How do we get people to come to the church and make them feel safe and still remind them that they suck and are headed to hell?Omar Abreu, on their experience as a queer attendee of Hillsong Church, quoted from VanityFair.com
It’s been a long time since I have been out of my childhood home, and yet I continue to untangle a lot of stressful knots about my spiritual upbringing.
One thing that keeps niggling at me (as I mentioned a week or so ago) has been sparked by the current debate about the value of unity in our democracy. It’s wild to me that Republicans have the gall to demand bipartisanship and “unity” when… *gestures wildly at the last five+ years of them acting VERY not bipartisanly and VERY not unifyingly* There is a distinct power-grabbing, power-hungry, opportunistic, hypocritical feel to these pleas, and I sincerely hope the Democrats see through these faux calls for unity from the minority demographic who has spit on bipartisanship for years.
But that is not the point of this post. I started to think about the alignment between the Republican party and the religious right. I think that the religious right has a lot to answer for in its own type of hypocritical demands for unity and its broad alignment with the Republican party.
Frankly, I think calls for unity are missing the point. What we need are calls for goodness and for increasing the well-being of all those in our communities, large and small. We don’t want to be unified with those who actively work against those ends. The sad reality is that many who make demands of “unity” are those who refuse to accept that as the best end to our political and social striving. But since unity is a charge I’ve heard throughout my religious upbringing and church experiences, I felt the urge to address it.
Evangelicalism is all about a specific ideal of unity. Evangelicalism draws arbitrary lines in the sand and tells others that they need to abandon their side (perhaps a side those people didn’t even know they were on) and “unify” with evangelicalism, as “God intends”. This message can be delivered gently or aggressively, but it is always delivered.
The Christian doctrine of hell perpetuates this divide. If your religion says that someone not only will, but should, be subjected to eternal torment simply because she sincerely sees the world differently than you do, then perhaps your claims of “we need to be UNIFIED” smacks of fear-mongering, abuse, and even self-aggrandizement. (What makes someone so sure that her or she is not the one who should suffer because they hold sincerely-formed-but-mistaken beliefs?) Further, if that is what you truly believe about your God, that an all-powerful and all-knowing and all-loving God would send or allow Her creation to suffer violently for all eternity for sincere beliefs (or really for any reason whatsoever), then I don’t think your calls for unity are all that sincere, nor should anyone need to answer or respect them.
Calls for unity by hell-believing Christians require adjustment solely by those they condemn to hell. There is no way to meet someone like this “in the middle” – there is only hell or not-hell. No one gets to be the one to make such a demand if their belief is what is drawing the arbitrary line, even if they are generally kind in their day-to-day life. If someone sincerely believes that people are going to hell, then that person should not participate in calls for unity, love, and grace.
And why would I want to unify with someone who believes the loving thing to do is let me suffer for eternity for my sincere inquiry and sincere belief? That is not a definition of love I have an obligation, nor a desire, to accept, much less to unify with.
If any of us sincerely wants unity in our political and social worlds, we need to take a hard look at our belief systems to see if in general they encourage bipartisanship and unity or if they promote division and suffering. And whatever unity we may ask for cannot be a unity by coercion or threat of pain. That doesn’t count. That is authoritarianism. Real unity in the political and religious spheres recognizes we need to grapple with differing conceptions of how we get to a particular end, but above all recognizes that we must have a shared desire for the well-being of all those we wish to be unified with.
No one should want hell to exist. And yes, some of those demanding Democrats meet the Republicans part-way are those evangelical Christians who gleefully rejoice in the deaths of those they dislike, gleeful that such folks are “getting what they asked for” in some tormented afterlife. There is no reasoning into love and unity someone like that.
I find all blatantly hypocritical, bad faith calls for unity — religious and political — to be appalling and discouraging.
Now, I’m still working my way out of some feelings about my repressive and oppressive religious upbringing, so I’m feeling a little saltier on this than many might. But I still believe that if any of us want to demand bipartisanship or unity, we need to take a hard look at our own beliefs to see where we fail to consider others as having claims to truths we may not yet have or understand, to see where we fail to accept the possibility of our own ignorance and selfishness, and work to get a solid grasp on what actually promotes and advances well-being. I have not seen that from the Republicans in years, and I have not seen that from the evangelical Christian community at large in as many years. I sincerely hope both will come around. When they do, I will be more than ready to unite with them for the good of all U.S. citizens and all people.