How to Know if You’re Being Terrible

I come bearing good news: You’re wrong about the world. Everything is fine.

Bad people are a myth. They simply do not exist. Seriously.

There are no racists in the world.

Not the white woman who recently trolled my page to call President Obama a “knuckle dragger,” or the folks leaving nooses at the African-American History museum, or those justifying unarmed black men’s executions during traffic stops, or those tossing around the N-word like frisbees. Their comments are all being misconstrued and their motives being twisted.

They don’t hate anyone—so people of color, you can all rest easy now.

There are no homophobic Christians.

While they compare a stranger’s sexual orientation to child molestation, or scream about the dangers lurking in bathroom stalls, or try to take away a stranger’s rights to marry or adopt children or serve in churches—they claim not to fear or hate anyone, but simply to be Godly, Bible believing people being faithful to their religious imperative.

See, LGBTQ people, you’ve got them pegged all wrong—so drop the persecution complex.

There are no misogynists.

The men who raise their hands against their spouses, who ogle and catcall strangers jogging by, who coerce classmates into sex, who comment on a female politician’s appearance, sexual activity, or menstrual cycle—they’re all just decent guys who have no issues with women.

Ladies, you’re simply being overly emotional, which is your way. Relax.

There are no hateful bigots.

They may broker in the most vile and lazy of stereotypes against those who do not share their religion, skin color, or native language; and they may scream obscenities at strangers on city buses or deface Mosques or toss of slurs around on social media—but they’re not violent, intolerant terrorists.

You Muslim Americans and immigrants really need to stop being so damn sensitive.

Apparently we’re all wonderful here and everything is sunshine and Skittles.

We’re all good, decent, loving people who neither discriminate nor hate—just ask us.

None of us are irrationally fearful or excessively violent, and we certainly don’t actively harm people. 

The numbers are astounding. I’ve been a minister in the local church for twenty years living alongside thousands of families, and I’ve crossed paths with tens of millions of people here through this forum. In all that time, in literally hundreds of thousands of interactions with people of every possible demographic; across all lines of religion and race and life stage—I have met exactly zero hateful people (at least not in their own heads.)

No one has ever openly confessed to homophobia or racism or misogyny or bigotry. In fact, each has gone to great lengths to vehemently (and ironically sometimes violently) defend themselves from such allegations and suggestions. Not one of them has never been one of “those bad people” they claim are out there.

And this is the rub: we all believe ourselves to be models of humanity, no matter how inhumanely we treat people, no matter how others experience our lives, no matter how much people tell us we’ve damaged them. We are all reticent to own any of it.

Every religious person believes God consents to whatever they’re doing to people in the name of God, no matter how terrible it might feel to someone else. They can justify it with a text or somehow rationalize it as godly.

No men would ever characterize their behavior toward women as criminal; never owning harassment or misogyny—and certainly never sexual assault of any kind.

Every person with a gun sees themselves as a “good guy with a gun;” one whose judgment is sound and whose cause is righteous. None of them are vigilantes or cowboys or bullies.

No white person ever admits to hating anyone simply for the color of their skin, always ready with a laundry list of reasons why they’re not the clinical definition of a racist.

No parent is abusive, no spouse predatory, no man or woman unjustly intolerant of difference.

Someone has to be wrong here.

Either millions of supposed victims of hate crimes are mistaken, and they haven’t actually been the targets of unspeakable violence done to them based on their gender or their religion or their skin color or their nation of origin—or millions more of us are actually sometimes as vile as people claim we are.

So here’s the best advice I can give you if you’re wondering whether or not you’re being terrible: don’t trust you, alone.

Yes, you may have a good heart and you may be misunderstood and you might not be a malevolent monster—but every person believes this about themselves so you really can’t be sure. That’s why they call them blind spots.

Ultimately you need to do something that can be extremely difficult: Listen to other people.

When they suggest you might be guilty of doing some of the things that harmful people do, resist the knee-jerk desire to defend yourself. Sift every person’s words for truth, even if that truth feels as abhorrent to you as anything you could imagine. And even if you come to the conclusion that someone’s evaluation of your motives is wrong—realize that this is how they are experiencing you. This matters.

