I was brought up a Christian. (It didn’t take.)
Here’s the things I like about Christianity. (Some of them also apply to Islam and Judaism, but I know less about those religions.)
I like the practical advice about how to practice non-violent resistance:
“But I tell you, don’t resist him who is evil; but whoever strikes you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. If anyone sues you to take away your coat, let him have your cloak also. Whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and don’t turn away him who desires to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:38-42 )
I like the story of the centurion who asked Jesus to heal his servant:
When he came into Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking him, and saying, “Lord, my servant lies in the house paralyzed, grievously tormented.”
Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.”
The centurion answered, “Lord, I’m not worthy for you to come under my roof. Just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I am also a man under authority, having under myself soldiers. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
When Jesus heard it, he marveled, and said to those who followed, “Most assuredly I tell you, I haven’t found so great a faith, not even in Israel. I tell you that many will come from the east and the west, and will sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven, but the sons of the kingdom will be thrown out into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and the gnashing of teeth.” Jesus said to the centurion, “Go your way. Let it be done for you as you have believed.” His servant was healed in that hour. (Matthew 8,5-13 )
I like it that Jesus knew what yeast was good for (in the Old Testament, and in the Epistles etc, leaven is used as a negative example) : “The Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, until it was all leavened.” (Matthew 13,33 )
I like the story of the “Canaanite woman” who rebuked Jesus for his hard-heartedness, and got a miracle:
Behold, a Canaanite woman came out from those borders, and cried, saying, “Have mercy on me, Lord, you son of David! My daughter is severely demonized!” (I can’t help giggling: I love “severely demonized”!)
But he answered her not a word.
His disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away; for she cries after us.”
But he answered, “I wasn’t sent to anyone but the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
But she came and worshiped him, saying, “Lord, help me.”
But he answered, “It is not appropriate to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”
But she said, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”
Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Be it done to you even as you desire.” And her daughter was healed from that hour. (Matthew 15,22-28 )
I like it that when Jesus’s disciples wanted to know who would be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus “called a little child to himself, and set him in the midst of them, and said, “Most assuredly I tell you, unless you turn, and become as little children, you will in no way enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Whoever therefore humbles himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Whoever receives one such little child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him that a huge millstone should be hung around his neck, and that he should be sunk in the depths of the sea. …. Then little children were brought to him, that he should lay his hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, “Allow the little children, and don’t forbid them to come to me; for to such belongs the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 18,1-6, and 19,13-14 )
I like this story, from first to last, from the rich young man who could not bring himself to sell all he had, to the horrified disciples (who might not have been as wealthy, but who probably hadn’t themselves “sold all they had”), to the parable of the vineyard workers: what I described on Slacktivist when he retold the parable as one of the God-goofy-with-love stories (the Prodigal Son is another).
Behold, one came to him and said, “Good teacher, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?”
He said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but one, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”
He said to him, “Which ones?”
Jesus said, “‘You shall not murder.’ ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ ‘You shall not steal.’ ‘You shall not offer false testimony.’ ‘Honor your father and mother.’ And, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'”
The young man said to him, “All these things I have observed from my youth. What do I still lack?”
Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But when the young man heard the saying, he went away sad, for he was one who had great possessions. Jesus said to his disciples, “Most assuredly I say to you, a rich man will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven with difficulty. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God.”
When the disciples heard it, they were exceedingly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?”
Looking at them, Jesus said, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Then Peter answered, “Behold, we have left everything, and followed you. What then will we have?”
Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly I tell you that you who have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on the throne of his glory, you also will sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Everyone who has left houses, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive one hundred times, and will inherit eternal life. But many will be last who are first; and first who are last.
“For the Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who was the master of a household, who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. When he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. He went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace. To them he said, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went their way.
Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. About the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle. He said to them, ‘Why do you stand here all day idle?’
“They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’
“He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and you will receive whatever is right.’ When evening had come, the lord of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning from the last to the first.’
