Christians: Don’t “Preach” at Non-Christian’s Funerals

Last night, a good friend texted me a screenshot. It was the Facebook page of a mutual friend who died suddenly and very young last week, leaving behind a large community of stunned people grieving his loss.

As is often the case, the man’s profile had become a makeshift gathering place for mourners, who checked in to post photos, share memories, and give tributes—but this wasn’t the image my friend shared with me.

It was of a Christian friend of the dead man, (who by all accounts was not a Christian), proselytizing on his virtual memorial.

He wrote:

David was a good man with a good heart, who understood that giving is better than receiving. I will miss him greatly.

(Sounds nice.)

But it is exactly times like this that we come to the reality that we can’t wait to get our lives right.

(Uh  oh…)

David set an example that we need to be better people. And we need to take that example and go further.

(Oh no, he’s not gonna go there, is he?)

We need to be better spiritually.

(Wait, PLEASE don’t go there!)

I may never see my friend again. I hope that before things went wrong, he accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior.

(He went there.)

And there it was; the move I’ve seen a few hundred times: a supposedly well-meaning Christian, preaching at a dead non-Christian’s wake or memorial service—and I felt sick to my stomach.

There’s something so inherently disturbing about watching someone monopolize that sacred, fragile moment to deliver a sermon that the deceased person might surely have contested while living—and at a time when they have no possible way to contest it; when they are incapable of offering a rebuttal. It is the height of selfishness, because it insists on getting in the last word over a dead friend.

And then, the man did something perhaps even worse than that: he preemptively scolded the mourning onlookers who might rightly take offense, lecturing them on how to care about another human being (you know, like Jesus would do):

Some may be upset that I’m using this situation to “preach,” but if you just lost your friend and you truly, 100% believed you knew how to protect your other friends and yet you were afraid to say something??? Then how much do you really care about your so-called friends?

This is the go-to move for far too many Christians in these moments:
damning someone’s life with faint praise, as if being kind and loving and generous are nice, but somehow insufficient in themselves;

claiming you’re speaking out of compassion, while being completely oblivious to the feelings of other people;
saying you’re doing something “in love,” yet being almost shockingly unloving in your timing and delivery;
using someone’s casket as a soapbox, to implore people to turn to a God, who they implicitly suggest might have already rejected their dead friend.

I’ve seen this on tone deaf social media posts, I’ve listened to opportunistic preachers at funerals, I’ve heard it in awkward conversations at cemeteries. I know how deeply wounding it is when Christians seize the attention in a tragic moment for their own purposes.

It’s one thing if the deceased person professed a specific religious worldview and was explicit in sharing that faith while living; if they were clear about the desire to make their death a moment for evangelism.

But often, Christians give little thought to those things; choosing instead to punctuate the dead person’s life—with a sentence they decided to write for them.

I’m certain this man sermonizing on his dead friend’s page believed he was doing the right thing; that he is fully convinced he is being a good and faithful servant, that he is doing the work of Jesus.

I wish I could make him understand that he’s hurting already hurting people, that he’s reminding them why they run from Christians, that he is not giving people good news at all.

Christian friends: preach on your profiles, write the sermon you want spoken at your funeral, instruct people to explicitly share your faith convictions after you’re gone.

But when people who don’t share your faith pass away, simply be present for those who are mourning.

Let your spiritual convictions be evident in your kindness toward them.

Let your compassion be your testimony.

Let other people’s lives be their legacies—as they lived them.

Don’t put your sermons in their mouths.

Don’t add a spiritual postscript where there wasn’t one.

Stop preaching at non-Christian’s funerals.

 

 

 

 

Why Using the Bible Against LGBTQ People is Irresponsible

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Christians will go to great lengths to get God to consent to their prejudices. It’s actually quite astounding and equally sad. 

Every day I watch and read fellow followers of Jesus attempting to use Scripture to discriminate against, marginalize, and condemn people who identify as LGBTQ. They engage in the most protracted, passionate, theological gymnastics, arrogantly and confidently tossing out chapter-and-verse grenades in an effort to make the case that God has a problem with being gay and that the Bible is proof. They do this with great authority, unwavering confidence, and very little tolerance for dissent.

This is one of the most irresponsible things Christians have ever done.

In truth, only a literal handful of the Bible’s 31,102 verses mention what could be translated as homosexuality (an English word first coined in 1946)and in even those few cases the reference is solely to a sexual act, never to anything remotely resembling what we understand as gender identity or sexual orientation. The reason for this is quite simple: such complex ideas were beyond the grasp of the writers, just as the shape of the planet or the inner workings of the human body or the nature of gravity were. This is understandable. They had no knowledge of how the brain worked and so they could only observe behavior and imagine that was the extent of sexual identity. 

