I was talking with Rev. Mike today when it came out of my mouth. “I love your church. I love the nice people there. I grew up singing, and really believing, ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.’ I think of that loving Jesus, and I think about how I understand God, sometimes male and sometimes female. And I have to tell you, part of what holds me back where church is concerned is that sort of angry, pissy God that some folks put out there.”
I’m glad that Rev. Mike thought the phrase was funny, I must admit. I’m doubly glad he asked me to write this reflection, because it gave me the opportunity to really think about how many of us, LGBTQ and straight alike, have been spiritually harmed by the somewhat petulant image of God that seems to pervade the media. God sure seems to punish a lot of folks for the so-called “abominations” of a few, to hear some ministries tell it.
I keenly remember when my crisis of faith began. I was around 18, and had not yet moved out of my folks’ home and into my first apartment. I attended a church that I loved, and where I was very active. When the word got out that I did musical theatre, I became the alto who anchored a quartet with three other teenage girls. When I won my first speech team trophy, I was asked to deliver a talk for Thanksgiving. I was in the youth group and even studied the Bible in its historic context for fun. I was a true believer, and I loved it.
But then came the night that Youth Group’s activity was cancelled so that we could all go over to the main sanctuary and watch a video with the whole congregation – a presentation from James Dobson’s “Focus on the Family.” I remember looking around me in horror as the audience nodded and expressed agreement with statements like “Real Christians don’t listen to secular music” and “Real Christians don’t spend time with non-believers … or homosexuals.”
Now, aside from never once having seen “Thou shalt not groove on the tunes of David Bowie” anywhere in scripture, I could kind of get the point there. There is some pretty unpleasant and demeaning music out there, and I choose not to listen to it. At the same time, there is some pretty amazing music out in the world, and I couldn’t see the point in limiting myself to one section of Tower Records.
That wasn’t the crisis moment, though. It was when I was told that, as a “real Christian,” I could no longer love the man who is still my best friend in the world: a gay atheist.
After much struggle over this, I decided that I would rather keep my friendship with Robert than be a “real Christian,” and I walked away.
In the almost 30 years since then, I began to study anthropology and found that God could wear a lot of faces – and sometimes the one from which I drew the most comfort was female. I was a practicing Wiccan for many years, in fact, although even that eventually went by the wayside.
Through all of this, I never stopped believing that the teachings of the radical Rabbi Yeshua – the man characterized by the very secular Jackson Browne as “the rebel Jesus” – were a good and valid message. However, I really began to doubt that he would recognize his teachings in the mouthpieces of this petulant God that were all around me. It just drove me even further away. I didn’t want anything to do with that god, who seemed more like a jack-booted fascist than the Prince of Peace.
So, how did I wind up at MCC at all? Well, like so many people, I campaigned against Prop 8. My husband and I both support marriage equality, and voted against the measure. We had a lawn sign, which one neighbor came over to rather strenuously demand that we remove (we didn’t). I talked to people at the mall, handing out stickers and leaflets from our little stand. I wrote on various websites about the dishonesty of the Prop 8 campaign. I believed in the general goodness of human nature and that there was no way this discriminatory initiative could pass.
I had not reckoned on the people behind that angry God. Like so many, my tears of joy at President Obama’s election were tempered with tears of shock and sorrow as rights were stripped away from law-abiding gay men and women just because someone had decided that they were, for lack of a better word, icky.
I was really over those “real Christians” at that point, as I’m sure you can imagine.
In January of this year, I decided to participate in the Worldwide Equality Rally in San Jose. I met up with some nice folks in the park and we all walked to City Hall Plaza. That was the first time I heard Rev. Mike speak, invoking “God of the redwoods, God of the ocean, and God of warm, sunny days.”
I remember thinking that day, “This man is talking about the God I remember.”
When I got home, I even told my husband that I had heard a man speak that morning who could almost get me back to church because his words had moved me very much.
Then, on March 4, 2009, I went to the San Jose Eve of Justice Vigil. There was Rev. Mike, and so I went over and introduced myself, even telling him what I had said to my husband. Rev. Mike wanted to know how he had fallen short of bringing me back … and then hugged me while I sobbed about how I left church because I was told I couldn’t love my best friend because he was gay.
I visited MCC for the first time that Sunday, when Rev. Mike spoke about “Snakes on a Plane” and how to deal with venom in the world. I spent the whole time sobbing; I was too embarrassed to stay for social hour.
The tears were cleansing, helping to take away some of the venom left in my heart by the people of that angry God. Here, I thought, is the house where Jackson Browne’s rebel Jesus could be found; a house where anyone could come to feel loved, accepted and encouraged instead of being told how “icky” they are. What a loving, wonderful place.
My pain over that “angry, pissy God?” It’s still pretty big, but I also have to figure that I’m not the only one who struggles with being spiritually and socially harmed by folks who believe absolutely in what someone told them their Bible says – without having read it very thoughtfully. I know I have a long way to go with the healing. I have a lot to work through with my anger at the people who made that angry God in their image. At the same time, I know two things to be true for me regardless:
1 John 2:9:
Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.
And, in the words of Jackson Browne:
In this life of hardship and of earthly toil
We have need for anything that frees us
So I bid you pleasure
And I bid you cheer
From a heathen and a pagan
On the side of the rebel Jesus.
This reflection was written by Sharon C. It was originally published as part of MCC San Jose’s weekly reflection series. Please click the following link for more information about MCC San Jose’s weekly reflections.