I am a Christian, some may think that that is an unlikely statement from someone like me, a gay, liberal, same sex married, living in one of the least religious countries in the world, to make, but it is true. I am a Christian.
I wouldn't have always said this. I was raised a Christian, for years I went to church every Sunday with my parents and listened to preachers talk about heaven and hell and sin and righteousness,but it never really clicked with me. I couldn't accept that the Earth was only 6,000 years old when there are 10,000 year old trees in California. I couldn't believe that a flood covered the entire planet when there was no evidence to support that this event ever happened. I couldn't accept that people would go to hell just because they had never heard of Jesus, or if they had they had they may have only heard of him as a myth perpetuated by capitalists in the west. I certainly couldn't accept that I was going to hell for something that I had no choice in and so church and me didn't get along very well.
As I got older I went to church with a few of my friends, here I was either treated like someone they wished wasn't there because my gayness or strange appearance (yeah, I am an old punk) made them uncomfortable or I was embraced by people who seemed to only care about the fact that I was gay and seemed to believe that church was a place to mainly commiserate on how badly we had been treated by other churches. None of this seemed to fit very well into what I had read in the Bible and I came to the conclusion that churches only existed to give people a chance to either wallow in their own misery or as an imaginary high ground that allowed its members to look down on others. Either way I didn't want to be there.
This wound up changing when I found a church that seemed to have a greater reason to exist than complimenting or commiserating with its members. You see, quite by accident, I found a church, Hobson United Methodist Church in Nashville Tennessee, that existed for more than this. It exists because people exist that are hurt and left out and disenfranchised for any number of reasons. I didn't know that this place would renew my faith, I didn't know that this place would welcome me, and I certainly didn't know that this place would open my eyes to the world around wider than they had ever been opened before, but it did, and I am very thankful for it.
Hobson is an unusual church, it is a multi-racial church though most of the members are African American. It promotes a theology called "Black Theology" that looks at the words of Jesus Christ and sees not only teachings about salvation and forgiveness but also profound lessons about and a call for justice. It sees all of us as imperfect people, equal in our imperfections but also equally worthy of love. Black theology reaches beyond the selfish reasons many people believe, their quest for personal salvation, and sees that all of us are sinners and that none deserve salvation, so we are, in all ways possible, equal. We can not condemn others unless we are blind to our own faults and shortcomings. We can not see ourselves as superior to anyone else unless we have bought into a lie. Black theology says that God loves us all equally and to deny this is an injustice that must be spoken against.
My church looked at me and didn't see a strange looking gay man, my church looked at me and saw me, George, a man trying to live my life as honestly as I can. One Sunday we had two women preach about a story in the Bible where a man prayed to God to let him win a battle against his enemy and if God let him do this he would return home and sacrifice the first person to greet him. This person turned out to be the man's own daughter. Many preachers see this story and talk about how strong this man's faith was, the two women who preached that Sunday, two women in love with each other, told us there was a different way of seeing this story. They made us aware that what we read in the Bible represented what the men who had written down the story thought of it. They reminded us that this may have not been the way God wanted us to see it. You see a young girl lost her life in this story but she was never named, but God knew her name. At Hobson we know each other's names. You aren't the homeless man at Hobson, you are Victor. You aren't the divorced woman at Hobson, you are Pam. I wasn't the white guy or the gay guy at Hobson, I was George because none of us were different, we were just who we are and God loves us as who we are. We aren't qualified to second guess God and so we love each other as who we are because that's what Christ tells us to do.
Tonight I was reminded of why I am a Christian as I was searching through youtube looking for videos of one of my favorite musical groups, The Blind Boys of Alabama. This is a group of gospel singers that started out at a school for black, blind children in Alabama decades ago and that are still making amazing music. One of the videos I watched was the Blind Boys singing "If I had a Hammer". This is, of course, a well known folk song, but when the Blind Boys sing it there is no doubt that it is also a gospel song. When an elderly back, blind man stands in front of a crowd and sings about a hammer of justice and a hammer of freedom there is no doubt that you are hearing the gospel. Hobson taught me this and for this I am forever blessed. This is why I am a Christian, not because it will get me into heaven, although I hope it will, but because the entire world is just as deserving of heaven as I am and the entire world is as deserving of a decent life and justice while we are here on Earth. Christ didn't teach us to look down on or condemn anyone, he taught us that we are all equal and to do what we can to lift each other up. Christ's message was one of love for everyone and this is why I am a Christian.
If you are in the Nashville area I encourage you to pay a visit to Hobson United Methodist Church some Sunday, it doesn't matter who you are or what you wear, the only thing that matters is that you are ready to be loved and to love others. That's why we are all here in the first place.