The Hateful Faith

Growing up as a church kid in the 80s & 90s, I’m aware there are aspects of my youth most would consider abnormal. I’m OK with that. I have come to terms with the weirdness of my evangelical roots. Even though I’ve flown away from the nest, it’s still the beast who raised me.

While rote memorization of scripture is common in many religious communities, mine focused on recalling a select few verses stripped of context and prioritized word for word accuracy over a thorough understanding and the complete text. One of those verses came from the gospel of Matthew: “You will be hated by everyone because of me but the one who stands firm until the end will be saved.”

Unfortunately, like many other things, the focus on this verse was dumbed down and twisted. Many of my youth group peers interpreted it to mean “People hate us because we’re Christians. If people don’t like us, it’s because we’re right!” Rather than using this as a command to relax when mistreated, it became a self fulfilling prophecy. We can see it happening today: Christians who are hostile and rude to nonbelievers then celebrate victory when their vitriol is returned with anger.

“Hah!” They say. “I told you so. See, they hate us because we’re Christians.”

It’s as if those church kids I grew up with wanted their struggle to be against flesh and blood because it’s more tangible than the spiritual forces of evil in heavenly realms described in scripture. I used to hang out with guys who wanted a little more physical combat in their metaphysical spiritual warfare.

By the time I was in high school, I was prepared with years of reminders - they’re going to hate you. I was fully prepared for my non-Christian classmates to treat me like shit because I believed in Jesus.

Then something unexpected happened. The people who supported my faith the most were people that didn’t share my faith. Instead of hating me because I was a Christian, they were accepting of me, as I was, Christianity included.

Against all logic, those who hurt me most were people who supposedly shared my faith. I was never truly welcomed or accepted in my youth group. There, I was a weirdo, the outcast, the last one picked, the often picked on. The churches who taught me we were strangers and aliens in this world made me feel like an alien among them. Those who claimed the banner of Christ acting so unlike Christ.

Being a teenager is confusing for most everyone - my church home made those years even more perplexing for me. I was loved and respected by people who were supposed to hate me, but mistreated by the spiritual family who should have been my safe place.

I still believe following Christ is following an idea that miracles happen. My continuing faith in God is a true miracle as life has given me every reason to run the opposite direction. It’s for this reason I understand how and why anyone else makes that choice.

This has been the heart and soul of my deconstruction. How do I continue to love a God served by the same folks who have wounded me so deeply? How to I practice my faith when those who taught it to me act contrary to the doctrines they gave me? How do I heal from the wounds inflicted by people who should have loved me unconditionally? None of it makes sense yet I’m convinced answers are out there.

Some things never change. 25 years after graduating high school, the harshest and most hateful treatment I receive still comes from Christians. These people tell me to follow Jesus, and when I say I am, they reply “No, not like that.” These people trained me to love my neighbor but constantly remind me which neighbors they don’t love. They instructed me to act humbly while they pursued power. If I say “I love God,” they reply “No you don’t.” I tell them I’m leaving toxic communities and they respond with toxic behavior.

I get it. Deconstruction is the evangelical boogie man du jour. Celebrity pastors (a thing that should not be) rant about it being “sexy” or demonic. Even Christian musicians rant against deconstruction between songs. Speaking of which, when did John Cooper (of Skillet) stop preaching the gospel and become an asshole for Jesus?

These people cause so much pain, division, strife. Yet, if I take my faith seriously, I’m supposed to love them too. I’m obligated to love the friends, coworkers, acquaintances, and former mentors who curse, ridicule, and condemn me. I don’t know of any way to do that except love them from a distance.

My original plan for this blog post was to wrap it up with an observation about the anger and madness demonstrated by Christians in the public square of media and politics. The odium they display doesn’t surprise me because I’ve experienced their ire my entire life. If Jesus told his followers to prove their discipleship through their love for one another, the hateful behavior of mainline evangelicals is anti-Christ. That’s how I thought this post would end. Then something funny happened.

These days, it takes me a couple weeks to compose a blog entry. Writing the first draft, revisions and re-writes, grammatical editing, beta reads and feedback, a final round of corrections and adaptation, finally the selection and formatting of imagery - all before I click the publish button. Somewhere in the middle of this process, I managed to ruffle some feathers on social media because I shared a quote from a Lutheran minister. Predictably, it was my church friends who were most offended. Here’s the quote:

One of the hateful faithful is a former coworker and ex-Mormon. She felt it was her religious duty to rebuke me, condemn me, and eventually unfriend me. The weirdest part of the exchange is how her arguments against me were all built on false assumptions. She kept leveling accusations against me with no basis in anything I said or posted. Those claims she made include the following:
• That I’m violating scripture because I’ve given up meeting with other Christians.
• That I’m ignoring what God is telling me to do.
• That scripture is absolutely worthless to me.
• That I think the church is all bad.
• That scripture has nothing to do with my decisions or ideology.
• That I’m creating God in my own image.
• That I’m looking for the world’s approval.
• That I’m playing the victim.
• That I’m being led by feelings and bad theology.
• That I claim to have access to a higher spiritual plane no one else can reach.
• That my god is myself and my opinions.
• That I’m a part of a cult.

Her crusade against me is as meaningless as it is invalid. But that’s OK, she’s free to believe whatever she wants about me. The timing of her attacks were peculiar though considering I was in the middle of writing a blog about her kind of Christianity. Without realizing the irony of her own behavior, she was proving why I posted what I posted. The Bible told me I would be reviled because I follow Christ and so far, it hasn’t been wrong - even if the hatred is coming from other Christians like my former friend.

