Tim is sitting near me, reading aloud about an ancestor of his who pastored a church for 38 years. A German Reformed Church in Fredrick, Maryland. Stonewall Jackson once attended Daniel Zacharias’s church, but he fell asleep during the sermon so I don’t think Tim’s great-uncle carried much weight with Stonewall.
There was a time in our early marriage where Tim talked of going to seminary, of perhaps pursuing a career in the ministry. When Tim’s dad was alive and preaching himself, he would sometimes ask Tim to fill in for him.
All that seems like another lifetime ago now.
If you have followed my writings for any length of time, you may have noticed I don’t write much about my faith any more. Like many of you, I have distanced myself from my Evangelical past. I can and sometimes still do recite the Apostle’s Creed even though I don’t believe in a dogma that demands that there is “only one way” to redemption. I’ve lived too long. Met too many people. Heard too many stories. Bore witness to too many wrongs done in the name of Jesus to believe that redemption is a one-way only street.
If you have read any of my writings for any length of time, you know how fortunate I have been to have found a safe place in my youth in my local church community. I have had more than a handful of good pastors in my life that helped shepherd my faith. Not a single one who ever took advantage of my vulnerabilities the way so many others have had happen to them.
It wasn’t until I was an adult, a young mother, actually, that I encountered the misogyny and patriarchy that continues to dominate many faith traditions. I’ve written quite a bit about my own personal faith journey, about how I grew away from the Evangelical culture of my youth, abandoned Dobson and the Focus on the Family Group when they began asserting that homosexuals were all pedophiles. I knew that was a bunch of hooey.
I know friends & family who still say things like, “Marriage belongs between a man and a woman.” Or “Homosexuality is abnormal.” Or “Everybody is just looking for a handout. Nobody wants to work.” Or “Public education is destroying this country.” Or “Women don’t belong in the pulpit.”
What I never hear them say is: “Wealthy people are taking advantage of poor people.” Or “Mitch McConnell is a greedy bastard who protects other greedy bastards.” Or “Oil giants made Americans dependent on fossil fuels in the same way the Sackler family made the unsuspecting dependent on opioids.” Or “Evangelical culture is built upon a belief that white people are better than people of color.” Or “When you really study it, at its core the Gospel is a socialist message.” Or “The problem with the Bible is the same problem with the Constitution – it’s a construct of man who had power and influence and want to keep that power centralized.”
I’m at a point in my faith journey now where church feels both like home and a foreign land to me. The place where I find community and where I feel most rejected by community.
Caught between a rock and a hard place, my mama used to say.
Part of the problem is that so many people I care about have embraced an imposter Christianity, one built off of racism and bigotry, misogyny and patriarchy. Some of those people embracing that imposter Christianity were once some of my dearest friends. Some are beloved family members.
The thing is they claim I am the one embracing an imposter Christianity. Perhaps. I suppose we won’t know until the last stone is rolled away which of us is right. But then, will it really matter?
The problem is we all believe we have the answers, when in truth, probably none of us are even remotely close. I’ve reached that point in my life where I avoid people who have all the answers.
So I find myself seeking out those who are asking questions. I try to surround myself with people who are curious, people who cherish the adventure of discovery, people who aren’t afraid to question themselves, or their own faith journey.
There is a story told about the Christian Apologist C.S. Lewis. When he was a boy, Lewis is said to have admitted to his father, “I am prejudiced against the French.” His father, quite surprised by this admission, asked Lewis why he would harbor prejudice against the French. “If I knew that I wouldn’t be prejudiced,” Lewis answered.
While in Scotland, I had the opportunity to sit in on the teachings of Rev. Fraser Aitken of Saint Nicholas Church. The story of C.S. Lewis is one the good Reverend used as an introduction to a sermon he delivered about how the Apostle Paul mortified the Jews by welcoming the Gentiles. Paul’s actions “rattled” the Jews. “Rattled them,” the Rev. said. He continued:
“Many Christians today are finding they are rattled by the movement of God’s Holy Spirit. There are those who would say that a literal interpretation of the Bible is necessary for salvation. You have to read the Bible literally from Genesis right through to Revelation, that every word, every comma, every dot has been dictated by God himself. There are those who say that only men can be preachers. That same sex relationships are sinful. That other religions are an abomination in the sight of the Lord. Today’s church would do well to take lessons from Peter’s vision and make a move toward inclusion of all people and the use of imagination, especially when it comes to interpreting the Scriptures. I’ve said it for over 40 years: God, friends, does not need our help in saving souls. God needs our help in saving lives .. Unexamined beliefs that stem from archaic theological perspectives still govern us. They prevent us from accepting the universal unconditional love with which God wraps his whole creation … If we don’t let go of some of the limits we have placed on God through unexamined outdated theology … we will continue to diminish in power and in presence.”
I believe it is this diminishment, or the fear of that diminishment, that is fueling the fiery right-wing base that now controls so much of the Republican party. Unable to rule the masses through the patriarchy of the churches any longer, many have decided to pursue power through governing instead. This is what drives SCOTUS to revoke Roe v Wade and the push to abolish gay marriage. This is why so many who claim to be followers of Christ have rallied behind Imposter Christian propagandists like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Steve Bannon, and yes, Donald Trump. The church has to hold itself accountable for this diminishment:
“We must continue to ask ourselves whom do we exclude and whom do we harm within the limits of our love,” Rev. Aitken urged. “These are hard questions and they need answering now. Read the Gospels and you will see that Jesus never required anyone to believe as he believed. He never required that before he saved their lives and brought them into community … If someone tells you that Christian teaching doesn’t change ask them where they’ve been.”
The question facing the church today is whether it will be pulled kicking and screaming into “the wideness of God’s mercy” or whether the church will hunker down behind its boundaries using verses from the Bible “as a drunk man uses a lamp post – more for support than for illumination.”
I admit that there was a time when I relied upon faith as a support to prove my beliefs were more right than others.
The faith I cling to today is a light unto my path.
A path that leads me away from the condemnation and misogyny of mere men and into the merciful arms of the God of all of humanity.
Lewis came to a similar junction in his faith journey:
When you find yourself wanting to turn your children, or pupils, or even your neighbors, into people exactly like yourself, remember that God probably never meant them to be that. You and they are different organs, intended to do different things. On the other hand, when you are tempted not to bother about someone else’s trouble because they are ‘no business of yours’, remember that though he is different from you he is part of the same organism as you
Karen Spears Zacharias is an author/journalist. Her books are available wherever fine books are sold.