a blog about words and faith and life by Cindy Maddox

Posts tagged ‘justice’

Last night I dreamt I was Muslim

walls.jpgLast night I dreamt I was Muslim.
I did not wear hijab
but I wore it in my heart
and they knew
and it was enough.
At first we could avoid them,
taking alternate routes,
changing our plans because we could not
change their minds.
Avoidance kept us safe.

Last night I dreamt I was Muslim.
The escalation came without warning.
Stone walls and iron gates kept us in or out
I was never sure
We huddled together
safety in numbers or barreled fish
I was never sure
We prayed
I watched
I was never sure

Last night I dreamt I was Muslim.
Or maybe I was an ally,
with them in body
because solidarity demands not spirit
but flesh and blood
messy incarnation

Last night I dreamt I was Muslim.
I woke up afraid.

Last night I dreamt I was Muslim.
I woke up afraid
of what I must do
now that I am



No Holy Hate

Born LovedDear Heidi,

You have no connection to our congregation as far as I know, but today you went on our church’s Facebook page to condemn us. You said we are “dragging the name of Christ into the gutter” and “turning Jesus Christ into a sodomite” because we welcome all God’s children equally. Although I am unclear how an action we might take today would have any bearing whatsoever on the sexual practices of a man who lived 2000 years ago, I will set that aside for a moment to address your other claims.

I know you mean well, Heidi. I know you believe you are doing the work of the Lord by pointing out the (perceived) sins of others. I also know that getting into a biblical argument with you is pointless—not because I do not know my Bible, but because you apparently do not know my Jesus. My Jesus is not concerned about being dragged into the gutter; in fact, that’s where he met some of his best followers. But he is concerned about love. And he most certainly is concerned about people damaging the souls of his children by telling them God hates them.

This is why, on June 21, my church will have a booth at the Pride Portland Festival here in Maine. The sign above our booth will say: “Wounded by the church? Please come let us apologize.” That’s right, we will be apologizing to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people for the way they have been treated by the church and for the horrific things said to them in God’s name. In other words, Heidi, we will be apologizing for you.

You warned us that we will be held accountable for every person we “lead to hell” with our “deceptions.” Will you also be held accountable for every teen who commits suicide because he has been told he is an abomination? Will you be held accountable for every woman who hates herself because you said God hated her? No, I don’t believe you will be . . . not because you are not responsible, but because we worship a loving and forgiving God. In fact, if you want to come to Pride, feel free to drop by our booth. I will apologize to you on behalf of the church that infused your mind with such hurtful images of God.

Hate cannot be made holy by sprinkling it with water and calling it Christian. And the resurrected Christ cannot be re-created to condemn those who you disdain.

You said we have nothing to teach the world. I think that’s something.


And the church bells rang

I just listened to the attorneys in the Jerry Sandusky case as they reported on the verdict. Sandusky was found guilty of 45 out of 48 charges in this horrific case, and although sentencing likely will not take place for several months, he will spend the rest of his life in prison.

I have to admit that I am pleased with the verdict. Although nothing can undo the trauma of abuse, at least those who were victims of Sandusky’s atrocities know that he is finally being held accountable. I cheered for the victims—not just his, but victims everywhere. I cheered for the survivors. I cheered for justice.

The State Attorney General said that at least one of the victims had asked, “Who would believe a kid?” She replied, “We would believe a kid.” I loved that. It was a powerful statement. I just wish it had been true.

People didn’t believe the kids. Not when there was one. Not when there were two. Not until there were many accusations, coming from adults, not children. Only then were their voices heard and honored.

This case illustrates so much of what is wrong in our society: that people will go to great lengths to look the other way; that those in power will do anything to preserve it; that the already-vulnerable continue to be targeted and preyed upon; that truth just simply doesn’t matter.

So yes, I cheered when the verdict was announced, for truth won out and the vulnerable were heard and the powerful were brought down and no one can look away.

I cheered. And then I was silent. I sat in prayerful silence. For the victims. For the survivors. For the families torn apart, including the Sandusky family.

