Why am I still a Christian?

Odd man outGot this in last week:

Hi John,

I’m writing to share a problem I have with being a Christian and confronting the anti-gay attitude of the Church.

I am not gay. I am divorced and raising two children on my own. I became a Christian 11 years ago, when I stumbled into a Church, broken and full of despair, and Jesus told me to lean on him.

I have found such tremendous healing and strength in my faith journey since then, and it has been such a force for good in my life. I have wonderful friendships with gay friends (none of whom are Christian), and I guess that when it came to my faith, and the general attitude in Church towards homosexuality, I blanked it out. Just tried not to think about it.

Since reading your posts, and the ones from the Unfundamentalist Christians Facebook page [here]—plus of course my own sickening experiences listening, for instance, to Christians equating homosexuality with pedophilia—I feel that the more I read and understand about the narrow-minded, ungracious and unloving attitude of Christians towards gay people, the more it is pushing me away from God. If it makes sense, your articles inspire me, but they also seem to anger me (in the unfairness of the treatment towards homosexuals), making me feel resentment and despair about so many Christian people. It feels like to support the “cause” of a just and fair acceptance of homosexuality, I have to reject the Church.

I guess what I am trying to say is that I need to find a way to make peace with my support of gay people, and also not take this anger to Church with me. I am lucky that I belong to a Uniting Church here in Adelaide that has an accepting view of homosexuality. Saying that, the whole subject is still never mentioned. How do I reconcile the two? How do you do it? The Jesus that rescued me all those years ago is the same Jesus now to me, but I feel that this issue is blocking me from being able to freely worship him. I feel that I am at a crossroads in my faith journey: that I need to either stop going to Church, or find a way to keep my faith, know that this situation is not going to resolve itself quickly (or quietly), and stand up for what I believe is right when the opportunity presents.

Do you have any advice or suggestions for me? Best wishes.

Dear Person Who Wrote Me This:

What about suggesting to your church that it talks openly and directly about the gay issue, via a class series, symposium, seminar, etc.? It’s likely others at your church are feeling as you are. Find out if they are. It’s your church, too. Ask your pastor if your church can hold some sort of open forum on the gay issue. If he or she says declines or demurs, then start a little inner-church class or discussion group on your own. If you can’t get that going, then you’re definitely attending to the wrong church. A church that won’t deal with the theology informing difficult questions facing Christianity isn’t worth the paper on which its bulletins are printed.

But as to your larger point about your relationship overall to Christianity, your faith, and church. It’s clear how much you consider one being faithful and attending church: you wrote, “I need to either stop going to Church, or find a way to keep my faith”—and you’re careful to capitalize the word church, and so on. Like so many, you naturally assume that being a Christian is essentially synonymous with going to Church.

But it’s not. Being Christian is something you are; going to church is something you do. Not the same thing. They’re certainly not for me, for instance, if that helps you at all. I go to church about as often as I vacuum under my couch. And I’m as Christian as Christian gets.

You won’t lose Jesus if you don’t go to church. You can’t. Jesus came to find you; Jesus has you. That relationship is fixed. You’re in. It doesn’t matter if you go to church or not. You’ll always be a Christian—unless at some point, for some reason, you consciously and purposefully decide not to be. I don’t think that will ever happen to you—and if it does, it won’t be because you didn’t go to church often enough. It’ll be because something serious got broken.

You asked how I continue being a Christian, when so many Christians and their churches condemn gay people. That’s easy: I never, ever confuse Christianity with Christians. I don’t care what other people think. I care if the Bible says that Christians are supposed to condemn gay people. But it doesn’t say that. If it did, I wouldn’t be Christian—that, for me, would be a deal breaker. But it doesn’t. So that’s just not an issue.

Again, I don’t care what other people think. Any Christian who believes that the condemnation of gay people is inherent to Christianity is flat-out, one hundred percent wrong. There’s nothing all that weird about that. If being ignorant and wrong were a crime, we’d all be communicating by rapping tin cups on our prison bars.

Also, on the anger thing. I can only tell you how I handle my anger toward Christians who use Christianity as a weapon of oppression and subjugation. What I do is write this blog. I do my best, pretty much every day, to put forth out into the world, right here on this here blog, a Christianity that I know is righteous and true. That is my obligation to God, people, and life. So that’s what I do. Then I don’t feel angry anymore. Because then I know I’ve done what I can to do what I should. Then I can sleep at night.

