Last month, our church had a booth at the Pride Festival in Toms River. Our message was, “God loves everyone. No exceptions.”
We knew that many people attending this festival had been probably traumatized by hateful rhetoric coming from certain groups within the Christian church. We wanted to bring a different message, a message of dignity, and respect.
But mostly we brought the message that God loves everyone just as they are.
Soon after the festival started, a small group of people paraded down the middle of the street, carrying a large cross and a bullhorn, loudly broadcasting rhetoric filled with hate and bigotry, all supposedly in the name of Christianity. The problem was that their message of hate had nothing to do with Jesus. Their message and their means would have been totally unrecognizable to the one we call the Prince of Peace.
Unfortunately, it is this type of “Christian,” those who are loudest and most hate filled, who are most visible in America today. These loud “Christians” are the ones robbing mature women of their moral agency to decide what’s best for their families when making decisions about pregnancy. They are the ones loudly supporting gun ownership as a God-given right. Not so long ago, these “Christians” were the ones supporting a Muslim ban.
These hate-filled messages present an issue to many of us who call ourselves Christians. Author and pastor John Pavlovitz writes about this in his recent book, “If God is Love, Don’t be a Jerk.”
The problem is that all of this is antithetical to the message of Jesus. Jesus had nothing to say about homosexuality. Zilch. Nada. Nothing! Some of these loud “Christians” will twist his words to suit their own agenda. However, most scholars agree that Jesus was silent on this question.
Regarding women, Jesus didn’t oppress or attempt to control women. On the contrary, even though it was counter-cultural in his time, he supported women. And, by the way, Jesus never carried a gun or any other kind of weapon. He told us to turn the other cheek and pray for your enemies. Finally, I am convinced that Jesus would have never supported a ban on any ethnic group. In fact, despite Samaritans being largely disliked by his own people, he held one up as an example of what a good neighbor looks like.
Soon after his death, people who believed in Jesus were not called Christians. They were said to be “followers of the Way of Jesus”. And Jesus’ “Way” was one filled sacrificial love, and peace, and mercy. His Way was one of compassion and justice for the oppressed. I don’t think Jesus would have recognized himself in the group that was walking through the Pride Festival with a bullhorn loudly proclaiming a message of hate.
There are many people in America to whom the word “Christian” conjures up images of loud, gun toting, homophobic, trans-phobic, misogynistic zealots. If that is what “Christian” means today, then count me out. That’s not who I am.
That’s not what my church is. That’s not what a lot of other churches are around here.
Maybe, I am just feeling tired of the fight over the meaning of the word “Christian”. However, right now, I don’t want to be anywhere near that type of Christianity. I hope, the next time I find myself in a situation where someone asks me if I am Christian, I will have the presence of mind to say, “Actually, I prefer to be known as a follower of Jesus.”
The Rev. Ted Foley is archdeacon of Christ Episcopal Church in Toms River.
(Contributed by Janet Cornwell, H.W., m.)