Thoughts on Christianity and “Loving Thy Neighbor”

There’s a lot of hatred and intolerance being thrown around these days.  And, while it’s by no means the only cause, a lot of that intolerance is based on faith.  Either people use someone else’s faith as a reason to antagonize them, or their own faith as a means of justification for intolerance.  

I was raised in and confirmed into the United Methodist Church.  I consider myself an active believer, and I’m always trying to grow in my faith despite the constant stress of college that sometimes gets in the way.  Though I could stand to be more open, I’ve never been secretive about my religion; in fact, I was always taught that we as Christians should talk about our beliefs and share them with others.  But, when I see billboards proclaiming in bold letters, “Hell Is Real,” or protesters on campus warning members of the LGBTQI+ community that they “need Jesus,” it makes my skin crawl because it makes me wonder:  is that how the world sees me? When I say that I am trying to be more open about my faith, I mean that I will happily discuss it with anyone who is curious, or I bring it up if it’s relevant to the conversation.  If you were to ask if you could come to church with me, I would gladly oblige.  I don’t try to shove the Bible in people’s faces or tell them they have to repent of their sins to escape eternal damnation.  In my opinion, that’s not only rude and threatening (not to mention a major turn-off), but against my fundamental Christian mindset.

Christians are called to be Christ-like.  Among other things, that means to love and care for others, regardless of differences in religion, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, etc.  It’s an attitude found in many religious practices across the world, and it is part of what binds us together, not only with our closest relatives, Judaism and Islam but with all human beings.  We are also taught not to judge others, but rather leave that final judgment to God, for “let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone” (John 8:7).  

And, yet, all the time, I see groups of radicals using Christianity as a reason to spew intolerance at others.  And, I realize that to those who don’t know much about what Christianity is really like, we all appear to be a bunch of homophobic bigots who think the whole world is headed for hell.  It makes me nervous about talking about my faith because I feel like I have to explain to people that I do not, in fact, hate them for being who they are, nor do the majority of Christians in the United States (and the same goes for other stereotyped religious groups). I shouldn’t be afraid to express my faith in front of others.  We are privileged to have freedom of religion in the United States, a fact which I’m especially aware of after spending time in a country where, for the United Methodist Church, that is not the case.  Even here, people are stigmatized based on religion on a regular basis, and I’m very lucky that I don’t have to face that struggle every day.  But, I still hate that feeling in my stomach when I feel like talking about my Christian faith is taken as “I’m looking down at you.”  I’m not.  But how can I express that without sounding even worse than I feel?  “Oh, by the way, I don’t hate you, and I don’t think I’m somehow better than you.”  Not exactly tactful.

Mostly, I try to do the simple thing: I try my best to act in a way that honors those around me.  (Keyword: try.  I’m definitely not perfect, but I’m learning.)  I let my actions speak for my beliefs, and I hope that it sends a message of love and acceptance.  And, above all, I support everyone’s right to be who they are, free of persecution.  If writing about it is a means of doing so, I hope that it’s an effective one. I’m not denying that there are problems with how some churches treat certain groups of people.  There are.  And I can’t speak to individual beliefs about what specifically is “right” and “wrong,” nor do I have the right to call anyone un-Christian, but I will say that whether you believe being non-straight/non-cisgender is a sin or not, it’s not your job to judge or to hate.  It’s your job to love others and treat them the way you would like to be treated.  (Sounds an awful lot like kindergarten, huh?)

I don’t push my faith on anyone.  If they’re interested, sure, I’d love to share more.  But if they’re of a different belief system, I respect that because, when you really look, the religions of the world aren’t all that different.  I won’t hide who I am, and no one else should have to hide who they are either.  My ultimate hope is that one day we will all be able to see each other plainly—free of intolerance, free of discrimination, and free of human judgment.

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