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.