Tuesday, November 22, 2016

I Am Not A Christian

I am not a Christian.

Did I get your attention? Good. If you are a friend of mine, if you are somebody who I grew up with, if you are someone I went to church with, if you are someone who was once an authority figure in my life, if you are family, I ask that you please do me the courtesy of reading my words. I have some hard things to say about myself, about us, about our country. After you read my words, I am willing to talk with you. I am willing to answer questions, and I am willing to discourse with you. But only if you are willing to listen first to my words, because this is the essence of respect.

I believe in the importance of words. I think that words mean something, and when I use them, the people who hear them should understand what I want them to understand, or there’s no point in talking. If I tell somebody “I am literally in tears,” I don’t want them to think that I’m “figuratively” in tears. I want them to know that water is actually coming out of my eyes and rolling down my cheeks.

In a similar way, if somebody asks me “what do you believe,” I want a word that I can use to tell them “I believe that the world was created by a Person who values it so highly that They have made great personal sacrifice to heal it, and I believe that we ought to follow that example.” But I don’t have a word for that.

Friends, I am literally in tears.

I’ve lost sleep over this. I have lost weight. I have lost hours of productivity worrying through these words. Hell, I’ve even lost a few friends. I didn’t expect that.

For years, I’ve found myself in a difficult and controversial place because my driving religious motivation has been John 13:35—“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another”—and my belief that myself and many others who I knew who call themselves Christians were not following that admonition. I’ve thought a lot about the Sermon on the Mount and how I have ignored it. I thought a lot about what role I fit in the parable of the Samaritan and realized I wasn’t the Samaritan.

And so I’ve changed my behaviour (or at least tried). I’ve listened to people and tried to understand their points of view. When people have said they’re hurting, I’ve taken them seriously. When it’s been in my power, I’ve tried to protect people from hurt. I’m bad at this, because I’m out of practice. But I’m practicing, and I still called myself Christian, because even though I no longer looked like the person I used to be, I believed that I was becoming more of a disciple of Jesus.

But recall that words have meanings. If I tell my neighbours “I am a programmer,” they will assume I work with computers, and if I tell them “I am a Christian,” they will assume that I go to church on Sunday, vote Republican, and am either just like them or I actively despise and oppose them, depending on which neighbour I am talking to.

The meaning of the word “Christian” has shifted in America to have a uniquely political meaning. James Dobson is one of the great Christian leaders of our time. That’s what he stands for. Ben Carson thinks sometimes we have to give up our Christian morality in order to get things done. Curt Schilling thinks we should kill Muslims, journalists and trans people and who knows who else. Those were all people I admired when I was a teen.

Donald Trump claims he’s a Christian, and Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, Ben Carson, Franklin Graham, and a hundred other men back him up. And people believe him. I have personally been told by people who also claimed the name of Christian that they believed Dobson and Falwell, and therefore Trump as well. Now that Donald Trump has been elected, a lot of my white Christian friends are saying good things about Donald Trump, about how we should trust him, about what a good man he is, and the good he will do for the country. Exclusively my white, Christian friends, I might add.

For years, I have listened to Donald Trump spew hate against my neighbours. I have heard him say the most horrifying things, and seen him lie with impunity to our faces. And when my neighbours and my friends tell me “I am afraid of Donald Trump and the people he inspires because they wish me harm,” I have a choice. I can take the opportunity to listen to my neighbours, or I can decide that I know better than them.

Jesus tells me to love my neighbour. Donald Trump does not love my neighbour. If I tell my neighbour “I am a Christian,” what they hear is “I am like Donald Trump.”

And who am I, some 29-year old nobody to stand up and say “those people aren’t Christians!” like I’m the arbiter of who is and isn’t? I can’t do that. Imagine how ridiculous it would be if I went around challenging the meaning of words that well established. When you hear the story of somebody who calls Tanqueray gin “Tito’s,” you laugh at that person. You don’t say “oh, I can see now why calling this clearly understood product by a completely different name makes sense and I will change my way of thinking too.”

I've been told by a number of people that “hate is not the answer.” I agree. I want to follow the example of the Samaritan, not the Levite or the priest, and certainly not the robbers. And if that means I'm out of the club, well, so was the Samaritan. It's not a clubhouse I feel comfortable in anyway.

And if you are one of my friends reading this and you feel offended by that, why? If you feel that I'm calling you out personally, why? Because I am talking about myself here. I'm talking about my neighbours and I'm talking about my actions. I'm not here to question you or your faith, but I am here to say look to your own witness. Because I promise you, I promise you, I promise you that your neighbours are listening. Your non-white and non-Christian neighbours in particular. And if you listen to them, they are saying that the world has gotten darker and scarier.

Please don't dismiss this admonition as just "more liberal butthurt" about the election. I've been working on this essay for over three months, and it's simply been so difficult that I've only finished it now. I would have published this regardless of the results of the election, but I cannot say that the way I have seen many Christians behaving since November 8th hasn't caused me even more pain.

The sad thing is that I know who is most likely to be offended by what I've said here. It's people who call themselves Christians. A decent proportion of my friends. Everyone I grew up with. My family. But why? I'm not saying “everything we believed is a lie!” I'm saying our witness has been poisoned. I'm saying that we have a deadly infection and everyone except us can see it.

And if your response is merely “my witness isn't poisoned,” I will challenge you personally, yes, personally, to be honest with yourself. Listen to your neighbours. Your Muslim neighbours. Your gay neighbours. Your Mexican neighbours. If you think you can say “I put myself in the same boat as Donald Trump” and “I love you as I love myself,” you've never been more wrong. “Hate isn't the answer”? I agree! It's not. We must reject hate. We must reject the preachers of hate. And when the preachers of hate boast the label of Christian, as they do in America in 2016, we need to reject that too.

I believe in a Jesus who came to earth and condemned the religious leaders of his time. And in my country and my time, I believe “Christian” mainly means “brood of vipers.” Particularly in the eyes of my neighbours, who I have been called to love as I love myself.

That’s not me. I am not a Christian.

I don’t know what word to use for myself. But I don’t really care. I’m going to leave the words to worry about themselves and live my life trying to be more like Jesus today than I was yesterday. If you’d like to join me, let’s prove it to the world by loving one another.

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