In our Week in the Word feature, we highlight important progressive voices of faith from the south-land. This week, I want to highlight the words of a Florida pastor, Chris Kratzer, which I think speak both to the church as a whole here in the south-land, which so often is embracing discrimination as if that is faithfulness to the Gospel, and also I think speaks to our communities as a whole, which often are choosing intolerance rather than living out grace or lovingkindness.
Your progressive redneck preacher,
This Is What It Feels Like To Be Loved By You : An Open Letter To Conservative Christians
This is taken from http://chriskratzer.com/open-letter-conservative-christians/, on Pastor Kratzer’s blog. He pastors the Grace Place Church.
I love you, and I am one of you—no, not a conservative Christian per se, but a fellow Jesus-loving, God-created human being journeying along this mutual path of faith—a travel that is often dimly lit and consistently uncertain. At the end of the day, I am trying to center by life, understanding, and beliefs in the person of Jesus, as are you. We are fellow children of God, sisters and brothers in faith, bedazzled by the Father with divine dignity and worth. Ours, is a journey with much in common.
At one time, I shared much of the same conservative perspectives, tenets, and interpretations as do you. I understand fully the foundations upon which you stand and the lenses through which you see God, scripture, and the world. Over the course of 21 years as an Evangelical pastor, my knowledge of conservative Christianity is intimate. I respect you and the framework from which your faith is established.
Right now, we live in a pivotal time and space, loaded with opportunity to be Light that outshines the shadows. The earth and all that has life and breath is opening wide its arms and lifting its chest in hopes of being collided with fresh winds of divine rendering, bringing life to its every limb, bending and swaying all humanity as the Spirit blows free with freedom.
One of the most awakening moments in my spiritual journey came when I was confronted with the person I had become and the stark reality of what my conservative Christianity had done to me. With the noblest of intentions, I had become the opposite in results. So much of what I held certain to be of truth, faithfulness, and the person of Jesus was chased out from behind the masks of my religious ignorance and pride—revealing a monster of demonic proportions dressed as faithfulness to Jesus and the Bible. What stared back at me in the mirror shook me to my core—I was irrevocably convinced of being so close to His heart, but discovered in truth, I was universes away.
I wonder if you know what it feels like to be “loved” by you and to interact with your faith understandings and pursuits.
As well intentioned as I know you are, quite honestly, your love often feels highly conditional and even pretentious, if not all together condemning. To be sure, there are many in your faith tradition, like you, who are loving and pursuing with great ambition, but it feels like any love that’s given is mainly because at some level, you kinda have to—all seemingly all part of your faith obligations and spiritual mission. I am sure your heart is real, but it feels like you love me more as a project than a person, with an overall goal to “disciple” me into thinking, believing, and behaving just like you. You call it transformation, the manifestation of a God who loves me enough to “meet me where I am at, but not leave me there”—but I am not even sure what that really means, or if it’s really true. I’m thinking it might be as simple as God just loves me, period—which leaves me wondering, why doesn’t it feel like you do too?
To be sure, conservative Christianity can taste so wonderful when you fit snug into the mold, but it can also feel like a sure kind of hell when you don’t—smiles to greet you at your face, surface pleasantries all around, but twitch with a wrong move—knives ready to stab you in your back, pushed to the outside, and even left to drown. The requirements to keeping-good-going in a relationship with you feels like a tireless game of making sure one plays by all the rules, completes all the steps, and meets your every expectation—otherwise, a clear message is surely in the mail, “we love you but, you’re falling short, repent or be removed.”
Oh I understand the idea of divine-authored, corrective conviction and the displeasure that can entail. It’s an integral part of your faith system and how the Jesus of your understanding impacts and transforms the world. But this is not about objecting to a dose of divine discipline, but rather the hurt, shame, and harm that’s caused by your faith prescriptions and interventions. For divine correction carries with it a kind of pleasurable discomfort as it begins and ends with Grace, kindness, humility, and unconditional acceptance—and thus, what hurts in the process is not the correction, but the regret of not seeing and embracing all the love, forgiveness, acceptance, kindness, and Grace that is already ours in Christ, so much sooner—the very things, the only things ironically, that bring about genuine change and transformation. That’s why sadly, so much of your discipling and speaking your “truth in love” only feels like pain and punishment as it’s completely devoid of the very Grace and truth that saves and makes the broken, whole—for punishment never made anyone holy.
I wonder, do you know what it feels like to be shunned—the facial displeasures, the flippant remarks, the disapproving stares, the disassociations and marginalizations? Do you know what it feels like to be labeled as lessor, inferior, and even evil, particular by you who declare to be so spiritual and echo the voice of the Creator? Do you understand how your “hating my sin,” but loving me as a “sinner” sucks the life out of my soul, condemned by your words as a second-class citizen?
