible, as are all things, with faith in the Loving God.
These are interesting times to call oneself Christian. I cannot help but relate a few issues I witnessed recently that reminded me of the stigma that many Christians are up against in the eyes of non-Christians. At times, I am reminded of just how crazy things have become, at least in the United States, in regards to feelings about religion.
I admit it: I am a C-Span junkie. (For those not familiar, it is a cable news channel). I had all but given up on television news until I ran across this channel and it became a passion of mine in the year up to and during the most recent election. It’s the only channel I get my news from these days, because I feel that it truly is “fair and balanced” and honestly portrays the facts without any type of slant towards one political opinion or another. It also offers uncensored commentary from viewers on both sides and in the middle, and often features guests with dramatically varying points of view. But not only are there shows featuring news issues, there are also times when they turn their cameras upon actual courtroom proceedings. One morning, after watching the Washington Journal, I happened to watch one of these and it made me reflect on how I think that many people, particularly in the United States, seem to have some priorities out of place.
This was an oral argument involving an issue between a school district in Poway, California, who had taken an issue to the Ninth Circuit Court of the United States Court of Appeals. The case was Harper v. Poway Unified School District (in Southern California, where I live). It involved a high school student in San Diego, who alleged his First Amendment speech was violated when he was suspended for refusing to take off a T-shirt that on the front read, “Be Ashamed” and “Our School Embraced What God Has Condemned,” and on the back read, “Homosexuality is Shameful” and “Romans 1:27.” He wore the T-shirt in April 2004 in protest of a diversity event sponsored by the school. (He allegedly wore it at an event hosted by the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance Club.) The Day of Silence, as it was called, was “an annual, national student-led effort in which participants take a vow of silence to peacefully protest the discrimination and harassment faced by LGBT youth in schools.”
While I will reiterate that I am a defender of free speech, and the right of people to say what it is they wish to say, a lot of this argument was centered around whether or not the message was appropriate with the school’s dress code, or if its message was “disruptive” or harmful to other students. Poway school district Administrators said they feared the shirt would incite violence between LGBT and heterosexual students. Interestingly enough, a news column from a San Diego paper cited as recently as this April that “a former student at Poway High School testified yesterday that some of his classmates repeatedly harassed him because he is gay by calling him derogatory names, shoving him in hallways and spitting on him.”
Sounds pretty disruptive to me. But the lawsuit filed on the student’s behalf by a pro-family group called the “Alliance Defense Fund” claims that the boy’s “religious freedoms” were violated when he was suspended for refusing to change out of the homemade T-Shirt. “This is, I believe, the epitome of the cultural battle that we face as Christians — even within the church,” the attorney representing the boy was quoted as saying. He went on to say that he was disappointed that Christian students at the school failed to side with Harper. “It appeared that all of these Christians were willing to just give up their religious liberty and were willing to compromise to some extent in the guise of tolerance,” he said. Amazing. According to this logic, “real Christians” should be intolerant.
I’m not certain what the final result of this will be. I will say that the judges did seem to be rather fair when I watched; seeing both sides of the issue, both the concern for LGBT rights and for freedom of expressing religious views and opinions. They did liken the shirt being worn by the youth to a shirt stating that “Black People Are Inferior” and asked if that should be accepted free speech as well or potentially harmful and divisive, for which the Attorney representing the boy who had worn the shirt really seemed have no solid answer.
As I watched this, I thought to myself, “For the Love of God, how did we get here?” This has become the priority of many Christians? Defending the right to bash and promote hatred of LGBT people when there are thousands homeless, hungry, sick, hurting and disenfranchised? Think of the legal funds that might feed a starving family or help them to secure health care or a home. Instead, time, energy and money which could be spent doing as Jesus instructed (caring for the sick, feeding the hungry, and doing kindness to those in need) is wasted on defending the right to wear a homophobic t shirt and calling that “religious freedom.” Is it any wonder why many non-Christians are skeptical of the good that Christianity can do when presented with issues such as this?
