I Don’t Care Why You Still Support This President

I care deeply about people.

My efficacy and usefulness as a pastor and caregiver (and as a decent member of humanity), is predicated on knowing how people’s hearts work, the way they think, how they respond to fear, what motivates and hurts them. Understanding human beings is my life’s work. It is the work of every one of us striving for empathy regardless of profession or placement.

There are times though, when people’s actions are so profoundly damaging to others, that asking why isn’t the most pressing question; moments when to belabor that question would be irresponsible to those at risk. When you come upon someone in the street inflicting violence on another human being, your first priority is to provide care for the injured, to protect others by moving them out of harm’s way, and to stop the violent act in progress. Only then is seeking to understand the motivations of the aggressor helpful. Only then do you ask, “Why would someone do this?” In the middle of the fray, when people are in danger—there isn’t time.

People are in danger, in these moments.

Right now I’m not interested in knowing why those who still support this President do so, not because they don’t matter or I don’t see their worth or because their stories are of no interest to me—but simply because other people’s lives and families and personal safety are in the balance—and those people merit my attention and urgency. The Jesus of my faith tradition was a shepherd. Yes he cared for the sheep, but he had to pushback hard against the wolves of the world to do it.

Talking to embittered people right now and trying to understand their motivations may help explain the rationale for their destructive choices, but it does nothing to protect those affected by their choices, those who don’t have the luxury of waiting around for an answer, those who don’t have the privilege of time.

And so in these moments, rather than trying to understand why someone would possibly advocate to take away a sick person’s healthcare—I am going to fight on behalf of the sick person and demand that all people be cared for under the laws of this land.

Rather than asking why someone would want to take away an LGBTQ person’s right to marry or why they’d want to make them feel unwelcome in their church or to feel threatened in a bathroom—I’m going to loudly affirm their right to love and worship and urinate as they desire.

Instead of trying crack the complex code that drives someone to persecute peaceful Muslims simply for pursuing their chosen faith tradition—I’m going to stand with Muslims and declare their inherent worth and the beauty of their spirituality.

Rather than trying to help you process why saying “Black lives matter” is such a hardship to you and the implications of your refusal—I’m going to go ahead and tell you that they matter to me.

And so it isn’t that I don’t respect those doing these things, or that their hearts and their fears and their motivations and hurts don’t matter—believe me they do. It’s just that right now, there are more urgent needs: rescuing imperiled people from the fruit of their bad decisions and the fallout of their malicious choices.

In these moments, I’m not really interested in whatever toxic cocktail of bad theology, fear, life experience, nationalism, and personality that have created their responses—as I am helping people who are made vulnerable by their responses. I’d like to uncover and care for the heart of the bully, but in this hour I need to defend the bodies and souls of the bullied.

So with all due respect, if you’re still supporting this hateful, reckless, malignant President, and still applauding and blessing the actions that cause incredible harm to millions of Americans—I’m not particularly interested in figuring out why you’re doing that today. One day I will, but right now I’d rather make sure people don’t die because they get cancer, or commit suicide because they feel unloved, or are forced from a country they love and deserve to live in. 

Yes, if you support this President and the sickness he’s spreading I’d really like to one day understand you, but on behalf of those so endangered because of them—first I want to stop the bleeding.

Eugene Peterson, LifeWay—and the Big, Green God of American Christianity

A lot can change in a day…

Last week, influential Christian pastor Eugene Peterson came out in support of LGBTQ inclusion and gay marriage. It was a massive tremor in the Christian community and a potential topping point for many in the battle for full LGBTQ rights in the Church.

The next day, renowned Christian bully book chain LifeWay, typically and immediately threatened a ban of all Peterson’s writings, including his hugely successful and popular paraphrase of the Bible called The Message. This has become their go-to response to divergent views.

The same day, Peterson retracted his comments, LifeWay forgave him, and just like that, all was well in the land of Jesus-based capitalism and institutional bigotry that unfortunately much of American Christianity has become.

