I began feeling dirty every time I answered “yes” when someone asked if I was a Christian, and I no longer wanted to feel that way.
That’s why I decided to write earlier this month that the God I serve is not the God the Rev. Franklin Graham serves. Since that piece was published, I’ve been receiving so many messages from readers – many unhappy, many heartened – that I haven’t been able to respond to even half of them. So I am now.
My years-long struggle has been between deciding to discard a religion that helped shaped me since birth because of a growing, prideful hostility to the least of these becoming more associated with it, or holding fast to remind others like me that we don’t have to accept that fate for a faith we love.
That struggle has not yet ended. That should give pause to Christian leaders like Graham and others who were willing to discard our faith’s basic tenets to embrace a boastful, adulterous billionaire while demonizing the already-marginalized.
It should give everyone who cares about Christianity pause because people like me aren’t supposed to have these kinds of internal struggles, because I’m firmly in the mainstream of the religion. I’m a heterosexual man who’s been married for nearly two decades and didn’t have kids until after I exchanged vows with my now-wife.
I have one of those rise-from-the-ashes stories – born into poverty, educated in segregated schools, watched helplessly as my father beat my mother and my oldest brother receive a life sentence for first-degree murder, succeeded anyway – I happily attributed to God’s grace and Christian guidance. Even my ability to manage a potentially debilitating severe stutter, I always pointed to God.
And yet when I got sick a couple of years ago and thought I was staring death in the face, I didn’t go to God for comfort, even as hundreds of Christian friends sent an endless stream of prayers my way, because it had become harder to see God. I had allowed many of his self-declared spokesmen to block my view. That’s my fault, not theirs. I chose to spend too much of my time rebutting what I viewed as their unnecessary cruelty instead of focusing on the life I’ve been called to live.
It mattered little that they could point to good works the way Graham supporters reminded me about Samaritan’s Purse, because doing good for some doesn’t absolve the harm you do to others. I had become convinced it was more important to separate myself from them than cling to God. For that, I’m to blame. I take responsibility.
If others want to use the power of God as a cudgel to mold everyone into an image they prefer – convinced it’s actually God’s preference – that doesn’t mean I should spend more time fighting than loving those I’ve been called to love.
I won’t pretend that I understand everything. The more I learn, the more I realize I could live a thousand lifetimes and still not acquire enough knowledge to escape a fate we all share, forever seeing see through a glass darkly.
What I know is that I grew up in a family which had to rely upon food stamps and government cheese to stave off starvation, a family which includes members from every marginalized group imaginable. That’s why I know when fellow Christians condemn the poor and struggling as lazy and undeserving, that they are really talking about people I love. And I refuse to serve a God who prioritizes talking down to rather than loving them unconditionally. Fortunately, I don’t have to.