I Can’t Call Myself a Christian Anymore
Christian. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, this term refers to “one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ.” Oxford dictionary defines it as “Of, relating to, or professing Christianity or its teachings: the Christian Church” and adds, “Having or showing qualities associated with Christians, especially those of decency, kindness, and fairness.”
While we could easily agree that these definitions are fairly accurate, it wouldn’t take long before we started to debate about the meaning of each word contained in these sentences. We would have questions regarding what the teachings of Jesus Christ are and how we interpret them. Discussions would likely arise about what professing Christianity implies and whether its teachings are truly in line with those of Christ or if they are simply a by-product of the dominant culture. But don’t get me wrong; defining our beliefs is significant and necessary to understand our faith. However, a definition will only be as objective as the person who formulates it.
So why would I call myself a Christian? What is the purpose of religion, or having a “personal relationship with Christ”? While I believe that the Creator reaches out to us continually, offering us the opportunity to “tune in” and engage with him in our daily lives, I think Christianity (at least in the most American mainstream sense of the term) often becomes an obstacle between Christ-followers and God.
In my personal experience, I have found that joining a church or a specific denomination is, in most cases, not too different from joining a country club which, in this case, quickly provides a ready-made template with simplistic codes of conduct, “traditional” values, and a clearly defined political affiliation that often disregards the Christian principles we’re supposed to uphold. If we don’t check our common sense at the door, it doesn’t take long before we struggle with the double standards, misinformed statements and prejudiced declarations that quickly spread from pulpits into congregations and communities, finding little or no room for conversation or disagreement without the risk of being shunned. Before we even notice, this “personal relationship with Christ” we were offered becomes a controlled conversation driven by a sense of fear of the outside world, which is perpetuated by a lack of information and/or education.
I am not a Bible literalist and while I write this I will refrain from using gratuitous scripture references to justify my statements. However, I will quote the Bible when necessary to illustrate a point. I was born and raised in Uruguay, where I grew up with a fairly traditional Italian Catholic background. I became an Evangelical Christian at the age of 16 with an honest desire to grow in a relationship with Christ. Within that environment, I was swiftly persuaded to adopt homophobic attitudes and disdain for those who drank alcohol, which seemed to be part of the Christian litmus test not only there but also here in the United States where I have lived almost half of my life.
It wasn’t uncommon to find myself having conversations with other Christians about people who were going “to hell in a hand basket without Jesus” for the mere fact that they were different from “us.” While there are exceptions to the rule and I personally know people who strive to have an honest relationship with God and grow into the image of Christ, I have encountered this type of conversation in a consistent manner during my last 20 years in the Evangelical church, and it seems to be a normal and acceptable practice that causes more harm than we might realize. That’s why I would like to share a bit about my personal experience in the next few paragraphs.
I grew up in a home where alcohol wasn’t uncommon, but nobody ever got drunk. I abstained from alcohol for several years because I thought that was the “holy” thing to do, but when I reached a certain level of maturity I came to realize that it all comes down to how one approaches the issue. There’s a difference between drinking and getting wasted, just like there’s a difference between eating and gluttony (both vices can have detrimental effects). Fundamentalist Christianity taught me to fear alcohol, but my family taught me responsibility as living examples.
I never really engaged a homosexual person in conversation until I was in college and was puzzled when I found homosexuals who believed in Christ and were also in the quest to become more like Christ.
There are probably several reasons why a person may not necessarily choose to, but simply be homosexual, and I believe at least one of them is biological. Think of this: when someone is born with super intelligence, we praise that person (or we praise God for their gift) and call these people geniuses; when someone is born with a handicap, we feel compassion (or at least we should). These are deviations from the norm to which we don’t ascribe inherent negative qualities. However, for many people it’s a whole different story when that special quality is an unexpected sexual orientation (and before we try to spiritualize this subject we must consider explaining individuals born with dual genitalia). Fundamentalist Christianity taught me prejudice, but my exposure to the world outside the bubble taught me about dialogue and understanding.
A common cultural narrative that’s been a part of Christianity since its inception (and to which American Christianity seems to hold on dearly) is a sense of being persecuted. Sure, early Christians had to endure serious persecution from the Roman Empire, and there are countries where, even today, the mere fact of being a follower of Christ could cost somebody his or her life. However, this is not even remotely the case in the United States, where Christians often seem to assume the role of persecutors who try to impose their morality while ostracizing, ridiculing and demonizing those who do not adhere to the cultural “Christian” standard. All concomitant backlash (which is logically understandable and expected) is turned into a self-fulfilled prophecy that fuels this persecution complex. We reap what we sow, right?
As I stated before, I don’t read the Bible in a literal way. If I were to take the Bible at face value I would quickly put it down because of the often-contradictory information I find within.
The Ten Commandments declare, “you shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13) and this is taught in Sunday School classes all over the world. At the same time, the story of David and Goliath is also taught in Sunday School and it’s used as an example of faithfulness and trust in God. This is the story of a person we exalt for violating the sixth commandment and it’s only the beginning, as the Old Testament is riddled with stories of genocide in the name of God (take the battle of Jericho, for example).
How do we reconcile this discrepancy not only within the text, but in our own lives as we condemn the actions of terrorist groups around the globe, killing in the name of their deity/religion? Some may want to make the distinction between Old Covenant and New Covenant, but that only raises questions about a God whom we are also taught to believe “does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). It also makes me wonder why God would even create mankind if it was doomed to fall on account of the ability to exercise its God-given free will.
Nobody chooses to be born; we all just happen upon Earth. If we fall into the trap of fundamentalist religion, it’s easy to feel like we were signed up for a game of poker with a losing hand and absolutely no knowledge of the game (again, I can’t count the Bible as a clear guide and we must remember that this collection of books didn’t even begin to be compiled until after the Council of Nicaea).
While I consider the Bible as a compilation of different types of literature that can inform us about certain events (or interpretations of such events, often many years after the fact), I do believe it has the power to inspire us to become better versions of ourselves if we truly engage God with absolute honesty and objectivity. If we refer to the one in whom we claim to place our faith, we’ll find these words:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
This makes me think that our chief concern should be to treat others with love, respect and compassion, which I believe are the most basic elements of human decency. Fundamentalism is only concerned with “going to heaven” and reduces God to the ranks of a sugar daddy. It’s about approaching God to receive his “blessings” like a child would befriend a rich kid to play with his toys. It’s about “getting saved” to avoid punishment (akin to an abusive relationship with a bully), not because of a desire to enter into a loving relationship with the Creator. It’s about singing and dreaming of “pearly gates,” “mansions” and “golden streets,” while often missing the point that the “Kingdom of God” can happen right here, right now.
In the American South, people refer to carbonated soft drinks as “coke,” regardless of kind. It’s not Coca-Cola or RC Cola; A&W root beer, 7UP, Mello Yello… it’s all just “coke.” Unfortunately, the same thing happens with Christianity in our world (at least in our country and a few others where I’ve been/lived) and while there may be all sorts of different flavors out there, this one-size-fits-all blanket threatens to shroud us in a severely distorted version of the Kingdom. For a long time I’ve felt like I’m being called “coke” when in fact I’m a Pepsi, and if this is the brand of Christianity that’s trending, then I can’t call myself a Christian anymore.
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