Rejection, shame, disgust—do you know what they feel like when wielded from the visceral of another human?
Where is the discrimination in your life? Where are the toilets from which you have been banned their use? Where are the cakes that you have been refused? Where are the church fellowships and leadership positions from which you have been deemed disqualified? Where are the parents that sent you to the curb as illegitimate and no longer their true child? Where have we seen you dehumanized to the point of suicide, all in the name of Jesus and biblical faithfulness? Where are the gallows from which you have been hung for simply having a different color of skin? Where do we see you doing more listening than lecturing—more serving than judging?
To be loved by you feels like becoming a carny in a circus of constantly created wars against enemies you desperately need to exist and the formation of dire solutions for which there are no real problems. It feels like you believe yours is a privileged faith that entitles you special treatment—that you have deemed yourself as being better than the rest and possessors of the inside scoop to all that is Jesus, God, the Bible, and truth.
Oh, how I wish things were different as it feels like you have little to no sense of how much your words impale and your displeasure tortures and kills from the innards on out—your faith brand imprisoning me in a spiritual maze from which I will never find my way, upon a scale I will never measure up, and within a race I can never cross the finish. If there was ever a move by the Spirit to improve me, all your conditions, religious prescriptions, and condemnations would surely eclipse it.
I wonder, why do you have to interpret the Bible in all the most legalistic, negative, barbaric ways?
You don’t have to believe in a skin-melting, eternal-tormenting hell, an angry schizophrenic God, homosexual abomination, and the conquering of the world through militant, empire Christianity in order to be biblically faithful. Yet for some reason, you still do.
Why is it that when it’s shared with you, the words translated as “homosexual” in the New Testament were not translated as such until 1945, all the sudden you frantically determine that Greek translations are no longer important—but then, when it’s suggested that God loves everyone and desires all to be saved (and gets what He desires), all the sudden Greek translations used to limit God’s love become, to you, ever so critical? I can’t help but feel like you are intentionally spinning the Bible towards restricting, restraining, and putting conditions on God, love, and the true freedom and life Jesus brings. It feels like any blanks left in scripture are always filled in with the most negative, condemning, legalistic, and conditional conclusions possible—not to mention, the convenient love it feels like you give, allowing a pass on your own biblical sins while judging harshly those who sin differently than you.
To be loved by you feels like, even though when met with faithful alternative, biblical understandings—you would still choose the ones that are the most hurtful, shaming, condemning and conditional.
It feels like you want to hate so much more than Jesus and the Bible are telling you to do so.
It feels like you are much more in love with your stances on the Bible, than in love with standing with people.
It feels like your love of justice is much more like a love of “just us.”
I long so desperately for the day when you will love me “as is” and all the same if I never change to your liking, but I am grieving the loss that from this, your conservative creed construct, that day will never come.
Maybe, just maybe, the Bible isn’t a strict dictation from God of His nature and ways, nor a detailed, infallible diary of His human interactions, but rather an organic catalog of important human journeys towards the understanding of life and God’s intersection and interactions therein—human understandings that are often imperfect and at times even drastically off the mark, painting colors and storylines into a picture of God that are in reality, far from who or how He truly is. Yet, nonetheless, each giving us a window into the highs and lows, the clarities and the misunderstandings we all experience along the way—each step, right or wrong, filled with the capacity to know Him more fully and live Him more accurately than at first.
Maybe, just maybe, the Bible is intentionally imperfect and incomplete so as to launch us into this same ever-flowing river of encounters with the perfect One—encounters not purposed on gaining complete understanding, but on finding complete rest in the One who is Understanding—writing along side of us our own personal Bible of faith journeys with Him where theology is best learned at the feet of Jesus not in the pages of someone else’s experiences and interpretations.
Maybe just maybe, this is the essence of what is truly authoritative and divinely inspired about the collection of faith experiences we call the Bible—all leading us to encounter for ourselves the Author and Finisher of our faith, Jesus the Christ. In so doing, we embark not upon a slippery slope that steers our theologies into the ditch, but a trail of faith that allows God to reveal Himself more clearly and deeply as we discover there is always more to know and more that He reveals of the expanse of God who is Love.
For this I surely know, until our theology is Love, we will always be leaning on our own understanding to the determent, and even destruction, of other people.
My friend, may I suggest, a new absolute is coming and has already long been here—Grace.
For the non-judgement day is upon us, because all is finished, forgiven, and made whole by the Father through the Son.
But yet it feels like, to you, this is bad news, as much as Jesus died to make it good.
It feels like you want hell, judgement, condemnation, discrimination, lines, labels, battles, distance, and differences more than Jesus or the Bible could ever desire or deem so.
I mean no disrespect, nor look away from my own imperfections and failures, I just thought there could be a chance you might want to know…
this is what it truly feels like to be loved by you—
which, for so many of us, we are truly questioning if it’s really love at all.