a newer introduction
Not so long ago I somehow mustered the courage to come out. Out of the closet, out of fundamentalism.
When I first came out—by accepting my orientation as a gift from God and not a curse from “the enemy” as I’d been strongly encouraged to believe for some 30 years—my entire doctrinal structure crumbled around me. This was a good thing. It enabled me, still enables me, to openly and honestly question and challenge everything included in my theological belief set. And this is good because false things masquerade as true things, but cannot withstand the consistency test, whereas true things, no matter how hard you try to shake them, won’t fall.
I’ve discarded a lot of beliefs I once held with a desperate grip. But I’ve found many more that have held onto me, beliefs and convictions that cannot be shaken.
The former include specific dogmatic claims that characterize a certain movement within the American Protestantism of the latter 19th and 20th Centuries. The latter include those foundational values of Christianity as understood and lived by Christ followers since Paul wrote his first letter. The former include apocalyptic eschatologies that stand on nihilism and an unacknowledged, perhaps unrecognized desire for divine genocide that I find supported only by a proof-texted and horribly disfigured understanding of Scripture, an understanding that only works when one’s reasoning is encompassed by amphibolies and equivocation—fallacies no matter how you slice them. The lasting values include the radical egalitarianism and encompassing respect and compassion characteristic not only of the early Hebrew religion of the desert, but also the revolutionary teachings of the itinerant Jesus and the admonishing Paul.
I am convinced that we are called to love, and that, to sound trite, love makes the world go ’round. But this love is not all gooshy easy warm fuzzies. It can be work. Hard work. Work that requires concentration and dedication. It is selfless, unlike those of us called to it.
John Dominic Crossan noted that the most disturbing thing about Jesus is his understanding of the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus didn’t say, “You people run the world this way, and God has an idea for a better way; but if you don’t do it, well it’s kind of all right, though you might get a bit punished.” The Kingdom of God is, rather,
the fabric of the universe, the only way it will work. It will not work any other way. Now behind that I begin to see something that terrifies me more than the Kingdom of God, which is the patience of God. I do not think God intervenes in any sense, not because God could not; I make no such statement. God does not. And that frightens me more even than the radical justice of God. I am completely convinced that if we set out to destroy ourselves, God will not intervene to stop us, and God will settle eventually for the grass and insects.
I believe God does intervene—only far more seldom by way of unmediated miracles than we like to tell ourselves. I believe that we are responsible for this world—its states of affairs and its outcome. I believe the Great Commandment to love God and neighbor—about which Christ and the apostles spoke exponentially more often than anything else—is far more important than the Great Commission. We are known as Christ followers, Jesus said, by our love—not by our alter calls, healing services, political thinktanks, scriptural literalism, or religious conservatism. It is unfortunate that we have focused so much on the latter that people can say in all honesty that they don’t want to be Christians because they don’t accept the beliefs and behaviors that characterize it. How tragic!
I believe God intervenes through us, his Church, the Body of Christ. It is easy for us to wave aside responsibility if we believe God will act despite us. It is easy for us to toss up a “I’m just a flawed sinner” line, a line that we say to comfort ourselves when we are called on the carpet as unloving and a poor representation of Christ. It is easy for us to say things to assuage our guilt, to justify our failure to focus on love. And it is easiest to do these things when we believe that we are not our brothers’ keepers, that we are not the stewards of God’s creation, that we are not called to love as God so loved. And when we believe that we are somehow detached from God’s active work, it is easy for us to isolate from the world in which God placed us, to draw lines, and to justify fundamentalism, hatred, exclusivism, and even cruelty in the name of God.
But it is far more difficult to love the strange, the different, the disagreeable, the infidel, the other. We no longer eat with tax collectors and lepers, we the most vocal of the 21st Century church. We have become the exclusivist legalistic religious leaders our Lord condemned. How sad, how very sad that we are more interested in political positions, specific doctrinal points, and other epistemic minutiae than in divine love and compassion. How sad that in our exclusivism we’ve determined that agape, if ever in opposition to credo, should be banished to that side of the fence.
I have finally come to believe that God is more concerned with orthopraxy than orthodoxy. Some may say we are not saved by works, and I agree. What I mean is that our faith is shown by what we do not by what we proclaim to believe. If we love somebody, we show it. Since Jesus defined his followers by love, not belief set, it follows that our loving behavior is that whereby we are proven—both tested and verified—as Christ followers. If we throw aside the test of love in preference for a test of doctrine, we no longer follow Christ but our own creation.
I began this blog as an attempt to reconcile my orientation, intellect, and faith. And it is certainly no less true today than it was before I came out that these three, in some circles, are thought incompatible. One can be a gay intellectual, but one cannot be a gay Christian or an intellectual Christian—at least not an intellectual who has the audacity to think outside the accepted dogmatic box. But in my still young but intense journey outside the walls of fundamentalism, I have found a Christianity still marked by the egalitarian grace of Christ, which includes not only the tender kindness he showed the social outcast, but also the unflinching challenge he put before the politico-religious system of his day.
It follows that, to remain consistent, I must myself discard the judgmentalism and exclusivism—not to exchange one side for the other, as if moving to the ‘liberal’ camp makes me now the better person. To change dogmatic sides, to readjust beliefs, without discarding the exclusivism, is to do nothing—to exchange one shallow hypocrisy for another. Thus, my challenge now is that which I believe the Church is called to undertake: to love. Fundamentalists, liberals, homosexuals, homophobes, Republicans, Democrats, Muslims, Christians, Jews, atheists, Wiccans. To love as Christ loved us, to love the world as God so loved.
Thus, though my purpose hasn’t much changed, it has broadened. I write here my thoughts on what it is to be a Christian, a true Christian, as a minority voice in what Kierkegaard caustically called “Christendom,” a title meant as shameful and opposed to Christ, a title blindly accepted by the church as a label of pride, even as the church has embraced the religiosity Jesus himself so accosted and condemned. I seek to understand what we are called to be, to reconcile first-century teachings with twenty-first century circumstances. I write to explore what it is to have faith (whether Christian or otherwise), and I write to understand, for it is by writing that I process, that I learn, that I come to better understand the sometimes amorphous notions and concerns that whisper through my daily encounters.
I invite you to muse and meditate with me. And I welcome you to come alongside as I continue on this pilgrimage.