Today, we will discuss one of the most pressing threats to American Christianity. Meaning, of course, American Christians.
Yes, that’s an overly broad statement. All those Christians whose faith requires them to live the Good News, to feed the hungry, to house the homeless, speak for the voiceless and welcome the stranger, surely do not threaten the faith. To the contrary, they empower it. They are what Christianity is supposed to be.
But we’re here to contend with what Christianity too often is. Having seen putative Christians excuse the liar, rationalize the alleged pedophile, justify the sexual assaulter and cheer as walls are raised against the most vulnerable, it’s obvious that many of those who claim that name embody a niggardly, cowardly, selfish and situational “faith” that has little to do with Jesus.
Exhibit A: North Bend High School in rural southern Oregon. As detailed by The New York Times and CNN.com, two state reports completed in March and publicized just a few days ago, paint the school as a torture chamber for LGBTQ students.
We’re talking kids pelted with food and homophobic slurs and a teacher telling two girls it was “disgusting” for them to kiss. One girl said she was hit with a skateboard by a student who punctuated the assault with anti-gay insults. When she complained to a school official, the woman was dismissive, telling her that her sexuality violated the official’s religious beliefs.
And, when LGBTQ kids ran afoul of school officials, they were given a punishment designed specifically for them. They were forced to read the Bible.
A hearing has been set for this week to resolve the issue. For the record, the school board disputes many of the charges. The superintendent told the Times the Bible was used as punishment only once.
Let us put aside the constitutional imbecility of forcing a child to read the Bible – at all. Nor will we ponder what it says about how you see your faith when you regard its holy book as a punishment. Matthew Vines, a gay Christian and activist, does a good job of refuting the “clobber quotes” – places in the Bible often interpreted as condemning homosexuality – in “The Gay Debate: The Bible and Homosexuality,” a video easily findable online, and in his book, “God and the Gay Christian,” so we have no need to go there.
Instead, let’s go to Matthew 25:40 where Jesus reminds his followers that “whatever you did unto the least of these … you have done it also unto me.” It’s a familiar admonition, often quoted but seldom, it seems, taken seriously by many of us who call ourselves Christians.
Yet if divinity identifies with “the least of these,” that means, does it not, that God is in the homeless man begging change at the off ramp, the immigrant slogging north across the unforgiving desert, and, yes, the lesbian whacked by a skateboard. Unfortunately, faith has become for many people a license to do what is easy – demonize the Other – rather than an obligation to do what is hard: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Small wonder millions of people tell pollsters they’ve given up on organized religion – not the search for spiritual meaning, you understand, but “religion.” In modeling bigotry, intimidation and violence and calling it faith, these “Christians” in Oregon give them no reason to reconsider. Indeed, they slander what they claim to hold sacred. Christianity, after all, is the struggle to be like Christ, who famously welcomed the foreigner, the outsider, the outcast.
But then, he didn’t go to school in Oregon. They don’t tolerate that stuff at North Bend.
Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.