Fear our Love.

Christians are not the parents of this world.  I say that because at times we act as if we are.  We want to dole out punishment and appropriate discipline to all those whom we see as disobeying.  “Hey. single mom, your current struggles are the natural consequence of your actions!  If you’d followed God’s plan your life wouldn’t be so hard!”  Or, “hey, gay person, you’ve got to get straight to get to God or you’ll burn in hell, m’kay?”  Or, “Hey, society, just going to change a few laws over here to keep your Judeo-Christian values right or God is gonna judge us all, don’t want that happening!”

Missing the point, missing the point, missing the point.

We aren’t society’s parents.  There’s a difference between being God’s ministering hands and feet to express the Gospel to this world and being God’s spank paddle.  One, we are called to be.  The other?  We aren’t.  See, the thing is, all of humanity is called to be God’s sons and daughters.  We’re all siblings.  When I tell my son if he throws his toys his toys are going in my closet and he’s getting a time out, his sister is right there to let me know that her brother is stressed and angry and he can’t help it and he needs a hug and if I give him a time out I’m Mean Mommy.  When I tell her that if she doesn’t respond to me because she’s watching a video I’m going to turn off the TV, her brother is right there to defend her.  They’ve got each other’s backs.  And when I dole out the discipline and go into the other room, guess who is sneaking in to hug and kiss and talk their sibling through it?  That’s the way of things.  I, as my gay Christian friends sister in Christ, see my first and foremost job as being their advocate, not being their jury.  I also don’t need to be their voice of conviction because that is why Christ sent us the Holy Spirit.  What they do need is me as their sister, the one who will stay up late to whisper to them.  The one who will argue for them in the face of judgment.  The one who will conspire with them to wreak havoc when necessary.  Their partner in humanity.

Sometimes, when I read Christian magazines and articles online, I start to picture the Bride of Christ as a nagging wife, saying “didn’t I tell you last week if you didn’t stop that you’d burn in Hell?  How many times must I remind you?”  It saddens me deeply.  Our example is supposed to be Christ, the one who came to Earth to advocate for our healing.  The one who gave us freedom from beneath the law.  The one who acted as the supreme advocate, standing between us and our judgment at the expense of his body, his dignity, and his life.  Yet in his name we enforce the law at the expense of faith, bullying, belittling, and threatening our fellow humans, our fellow brothers and sisters, until they turn from the Church with a resigned sigh, throw up their hands, and disavow God.

And why shouldn’t they?  When I punish my children unfairly, without any sympathy, grace or mercy, because I myself am scared and frustrated, they turn from me.  Our words must be selfless.  They must be motivated by love.  They must be tempered with knowledge of God’s grace and mercy and kindness.  They must be modeled after Christ.  They must never be motivated by our own fears.  Let’s be honest with ourselves- a lot of the condemnation the church heaps out is fear-centered.  No gay marriage?  We’re afraid of the consequences to society.  Discipline the single mother?  We’re afraid of the reputation that embracing her would give our church, and afraid she’s going to keep sleeping around, and afraid that she’s going to expect us to help her out and take her responsibilities on ourselves.  Rebuke the tattooed punk?  Let’s be honest, we don’t understand him.  We find his attitude offensive.  We’re afraid of what he’ll act like if he sticks around.  And that gay sixteen year old boy?  If we don’t rebuke him, he might be gay forever.  And we’re terrified of what that might mean.

It’s not God, it’s fear.  And when we reprimand our fellow man in God’s name, claiming that it is love, all we ultimately do is teach them to fear and reject God.  Are we supposed to hold each other accountable in love?  Absolutely.  Just like how my son will whisper to his sister that Mommy said something and she’d better say “yes mom”.  Just like my daughter will tell my son, “If mom sees you doing that she will be SO MAD.”  But that is something done out of charity, something done out of love, something done out of sympathy and a common goal.  It’s done to improve a life, not to condemn actions.  When we intercede with each other we have to do it out of God’s spirit and heart, and with knowledge of the consequences of our actions.

When I see the multitude of people who love God but are ashamed of Christianity, all I can think is that if we truly were doing things God’s way the result of our actions wouldn’t be fruits of bitterness, doubt, and loss of faith.

