I understand not wanting to be a part of a religion that hates. One that especially hates LGBTs. Many of those same LGBTs are celebrating today that so public a figure as Ms Rice has spoken out against the church that, for so many of them, denies their very humanity.
"For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else."She's right to take a stand against a church that demonizes homosexuals, denies women full rights to control their bodies, seeks to refute science and all too often uses its power to shelter evil and promote the status quo.
"As I said below, I quit being a Christian. I’m out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of …Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen."
I understand completely her desire to distance herself from a church that doesn't represent her deepest moral beliefs. I share that desire. I walked away from the Episcopal church for it's inability to stand up against the bigots in the Anglican communion and among its own membership.
But I haven't walked away from Christianity. What I have done is find a different path. So many people think of the American brand of Christianity as being a homogeneous group of people that all share the same righteous indignation. This voice of Christianity is loud. It is all too often hateful, demeaning and divisive. It drowns out the other Christian voices in this country almost completely.
I was once asked if it was possible to be Christian and be a Democrat, especially in Texas. My answer was a resounding, yes. It's all too easy to look at Christianity and its less than stellar historical record - wars, genocide, slavery - and the current voice of the church regarding sexual abuse, homosexuality and birth control; its blatant disregard of science and intellectuals and think that to walk away is the only sane choice. It's an all too human tendency to think that removing oneself from a situation that compromises our beliefs is the best way to act. After all, if enough people do so then the situation will change.
Maybe. But probably not in the way you think it should.
Not too long ago, our church had a discussion about Scouting, and Boy Scouts in particular, and their treatment of LGBTs. One side was adamant that supporting scouting in any way was supporting their practices of exclusion. Much like Ms. Rice, they felt it better to disassociate themselves from an organization that excluded homosexuals and atheists rather than allow their children or the church to be engaged in any way with a group that supported beliefs that ran counter to their moral compass. The theory goes, if enough people leave Scouting, it will be forced to change or even dissolve as an organization. That would be a great loss. To lose all the good that can come from participation in an organization such as Scouts rather than work within the organization for change is to throw the baby out with the bath water.
Leaving the church because some parts of it act in ways that you find personally abhorrent is exactly the same. Now, I'm not equating Scouting with the Christian faith, but the mental process that allows you to abandon one or the other of them is the same.
It's human nature to want absolutes. We want everything in black and white, right or wrong, left or right. Unfortunately, reality is never black and white. It's always shades of gray. To insist that it adhere to the dichotomy of right and wrong prevents your understanding of the fullness of reality. Life is messy and difficult and often unfair. In fact, it's one of the things that, when my children railed against something I wanted or didn't want them to do and I wasn't being fair, I was very clear about. Life is often unfair and the sooner they found a way to cope constructively with that fact, the better off they'd be.
My husband, the closet philosopher, likes to think of the human race as an individual. In his system, humanity as a whole can be seen as one organism. Like any child, humanity sees things and understands things in different ways at different stages in its development. I can say to you that I believe in Santa Claus but what I mean by that statement is very different from what a 3-year-old means when they say the same thing. That 3-year-old believes that a real fat man comes down her chimney and delivers her gifts on Christmas morning. I believe something quite different. I believe in the symbol and spirit of Santa Claus; this symbol represents the very best in humanity - giving, loving, and caring for others. To believe that a 3-year-old's understanding of Santa Claus should not and cannot change without destroying its essence is nonsensical. It's like saying that because the ancient peoples of the earth believed the world was flat we should disregard our scientific record that proves otherwise. Beliefs change. Our understanding of the world, of reality, is constantly evolving. Our understanding of God is the same. You can even see evidence in the bible. In the simplest terms, (cause really, I'm not a biblical scholar) the Old Testament God is one angry, self-involved being. The New Testament God reveals a different nature and a different way of interacting with creation.
Believing in the inherent infallibility the Bible is like believing that the 3-year-old's belief in the magic of Santa Claus is real and can never change. The Bible was written by men, and by that I mean the male of the species. Virtually none of our canonical books were written by a woman. An entire view of God is missing from the Bible. Rules that made sense as ways for a pre-Christian Jew to stay healthy make little to no sense in our modern world. Just as our understanding of how to cook pork to make it safe has changed since the Old Testament was written, so has our understanding of our very nature evolved.
When I was growing up in the 80s there was a popular slogan one could find on buttons and bumper stickers - Question Authority. It was no doubt a retread from the 60s but it was still valid. We should question those in power, even God. The Bible is full of people who challenged God. They were nearly always those He asked to do something. Surely, She knew who was going to be any easy mark and who wasn't. By choosing these people, God (and the Bible) shows a fondness for those willing to stand up for what they believe. Why should it be any different today?
Throwing three layers of shellac on your worldview and calling it good is easy. It's also lazy and exposes your basic fear that you're wrong. Challenge your thinking. Challenge God. Challenge the church.
Don't walk away. All that does is concentrate the very thing you find abhorrent in the structure where once you found solace and meaning.