There’s nothing wrong with being angry; anger is the healthy response to injustice. (See Jesus.) What’s unhealthy is to feel an enduring, abiding anger that you let seethe rather than constructively act upon. As long as you are doing what you can to right the wrong that’s making you angry, you’re good. So do that! I don’t know what exactly that means in your life—it may mean simply refusing to attend any church that isn’t manifest affirming. It might mean changing the life of the church you attend. I don’t know. But do something. Don’t let other people’s ignorance make you chew yourself up. Then the Eternal Stupid wins twice. Screw that. Make sure that wrinkled, faded buck stops at your desk.

Mainly, just don’t ever confuse Christ with Christians. That’s really the primary thing. That’s always the primary thing. And remember that when Christians are being ignorant, bigoted, awful people, that (assuming nobody whom you’re in a position to defend is being bullied) is none of your business. That is between that person and God.

And God help them.

And you can trust, I say, that if they are true to God, God will.

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • Matt

    Don’t worry, Letter Writer. John’s right; you don’t need to go to church to be a Christian. I, too, am definitely a Christian. I am also transgender. So I haven’t gone to church in probably 2 years, after very regular attendance growing up. I get a lot of good worshipping done on my (rather long) morning commute, listening to the music on my local Christian radio. I turn it off when they get to the Focus on the Family segments. If you know anything about that organization, you can get why. For me personally, reconciling my transgenderism and faith was actually pretty easy–I asked God, and He was cool with it. He even gave me my new name. Bible verses are just the icing on the cake.

    But I get angry too. So angry. So if push comes to shove, I will pick my LGBT community and straight allies over other Christians any day. It was the former that helped me understand myself, come out to myself, that gave me true friends and a new family. It was the latter (at least, the organized church) that gave me nothing but silence and condemnation. You don’t understand how personal your faith is until you can no longer meet with believers who actually know you as you, not the closeted you. I’ve done a lot of hard work to get where I am in my faith and personal journey, and I bet so have you, LW. Don’t hang out with folks who try to undo it all, whether intentionally or not.

    If you do what you can and you still have trouble with anger, laughter can be a good antidote. Confession time: I go on ultra right-wing websites just to read the truly ridiculous stuff they make up about us, and I’ve heard it so much it has lost enough of its toxic bite to be funny to me. I of all people know how damaging their words are, but I also know we’re going to win in the end, and we’ve already won in every way that matters. Maybe I’m just sick like that; leave me in my laughing madness if it doesn’t work for you.

    One last thing: that old cliché “knowledge is power” really is true here. Your use of the word “homosexuality” doesn’t mean you’re intolerant or ignorant. But it’s all so much more than that; it’s an entire ocean of conversation on love, sexuality, spirituality, gender, and human emotion. I would just recommend reading, researching, and learning. Heck, I am LGBT, and I read everything I could get my hands on while I was coming out to myself. We’re hardly a hive mind, and my personal experience could tell me nothing about my community at large. Knowing our history, culture, major issues, struggles and victories both past and present all help to open up a real dialogue where all people who fall under the rainbow flag can be discussed without resorting to stereotypes.

    Best, best, best of luck to you. And thanks for being such a strong ally.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      You know what I thought, maybe, about his use of the word “homosexual/ity”? (Which, actually, I edited out just a couple of times, and instead switched in the word “gay.”) I thought maybe that was cultural. South Australia isn’t America. So I thought maybe that was the reason behind that little semantical divergence from what we’re used to.

      • Matt

        Oh, that could be a cultural difference. Wow, South Australia! Looks like I wasn’t paying attention and completely missed that LW is in Adelaide. Duh!

        • Sarah

          Yep, I am from Adelaide too, and I am not even sure what you mean by your comment on homosexuality so I am assuming it is a cultural difference. Is it a derogatory term in America? Great post! Thank you!

          • http://rindle.blogspot.com/ Lyn

            Not so much derogatory as just very clinical and focusing only on sex/sexuality and not the larger picture of what it means to be LGBT. It tends to get used by the anti-LGBT crowd a lot, as they’re pretty obsessive about gay sex. So, it’s a word beginning to be seen as on par with “negro”– old-fashioned and associated with bigotry, though not all uses are negative.

          • Lymis

            Agreed, it’s not so much that the term is itself derogatory as that it is almost without exception used by people who hold antigay views and make publicly antigay statements. For many of us, it also feels excessively formal – so people who use it come across to many of us as hinting at a distaste for us and a need to distance themselves from the very concept of our actual existence as real people with real lives.

