Monday, January 2, 2017

I Can't Sign on the Dotted Line

Am I a Christian? At one point in my life, it was the single most important definition of who I was. But now, I struggle with that question. When I met with some of the ladies from "Freed Hearts", (a private Facebook group of Christian moms who have kids who are LGBT, many of whom have left the church because, like me, they do not believe anyone chooses to be gay) I made the comment that I didn't know if I was still a Christian. Immediately one of the moms seemed so concerned and looked me straight in the eye and proclaimed, "you ARE still a Christian!" In some instances this might have offended me (if it was intended as a "don't you dare deny Christ!" kind of way) but I knew her heart was to encourage me and help me believe that I am still connected. And I do believe an existential kind of way...which is kind of the problem. My connection now is felt with the whole of humanity, and that puts me in direct conflict with the religion of Christianity. 

You don't see the conflict? You think Christianity is about loving your neighbor as yourself? I know it wants to be, and I know it tries to be. But the verse does not say "as good as you treat yourself", but instead just "as yourself", "you and I are one". Jesus even said "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me". But Christianity has a tough time figuring out who the "brothers and sisters" are. I came face to face with that conflict as I was trying to figure out how to get health insurance now that I've quit my job.

A friend, who is a cheapskate like me, (I prefer the term "frugal") recommended looking into a Christian based insurance company because of it's low cost. I cringed and said "I don't go to church anymore". He, like the sweet gal mentioned earlier, was unfazed and said it didn't matter, because that's not what makes a Christian. With a bit of trepidation, I said I'd look into it.

I didn't have to look far to know I couldn't sign on the dotted line. And it hurt. I hadn't realized how much I wanted to be able to "pass" as a Christian, and to feel like even though we have varying understandings of scripture, a love for Jesus and a desire to follow him is what unites us. But "love" was not mentioned once in the "testimony and commitment form" required to qualify. Let me tell you what the #1 thing I needed to agree not to do in order to belong, and I do mean literally the very first thing on the list:

• I do not engage in sex outside of traditional Biblical marriage, which is a union of one man and one woman. I understand that when any member of the family chooses not to live by these principles, I have a responsibility to notify the Christian Care Ministry. (My LGBT daughter is currently not in a relationship, so I guess she might be covered until I had to "report" her. I wonder if remarried people give notice every time they have sex, since that is outside a traditional marriage as well.)

But the fact is, I wouldn't have even made it to the sin management page, because first I had to agree to all the "correct beliefs" on the "Statement of Faith" page; beliefs like #2:

  • "I believe the Bible is God's written revelation to man and is verbally inspired, authoritative and without error."

So I'm assuming that "authoritative and without error" means "we get to tell you what rules are the important ones by pulling out a scripture and you don't get to question it". It doesn't matter that the apostle Paul questioned scripture by declaring circumcision unnecessary, and basically taught that the Spirit leads and has authority instead of the letter of the law. It doesn't matter that he said "We are not bosses who tell you what to believe..." (2 Cor.1:24) because Christianity is now a religion about correct belief. Mark all the boxes about doctrine, and you're in. And don't ask questions, because all the correct beliefs are already 100% understood and the Bible is "without error".

So, I couldn't agree that I believe the Bible is without error, because I know of one very important error in translation that has led to a central belief in Christianity that I think is completely wrong. If you are bracing yourself for a lecture on the nuances of the Greek word "arsenokoitai" in regards to homosexuality, you can relax, because I'm not going there. I'm talking about a much bigger foundational belief--the one that doesn't just say homosexuals are sinning, but that they are going to an eternal hell. (Along with Buddhists, Seventh Day Adventists, Mormons, and everyone else who does not believe the correct things, including probably me. Oh, and Carrie Fisher and George Micheal, according to Franklin Graham's latest Facebook post.)

The word I'm speaking of is "aion", which has been translated as "eternal" in a few important verses, even though that is not it's meaning. "Aion" is used and translated in many places in the Bible. Definitions include "a cycle of time" or an "age" or "one of the many ages stretching into eternity". That is quite a contrast to "eternal", which denotes having no beginning and no end. So whenever "aion" is translated "eternal" instead of "age", it is saying not only that the punishment will never end, (a thought too horrible to imagine...not to mention completely pointless) but that it has no beginning. How can a punishment have no beginning? If the naughty "goats" (vs the good sheep in Jesus' parable in Matthew 25) are to "go away to eternal punishment", how is that possible?* And wouldn't it be a relief to clarify that if you find yourself in the "goat" category (which ironically are those who did not understand that helping the "least of these" was helping Jesus) that any correction you receive would be for a period of time, for the purpose of teaching you something? (Why do you prune a tree? To hurt it? Did you know the Greek word translated as "punishment" in this verse was one that was used to describe the pruning of trees? Who cuts off branches so they can "punish" the tree?) A good parent disciplines their children to teach them something, don't they? Isn't that the whole point? And it does seem that the Bible tries to explain God in the same way, as in: "When your judgments come upon the earth, the people of the world LEARN righteousness" (Is. 26:9) or "For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child" (Heb 12:6)