This was a multi-faceted dagger:

It was a sickening deja vu for the already battered LGBTQ community, who watched another high-profile supporter badgered into silence or reversal by the Christian subculture powers-that-be. 

It was a sad repetition for allies in the Church, who once again witnessed a Christian leader’s LGBTQ support wilt under the pressure of financial or professional damage.

It was same old, same old for the watching world outside organized Christianity, who’ve now come to expect it to always do the wrong thing when it comes to the rights of marginalized communities.

It was yet another reminder to us all, that courage is costly and that many people, even really good people aren’t willing to pay.

We shouldn’t be surprised at LifeWay’s bullying or Peterson’s back-peddling or the LGBTQ-hating Christians’ shouts of “Hallelujah” right now. Jesus told us this would happen. 

The Bible calls it Mammon—the distorted worship of wealth and position that turns religion toxic. Jesus says with complete clarity that one cannot worship this and God simultaneously. He warns that the love of money will pervert the spiritual pursuits of good people, and sadly these days there’s still good money to be made on the backs of the LGBTQ community. Hatred is still big business, especially in the Bible Belt Baptist stronghold of America’s South—where if people can’t get you to align with their theology, they’ll cut you of at the kneecaps by threatening your livelihood. Peterson may not be primarily motivated by this greed and gain—but those who are have surely caused his tragic public change of heart. His reversal speaks more to the motives of those who pressured him into it, than the man himself. There’s something insidious about churches and organizations who turn the screws to voices of dissent or difference and threaten their livelihoods and legacies.

What’s unfolded since his initial support is the worst kind of religious dog-and-pony show. No one actually believes that after decades in the public eye, his recent support of the LGBTQ community was actually merely a two-day glitch, a momentary error in judgment, or a simple misquoting. (Peterson has been rumored to have made similar LGBTQ-affirming statements off the record at seminars and retreats for years.) I don’t even think the people at LifeWay believe that either, but there’s gold to be mined here—and so authenticity and truth are of little concern to them or to their Christian brethren.

Neither apparently, is the irreparable damage that’s been done to the LGBTQ community this week; those who serve faithfully in churches throughout this country, those who regularly fill the pews of congregations, the teens whose suicide rates are exponentially higher than their cis-heterosexual counterparts, those seeking God and being once again told that they are less-than loved, less than worthy of the good things of this life. Every bit of suffering such events manufacture for so many families, doesn’t seem to matter to these Mammon-lovers—the violence it consents to, the enmity it brings to faith communities, the message it sends to already hurting and vulnerable communities.

At the end of the day, Eugene Peterson’s reversal has reminded us that far too many American Christians ultimately serve a big green God—and that this seductive paper idol often drives churches and organizations to crush dissenting voices; it turns good, brave men’s feet to clay; it causes Christians to treat people made in the image of God like they’re garbage; it makes already hurting people again feel their inherent worth is up for debate.

I don’t know Eugene Peterson personally, and his writings have been transformational for me. He’s put the Scriptures in a voice that people can easily approach and understand, and by all accounts he seems like a really decent human being whose faith matters greatly to him. Having said that, I’m disgusted by the cowardice of his speedy retreat and the sucker punch to the gut it has been to my LGBTQ friends, who once again are used like piñata by the Christian Right; something to be beaten up for entertainment. He’s going to have to live with whatever the truth is about his personal convictions, and he’s going to have to also carry the weight of his acquiescing—on the lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people whose enemies are now rushing to use him as further justification to be terrible in Jesus’ name.

LifeWay isn’t a person, so it doesn’t have a soul—which is fortunate, because if it did have a soul, I’d tell it to be very worried about it. In the Gospels, Jesus doesn’t once condemn a person for their gender identity or sexuality, but he says a great deal about religious people who sell their souls in order to gain wealth and about those who make life hell for the least of these. He’s not at all okay with them.

In the wake of this disheartening turn of events, I can only reiterate my support for the LGBTQ community; for their full inclusion in the Church, for their right to marry and serve in ministry and to adopt children. I can only keep working to make American Christianity a place of love for everyone.

