12:21 p.m. - March 28, 2006
I think it started when I was on vacation in Dallas, when I was 12.
We went to visit one of my Mom’s family friends, who actually lived with them when they were girls growing up here in BFE Indiana. This friend had later moved to Texas and at this time she was living in Dallas in a nice apartment for a senior citizen.
This woman was a woman of God. She said grace before every meal, even in a Dairy Queen. She went to church twice on Sundays and once during the week. All through her apartment were religious artifacts. She always interjected praise to God and Jesus when someone had good news. She played guitar for the church.
Then I noticed something. The Sunday when we went to her church, a nice young man, who I believe was Hawaiian or Samoan, came by to take her to church. She said that she had family friends here and they’d take her.
When he left, she turned to my Mom and said, “He’s OK, he’s just a little dark.”
Later during the visit, the conversation amongst the adults turned to Dallas and the area. And then, out came the words. You know what words. The “n” word. “Colored”. I even heard “darkies”, if I recall. It was ugly. She had fear of these people, you could tell, and it manifested itself in the words she chose.
She was a woman who purported to walk with the Lord, yet could not accept anyone who was not like her. My heart was saddened. I wondered how that could be that someone filled with the Grace of the Lord could be so hateful. Mind you, the area I grew up in is not diverse, but there were enough minorities around that I learned that they were just like us, and there was no reason to hate or fear them.
As time went on in my life, I definitely noticed more and more instances where people of God held views that were ugly: racist, sexist, xenophobic. They always seemed to use the Bible as justification.
And it’s true; you CAN use the Bible to justify anything.
You can use the Bible to justify slavery.
I have also believed in our country’s freedoms – in our First Amendment. There is a freedom of religion – no one, especially the State, can impose beliefs on anyone.
During my teenage years, and a bit beyond, those teachings were slowly being eroded before my eyes. This was the first era of the Televangelist and the Moral Majority, and I noticed that people were indeed trying to limit freedoms and impose THEIR views of religion and morality on the rest of us.
I knew enough about the various sects and branches of Christianity that I knew there was no way that many of these groups would ever agree to one vision of morality and teachings.
I couldn’t believe when they derided those women who wanted equal rights, especially when they said that it led to “witchcraft” and “lesbianism”. Witchcraft? Yeah, the cauldrons are all aflame, right?
I also noticed, with my jaundiced teenage eye, the largesse of those televangelists and moralists. They dressed to the nines, wore bling, and looked like they didn’t shop at the same stores I shopped.
Even here in our little town, there was a preacher that had the poorest congregation in the area. He did a radio show when I worked at the local radio station, and he came into the studio to record his show every Sunday. He wore the nicest suits, drove a Lincoln Town Car, and had the stinkiest after shave. His show rocked and rolled, and he was popular amongst his congregation.
Yet, I knew people who went to that church, and they weren’t rich and the church wasn’t that big. Apostolic Pentecostalism isn’t a denomination that garners huge attendance. How could he afford such things?
Easy, he was kiting checks, and he soon got busted for it. Here was a man of God, breaking man’s law to improve his worldly possessions, so much for the vow of poverty.
Then my church was roiled with controversy. The preacher, who I really liked, was basically forced out, for reasons unknown. Methodism does move it’s preachers around for a while, but he was asked to leave. It really soured me. So I stopped going to church. For 21 years, I stopped.
I know that most all men and women of God and true believers are good, hardworking people who do not pass judgment, love their neighbors and try to live a life the best they can in the spirit of their beliefs.
So now I reflect on my teenage years, and I fear that it’s gotten worse. There seems to be more intolerance of others, at least publicly, and it’s supposedly justified in the Bible. There seems to be more of a clamor to impose beliefs on people, by people in power, on moral issues that are best left to be between God and each individual.
Well, the Bible, as I read it, is a document that was written many many years ago when times were definitely different. Of course, there’s a huge debate in this country about the Constitution, and whether it should be a living document or one that is strictly to be interpreted as it was written.
But it was written way back in 1789, it HAS to evolve with the times. Of course, I notice that the people who want it interpreted as written bend over backwards when a ruling goes AGAINST them using those principles, or when they reach out to support a position that causes the Constitution to bend into shapes that resemble a pretzel.
The Bible, I think, is the same way. A lot of it is historical writings, and using the events of the time and putting an attribute of God into the mix. The first part of Genesis, the creation, etc. is very common to the creation myths of many, many cultures. (Everyone has a story of what happened and why we’re here, ya know.) The prophecies have very florid language. The Gospel and the Acts are powerful documents in telling a story, telling the parables, and putting a human face on God, which was sorely needed. Then the letters are pure theology, and then there’s Revelations, which is just there to scare the unwashed masses, I believe. But that’s just my interpretation.
The Bible has a lot of rules and restrictions – but they’re based on the time it was written and some phobias people had about certain things. I’m convinced that the words against homosexuality in the Bible were written as a way to make sure people procreated, because you can’t procreate if you doing couple in boy / girl fashion, for example.
But the overall theme and message is clear, at least to me. Basically, love your neighbor. Forgive those who have sinned against you. Try not to sin against your neighbor. Seek redemption and forgiveness for any transgressions you may have committed. Because, I do believe, love IS all you need.
And sometimes those words in the Bible give me great comfort.
So why do people twist the Bible into various shapes and forms to discriminate against those who are different? Why is the word of God and Jesus used to hate? Why, in the name of promoting their religion, do they trample on Hindus, Muslims, Jews, and other faiths? Heck, some people have used the words of the Bible to attack those in other Christian faiths. How much anti-Catholic hatred has there been? How often do the Mormons get bad publicity or press, or be called a cult?
I mean, the Mormons have their own beliefs, and to outsiders, it’s a bit extreme, but so are the Apostolic Pentecostals, the Eastern Orthodox religions, and Southern Baptists, even.
The one thing that is common is that they are using those words against people who are different from them. They are from a different place – they worship a different God – they are a different color. THEY ARE NOT RIGHT!
The Bible was used as justification to take this land from the Native Americans. It was used as a basis for segregation. It was used as a basis to stop races from intermarrying. And now, it’s used as a basis for two people in love to not have the rights that other couples have.
I don’t think that’s right. Love your neighbor, accept him. He is not different from you. God made him in a way where he loves in a different way than you do. He didn’t choose that life – I mean, would you want to put yourself through years of hell just for a kink?
One thing that I can’t get my arms around is something that many of the women in Liz’s MOPS group believe, that you MUST be born again in order to go to heaven. They’re adamant about it – yet many Protestants and Catholics don’t have that “born again” experience – they’ve always been ‘born’, as it were.
There are many agnostics, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, etc. that have good hearts and good souls. Why are they not allowed into the afterlife, if it is truly a place to celebrate the good and righteous? What about the people who were isolated from the Middle East in the early days of Christianity, and had no way to hear the Good News? Are they SOL? I doubt it.
One of my college fraternity brothers is now a Buddhist monk, and he is the most gentle, kind and giving person around. If he’s not going to heaven when he dies (or Nirvana, or whatever the afterlife will be), then I don’t want to go, either.
(Yes, I believe in a life after this, of some sort, because I have too many damn memories and I can’t imagine them going to waste.)
I realize my personal beliefs and theology may be a mess, and run counter to the standard beliefs as strictly laid down by churches all over, even mine. But I believe God wanted us to think for ourselves. Most of the Bible is about struggle, and fighting against the grain and the masses, and questioning certain held principles of the time.
To me, it’s all about love and caring for one another, and accepting your neighbor. You pray for him, not against him, when he needs help, when he needs comfort and aid.