I find it very interesting, fascinating and rather odd that many conservative evangelical Christians are expressing that they are being “discriminated against” when they are faced with the reality that their method of discriminating against others who do not share their point of view or opinions is threatened. Lately, there seem to be many voices from the religious right who are expressing this view: some are those such as Pat Robertson who has built an empire on his ministry, and others are those such as Tom DeLay and Bill Frist who are involved in our government. I am a liberal Christian and an American who is deeply offended by the kind of hate speech engaged in by these people – the type of talk that has been proven to encourage more division among people and violence towards the LGBT Community in this country and that could create a formidable threat. I have often considered writing to those who express these opinions, and suggest that those who have made such comments who accuse liberal Christians of “picking and choosing” parts of the Bible to follow re-read some of the Gospels before “casting the first stone.” My opinion has always been, if you are going to pick and choose Scriptures to follow, isn’t it better to pick the ones by Jesus, the ones that promote love and well being of all rather than those which suit your own personal agenda?
But the people claiming to speak for God and “defending Christianity” often seem to do just that. If it is not those who are vocally a part of the radical religious right, it is those in the media who claim to share many of their news and who will use Christianity to promote their personal or political agenda on talk radio or even on network cable television (and maybe it is just me, but a network that has to tell you that they are “fair and balanced” is a shade to me like those who constantly go about boasting of their Christianity while their behavior towards others seems very otherwise and rather un-Christian.) Many of them – both those who are a part of radical religious right and those who are not a part of it but support them for political clout have done a great deal to truly empower and embolden the hateful whether that was the intent or not, and it has a “trickle down effect” on society. Some of it is about being after the money of those in the radical religious right. (I sometimes wonder about the “In God We Trust” on currency. Are we proclaiming our faith in God, or are we assigning divine status to legal tender? The actions of some people cause me to wonder.)
Another rather interesting incident happened for me when I happened to see Ann Coulter, notorious for her right wing views and promotion of hatred and division, was a guest on C-Span’s Washington Journal. Having only read her comments and never having seen an interview with her, I decided to have a look.
What I witnessed was one of the most blatant displays of hypocrisy, hate and misuse of Christianity that I think I have ever seen. Not only was she rude to any caller who did not support all of her specific points of view, but she talked a great deal about what a Christian she was. A caller called in to speak to her, and asked her, “I’m curious; you constantly judge others, so what is it that you make of Jesus’ admonition to “Judge not, lest Ye be judged”? Her response? “I don’t recall that Amendment in the Bible.” This was her defense of her right to judge others with hate. Not that her points of view had had any credibility from me to begin with, but if they had, it would have been lost there. It was obvious at that point to me that her version of Christianity was one based on chosen verses which supported her political ideals. She was fine with quoting Leviticus, but somehow seemed lost when it came to Jesus. As I recall, I prayed for God’s Love to surround her so that maybe she would know God’s true unconditional Love and therefore cease feeling the need to say things which divide others, create hurt, and continue to promote conflict among people.
Again, I am not one to think that there is anything wrong with using Scriptures or Biblical passages to defend one’s views, but in my understanding of the teachings of Jesus, if we are using these passages to impose hurt, condemnation, hate, judgment, or pain upon another human being, then we are not getting the message and we are missing the mark. So much of Christianity in the public eye these days is defined less and less about Christ and more and more on issues and selective Biblical interpretation that in my opinion have little to nothing to do with being a “follower of Christ.” The focus seems to be on Christians taking action to discriminate against others rather than those taking action to help others.
There is so much talk among conservative Christians about the “Left Behind” books, a fanciful fictional account of what they surmise a literal unfolding of the Book Of Revelation (to me, a beautiful metaphor about trusting God during times of trial and tribulation when life seems to be coming to an end) will be. This only serves to perpetuate the division between “the saved” (those who share their beliefs to the letter) and “the damned” (everyone else). In their thinking, at some time in the near future, the saved will be whisked to Heaven and the rest are all going to be condemned. In their view, the saved will consist only of those like them, and only those who are of a certain creed, ideology and sexual orientation.
But let’s take a look really quick at what it was that Jesus said about this supposed, “Day Of Judgment” in Matthew 25, and what would be said to those who would notbe entering the Kingdom of Heaven at that time:
“I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me. Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.”
Essentially, I feel that He is saying that in order to enter Heaven, one must treat others with the same Love and respect that they would treat God, and show Love for God through caring for all the rest of God’s Children. I do not take this as Jesus saying that God will literally send those who have failed to do so to an real, eternal burning hell, but I do feel that in closing hearts, focusing on judgment and differences, and being selfish rather than caring for others, they will miss out on God’s Love and Glory then and now, if they continue.
