Monday, January 30, 2017

Churchgoing Americans

 My heart hurts. My head aches. My soul is torn.

I am just not sure what to do anymore, or what I can handle to know, read, or talk about.

I don't fit a mold. I never have. I'm not conservative, but I'm not that liberal. I'm certainly not a Republican, but I definitely wouldn't call myself a democrat either. I have voted four times in my life, for Bush, Obama, and Gary Johnson twice.

I am a Christian. Call me evangelical, I guess. Born-again, I guess. I've never understood the labels, just like I've never understood denominations. What are you? Methodist? Lutheran? Baptist? Church of Christ? No. I'm a Christian. There was one church that was established after Jesus' ministry, and I don't align myself with a denomination of any kind because there were no denominations in the Bible. I'm trying to live a faith not through tradition of the way that feels comfortable to me because that's the way I've always done it, but by reading and determining for myself what I think the Bible means. I am no scholar or theologian. I didn't go to a Christian college or seminary. I don't read Greek. I don't know all the answers to all the questions.

But I know the answer to one of them. What is the greatest command? "Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, all thy soul and all thy mind. The second is to love your neighbor as yourself." Matthew 22:37-38.

Jesus converted people with his acts of compassion. To the woman at the well, who had slept around her entire life, to the woman caught in adultery, to the children, who were faultless but seen as nuisances. To the blind man, the deaf man, the lame man and the ten lepers. To the man who would betray him moments later, leading him to death on a cross.

Jesus says in Matthew chapter 5, what good is it to love those who love you? Even the pagans do that. "But I say love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you." (Matt 5:44)

I have been praying for Donald Trump. With tears streaming down my face, I have prayed. I have prayed that he make wise decisions. I have prayed that he lead our county well. I have pray that his heart be softened.

I have prayed for my own heart to be softened. To not become angry with those I disagree with and don't understand. To not jump to conclusions about why someone voted a certain way and that their vote automatically means they believe in something I stand against. I have prayed that I can use words that make sense and actions that prove my love and devotion to mercy. I have prayed that Christians of both political parties act like Christians. Mahatma Gandhi said he liked our Christ, it was our Christians that he didn't like. Marching for women but excluding women who believe in the sanctity of life at conception isn't tolerant. You can't be tolerant for everyone except conservative Christians. And assuming that pro-choice equals pro-abortion isn't fair and isn't an intelligent stance to take, because it's a much more complicated situation than that. Both sides have it wrong when it comes to understanding, loving, and extending grace to each other.

I have been praying for all those who feel marginalized or bullied, for whether real or perceived, the pain is no less.

I have prayed to be able to decipher fact from fiction, to remove emotion from rational decisions.

I have prayed to not be angry, then changed my prayer, and instead  prayed for my anger to be righteous. Jesus overturned the temple tables when he saw money changers working in the house of God. And he was completely right in doing so. There is such a thing as righteous anger. Anger in itself is not sinful, and if Christians do not react to injustices of ALL the world (racism, xenophobia, homophobia, rights of the unborn) who will?

I have prayed that I know when to be quiet and when to speak. I have prayed for my anxiety to be removed. All I want to do is talk to others about how I feel a Christian should act, but not more than ever, I feel that I'm an outsider looking in, a more liberal Christian, not fully belonging to either group, as if liberal and Christian are destined to be opposites. Even growing up in a conservative, Republican household, I always felt that being a Republican was more opposite of being a Christian than being a liberal was. In high school I started wrestling with the ideas of big business, big banks, more money, more military, might makes right, majority rules, America first, and these ideas just didn't jive with Christianity to me. They still don't.

I have prayed for the courage to ask  people who voted for Trump and are Christians to tell me why they did. I want to understand. I want to so desperately understand.

But, I also understand how people more right wing than me question how I can be a Christian and vote or believe the way I do. I'll do my best to be transparent and explain:

God gave us free will. He also gave us His word to guide us through life's challenges, joys, successes and sorrows. So in my mind, there is a balance between doing what I am expected to do or not do, while not forcing others to believe or do the same as me. God did not create us as robots. He doesn't want forced affection and obedience, He desires sincere worship.

It is in this light that I find myself politically pro-choice and pro-gay rights. There, I said it.

Now brace yourselves, because it's about to get tricky.

I believe that God designed marriage to be between a man and a woman. "In His image, he created them. Male and female he created them", Genesis 1:27.

I don't like seeing gay parents. I think it's confusing and damaging to the children, but, when I think about it, no more damaging than heterosexual couples that divorce or never marry in the first place. Or what about the loveless heterosexual marriages, those who stay together because they might as well, or stay together "for the kids". None of these are healthy examples of family, but are all prominent in our society.

 I believe people are born with homosexual tendencies, but that they can and should be fought, as we fight to resist all sin. I've got a good friend from college who confided in me that he has struggled with homosexual thoughts his whole life, as I have struggles with anger and cursing, as some struggle with porn or alcohol or drug abuse. But, being a believer of what the Bible says about homosexuality (Leviticus 18:22- Do not have sexual relations with a man as with a woman. That is detestable), he is still a faithful church goer with a wife that he IS sexually attracted to and loves, and the two of them even have a child together.

I also abhor abortion. I believe it's a sin. I believe that it's murder. I could never imagine myself considering having an abortion.

Oh wait, yes I could. 2003-2005 was no cake walk, and I did a lot of stupid stuff with a lot of stupid people. Had one of those actions lead to a baby, which you know it could have, you better believe I would have been one of those people who still felt abortion was a sin, and yet still felt like that it would have been my only way out.