Meanwhile I’ll lament Eugene Peterson’s public change of heart because of what it says, perhaps not as much about him, as about my faith tradition’s sickness, about the way it has lost the plot, about the pain it causes.

Most of all I’ll grieve the damage still being done to beautiful people, simply trying to walk this planet without having to fear religious people.

To Hell with the big green God. 

 

To the Guys Who “Outed Me” This Week

A few times a week, a stranger (not coincidentally, almost always a Conservative Christian guy), drops into my comments sections and attempts to “out me;” sharing all manner of theories on how my loud and continual support of the LGBTQ community, surely signals some hidden struggle with my own sexuality. (My eyes are in fact, perpetually strained from so regularly rolling them.)

Sometimes these comments are offered as a sort of condescending, self-righteous, “I’m here to help you” religious sermon—other times as a thinly veiled, public mic drop insult, designed to embarrass me.

Yesterday a guy named Manny started off the proceedings:

“John, could it be that you’re in the closet? I’m not being sarcastic, I am being sincere. So could it be that you’re struggling with feelings of same-sex attraction? And if you are, would you ever come out of the closet?”

After an involuntary facepalm, I replied to Manny that historically speaking, those men most outwardly opposed to the LGBTQ community are those in denial about their sexuality—not those who support them. I asked him to do a Google search on the number of Conservative Christian politicians and preachers, who after years of vehement and violent condemnation of the LGBTQ community, had themselves been hiding. People fearful of their truest truth because of their religion’s wrath, usually end up magnifying their guilt and self-hatred in this way—they don’t become vocal champions of causes they know will get them expelled and shunned 

I shared with Manny, that I am unapologetically fully affirming of the LGBTQ community, because I do not view being LGBTQ as a flaw, a moral failure, or a point of embarrassment. I’ve written about loving my children if they came out to me, I’ve openly supported same-sex marriage, I’ve advocated for LGBTQ people in church leadership. So the idea that I’d feel shame over a different sexual orientation is a faulty premise, and quite useless as a dig.

I am not insulted at the insinuation that I might be gay, because I don’t think anyone who is LGBTQ has anything to apologize for or be ashamed of—It’s really pretty simple. 

Then Chuck showed up with some brilliant commentary, offering among other things, his insistence that both Barack Obama and Tim Kaine are gay, as are most men who support the LGBTQ community. He continued…

“It has been my experience that men who go out of their way to support homosexuality, has a vested interest in doing so: they are a member of the “Family”. So given those realities, you could very well be in the closet! Your dilemma would be of course, is how would you break the news to your wife and precious small children. Whenever I see a man going beyond the call of duty in support of homosexuality, I generally think, “yeah, home boy is struggling with something!”

I reminded Chuck that the old oft quoted line is, “Me thinks thou doth protest too much”, not, “Me thinks thou doth support too much”—but I don’t think he quite got it. 

The idea that in order to support a community a cause, you must be secretly a part of that community or cause, is on its face a rather ridiculous one. Given that he commented on this post, using his logic—I must secretly be a gay, black, Muslim Latina without health insurance. Hopefully we all are invested in something more than just what we feel affects us personally, though maybe this is revelatory about the compassion-starved Christianity we’re seeing in our country right now.

Guys like Manny and Chuck reveal a whole lot in comments like these, but it isn’t about me or about any straight LGBTQ allies—they reveal just how insidious homophobia and transphobia are (especially in the Church), and the nonsensical lengths people will go to in order to justify their irrational fear of people they don’t understand and honestly, don’t care to understand. It shows the deep-rooted insecurities of Christian men who’ve been raised in such a misogynistic, alpha male head space, that the idea of someone being gay genuinely terrifies them—maybe because they imagine someone treating or viewing them, the way they’ve always treated and viewed women.

It’s sad that the world and the Church are still producing people like Manny and Chuck; people who consciously or subconsciously see LGBTQ people as less-than, who believe that advocating for anyone else needs to include some hidden self-preservation, who believe that the suggestion of same-sex orientation would automatically be an insult to a cisgender man.

