American Christians Should Stop Hoarding Liberty

HB2Rally

I still think back to an afternoon in downtown Raleigh, when I stood with strangers in protest of North Carolina House Bill Two and of the discrimination it manufactured and nurtured in our state toward the LGBTQ community.

It was a moving, life-affirming, hope-giving experience, but what stood out most was the incredible diversity of those gathered: of race, religion, gender identity, age, sexual orientation—noticeably more diverse than the houses of worship most Americans will visit this weekend. It was a gathering that reflected not just the vast population of our country, but I believe, the kaleidoscopic complexity of Heaven.

Standing in that extraordinary space, it occurred to me that this wasn’t at all an anti-Christian or anti-religion gathering, as many would probably like to frame it in the public discourse, where the politics of fear is priority one for some sharing my faith tradition. This was a deeply spiritual gathering, with ministers and public servants all sharing their strong religious convictions, and why those convictions have led them to this place of passionately defending the rights of all people.

I realized then just how far so much American Christianity has drifted from Jesus in its message and manner, but I caught a fresh breeze of hope too. I looked around yesterday and recognized the faith that I first was drawn to.

This is where Christians are supposed to be. They are supposed to be standing with the oppressed and the marginalized. They are supposed to be defending the rights of those without power or numbers or a voice. Wherever any people made in the image of God are being treated as less-than, Christians should be the most visible, the most vocal, the most present in condemning it. Instead we are so many times, either silent in the face of injustice or perpetuating it.

We American Christians love to invoke the ideas of Freedom and Liberty, but usually only when they suit our preferences and our plans. We will rail and rally with ferocity and boldness when we feel we are being denied such things in the most inconsequential ways. But when it comes to affording the same fundamental personal liberty to others, especially those we don’t understand or approve of, we become alarmingly tight-lipped and closed-fisted. Then we withhold both Justice and Grace with little remorse.

Far too many American Christians desire all the spoils of both Christianity and America, and yet seek to deny them to the LGBTQ community, to people of color, to low-income families, to non-Christians.

In short, we want to be Jesus to ourselves and Pharaoh to everybody else; abundantly blessed but hard-hearted and unwilling to share the wealth.

Ironically, many of the same Christian people who claim to love and respect the Constitution, seem fairly passionate about preventing other people their “Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness”; marriage, equal employment opportunity, healthcare access, church participation, use of the bathroom—things like that.

It’s a bad look for a Christian.

It’s a bad look for an American.

It betrays both the very heart of Jesus and the foundations of our country: the idea that there is inherent worth and dignity in every person, and that each should be able to live unrestrained into the fullness of this truth.  

The ideals of Equality and Freedom on which America were built are indeed fairly beautiful, but only if all people get to benefit from them identically.

And the barrier-breaking, expectation-defying, peace-making, least-loving message of Jesus is such very good news, but only when it is allowed to come to full fruition in the people and in the Church that bears his name.

We need to set Freedom free, because when we do, America is the best of itself and Christianity better reflects the image of Jesus.

Right now, neither is happening and we have only ourselves to blame.

There is a far better way.

Stop hoarding Liberty, Christians.

It belongs to everyone.

Thank You, Donald Trump

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at FreedomFest, Saturday, July 11, 2015, in Las Vegas. Trump said his comments about immigration have become a movement and has pointed to violence perpetrated by immigrants in the U.S. illegally to defend his stance. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Dear Mr Trump,

It’s taken me a while to realize this and to admit it, but I’m grateful to you.

I spent a good deal of time lamenting your campaign and the poison it has so effortlessly generated, and your Presidency which is doing even greater damage than I ever imagined. I’ve watched our country imploding, our public discourse become polluted, our political climate grow ever more corrosive, and wrongly assumed you were to blame.

It’s only lately I’ve come to understand that you haven’t manufactured our current national ugliness—you’ve simply revealed it and leveraged it.

By saying the irresponsible, mean-spirited, ignorant things you say so freely and so frequently, you’ve given other like-minded people license to do the same. You’ve opened up the floodgates for our shared sewage to flow fully. People no longer conceal their vile mess, they now revel in it, they broadcast it and retweet it.

You’ve made bigotry, misogyny, and racism socially acceptable again and that has been a kind of twisted gift because it’s allowed me to really see people; not as they pretend to be on the surface—but in the very depths of their wounded, weaponized hearts.

Over and over as your campaign persisted, your supporters would tell me that they liked you because you “speak your mind”. It wasn’t until recently that I’ve realized that you speak their minds. You’ve given credence to their prejudices and made those prejudices go mainstream. That’s the voice you’ve given them. You became their toxic megaphone.

Thanks to the terrible ground you’ve broken, politicians, pastors, friends, and strangers, both in person and on social media now regularly out themselves as hateful, intolerant, and malicious—and they remind me just how close they are to me, just how deep the sickness in us runs, and just how far we have to go together.

