I identify more with Judaism now, but I was raised in a Christian home. I know the Bible better than most. I no longer celebrate Easter because it is believed that Easter actually became known as it is because of a church custom of taking pagan holidays – in this case, the celebration of Eostre, the Teutonic goddess of spring and fertility, hence the bunnies and eggs being so popular – and “Christianizing” them so the pagan cultures would convert without having to give up centuries-held traditions.
It’s not that I don’t believe in G-d or His Grace. I just don’t believe that the church today really puts much emphasis on it these days, even though they claim to.
A rabbi that I know and deeply respect once said something to me that I’ve never forgotten. He said, “if Yeshua (Jesus) was the messiah, He certainly never intended his followers to become what they are.” He wasn’t talking about one issue in particular, he was discussing many issues in that one statement, and he was right. Christians in America can be the most arrogant, pious, and self-serving people on the planet. They do more damage to their own cause than they will ever be willing to admit, and they claim it all in the name of love.
This isn’t solely going to be an indictment on Christians for their teachings on homosexuality (although that is definitely part of it). There’s more to it than that. I’m not willing to call them hatemongers, but they are blinded by their own self-righteousness. Keith Green wrote some amazing songs that called the church out on its hypocrisy – I grew up with his music, and I still love it. What astonishes me is that he was so popular with the very people who were behaving exactly as he described:
“Oh bless me lore, bless me lord”
You know it’s all I ever hear
No one aches, no one hurts
No one even sheds one tear…
The world is sleeping in the dark
That the church just can’t fight
’cause it’s asleep in the light …
I still remember, well after Green died in a plane crash, the music minister at my church singing that song one Sunday morning. The high points of the song garnered cheering. My church, Grace Community Church of Clear Lake (now GCC Houston with two massive campuses, one on either end of the city), had a very large, beautiful facility. It was very expensive. I remember fundraising efforts to have the backlit stained-glass window installed behind the baptismal. All of the money that has been spent on that facility could have gone to a million different things, but they spent it on the latest and greatest buildings and technology.
At the time, I would have proudly defended it. We need these things, I’d say, because we need to be able to attract people to the church to hear the gospel. I now believe I was very wrong, and so were they. Knowing what I know about what went on in the offices I don’t think any of the staff were nearly as ministry-minded as I used to believe. Even I wasn’t ministry-minded; I was religious, and I couldn’t tell the difference between being religious and having faith. They really are two vastly different things. I now understand perfectly the dichotomy of that song’s message and how nobody in the congregation understood it.
In my first year of working as an EMT, I had to learn where the county homeless shelter was and who was allowed to be there. Because the homeless could go there and get three square meals, religious groups were barred from gathering to pass out food – I have since had to ask many of them to leave. Nearly all of them have gotten aggressive with me, often accusing me of being an angry lesbian (yes, it really is that obvious) who hates God and only wants to stop their “ministry”. I’ve had groups all but assault me, trying to “lay hands” on me to pray for my salvation. I know that they don’t mean to hurt me, but at the same time I can’t let them do those things. I’ve had to call police to remove them more times than I can recall.
You see, rather than offer assistance to the county to help run the shelter and kitchens, they’d rather hand out food themselves and preach. I used to do it, too, and I know exactly why they do it – to feel better about themselves. They go out on a Sunday afternoon and make a gesture that, in the end, really doesn’t mean much. Once their good deed is done for the week, they go to church on Wednesday and brag about how they did battle with the “forces of darkness” (that would be me, of course) and talk about doing it again.
Being a good Christian is about more than a big facility, expensive production equipment, and going out to hand out food to the homeless once in a while. It’s about more than saying grace before sitting down to eat. It’s about more than a cool slogan, t-shirt, bumper sticker, or the most recent devotional version of the Bible. It should be about faith. Among Christians, divorce and financial irresponsibility are rampant. They want to hold all of society accountable but they can’t even hold themselves accountable. Jesus said that it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, yet we have Christian leaders (including my former pastor from Houston) telling their congregants that G-d’s blessings will make them wealthy if they only have enough faith.
The only people that Jesus specifically condemned to hell, however, were the religious leaders. He spoke seven woes upon the Pharisees and Saducees. I think if He were here in the flesh now he’d say the same thing. He’d ask, “what do you need this huge building for? Why are there pictures of the pastor all over every piece of literature this church hands out? Why are you on TV asking for donations when you already have a huge home and an expensive car? Why are you out protesting a group of people when you could be quietly living a faithful life and setting a better example – without the piousness?”
I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s Easter. If it means something to you, I think it’s great – it’s between you and G-d. The next time you get into that debate and you feel the urge to shout me down, ask yourself why. Why is it so important that I force my faith on everyone through law? Was G-d’s promise to “heal their land” really meant for us, or was it simply directed at a wayward Israel? How does the gospel gain converts when you beat everyone about the head and shoulders with your beliefs and claim that they’re the same as our Founding Fathers?
If you can’t answer those questions honestly – without invoking the “this is a Christian nation” argument – then you need to question yourself. Unfortunately, I don’t think enough people out there are smart enough to do that. That is why the church will always be asleep in the light.