They can argue that I am picking and choosing, I can come back with the same argument and back and forth, and back and forth. It seems to me that the very word “Christian” and defining who is one and who is not one has, in far too many instances, become a lot of bickering and arguing about issues. In any event, sometimes it is tough for many people of faith-both liberal and conservative Christians and all of those in between to determine the answer to the question, “What exactly does it mean to be a Christian, anyway?”
There seem to be a lot of conflicting views on that these days, at least given the political and social climate, particularly that in America at this time. I can say what it means for me, while the next person may scoff at that, and say that it is “counterfeit faith.” If I turn on the news, I often hear that only the most radically right-wing, conservative evangelicals are the “true” Christians. If I listen to other news sources, I may hear that the opposite is true, and only the most liberal people are the “true” Christians. There are so many definitions and differences between religious and particularly Christian points of view, that I sometimes think that in the process of seeking God, we forget to be humans who were Created by God.
I think it means going back to the basics, back to Jesus. It means – to use a phrase I am sure all of us have heard before – not “talking the talk” but “walking the talk.” Stop allowing the focus of Christianity to be rules designed to govern personal and private behaviors that should be between individuals and God, or about a “litmus test” of faith based on one interpretaRather than trying so fervently to pinpoint the things about others which we disagree with on a personal level or do not like, work for the common good of all. Stop creating an “other” and/or a “them/they” to be feared and realize once and for all that we are all God’s children, no matter how diverse and different we and our individual lives, situations and beliefs may be.tion of the Bible, or about allegiance to one political cause. Put aside fear and accept that there is no black and white or hazy gray in God’s world – just a rich diversity of colors as bright as the rainbow and that each and every one of us plays our part and we are in this together. Most importantly of all, do not concern ourselves with judging others, nor trying to control the beliefs of others, but simply loving others, showing our gratitude to God through allowing God’s Unconditional Love to flow through us, to them, regardless of our differences or what kind of a day we are having.
That is a real challenge, one that demands every bit of faith that we can muster, at times. It means that we trust in God and release fear, and put any and all energy that we had put in defending our own views and beliefs into a deliberate focus in seeing all others as equals, and precious children of the Most High. And that is not always an easy thing to do. I would go so far as to say that it is no easier for the homophobic conservative evangelical Christian than it is for the unashamed, yet often persecuted LGBT Christian.
I sometimes think that the reason why there is such a focus among the radical religious right on disenfranchising minorities, on excerpts chosen from the Paulian letters and Leviticus and the Ten Commandments and regulations is precisely due to the fact that the Commandment Christ gave us – to treat others with love and respect to the best of our abilities at all time, is far more challenging. It poses a challenge for liberal Christians and LGBT Christians as well. How many times have you felt the same type of anger due to injustice at those on the far religious right and some of the hateful things said towards, false assertions about, and creation of more hate towards the LGBT Community? It becomes necessary for me at times to call on every bit of faith I have to respond with love when confronted with anger, hate and persecution. But I have to, because I feel that only love will break the chain of hate, will create understanding rather than division, will foster cooperation rather than division.
It’s not easy. And it is not just instances of differing religious opinions or opinions about sexuality or sexual orientation that can pose a challenge, but simple things in everyday life. I am reminded of times when it is not too easy to do so.
Just a few days ago, while having a rather stressful day at work, I received an Instant Message from someone who I did not know, and after all of the consistent “spam” messages and junk emails I seem to get all the time, and after recently having been the victim of identity theft, I found myself immediately on the defensive, thinking that this was yet another person who wanted to try to scam me in some way. I asked for their account number, information and so forth, and was met with vague replies. I persisted that they identify themselves and their company and was met with hostility. Finally, it was revealed that they were a client, and they admonished me for being so “standoffish.” I apologized, looked back, and saw that in my stressed and upset state, perhaps I had been.
