Often as a pastor, I am invited into conversations regarding Christianity. Many of the conversations begin in the form of questions. Some are easier to answer than others. Some, I am unable to answer, but can offer an opinion or personal thoughts. Some conclude with a mutual understanding or agreement, some do not. Either way, I am always grateful for the chance to share and listen.
The following is a recent email I received followed by my response. I have removed the names to protect privacy. I wanted to share it because it covers some thoughts I have heard from others. Thoughts that are important and honest. Thoughts and concerns that can be helpful for all of us to hear.
I am very grateful for this exchange and pray all of our conversations to continue to bring us closer together.
from: ********** <**********@gmail.com>
Hello Pastor (Minister?) Rook,
I write you because I know that a friend of mine from college has been welcomed in your congregation and seeing them welcomed and growing significantly in their faith has made me question my distance from the church. The following may be TMI off the bat, but if you have the time and mental energy, I’d like to explain my journey this far and ask for your advice.
I grew up deeply involved in the church, homeschooled, and listening to Max McClean read the new testament every night for 6 years straight. My faith was the core of my identity. At the height of my zealously I had all of Matthew, most of Mark, all of Luke, most of John, all of Acts, Romans, the Timothy’s, 1st Corinthians, Jude, and Revelations by heart, to where if I heard 5 words of a recording I’d recite the recordings verbatim down to intonation. But as I reached adolescence I began to question and rather than guide me my church leaders and father berated and belittled my questions. My father became even more physically, mentally, and spiritually abusive and used “the word of the lord” to justify his violence.
It was at this point I removed myself from the church, denounced my faith and became an agnostic bordering on atheism. 10 years later I realized that I am bisexual and the hatred that I had learned from the church towards sexuality had caused me to hate and try kill part of myself. I deeply resent this.
However, some of the very best, most accepting, and loving people I know are Christians and actually show Christ’s love through actions rather than damnation. I’ve come to view religion like a tool, and like a hammer (also a tool) it can be used to build something of use and beauty or it can be used to cave someone’s skull in.
To be honest, I am not sure if I need faith in my toolbox, but I do miss the peace of “letting go, and letting God”. While I have a multitude of questions that should be guided towards a personal advisor, my main question is how do you justify claiming a God that many others use to justify their hatred, bigotry, and violence?
To me, I view Christianity’s war against homosexuality as akin to the crusades. Those perpetrating the violence view it as justified and even righteous, and those who see it going on, whether they agree or not, let it continue.
The fact that my friend has been welcomed and has been allowed to tell their story makes me think you may be one of the Christians that disagree, but how do you justify worshiping a God that many uses as an excuse for hatred?
I’m aware of the arguments of “free will”, “that’s not Christ”, and “it’s their interpretation” but at the end of the day Jesus sat with, fed, love, and washed those society in his day considered sinners, denouncing those who sent people away. In my experience most Christians are just modern-day Pharisees looking to condone and condemn as best suits their personal agenda rather than true believer guided by love. How can you, even in name of faith, associate with such bastardy if Christianity is a religion of love? Why are no “good Christians” vocally denouncing the hatred in their midst?
My Muslim brothers and sisters have been more welcoming to my pursuits of spirituality than 95% of the Christians I’ve met. I’ve practice Buddhism in two forms and felt more love from 4 people in a meditation circle than I have in a full church, second service. I’ve studied everything from Judaism to Shintoism and even speaking with people deeply involved in their faiths I have never experienced such hatred than Christianity.
That’s a roundabout way of asking how you justify your faith and encourage others in regards to such darkness.
from: Trever Rook <email@example.com>
to: ********* <*******gmail.com>
Thank you for reaching out like this. I think it takes something special to engage in conversations like this especially when we haven’t met. I’m honored that you contacted me. And you can feel free to just call me Trever if you wish.
First let me say that I agree with you on so much of this. I believe the real danger to the church is people, identifying as Christians, doing very unchristian things. In fact, one of the driving forces, as to why I became a pastor was to promote what Christianity truly is, (love, kindness, acceptance, respect, etc.) and to assure people of what it is not. (bigotry, judgmentalism, self-centeredness, violence, hatred etc.)
It’s not always easy to answer your question when indeed, so many people have promoted and continue to promote what Christianity is not.
But I think your illustration of the hammer is a good one. The hammer is not evil. And it is up to people that know why the hammer was put on this earth, to continue to use it in the correct way. Our world is filled with so many beautiful and wonderful ‘tools,’ but as long as there are people, there will be some who abuse and misuse these ‘tools.’
As long as we have had beauty in our world, there have been those who have tried to turn it into something ugly. There will always be those that try to convince people that true beauty is unreal. People will try and distort it, misrepresent it, cover it, discredit it, abuse it, misuse it… But in truth, true beauty remains. It just takes a bit more to see it.
For me, to walk away from Christianity would be saying that Christ was the cause and not the solution. Jesus’s arguments with pharisees and others shows me that he is not the promoter of hatred, but rather of love.
Even in the time of Christ, many did not get this. Perhaps it was too radical to think that true power does not come from hatred or dominance, but from welcoming others with love. Christ warned us against false teachers and leaders and so many continue to be fooled and sucked into the mis-teachings of others. They have been told that differences are something to be feared and that faith equals power and prosperity. They are conditioned to fear and to react to fear rather than faith. I believe many have been misled into thinking that Christ is about judgment, criticism, unforgiveness and “We vs They.”
I believe, as a Christian, much of my calling is to help others see who Christ really is.
Martin Luther King Jr. was a Christian often fighting others who claimed to also be Christian. He could have looked at the many hypocrisies and walked away, but it was his Faith in Christ that drove him to see that people were not being treated the way that Jesus treated people. Sometimes it is because of our faith that we choose, not to walk away or merely accept, but to stay and be part of the solution. To be part of the truth.
While I do see so many people fighting with each other, I still do see people fighting for each other. I do see others, like me, who continue to promote love and respect for all of God’s creations. Who see people’s uniquities as something to be celebrated. Who believe the name of Christ is being used in ways that are not connected with him.
I’ll bet we both know what it is like to have been misrepresented. Either through rumor, or lies or other means, we have all had our name attributed to someone or something that is not a true representation of who we really are.
we have all, at times, been used or lied to or taken advantage of. We have all felt the need to correct a lie or falsehood in favor or restoring the truth about ourselves.
I believe this has happened to Christ so many times. Truly I believe, people have been misrepresenting and mislabeling Jesus even from times before he was born on earth.
The mystery might be why. Why doesn’t God just correct it? Perhaps that brings us to an even greater mystery. That would be the relationship God has with us. This kind of partnership with us, that doesn’t just allow us choice, but also requests that our part be played in all of this. The callings we have to help educate, share, welcome, celebrate, accept and promote truth.
If I walked away from my faith, it would be because I have none.
My faith moves me into a relationship with Christ. And that relationship moves me to continue to promote true Christianity. Where people are loved and celebrated for who they are. Where we try and better ourselves, not out of conformity, but out of care. Where we are not bullied over our heritage, color, culture, or who we love. Where we are celebrated for being our honest selves. Where we truly work to love each other the way that Christ loves each of us.
I pray this has helped to answer your question at least from my personal viewpoint. I’m sorry Covid continues to keep us from gathering because I would love to invite you to church and have some coffee. If you are ever up to a zoom call to talk more, I’d be happy to.