Manny and Chuck exposed something hidden this week—but it’s not what they think they exposed.

 

 

 

Yes, I’m a Christian—But I’m Not With Them

My parents always said to be careful who you associate yourself with because you are known by the company you keep—that the people around you reflect on you and manufacture other’s perception of you from a distance. Sometimes that mistaken association will be so detrimental and embarrassing, that you will need to speak out and severe the connection.

I’m a Christian, and I realize that word may come with a great deal of baggage for you. You might have an idea about the kind of person you believe that makes me, simply because of the professed Christians you see out there in the world or the ones you may know. You may believe you know what I think or how I feel or how I vote because of the way someone else thinks or feels or votes.

Since I’m aware of this potential association and since I too see what you see every day—I need you to know where I stand:

I’m not with the Christians who shilled for this President, who sold their souls and leveraged their pulpits for political capital, who continue to defend his every vile deed, every reckless Tweet, every gross abuse of power—despite him not bearing the slightest discernible resemblance to Jesus. 

I believe this President and his Administration are fully devoid of Christlikeness.

I’m not with the Christians who believe healthcare is a luxury saved only for the rich and the well; those who claim to be followers of Jesus, the healer—while throwing the poor and elderly and ill, to the wolves of circumstance or sickness.

I believe all people who are physically, emotionally, and mentally ill, deserve every chance to get well—and by more than just thoughts and prayers.

I’m not with the Christians who police the bodies and bathrooms and bedrooms of strangers, who distort the Bible in order to justify their fear of people for who and how they love; the ones who’ve turned gender identity and sexual orientation into a weapon of damnation—who would tell adults who they can fall in love with and marry and raise children with.

I believe LGBTQ people are made fully in the image of God and deserve every happiness and right this world has to give them.

I’m not with the Christians who savagely beat their breasts about their shrinking religious freedoms, while regularly manufacturing monsters out of Muslim men and women seeking to live out their chosen faith tradition here in peace, without silencing,harassment, or discrimination—those Christians who do not admit or call out the prevalent and deadly extremism in our faith tradition.

I believe those practicing Islam should be as free and unfettered in this country as those who claim Christianity.

I’m not with the Christians who believe a woman’s body is anyone else’s jurisdiction but her own, those who believe they can legislate their morality upon another human being or take a woman’s personal autonomy from her for any reason.

I believe that women get the only say in what happens to and within their specific bodies.

I’m not with the Christians who refuse to acknowledge their privilege.
I’m not with the Christians who believe everyone should be able to get a gun, but not every one should be able to get prenatal care.
I’m not with Christians who believe God is responsible for Donald Trump’s Presidency.
I’m not with Christians who say they’re Pro-Life, but for the Death Penalty and against birth control.

I’m not with Christians who believe they have the Bible figured out enough to condemn anyone else.
I’m not with the Christians who believe they get to tell strangers they’re going to hell.

Yes, I’m a Christian, but I don’t want you to mistake me for those who may claim to speak for me or represent me by default—those you may have sitting across from you at dinner or worshiping next to you at church or preaching on TV or Tweeting diatribes. 

I hope that the fruit of my personal faith is apparent.
I hope that it yields compassion for the hurting, protection for the vulnerable, eyes for the forgotten.
I hope it champions equality for all people, truly diverse community, and a love that transcends difference.
I hope these things are obvious and that they set me apart from those Christians who may speak a different message with their lives—and quite loudly at that.

I also want you to know that there are many of us out here; people with a real, prayerful, fervent desire to follow Jesus, who feel like we’ve had our identities stolen by the pulpit bullies, fear mongers, and Bible bigots who make the headlines and steal the bandwidth and monopolize the conversation.

We want you to know that they do not speak for us. We don’t believe they speak for Jesus.

I guess what I’m saying, is that I hope you won’t too hastily judge all of us based on those who share the name of our faith tradition, and little else. We are as distressed as you with what we see them doing in the name of Jesus these days.

We’re exhausted by their hatred, fed up with their intolerance, disgusted by their violence—and no, we’re not with them.