This is the greatest flaw in attempting to use the Bible to address the intricacies of human sexuality—that it is woefully inadequate for that specific task. The Bible did not drop from the sky and it isn’t a product of Divine dictation where God took over the faculties of the author. It is a sprawling library of 66 books, orally preserved and then written down over hundreds of years by dozens of disparate and largely unknown, very human authors in multiple languages, during which time the concepts of gender identity or sexual orientation were formed at only the crudest levels.  

The Bible is a product of its time and culture and contains the inherent limitations of its writers. It isn’t an attack or mutiny to admit these things, it is simply being honest with our sacred text. Even fundamentalists and Conservatives understand this. We see it in the way our orthodox Christian understanding and approaches to slavery, women’s rights, mental illness, and divorce have all evolved with what we’ve learned over time. It’s the reason we no longer stone adulterers or accuse paralytics of moral failing or imagine Hell sitting below a flat earth.

This is why arguing incessantly about a handful of parsed out lines of Scripture, as if these verses answer the complex questions of sexuality is such misguided time and such a misuse of the texts themselves. Using these few bits of text to justify discrimination and bigotry is reckless and irresponsible. We don’t rely on the Bible to understand gender identity and sexual orientation for the same reason we don’t rely on a 2,000 year old medical text to understand the circulatory system, or use ancient hieroglyphics to map out the Cosmos. We know that these things are not enough because time has taught us.

When we put our bodies in the hands of surgeons, we want them to bring every bit of study and experience and historical learning to bear, because of the complexity of the task. We wouldn’t accept that what we knew in the first century was at all adequate. In fact, we’d demand that anything antiquated, technologically or intellectually be discarded. That is the only responsible decision when life is in the balance.

In this and in so many other ways, God has given us time as a gift in which to gain understanding about the world and about our bodies and our brains, that we didn’t and couldn’t know two or three thousand years ago. We gladly and wisely use this experience without giving it a second thought, without exception. In every other sphere of life, this is how we live; allowing new revelation to help us make better decisions and to override information when it proves to be incomplete or erroneous.

The damage the Church has done an continues to do to the LGBTQ community by trying to claim the writers of the Bible understood things they simply couldn’t have understood about sexuality, is one of our greatest shared sins. We need to allow all that we’ve learned to inform our faith perspective. We can go to the Scriptures for wisdom and guidance and inspiration, but we should never go to them as authoritative textbooks on biology or anatomy, and never as an excuse to ignore what we’ve discovered since they were first recorded.

If we don’t see and consider the Bible’s limitations regarding the complexities of gender identity and sexual orientation, we will continue to try to use God to reinforce our fear and sanction our prejudices, and we will continue to engage in behavior toward the LGBTQ community that makes our violence and mistreatment feel righteous, while not at all reflecting the love of Jesus.

America, Sexual Assault Survivors are Listening. What are We Saying?

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One of the blessings of the work I do is that people turn to me when they don’t believe they can turn to anyone else. They allow me close proximity to their pain. It is a holy place, and even though it is a tremendous honor to be allowed into the deepest recesses of people’s hearts and stories, this also means getting a front row seat to the incredible damage so many live with.

Recently I heard from a woman who I’ll call Emily. A few years ago Emily was assaulted by a stranger.

She has shared this information with almost no one close to her because of the trauma and undeserved shame she carries. Emily suffers alone every single day and through many sleepless nights, because someone else saw her as an object and ignored her consent and disregarded her humanity.

And yet as horrific as that day was for her, it was only the beginning of the nightmare she’s had to endure.

There have been more fresh nightmares this past year.

This year she’s had to hear friends and co-workers and family members openly defend the words and behavior of Donald Trump, oblivious to the way these things silently wound her and force her deeper and deeper into isolation and sadness, and how their words assault her all over again.

She’s had to hear people like Rush Limbaugh make the issue of consent the punchline to some twisted joke.

She’s seen an alleged Christian leader like Jerry Falwell Jr. say that he would endorse Trump even if he had a history of sexual assault.

She’s listened to other women defend the President and give guys a pass and blame victims and openly campaign for a confessed sexual predator.

Over and over and over she’s had to hear that she doesn’t matter. Over and over she’s been told that she’s expendable. Over and over she’s been reminded that her pain is inconsequential.

Maybe she’s had to hear this from you too.

Maybe it’s been your Tweets and Facebook tirades and coffee break conversations and flippant comments that she’s had to endure; bleeding internally, suffering in silence, grieving anew.

