Over the last two weeks I’ve been doing a series of podcasts and radio shows for my book tour. Last week I did my first indoor speaking event (other than Left Hand Church) since the beginning of the pandemic. I spoke to the high school students and faculty at Colorado Academy. Just yesterday I spoke in-person for a mental health conference at the University of Denver. Earlier in the day, I had spoken virtually to the employees of Viacom/CBS.
In most of these podcasts, radio shows, and live events, the subject of my speaking was gender equity. Interestingly, however, a lot of the questions had nothing to do with gender equity. They asked how I could be a part of the church after having been ostracized by it. I never mind answering those questions.
I usually begin by talking about the three desert religions, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, and their beginnings as religions of scarcity. Without enough resources to go around, every tribe had to take care of its own. Unfortunately, in their fundamentalist forms, all three remain religions of scarcity, believing there is not enough of God’s love to go around.
As the sociobiologist E. O. Wilson so clearly warns, humans have evolved to believe an enemy is necessary for their tribe to survive, and where no enemy exists, they create one. Among evangelical Christians, the created enemies have been the LGB population and those who support a woman’s right to choose. When marriage equality became the law of the land, they shifted their attention to the transgender community, hence the 17 bills passed and 168 currently pending that take away the civil rights of transgender adolescents, one of the most at-risk groups in the nation.
In one of Monday’s events an attendee asked, “With so much public animosity toward transgender people, wouldn’t you see religion as a problem to be solved rather than a solution to be endorsed?” I answered that if you were only referring to evangelicalism, my answer would be for the most part, yes. But like every other institution on earth, there are good apples and bad apples, those focused on reconciliation and those focused on destruction, and plenty of folks in between. When all is said and done, I still believe religion is a positive force in society.
Religious institutions are the only ones designed to help us figure out how to do life together. Governments serve the citizenry. Corporations create profits for shareholders. Educational institutions impart knowledge. But only religious institutions have the primary purpose of helping us learn to be human together. If you expect the church not to be a mess, you are not considering one of the major purposes of the church. There will always be messiness in any endeavor teaching us how to be human together.
Religion also exists to help us search for meaning in life. We are an inherently spiritual species, and we have always best worked out our spirituality in community. In fact, that is how we moved from being a species focused on blood kin to a species focused on community. We did not take off as a species until we developed tribes, and we did not develop tribes until we joined together in a search for meaning. Our communal search for meaning catapulted our species forward. At that basic level, religion has always been a good thing.
I also believe religious institutions are uniquely situated to do good work for the people of their communities. For decades, churches wanted to be the best church in their towns. Now, at least some churches have a healthier mantra, they want to be the best church for their towns. After 9/11, the organization of which I was the CEO quickly directed over one million dollars in disaster relief to meet immediate needs of those who lost family members, jobs, and property in the terrorist attack. How did we do that so rapidly? We granted the money through local churches. Local churches didn’t have to wait for national organizations to tell them where the needs were, they already knew the needs of their neighbors.
I believe Left Hand Church, and churches like Left Hand, can provide the same service today. We can be churches in which we search for life’s meaning together. We can figure out how to be human together, and we can learn in community how to love God, love our neighbors, and love ourselves. That is the kind of community into which I am willing to devote my energies.
Yesterday I was reading an article in the New York Times that lamented the state of the American church. The article suggested that evangelicalism and Republicanism have become synonymous. I believe the writer was correct, and it is tragic. It is time for the church to return to the teachings of its founder – loving God, loving neighbor, and loving self. That is the only path forward. Everything else is empty rhetoric.