What’s the point of all of this? Well, if you tell me you feel like Christians hate you, it’s OK - they hate me too. If you don’t want anything to do with the institutions who claim to be followers of Jesus while acting nothing like Jesus, I get it. Me too. You’re not alone and I believe in a God who loves you even if their followers don’t. And no matter what people think of me or my theology, I will chose to love when everyone else chooses the opposite.


Life, Liberty, and They’ll Never Take Our Freedom

Earlier this week, we in The United States of America celebrated a holiday indulging the pursuit of beer, brats, and things that go boom in the name of ‘Merica and freedom. Some called it the 4th of July and others called it Monday. My British friends call it Treason Day, but its official name is Independence Day.

After the seemingly unending string of mass shootings, controversial Supreme Court decisions, financial struggles of hyper-inflation, and revelations from the January 6 hearings, I know a lot of people who aren’t feeling patriotic. These events and emotions they stir make honoring the most patriotic of all holidays complicated. I had friends boycott it - not going anywhere or spending any money, no barbecues or fireworks. For those friends, I get it. Other friends decided to trudge on, not allowing the dismal state of our union to derail their traditions. They’ve always blown shit up (often with contraband purchased on reservations and ignited in placed banned by local governments) and will continue to do so. For these friends, I also understand.

This is not an easy era as we’re watching the events of future history books unfolding in real time. Being an American is convoluted right now. Actually, being a human in any nation is messy on its own, but the special mix of jingoism, xenophobia, faux patriotism, oligarchy, religious extremism, and the downward slide into fascism muddies the human experience even more. When it comes to holiday observance, I won’t judge anyone for their revelry or abstinence because there’s a lot of emotion and conflict going into these decisions. I also know it’s possible to be a proud American while being angry about what’s happening in America.

With these mixed sentiments in mind, I sat down Monday morning, opened Twitter, and shared my long winded thoughts which are far too verbose for the character limit of their typical constraints. I had some thoughts about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness which needed to be shared. The result was a tweet storm of my own bullet pointed design. These are those thoughts.

1. Freedom isn’t free. There are soldiers who died for it in war. And there are civilians who have died for it in protest. Freedom always comes with a price tag. In America, our freedom was built on the backs of slave labor and broken treaties with indigenous peoples. The scars of these sins are long and terrible, in some ways they still haven’t healed. The reward of freedom depends on what you’re willing to pay. Healing requires acknowledgement and repair. If ignorance or denial of history is your worthless payment, the rewarded freedom will be shallow and superficial.

2. Freedom isn’t universally applied. It seems easy if you’re a straight white Christian male like me. But that’s a vacant freedom. I might be free but what about others? Misogyny is liberty for men but oppression for women. Racism is liberty for the majority demographic but oppression for people of color. Homophobia is liberty for cis people but oppression for the queer community. Capitalism is liberty for the wealthy but oppression of those burdened by poverty. Christian nationalism is liberty for evangelicals but oppression of Muslims, atheists, Buddhists, or anyone of other faiths. How dare I celebrate a freedom not awarded to people I love unless I’m willing to fight for their freedoms too?

3. Freedom is not uniquely American. I’m aware my friends in the UK, Scandinavia, France, Germany, Italy, Australia, South Africa, Costa Rica, and Japan experience freedom too. Even under different forms of government and tax structures, freedom exists outside of the United States. Sure some foreign laws might be more restrictive than in the US, but some of their laws are more permissive. American exceptionalism isn’t patriotic. It’s not even free. It’s a lie and it’s arrogant.

4. Freedom isn’t the liberty to do whatever you want; it’s the ability to do justice when necessary. Sometimes, doing the right thing comes at the cost of self sacrifice. This concept should be familiar to soldiers, first responders, doctors, nurses, and anyone who has ran toward danger to save someone else in peril. Sacrificing my own freedoms for the benefit of others makes me freer. I’m grateful I live in a country that allows me to advocate for underprivileged and underrepresented communities. I might lose friends for taking a stand for equality (wouldn’t be the first time) or piss off people who love maintaining the status quo, but my government can’t stop me. I will be loud when it comes to Pride, anti-racism, neurodivergence, and deconstruction and don’t care if it means you respect me less. That’s the true cost of freedom.

5. Freedom cannot be promised by the temporary. Empires rise and empires fall. As much as I don’t want to live anywhere other than the USA, I’m fully aware this nation could easily crumble. If my hope for freedom rests in the hands of my nationality, then what am I to do if my government restricts my freedoms? Or if my country descends into civil war? Or if my homeland is invaded by a foreign enemy? I do not find freedom in America, I find it in Christ. This is a freedom I believe is available for anyone. From Communist China, to the war-torn Middle East, to favelas in Brazil. I’ve had the liberty to choose this freedom and I know not everyone will make the same choice. Forcing my beliefs on others isn’t freedom either. That’s tyranny. Unfortunately, this is the direction I see America heading. It might be nice for the rich & powerful, but it’s hell for my African American friends, for my brothers and sisters in the LGBT community, for many women I respect & admire, and for people who struggle with mental health.

I love being an American. But I also grieve for America. All these cosplaytriots, MAGA warriors, and religious right extremists are destroying the country I love. They have hijacked my faith to destroy my nation. They’ve hijacked my country to warp my religion. Every day I pray for this madness to end. This is why I am who I am. The scriptures I read says faith without works is dead. Because of that, I cannot rest in the security of my freedoms. I am obligated to support and fight for the least of these. It is my duty to speak up for the voiceless.

My freedom is a commitment. I will not shut up until the American promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is afforded to all of my fellow Americans, including those who don’t share my religious beliefs, skin tone, gender, or sexuality.