I recently returned to Roanoke after living in NYC for fifteen years. I moved to New York thinking my faith was strong and that I knew what it meant to be a Christian in today’s world. I was blissfully unaware of how much I had to learn and grow. I am grateful for those years in New York because I learned the true value of diversity in our world and the true meaning of what it means to be a Christian within that diversity. In moving back to Roanoke, I have found that many “Christians” have retreated into a very closed-minded view of our faith and they have learned to use it as a weapon on the political front.
I’m amazed and disheartened to hear people in the Church so regularly besmirching “those liberals” and declaring that those of us with a more open mind are either brainwashed or attempting to indoctrinate and corrupt our youth. The fact that they quote Scripture to justify their hate and judgmental approach to the world is even more disturbing. When confronted by anyone who views any part of the world differently, rather than discuss it with an open mind, they merely double down in their determination to not be swayed. To not see another person’s perspective. And, even worse, their faith and their politics have blended into one congealed mindset which has corrupted their approach to everyone and everything around them.
In New York City, I never had to fear expressing my opinion. I worked for a Jewish organization. One of my managers had a Muslim husband who was not only a fine upstanding (and tax paying) citizen, but was a delightful, loving and caring person. No one’s race, gender, orientation, or political standing truly mattered. We often had amazing discussions and debates about our various views and opinions without insults or condescension. Within that diversity, my faith was challenged over and over again. I won’t say it was entirely pleasant, but I am truly thankful for it because my faith grew stronger.
Too many so-called Christians have allowed fear to dictate their lives. They’re scared of the LGBTQ+ community because they don’t understand it. They believe antiquated religious teachings that, quite frankly, have been misinterpreted over the years and use that misinterpretation to justify their hate and denigration of the gay community. They’re terrified that their children might learn of other cultures and other belief systems. They blame abortion and lack of organized prayer in school for every problem in society today. They make wild claims that certain books have inappropriate subjects and pictures, yet they are often merely referring to anything that is not strictly written from a conservative Christian perspective with no regard to anyone else’s take on life.
At no point did God call us to shove our faith down other people’s throats or force them to live by our Christian principles. Your faith may guide you in your approach to the world, and politics in general; however, it should not be used to bludgeon others into submission. You want Christian businesses to be able to freely refuse service to anyone they deem goes against their religious beliefs, yet you are up in arms at the merest hint of anyone refusing anything to a conservative politician or a religious organization that promotes Christian Nationalism. You fear indoctrination of your children by “those sinful liberals” yet by denying your children access to anything but a strictly Christian environment, you are, in fact, indoctrinating your children into a false faith of hate, arrogance and ignorance. Your fear makes you blind to your own hypocrisy.
As Christians, we are called to be God’s example to the world. To demonstrate His love, His mercy and His compassion and forgiveness. You cannot preach “God meets you where you are” and then demonize and ostracize anyone who doesn’t fall in line with your belief system. You cannot claim to know and understand God’s love and spew hate and arrogance when faced with something you don’t understand. And while your faith may guide your approach to politics, it has no place in government, itself. Your right to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose. Your right to live a strict, Christian lifestyle ends at your neighbor’s door. If you want them to embrace your faith, be a better example of it.
Our government, our schools, and our communities absolutely must tolerate diversity. If your faith is not strong enough to understand this, then the problem isn’t outward, it’s inward.
No man can serve two masters. Which is stronger? Your faith? Or your fear?
– Russell M. Painter / Roanoke