You’ve emboldened people to be open about things they used to conceal for the sake of decorum, and though it turns my stomach, I know that this is the only way we can move forward; to have that cancerous stuff exposed fully so that it can be dealt with. Our progress as a nation is predicated on authentic dialogue, no matter how brutal and disheartening that dialogue is.

In other words, you’ve let us know what we’re really dealing with here and while it’s been rightly disturbing, it’s also been revelatory. That’s the thing about that kind of harsh light: you’re forced to see everything. Beauty and monstrosity equally illuminated.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think you’re the least qualified, least knowledgeable, most malignantly horrible President we’ve ever had, and I fear gravely for the world my children will inherit—should it survive your Presidency at all. I believe you’re reckless, bitter, and completely reprehensible; the very worst kind of bully.

But regardless of what happens now, you’ve already allowed me the blessing of Truth; about me, about you, about our nation.

And in the process you’ve also shown me that I am not alone in resisting you and this ugly thing you’ve revealed about us.

You’ve generated an equally loud, equally passionate response to it and this is where I find my hope these days.

I find it in those for whom equality isn’t just a cheap buzzword, it’s the most precious of hills to die on.

I find it in those people who refuse to be silent in the face of our impending shared regression.

I find it in those willing to be more bold in defending the inherent value of all people. 

I find it in the growing army of those who will not tolerate hatred as a core American value.

I find it in those who reject violence as our default response to dissension.

I find it in the ever rising voice of people who will not let malice and bitterness represent them in the world.

Today I find my hope in those who, like me, will not be complicit in allowing bigotry and intolerance to become a source of national pride, because we’ve seen where that leads.

Yes, Mr Trump, you’ve unearthed our hidden sickness and you’ve allowed it to go viral.

You brought every awful thing about us out into the open.

And for this—I thank you.

 

 

 

President Obama’s Tenure Was More “Christian” Than His Critics Will Ever Admit

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Back in January of 2015, President Obama gave a passionate, vulnerable, teary eyed press conference to announce new guidelines for gun ownership. It provided some of the rawest, most authentic expressions of compassion and grief ever shared by a sitting American President.

It was also another example of a man’s religion speaking loudly without needing to be referenced at all.

You see, faith isn’t real faith until it’s walked out and most people know this. Without a life attached to it all theology is just theory, all religion only words. It’s so often (for both politicians and pew sitters alike) merely flowery language and religious window dressing designed for maximum curb appeal from a distance. But unless and until it shows up in the every day of a person—well it’s worth little more than zero.

Even before Barack Obama took office the attacks on his spiritual beliefs by his detractors were fierce and incessant, calling him a closeted Muslim whose religious convictions were more about the demise of America than a “personal relationship with Jesus” (something they often boldly brandish at every turn like a shiny, new Rolex whipped out at a cocktail party).

The narrative his adversaries have always tried to sell the American people, is that Obama’s is at best a fraudulent, irrelevant mockery of the faith; that they not he are the only believers truly worthy of guiding our “Christian nation”.

But a really funny thing has happened over the course of President Obama’s two-term tenure. This man quietly, consistently crafted a platform and a legacy that reflect Christ far more than those across the aisle like or will ever admit to—and in ways his successor will never dream of—which is part of the reason they despise him.

In many ways, he has in effect out-Jesused many of his Conservative Christian critics.

Rather than being the kind of showy, loud but largely loveless noise in the world that the Apostle Paul warns believers against becoming, the President’s time in the White House has yielded the kind of tangible fruit Jesus said would be the mark of the true person of God.

In other words, Barack Obama has let his life be his testimony:

He’s vigorously defended the civil rights of all human beings, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or faith tradition.
He’s engineered a national system of healthcare for all citizens.
He’s been an advocate of the working poor.
He has spoken out loudly against the death penalty.
He’s continually challenged us to be hospitable to refugees and immigrants.

He’s called out the corporate lobbyists and big business special interests that have crippled the middle class and widened the income gap between the richest and poorest of our people.
He’s been a champion for equality in the workplace for women and minorities and the gay community.
He’s worked to eliminate the bullying and marginalizing of the LGBTQ community.
He’s pushed back against the NRA and the gun lobby to reduce the violence in our streets.

While not at all perfect and certainly deserving of scrutiny and pushback, in so many ways President Obama’s tenure has championed justice, equality, and the inherent dignity of all people in a way that closely mirrors the stated mission of Christ; certainly as much as any politician on either side can claim. Many Evangelicals either don’t like to admit this or they simply no longer recognize the kind of life Jesus was actually calling his followers to live when they see it.

That’s because there’s a stylized, bastardized Christianity that many politicians and celebrity pastors have peddled for years; one that has slowly but surely become our American template. It’s a bloated, opulent, consumerist, aggressive, nationalistic, might is right amalgam that really doesn’t resemble Jesus much at all.

