It’s Easter Week for 2017, and year 33 since I became a follower of Christ. I’ve written at length about my conversion and my evolution as a Christian. I’ve also posted about my problems with Christians and the way many impose — or at least, attempt to impose — their racism, sexism, misogyny, hyper-masculinity, heterosexism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, and anti-Black respectability politics on the world.
For me, it shows most American Christians to be hypocrites as best, and full of shit at worse, when it comes to following the two most basic rules of Christianity. To have “no other gods but God,” and “to do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” For most American Christians (if not Western Christians in general), money is god, Whiteness is god, and the two go together better than the chocolate and peanut butter in a Reese’s peanut butter cup. Both assert that others are but dirty pieces of gum on one’s shoe, that hatred, violence, and permanent superiority in the name of these gods supersedes following any important teaching or practice of Jesus and his disciples.
But that’s not all. After all these years, I still don’t quite get even some of the more mundane Christian practices and assumptions. The most basic one is Psalm 23. For the life of me, I don’t understand why pastors, priests, and parishioners seem to only read the psalm after a person has died. The psalm reads as:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul; He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
It has always seemed to me that the living have needed the verses around “I shall not want,” lying down “in green pastures,” and walking “through the valley of the shadow of death” far more than the dead. No one has explained what Psalm 23 has to do with wakes and funerals to my satisfaction. The way people use Psalm 23 assumes so much about what occurs after we die — something none of us could ever fully comprehend — and completely neglects the reality that the living need rest, peace, and strength in our walk through a corrupt world. Kind of like the way many American Christians value embryos, cats, and dogs over Black and Brown babies, toddlers, and adults.
In 2005, I picked up evangelical Jim Wallis’ book God’s Politics in an attempt to expand my knowledge of the intersection between social justice activism and Christianity. Wallis’ book was supposed to be a primer on how to fight for the rights of the most vulnerable while also standing for “traditional” American Christian values. The book was a hot mess, as it did little more than insist on the right of those who weren’t Christian or following evangelical values (e.g., openly LGBT, pro-choice, womanist, and anti-racist) to exist and to be tolerated. Wallis wasn’t exactly calling for a revolution in God’s Politics. Certainly not when he insisted that many Black play “the race card” in identifying American racism in its myriad forms.
Where I stopped reading, though, was in Wallis’ description of U2 lead singer Bono’s activism and religiosity. Wallis saw Bono as someone “who has become a serious and well-informed activist,” and as a “spiritual man, though not a churchy person.” That was a back-handed compliment. But then Wallis expressed surprise to learn that Bono would get “on his knees” to pray for guidance, as this image of this rock superstar for Wallis was “humbling and heartening.” That came from pages 198-99 of God’s Politics, and that was where I stopped reading. The self-aggrandizement and name-dropping. The assumption that Bono couldn’t possibly be thinking in both social justice and Christian terms because of his profession. And the most obvious fact of all: Wallis likely had never listened to or read a single verse of a U2 song going back to the October album (1980). There are enough Christian and biblical allusions in U2’s catalog to keep most preachers in sermons for a generation. But yeah, let’s assume that anyone other than a devout evangelical Christian is living in sin or isn’t serious about combating Whiteness or poverty or any host of manmade plagues!
Religion in general isn’t the issue. Christianity at its heart is a belief system based on forgiveness, reconciliation, embracing of diverse peoples and differences, and of course, eternal salvation. What people do with religion is what they do with everything else. It can occasionally become a catalyst for spiritual freedom and social change, even revolution. But, much more often, institutionalized religion is a spiritual yoke, a way to control the way multitudes of millions see themselves and the world around them. Funny, then, that American Christianity represents everything that America is, and very little of the basic tenets of Jesus’ teachings in practice. Promoting blind patriotism, a lover’s embrace of money changers — a.k.a., capitalism, a hatred of vulnerable populations, and a tendency to racially self-segregate. This is the American way.
American Christians have let me down in so many ways. We have let our individual -isms and individualism overwhelm whatever it is that supposedly makes us Christian in the first place. If evangelicals want to look for someone to blame for America’s decline since the 1970s, they need only to stand fully unclothed in front of a full-length mirror. Maybe Bono as quoted by Wallis was right when he said that maybe “God [was] on his knees praying” for us to get it together in eradicating poverty, systemic racism, homophobia, HIV-AIDS, and climate change. Too bad most of us aren’t listening.