But I guess this sort of loving discipline is only for Christians, because those are the ones God loves. Of course Christians will argue and say God loves everyone, and gives them a chance at "salvation" (which to them means forgiveness and going to Heaven when you die) but that darn free will just gives God no other choice than to send everyone who doesn't say the sinner's prayer before death to a place of suffering WITH NO END...and how can we argue, when we are told it's what we all deserve anyway.

I know I'm being a little snarky. I'm sorry, it comes from a place of deep frustration. It's not that I want to be disrespectful to Christians. Most of my family and friends are Christian. I know that their hearts are not to condemn people and they are truly loving. They roll their eyes at the preachers that stand on corners with signs, and understand this is no way to demonstrate the love of God. 

But these same Christians would still agree that "belief in Jesus is the only way to eternity in heaven", (another box I couldn't check) so even though they would ridicule this guy's sign, (and who wouldn't?!) that theology means for sure the Atheists and Muslims are indeed headed to eternal damnation...the only two that have nothing to do with actions! (well, besides "yoga pants") Oh well, too bad, so sad; but they "chose" it, so let's not talk about it. Except I have to talk about it, because if only we would revisit this one mistranslation, the theology does not read this way. And once you can start reading the Bible without the lens of "where will you spend eternity when you die?", you begin to see it's so much more about living than it is about dying. And "belief" is no longer a scary "do I believe the correct things about Jesus so that God won't reject me", but rather, "can I really believe I am one with Jesus, who said he was one with God?" And then "the kingdom of God" is something so much more than where we go after's something that is found "within us". And that kingdom can be used to make a difference in the here and now. 

And what about some other beliefs that the Bible says are important? I wish there were other boxes to check on a "Statement of Faith" form. For instance:

  • "I believe Christ came claiming the human race as His own, to the end that He would save and restore the entire race, not just part of it".(1 Cor. 15:22 "For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive." John 12:32 "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself") 
Or maybe even one that said:
  • "I believe God will never give up on anyone"(Luke 11:22 "What man of you, having 100 sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the 99 in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, UNTIL HE FINDS IT?")
Or how about:
  • "I believe death is not an obstacle to the power of God" (1 Peter 4:6 "For to this end the Good News was preached even to the dead, that they might be judged indeed as men in the flesh, but live as to God in the spirit". Rev 20:14 "Fear not...I have the keys of death and Hades")
Then maybe "salvation" could be seen as something bigger and better than making it into heaven when you died...maybe even something as big as EVERYTHING being restored to it's fullness. (For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself ALL things, whether ON EARTH OR IN HEAVEN. Col 1:20 If this is what our "hope of salvation" was, then we wouldn't be drawing lines to figure out who is in and who is out; but instead that hope would be moving us forward in love and trust that "neither DEATH OR LIFE, or angels nor rulers, or things present or things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor ANYTHING else in all creation, will be able to separate US from the love of God". **(And if "us" does not mean all of humanity, then this love is conditional: how can it not be?)

And if we truly believed this, then we wouldn't even need "Christian insurance" that was only for those who could mark the correct boxes. We would want to care for our neighbor, whoever that might be, as if we were caring for ourselves; because we would truly believe that we are all in this together.

*It was pointed out to me that "eternal" can also be defined as "perpetual", which does infer a beginning. Though if you look at all the places that "aion" has been translated to "eternal", I think you will find that "perpetual" still would not fit. But you don't need to take my word for it. The "Young's Literal" translation has it correct as "age-during". It was published in 1862 and is considered by many scholars to be the most accurate. You can find this translation in any Bible translation search engine.

**This scripture is found in Romans 8:38-39, and it does go on to say "that is in Christ Jesus our Lord". I left that out, because Christians will take that part and say "see, it's only those who believe in Jesus that are not separated from the love of God". But I will address that next time when I tell you why I couldn't mark the other "correct belief" box on the Christian insurance website saying "I believe our sin is forgiven only through faith in Christ and his atonement for our sin." But here's a did Jesus go around forgiving people, when he hadn't even "atoned" for their sin yet?