Learn more about who we are by following our blog, written by our pastor, preacher, and chief evangelist. Engage in the everyday sacred as Abby writes about the deep and ordinary all at once.
If you have read my blogs before, you can guess how I feel about the recent SCOTUS ruling on marriage. Elated!
I am one of millions of Americans this week celebrating by changing my Facebook profile picture to a rainbow. I even bought a t-shirt that reads, “Love Wins,” plastered over a map of America, as if my home team just won the Super Bowl. Some of this giddy delight is enraging citizens with different views. Social media has become a forum for people to spew their hate and fear. This seems especially prevalent, not surprisingly, but shamefully so, in christian circles. I’ve had a startling response: I don’t care! Rage against progress! Rage against inclusion! I don’t care what you think. I don’t care if your feelings are hurt. I am unapologetically relishing this moment in history. Homophobic christians, you are on the wrong side of history. Love has won. The arc of God’s kingdom is long, but it always bends toward justice.
It took me a few days (well, years) to get to this willful I-don’t-care space.
Christian America has been deeply divided for the past thirty years about gender identity and sexual preference. I quit hoping for christian “unity within our diversity” when I entered seminary 17 years ago and heard the most hateful things said in the name of Jesus. At first I joined the fray, fighting for my LGBTQ friends. I would stand up on the floor of presbytery, in class, whenever and wherever, to defend their right to be ordained and married.
After seminary I quit. I did not stop caring about the importance of LGBTQ issues: I married lesbian couples (no gay men yet, but please if you are interested let me know!), taught an inclusive sexuality curriculum to my youth, and even led continuing education classes on what the Bible does say (pretty much nothing) about homosexuality. Still, I left the scarred “christian” battlefield. I would not participate in the debate. It gave me migraines, stomachaches, and worst of all left me feeling hollow. I wanted to do productive work for the gospel. I wanted results, not endless arguments.
Then this week happened. All of a sudden I was back in the epicenter of the battle as I read shameful homophobic postings on my community’s Facebook page, encountered friends’ pleas for advice on how to deal with other fb friends’ hateful comments, and heard the most ridiculous christian-political rhetoric on national news. (Why, may I ask, has the media not interviewed the thousands of progressive christians who have been fighting for equal marriage for years? NPR, you can call me up. I would be happy to offer you my opinion!) Once again I was in the midst of the battle, but once again I was reluctant to participate. I simply deleted nasty posts, banned the people from Grace’s fb page, and tried to support my LGBTQ friends’ through their continued experiences of intolerance and hate.
Then the universe shifted when I remembered what a facebook friend posted after the tragic events in Charleston: I'm done arguing with knuckle-dragging racists. If you espouse or defend racism, I will unfriend you and/or block you. Life is too short to put up with stupidity and hatred disguised as "heritage" and "patriotism”. Get your flag, get your pointy white hat, and get the hell out of my life. Thank you.
He later reported that he lost a handful of friends, but gained more. I was amazed by his courage and his unapologetic stand against racism. Why should he be apologetic? I wouldn’t stand for my children saying hateful things; why should I tolerate adults’ homophobic or racist comments dressed up as religious belief?
Real christian community is not easily forged. Grace is not cheap, nor is forgiveness. If you want to continue to say hateful things about our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, do not expect me to listen. Do not be surprised if I unfriended you on Facebook. Expect to be banned from Grace’s Facebook page.
And do not, I repeat, do not think you have the Jesus monopoly. You may claim the title “Christian,” but you do not own Christ. The Jesus of Nazareth who laid claim to my heart called me to love courageously and radically. He did not call me to be “nice and polite” while people are excluded and hated. In fact, to hell with nice and polite. Homophobia is neither of those things, so it doesn’t deserve those things. Homophobia hurts people. It promotes bullying. It causes self-hatred. For Jesus’ sake it has to stop, and now.
Jesus preached the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of justice and peace and radical inclusion. This week America took one step toward that kingdom by allowing gays to marry. It will take another step as those Confederate flags come down. God willing, we will keep on marching until everyone on the outside is invited in, until the hungry are fed, the homeless are housed, and the wounded are healed. Love is winning. Will you march with us?
"Our culture has shifted; we are now granted more religious freedom to discover our own spiritual path instead of simply identifying with our heritage. As a result, those who do engage in a spiritual practice do so out of commitment rather than obligation."
“Oh No! The religious sky is falling!” the news commentators declared after a Pew Research Center survey recently revealed that over the past seven years the number of Americans who identify themselves as Christians has dropped nearly 8 points to about 70%. Meanwhile the number of Americans who claim no religious affiliation has hit an all-time high of 23%. This supposed collapse is apparent across all age groups and ethnicities. One commentator wrote, “We are staring in the face a European-style collapse in religious observance within a couple of generations.”
Is this news? Is the sky really falling? Maybe for some people this is startling and perhaps for others it is even bad news, but from where I’m seated this sounds like the best news I’ve heard in a long time. Why?
First, realistically assessing if you are affiliated with a faith tradition is important self-awareness. Just because your grandmother went to Catholic mass every day doesn’t mean you are automatically Catholic. My parents raised me on a horse farm. My three older sibling loved to ride. I couldn’t stand it. I would never claim to be a “horse woman” just because as a kid I shoveled stalls. In the same way, for generations Americans have been identifying with religious traditions that represented their family’s heritage, not their faith experience. Our culture has shifted; we are now granted more religious freedom to discover our own spiritual path instead of simply identifying with our heritage. As a result, those who do engage in a spiritual practice do so out of commitment rather than obligation.
Second, institutional loyalty has diluted Jesus’ radical Gospel for centuries. I’ll never forget when an elementary classmate adamantly denied they were Christian and instead explained they were Roman Catholic. Years later in graduate school I met many soon to be ministers who had stronger ties to their denomination than they did to Jesus’ teachings. There were times at Princeton Theological Seminary I felt like we were collectively worshiping Calvin and spirit-less creeds and doctrines, instead of the man from Nazareth. Shifting institutional loyalty will give rise to more authentic and meaningful faith practice. This is perhaps the best news of all. We are already seeing the fruits of this shift as new ways of following Jesus arise from emergent churches to new monastic communities.
Finally, the question what does it mean to be Christian is a deeply important one. I would argue that 70% of America can’t truly be Christian otherwise we would be doing a much better job of caring for the poor, the imprisoned, the blind, the burdened, and the battered (Luke 4:18). Yet on the other hand, some would argue I am a terrible Christian because of my feminist views. I welcome a national conversation about what it means to identify yourself as a Christian. Does it mean you vote a certain way? That you go to church every Sunday? Pray regularly? Protest at abortion clinics and gay marriages? Or maybe feed the homeless regardless of your city’s ordinance against such subversive acts? Serious debate about what it means to be Christian welcomes serious faith exploration and in my experience faith exploration is always rewarding.
Are you part of the 70%? Were you raised Christian and now identify as something else? Were you raised with Christian heritage, but little faith experiences? Or are you one who joyfully and consciously identifies with a religious tradition because you have the freedom to? I’m the later. I’m a progressive Christian because I was given the freedom to discover my own faith journey and ask important faith questions.
Rev. Abigail A Henrich (ehm!) is an ordained minister who earned her stripes at Princeton Theological Seminary and Colgate University. That said, Abby is really a mother-pastor-spouse who lives in a kinetic state of chaos as she moves from her many vocations: folding laundry, preaching, returning phone calls, sorting lunch boxes, answering e-mails, and occasionally thinking deep thoughts in the shower. Unabashedly she is a progressive Christian who believes some shaking up has got to happen in the church.