A few days ago a gay friend of mine complained on Facebook about my “Christ-centric” point of view, saying that he couldn’t understand my “still want[ing] to find hope within the religious mainstream.” On the very same day, a heterosexual stranger with whom I had a little debate on Twitter about marriage equality in New York said that his opposition to same sex marriage was “the Christian point of view,” having expressed astonishment at my 140-character explanation of my religious beliefs. An irony made more evident by the close timing of the reactions from these two very different people is how they, coming from such antithetical places, share something in common with each other—neither approves of my religious beliefs or the spiritual choices I’ve made.
For the former person, someone I’ve known for many years and whose friendship I still value, I’m too Christian. My openness about my faith, my participation in a church, my knowledge of scripture, all of this is apparently too much for him, this despite the fact that I’ve never pushed my religion on him, never told him he should be Christian or join a church, never engaged him in debate about religion, never emailed him or posted on his Facebook wall about religion. Indeed my comment on one of his posts that triggered his harangue made no mention either of Christ or of religion.
For the latter person, the stranger whom I’ve never met and never will, I’m not Christian enough. My being a member of a United Church of Christ congregation, part of a denomination that not only endorses marriage equality but also espouses views such as the key UCC one that “God is Still Speaking,” means that I am “not Biblical” in my approach to life. [Another irony is that this stranger’s father is a UCC pastor, although I do not know whether this stranger and his father share similar views about the path the denomination has taken.]
Perhaps one reason my friend disapproves of my religious perspective is that, although he does not realize this, he agrees with the stranger about Christianity. The stranger, explaining his beliefs on marriage, on the UCC and on Biblical inerrancy, presented his views as “the Christian point of view,” not a Christian’s point of view [emphasis mine], and I think that somehow my friend agrees with this stranger,
Somehow my friend agrees with this stranger, that there can be only one Christian point of view.
that there can be only one Christian point of view, and thus if I say I’m Christian, my point of view must be invalid.
A third irony is that the stranger showed me a little more respect than did my friend because he actually asked about my beliefs, while my friend I don’t think understands them, but both the stranger and my friend think I’m wrong when it comes to religion. While I respect the right of both my friend and this stranger to have religious beliefs different from mine, I refuse to allow either of them to tell me that there is a single Christian perspective.
So what do I believe? Well, what I told the stranger about my beliefs, in a Twitter-sized chunk, is “that the bible isn’t inerrant, that, as the UCC says, God is still speaking, and that Christianity isn’t the only way.”
For many Christians, including the stranger, my beliefs are enough to disqualify me from claiming that I’m a Christian, and given our culture’s understanding of what it means to be Christian (an understanding of Christianity that, ironically, my non-Christian friend shares), I guess I’m not a Christian. I do not believe the Bible to be inerrant. I do not believe an omnipotent God had no choice but to sacrifice his only son to atone for my sins to save me from eternal damnation. Further, I do not believe in an omnipotent God at all, I do not believe Jesus was the son of God or the sole manifestation of God, I do not believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus, and I’m not entirely sure there even was a historical Jesus.
The stranger’s right—
I’m not Biblical.
My friend’s right—
I am Christ-centric.
The stranger’s right—I’m not Biblical.
For many non-Christians, including my friend, my beliefs are enough to dismiss me as yet another Christian, and given my choices in life, especially those about many of the people with whom I associate, I guess I am a Christian. My background is Christian and I’m a part of a Christian church. You may not know many people who’ve helped to start a church, but I’m one such person, having been a part of Cross Creek Community Church since before it was even called that (I drove my little gay Miata through a blizzard in 1996 to be part of a small group of people who met to come up with our as yet unborn church’s name). Many of my friends are clergy. Despite not being entirely sure there ever was a historical Jesus, I believe much of what Jesus reputedly says, including the bits about loving one’s neighbors and caring for the least among us. It’d be much easier if I didn’t believe this stuff—I wouldn’t ever have to take a vacation day to unload a Foodbank truck or to get up very early on a Saturday to volunteer at a church food pantry. My friend’s right—I am Christ-centric.
Ultimately, however, it doesn’t matter whether either the stranger or my friend is right. I can’t live my life to please strangers who understand my beliefs and thus think I’m going to hell, and I can’t live my life to please friends who misunderstand my beliefs and thus think I’m making choices to avoid going to hell. All I can do is make choices that, as much as possible, make my life better for me.
And whether the stranger is right that I’m not a Christian but should be or my friend is right that I am a Christian but shouldn’t be, I’m happy being the kind of Christian I am. A statement that is true for me, though it will be too Christ-centric for my friend, is that I’ve found God at Cross Creek. The God I’ve found there is neither the one in whom the stranger believes nor the one whom my friend rejects. No, the God I’ve found is one whose voice is heard through relationships and dialogue, one who is made powerful from people working together but one who is limited by people’s imperfections. My describing God in this way should make it obvious that I believe God can be encountered in many circumstances, not just through Christianity and indeed not just through religion, but my encountering God through this Christian community works for me. I’m not ashamed of it, nor will I apologize for it.
A final irony before I close is that in another context this same statement—I’m not ashamed of it, nor will I apologize for it—would be something my friend would wholeheartedly endorse. It’s rather queer that in a Christian context he would find it so offensive.