“When those who were hired at about the eleventh hour came, they each received a denarius. When the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise each received a denarius. When they received it, they murmured against the master of the household, saying, ‘These last have spent one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat!’
“But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Didn’t you agree with me for a denarius? Take that which is yours, and go your way. It is my desire to give to this last just as much as to you. Isn’t it lawful for me to do what I want to with what I own? Or is your eye evil, because I am good?’ So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew, 19:16-20:16) (Slacktivist, 2006/9)
And of course (still Matthew) the passage from 25:34-45:
Then the King will tell those on his right hand, ‘Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in; naked, and you clothed me; I was sick, and you visited me; I was in prison, and you came to me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you; or thirsty, and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger, and take you in; or naked, and clothe you? When did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?’
“The King will answer them, ‘Most assuredly I tell you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Then he will say also to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you didn’t give me food to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and you didn’t take me in; naked, and you didn’t clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’
“Then they will also answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and didn’t help you?’
“Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Most assuredly I tell you, inasmuch as you didn’t do it to one of the least of these, you didn’t do it to me.’ These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
And almost despite myself, I like this story. Jesus knows (he says to his disciples) that he’s going to be crucified – that God wants him to be slowly tortured to death. And (he’s only human) this distresses him.
Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go there and pray.” He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and severely troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here, and watch with me.”
He went forward a little, fell on his face, and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass away from me; nevertheless, not what I desire, but what you desire.”
He came to the disciples, and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What, couldn’t you watch with me for one hour? Watch and pray, that you don’t enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Again, a second time he went away, and prayed, saying, “My Father, if this cup can’t pass away from me unless I drink it, your desire be done.” He came again and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. He left them again, went away, and prayed a third time, saying the same words. Then he came to his disciples, and said to them, “Sleep on now, and take your rest. Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Arise, let’s be going. Behold, he who betrays me is at hand.”
While he was still speaking, behold, Judas, one of the twelve, came, and with him a great multitude with swords and clubs, from the chief priest and elders of the people. Now he who betrayed him gave them a sign, saying, “Whoever I kiss, he is the one. Seize him.” Immediately he came to Jesus, and said, “Hail, Rabbi!” and kissed him.
Jesus said to him, “Friend, why are you here?” Then they came and laid hands on Jesus, and took him. Behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck the servant of the high priest, and struck off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place, for all those who take the sword will die by the sword. Or do you think that I couldn’t ask my Father, and he would even now send me more than twelve legions of angels? How then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that it must be so?” (Matthew 26:36-54 )
I love these stories. Seriously: I love them. And that’s just one gospel. And I just picked out my favourite bits and pieces – there are other stories, other quotes, I love almost as much. I admire anyone – whether they identify as Christian, Muslim, Jew, Wiccan, or Buddhist – who practices the virtues – the excellences – described by these stories: the non-violent resistance against an oppressor; the kindness and willingness to help; the courage of the Canaanite woman, and Jesus’s response to a stinging rebuke (a friend points out that this unnamed woman is the only person in any of the gospels – apart from perhaps his own mother over the wine at the wedding party – who got the better of Jesus in a duel of words); charity even to recipients deemed “undeserving”; faith and courtesy; humility; charity towards strangers, the sick, the poor, those in need; the reminder in the vineyard story that Christianity is meant to be about your own relationship with God, not about policing other people’s relationship with God; and yes: the courage of being ready to endure even being tortured slowly to death (the process of crucifixion was execution by slow torture) because you believe that’s what God wants of you.
The shelter runs on a shoestring, relying on donations from supporters, but it is still a struggle to pay rent and buy food, Father Braxton said. He and a small staff of volunteers help prepare the meals and try to turn the residents away from prostitution and persuade them to go to school or find a job, and help them find a place to live.