Christians, if an LGBTQ person tells you they feel victimized by your faith expression, this is how they feel. If you’re truly a follower of Jesus, your burden to love them as yourself will be as profound as any you have. If a Transgender woman or a gay man tells you that they’re not feeling loved by you, you don’t get to argue that they don’t—you get to figure out how to make them feel loved.

White friends, if a person of color suggests that your words are revealing a hidden area of prejudice or that these words are damaging to them—they likely are. The answer when someone in a marginalized community tells you that you might have unresolved racial issues, is not to dig your heels in and double down in defense, it’s to speak less and listen more.

And on and on and on…

The point in any of our difficult, painful interactions with people, is not to prove that we are right and they’re wrong. It’s to realize that if our lives are hurtful to them—we’re not yet as right as we need to be.

We haven’t yet figured out how to be as good and decent and loving as we want to believe we are.

We all have work to do to be less terrible.

We should do that work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How The Christian Right Turned the Good News into Fake News

The bullhorn-wielding sign wavers and pulpit-pounding preachers are right: Jesus condemned many things in the Bible.

He condemned those who neglected the poor and the marginalized.
He condemned those who leveraged their religion for financial gain.
He condemned the religious hypocrites who spoke of loving God while having toxic hearts.
He condemned spiritual leaders who spread a cancerous religion to others.

He condemned people with a facade of piety concealing their hidden sickness. 

Jesus pulled no punches with those who would broadcast their faith loudly while doing great damage in the world to its most vulnerable—but curiously the bullhorn-wielding sign wavers and pulpit-pounding preachers won’t ever mention those things. 

Over and over in the Gospels, Jesus reiterates that those who would bear his name, would be fierce protectors of the poor, they would be sacrificial in their giving, they would be deeply burdened to serve, they would be marked by a palpable love for humanity. 

There are literally hundreds of times in the Bible when Jesus calls out the power-hungry, money loving charlatans who feigned faithfulness, while warning good people to be wary of them—and where he maps out a benevolent, gentle, humble life for his followers.

And do you know how many times in the Bible Jesus condemned, lectured, or threatened anyone based on their gender identity or sexual orientation?

Zero times.

Never.

Ever.

This is revelatory when you pay attention at what the professed people of God on the far Right are doing right now in America; the false narrative they’re trying to write for Jesus and his followers.

Republican Christians and Conservative Evangelical preachers would have you believe the opposite of the Biblical accounts of his life is actually true. They would have you believe that Jesus was clearly, repeatedly, and vehemently critical of LGBTQ people (when in reality he was completely silent on such matters)—and that defending the welfare of the sick and the poor and the vulnerable were never a concern (when such commands are frequent and unavoidable).

This manipulation of information is how self-righteous sociopaths sleep at night.
It’s how they make peace with the disfigured Savior and distorted religion they’ve created.
It’s the only way they can explain their contempt for the very people Jesus spent his days advocating for—how they can justify rewriting the Gospels and fashioning a God in their own bitter, greedy, homophobic image.
It’s how they turn the Good News into fake news, making something beautiful into a weapon, how they crafted exclusion out of invitation.

This inverted religion allows them to simultaneously craft legislation leaving millions without healthcare, to forever cast the LGBTQ as encroaching demons needing to be eradicated—and to claim to be emulating Jesus through it all. Never mind that the preponderance of the Biblical evidence flies fully in their faces. If we are to use the actual words of Jesus recorded in the Gospels—then these Christians are the threat he spent his days warning people about.

You can’t say you’re a “Biblical Christian,” if you ignore the lion’s share of his commands about caring for the least and welcoming the outcast and sheltering the endangered and feeding the hungry. You can’t disregard his incessant appeals to compassion and mercy and kindness, while kicking poor people to the curb and persecuting a group of people he never gave you permission to persecute. This is merely retrofitting Jesus to your politics and prejudices.

