Why I'm No Longer A Christian

It's always been an itchy sweater, that Christian tag.

When I was in sixth grade I left the church because it wasn't saying anything about civil rights, or Vietnam, or poverty, or much of anything that mattered. Leaving [the] church is what it's called when you walk away from the institution and the formal gathering of people. That's what I did, and in the years that followed I certainly wouldn't have called myself Christian.

Not when I spent hours and hours in empty churches soaking in both the Presence and the prayers of countless generations.

Not when my weekends and vacations were spent high on a mountain in a Rinzai Zen monastery, or out in the whistling wilderness of the desert.

Not when I came back into Christianity by means of social justice work and Black gospel music.

Not when I went to seminary, and lost my queer social circle. Ironic, given my school and my reasons for going.

Even when I was ordained into professional ministry, twenty years ago last month, I was far more comfortable with pastor than with Christian.

Where I come from, the noun Christian has always been an epithet, spat rather than stated. As an adjective, used to describe kindness in action, it's been a fine word, though charitable, compassionate,  or loving work as well, because most of those kind actions weren't performed because of a belief in Christ. 

The other day, my School For Seekers partner (musical artist Benton Stokes) and I recorded an episode of our podcast, Cocktail Theology, asking: Is Christianity doing any good?

Benton comes from Nashville, where Christianity is in the water, like spiritual chlorination. As an #exangelical, in recent years he's shied away from saying he's a Christian because of all the truly awful people proudly declaring their Christianity.

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You just don't want to get lumped in with Franklin Graham and Jeff Sessions, and explaining "but not that kind of Christian" gets old. And, frankly, suspect.

Cocktail Theology Spoiler Alert: I came to the conclusion that while individual Christians, and many Christian organizations, are doing a lot of good, Christianity is not.

Christ is being followed into hospitals and hospices, jails and detention centers, streets and shelters. The love of Christ built the first universities, the first hospitals, the first disaster aid agencies. God knows, literally, that the work of goodness is being done all over the world out of a passion for Jesus, whom many call Christ.

Loving Christ and living His way is a very good thing, benefiting the world. But humans being what they are, and given the deliberate, directed, documented misappropriation of Christian by the Religious Right since the mid-70s, the bulk of those whom the Pew Charitable Trusts would term Christian aren't Christ-lovers at all. 

Christian no longer means "follower of Jesus." Christian means "member of the empire of Christendom."

Maybe it has since 370 A.D. and we're just noticing. 

I am a member of Christendom, just as I'm a beneficiary of racist institutions: whether I want to be or not, Christendom, through its unholy alliance with capitalism and nationalism, is the dominant institution of the West. As a westerner, I can't really avoid it.

But I'm no longer a Christian, if I ever was one.

I love God, listen to Jesus, and aim to dance with the Spirit. I teach others how to read the Bible, and what our good God looks like. I guide spiritual practice and counsel through holy listening. I battle -isms in myself and in the power founts of our culture.

I believe that I will never know God completely so I continue to seek God's face and to know God's heart. That means that will always be a seeker--not because I'm lost, but because there is always so much more beyond what I know (or think I do).

I believe that trusting that Jesus got it right, and doing what he did daily, makes for an eternal quality of living right now--and I want that.

Seeker of God in the Way of Jesus is a little unwieldy, but it's a whole lot better than but not like that.