By John D. Pierce

The religious faith I affirm and practice is not the same as many who use the same brand name along with some common rituals and language. It is simply too different to be called the same religion.

The deities we worship have vastly different characteristics and the values we embrace out of our religious convictions are often not just different but in complete contrast. I’m feeling more of a need to clarify those differences — to the point of separation from any shared identification.

I get, “Judge not.” No person sees clearly into the heart of another.

I understand, “Be as one.” Unity among believers is to be sought and nurtured.

But what if our beliefs are not minor points of doctrinal disagreement but completely different understandings of the divine and the directives that come from such a faith?

What if the religious faith being claimed as “Christian” and my understanding of following Jesus are completely foreign to each other?

When does such a stark difference in basic beliefs, values and practices actually become a different religion? For me, the answer is mighty close to “now.”

Surely, simply using the same brand name and some common language is not enough.

Frankly, I’m beyond tired of being associated with a widespread, Americanized civil religion that uses Christian terminology and identity but is driven by fear, falsehoods and white male dominance — and that more closely aligns with ugly nationalist politics than anything recognizable in life and teachings of Jesus.

Previously, I’ve sought to widen the Christian tent that fundamentalism is always seeking to narrow. But I’ve changed my mind. I eagerly embrace their rejection.

Such separation is welcomed and needed; it is both freeing and defining.

Much of so-called American Christianity today is just a well-crafted political orientation that seeks to retain cultural dominance through means of exclusion — not the least of whom is Jesus. I want to be excluded from such a fold as well.

Holding on to Christian language and personal preferences mislabeled as “biblical” is not enough to justify a shared religion. So why not accept the rejection being offered? And it is being offered.

For example, drafters and endorsers of the Nashville Statement excluded not only gay and lesbian Christians from their narrow circle of faith but those who disagree with their exclusions. To these self-righteous believers, this is not a matter of disagreement over different biblical interpretations but a defining belief that determines whether one is in or outside the fold of God.

I want out of their fold. I welcome expulsion from their fear-driven, protectionist club.

Toss me out! Throw me into the briar patch of unbridled grace.

There is good news in being dismissed from such a narrow religious identity. The distance from this damaging public witness actually puts those who embrace their exclusion in a better position to reflect the ways of Jesus — who, for many “believers,” is nothing more than an eternal scapegoat.

It is hard not to conclude that much of the highly-public, highly-politicized American “Christianity” on display today is a different religion than the one I have chosen for my life.

If one’s religious faith requires the condemnation of Christian persons with same-sex attraction living in committed relationships and exclusion of those who hold a different opinion on that matter — and other concerns related to equality, dignity and justice — then we are practicing a different religion.

If abuse of women and children by power-holding men get excused (or even “biblically justified”) in order to retain power, then we worship and serve a different deity.

If integrity only means something if it serves one’s political ends then it is an unrecognizable religion to the one I embrace.

Broad appeals to the same holy texts (though with vastly different understandings) and the embrace of some shared symbols and rituals are not enough.

When I look at the heart of this matter — although I can’t see into the hearts of other persons — it is crystal clear that many of these evangelical power-brokers and eager enablers of oppression have different foundational beliefs than mine. I do not recognize the spiteful god they describe and worship as the One revealed in Jesus Christ.

Mine is a different religious faith. So cast me out!

Throw me in the briar patch of unbridled grace — and I’ll take my chances on Jesus there among the thorns.

 

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