The point I am making is that it is not always easy when under stress to respond with love and kindness, and this is one of the areas where I find that my faith has helped me to grow. It is only through faith that I can be able to put aside my fears, take a deep breath, and reflect for a moment that no matter how tough things seem, God has been there for me and given me so much, and will help me get through it if I just focus on doing my part and showing kindness wherever possible, even in the face of a perceived threat. Even with people who have hurt me, it has been possible for me to understand that deep down, I do not dislike them as a person. I may not like what they did to me, but I still forgive them and love them as a child of God, and I am no better than they in the grand scheme of things.
I feel that the greatest expression of gratitude to and faith in God is through example, rather than a detailed synopsis of evidence to back up one’s beliefs. Jesus made the statement in Matthew 7:16 that I have found to be a wonderful guide in locating those who actually live their beliefs rather than talking about them a lot: “You will know them by their fruits.”
Perhaps no other person has been as exemplary of that in my own life other than my own Mother, who to me embodies what I feel Christ was teaching us to do. No matter what her hardship, she never seems to have an unkind word to say about anyone, even those who have wronged her. She chooses a very simple life, yet has not a shred of lasting judgment, anger or hatred against anyone – even those who have very differing opinions – that I have seen (although she is human and does at times criticize the actions of others, she is quick to attempt to find something good in that person as well.) She has somewhat different spiritual ideas than mine at times. She knows that I am bisexual, knows my female and my male partner and knows we are not “just good friends” and has no judgment about our relationships, nor does she think that God does. She just simply tries to be as loving and caring towards others of all walks of life at all times, and truly does view all people-no matter what-as important and precious children of God. Even though illness has disabled her, and created problems in her life, she carries on with faith hope and love for others, and always seems to have a smile or an encouraging word for someone in need. She has been an inspiration to my faith as well as my life, and there are few who I have met who really did practice what they preach as she does. And most of all, she does not sit and talk about her beliefs with you (unless you ask and want to). She lives them. She does them.
I think that the one thing that needs to happen in order to really facilitate a Christianity that would lead to equality for all people, a global ethic of love and compassion, and a world more in alignment with what God intended would be for all of us who call ourselves Christians to take the message of Jesus at the core level and do our best to actually live it. I feel that with all of His teachings, there was one message we were really supposed to take to heart as the keys to becoming closer to God. I think His entire ministry can be encapsulated into one very simple message: “As God has shown you Unconditional Love, show this same love to all others.” I think that we are supposed to be the Light of God in the world, not by telling other people what we believe but by showing them our love for God through our graciousness and love towards them.
So many Christians go about talking about “defending their religious freedoms” and their faith, yet what I see them defending is the right to talk about it more than anything, and little being done about actually living it. If they choose to think that certain behaviors are “sinful,” no one is asking them or forcing them to do those things themselves (and if they are projecting judgment on others to repress their own hidden feelings out of the fear that they might be sinful, perhaps they should reexamine the idea). For that matter, no one is trying to take away their faith in God. If their faith is based upon making everyone else think as they do, perhaps it needs a stronger foundation. And no one is trying to outlaw the Bible or their own individual understanding of it; the only thing I see some people doing is trying to prevent it from being used as a tool to facilitate hurting others.
I suggest that the time, money, resources, energy and ambition being devoted to a Constitutional Amendment to ban same gender marriage, getting judges who share a narrow legalistic Christian view elected to the Supreme Court, and promoting divisive and exclusionary propaganda meant to divide the “damned” and the “saved” be devoted to things like ensuring that all who are homeless have safe shelter, food and clothing and a chance to survive; ensuring that children have a proper education and a chance at a healthy, safe and fulfilling life, and that all of us, regardless of our differences are aware of the fact that we are all equal in God’s Eyes, and all children of God. I agree with the statement in James 2:17: that “Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” To talk about, bicker about, and allow ourselves as both Christians and spiritual beings having a human experience to let our differences in belief divide us is missing the point entirely; one thing I think we could all agree on is that we are all in this together.
Although I do not take all of the writings by Paul as something to be taken literally, I do sincerely agree with his comment in Galatians 3:28 that “all are one in Christ Jesus.” I am consistently amazed at how many of the same Christians who repeatedly bring up verses attributed to Paul which they claim are “proof” of God condemning LGBT people often seem to skip over this one. If people could merely agree to disagree on the minor issues, and focus on the message of God through Jesus of allowing God’s Grace to flow through us to others, I think that the results would be miraculous. Jesus to me seemed so unconcerned about anything other than our ability to see and love the God in one another.