Father Braxton strongly disapproves of the prostitution, but he says kicking residents out for peddling their bodies would only make things worse. So as they leave the shelter dressed in skimpy outfits, he reminds them that the shelter door is locked from 2 a.m. until sunrise and leaves them with his standard parting wish: “I hope you get arrested.”
“That’s the only thing that stops them – at least for a few days,” he said. “These kids have been kicked out of the other gay youth shelters in the city by breaking rules and curfews. We’re their last hope. I can’t throw them back on the street.” New York Times
Earlier this month, Father Braxton was attacked by four teenage boys when he stepped in to defend one of the shelter residents.
Four punks spewing hateful language at a transgender woman outside a shelter for gay and transgender young people in Queens beat up a priest who attempted to thwart their tirade, police said.
The teens started harassing Alessandra-Michelle Carver, 21, as she was dancing in front of Carmen’s Place in Astoria about 10:30 p.m. on Monday.
“One of them hit me with a garbage can,” she said. “Then his friends started joining in.”
With the help of other shelter residents and the Rev. Louis Braxton, who runs the shelter, Carver was able to scare them off.
But minutes later, the boys came back armed with metal poles, empty paint cans, belts and a miter saw. “Father was trying to make peace with them, but then one of them hit him in the back of the head with a paint can,” Carver said. “He fell to the ground, and they kept hitting him.”
Braxton, who shrugged off the attack after being treated for cuts and bruises at Mount Sinai Hospital of Queens, said men are often threatened by transgender women. “I think that young men see these striking girls, and they’re attracted,” he said. “And when they find out they are male, they don’t know how to handle it and act out in rage.” NY Daily News
Now, obviously, you wouldn’t have to be a Christian to behave like this. But that kind of courage, kindness, and charity that Father Braxton displayed is something I would, reading the gospels, accept as something that could well be inspired by them. As Father Mychal Judge‘s courage and kindness and charity seemed to be part of his faith, inspired by it and rooted in it. Either of them may simply have been that kind of person anyway: but I can, I acknowledge, see in the gospel I love the kind of spiritual discipline that inspires a person to behave as they did.
The most routine argument by those who oppose equal marriage for same-sex couples as for mixed-sex couples is that it’s against their religion. (The other arguments (that same-sex couples can’t have children, or that same-sex couples are bad parents) all tend to lead back either to the same claim: it’s against the practice of Christianity to allow same-sex couples to have the same right to civil marriage as mixed-sex couples – or (in the case of the “same-sex couples can’t have children”) to increasingly-involved nonsense as the claimer tries to show how it’s different for mixed-sex couples who have children the same way as same-sex couples do.) When it’s pointed out that couples who want to get married by a civil authority don’t have to justify themselves to a religious authority that would ban their marriage (if a Jew wants to marry a non-Jew: if a paraplegic wants to marry anyone: if a divorcee wants to marry again: if a man wants to marry another man, or a woman wants to marry another woman) then the argument of “religious freedom” comes out: it is impossible (so these Christians claim) for them to properly practice their religion if they’re required to treat same-sex married couples as they would mixed-sex married couples.
So for these people, the practice of Christianity requires them to keep a lesbian and their children away from her partner as she lies dying of brain aneurysm. Lisa Pond and Janice Langbehn were long-term partners; they had all the right documentation to give them almost the same rights as a married couple would have: they had adopted children: but because Florida had legislation enabling Christian freedom of religion to deny recognition to same-sex relationships, Lisa Pond died alone. Her partner was not allowed to see her: her children were not allowed to see her. (Miami Herald, via the Pond-Langbehn blog) That is the practice of Christianity, they tell me: the Christian practice of religion requires making sure two people in a same-sex relationship don’t have the same legal rights, responsibilities, and obligations, and this overrides anything Jesus said about visiting the sick, or caring for strangers.
A man has said he was “left for dead” in what police have described as a homophobic attack.
Stephen Scott, 27, was walking home near Ballyduff Brae in Newtownabbey on Wednesday night [4th June 2008] when he was attacked.