            And, of course, in clinical and medical writing and speaking. Formality in those situations is generally warranted, and therefore feels perfectly appropriate for the most part.

            So, when someone exclusively uses the term homosexual outside a clinical or medical setting, it sends up warning flares, because it signals either someone who is antigay or who is out of touch. That doesn’t always mean they are, or that what they say is wrong, but it’s generally the way to bet.

  • http://fordswords.net David S

    So this is the most perfect advice. Ever. Letter writer, please consider it. Seriously.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      David S/Ford! Thank you.

  • Elizabeth

    “Then the Eternal Stupid wins twice.” I love it.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Thanks! (I wanted to capitalize the “The” there, see, but “Then The Eternal Stupid” doesn’t quite look right, does it–and I didn’t really have time to rework the whole thing so as to avoid that little snag. But when I tried to real quickly think of … how to say the whole … thing, “The Eternal Stupid” popped into my brain, and I definitely wanted to use it. So … so there you get to be bored by THAT little explication whilst I’m waiting for Cat to get ready to leave for our yoga class. Lucky you.)

    • http://Fordswords.net David S.

      One of my favorite lines: “There’s nothing wrong with being angry; anger is the healthy response to injustice. (See Jesus.) ”

      Sometimes we’re taught that being angry and expressing our anger is somehow un-Christian.

      And then: “As long as you are doing what you can to right the wrong that’s making you angry, you’re good. So do that! ”

      We are not powerless. We can be agents for change we believe in. There’s an over-used Native-American saying that is actually appropriate here. “We are the change we have been waiting for…”

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

        I didn’t know that was a Native American saying!!! (And thank you for this love, David.)

        • http://fordswords.net David S

          OK…so…I was right about the Native American thing (Hopi to be exact), but I slaughtered the line. It should be “We are the ones we have been waiting for!”

          I reread the whole poem this am and it rocks! I also think it’s very appropriate for this situation. It says in part:

          It is time to speak your truth.

          Create your community,

          Be good to each other.

          Do not look outside yourself for a leader.

          There is a river flowing now very fast,

          It is so great and swift.

          That there are those who will be afraid,

          They will try to hold onto the shore.

          They will feel they are being pulled apart,

          And will suffer greatly.

          Understand that the river knows its destination,

          The elders say we must let go of the shore.

          Push off into the middle of the river,

          Keep our eyes open and our heads above water.

          And I say; see who is in there with you,

          Hold fast to them and celebrate!

          • Jill

            Holding fast to you and celebrating! XOXO

      • Soulmentor

        It has been my understanding that it was Ghandi who coined the phrase,”We must be the change we wish to see.”

  • Jill

    “Don’t let other people’s ignorance make you chew yourself up. Then the Eternal Stupid wins twice. Screw that.”

    ~ love you, John.

  • Lymis

    One of the (very) few times in my life I heard a Voice was when I was in despair over being unable to reconcile my very real experience of being gay with my very real conviction that I was in a relationship with God – because I had done exactly what John points out, confusing being in a relationship with God with being a devout church-goer.

    What I heard was, “You can keep going to that church, or you can follow Me.” Put that way, it wasn’t even a question, and I’ve never looked back. God isn’t limited to churches. Church can be a great way for many people to experience God, to experience community, and to keep themselves focused on more than just day to day trivia. But when church gets in the way of your relationship with God, something has to give.

    And in my experience, a lot of the people who attend church regularly have nothing resembling what I would call a relationship with God. That’s (mercifully) between them and God and none of my business, but I have no obligation to damage my own spirit just to play by some other human person’s rules.

    • charles

      love your comments Lymis….

  • http://ogersama.wordpress.com/ Dug Swank

    BTW: an excellent resource for this is Building an Inclusive Church. http://www.welcomingresources.org/communityorg.htm

    It can help discern where your congregation is and where they need to go.

  • Brian Hager

    I recently shared a status on FB where I stated that I had finally reached a point where I could no longer consider myself to be a Catholic/Christian in the organizational sense. I have experienced a lot of the same negativity in some of those places and from some “Christians” I thought were friends. I still have a strong Relationship (Faith) with Jesus, but haven’t been to church in a long time. I’ve started to examine MCC and Dignity since I came out in 2010. I just don’t want much to do with organized churches (traditional) any more.

  • charles

    A relationship with God is not being admitted to some bitchin’ country club- its an invitation to know who God is- and God presents himself to each of us in profoundly different ways- I am just so tired of having “spokespersons” (John excepted) claim to speak for what God is about- If God isnt about loving his creation, and putting others first, then I dont think I am much into Him- but I know what Jesus did, and I know I will never ever deserve it- and I am humbled by Him when he reaches down and lifts me up in his embrace…. For that- saying I am a Christian is still making sense- even though I have lost a lot of Church friends over the years.

