Sunday, May 13, 2012

For the Record

I am so angry right now that my stomach is tied in knots and my fists clench, but I’m doing my best to be, to use a Christian term, graceful. 

After posting a piece about Pastor Sean Harris advocating abusing children, one of my Christian relatives commented on my Facebook page. “When is the last time you have apologized to me for insinuating that christians are feeble minded, racist, hate filled etc etc etc? These are things you believe to your core (or so the many threads you have posted over the years here on facebook would suggest)” This is simply false. I can’t state that any more clearly. As I tried to explain, I have never implied, said, nor do I believe that Christians are feeble minded, racist, or hate filled. The most important people in my life are Christians. My wife, my parents, my siblings, and the vast majority of my friends are all Christians. Could anyone really think it's my core belief that all these people are racist or hate filled or feeble minded? Apparently, someone could, because he reiterated the charge with this qualifier: “I have been on facebook for several years and every post I have seen you make on religion paints believers as somehow less intellectual and capable of free thought as non believers, which is why I did not say those ARE your core beliefs, but rather I said it would seem that way based on the many threads you have posted on facebook.

This is just wrong. It’s demonstrably wrong. If you were to go to my timeline right now and scroll down to yesterday, May 11th, you’d see a video posted by my mother. My mother is very smart. She’s the furthest thing from racist (she majored in history with an emphasis in African American history before the term African American existed). Rather than being filled with hate, she’s devoted her life to sharing the love of Jesus Christ with her congregants as a minister, with her clients as a life coach, and is soon headed off to Egypt to share that same love with the people of Cairo, Egypt. Scroll down to May 3rd, you’d find a post voicing my agreement with a quote from Barack Obama. Barack Obama is a Christian. He’s certainly intelligent. Nothing he’s ever said has ever struck me as hate-filled. Nor is he a racist. Back on April 28th there’s a video of my son Noah performing with one of my students, named Dean. On April 21st there’s a link to an article by Edward Norton. On April 19th there’s a question from my friend Layli. Dean is Mormon. Edward Norton was raised Episcopalian. Layli is not a Christian. She’s a Bahá'í. I include her just to show that I respect people who aren’t Christians, too. (Layli’s not hate-filled, nor racist, and she’s a hell of a lot smarter than I am.)

Christians are tall and short. They are black and white. They are beautiful and ugly, inside and out. They are smart and stupid. The live, as far as I know, in every country in the world, and I’ll bet some of those scientists in Antarctica are Christians, too. There is so much variety among Christians that the only thing they all have in common is the same professed religion, and even that contains a multitude, because being a Christian means very different things to different Christians.

I am under no obligation to note, every time I agree with someone about something, that they are a Christian. “This person makes a good point. Oh, and by the way, she’s a Christian.” “This person said something that is not filled with hate. Oh, and he’s a Christian.” “This guy sure isn’t racist. Oh, and he’s a Christian.” It’s just as ridiculous as it sounds. I rarely write anything about religion on Facebook, but I’m also under no obligation to explain that some Christians are really smart and filled with love and the leaders of the civil rights movement every time I mention the faith. That’s absurd.

I can write about whatever I want. I choose to write about what is important to me. Sometimes that’s NBA basketball. Sometimes it’s politics. Often it’s just a funny thing my son has said. Among the things I write about, I not only feel that I can call out hypocrites, but that that I should. Now, this isn’t a religious imperative. My religion (if agnosticism can be called a religion) does not impose any moral edicts regarding my behavior. I have to choose that for myself. One of my pet-peeves is hypocrisy. I recognize that’s my personal issue. If your religious beliefs excuse hypocrisy, that’s your business. Posts on my blog or Facebook page are only that. Ignore them. But, back when I was a Christian, I was taught that Christianity also frowned on hypocrisy. So, when I see a professed Christian, especially a Christian leader speaking from a position of authority within the church, calling for a war, advocating child abuse, defending torture, or advancing the interests of the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and powerless, I just can’t keep my mouth shut (or keep my fingers from doin’ the walkin’). 

Maybe that’s wrong. Maybe, since I’m not a Christian, it’s not my place to criticize. But, from where I’m sitting, too few Christians are taking Jesus’ advice to expel unrepentant people from the church. “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15-17, NRSV). To me, it seems that some churches are reasonably faithful about this when it came to some kinds of sexual immorality, fraud, and some other infractions. However, when leaders advocate for violence, hatred, or oppression in other forms, this is accepted as a political difference of opinion, or an alternate interpretation of scripture. Even that is their business. I don’t have a vested interest in who Christians choose to include within their body. But when one of these Christians tries to influence public policy outside the church, using, in part, the authority provided by his or her association with the church, if the church can’t stand up for itself and kick this person out, it falls on people outside the church to say, “This person’s behavior is hurtful to people outside the church. If that alone is not enough to motivate his congregation to act, maybe the hypocrisy of his actions will be enough to motivate them to disassociate themselves from him.” Alternately, the demonstration of that hypocrisy to others outside the church compromises the hypocrite’s claim that their authority comes from that church. It undermines his political capital. I wish pointing out that a Christian is being hurtful to his/her neighbor were enough. It isn’t. Luckily, Jesus told his followers to love their neighbors, so when one is being cruel to his neighbors, or even being dismissive of the needs of the poor, the prisoner, or the oppressed, if he calls himself a follower of Christ, that meets the test for hypocrisy, too. Thanks for that, Jesus. Nicely done.

So, for pointing out the hypocrisy of some Christians (who, I believe, real Christians should expel from their midst), I am accused of “seeming” to express a core belief that all Christians are feeble-minded, racist, and hate-filled. This really has nothing to do with Christianity at all. It has to do with lazy reading. I never wrote such a thing or insinuated it. But here’s the irony that is so galling. My lack-of-religion doesn’t prevent me from making false accusations. If I wanted to read something into someone’s writing, come to a conclusion without being able to support it with any evidence, and then make wild accusations, I could. I’m not sure if there are any gods who exist, let alone care. Then, if someone called me on it, I could double-down and say, “Well, that’s just the way it seemed to me.” I wouldn’t be compelled by any scripture or divinity to offer an apology for the pain I’d caused. I choose not to do that because that’s not the kind of person I’ve chosen to be. In the past I’ve made cracks about conservatives and Republicans that were too broad. (I’ve never made these cracks about Christians, and “conservative” and “Christian” are not interchangeable terms.) When I realized I’d offended people, I went back and apologized. As an agnostic, I don’t have to do that. But this Christian relative of mine has, according to his own religion, sinned against me. He has borne false witness. I reserve the right to call out that kind of hypocrisy. 

That’s not a knock on all Christians. Just this one.

1 comment:

Benjamin Gorman said...

For the record, he sincerely apologized, and I sincerely accepted his apology.