Three youths, thought to be in their late teens, knocked him to the ground and continued kicking and punching him as they shouted insults.
Mr Scott is being treated in hospital for a head injury, a leg injury and broken ribs. (BBC, 6th June)
This was the Christian reaction of Iris Robinson, DUP Minister for Health in Northern Ireland, to this attack. Homosexuals are “disgusting, loathsome, nauseating, wicked and vile”, but “I have a very lovely psychiatrist who works with me in my offices and his Christian background is that he tries to help homosexuals – trying to turn away from what they are engaged in.” audio link
(Iris Robinson to Belfast Telegraph: “Can you think of anything more vile than man and man or woman and woman and sexually abusing children? What I say I base on biblical pronouncements, based on God’s word. I am amazed that people are surprised when I quote from scriptures … I cannot think of anything more sickening than a child being abused. It is comparable to the act of homosexuality. I think they are all comparable. I feel totally repulsed by both. … I am trying to reach out to people. That is what Christ teaches us … Anything I say is out of love. I am not hate-mongering. I cannot leave my Christian values hanging at the door when I go into politics. I am speaking out more now because we are getting it more and more rammed down our throats that the minority views are more important than the majority views. I am not trying to alienate anyone … I do not turn anyone away. I would never water down anything with the scriptures and I don’t think I should. I find it amazing, if not unexpected, as these days Christians are persecuted for their views but that will not stop me. There will be a judgement day and when I am judged I want to know that I did all I could to spread the word of God.”)
So that’s the word of God, these are Christian values: that a man who has been beaten and left for dead by his attackers, who is lying ill in hospital with “a head injury, a leg injury and broken ribs” ought to be called “disgusting, loathsome, nauseating, wicked and vile”, and the “Christian help” he is offered ought to be an attempt to “cure” him of his sexual orientation.
But the worst example I have found – and the one that in fact inspired this blog post, because while all these things depict a Christianity I loathe, I wanted to remind myself that although outspoken Christians tell me their God is a homophobic God and their religion is a religion of hate, still, the religion I was taught as a child was not like this – begins with a page from the website of the Metropolitan Community Church in Manchester:
Prossy Kakooza is a 26-year-old woman seeking asylum in the UK. She fled Uganda after suffering vicious sexual, physical and verbal attacks due to her sexual orientation.
Prossy had been forced into an engagement when her family discovered her relationship with the girlfriend she met at university. Both women were marched two miles naked to the police station, where they were locked up.
Prossy’s inmates subjected her to gross acts of humiliation. She was violently raped by police officers who taunted her with derogatory comments like ‘’we’ll show you what you’re missing’’ and ‘’you’re only this way because you haven’t met a real man’’. She was also scalded on her thighs with hot meat skewers.
Prossy was eventually taken out of prison after her father bribed the guards. Her family had decided they would sacrifice her instead, believing this would ‘’take the curse away from the family’’.
Whilst her family were making arrangements to slaughter her, Prossy managed to flee to the United Kingdom to seek asylum.
The reaction of the MCC in Manchester was to support Prossy Kakooza’s asylum claim (if you’re British, you’ll find links to a petition and information about how to write in support at the link above). They believe: “In MCC we welcome all types of people to worship with us and explore a journey of Christian discipleship. To be lgbt friendly means that we have a high profile in the local gay village and media. We speak out in the press about areas of concern to our communities, we use a variety of images in our worship, liturgy and song which speak to various groups of people. We don’t judge anyone and we help each other on our journey through life. We realise how life really is and don’t try to get people to be anything other than who they are. You don’t need to pretend in MCC. ”
But Archbishop Peter Akinola, told about Prossy Kakooza, reacted rather differently:
OK. Every community, every society, has its own standards of life. In ancient African societies we had what are called “taboos”, things you should not do, and if you break the taboos there are consequences.