    • Matt

      What’s great about John is that he never actually claims to speak for God–he talks about God as he understands Him, and uses it to generate discussion. He’s the first to admit, “No one knows what the fuck is really going on–me included. But you know, I’ve made it this far. Here’s what works for me.”

  • http://Www.sweetactionphotography.com Stephen

    This is an awesome blog! I’ve just found you through Facebook, and I have to say that I appreciate hearing there are other Christians who feel the same as I do…that while the church has many good things going on, there are several places we fail woefully…and having to be a Christian AND a conservative republican is NOT a requirement to being a Christian….a relationship with Christ is what it’s about. Let us not forget to love our neighbor! :-)

  • http://www.wideopenground.com Lana

    To the person who wrote the note, I feel you. The only churches I have ever been apart of were full of bigotedness. I hope to find a different world some day. Thank you, John Shore!

    • LivinginVA

      Try the UUs, Quakers or UUC.

    • Elizabeth

      Still big on Episcopalians (as is John.) They support affirmative action, ordain female and gay clergy, and perform same-sex marriages in states in which it is legal. UCC was the first to endorse equal marriage. Presbys and Methodists are also there or on their way, depending on congregation. The different world is now. :)

  • Holly

    Hi John

    I always read UC and love it even though I am agnostic. I am a former evangelical Christian and most of my friends and all of my family are evangelical Christians. I guess I took issue with saying that someone would always be a Christian unless something seriously got “broken.” That is one of the biggest things that I struggle with in regards to my interactions with family and friends since leaving Christianity and here you are perpetuating the notion. I am not broken and I didn’t leave Christianity because I was hurt or angry. I left it because reason lead me away and because my reason told me that the Bible in no way is the word of God any more than the Koran is; rather a collection of writings from men who were trying to understand and make sense of the world they lived in and often believed their thoughts were God’s thoughts and told others so. Just like people continue to do today. I don’t hate or dislike Jesus, but reason tells me from research that there is actually very little historical evidence for the man Jesus and many of the stories surrounding him seem to be borrowed from other deity stories as well as most likely embellished over time. Maybe I’m wrong about my understanding or my reason has lead me astray; or there’s actually more historical evidence that hasn’t been found. But many people who leave Christianity do so for these reasons, not because something went seriously wrong or that they are broken. Reason would tell someone that it is highly unlikely a man was killed and then rose from the dead. Maybe it DID happen but people shouldn’t be demonized because their reason tells them that’s BS (not saying you’re demonizing people for that).

    Finally, you said that it would be a deal breaker for you if the Bible said to condemn gay people. True, it doesn’t say that but it does say a lot of other awful things .Jesus himself in Matthew condemns an entire group of people to dreadful deaths and to the eternal torment of hell because they didn’t like for his preaching. In Deuteronomy. “If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers; Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you … Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die.” — Dt.13:6-10 And you know there are many more. Why is that not a deal breaker?

    Still a fan…but what’s up with that?

    Holly

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      You’re responding to what you think I said, rather than to what I actually said. I didn’t say the person who left Christianity would then, by definition, be broken. I said something got broken. And in your case, that something was your faith in the Bible and the divinity of Christ. The relationship you had with the Bible and Jesus got broken. I assume you took that break seriously.

      And … I can’t go through each passage of the Bible I understand is challenging and explain why it doesn’t cancel me out of Christianity. All I said was … well, again, what I said.

      • Holly

        Ok fair enough on the first part. I can see that. Wish you’d give some sort of answer on the second. I know there’s too many verses like the ones I posted to address, but what about even one of the ones I posted? I promise not to come back at you with more each time.