So I ask this: Do we put ourselves in others positions enough?

If I had inclinations to be more attracted to women, I can imagine life being really difficult and people being very hateful to me. By people, I mean Christians. Because how often is the first word out of our mouths as Christians, "Well, you know that the Bible says..." Yes, of course we need to preach and teach the gospel, but no one listens to someone who doesn't appear to love them. Love and grace MUST come first. Would I fight it and feel judged and like I was living a lie with my Christian friends, or would I give in and be happy with people who accept me? Satan makes it a really easy choice, and just because these aren't your weaknesses doesn't mean you can look down on those who struggle. What if you were them. Really. What would you do?

I worry about the hatefulness that churchgoing Americans throw on the homosexual community and Planned Parenthood. If I had ever had an abortion, I would never consider coming to church again. Clearly, the church, and therefore Jesus, hates me. This is the message we are sending when we picket and threaten and call people "baby killers". Is it murder? Yes, I believe so. Is it wrong? Yes, I believe so. Do I think abortion clinics should be legal? Yes, I do. Think of how many more women and children will die without them, because they will turn to coat hanger abortions in shady street corner shops.

I shed tears over how crimes towards those who identify as LGBTQ+. Sometimes I don't understand it. Pan love? Like, I can fall in love with anyone or anything no matter what they identify as? What if I fall in love with a chair? It's bizarre. But just because I don't understand doesn't mean I can't and shouldn't try, that I can't and shouldn't show people real love, the love of a Savior.

I am not patriotic in the slightest. I do not pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. I do not pledge at all to anyone and anything other than my God. I recognize that God can use all leaders, even evil or misguided ones, to do great things or bring a stir in the people to act justly and return to what is important. God told the Israelites they didn't need a king, but they insisted, and had to live through the reign of King Saul to get to King David, a (flawed) man after God's own heart (1 Samuel 13- 2 Samuel 5). So I will absolutely recognize that Trump is our president. No doubt about it, under current laws of the country, he won the election. But I believe the Bible gives us permission- no, commands us to follow God before we follow man (Acts 5:29).  Should they ever interfere, God's law trumps (no pun intended) man's laws.

I can't stand by while foreigners in our land are treated as criminals. I refuse to live in fear and anger. I won't carry a gun, and I won't support keeping people out of our country. I hate that the laws to become a citizen are so difficult, and I wish that would change.

But what it boils down to me is this: do I believe in nationalism? Do I believe that God blessed America more than any other country in the world? That we were meant to prosper while others were destined for death? No, not for a second. Monetarily, we have been blessed, and we keep it to ourselves. Numbers wise, no, I recognize that Americans do give millions in foreign aid, to charities and the like. Still, I can't help but think of the woman with two mites. She had basically two cents to her name, but she went to he temple and gave all she had. It was laughable compared to what the Pharisees has been giving, and yet Jesus said she gave more than anyone (Luke 21:1-4).

America. We are the Pharisees.

And I'm tired of it. I'm hurt when I hear people complain that their taxes are going up so "illegals" can go to school. When people complain that healthcare got more expensive because now there are populations that didn't have access to proper medical care before that now have it.

Is not all we have from God? Then how dare we act as if it is our own, and that we deserve it more than others. I don't believe that God loves me more than a mother of two in the fifth ward of Houston or Aleppo, Syria. To whom much is given, much is expected (Luke 12:48).

It is not easy to step out of the rat race. I give about 10% of what I make to various organizations. If I really trusted God, wouldn't I give more? Would I give all? If I really loved my neighbor as myself, would I give away half of my possessions? A 50/50 split between my neighbors and myself?

I don't know. I find myself daily doing one of two things: researching tiny houses so that I can give away nearly all in own and live a simple, God-focused life, or watching House Hunters and designing my giant dream home full of every comfort I have always wanted, including a wall-length bookshelf and media room. I struggle with giving away possessions to Goodwill now, because I think someone could use them, and then wish I still had them because I think they may benefit someone in the future. If I someday have a huge house with lots of resources, I could house foster children or a refugee family or a single mother struggling to get things right. I am completely torn.

As I read what I have written so far, I know that I've angered or offended every person that I know. But I have to be transparent right now, and I'm so confused and hurt that I don't know who to talk to. If I talk to liberal friends, I may be perceived as the hypocritical Christian I so desperately don't want to be. If I talk to my conservative friends, I run the risk of being shamed as sinful. So I'm hateful and judgmental no matter who I talk to or what my views are, when all I'm trying to do is love. I can't win.

I am sorry. I have beliefs, and I have convictions. I also have doubts, and I have sin in my own life. I have experiences that leave me more sensitive to some issues and less to others. There are no two people in the world who are exactly alike in looks, thoughts, actions, religious views, or political parties. I cannot please everyone. All I can do is try to please my Lord, and I will continue to pray and study to find out what that best way is. Thank God for grace, because I get it wrong, but I try. My eyes are focused on the prize and I am trusting that Jesus knows and loves my tender heart despite my angry mouth, and that with help I can improve.

My goal for the future: I want to be known and defined as a Christian. A Jesus-follower. Not a Republican. Not a Democrat. Not a Baptist. Not a Methodist. Not a woman. Not a man. Not straight. Not gay. Not anything but a Christian, and absolutely not just a churchgoing American.

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