In 2004, I had the following conversation in the parking lot of a Safeway supermarket.
WOMAN: Jesus loves you, you know.
ME: That’s great. I love Jesus too.
WOMAN (pointing to my car’s bumper sticker): Then how could you be voting for John Kerry?
At the time, I wanted to reply with something like, “Because Jesus isn’t on the ballot,” but I’d already seen this type of person — the kind who equates voting Democratic with being anti-Christian — in the wild, and I knew that engaging would have been a mistake.
That wasn’t the first time that I have found my faith being called into question by people with similar inclinations. It’s come in various forms over the years:
“You have gay friends? But you’re a Christian!”
“You believe in evolution? But you’re a Christian!”
“You’re voting for John Kerry? But you’re a Christian!”
“You’re taking a philosophy class? But you’re a Christian!”
“You’re reading a Harry Potter book? But you’re a Christian!”
“You play role-playing games? But you’re a Christian!”
And, of course, my favorite of all time (from my college days):
“You go to an Episcopalian church? But you’re a Christian!”
Normally I don’t feel the need to rant on about this topic. In 2004, I found that conversation with the woman in the Safeway parking lot a source of amusement and pointed to it as an example of everything that I thought was wrong with politics in the 21st century. It was annoying, but also kind of funny.
What really brought my annoyance to a boiling point though was a sign I saw outside of Dixon, California last night. It read, “Prop 8 = Religious Freedom”. This has demonstrated, to me, the very sad marriage of “Christ-speak” and Orwellian linguistics that passes for popular religious discourse in America these days. “Removing the right of gays to marry is a victory for religious freedom” doesn’t make sense, unless you accept a really unusual definition of religious freedom which doesn’t apply to people who, for religious reasons, believe that gay marriage can be sanctioned by god. I really want to track down the people who made this sign and hung it up and ask them what in the world they really mean by it, and perhaps even demonstrate to them that they’ve hung up a sign which is essentially linguistic nonsense.
It wouldn’t do any good, though. If, to them, religious freedom means removing rights from others, then they’ve already bought into a slew of accompanying myths. The myth of the persecuted Christian, for example, or the myth of America as a country founded upon Christian principles, or the myth of the literal interpretation of the Bible (a myth I particularly love, especially when you start getting into the various literal interpretations of the Bible which all contradict one another). It’s a very complicated structure of mythology which rests, ultimately, on a foundation which is essentially a need to control in order to remove fear.
As a Christian who believes that same sex marriage should be legal and doesn’t pose any sort of threat whatsoever to traditional marriage (however you choose to interpret that loaded phrase), I find this sort of thing reprehensible. I’ve already made my political reasons for voting No on 8 plain (because in a democracy, you don’t get to vote on who gets what rights), but my spiritual and religious beliefs also tell me that voting no on 8 is a bad idea. Even if I believed that homosexuality was a sin, a lifestyle choice rather than a biological attunement set before birth, it wouldn’t be upon my shoulders to judge the people who are gay. I’m not qualified to make that judgement. Neither is anyone else. The Bible tells me that I am not God, much as I want to be, and that trying to be God or even to try to be like God is a sin, and that my call as a Christian is to accept and love others as they are (I have much more to say about this, a topic I’ve given a lot of thought to, but I won’t go into it here).
The point is, I don’t buy into the overarching myth of the persecuted Christian, or the myth of America as a Christian nation. I don’t buy into any of it. God can take care of Himself. What we are called to do as Christians is to demonstrate God’s love for us in our love to our neighbors, which usually means service to others. But not buying into these myths allows me to free up my mind, to vote for Barack Obama or vote no on Proposition 8, or accept that God has chosen a process (evolution through natural selection) that looks random to our human intellect to grow our universe.
I’d go on, but sadly I fear I’m falling into incoherence. Suffice to say that despite my refusal to buy into any interpretation of Christianity which calls me to act based on irrational fears of the unknown or a fear of losing control over anything, I may simply not be a Christian at all.