I fell so hard for this church and its presence of Spirit that I joined a male-only Bible study and started bonding with other Christian men. We talked about many things in this group--our lives, our marriages, our character defects. I opened up about my alcoholism. For the first time in a long time, I felt I had found my people.
Then something bad happened. I call it the “High School Clique Incident.”
It started when I made the “mistake” of reading a spiritual tome that was not on the approved Christian reading list. The book was The Valkyries by Paulo Coelho, about the author’s journey into the Mojave Desert with his wife to make conscious contact with his guardian angel. During this vision quest, he encounters a band of motorcycle-riding warrior women who instruct him that in order to fulfill his mission he must take three very important steps:
Make a Bet.
After meditating on these words, I became so filled with a sense of joy and peace that I had to share my newfound insight with my Christian friends. The opportunity to do this came up at a church picnic. I was standing around, mingling with John and Tom, a couple of men in my Bible study, and it just came out of my mouth.
“What book?” John interrupted.
“It’s by Paulo Coehlo.”
“Paulo Coelho? Isn’t he one of those new age authors?”
“I don't know what kind of author he is, but he's a good writer.”
“He’s new age. You know what the Bible says about new age teachers?”
“I don’t think the Bible says anything about new age teachers.”
“It says in First Timothy,” Tom piped up, “that there will be those that fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.”
“I don’t think we’re talking about a deceitful spirit,” I said. “There is a lesson in Paulo Coelho’s book that really helped my understanding of Christian redemption.”
“It’s still new age teaching,” Tom said. “That’s how the devil works, by convincing you he's talking about Jesus when he's really not.”
“This is crazy,” I said. “If you’d just listen to what I have to say--”
“Fine,” John said, his sneer a mixture of mockery and terror. “Explain it to us. Enlighten us.”
I told them my ideas about the three-step process of breaking a pact, accepting forgiveness, and making a bet--
“Whoa!” John bellowed. “Make a bet? Now you’re talking about gambling?”
“It’s not like that,” I said. “It’s about--”
“Matt’s going new age on us,” John said.
“I’m not going new age!” I insisted.
“What's going on, Matt?” Pastor Mike said. “Everything all right at home?”
“Everything is fine at home. I was just trying to tell these guys about a book I was reading. They’re trying to tell me it’s a doctrine of demons or somesuch nonsense, but I don’t think it is. I just thought it would be interesting and perhaps helpful if we discussed it.”
“So tell me what it’s about,” Pastor Mike said.
I started once again to describe what I had read. I barely got to the “break a pact” part when someone else walked up and slapped Pastor Mike on the shoulder.
“Hey, Pastor!” this someone else said. “How's it going this evening?”
And that is when Pastor Mike and Brothers John and Tom did something to me that has not been done since high school. They turned their backs on me. They shifted their positions to form a circle with this new arrival, effectively excluding me from the group.
High school, as I said.
The cool kids had drawn new lines of demarcation. I was no longer invited to sit at their table.
It may seem like a small thing, but that moment really hurt. I have spent most of my life filling my mind, seeking wisdom and enlightenment, and enthusiastically looking for those with whom I can share my every “Eureka!” moment. Most of the time, my words fall on the ears of hooting alpha-chimps who quizzically cock their eyebrows and offer some sarcastic dismissal like “It’s okay, Matt, the doctor is ready for your bath now.” But in this church, and especially in Pastor Mike, I thought I had actually found men with whom I could engage in spirited debate.
It was devastating to learn that I could not.
Ten years have passed, and I have not attended to any church service since that day except for weddings, funerals, and the occasional holy holidays when I’m visiting my mom. Thanks, Pastor Mike and company. You’ve really done your part to save my soul.
* * * *
I can see both sides of this argument.
On the one hand, a business owner has the right to refuse service to anyone he or she chooses. But on the other hand, there are certain laws put into place to prevent people from brandishing that right in an effort to discriminate against others. While it was certainly vogue before the civil rights movement to refuse service to black customers, that is no longer acceptable, nor is it legal. In my mind, refusing homosexuals is equally wrong.
Listen. I don’t think Barronelle consciously set out to discriminate against anyone when she refused service to this gay couple. I do, however, think she is the product of Christian paranoia, a comorbidity of Tea Party myopia that flies in the face of Christ’s teachings. Said Christian paranoia deems to defy a doctrine of love and acceptance by suggesting that it is perfectly acceptable to reject any sinner who commits a sin that you do not.
It's exclusionary. Like Pastor Mike and Brothers John and Tom.
The Bible says that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." The modern-day Great American Christian says some sin falls shorter of God's glory than others.
So I have to ask the Great American Christian ... what is your sin?
Is it greed? Depravity? Envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice? Gossip, slander, insolence, arrogance, or boastfulness? Do you disobey your parents? Do you lack understanding, fidelity, love, or mercy?
Guess what? All of these sins are listed by the Apostle Paul in Romans 1, right after the part where he calls homosexuality unnatural.
But what does Paul say after his little “sin-ventory”?
“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” (Romans 2:1).