And finally, in Matthew 9:13 Jesus says, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”. This has always stuck with me when I see those who define their faith by what they abstain from doing or being, rather than allowing their faith to be something they actually do. A person may say that they avoid certain habits, sexual practices, foods, movies, television shows, reading materials, or friends who do not believe the same as they do and state that the reason for such is because they are “being a good Christian.” If they choose to do so, and it makes them feel better about themselves or feel closer to God on a personal level, then I wish them the best. But this is not what God or being a Christian requires, either. I read this verse and I hear that what is really important is our ability to be loving and forgiving to others.
We are all one, one children of God, and in my opinion, we have a lot of Grace from God to be thankful for. As society progresses and we are blessed with more and more knowledge, evolving understanding and evolution from God, we learn more-but Christ’s Rule of Love One Another never changes, it is timeless and a foundation, a thread through everything. And although I have had many say that for such a complex person, I have an oversimplified faith, it has helped me to feel closer to God, and more importantly to me, others have said that my sharing it has helped them want to be closer to God, and I hope and pray that the result has been their happiness in that relationship. Knowing that God loves me just as I am means everything to me, and I want to share that love and pass it on when and wherever I can.
Am I always able to express what I feel to be the same kind of unconditional love God has shown me to others? No, and I have not met anyone in person who seems to able to do so. But through my faith is the only way I have been able to make my best effort at “walking the talk.”
So what can all of us, despite our differences in individual thoughts, beliefs and ways of life do to take what it is we believe and bring it to life fully? How is it that we translate our faith from an idea to something active, actualized, and alive?
First, know that whoever you are and whatever your sexual orientation, sexuality, political party, race, creed, gender, quirk, relationship status or anything else that God loves you as you are, and has a plan for you. In dealing with anyone, strive to focus on commonalities, not differences; I have yet to meet a Christian who does not love God, so there is a starting point. Do not be concerned with judging others because of our differences, but rather place the focus on loving others because we are all children of the same Creator; loving others does not mean always agreeing, it merely means mutual respect despite whatever differences we might have. Try to show, rather than tell others about our gratitude for God’s Grace by the way that we treat them. Return hatred with unexpected kindness, judgment with being non-judgmental, and persecution with forgiveness.
There is more to it than that. To those of your friends who may not be a Christian, do not fear “coming out” as one to them. If they are seeking God, let them know that there are other ways of approaching God rather than the legalistic forms of Christianity they may be accustomed to. Take the initiative to offer unsolicited, non judgmental hope to a friend whom you know may be in need of support, love and kindness. Rather than point out the things about an individual that you do not like, focus on an aspect that you admire in that person.
Offer comfort and support to the LGBT friend who just came out, or give the person who you pass by in the hallway at work an unsolicited smile when they least expect it. Practice random acts of kindness whenever possible and especially when you find it challenging to do so. Donate some time or some resources towards any cause that helps a group in need, be it a homeless shelter, a nursing home, or a group home.
It is doing all of the above types of things that have made me feel personally closer to God than anything I ever experienced during the time when I was involved in legalistic and fundamentalist Christianity, when the focus seemed to be solely on talking about who was the “most Christian” President, who was saved and who was not, and which denominations held the monopoly on the “truth.”
To me, being a “Christian” or a “follower of Christ’s teachings” is not about what it is specifically that we believe, or what we say or what doctrine we subscribe to as individuals. It is instead how it is that we express it and bring it from our thoughts, minds and hearts into tangible reality. Many people these days seem to invest a great deal of time and energy in talking about their faith, and what they do or do not believe, and who has the better faith and so on, and that could be debated for an eternity. But I truly feel it is when faith becomes a verb, something that we actually do and put into action when we “walk the talk” that faith becomes a truly transforming experience in not only our lives, but the lives of those around us. At least, it has been that way, and always a blessing that never ceases to surprise, for me.
And I think that if we learn one thing from the life of Jesus, and His teachings that the most important thing is not the particulars of what it is we believe, but how we choose to take what it is we believe and incorporating that into our daily lives. I honestly feel as if our love for and gratitude to God is best shown by showing thanks for God’s Blessings and Grace and Unconditional Love by letting that love, and hope, flow through us to all others.
John Campbell is a native of Alabama.