And then I heard the church bells. As the Attorney General was speaking, the bells of some nearby church rang the hour. While the bells rang, she quoted a Supreme Court decision from 1988: the twofold aim of the law is that guilt shall not escape, nor innocence suffer.

Innocence has suffered. As the mother of one of the victims said after the verdict was read, “Nobody wins. We’ve all lost.”

Another verdict was brought down within hours of the Sandusky verdict, just two hundred miles away, in Philadelphia. Monsignor William J. Lynn was found guilty of endangering children, “becoming the first senior official of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States convicted of covering up sexual abuses by priests under his supervision.”[1] He himself did not molest anyone, but he was found guilty of failing to protect children from priests known to be pedophiles.

I cheered this ruling, too, because the church must not tolerate abuse. The church of Jesus Christ—in whatever manifestation—must not allow any form of abuse, molestation, discrimination, marginalization, or intimidation. Not physically, not emotionally, and not spiritually. After all, Jesus said, “What you have done unto the least of these, my children, you have done unto me.” And what we have done unto Jesus is an abomination.

We have some important lessons we need to learn, and quickly, before more innocents suffer. Only then can we proudly let the church bells ring. Only then will they mean something.

[1] Jon Hurdle and Erik Eckholm. http://www.nytimes.com

Giving Christians a Good Name

2011 was not a banner year for Christians. We saw some Christian pastors, churches, and politicians say and do some pretty un-Christ-like things. Some of them, like the pastor who burned a copy of the Koran and the deacons who physically attacked a gay couple, were soundly criticized for their actions. Others, unfortunately, have been allowed to spew their hatred in the name of God, with few voices challenging their authority.

Still, I was angered this week when I read an article by someone who agrees with me. The author was explaining why he no longer attends church, even though he believes in Christ. The bulk of the article was spent naming six churches that have done unchristian things–for example, a church in Kentucky that voted to ban interracial couples, and a church in North Carolina that removed a boy with cerebral palsy from worship because he said “Amen” too loudly. These congregations were listed as the reason the author has left the church.

I agree with the author that these are deplorable examples of “church” and have nothing to do with following Christ; however, he paints every church in America with the same brush. He claims that many sincere Christians can no longer attend church because America’s churches have hateful attitudes–not some churches or a few churches or even every church he’s ever known. “America’s churches,” the author said. And so he is leaving.

First, let me say that if we all were to leave organizations or institutions that have members of whom we are ashamed, not one of us could belong to a political party, alumni association, or even the PTA. So leaving all churches because some churches are hateful is a bit like getting a divorce because Kim Kardashian’s media event undermined the institution of marriage.

More importantly, if we were to follow the author’s example, we would be defining the church by its very worst  manifestations. My church is nothing like these churches, and frankly, I cringe whenever churches like this make the news (or youtube or Facebook) because I know some people will react like the author of that article did–they will assume that’s what churches do. They will assume that all Christians are racist, homophobic, xenophobic hate-mongers. Even if people realize these stories represent aberrations rather than the norm, they still may not know that there is an entire world of Christendom at the other end of the spectrum.

We in the mainline and progressive churches spent too many years letting our ultra conservative cousins speak for all Christians. We sat wringing our hands, complaining, “But that’s not us,” while doing nothing to challenge their right to control the message. Then we wondered why people think so poorly of Christians. Fortunately, we have done better in recent years. The United Church of Christ ran an ad campaign that highlighted the problem of exclusionary attitudes in churches. Progressive pastors of all stripes have been working hard to get on the news shows to present our views. But that message doesn’t go viral. A reasonable message of love is not “clickable.”

So we have to do better. Those of us in progressive churches have to stop trying to be all things to all people and instead be the church God calls us to be. We are not called to be the church that offends no one but the church that welcomes everyone, especially those who are not welcome elsewhere. We must not give in to those who would exclude in the name of God in order to grow our numbers or appeal to a wider market. There are plenty of churches for those who worship a judgmental God. We better be the opposite, or we have little reason to exist.

