I once preached a Sunday morning message at a church in Lumberton, North Carolina. The pastor had reached out to me while I was working as an editorial writer at the FayObserver in Fayetteville. He had read my book – Where’s Your Jesus Now? Examining How Fear Erodes Our Faith (Zondervan).
Of all the books I’ve written, that remains my husband’s favorite. It’s really a treatise on how I moved away from fundamentalism and the Religion of Being Certain. The Religion of Certainosity, I called it. That book was published in 2008 by Zondervan whose leadership thought briefly about moving away from promoting fundamentalism themselves. The operative word here is “briefly.”
Here’s the thing you should know about Christian publishing companies – they are often headed up by people who are not kooks. They don’t believe in the God projected by a lot of the books they produce. Publishing is a business, first and foremost. They put out a lot of Apocalyptic literature because there’s a demand for it among the masses. It is those books that pay the bills and make it possible for Christian publishers to slip in a book or two about the Christian response to Climate Change or Racism. Feminism is still a topic Christian publishers shy away from because it upsets the whole paradigm of patriarchy upon which nearly every church in America is built. By default, Christian publishers encourage group think, and it is this group think that has helped create our current political climate.
But I digress. Sort of.
I was invited by the pastor in Lumberton to preach at a Sunday Morning worship service. You have to understand that giving a woman the power of the microphone is a huge deal in a church in Lumberton, North Carolina, where people still believe women should never teach men. Sigh.
The church was packed.
The other thing you need to know is that the reason I was invited by this particular pastor is because he had read my book, had read the section of the book where I talk about homosexuality and how the church had gotten it wrong:
“A person can go around claiming that homosexuals are responsible for all our nation’s ills, but that doesn’t make it true. It’s a big fat bold-faced lie that is confusing folks and making them forget the truth of the message of Christ, which is we are to love God with our whole heart, mind, body and soul and to love our neighbors as ourselves, even our gay and lesbian neighbors.”
Over coffee in Fayetteville one day prior to my speaking, this pastor told me that he was fairly certain his 15-year-old son was gay. It was a hard thing for him to talk about, not because the truth of that made him love his son any less, but because his love for his son compelled him to want to protect him. And, let’s be honest, because having a gay son could cost him his job, his livelihood. If the church community found out, they quite possibly would require him to denounce his son or step down from the ministry.
His question to me was fairly straightforward: How can I help my son? Not, how can I protect my job?
I still remember the message I delivered that day in Lumberton. It was the message out of Luke 8: 22-25:
“One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and set out. As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm.
“Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples.
In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.”
Stopping a storm might seem like a pretty major event, if one hadn’t already witnessed Jesus cast out demons, heal Peter’s mother-in-law, and heal a man on the Sabbath, a clear violation of religious law at the time. I don’t know about you, but I think Jesus would have had me at the cast out the demon point:
Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
“Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!”
The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.
That’s the point where I’m going to believe this man is a wizard capable of calming a raging storm.
Yet, the question Jesus put to the frightened men in the storm seem as relevant today as ever: Where is your faith?
He might as well be asking: What is it you believe about me? About yourselves?
It’s clear from the photos out of Lumberton today, the answer for far too many is that Christ has simply become a icon through which they channel their bigotry and patriarchy, their racism and their xenophobia. Whatever message of love they once held dear has now turned to ashes upon the altar of fear.
They wholeheartedly believe that Trump will usher in the Kingdom of God. Not Jesus.
They are willing to sacrifice friendships, family, their money and even their very health in allegiance to a Anti-Christ.
Donald Trump is a man whose entire life is a repudiation of the life of Christ.
And they cannot or will not see it.
When Jesus asks of them, Where is your faith?
Their answer is in Donald Trump.
Years ago when my children were the ages my grandchildren are now, I had a dream in which I was in the midst of a raging storm. Before waking completely, I received a word I believed then and believe now was from God. The message was pretty straightforward: “In your life there will be many storms. There will be scary times, but as long as you stay by Jesus’s side, there will be calm in the midst of that storm.”
I awoke comforted by that message.
There are many things I was taught as a young woman in the name of religion than I no longer believe:
Homosexuality is a sin. Women don’t belong in the pulpit. A girl can get pregnant by swimming in the same water as boys. Men should be heads of a household. Women shouldn’t wear pants with a zipper in front. A woman’s body belongs to her husband. Black people shouldn’t marry white people.
But there are some things I hold steadfast to:
Perfect love cast out all fear. Love God with your whole heart, mind, body, and soul, and others just as much as you do yourself. If I speak in the tongues of men and angels but have not love, I’m only a noise. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have absolute faith so that I could move mountains (or calm raging seas) but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor, but have not love, I gain nothing.
So that’s what I told that pastor when he asked how he could best help his gay son: “Love him,” I said.
As we face these uncertain days ahead, let us not act out of fear, but let’s let love compel us.
Let’s vote in a way that reflects the love of God for all people.
Let’s vote in a way that honors people of all walks of life and not just those who think or act or look like us.
Let’s vote in a way that encourages a spirit of unity and goodness, not one of derision and hatefulness.
Let’s vote in a way that lifts of the hopeless, encourages the downtrodden, that heals the brokenhearted.
Let’s vote in a way that says to children, to the sick, to the poor, you matter to me.
Let’s vote in those who build up our faith and vote out those who incite our fears.
Karen Spears Zacharias is an author/journalist.