These people are welcome to want to take away healthcare from the sick and the elderly, and they’re free to bully the LGBTQ community—but they can’t do either in the name of Jesus, at least not if they’re going to use his life and ministry as their justification. They both argue vehemently in opposition.

So the bullhorn-wielding sign wavers and pulpit-pounding preachers can call it whatever they want: preference or fear or the need to be horrible, but they can’t call it Christianity. 

Jesus won’t permit it.

 

 

Where Have So Many White Christians Gone?

You’d have thought November 9th, 2016 actually was the date of the Rapture.

In the twinkling of an eye, millions of Christians (most of them white) seemingly disappeared that day or they began hiding really, really well—like, Federal Witness Protection Program, well.

I immediately noticed it in my social media timelines. Friends I’d spent a hundred Sundays with in churches where I’d served or met along the way, began vanishing one by one. These were people I’d come to see as family (or actually were family), people I’d believed loved God and their neighbors as themselves, people who made me proud to be called a Christian. 

The more I spoke, the more quiet they became. The louder I got, the more they withdrew.

As I pushed back against Muslim bans and racist Cabinet appointments and reckless environmental policies and blatant corruption and ghoulish healthcare proposals—many simply silently disconnected, unceremoniously unfriending or blocking me. Others would also sever ties, but not without first letting me know how disappointed they were in me, how much I’ve changed—and above all how much they were praying for me.

We’d elected an incompetent, immoral monster to lead our nation, one who’s trampled on nearly every marginalized community and every sacred inch of our Constitution and bastardized our shared faith tradition—but I was the problem they were having. My volume was an issue. That was unnerving to them. That was a moral quandary. Chastising me was the one bit of activism they could muster up.

But perhaps more confounding than those white Christian friends who disappeared into the ether or left flipping me the bird, are the ones who have said and done nothing; those who stayed and simply chose to pretend everything is fine, those whose advantages allowed them to retreat back into their normal lives, seemingly unaffected by anything happening in our country. 

Rather than debate current events or wrestle with tension they’ve created in our country, these folks resumed doing just what they’d done before: posting cute pictures of their kids, sharing Scripture quotes, and posting recipes for blueberry cobbler. In other words: they stepped safely back into the gated spiritual community of their oblivious privilege—and they don’t seem particularly interested in coming back out no matter how much it hits the fan outside. 

I don’t blame them. I’ve been there. It’s pretty cozy there:
There, following Jesus doesn’t require any significant change.
There, you can pass the buck to God for people’s healthcare.

There, people of color are doing just fine, as long as a few attend your church.
There, Transgender teens and Muslim women and young black men aren’t really suffering.
There, it’s Kumbaya and All Lives Matter and America First and Jesus saves.
There, you can receive absolution with an hour on Sunday for apathy the rest of the week.

Since November, some of the boldest and loudest people of faith I’ve ever known have come down with laryngitis and feet of clay. They’ve grown silent. They’ve become invisible. Sure, they’ll still talk about Jesus in general terms, but not about how this Jesus would respond to travel bans and police shootings and Medicaid cuts and military budgets. That kind of mess is too inconvenient to step into, too political, too divisive.

For a while I held out hope that something would come and rile them from their silence—but that’s nearly exhausted. I’m not sure there’s anything that could move them anymore. Once those compassion muscles fully atrophy it’s really difficult to get them going again.
I’m through holding my breath waiting for them to come back and actually give half a damn about those who are at the end of their collective ropes right now. I’ll give the damns that they don’t and partner with other damn-givers, whether they’re Christian or not. (Many of them are, which is encouraging.)
I’ve stopped asking them to tell me what they care about, because the list seems pretty short. It doesn’t seem to extend far beyond their house or their church—and definitely not beyond our borders.
Most of all I’ve stopped trying to connect the dots between the Jesus of the Bible who they claim to love and serve—and their disinterest with the poor and the sick and the people on the margins—because it’s a futile exercise. They don’t connect.

