God Favors the Oppressed
Over the last few months, and maybe even before then, I have found myself distancing from organized Christianity and especially the politically conservative camp. It is hard to see so many holding onto their rights and freedoms at the expense of the oppressed. Of course, not all Christians fall into this camp and there are many different varieties as evidenced in the more than 200 denominations in the United States alone. Coming to terms with the reality of my own emotional abuse by family members that went unrecognized by me for 33 years, I'm starting to see how much abuse is prevalent everywhere.
Abuse is about power and control. Oppressors who seek to keep the oppressed, oppressed. It is most heinous, I think, in the church. The institution that should, more than any other, be seeking the protection of the oppressed. It is as if politically conservative Christianity has completely misunderstood who the powerful and who the abused are. The oppressors are seen as the oppressed, and the oppressed as the oppressors. The abusers are seen as the abused, and the abused as the abusers. It has made me want to retreat from all of it, organized Christianity as a whole. It is hard to come to the realization that the Bible has been weaponized, and weaponized not for pursuing justice, but for PERPETUATING injustice. At this point I am not even sure where I stand with the Bible. One thing I know, or at least I think I know, is that God. Favors. The. Oppressed. Full stop.
God favors the oppressed.
The people that Jesus got angry with in the New Testament were those who tried to take advantage of other people. Religious leaders that were so caught up in the maintenance and implementation of the law that they lost sight of the people they were supposed to be serving. Religious leaders so caught up in maintaining an image of godliness on the outside that they missed that they were rotting on the inside. Jesus calls them names like brood of vipers, whitewashed tombs, and hypocrites. When I look around and see demands to hold services in person and sing, bullying of governors to comply, the comparison of church to Costco (and if people can go to Costco, people can go to church). I just. What is even happening here? Are we also confused about what persecution is and is not? Or the assertion that COVID-19 is all a hoax meant to keep President Trump from being reelected. What? What is happening? Is this not a pandemic, meaning it has spread around the world? It is hardest to hear these things from those I love, from those I respect, from those who have made a significant impact on my life. People I once trusted without reservation. Now I am looking back combing over things and realizing: oh wow. Have I made a habit of submitting to well-intentioned abuse?
Intention does not matter, by the way.
I find myself disillusioned by church buildings. Buildings that cost a lot of money to maintain. Buildings in which I have loved being. Buildings I took my kids to and played at and held meetings inside. COVID-19 changes everything. Buildings I once saw as a refuge are now a site of likely exposure to this virus. Maintaining them without the ability to use them at their capacity for the next... who knows how long? It all just seems like a colossal waste of resources. It has made me want to cease tithing and simply distribute that money to organizations actively serving the oppressed, those hardest hit by this pandemic. I want to send my money to support the people of Detroit. I have found an organization to come alongside, one that is fueled by a community and volunteers serving others in need. I am doing that regularly. I have others in mind to add to that. I am still mulling over how exactly to proceed with my thoughts and feelings on this subject. I know for sure I am not comfortable continuing to tithe to the church at this time.
The rise of COVID-19 in the United States over the past five months has exposed the effects of systemic racism once again. It serves as a dark reminder for our nation of who is truly oppressed. Not because they are inferior, but because their ancestors have been and they currently are the victims of systemic racism. The sharing of videos of police brutality against Black people flooded social media and the news. Police, who are supposed to protect, clearly exploiting and abusing their power over others to the point of taking life. Not being held accountable for it while families mourn and live in fear of who the next victim will be. Protests broke out in the midst of the pandemic and I worried that those most impacted crying out for justice would be catalysts for another wave of infections. But they were not. Maybe because the protests were outside and a number of people participating wore masks. Whatever the explanation, I am grateful. Yet more Black faces and names continue to flood social media. More human beings killed by fellow citizens or law enforcement. The deaths of Black men, Black women, all ages. Black trans women. The oppression continues as oppressors seek to hang onto their power and refuse to let go.
I see the helpers, I see glimmers of hope. Voices speaking out and gaining ground, opening eyes and changing minds. Books that address racism and how to become actively anti-racist selling out and going on backorder. Oh that we would have listened before, sought these books before. A crisis from the beginning of time that has been told from the white perspective and not painted as a crisis at all. History that has been suppressed. Perspectives erased. Finally a fresh wave of curiosity, seeking a different perspective. Eyes opening to injustice never before recognized. Will this interest be sustained? Who knows. What I can do is make sure I do my part to inform myself and dismantle my own racism, becoming actively anti-racist. Raise children who are actively anti-racist. Liberate the oppressed and call out the oppressors.
I listened to Brene Brown's Unlocking Us podcast episode with Laverne Cox on Transgender Representation, Advocacy, and the Power of Love. An episode I had previously avoided because I was uncomfortable with the description of the content. Something that I am now ashamed of. Know better, do better. Brene Brown says she is not here to be right but to do right. I echo that commitment. I will own my wrong, apologize for it, and seek to adjust and do right. To course correct when I find myself on the wrong path. And regarding sexual orientation and gender identity, I have been on the wrong path. I have been wrestling with this off and on over the last several years.
