We were Never Meant to be the Same

 

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.

No longer.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Karen Spears Zacharias

Author/Journalist/Educator. Gold Star Daughter.

9 Comments

Nicole

about 2 weeks ago

Thanks Karen, I have been fortunate on my faith journey.I found a place in my youth that accepted me, even if my experiences were different. It was the first time I felt that I “ belonged” to a group bigger than my family. As an adult I found a church offering the same sense of belonging. I fought tooth and nail against the liturgical structure, but now feel comfort in it.St. Thomas, Columbus is welcoming to all. They practice what they preach that “Love is the way”.

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Karen Spears Zacharias

about 2 weeks ago

Yes, St. Thomas is wonderful because of the people.

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Susan Stephenson

about 2 weeks ago

I, too, have found the Evangelical beliefs of relatives very off-putting. The rigidity demanded of its followers seems 180-out from the universe their Bible tells us God created. There simply isn’t one kind of tree or one kind of flower or one kind of bird or one kind of fish. So why should there be one kind of people all believing one thing? Fortunately, here in Columbus, GA, I found the Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship, with members of all sorts of belief systems. UU’s are guided in their spiritual journey by Seven Principles. We “don’t do dogma.” Some believe in God, some don’t, some aren’t convinced that question is even relevant. It IS a progressive, welcoming spiritual community.

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Karen Spears Zacharias

about 2 weeks ago

There are plenty of communities out there who have learned the lesson of which Rev. Aitken preached - Love One another. Lots of communities trying to do just that.

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Linda Williamson

about 2 weeks ago

Thanks for sharing those thoughts, Karen. I agree and really feel that the Christian church is at times (maybe even at all times) its own worst enemy. Traditional church attendance in our small community has greatly decreased as it has in general all around our nation. The "blame" for that can easily be laid at the feet of many who loudly proclaim on Sunday mornings how good and pious and just they are, yet during the week they freely wield the power they hold and flaunt their status and privilege to maintain their "place" in society.

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Karen Spears Zacharias

about 2 weeks ago

I don't think it's a new problem but I do believe that it has been exploited by the likes of MTG, DT, Matt Gaetz, and so many others in the public arena. They can no longer control the masses through church so they have turned to using evangelical language as a means to political power.

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AF Roger

about 1 week ago

Glad to hear from you again, and I understand the difficulty and challenge of emerging from silence. Most of the time, I find myself left speechless by what I observe now. As Creation is dying before our very eyes, we seem blind, deaf and impervious to the most basic understanding of how it works and our place in it. We will fight to the death over absolutist (non)understandings of how Creation got created while simultaneously displaying zero regard for the Creation itself. Why? The final word of your last reply above nails it. The evil that is destroying us and all of created life itself is that single word: power. By the way, I don't use irregular capitalizations for emphasis. I can only bring myself to speak and write of the most numinous thing I know so tangibly in the most reverent way I know. If the Creator deserves the capital C, so does the Creator's work. It is the only thing we know that cannot exclude anything but by definition makes a place for everything. No surprise. Consider who birthed it!

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Diana Trautwein

about 1 week ago

So.Well.Said!!! Thank you. Loved the sermon quotes a whole lot.

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Travis

about 7 days ago

Dear Karen, It is a little unclear from what you wrote whether you believe the Apostle's Creed or not. Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God? Or do you think he was just a regular man who was misrepressented by his followers? You quote Rev. Aitken saying, "Read the Gospels and you will see that Jesus never required anyone to believe as he believed." This is demonstrably untrue. Jesus said (as recorded in John 8:24) "For if ye do not believe that I am [He], you will die in your sins." Jesus said that unless people believed that He is the Christ, they could not be saved. He also said (as recorded in Matthew 10:33), "But whosoever will deny Me before men, I also will deny them before My Father who is in the heavens." Are you, Karen, now tacitly denying Jesus "before men", saying that Christianity is merely a man made religion? Or do you confess that Jesus of Nazareth is in fact the eternal God incarnate, who literally died on a cross for the sins of the world and also literally was raised bodily from the dead three days later? Present day politics, in the larger scheme of things, do not really matter that much; but think carefully about how you answer the above question. Jesus was clear: unless we confess Him literally as the Messiah, God's rightfully appointed King over all humanity, we will perish eternally in our sins.

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