Last month, a blog post titled, “If I Have Gay Children: Four Promises from a Christian Pastor/Parent” went viral. In this beautiful and inspiring piece, John Pavlovitz promises his children that if they are gay that’s totally OK with him. And he means it.
Pavlovitz writes of his children, “Psalm 139 says that [God], ‘stitched them together in their mother’s womb.’ The incredibly intricate stuff that makes them uniquely them; once-in-History souls, has already been uploaded into their very cells.” Pavlovitz is OK with his kids being gay because of his Christian faith, not in spite of it.
This is a very different picture of Christianity then we often see in the media. For many non-Christians and especially non-religious folk, Christianity is synonymous with right-wing, conservative social politics, and with hate, fear, intolerance, and irrationality.
This is why when I tell people I’m in seminary I have an overwhelming urge to explain that I myself and not Christian. It’s why I am still not comfortable being seen in public with my Bible, lest someone mistake me for a believer!
But here’s the deal- “Christian” is not one thing. Christians are not one type of people. I attend Chicago Theological Seminary in Chicago. One of their delightful slogans is “We’re not RADICAL, We’re just Early.” CTS is full of Christians with a passion for social justice, mercy, and respect.
Christianity has an image problem that is, unfortunately, due in large part to the very vocal views of the Christian Right. A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center shows that atheists have a very poor opinion of evangelical Christians. Returning tit for tat, evangelical Christians don’t think much of atheists. I would be more interested to know how non-religious people (not just atheists) view Christians generally (not just evangelicals), but unfortunately the survey didn’t ask this question. If I were a betting man however, I would wager the results would be similar.
Part of this mutual animosity seems to stem from a debate over how to read the Bible. The Christian Right clings to the inerrancy of the Bible and certain “biblical values” that further policy issues. Some vocal atheists cling to the Bible’s unreliability as a historical narrative, reasoning that it is therefore a useless guide for modern people. Both these views are poor readings of the Bible.
The Reverend Dr. Susan Thistlethwaite relates this story in her book Dreaming of Eden: “Reinhold Niebuhr, perhaps the most famous Theologian of the twentieth century, was once asked if he thought the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is “literally true.” ‘No,’ replied Niebuhr seriously, ‘it’s truer than that.'”
There are many ways to read the Bible. The best readings inspire people to be better and to do better and to love better.
The wonderful writer Anne Lamott has described her relationship to Christ this way, “I just love the guy. I just love Jesus. It’s that simple.” In her book Help, Thanks, Wow she explains how you can tell if you are in relationship with God. She writes, “Have you become more generous, which is the ultimate healing? Or more patient, which is a close second? Did your world become bigger and juicier and more tender? Have you become ever so slightly kinder to yourself? This is how you can tell.” I would argue that this is also a good clue that you are reading the Bible well.
Labels are categories that help us understand and relate to each other. We do ourselves and each other a disservice when we define these categories too narrowly. So fellow non-religious folk, next time you here the word “Christian” remember, it may not mean what you think it means.