Rector's Blog: Stubborn Christians
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I became a priest, in part, out of stubbornness. I was a waiter at the time, and my coworkers had a lot to do with my decision. Throughout our time working together, many of them consistently communicated surprise that I was a devout practicing Christian who attended church regularly. They were perplexed because I didn’t try to save their souls when we talked, because they knew I liked them for who they were and not who I hoped they might be someday. They routinely expressed their understanding that to be Christian meant to be homophobic, to be judgmental, to be sexist, to be a science denier, to act superior.
And it was difficult for me to argue with them: I grew up in a denomination whose doctrine and culture do, in fact, promote homophobia, sexism, and science denial. And I was definitely taught that a lot of people I knew were going to eternally burn in Hell when they died if they didn’t get on board with what we were teaching. I found myself wanting to say that such people weren’t really Christian, but I couldn’t get there: I knew that wasn’t true. I knew the sexists and homophobes and science deniers and people worried about my soul were in fact Christian. Because I had been one of them. I had been baptized and raised up alongside them, attending school, memorizing verses from the Bible, and worshiping God with them for the bulk of my upbringing. In fact, they were and are Christian. No way around it.
I went through a period where I thought, then, that I must not be Christian. I did not believe being gay was a sin. I did not believe women were supposed to be submissive to men. I was fine with the scientific theory of evolution. Most of my friends in college were Jewish, some of them atheists, and I just plain didn’t buy that they were destined for Hell. Perhaps I wasn’t Christian. There was just one problem: I believed in Jesus. I didn’t just like Jesus or find his teachings compelling: I had been baptized, and I believed in Jesus. So then, I was Christian too, and there was no way around that.
This is where the stubbornness comes in.
I was not going to let voices of exclusion and judgment be the only voices of Christianity my friends heard. I was too stubborn to abandon the name of Jesus to those who would use it in ways I could not comprehend. I was Christian too.
I am a Christian too. And what’s more, the beliefs I have embraced with regards to equality and acceptance are not at odds with my belief in Jesus. In fact, my belief in Jesus, and my engagement with the Holy Bible, have led me into a deeper understanding of equality and acceptance. It is Jesus who has broken my heart open and allowed me to recognize the blessing of God in places I never could have imagined in the previous chapter of my faith. It is Jesus who enabled me to recognize the belonging of all people in the heart of God, and it is God’s very Spirit that even now empowers me to work for the realization of the Beloved Community.
My participation in the life of the Episcopal Church - our worship, study of Scriptures, and shared life – has formed my Christian faith, and it is in this way of Love I seek to walk. We do not walk this way with exclusivity, insisting it is the only way to be Christian. At the same time, we do not back down from the stubborn insistence that we find God here, that this is how we know Jesus and grow in Love.
A couple days ago I was watching some of the footage from inside the Capitol Building during the siege of January 6th. When the insurrectionists entered the Senate Chamber and stood like a desolating sacrilege at the dais, they began to thank Jesus for this moment. I was horrified. My stomach turned to see Jesus’ name invoked triumphantly as a part of the chaos and violence. And I can tell you with all my heart that I do not believe Jesus condones or inspires the ugliness we saw. It was, to my mind, anti-Christ. But I cannot tell you those men aren’t Christians. I don’t get to say that. And I don't get to shirk off either my connection to the Christians I don’t understand or my share of responsibility for a faith that still hurts people in Jesus’ name.
Many people watched the events of January 6th and remarked, “This is not who we are!” Others responded, “This is exactly who we are.” The truth of what it means to be American is so complicated. The truth is that the events we witnessed that day, and the Inauguration of the President at the same building today are both representations of who we are. We are a nation that breeds White supremacists and anti-racists. We are a culture that flirts with chaos and embraces order. We don’t get to ignore the parts of ourselves we don’t like. At the same time, we do not back down from the stubborn insistence that this country carries hope within it.
It is the same for our faith. In this season of Epiphany, we continue to be revealed so much about who we are as Christians. We cannot afford to shy away from the harm done in Jesus’ name. But likewise, we cannot abandon the God who has not abandoned us. We have a vision of a whole world growing in Love. You have a part to play in making this vision a reality. Your Christian faith matters. Your Christian identity is not second-class. Your baptism is not conditional. Your belonging compels you to be stubborn in your work for justice and mercy, stubborn in the fact that you got to this place in your faith by the grace of God, not despite it. You are a Christian too. This world needs you to be stubborn in Love.
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