I had the privilege to once again speak with a group of teens and tweens about God; this time, it was at Camp Safe Berks, an activity that our church and I have been part of from its inception. I went first and was followed by my amazing friend Karima, a member of the local Mosque, who served with me on the Safe Berks board for a number of years. The plan I put out was simple – I talked about my faith a little, then about Christianity in America, then the Constitution and religion, and, finally, I asked them to pair up and talk about how religious people or communities had hurt them. Most talked with each other about the hurdles that they, or someone in their family, had faced when dealing with the family’s faith community. A few brave souls were willing to tell their story; listening to them was sad and discouraging and, to be totally honest, made me angry.
One attendee talked about being bisexual and being shunned; another spoke about being pansexual and getting mixed messages about acceptance. This person’s family talked a good game, stating that they had nothing against it (a sure sign that they do), and it was okay for others, but not for someone in their family (a version of Not in My Back Yard). Another person told us that their family is opposed to women clergy even though a woman in the family is a pastor! It may be that there were positive stories among them, and they were uncomfortable speaking about it in this decidedly anti-organized religion group. Even so, the mood was clear – too much hurt had been inflicted on their very young lives by people who say they follow the God of Love.
I went, as is my practice, to the Bible, and I told them that while I didn’t want to be disrespectful to their families, I had to be clear that their family’s perspectives on these faith issues were tainted by their limited interpretations of Scripture. Instead of thinking about the love of God, they have allowed biased teaching to turn Jesus into a monster. I talked about the lies people tell about homosexuality in the Bible, or about women not being allowed to be in leadership in the Bible; in fact, most of the restrictions people try to place on others are not biblical at all! The Bible is not perfect, but it is inspired and useful for teaching (like 2 Timothy 3 says). It is used too often to hurt rather than to heal, and that misuse of Scripture is at play now in our politics across the nation. Too often, the Bible is used as a weapon of hate rather than a vehicle of love. People who say they believe in God have caused an unbearable amount of pain and suffering, and we are all paying the price for their bigotry.
I told the group the same things I told the campers at the LGBT Center camper. They are beautiful creations made in the image of a loving God and are therefore just fine the way they are. I told them that anyone who told them otherwise is wrong and should get back to Sunday school for a refresher course. I told them what dear Mrs. Bertschy, my loving and kind Sunday school teacher for most of my childhood, told me years ago; God loves you, and that’s enough. Never let anyone tell you differently, and don’t let misguided, imperfect people define God for you. God is good. You are loved. That’s all you need to know.
Prayer – Merciful God, we mess up Your message so often, and we seek understanding so that we stop hurting people in Your name. Teach us better ways to speak of You. Amen.
Today’s art is untitled by Wendy McCaig.