        • Tim

          I think it’s just tough for people to accept the notion that the Bible was written by people and all people have flaws. Therefore, the Bible must have flaws – at least on it’s surface. It’s NOT Infallible in all regards. To think of it as such is a form of idolatry. You cannot be satisfied by picking it apart, verse by verse. This isn’t how the Bible should be read or used. You have to get behind the words on the page and discover the Sprit behind the text and how it specifically relates to you, here and now. In many instances those troublesome verses you mentioned were written solely for the people of those days and in other ways the Bible could just be plain WRONG about those things – at least when looked at from a modern perspective. The True Word of God is something within you and all humans. It cannot be twisted or manipulated and the Bible, among other holy texts, is more like a road map that can lead you to this Truth. The Word of God can only be revealed to you when you connect with it on a personal level and that is a very REAL experience when it happens. The interesting thing I’ve noticed about the Bible is that I can read the same passage on two separate occasions and have an entirely different experience both times. One day it could just be reading the text and going through the motions and I don’t get much from it; but on another day the same text seems to come alive and be speaking directly to me, as if it were written especially for me! That tells me that God was using the text as a tool to connect with me at that particular moment. The Bible is just a tool that you can use to connect to God. It is nothing more than that. When a tool is used correctly and for the proper job, it is helpful and appreciated. But when a tool is used incorrectly it is useless or even harmful to your progress. And the Bible is only one of MANY tools that God uses to communicate with us. You just need to open your eyes and your ears. God could be speaking to you at any time and at any moment through the words of a friend, the lyrics to a song or even the message on a billboard or a license plate. God speaks to us always. All ways. He is everywhere and nowhere (now-here).

        • DR

          Holly, there are a ton of reasons that those scriptures were written and those reasons are what you choose to believe because that choice serves you. I read those scriptures, for example, and I choose to believe the interpretations that I believe, reflect a loving God that was being communicated in a fractured, horrifying culture. I do that because it serves me, I want to.

          There are also interpretations that support dismissing Christianity and they are well thought out and reasonable, just like the reasons I use are. When it comes down to it, we all choose to put our weight down on how we’re interpreting the Bible because we want to either believe something or dismiss something because the choice we make to do either serve us personally. John can’t answer your questions, you can answer your questions.

          • Holly

            My question for John was what a “deal breaker” in the Bible would be…for him. He said it would be a deal breaker if the Bible said to condemn gays. Even though it doesn’t say that, it does say other things that are just as awful, which I would think would also be deal breakers. I understand that people interpret the bible to make it say what they want it to say and dismiss what they don’t like and only I can determine those things for myself. I’m just trying to understand what John means by “deal breaker” for him. Or maybe he didn’t mean to say deal breaker.

          • Elizabeth

            Hi Holly! John usually means what he writes. He’s been doing this awhile. I think he means to study the Bible with context and an open heart. That means the two most important rules come straight from Jesus’ mouth in the Gospels: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ You should be reading the verses related to slavery, sexism, homophobia, and shellfish through those lenses.

          • Jeff

            I get what Holly is getting at. John said it was a deal breaker if the Bible said to condemn gays. Does that mean he wouldn’t be a Christian if it said that?

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

            I suppose that if, in the Bible, we had Jesus Christ saying, “Any person who is born gay will spend eternity in hell if they don’t pray to me so much that I decide to turn them straight,” I would think … I dunno: that I hate that translation of the Bible. But as it is, I’m entirely comfortable–if not outright freakishly inspired by–every last word of the Bible as we currently have it (though I certainly do like some translations more than others: there are translations I loathe), because I understand the Bible, same as anyone else can.

          • Elizabeth

            NJB, then the REB and KJV for historical merit. The NIV and NASB lack poetry. (I’m just vamping because you’re done for the week, and you don’t know the fear of God until you take a swing at English translations while your don compares the Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic.)

          • DR

            That’s not what I said, actually, but ok.

  • http://www.browneyedamazon.com AnaYelsi

    Like John, I am “as Christian as Christian gets” AND I am a fierce advocate for the LGBT community. These two d not have to be conflicting concepts, if a person is willing to put in the time and energy necessary to study scripture rather than just parrot it (a mistake often made by people on both sides of the argument).

    I think the suggestions for ways to engage your church around the topic are a wonderful start. I can understand wanting to say if they don’t budge then you’re at the wrong church but I’m not sure I agree. I am at my non-affirming church BECAUSE they won’t budge. I lead a bible study and I speak openly and honestly at every possible turn about this issue. I welcome the tension and have been blessed with conversations with people from both side. I have been there for the fellow church-member coming out of the closet, the one living a life of self-imposed celibacy, the non-affirming Christian with questions and everyone in between. Of course, living in this tension is not for everyone and I totally respect a person’s need to find a more inclusive place of worship.

    I am a part of The Reformation Project and it has blessed me greatly as I work to understand the theology on both sides and to be a well-informed accessible ally. I’m even hosting a blog series on browneyedamazon.com (excuse the plug) that offers posts from straight and LGBT Christians all wanting to share their stories.

    We exist. We’re growing in numbers, strength and passion.


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