Alright, so in your Western society many of these have arisen but in some of our African societies many things have not arisen and this happens to be one of them. In fact the word in our language does not exist in our language. So if the practice is now found to be in our society it is of service to be against it. Alright, and to that extent what my understanding is, is that those that are responsible for law and order will want to prevent wholesale importation of foreign practices and traditions, that are not consistent with native standards, native way of life.
So if you say it is good for you, it is not good for us …. If they say it is not right for our societies then it’s not right, and that’s it.
And Archbishop Henry Orombi, Uganda, responded at more length but still without a word of condemnation for the torture and rape:
Can I just come back to say that, that’s an example given for my country. There’s very little influence to stop the legislation of a law, an institute, in practice by the church. The church’s practice is to preach, to proclaim, so that people who find themselves in a position where they go away from the word of God, the same word of God can bring them back to life. And that is in Uganda as already Archbishop Akinola is saying.
I would be in trouble if I were to say to my people in Uganda that tomorrow I can officiate at a same-sex marriage in my church. First of all the church will be closed.. Two, I might even be fired from my job because the question they are going to ask me is “Have you not read the word of God? And teach us now.”
Simply saying that the Christian faith that we practice, which was brought from the West, by the way, taught us what biblically sexuality is. We’ve embraced that faith, we are practicing that faith, and moving away from that faith would be a contradiction to what we have inherited. First of all our communities will not accept them because they will want to let them know that if that is your orientation you can come back to life. It’s a possibility there. We believe there is a possibility culturally. Secondly, we believe there is a possibility according to Christian faith. And we believe that, that God can bring you back when you have gone out of what is supposed to be intended by God. Now there is a complement in believing there is transformation, there is restoration, that makes us stand on the word of God which can bring change to people, as it has done to us over a period of time.
When we first received missionaries, way back, if we go back to 1886 we had a young man and a king and he wanted to have a sexual, homosexual, relationship with him. Now this young man had already taken a new standard of Christian faith and said “No we can’t do that because the word of God says this.” They paid for their lives. This man on the 3rd of June was commemorated and about a million people went to remember them. So the thing which is plain in our African society, other than government rule, it is culturally our community of faith, and where they stand is rock solid now, the amazing thing is that it is the western church that brought this Christianity to us. We believed it, we are practicing it, and now the western church is advocating for something which is contrary to what their ancestors brought us.
Riazat Butt (Guardian) did a followup question:
I didn’t actually hear you condemn at all the rapes of gays and lesbians in your countries. He wasn’t asking you if you could change government legislation he was asking you whether the Gospel had been compromised by the way they had been treated. Is there something in Christianity about forgiveness?
Henry Orombi: If you were for the Shogah in Kampala a few weeks ago the gay demonstrated in the country and they were not arrested. The gay led a press conference and they were not arrested.
Riazat Butt: We’re not talking about freedom of expression, he was specifically referring to the use of torture and rape.
Henry Orombi: I would not believe a thing like that is done in the public knowledge of the people of Uganda because the gay people who are Ugandans are citizens of the country and we would cherish the fact that we would want to send it our people. For some of those things probably you get information in England and we may not even get information, I don’t know how they get their information.
Henry Luke Orombi, Archbishop of Uganda, has said in interviews that the rift in the church can only be bridged if liberal bishops “espousing sexual perversion, repent and return to Christ’s teachings”.
Those “teachings”, I presume, are those in some gospel I have not yet read, where Jesus, faced with the awful sin of one woman loving another, speaks out for rape, torture, and murder. I’ve read Mark, Matthew, Luke and John from first to last, and I don’t know where in the gospels Jesus advocates scalding a woman on her thighs with hot meat skewers. (Nor do I especially want to know, thank you.)
A religion which takes the side of the torturers and rapists, which upholds the right of society to imprison and punish lovers for their love, which stands between a dying woman and her family, is not a religion I can feel any affection or respect for. Yet that’s Christianity… so they tell me.