It’s the kind of religion that name drops God in stump speeches and invokes Scripture at every turn, but retains little of the deep humility, love for the poor, defense of the downtrodden, care for the hurting, call for community, and shunning of excess that we see characterizing the life and ministry of Christ.  In fact, it’s President Obama’s failure to conform to this prevalent but counterfeit Americanized Christianity, that has revealed the real merit in his convictions.

Much of this Commander In Chief’s time in office may have flown in the face of that imitation Evangelicalism, but it’s in step with the early Church and I would argue, as recognizable as Christlike as any we’ve seen in the Oval Office. His faith is that of so many of us who remember what Jesus called the most critical of our callings in this world. We recognize in his life the religion we know to be worthwhile in our own and we respect.

That day in 2015 (as extraordinary as it was) was really just another day out of many when this President with a continually questioned faith, reflected the compassion and teachings of Jesus far better than many of his loudest Christian critics.

Why Do I Still Have To Explain #BlackLivesMatter To Other White People?

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After all this time, I don’t know why we still need to do this, but sadly we do.

#BlackLivesMatter

It’s okay to say it, white people. You should say it. You need to say it.

This is not an outrage competition. It is not a chance for you to roll out a laundry list of the things that upset and burden you. It is about one very specific necessary reason for outrage.

It is not a tit-for-tat hashtag war where you insert any other people group in response, somehow illustrating your righteous position on equality for everyone to see.

It is not about all lives, it is about the lives of people of color in a country with a well documented history of systematic and individual discrimination against them.

It is about those with power and charged with protecting and serving all people, becoming an instrument of continued oppression of and violence toward a select group of them.

#‎BlackLivesMatter is a movement born out of the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin murder and the deeply embedded racism revealed in our national response, in the tilted press coverage, in the persistent victim blaming—and ultimately in the way we simply didn’t seem to give a damn, because deep down many of us are scared of young black men wearing hoodies at night too.

This far more than a hashtag.

It is not (as you often assert) an event-based response; about a single shooting, or one corrupt officer, or one unarmed murder victim. It is about a pervasive pattern of state-sanctioned institutional racism that permeates the political process, the police force, our kitchen tables, and yes our private heart space.

It is about shameful, horrible history still repeating.

So this is about Baltimore, yes but not only about Baltimore.
It is certainly about Ferguson, but about far more than just Ferguson.
It is indeed about Chicago, but it is much bigger things than merely Chicago.

Yes it’s about Michael Brown and Eric Garner and Laquan McDonald but not only about them.

It’s about the scores of people whose names did not make the news, whose murders were not recorded on bystander camera phones; those who quietly and without fanfare simply became a convenient statistic to feed our accepted national narrative of bad guys getting what they deserve and of innocent people not needing to fear the police.

This is about America and its legacy of deeply embedded racism, one we seem all too content to continue by refusing to even acknowledge where and how it lingers.

Saying Black Lives Matter isn’t saying that other lives don’t.

It’s speaking directly into a system that operates and has operated as if black lives matter far less. It’s purposefully and explicitly lifting up the inherent humanity of those who have been and still are being treated inhumanely.

Saying it acknowledges the blind spots we’ve inherited that prevent us from noticing our privilege, our biases, how we unknowingly devalue people of color—and the way all these things conspire to make us much more tolerant of their deaths, much more likely to rationalize them away, and much more likely to get over them quickly.

When we say #‎BlackLivesMatter, we don’t need to also simultaneously say #WhiteLivesMatter to somehow model moral consistency. Our nation has lived morally inconsistent and that is the very point. That white lives matter in America has never been in question a single day of our existence, so we really don’t need to say it.

We’ve never not mattered in the process.

If you’ve ever been stopped by police and not feared for your life, you’ve mattered.
If you’ve walked down a street at night and not been looked at with fear or suspicion, you’ve mattered.
If you’ve participated in our legal process and assumed you’ve gotten fair treatment, you’ve mattered.
Until this is true for all of us, we have work to do.

Five years ago our ministry launched a campaign called “All People Matter To God” and it’s what I believe. I’ve always felt called to be a pastor for all people; to treat everyone with equal dignity and compassion, but this doesn’t mean that I uplift all groups, all the time, with equal voice. There are moments in time and in our history when we need to clearly champion the rights and loudly affirm the value of people groups who are being victimized and marginalized. There are times when we need to acknowledge the privilege we’ve inherited and purposefully condemn the ways that privilege is still perpetuating injustice and nurturing violence and preventing progress.

This is such a time.

Yes, white lives matter.
Yes, police lives matter.
Yes (insert people group) lives matter.
This isn’t what this is about right now.

#‎BlackLivesMatter simply means, “Black lives really do matter and we haven’t always acted as if they do, and I want you to know that I’m not okay with that.”

Say it, white people.

Post it.

Repeat it.

Vote it.

You may even come to believe it, and our nation may come to live it.

#‎BlackLivesMatter