In a Culture of Systemic Bigotry Part 1: What’s Wrong?

Since November, I’ve been feeling unsettled. Uncomfortable. Disgusted. I observed the surge of hate crimes, read news reports and personal statements from those targeted by Trump supporters. I realize why some people would vote for him. While I don’t agree with their opinions, I do understand their motivations. Now, with Donald Trump in the White House, I feel helpless. Most of my despair is from seeing the actions of those who share my faith. It doesn’t bother me that Christians voted for him; what does disturb me is how many Christians gleefully supported and embraced Trump's hateful rhetoric. I am dumbfounded by how willingly they overlooked his moral failures.

I couldn’t fully explain why I felt like this. Then, on a podcast, I heard Richard Rohr give perfect voice to the reason behind my emotional frustrations. He said,

“We’ve idealized a certain kind of middle class order as if it’s Christianity and we’ve always done that. We’ve taken normalcy or the dominant consciousness in any country and we’ve sorta baptized that. ‘Well, that’s what it means to be a Christian.’ It has very little patience with anybody that doesn’t fit in that model - which ends up being most of the world. That’s the irony. By far, most of the world. One of the wonderful things I see in millennials is they’re less and less patient with any religion that defines itself by exclusion. Afraid this is the great humiliation that we Christians have to suffer: that this is how most of the world sees us. Catholic or Protestant, evangelical, we’re a religion preoccupied not with inclusion. That’s all you see in Jesus. He’s always going outside of his own group. How do we miss what’s in plain sight? At this point, it’s culpable ignorance. Culpable. For people to say they love the bible, and they believe in the Gospels, and read the scriptures … how do people preach on this text and not see what is hidden in plain sight? That again, Jesus is praising the Samaritan, Syro-Phoenician woman, it’s always the outsider who is the hero of his stories. I shouldn’t even need to say that. It’s everywhere. You’re only able to see what you’re told to pay attention to and we weren’t told to pay attention. You do realize he said the only leper who came back and thanked him was a Samaritan. That’s to insult his Jewish compatriots. If the other nine were good Jews, they also got healed but they never had the decency to say thank you. It’s story after story. I think culture really teaches us more than religion and there’s an opening in culture right now – for all of its failings and all of its addictions and all of its blindness, there’s a dis ease with the tribalism that most of us were raised in.”

As an American raised in the Christian church, it’s often easy for me to forget about the diversity of the Christian faith. Sure, visits from over-seas missionaries occasionally remind us of how they minister to homeless kids in India, or impoverished villagers in the Nairobi suburbs, or the secretive churches under communistic rule in China, or bringing clean water and medical help to isolated regions of Latin America. But there is an arrogance within Americanized Christianity that wraps itself in patriotism and assumes a special privilege with God unique to our nation. We view these Christians in other countries as lesser people because we falsely believe God’s covenant is with the USA. Lucky us.

After generations of jingoism, increasingly isolationist attitudes, and the embrace of American exceptionalism, the American church is looking less and less like God’s people, and more like enemies of God. We have built an empire; becoming oppressors instead of the oppressed. To maintain our power and status, we bought into the us-versus-them mentality. Unfortunately, in the United States, the church is frequently a place of exclusion.

Rohr’s words have stuck with me. I’ve always had a heart for outsiders. For most of my life I’ve been one. The freaks and geeks are my people. They’re my tribe. Historically, Christians in America have had little patience for people like me and even less tolerance for friends of mine. When I open my Bible, over and over I see a God who loves weird people. I see a God who elevates the brokenhearted, the outcast, and the tragically flawed. I see a God who makes space for people that don’t fit in. Even Jesus’ twelve disciples where a bunch of misfits.

This is why I’m unsettled by Trump’s implausible rise to the presidency. Because the people who say they love the Bible’s instruction to be faithful to one wife have embraced a thrice married serial adulterer. The people who claim to love the Bible’s warnings against pride have celebrated Trump's brand of loudmouthed arrogance. The people who supposedly love the Bible’s command to be honest have made excuses for Trump’s blatant and constant lies, and his administration’s alternative facts. The people who should love the Bible’s call to care for the fatherless, the widow, and the immigrant no longer give a damn about foster kids, single moms, and refugees. The people who believe in the Bible’s promise to reward holiness have lauded godlessness in exchange for control.

If this is what the church in America is going to become, then I’m not OK. I want out. The church in the Bible honored women and eunuchs. The church in the Bible welcomed those abandoned by tradition. The church in the Bible was home to those who had nowhere else to go. They gave voice to the powerless. That is the kind of church I want to see revived again.

Give me a church that embraces the outsider even if that outsider is a Muslim. Give me a church that loves the outcast even if that outcast has gauged ears, purple hair, and skin covered in ink. Give me a church that provides hope for the hopeless, even if they are gay. Give me a church that relentlessly cares for those who feel like no one else is interested. Give me a church that celebrates diversity from small farming communities to urban centers, who sees beauty in all genders and nationalities, who sees joy in the least of these. Give me a church that will stand in the gap when our government seeks to divide us further.

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