In the intersections of my identity I am both someone who fights for reproductive justice and someone who believes in God and in Jesus Christ. A Christian. It’s easy to say, and yet heavy in my mouth and heavy on my fingertips as I type it out. Why? Because my faith has been used as a tool of oppression for generations, and still today (within reproductive justice and beyond).
People have used scripture outside of context, and a perversion of the concept of holiness to shame and dehumanize people, and to limit their choices and free will, and to improperly elevate and offer power and money and status to other people.
When speaker Kira Shepherd from the Racial Justice Program (and more) at Columbia Law began to speak about “White Christian Supremacy” at Decolonize Birth Conference this weekend, I had a visceral reaction. A skin crawl. A sinking in my gut, in part because I already knew…
Christianity as a Weapon
I knew that during slavery, people who called themselves Christian declared themselves superior over others to justify enslaving them, humiliating them, beating them, scarring them, separating them from their children and families, and killing them.
I knew that during integration, people who called themselves Christian resisted having Black students join their White children in school by building their own schools, schools explicitly created to maintain segregation, schools created through the houses of God, to reject other people created and loved by God.
I know now that today, people who call themselves Christian (and Catholic) are also doctors and staff in hospitals that turn pregnant people away from appropriate care, often without explanation, because of policies that are based in religious belief, for example, ones that confuse the lines between appropriate medical treatment and abortion.
Specifically, Kira Shepherd spoke about a pregnant woman who had gone to the hospital twice during early pregnancy with intense pain and bleeding, and was sent home twice with only aspirin, and nearly died, because doctors felt the treatment that would solve her medical issue could endanger the unborn baby (essentially saying that the woman’s life was less significant than her unborn child’s life).
Is it not nonsensical, that people who base their beliefs on Jesus who healed even on the days it was unlawful to do so on, would deny medical care to those explicitly seeking it from them?
My Personal Wrestling with God
Grappling with tensions and realities like these have led to me to an incredibly difficult place of introspection and questioning. It’s not unlike my teenage years when I asked myself, “Is this my faith? Or is it simply my parents’ faith?” In this season of my life, watching all that has been done in the name of Christianity that has shaken me to my core, I have asked myself, “Am I ashamed of the Gospel?”
As a teenager, I read, and I researched, and I prayed, and day by day, in my mind and my spirit I knew that God was real, I knew that Jesus was my savior, I knew that His hand was on my life and that He had created me to use the skills He gave me to show His love and grace and mercy (and sometimes also anger) to those around me — those who knew Him, and those who weren’t so sure, and those who didn’t believe what I believe.
In this season, I have read, and researched, and prayed, and day by day, in my mind and my sprit I know that I am not ashamed of the Gospel, but I am deeply ashamed of the oppressive things that people have stood crookedly on the Gospel to do. It still confuses and frustrates me how it’s even possible. And to be entirely honest, I often feel like I exist on a desert island within my own faith, watching the main ship heave off without me, partially relieved because I know I don’t even belong on it, but mostly very sad.
What the Bible Actually Says
The whole point of striving for holiness as a Christian is to strive to be like The Holy One, Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of God’s law. Our
lives are not about measuring up to laws and standards or forcing those things on others (neither am I saying that all laws are meant to be thrown to the wayside). But for those of us who believe in Him, we need to examine Jesus — What did He do when He lived and breathed and walked on this ground? Who was He? — And start measuring ourselves up to that.
Look at Jesus. Jesus, who was not ashamed to speak with the woman at the well (though that was scandalous for His time), who had had many husbands. Jesus, who was not ashamed to step in to protect the adulterous woman who would have been stoned (and to put the ones holding the stones in their place, also). Jesus, who was not ashamed to challenge the rich young man who thought he could achieve his way into heaven (Jesus said, Give 👏🏽It 👏🏽 All 👏🏽Away 👏🏽Son 👏🏽 and the Rich Young Man said 👋🏽🚶🏽🚶🏽🚶🏽). Jesus, who was not ashamed to have his cloak touched by the desperate and “unclean” woman who had been bleeding for years and no one had been able to heal her until Him (and not only that but He comforted her and admired her faith and called her daughter). Jesus, who turned over the tables in the temple when people were selling things — why? Because the temple wasn’t supposed to be a marketplace. It was, and still is supposed to be a house of prayer for all the nations…
Jesus, who was not ashamed, as He hung on the cross, to offer salvation even to the criminal at His side. A criminal who said, “My suffering is justified… still, Jesus remember me…”
How have we forgotten? How do I watch so many “holy” people act so ashamed to interact with so many people who Jesus literally showed us that He reached for and turned towards?
So What Next
Those of us who believe in the God of the Holy Bible (as opposed to the commercialized, capitalist, red, WHITE, and blue God we encounter so often in the US), and who believe in Jesus Christ, His son, and the Holy Spirit, who intercedes for us — we have layers of serious work to do.
We not only have to do the work that God actually calls us to in the first place — the work He specifically and uniquely knit into us as He made us in our mothers’ wombs. But we also have to undermine the oppressive forces that have so successfully rewritten the general understanding of our faith — and in effect have actually co-opted Christianity — what it means to follow and be like Jesus — and in truth, removed being like Jesus from the picture entirely.
Let’s be honest. In this age, the temple is truly more marketplace than house of prayer for all the nations. Which should make our response pretty easy. Let’s turn the tables over.
Let’s be like Him, by being in relationship with people, all the people. And when things feel grey and unclear and scary — instead of running away from each other, let’s pray and wrestle together as brothers and sisters for something better. For something life-giving.
I know some of y’all will have questions that I don’t have answers for. I really don’t. I just have one day at a time, thoughts and desires and prayers and actions that I will look for fruit from in this life, and I will bring to God at the end of my time to say, “Remember me?”