We have to do better as individuals, too. If we are to counteract the loud voices of hatred in the name of God, we must be willing to step up to the microphone ourselves, even if that mic has a small audience–like the office break room or the family reunion. Perceptions are changed because of relationships, not ad campaigns.

Yes, there are Christians out there who are giving Christians a bad name. But if people think that all churches are hateful, then it’s our fault for not showing them an alternative. We must be willing to speak up . . . or we give up the right to complain when others speak hatred in the name of our God.

Mic check, anyone?

Not what I intended

It was just yesterday that I started this blog. My intention was to write occasionally about random things–an image that caught my eye or a phrase that captured my imagination or maybe an incident from the day that inspired me. You know . . . everyday things that might be thought-provoking.

But today was no ordinary day.

At 10:30 this morning, across the country, clergy of different faiths gathered with protesters in the Occupy movement. In many cities they marched alongside the protesters, often in clerical garb, to be a visible show of support from spiritual leaders.

That’s not what it looked like in New Haven this morning. There was no marching, no chanting, no drumming. Instead there was conversation. We met some of the 75 occupants of the New Haven Green, and we prayed with them. We listened to their stories. They gave us a tour of their encampment of tents, pavilions, and tarps–the comfort station, the food center, the neighborhood (complete with “streets”), the arts and crafts area, and the library and study hall. They told us how they have organized themselves into working teams. They told of those who have harassed them and those who have thanked them. They told us of their needs (“Blankets, blankets, blankets!”) and how they were forced to make two people leave because they were using drugs on the premises (“We just can’t have that here, dude!”).

They are a diverse group. There was the young Caucasian man in the North Face jacket with a nice haircut and that carefully groomed unshaven look. Beside him was a man whose unshaven appearance was a bit less tended. There was Joe, an  African American man who appeared to be about sixty years old, who said he has lived on the New Haven streets for five years. Jennifer, who is transgendered, spoke with a great deal of passion about the absence of detox and rehab centers. Amanda, nicknamed “Hugs,” told of how afraid she was the first night she came because she only knew one other person in the movement. “But everyone was so warm and friendly, and I felt so safe. Not one of these people would hurt me or steal from me. We’re family.” Some of them have jobs; some of them are homeless; some of them are clearly educated; some of them are street smart. All of them are passionate.

They also are generous. New Haven has a large homeless population, and some of them live on or around the Green. So of course they come to the Occupy tents for help. If the occupiers have food or blankets to share, they share them–in exchange for just a little bit of work. “You want a hot meal? We’ll feed you. But first we need your help moving this tent.”

Before we left, Johnny, our tour guide, thanked us for coming. “I’m not a religious person,” he admitted, “but that prayer touched me. Can I have a copy of that? I may need to be reminded.”

Do I agree with everything about the Occupy Movement? No, I do not. I often don’t agree with the way large groups of people behave in public. But my presence on the New Haven Green this morning was not about supporting a particular movement. For me, it was about supporting individual people who are willing to take risks–uncomfortable, inconvenient risks–for something they believe in. After all, we as Christians are called to do the same.

But my presence on the Green this morning was also a way for me to acknowledge and confess that greed is sin. Throughout our Scriptures, this message is clear. I find it disturbing that so many Christians are focused on sex–about which Jesus said very little–and completely ignore greed, about which Jesus had a helluva lot to say.

Not everyone in our church would agree with what I did today. We, too, are a diverse group, with strong and different opinions on a wide range of topics. But I think everyone would agree that as Christians we are called to put feet to our faith; we are called to take stands; we are called to stand up for the disenfranchised. After all, Jesus said, “What you have done unto the least of these my children, you have done unto me.”

So my post today was not what I intended to write for my second post on my new blog. But I am trying to trust. I am trying to trust God’s leading, and I am trying to trust the people in my church to know that if I err, I will err on the side of justice.

Today I met Jesus on the New Haven Green. Tomorrow I will take blankets.