What good, decent, tolerant person would identify herself as Christian when the media routinely mistakes the Religious Right – a political movement preaching bigotry, hate and war mongering – for Christianity. Take Frank Bruni’s recent comments in the New York Times: “So our debate about religious freedom should include a conversation about freeing religions and religious people from prejudices that they needn’t cling to.” Thus a largely intelligent and enlightened opinion piece descended into prejudices of its own, because implied in his statement is his belief that “religious people” are, at their core, bigots.
This is nothing new; it was the same story when I was a girl back in the 1960s. And while who and what the Religious Right hates has changed somewhat over the years, the conversation around Indiana’s Religious Freedom and Restoration Act confirms that in the eyes of Americans many “Christians” are hatemongering bigots.
But why stop there, isn’t it also the general view among the chattering class that “Christians,” in addition to being homophobic, are misogynists, unreservedly handing the control of women’s bodies over to the state? And hypocrites, because the same pro-life crew invariably favor the death penalty.
Who from the center on left of the political spectrum doesn’t think “Christians” are hypocrites? And why shouldn’t they when so many of Christianity’s public faces have been exposed as adulterers, and conmen. Hypocrites, because our congress, which is controlled by those who claim to follow the man who said, “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God,” are indifferent to the suffering of the poor. Serving as little more than handmaidens to the rich, they refuse to use government to level the playing field through progressive taxation. Instead, they turn its powers of redistribution in favor of the “one percent,” and towards wealthy corporations already made fat by congressional handouts.
To be a Christian in this country is to live in shame of what is done in our name. Shame when the Westboro Church protests at the funerals of veterans, shame when Pat Robinson and Jerry Farwell blamed 9/11 on God’s wrath on homosexuals, abortionists, and other similar miscreants. So this most recent shame, Indiana’s anti-gay Religious Freedom and Restoration Acts, is just one of many.
Despite this, I’m going to declare myself a Christian. Before doing so, I’m running down the list of consequences. I will lose all my Australian friends, all my British friends, many of my American friends. And yet, I am so sick and tired of cowing in shame at what is being done in Christ’s name I can’t stay silent another minute.
I left the “Christian” church at 12 years old because I couldn’t reconcile the God is Love of scripture with the backstabbing, two faced, bigoted hell-fire and brimstone Protestant congregation I was born into. But before I left I tried every other Christian denomination my small hometown had to offer. I had to; despite their ugliness, I still yearned for meaning. I felt (and still feel) humble at the majesty and mystery of creation. I travelled the world. In India, I sat on the banks of the Ganges River in Varanasi and witnessed Hindu joy at a death in that holy city. I attended Tibetan Buddhism's Kalachakra initiation delivered by His Holiness the Dali Lama in Bodhgaya, India in the mid-1980s. But it was during this journey that I truly understood that I am white, western, and Christian. That while their message is similar, and while I hold these other faiths in awe, they are not mine.
I know there is a power at work greater than mine. And while the Religious Right would have us all believe that their judging, condemning and hate mongering bigotry is done in its stead, I want that higher power to be good. I believe my Christian God to be benevolent, kind, inclusive, compassionate, forgiving, all knowing, all seeing and, most importantly, all loving. I want to think of myself as a virtuous person, but I know no one is perfect, least of all me. What scares me most about the Religious Right is their self-righteous certainty, their conviction that they are correct about everything. Their vanity and lack of humility before God makes me shudder. Far from clinging to my prejudices, I strive to overcome them, to be a good person, to love, to forgive, to have compassion, tell the truth and to be humble. I even try to love my enemies, though that’s not easy. Christian service can help. Last Friday, for example, I prayed “for those who in the name of Christ have persecuted others,” and I counted myself among them.