A reflection by Sarah
I don’t like to write depressing entries for our blog. I’d much rather get back to writing meaningful reflections on living celibacy as a layperson in the world. But that’s not where my mind is right now, and I can’t force it to be there. I suppose one benefit to blogging is knowing that I never have to be isolated. No matter how often Lindsey is away at work, no matter how infrequently I can get out of the apartment to meet up with friends and get my freakishly high extrovert needs met, the blog is here and I’m not alone. Thank you all for reading and bearing with me today.
I’m feeling pretty weary this weekend. Maybe it’s because of my upcoming surgery. Maybe it’s because spending a lot of time at home in bed means more opportunity to see the ugliness of the internet in the aftermath of nationwide marriage equality. But I think mostly, it’s anger at Christianity. Anger is exhausting. Last week, Lindsey and I were sitting in our living room and discussing the processes by which each of us learned that it’s normal to experience anger at God. That got me thinking about how I’ve never come to terms with experiencing anger at the Church.
It feels safer to be angry at God than it does to be angry at the Church. If I pull out my prayer rope and begin praying each knot while feeling absolutely fed up with a particular lesson God seems to be teaching me, the result is not going to be an offended deity making my life more difficult just for spite. If I curl up in a ball on my bed and cry for hours from rage about a difficult life circumstance and yell in anger, “Why, God? Why?!” I’m not going to be shamed for my emotions. But with the Church, it’s a different matter. In the opinions of many people I know, being angry at the Church (whether you mean “Body of Christ” or “official teachings”), is not okay. Expressing anger at the Church often results in assertions that I don’t actually desire faithfulness, that I’m being a whiner and need to toughen up because “following Christ isn’t supposed to be easy,” or that my pain is caused by my own sin and my own lack of willingness to let the tradition teach and transform me. Christ will not dismiss or berate me regardless of where I am spiritually in a given season of life, but plenty of his followers will.
Over the past week, Lindsey and I have written our respective reflections on how we are feeling after Obergefell vs Hodges. We had little energy to comment on much more than our fears about losing access to domestic partner benefits, but there is so much more to be said, and not just about gay marriage. I’m going to state the obvious: the internet is a dark, cruel place where people created in the image of God treat other people created in the image of God as though they haven’t even the dignity of bacteria on the bottom of my shoe. No reasonable person ever expects to find utopia on the internet. Nevertheless, I always hope that the people who make up the Church will surprise me during intense news cycles; yes, I’m more than a little idealistic.
This weekend, I’m angry because the Body of Christ needs to be engaging in repentance and reconciliation after the ways we have treated people who are different from us. I’m angry because we have allowed issues of difference, whether ideological or otherwise, to divide us. Within the same week, I see one friend stating publicly, “Any church that lets queers in needs to have its whole congregation stoned to death,” and another friend proclaiming, “If you think for any reason that gay sex is a sin, you’re a hateful bigot!” Both are members of my Christian tradition. Both claim to love Christ and do their best to follow him in their daily lives. What have we come to when one member of the Church would have another stoned to death? When theological disagreement even after prayerful reflection and discernment means that the person who disagrees is hateful?
I’m angry because white Christian America has been sitting back, content to wave either a rainbow flag or a Confederate flag as black churches have burned to the ground and black Christians have been murdered while worshipping. White LGBTQ Christians previously engaged in meaningful discussions about racial reconciliation abandoned those conversations in favor or gloating over marriage equality. Some will not pick up that discussion topic again until there’s a lull in the LGBTQ news cycle. Folks who do not consider themselves allies to the black community but were still engaged in conversations about Ferguson, Baltimore, and Charleston have ceased participation in order to mourn because “the gays are destroying America.” How quickly we’ve forgotten about the nine human beings who lost their lives while attending church not even three weeks ago, or at least pushed their deaths to the back of our minds in favor of spouting off bad theology about sex. What happened in the United States on June 26, 2015? Why will future generations remember that date? Certainly not because of the Reverend Clementa Pinckney’s funeral. And I’m ashamed of myself as a white person for forgetting his first name and needing to Google it before adding it to this post.