I have participated in Ash Luna's Fourth Trimester Bodies Project twice over that time. I have followed Ash and their perspective on social media. The more I consumed their content, the more curious I became and the less hostile to different views on sexual orientation and gender identity. I see how Ash fights for the care and services one of their children needs. I see how Ash is so raw and vulnerable about the mountain of challenges they face to get their child the care they deserve. What it is like to be in a disabled body in an ableist world. I see how Ash fights for the oppressed, empowers them. How Ash calls out injustice and how it is done so consistently. I see how Ash's work features, celebrates, and empowers humans of all experiences, shapes, sizes, gender identities. I see the image of God in Ash. That spirit for justice, that fight for the oppressed, that capacity for expressing emotion, that celebration of humans that break the mold and challenge our society's standards of beauty. Fuck those standards of beauty. ...I digress.
Listening to Brene and Lavenre talk about transgender representation, advocacy, and the power of love blew my mind. They talked about Laverne's new documentary out on Netflix, Disclosure, which is about the history of the misrepresentation of trans people in film and tv. I knew I wanted to watch it. And so I did. It was the last nail in the coffin for me in leaving the conservative Christian non-affirming position on sexuality. I am not sure what to do about certain verses in the Bible about sexuality. As I mentioned before, I am not sure what to do with the Bible in general anymore. But if God favors the oppressed, then God favors the LGBTQIA community.
In the past I was frustrated by high profile Christians moving to the affirming community. I thought they were sellouts doing the more socially acceptable thing, the easier thing, the more popular thing. Brene Brown said in something of hers I was listening to something to the effect of: she was not going to make time for denominations that had to vote over whether or not those of different sexual identities had a place in the church. At the time, I bristled at that. I understand Brene's declaration and agree with it now.
Last summer I had a conversation with some old friends in which I was trying to communicate that even if I do not agree with the mindset that homosexuality is not a sin, I think there is something to learn from this community, what they have suffered, and what they are fighting for. Like, why does it matter whether or not someone knows the biological sex of my child? Should they not be treated as a human no matter their sex? I was not all for non-binary parenting and yet it intrigued me. I see the intentionality Ash Luna uses to equip her children with the language to express themselves and their identities, to recognize who the oppressed are, to dismantle power over others. What would happen in a world where gender norms and rolls were not forced on our tiny humans? I felt heard by some of my old friends, and not at all by others. One shared about how gender identity is a new phenomenon and we did not have language to talk about this until the advent of modern psychology. They expressed that the problem with exercising homosexuality is that it is practicing "unrepentant sin." For some reason that made sense to me at the time. I am ashamed of this now. Ashamed of so many positions I have held and causes I have championed confusing the oppressed with the oppressors.
In Ash Luna I see kindness, compassion, and a commitment to be honest and to fight for the oppressed. Something that I do not see in the voices declaring homosexuality "unrepentant sin." I see people acting in fear of this "sin" corrupting their families, fear of a group with a political "agenda" taking over. I see a country that elects the likes of Donald Trump, a complete and total narcissist, as its leader, with conservative Christians justifying their support of him because of the conservative supreme court justices he would nominate. I see those politically conservative Christians selling their souls to the devil to maintain political power. Abuse is about power and control. This is not what God instructs his followers to seek. But this is what the politically conservative church in the United States seeks. Political power, the "right" to legislate morality. I am much more concerned about the agenda of conservative Christians than I am about the "agenda" of the LGBTQIA community. And the high profile Christians moving to the affirming community I now recognize as brave to stand up in the face of injustice and stand with the oppressed. The sellouts are the ones who elected Trump for fear of losing power.
I have been doing some thinking about the "end times" teachings that I was once obsessed with back in my high school years and some of my Bible College days. The "end times" being the time before Jesus returns to earth during which the earth would experience labor pains in the form of things such as wars, sickness, natural disasters, and a rise in false teachers all pointing to the soon coming reckoning. As I grow in knowledge and understanding of trauma, abuse, narcissism, the patriarchy, systemic racism, and more, I realize just how little I know. As I am deconstructing and reconstructing my understanding of all of these things and the role I have played in them because of my own privilege as well as the ways I have been abused, I am seeing things so very differently. Jesus in the New Testament calls out the religious leaders. He is harsh with those who take advantage of their power over others. He walks away from people who are unable to hear, and lets them walk away from him. What if the false teachers are the ones upholding the patriarchy. The ones who say and do the things to honor what they think is the law, but inside they are rotten. They have confused the abused with the abusers, and the abusers with the abused. What if politically conservative Christianity is the rot. What if everything I have ever thought I knew about my religion and the God at the head of it is distorted, and grossly so. Intentions do not matter.
As I wrestle through these thoughts and questions and find myself holding space for the uncertainty and discomfort, I do not know where I will ultimately end up. I find myself wondering: if I died today, would I go to hell? Do I even believe in hell? What is even happening here? And then I think: the God I am beginning to know now is bigger than that. He is not some abusive tyrant seeking power and control over me. Not some cosmic narcissist. He sees me, he sees my struggle. He sees everything I thought I knew crumbling before me. He does not insist that I get back in line quickly. No. He looks at the broken pieces of me and says: oh dear one. It is all so much, isn't it? Your questions are not too big for me. Your uncertainty is not scary to me. You are not too much for me. I know you, even when you do not know yourself. And when you are ready, I am right here. My love is unconditional. And I hold space for all of you. I am always here for you. I favor the oppressed.