On the Capitol and who defines Christianity

Even though I’ve deconstructed to the point where a lot of the people I grew up around would deny that I could be a Christian, I still feel very protective of Jesus and the idea of Christianity. I feel a weird sense of obligation to speak out when other Christians think it’s appropriate to carry a “Jesus Saves” flag as they storm the Capitol after a free and fair election. When Franklin Graham tweets that both sides need to bear responsibility for Wednesday’s events, I feel the need to say something. I have heard far too much comparison of America with God’s chosen people, a city on the hill, a light to all the world, and I’ve heard the words of the Bible get twisted to support American exceptionalism. (This could be a whole other post on Christian nationalism, which I loudly decry, but I won’t dive into that now). But suffice to say, I am OVER it.

The Bible has been used as a weapon all too often – keeping women and LGBTQ people down, propping up evangelicals’ ideas of purity (sexual and a variety of other areas, including ideological), creating a limited salvation narrative. A lot of people who have experienced religious trauma feel unable to come back to the book that has been behind a lot of their hurt, and I understand that inclination and respect it.

But in the place I stand now, I feel able to read the Bible with a new set of eyes. I want to yell in a megaphone, “FRANKLIN GRAHAM, READ YOUR BIBLE!” (find me on Twitter @corlowski428 to read my tweet response). I want to point out all the passages that talk about justice, and caring for the poor, and warning how wealth leads to corruption. I am currently preparing for a sermon on Micah 6, so I read all of Micah (it’s a short book). Micah is a prophet living in an era with corrupt rulers and unjust judges and self-serving people (sounds familiar, no? Though I know people on “both sides” will nod their heads, while only applying this to the “other side”…). A few passages really struck me:

Hear this, you rulers of the house of Jacob and chiefs of the house of Israel, who abhor justice and pervert all equity, who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with wrong!

[The Lord] shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat the swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks, and nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid, for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.

Micah 3:9-10; 4:3-5
  • Cue one of my favorite songs from HAMILTON – Washington expresses his desire to sit under his own vine and fig tree and every time I hear it my heart just… melts. (it’s at minute 2:15). If you watch it, do me a favor and finish this post, ok?

Anyway, I digress. Though Hamilton is related in the quest for a good government. Back to Micah.

So how RADICAL is that? The prophet could literally be talking about us in the United States. A noble and honorable nation in many ways, yet built with injustice and blood (for instance, slavery and Native American genocide). A nation that still denies equity and justice for all too many of its inhabitants. We had to have an attempted coup / insurrection to wake up way too many of our national leaders to realize they have been following a corrupt, solely self-interested leader. Or at least make them abandon what they now realize is a sinking ship.

What Micah is reassuring me with has to do with the words I bolded: the promise of peace, the lure of God’s justice, an eventual time where people are treated fairly and there is equity in the land. I don’t know how my read-the-Bible-literally evangelicals did it, but they somehow skipped all the economic justice that is literally ALL OVER the Bible. Micah makes me believe again that these things – the ways of God’s justice – are something we should be working toward right now, and that they are possible.

So you know what I say? TAKE BACK THE BIBLE. It has been used as a weapon for far too long. I definitely don’t read it literally, and I see it as a human document but with a lot of divine inspiration. Read it how you feel led. I read it how I said and I still feel its power and the weight of its moral authority. Not in every verse (as I said, I believe it’s written by man), but in a lot of it. It doesn’t need to be literally true for it to be real, meaningful, and significant.

We can’t let the marchers on the Capitol define Christianity with their “Jesus Saves” signs. But don’t deny that if we (“we” in this instance being Christians who do not identify with Trumpism, or Christian nationalism, or think we’re “not racist”) do not speak up and act, we are part of the problem. There is no “but that’s not me! That doesn’t represent me!” if you are not actively working to change things. I know it can be scary. But silence is complicity. You get to decide where are all the places you are not silent, but you must do something. Start small and build from there.

Micah boldly spoke what I’m sure were unpopular words at the time. But he’s still making a difference in our lives today. Where will we each begin?

[Thanks to Jacob Izmaylov on Unsplash for the cover photo]

Thoughts on the New Zealand massacre from a counselor

Obviously you know the news by now from New Zealand: 50 people killed. Muslim worshippers at two different mosques. Suspected gunman with white supremacist, anti-Muslim beliefs with 5 legally purchased weapons, two of which were semi-automatic assault rifles. Hopefully, regardless of your own religious affiliation, your heart is broken and you are outraged.