I’m angry because able-bodied Christian America is clueless about how to be loving to people with disabilities. After the Supreme Court ruling, more than one article about disability and marriage was published. People with disabilities in America who receive SSI benefits risk losing resources if they marry. Some people with disabilities were married or living with a partner before becoming disabled and cannot qualify for help because of the spouse/partner’s income. These are real problems that the Church could be addressing, yet most of what I’ve seen from Christians on these issues is, “Just go with other programs that aren’t income-based” (never mind that you have to be out of work and likely broke anyway before qualifying) or, “Stop whining. It’s not the government’s job to take care of you. You could work if you really wanted and had more motivation.” How many members of the Body of Christ actually care about how broken our social programs for people with disabilities are?
Speaking of ableism, I’m angry about an entirely different issue I’ve been dealing with for several weeks. I’m angry about the nonsense that passes as d/Deaf and hard of hearing ministry or “deaf inclusive ministry” in Christian churches. I’m angry that hearing people at Christian publishing houses profit by selling ministry resources that co-opt American Sign Language and Deaf culture, throwing random ASL signs into spoken songs and calling that inclusion. I’m angry that when I try to educate on how wrong this is and why it is not actually welcoming to the Deaf community, hearing people engaged in ministry become defensive and argue with me about how hearing children in Sunday School need something to do with their hands and doing a few signs seems like a good idea. And I’m angry that on the few occasions when hearing people do listen to me about this, they’re almost always more willing to accept my perspective as a person with hearing loss who grew up hearing than they are to acknowledge arguments from my friends who have grown up in Deaf culture.
Perhaps more than anything else, I’m angry that there are Christians who are more concerned with policing identity than with building relationships. If you’re a straight, white, hearing person, it’s easy to judge a gay person, a black person, or a deaf person, “Your cultural identity isn’t important. It’s not who you are. Who you are is in your relationship with Christ.” We need to stop saying that all people are equal and should be treated with respect if we are going to pretend that some aspects of identity do not exist. If I tell one of my black friends, “Skin color doesn’t matter. Everyone is the same to me,” I have just erased a huge part of that person’s life experience. The same thing happens when Christians tell me, “You’re not really a lesbian. You just struggle with liking women, and we all struggle with sin,” or “Just accept your deafness as a limitation. There’s nothing positive about it. You’re going to be healed in the eschaton anyway.”
When we erase people’s experiences, we drive them away. It doesn’t matter if you think race isn’t important. It is in American society, and white people are the ones who have made it so. It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand why a person would want to identify as gay. For many people, it’s an important term, and straight Christians ought to be willing to engage in conversation and consider why. It doesn’t matter if you believe that deafness and other disabilities will be eliminated in the hereafter. No one person knows more about the eschaton than any other person does, and it would behoove members of the Church to reflect more deeply on how social stigma has created what we consider to be “disability.” And let’s not forget that progressive, social justice-y Christians are also good at erasing the experiences of conservatives and traditionalists.
Cultural identities may or may not matter at all in the next life. As Christians, we are not called to ignore the here and now or excuse ourselves from treating others well and working for justice on the grounds that someday none of our differences will have meaning. When I look at the Church this week, I have seen it seething, oozing, and pulsing with the emotional illnesses that make it hard for us to do life together. And it’s challenging because part of me wants to shove everything and everyone aside, screaming, “Eeeeeewww! Ick!” But then I’m left looking at the same festering assumptions and judgments within my own heart. There’s relief that comes when we look in the mirror at our human failings and own them. That’s what I’m experiencing now. I’m much less angry. But where do we go now as we journey towards reconciliation?
EDIT: Thanks to a reader for pointing out a typo where I had misgendered Reverend Clementa Pinckney. I assure you that it was an honest typing error and not my thinking that this person was a woman. I blame this one on vertigo. Apologies to all who read the first version!
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