As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.
Editor’s Note: This year, The Banner hosted a writing contest for young adults exploring the topic, “Christian Love in Divisive Times.” This article was one of the runners-up in that contest. To read more runners-up and the winning articles, click here.
When I was 4, I used the half-broken, mostly used crayons to color in bright pictures of God. Most of the pictures I remember, he’s holding his big arms around an impossibly small earth, while children with too-happy smiles gaze with loving eyes upon him.
When I was 8, I learned and sang songs about how much Jesus loves every single child on earth. Jesus loves the little children … all the children of the world. With classically bright smiles and loud giggles, I hummed along to a tune I took for granted.
When I was 10, I packed shoe boxes full of toothbrushes, socks, and other completely developed-world necessities to give to less fortunate children. “Jesus asked us to love our neighbor,” is what they told me when I asked why I was doing such a thing.
When I was 13, I started to argue with some of my friends at the Christian school I was attending at the time. “What do you mean two men can’t marry each other? They love each other—why is it different than me loving a boy?” I was given confident answers about how homosexual love was a sin. And how could God love such a sin?
When I was 16, I watched a female pastor preach—but she wasn’t alone on the stage. Even after the musicians had vacated their instruments, leaving them to cool like dead bodies, she wasn’t confidently speaking about the word of God by herself. No, she had a watcher. A monitor, of sorts. A man watching her carefully, waiting to rip her voice, her power from her at any moment. And suddenly I couldn’t hear God’s message anymore—I was thinking about the young girls in the audience, learning that a man would always be there to take their power when they least expected it.
At 17, I see videos of police officers using illegal holds to murder black people. At 17, I watch videos of Christian people screaming at young women that they do not deserve control over their own bodies—which are supposed to be temples in the eyes of the Lord. At 17, I still argue with friends about members of the LGBTQ community committing acts of sin.
And the Christian community wonders why teenagers are not interested in Christianity—why I don’t want to be associated with the name.
When I was growing up, both of my parents were pastors. I grew up surrounded by the church all the time—sometimes this was good, and other times it was not.
But the more and more I grow up, the more I move away—run away from God. Maybe I should rephrase that. I run away from Christianity.
Why did I love it as a child? Why did I feel completely secure in my faith for God, looking forward to the feeling of that uncomfortable wooden bench, those freezing basement tiles beneath my small body?
When did my love for the church turn into absolute disgust?
The older I got, the more I understood that the messages I was given as a child were lies. Jesus loves the little children … except for the ones he doesn’t.
The older I got, the more and more his love became complicated. Maybe I’ll rephrase that again: his love isn’t complicated, but Christian love is. We love everyone, but we won’t let two women get married. We love everyone, but if a transgender person walks through that church door, we won’t support them in their self-love journey. We love everyone, but then people of color protest senseless murders and we say, ‘all lives matter.’
For some reason, the church moves from ‘Jesus loves all the different children’ to ‘only if they’re straight, white, and fulfill the gender roles we need them to.’
Don’t you get it? Jesus doesn’t care about gender roles. He doesn’t care how you identify. He doesn’t care who you love or what race you are.
In fact, when asked what the most important thing in the whole Bible is, Jesus responds with, ‘Love your God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself.’
Christians like to get tripped up in everything else, like they’re stumbling through a dark forest. The roots bind around our feet at first, then they slither up to our knees, our hips, until our hearts have become mixed with vines, strangling us, poisoning us.
Christians like to clutch to the things that make us human beings—putting other people down, having control over scary situations, being afraid of the unknown. It was okay to do those things when what was at stake was a lion eating us for supper—but in the modern world, fear of the unknown isn’t necessary. Fear of the unknown simply blocks us from seeing new ways of thinking.
Verses that don’t teach the love of God (and there are very few of them) distract us from the message Jesus came down to teach us in the first place: love your neighbor.
The passages that shape the prejudice of Christians are not the important ones.
The beacon that we need in that dark forest is Jesus. It’s always been Jesus—the message that he came down to the earth to teach us. Love your neighbor. He is the light that will remain consistent, no matter how tangled your feet, no matter how high the vines have traveled.
The world will always be in ‘divisive times.’ Whether it's a new pandemic, people taking to the streets and fighting for the justice they deserve, or the Christian community still lagging 10 years behind, Jesus’s message of truth and hope will always stay the same.
No matter how deep and dark the forest, no matter how tangled your feet, Jesus is the beacon that will guide you home—guide us all home.