One day in the not too distant future, geologically speaking, I will stand before my Maker and I will be asked where I have been all those years. And all I will be able to say in response will be something along the lines of, “I was right there, hiding from Your followers.”
There was a time when I went to church quite often. Granted, it was a while ago, but I served my time as an acolyte in my church growing up, sang in the choir and rarely missed a Sunday during the school year (God loves Episcopalians so much that He gives us summers off). I took my turn as a lay reader like everyone else in that small congregation – my first experience with the public speaking that now earns me my living – and I survived more than a decade of well-intentioned Sunday School. There are stories from that time that I still treasure, and someday perhaps I’ll write them down here.
Every Christmas in high school and college my brother and I would church-hop, going to various Christmas Eve services just to see what they were like. We’d start at our own church – a plaster and wood chapel full of air and light, built in the 1950s – for the early service, and end up somewhere else for the late one. My favorite was a place called St. Asaph’s, which was built to look like something out of 1300, all grey stone, dark wood and claustrophobia.
Somewhere in there I acquired a fairly solid faith, defined by the sort of latitudinarian low-church Episcopal theology that I grew up within and modified by any number of other influences along the way. If I had to place myself on a spectrum, I suppose I’d be an early eighteenth-century Newtonian Deist of the sort that fit comfortably within the Church of England when Anne was queen and which descended nearly unchanged into most of the American Founders.
It’s been a long time since I’ve done any of that, though. I still have my faith, but I don’t remember the last time I set foot in a church that didn’t involve a bride or a coffin. I find this rather disheartening, but I also find that I have very little incentive to do anything about it.
It seems to me that the term “Christian” has been taken over by the most narrow-minded, anti-intellectual, bigoted, reactionary and insane fringe elements of that broad movement, and that those elements have done a masterful PR job of convincing everyone that they and only they deserve the title. If you don’t believe in the literal truth of every contradictory word in that complex, sprawling document known as the Bible; if you don’t support the most stringent condemnations of unorthodoxy at the expense of compassion and grace; if you aren’t exactly like that fringe element in every particular, then you don’t count.
I don’t see this as Christianity. But then, as noted, I don’t count.
I still consider myself a Christian. And I am aware that those fringe elements are not all or even most of the Church, just the loudest, most smugly self-satisfied and most aggressive part of it. I know people who are active church members and even ministers who find these self-declared “Christians” as offensive as I do. But it gets tiresome having to defend – even to myself – the idea that I should share a space with people I regard as actively evil, and I have no energy to give to that task these days.
The Pharisees have taken over the Church, and I have left to give them room.
I will not be tarred by the same brush of insanity that drives the modern right-wing extremes of American politics and society, the one that has declared itself the One True And Only Representative not only of Christianity but of America as well. I will not accept or associate with people who, in the name of my religion, cheer for the death of the uninsured; treat women like cattle (or worse, because cattle have market value, after all); call for wars of aggression in the name of the Prince of Peace; gut the Constitution and seek to render unto the Lord what is rightfully Caesar’s; applaud the suffering of anyone who doesn’t look, act, think or speak precisely in the manner which these insufferable louts approve; and generally act with a sense of monstrous entitlement that would be deemed excessive in a toddler.
I didn’t put up with anything like that from my kids when they were toddlers, and I see no reason why I should put up with it from people who claim to be adults.
Nor do I see that as the message of the Church or its founder.
To be honest, I doubt the Pharisees want me around either. As noted, I am not of their ilk, and they are not really fond of people not of their ilk. More importantly, I have little patience for nonsense and no particular need any more to tolerate it. As I have gotten older and obtained wisdom in the ways of the world, my willingness to suffer fools gladly – or at all – has declined apace. No doubt I would start to answer their complaints about me honestly, and there is just no way that could possibly end well.
Here in these Evangelical States of America I simply do not feel comfortable hearing the adjective “Christian” applied to anything anymore – not thoughts, not actions, not places, not music, not education, not politics, not books, and not even the Church itself. All too often the word is used as a synonym for close-minded bigotry and as a way to define who is In versus who is Out.
And I’m Out.
I still have my faith. I haven’t changed. But I’m not going to go where those followers lead.
I will just have to hope that an omniscient and omnipresent God already understands.