Would Barronelle be “acting consistent with her Christian faith” if she refused service to the man who talked behind his neighbor’s back, the teenage girl that stirred up discord among her peers, the husband who cheated on his wife, or the wife who resented her husband for cheating? All of those are sins, people. Would you think Barronelle a heroic woman of faith if she rejected their business? Or would her hard-line stance against all sin like Rorschach in Watchmen seem supercilious and petty?
“You who pass judgment do the same things.” Chew on that one while you’re reading what follows.
After Jeremy Hooper posted the above Tweet, he received a barrage of Twitters from a Christer named Thomas, Twitter handle @tjemery1, whose profile looks like this:
Anyway, Thomas felt it was his solemn duty to act consistent with his Christian faith and condemn young Jeremy, passing back-handed judgment by pretending to show compassion through prayer:
The second Tweet throws out grossly inaccurate data without citing a single source. This argument gets laughed out of court with extreme prejudice.
But Thomas is not done, not by a long shot. Before the paint dries on his previous tweets, Thomas pulls out the "public prayer for sinners worse than me" card again. Brazenly. Defiantly. Like the hypocrites Jesus calls out in Matthew 6:5, who “love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others.” Jesus goes on to say that people who pray like this “have received their reward in full.”
In other words, the only thing they’re praying for is self-adulation, turning what is meant to be an intimate communion with God into a masturbatory experience.
Hey, look, I've got nothing against prayer. I do quite a bit of it myself. I pray for people who are suffering, who have lost their way, who are searching for answers. I also do it in secret, like Jesus suggests we do in Matthew 6:6.
But what I find really mean-spirited about telling the sinner (specifically the homosexual sinner) “I will pray for you” is that the person doing the praying establishes himself in a position of superiority. If he was truly compassionate, if he truly wanted God to intercede on the sinner’s behalf, if he was truly ardent about petitioning God through prayer … then all he has to do is pray! He doesn’t have to tell anybody what he's doing!
Why, then, does the exclusionary Christer tell the sinner he’s praying? To make the sinner feel inferior. That’s it. The Christer wants to send a message to the sinner:. “Hey, faggot … I mean, sinful homosexual. You’re on God’s shit list for being gay, and you deserve to die, but don’t worry. I’m one of the good guys. God digs me, so I’ll ask him to step in and show you the error of your ways.”
See how discriminatory and exclusive that is?
Well, you know me. I can’t keep my Twitter piehole shut most of the time, and I was already in a mood, so I decided to poke the hornet's nest a bit:
But the thing that amuses me most about this exile is that in Thomas's parting shot he calls me an “apostate Christian.” What does this mean? Well, apostasy comes from the Greek word apostasia, which means defection, departure, revolt, or rebellion. In Christianity, the apostate is one who was once a Christian but has since rejected Christ (which makes the term “apostate Christian” sort of an oxymoron since an apostate is no longer a Christian).
I will go on the record as saying that I have not rejected Christ. I do, however, reject modern-day Great American Christians. I reject their condemnatory swagger, their highbrow exclusivity, and their inexhaustible push for elitism over enlightenment. I reject their “mean girl” mentality that compels them to prohibit the questioning brother from entering their brain trust. I reject their propensity to label and marginalize certain “sinners” over others. In short, I reject their bastardization of Christ’s teachings by a Western culture that gives consumerism precedence over compassion.
Thomas labeled me an apostate and blocked me from future interactions because I dared call out his hypocrisy. I admit, I am no better than Thomas for attacking him. I’m not exactly practicing what I preach here. Nonetheless, if Thomas had honestly called me out, I would have at least tried to engage him. I would want to talk to him. I hunger for spirited debate.
But I certainly would not block him.
The thing is, Great American Christians like Thomas do not want spirited debate. They want to be right. They want to egg my house and then cower in the shadows. Thomas is not the first Great American Christian to block me on Twitter for inciting debate. And by blocking me, they assume the role of “cool kid” like the Florida church charlatans who literally crowded me out of their circle.
Don't folks like this make you feel soooooooo close to Jesus?
* * * *
A few weeks ago, I was back home in Kansas visiting my home town of El Dorado. I love El Dorado and am forever grateful for the positive role it has played in my life, but I was rather distraught to learn that a move to create a transitional homeless shelter in the city was met with so much resistance that Wendy Gault, the delegate with the Butler Homeless Initiative, was forced to withdraw her petition for a permit.
Why were so many people opposed to transitional housing to help the homeless?
Because they feared it would ... (wait for it!) ... lower their property values! The "cool kids" own property, you see, while the "uncool kids" do not. We don't want any slobbering homeless sitting at our table in the cafeteria!
If those of you who were opposed this shelter were atheists, then bully for you. You have no God to answer to, so you can still sleep at night.
But if, as I suspect, you call yourself Christians, then I only hope when you stand before your Deity, He doesn’t hold you to the same standard that you hold the homeless. It would really suck to be left out of Heaven because your presence might create estate depreciation.
Of course, you're the "cool kids," so maybe God will make an exception.