Like many of us growing up with a younger sibling, we would create the imaginary line down the middle of the back seat during long car trips. Channeling our inner Gandalf the Grey, we would proclaim “NONE SHALL PASS” and wait for our siblings to tempt fate by encroaching over so close to our space.
As adults our boundaries have grown more sophisticated.
Rich vs. Poor
Old vs. Young.
Liberal vs. Conservative
Democrat vs. Republican
Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia (in my house these are huge boundaries).
And the one which seems to get the most amount of attention these days.
Christian vs. The world.
During those days of adolescence growing up in the church, it was stressed how evil and messed up the world was. We were told evil was lurking around every corner. If something wasn’t “Christ-Centered” is was not to be trusted.
People who smoked? They were bad.
Do you drink? Shame on you. You weren’t a good Christian if you did.
Enjoy the occasional doobage? Good Lord.
(I remember one time, while parked outside a Burger King, my mother leaned over to me and said. “you see those boys there checking out each other’s cars? Well, they are really making their beginning of the school year drug buy. They’re losers.”
Helloooo Judgy McJudgerton.
Today I think back and shake my head at how ridiculous the statement actually was and it brings up a very important question.
What is it with Christians and the need to continually point out the faults in others? Is it a byproduct of the intense tribalism which forces us to create boundaries? I just don’t get it.
To maintain these boundaries, the Christian world has created their money making empire….I call it the Christian Marketing Machine. A machine created to further insulate the flock from the so called evils of the outside world.
Let’s visit a few of these, shall we?
Back in the 80’s, I knew hardly anything about the music out there in the world. I remember at Billy Ford’s birthday party, we listened to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and I felt totally guilty for doing so. I never understood how and why the others didn’t think the same way. Didn’t they want to go to heaven some day? Let’s not forget all the reports claiming how mainstream music was filled with subliminal messages encouraging people to worship satan and welcome demonic possession into their lives.
Somehow through all this hysteria, I discovered a niche in Christian music called “Alternative Music”. Every Saturday from 6pm to midnight, I would turn into the Alternative Radio show on WKTX out of Mercer, PA. It was during these years, I would be introduced to bands like Daniel Amos, the 77s, The Choir, the Altar Boys, Mad at the World and so many others. I would record these shows and believe it or not, 30 years later, I still have several of these cassette tapes. (Now, who still has a cassette player?) I thought this music was good because it actually talked about normal things; it was fun and didn’t seem like the typical music one would hear in church. I was hooked.
To push this music addiction, I would be a frequent visitor to my local Christian Book Store. I would go every so many days and preview countless albums looking for that special one to spend my hard earned paper route money. The one thing I do remember was hearing the whispers of disgust towards the likes of Amy Grant, (she put an album out to the mainstream market and people were saying how bad and horrible she was for no longer truly “preaching the gospel”). The lines were drawn and anyone who was willing to crossover into the world was no longer considered one of the good guys.
Today, the church is no different. The Christian Marketing Machine spits out their own “family friendly” movies, music and peddles a sanitized version of the world where Christians are the good guys and the rest of the world is some poor lost puppy waiting to be rescued. The proverbial definition of preaching to the choir.
In the 90’s, the Christian Marketing Machine found it cool to take mainstream advertising campaigns and “Jesus-ify” it to appeal to the church crowd.
“Gold’s Gym” became “God’s Gym”.
“May the Force be with you” became ”May the Lord be with you”.
“Arm and Hammer baking soda” became “Armed and Ready” and so on.
If you wanted to be a witness to the world, according the Christian Marketing machine, wearing one of these t-shirts would make you stand out in a crowd. This is something my dad would wear and I’m still embarrassed thinking about it.
Even in the world of romance, Christians are so afraid of being subjected to the world of non-believers. There are specific Christian dating sites set up to make sure His flock is safe and secure.
You have christianmingle.com, christianconnection.com, christiancupid.com, christiancafe.com and the one no one realizes it’s really a christian dating site (they are very anti-gay) eharmony.com .
Disclaimer…that’s actually where I met Beth. So it was at least good for something.
After my divorce, I dove into the dating world. Being fearful of anyone who wasn’t a fellow believer, I turned to a Christian Dating site hoping to find that special someone( and not the eharmony site). After filling out your profile, which not only included the typical things (age, height, likes and dislikes), this Christian Dating site would ask you for your spiritual goals and aspirations. Did you currently go to church? Explain in a brief and concise manner how you came to meet Jesus and your “lord and personal savior”. Heck, you could even shop by denomination in cause you didn’t want to be shacked up with with a pesky Calvanist. My favorite memory was chatting with someone, who I ended up dating for 2 years, and during the chat, likes and dislikes were shared (we both hated the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers), at one point in the conversation, one of us attempted to use the word FART, but instead, the site censored it and displayed “****”.
I guess good Christians don’t fart. Who knew?