I remember how shaken I felt after the Las Vegas massacre in 2017. The death count of this new massacre is nearly as high, but this time it is on the opposite side of the world and against people of a religion most of us do not identify with. What impact does this have on our concern? Our compassion? Or the ever-timely question of what we can do to make change?

I recall to mind exchanges I used to have with a counseling client, a boy nearing adolescence who was quite small for his age but quite big for his britches. Now, typically my approach is very client-centered and client-led, and I create a lot of space for the person’s beliefs and working out issues at their own pace, not the pace I wish they would go at. I was very challenged by this with this client.

One day my client came in complaining about, and even mocking, some of the new neighbors on his street and the kids in his class. He hated their accents. He hated how they weren’t up to speed on the American things he found important. My client (who was, by the way, a quarter black and I wondered about the internalized racism he must experience) lived in a very white suburb and to the best of my knowledge, it seemed this suburb was suddenly and uncomfortably diversifying particularly with a population of immigrants who also happened to be Muslim. My client’s family did not like this.

Sounds like New Zealand. Sounds like America.

My client would sometimes tell me about the things he was learning from his stepgrandma and how he was learning to distrust all the things he was learning in his public school. She told him the textbooks he studied were wrong. She told him that Democrats were actually the party of racists. She told him that the Qu’ran was filled with commandments to kill the infidel and about jihad and that Muslims were dangerous, bad people.

I remember the first time I met a Muslim and actually got to know her. I was raised on the same rhetoric that my client was hearing, and I learned a very one-sided view of Islam. I also came of age around the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which shaped my understanding of who Muslims were. In college, I was befriended by a sweet Muslim girl, because she happened to be the dorm neighbor of my best friend. She wore a head scarf almost all the time but would sometimes take it off in the safety of the all-female dorm hall. She had a smile to melt your heart, a warm and kind spirit, and a disarming tendency that drew you in. At the age of 18, my encounters with her were my first step toward a radical change in my exclusivistic Christian views and toward interfaith thinking.

Meanwhile, these recent encounters with my client became blood pressure-raising, cheeks-flushing 45 minute sessions. As I said, I typically interfere little with belief systems of clients, but I could not stay silent while he spouted off the rhetoric – propaganda – that he was picking up from a parental figure who was probably getting her own news from extraordinarily biased sources. I tried to challenge him on his notions of Islam, explaining what else Islam stood for: peace, respecting others, loving God. I even reminded him that his own Bible held some pretty ugly passages, but we generally choose to not focus on them. I questioned him on the blatant prejudice of categorizing “all” people of a certain group because he had a negative interaction with one of them.

I couldn’t not speak. I questioned whether it was okay to insert myself in such ways, but I also recalled the values I have promised to live by as a counselor to be culturally sensitive and stand up for the oppressed.

I don’t know if what I said in our conversations made any impact on him. I don’t know if the color of his own skin or his remarkable intelligence might one day have him think twice about people he perceives as outsiders or different, or if he will adopt defense mechanisms of paranoia and projection and view the “other” as evil and dangerous. But I knew then as well as I know now that the line of thinking he was following was not just discriminatory, not just hateful, but has the potential to be incredibly dangerous.

So how will we respond to this latest tragedy? Can our country self-examine and quit deceiving ourselves that policies like an attempted “Muslim ban” and broadly referring to neighbors across the southern border as “bad hombres,” gang members, rapists, and murderers might actually be part and parcel of the very same fabric from which this mass murderer arose? Might we admit that “nationalism,” as we understand it today, is perhaps not all it’s cracked up to be? Can we understand that when a significant portion of our country thinks the Qu’ran is only filled with hate for the infidel and assumes that to be Muslim is equivalent to being a terrorist, that we are all in danger and the worse off for it? Both because of people like this recent shooter and because actual terrorist organizations thrive off of angry, skewed views of Muslims?

Can our churches respond and say “We stand with Muslims”? Can we boldly proclaim that we are all God’s children and the heart of God and our own heart breaks with the loss of life and the proliferation of hate?

We are not left with our hands tied, regardless of how many time zones away this tragedy is this time. The problem is in our own backyards as well. What are we willing to risk to send the message that love – love of the neighbor, love of the stranger, love of the immigrant, love of the Muslim – is stronger than the hate that constantly threatens to divide and even kill us?