Bethany Cseh / Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014 @ 8:28 a.m. / Faith-y
PASTOR BETHANY: Religion on the Fringe — Or, Give More Than Thanks
Our American history began as a fresh start, with the Pilgrims arriving on soil as visitors, unsure of what New World could mean. They arrived hopeful and hesitant, immigrants on sea legs wanting to create a new name for themselves and praying for peace from the expansive distance of England. They arrived with their progressive religion and settler mindset, but after a harsh winter and too many deaths they received help and care from indigenous people. This first Thanksgiving on hopeful shared soil was born out of compassion and collaboration from the native communities.
Tragically, as history tells, peace was broken, land taken, men, women and children massacred. Greed-forced evacuations of indigenous people have brought us to the present day. To this Thursday. Where many families will gather in warm homes, with smells of turkey and pie and delightfully gluttonous indulgence trumping the reality that we live on stolen land. Land stolen in the name of religious superiority, greed and by seeming right.
It’s uncomfortable, isn’t it? Thinking about the painful atrocities our tainted history has? We live in a culture of American exceptionalism and triumphalism. This culture can create a sort of amnesia toward the shameful history of America and her past religious influences. When churches should have been preaching and living out grace, equality, non-violence and love for all people, they were often on the forefront with movements of violence, hate, injustice, fear of “the other” and apathy. Because, admittedly, the Christian Church, or those who represent the Church, has been a leader in many of those painful atrocities.
Christians — myself included, as you see — are quick to point out all the good that organized religion has done in the world. Like building hospitals, being some of the first on the ground when disease breaks out, beginning organized movements of orphan care, strategically combating traffickers and providing safe houses for victims. The Church does and has done incredible works of justice and compassion to help repair and heal this earth in the name of Jesus Christ.
But the Church has also caused great harm in the world in the name of Jesus Christ. Our history is bursting and swollen with evil, un-Christlike atrocities. The Crusades. The Inquisitions. The justification of slavery. The labels and accusations of heresy resulting in torture, imprisonment and death. Truly, the list is seemingly endless.
Yes, it is true. We have a sordid past. These evils done in the name of Christ make me groan and cry out from the depth because, as a Christian, this past is my past. I want to scream out, “That’s not me! I would never do anything like that!” I want to forget it all and blissfully ignore it while still claiming all the good that organized religion has done. But if I ignore the evils of our past it could cause me to ignore the evils of our present. Because as much as I claim I would never allow such evil to exist in the Church, I am capable.
I am dreadfully sorry for the hurt and pain, past and current, where the Bible has been used as a bludgeoning tool causing you and other human beings harm. I lament. And we, as the Church, must lament. We must confess our broken and evil past lest we forget or ignore. We must cry out and lament the tragedies of our past so we can see the evil that we, in the Church, still commit today in the name of Jesus Christ. Where human beings, created in the image of God, are left out, pushed out, despised, ignored, seen as less than, because of sexual orientation, because of gender, because of current or past addictions. Where we become fat in greed while ignoring the poor and oppressed. The Church must continue to corporately lament, prayerfully cry out, confess, and seek forgiveness for our past and our present.
There’s hope, though. There were always groups, or churches, of Christians on the fringe, on the outskirts, living out Jesus Christ’s message of hope, love and peace. These radically faithful few kept the true message of hopeful healing and loving repair alive. Their voices rang true and many of them are documented throughout history. Unfortunately, their voices and actions were most often swallowed up and silenced by the louder, more powerfully religious.
Jesus was also on the fringe, bringing compassion and peace and God’s message of inclusive love for all people when the highly religious wanted to keep people out. His voice, too, was swallowed up, drowned out and silenced by the louder, more powerfully religious. But only for a moment. Those groups, or churches, on the fringe have picked up and carried the truth of God’s love for all.
I want to be on the fringe, where I don’t ignorantly believe I am not capable of hate but, instead, fight hate with love. I want to be on the fringe where compassion and equality is abundant. I want to be on the fringe where, together, our myriad of differences pull us together instead of dividing us. Because together, within our differences, we can bring repair and healing to our broken world. I hope you’ll join me on the fringe.
Bethany Cseh is co-pastor of Catalyst Church in Arcata.