Somewhere, something has gone horribly wrong.

rabbit trails

While working in Children’s church I had this interesting experience.  While talking about something completely different, one of the kids brought up the subject of Satan.  “Well,” this child asked, “if God CAN vanquish Satan and the book of Revelation predicts that he WILL, why wait?”

Before that subject could even be responded to, another child asked about Hell, and then another one accused the second of having said a bad word, and then the whole situation devolved into a lot of shouted questions and the kids looking distressed in general.  Distressed, I say, but a few looked downright panicky.  That’s when it hit me.

Beneath the happy-go-lucky veneer that had been showing all Sunday morning, not even very far beneath the surface, these kids were worried.  They were struggling.  They couldn’t understand their faith.  And they were afraid. They had been told to Evangelize to their friends because if their friends died they may go to hell and be separated from them for eternity.  They had been told to be wary of the temptations of the Enemy.  They had been told a lot of things, and while they were very quick with the questions they were also obviously very uncomfortable with the fact that they wanted to ask them.

Afraid.

It broke my heart.  I wish that rather than being an observer I’d been their teacher, because while the youth minister did a great job of fielding the questions and getting the lesson back on track, I nearly felt as if the lesson for the day should’ve been trashed and those nagging questions just dealt with.  Not that I could’ve provided adequate answers, but I could’ve reassured them of what we know to be true.

We don’t need to be afraid.

We need to obey God not out of fear of consequences, but out of love.  And if we are obeying God and in his hands, the future should hold no fear for us.  We don’t need to fear Satan or eternity.  We should talk to our friends about our faith not because we are afraid of them burning in Hell, but because we’ve experienced the love of God in our lives and we want everyone to share in that joy.  I wanted to ask them if they had ever experienced God’s love, searched after it, heard their parents talk about it in their own lives.

For one very breathless moment I wanted to turn that place upside down.

The church is supposed to be a haven from fear, not a place where young ones learn it.

About fear.

I once attended a church where they taught that the sign of God’s spirit being in someone was that they spoke in tongues.  One rule, applied to every single person on earth.  At the time, I bought in.  And so did someone else I knew who pretended to speak in tongues because he was ashamed that the fact that he didn’t, naturally, meant that God’s spirit wasn’t in him.  At the time it bothered me, because I felt that the Bible showed God touching people in a lot of different ways than just speaking in tongues.

But some of the people in this church, they tenaciously held on to the belief that God could be defined in rules and patterns, that his ways could be traced out to a single set form, that life could be made to be predictable.  The other side of this homogenizing of God’s ways was the homogenizing of God’s people.  And the other side of this homogenizing of God’s people was fear.

Because as we all know, people often don’t fit within the strictures of our expectations, especially when the expectation is that God will manifest himself in someone according to a formula.  So there was this constant fear and questioning.  If Mary Sue was “blessed” and didn’t speak in tongues or start laughing with the “joy of the spirit”, people questioned why.  Maybe she was feeling God’s grief over some kind of sin, or… maybe she was being oppressed by a demon.

It wasn’t every single person in that church who thought that way, but there was a group.  A group my father described as having to cast demons out of their teacups before drinking.  There was a period of time where this sort of heightened spirituality was rampant, and there was a few times where good, decent, not demon-possessed people found themselves as the victims of exorcisms when people failed to come up with a good enough excuse for not abiding by the formula.

A good friend of mine was “exorcised” by a similar church when she had the bad luck of wearing a black t-shirt with a band logo that looked demonic.

Romans 8:14-15 says (paraphrasing) that those who belong to God are not given a spirit of fear but of belonging, and 1st John 4:18 says that perfect love casts out all fear, because fear has to do with punishment.

God doesn’t MEAN for us to be afraid.  And I think if we ARE afraid, it’s because something is amiss.  That something is amiss not in the world, but in our hearts.

The fear that the people of my old church experienced came out of a lack of understanding and discernment.  They truly believed that God operated by a formula- so anything outside of their guidelines meant one of two things: something was wrong, or they were wrong.  Either way, they were terrified.  And the church that tried to cast a demon out of my friend- they saw something they didn’t understand, something in her that they could not define, and it terrified them.

The same fear drives Biblically defended homophobia, isolates people in cultural minorities, and starts wars.

But that fear?  it is NOT God’s intention, and it is NOT okay.