We start our children off young, claiming how evil and dangerous the world is in order to justify quarantining them and teaching them according to a Christian perspective.
I recently reviewed the Statement of Faith of a local private Christian school and also had a friend of mine who is a college professor at a major evangelical private college review said Statement of Faith and share with me his thoughts. I’ll spare you the details of his review, but will sum it up his thoughts with this quote.
“If I had any children, which I don’t, this school would NEVER and I mean NEVER get their hands on them.”
The school’s theological position on many topics were not only Evangelical, but pushed the boundaries of fundamentalism.
One of the selling points this school has is how they excel in their science program. A evangelical/fundamentalistic school teaching science? Do they push the totally discredited Young Earth Creationism? What about the biological similarities between male and female? Gotta keep science maintaining those strict boundaries.
To start kids young and separated from the world, the school dictates to their children and their families how being gay or transgender is wrong and against the divine order of God. The school states boys are forbidden from wearing earrings or jewelry and will even force the parents to sign away their legal rights to enter into arbitration and dictate all arguments are handled in a “Christian manner”.
Once the children graduate from their sectioned off bastions of early eduction, a christian college awaits.
“We want Nyack College to be a place where parents will be proud to send their children”,
…said the Dean of Students to the college body during one of the mandatory daily chapel services. Those words hit me like a sack of bricks. Is this a facility of higher learning or is it a baby sitting services, complete with rules forbidding dancing, drinking, and lord forbid, co-ed mingling? Wasn’t college a place for the individual to grow and find their place in the world? These college were established to push and toe the denomination’s theological viewpoint. My favorite topic at Nyack was how they believed woman were not allowed to be pastors. I remember sitting in Doctrine class arguing down the entire room by simply stating how my mother was an ordained minister and had all the rights and privileges of her male counterparts. In this roped off little world, it appeared the women’s equality moment not only didn’t catch up, it was totally justified by their interpretation of the Bible to make sure it never would.
With all this separation, I need to know…how does the typical Christian even begin to relate to a world in which it feels so strongly to proselytize?
They can’t. At lest effectively anyway.
Which all this separation, there becomes a cultural chasm. When you treat the world as if it has radioactive cooties, it is impossible to truly understand what a person in the real world goes through.
Not everything can be saved with a prayer and a tract.
Back in the late 70’s I remember standing out on street corners with a large group of people (we called them open-air meetings). There would be music and singing and over a horrible sounding PA system, someone would preach and declare how the world is going to hell and in order to be clutched from the fiery grasp of hell one must repent and accept Jesus into their hearts.
You know..good old hell fire and brimstone.
Back then, it was an effective tool. Today, not so much.
If you were to take the same street corner preacher screaming at the top of their lungs with the same message of how sinners were going to hell, I can all put assure you said preacher would be met with a barrage of curse words and middle fingers.
Street Corner Preacher: “Repent, you are going to hell”.
Average passerby: “You go to hell”.
The further one keeps from the world, the less one is able to relate.
I call it a lack of Spiritual Relativism.
Like my old college roommate who said I would be reported to the school administration if I came in drunk, Christians today find their interpretation of the rules to be more important than understanding the needs and wants of the person on the receiving end of their judgement.
All this leads me to a slew of questions..
Why do Christians feel need to separate themselves?
Did Jesus only hang out with just the religious officials?
Did Jesus stand under the tree only to tell Zacchaeus being seen with him would ruin his reputation?
Did Jesus tell the man with leprosy to stay away because whatever he had he didn’t want to catch it?
Did Jesus tell the woman she was a dirty slut and deserved the punishment she was about to receive?
Did Jesus tell the paralyzed man he wouldn’t be able to help because it was a Sunday and he was off the clock?
Did Jesus tell the 5000 he needed to see two forms of ID and the results of a drug screen?
Jesus hung out with the likes the people of the church world today would cringe and turn up their nose. Jesus didn’t approach people and rub their noses in their sins. Jesus taught us to love our neighbors and made it a point to remind those in his day and even to us today our neighbors consist of people the church would find disgusting and unworthy of love and even a wedding cake.
My answer to this is simple.
Knock it the fuck off.
The church has engaged in a cultural warfare in which it will never win. Going to a movie or having a beer doesn’t make you a bad person. Enjoying a Cure concert and even smoking weed isn’t a one way ticket to hell.
It’s amazing how the church can find a way to over literalize the Bible and justify it’s negative and harmful treatment of those in the LBGT community, its disgust for refugees seeking a place of refuse in our country, and it’s appalling how the evangelical church has embraced a nationalist viewpoint to mock and criticize professional athletes taking a knee to bring light to the systemic racism in this country today.
I didn’t realize loving your neighbor as yourself came with some many damn conditions and exclusions.
Until we (those standing outside of the church) and those inside the church consider ourselves equal and as one in the eyes of God we will never ever reach our intended purpose.
For now we can only imagine.
Imagine – John Lennon
Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today.
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace… You…
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world… You…
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one