I’ll see many of these invisible white Christians soon enough, though. I live in the Bible Belt, and Sunday’s coming. They will emerge from their 6-day slumber and they’ll fill the church buildings dotting every block of our town. They’ll do social media church check-ins and talk about “gettin’ their worship on”. There, they’ll hear their pastors speak about love and salvation, without once mentioning Philando Castile or Nabra Hassanen. They’ll sing and pray for an hour, some of them genuinely momentarily moved. Then they’ll head to their favorite restaurant down the street, never once wondering how anyone back in the kitchen is holding up right now with talk of building walls and ICE raids and canceling health insurance. 

As long as I live, I don’t think I’ll ever understand how so many white people of Jesus suddenly disappeared, just when the world he cared about most needed them to be visible.

I wonder if they realize that to so many who are deeply wounded and terribly frightened right now—Jesus has disappeared along with them.

 

 

The Church That is Making People Homeless

Every day I meet more and more homeless people.

It isn’t that these men and women are without a physical place to dwell, it’s that they have found themselves internally displaced. 

Presently in their spiritual journey, they’ve arrived at a spot where they realize, often with tremendous grief and a fair bit of denial—that they no longer belong where they once did. They no longer fit in American Christianity. Once fully secured there, they are now frightened refugees desperately trying to escape what their religion has become.

They may have become unwilling prodigals, forced to the periphery by the judgment and coldness of other believers.
They might have become estranged by the growing distance between themselves and those also claiming to be Christian.
Perhaps they’ve been gripped by the knowledge that they can no longer be the most authentic version of themselves in their spiritual communities.
Or maybe the election showed them a Church and a Christianity that they couldn’t recognize Jesus in any more.

Whatever the reason, these orphaned souls have lost the sense of belonging and safety they used to feel in their religious tradition or faith community—and the existential homelessness of it all is terrifying.

My Christian faith used to be home for me. For nearly twenty years, the Church was the place I felt most connected to the world and most alive in it. There in a local church and as part of the bigger global Christian community I found affinity and connection and kinship. My religion was a place of respite and shelter in the tempest, a place to pause and to breathe.

This is after all, what home is. More than merely a geographic spot on the map or a building we find ourselves in—home is an internal condition, a feeling. When we’re there, we can be exactly who we are without alteration. There in the space where we are fully seen and fully known, in the presence of those we don’t have to earn approval from or deserve proximity with—we can exhale. We can rest. Many people are exhausted right now because they no longer feel at home in the families or marriages, in their churches or faith tradition, or even in their country. Everything is laborious and tiring.

Recently, my dear friend Christy called me. Sharing the story of the last few turbulent months of her life, she echoed the hearts of so many people of faith I speak with.

“I’ve seen things I didn’t want to see, and just I can’t go back there. I have no place to go now,” she said as her voice cracked. “I don’t belong anywhere.”

This is familiar ground for millions of people right now—feeling like aliens wherever they place their feet, feeling emotionally unsettled.

It’s difficult to admit the sense of homelessness I feel regarding the faith of my childhood and the devastating loss that comes with it. It hasn’t happened in a loud, cataclysmic instant, but in a million small revelations, nagging questions, and uneasy feelings that all finally became too much to ignore. Slowly but most certainly I found myself outside.

That’s not to say I don’t still have a glowing ember of belief still tucked away somewhere in the center of my chest. That’s the problem: I do. It’s just that now I’m trying to figure out how to nurture it outside the religion of my younger days. I’m wondering if I will ever have the sense of belonging or shared purpose I had there. 

Maybe organized Christianity will never be home for me again. Given what it looks like right now, I’m more and more okay with that. It could be that from now on I am destined to be a sojourner who travels lightly and moves often. Maybe that’s how this was always supposed to be anyway. Maybe that’s the point: that this is all far too big for a building.

If you’re feeling displaced from the religion of your past, that may be a good thing.

If it feels like the Church is pushing you outside, go there.

What feels like homelessness might actually be freedom.

Maybe that wide, expansive space that cannot be contained or fenced in—is home.