I suspect this may not matter to many of you, but I hope you’ll think about it.

Emilys are everywhere.

People you know and love and worship and work with have survived sexual assault, whether you know it or not. They are in your kitchen, your staff room, your classroom, your church pew.

They are listening to you and they are being brutalized again, because people they know and love and worship with and work with were okay elevating a sexual predator to the Presidency and dismissing their trauma and excusing away rape culture as just “guys being guys”. I wonder if that’s something you are okay with.

I wonder if Emily matters to you.

I wonder if you knew Emily was listening to you,  if you would have still said what you’ve said or posted what you’ve posted. I wonder if it would make any difference at all.  

This year America, and this Republican Administration specifically, are speaking loudly to victims of sexual assault and domestic violence about their worth, their pain, their importance, their credibility.

And honestly, I shudder to imagine how harmful those words are.

To all the Emily’s out there: You matter. You are beautiful. You are loved. You are not defined by what has been done to you. You are not alone. We see you. We hear you.

Be encouraged today.

 

 

If you are the survivor of sexual assault, here are some resources where you can find support, encouragement, and care. You don’t need to carry this alone. 
RAINN
National Sexual Assault Hotline
EROC (End Rape on Campus)
National Domestic Violence Hotline
Safe Horizon
INCITE (For Women, Gender Non-Conforming, and Trans people of Color)
On Eagle’s Wings Ministries
Human Rights Campaign (LGBTQ)
NCLR Nation Center for Lesbian Rights 
Not Alone
Safe Helpline (Victim support for members of Military)

 

Order John’s book, ‘A Bigger Table’ here.

 

When Loud Christians Lose Their Voices

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I know lots of loud Christians, though these days I am finding too many of them are selectively loud.

They live at a high volume and know no inside voice—but only when it comes to the handful of sins they fancy condemning; those ones that reliably grab the headlines and consistently rally the faithful and generate easy Amens in the pews. Then they commandeer the megaphone and the airwaves with such regularity and relative ease; deftly marshaling their resources of pulpit and platform and political bedfellow, to brandish showy outrage at a failing humanity.

Then their brimstone tirades and finger-wagging crusades become ubiquitous. 

Yet there are times when these perennially loud religious folk suddenly come down with acute moral laryngitis; days when they lose their usual prophetic voices and are rendered conspicuously silent:

When black men die at the hands of police.
When area mosques are vandalized.
When shooters rampage gay clubs.
When Native Americans brave dogs and bulldozers to defend their graves.

When dark-skinned people seek shelter on their shores.
When the Presidential politics of fear come wrapped in stars and stripes and crosses.

In these moments the once ever-present Church suddenly disappears.
The perpetually loud Church says nothing.
The brazenly bold Church goes into hiding.
The freedom-loving Church seems less interested in freedom.
The pro-life Church becomes less passionate about life.
The For God So Loved the world Church shrinks down to the Red States of America Church.

And this silent sermon is preaching loudly to the watching world about what really matters to far too many professed followers of Jesus. It is once again reminding millions of people that there really isn’t that much Good News for them; that the Gospel is a white man’s luxury item.

Where are our timely Sunday sermons? Where is our collective righteous anger? Where is our visible presence on the ground and in the protests? Where are our perpetually zealous pastors and evangelists?

The world hears you, quiet Christians. I hear you. Jesus hears you.  

If you’re pro-life just as long as that life isn’t black or gay or Muslim, you’re not really pro-life, you’re pro straight, white life. You’re pro-babies—as long as those babies grow up to join the NRA and vote Republican.

If your idea of freedom is the kind reserved for only those who look or vote or worship the way you do, it isn’t really freedom you’re burdened with, it’s protecting privileged affinity.

If there is a border of nation or pigmentation or religion around those you feel most called to defend and protect, you’ve made God into your own image and crafted a special-interest Savior who lobbies only for “your kind”.

Because Christian, if as you so rush to proclaim, all lives really do matter to you—then you should be fighting for a whole lot more of them right now. You should be much louder than you are right now. You should be in the streets and at the pulpit and over the airways championing the sanctity of  life; in Tulsa and Charlotte and Aleppo and Pulse. 

You should be so loving the world in a way that more resembles Christ. 

In these moments, organized Christianity will be damned for its silence or redeemed for its volume. It will be proven to either be complicit in the wounds of the world, or it will become the balm that stops the bleeding. It will either look away or it will look into the mirror.

Today we who claim faith will either be a clear resonant voice of equality and justice—or a loud, clanging cymbal of selective, self-serving noise.

But know this, Christian: you are being heard in these days—whether you speak or not.