Frightened by Christians

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“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Mahatma Gandhi

I expect that this article might make some people uncomfortable but it is something that I need to write.

I am a Christian. I am a Priest and I am a Navy Chaplain. But for the most part I am afraid of Christians. There are many reasons for this. Some are more general in the way I see Christians treat others; their own wounded as well as non-believers, the political machinations of pastors and “Christian” special interest groups masquerading as ministries.

But most of why I am afraid is because what I have experienced at the hand of many Christians, some of whom I had counted as friends many of whom are pastors, priests or chaplains. To experience rejection or being shamed by people that you thought were friends is very hard, especially when that at one time you trusted them implicitly to care for you. However to be rejected by those that you trusted “in the name of God, ” or rather because you violated supposedly “correct” doctrinal beliefs about God is frightening.

It seems to me that with many Christians and churches that the “unconditional” love of God that they proclaim not really unconditional. It is totally conditional on believing what they believe or behaving in the way they think that you should.

For those that do not know me or my story I am a career military officer with over 30 years of service between the Army and Navy. I have been a chaplain since 1992 and served in the National Guard, Army Reserve, Active Duty Army and the Navy. I am a trained hospital chaplain; I have a great academic background. I went to Iraq in 2007 and came home with a terrible case of severe chronic PTSD. I still suffer from some anxiety, depression and plenty of insomnia. I find mental health care hard to get in my new assignment and I realize how woefully unprepared that our medical system, military, VA and civilian is to care for that vast numbers of veterans like me.

After Iraq I suffered a collapse of my faith and for close to two years was a practical agnostic. Only my deep sense of call and vocation kept me going and there were times that I wondered if I would be better off dead.

When faith returned through what I call my Christmas miracle it was different. I totally relate to author Anne Rice who said:

“My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn’t understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me. But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been, or might become.”

I have always questioned a lot but after my crisis of faith I began to see through the bullshit. I began to not only question things my former church taught, but openly stated my convictions about how we treat others as Christians, the equality of people in general and tolerance for those different than us including gays and Moslems who for some Christians are rather low on the scale of those that God might love.

After Iraq I was sickened by the crass politicization of conservative American Christianity and many of its leaders. Men and women who advocate war without end, be it real wars against “enemies” of American, or promote a culture war even against other Christians that they do not like or agree with. Of course this is all done in “Jesus name.”

Likewise I question the opulence and materialism of the church. I question the nearly cult like focus and near worship accorded to the Pastor-CEOs of the megachurches and the television preachers and teachers. I wonder in amazement about how many of these leaders live like royalty and have devoted followers who despite repeated scandals treat them as the voice of God.

Along with the that I question the preference of many American Christian leaders for the rich and their disdain for the poor, the alien and the outcasts among us. I don’t know where where they get it.

All of that got me thrown out of a church that I had served 14 years a priest and chaplain back in 2010. I thought I had a lot of friends in that church. I still have some that keep in contact with me but after my dismissal most abandoned me. That hurts worse than anything.

In fact when I came home from Iraq in crisis and falling apart the first person who asked about how I was doing with God was not clergy. It was my first shrink. I was asked by a commanding officer after Iraq “where does a chaplain go for help?” I told him “not to other chaplains.”  The sad thing is that man who did care about me suffered untreated terrible PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury and committed suicide earlier this year.

I have had a few experiences this week that have opened that wound again and reminded me of why I am afraid of many that call themselves Christians. I had a friend comment on some coarse language I used in a rant on a social media site, the friend noted a certain word that I used was used to silence others.

I replied that he was wrong, that the ultimate way to silence others was to invoke God and shame them. That is the ultimate trump card because no one is bigger than God.

The good thing is that when he realized why I had said the word and realized what he said had further wounded me and understood a bit of what I was going through he was quite gracious, sympathetic and apologetic. He is still a friend and he means a lot to me. Thankfully there was not another broken relationship.

But my friend’s initial comment made me realize how many of us as Christians, even well meaning people, focus on outward behaviors, words or actions of others without understanding what they are going through. Like Dietrich Bonhoeffer said:

“Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening.”

I am thankful that I have a number of friends including a good number of Christians from various backgrounds who have stood by me even if they disagree with my theology, politics or favorite baseball team.

That being said with the exception of such
people who have been with me through thick and thin I am almost terrified of being around Christians. Church in most cases is a frightening place for me, and the sad fact is that if I were not already a Christian there is little in American Christianity that would ever cause me to be interested in Jesus.  I can totally understand why churches are hemorrhaging members, especially young people and why the fastest growing religious preference in our society is “none” for I too am in some sense an outcast.

As Pedro Cerrano (Dennis Haysbert) said in the movie Major League: “I Like Jesus very much, but he no help with curveball.”

Pray for me a sinner,

Peace

Padre Steve+

13 Comments

Filed under christian life, faith, Military, ministry, Pastoral Care, Political Commentary, PTSD

13 responses to “Frightened by Christians

  1. Pam

    Thank you, sir, for all of this. All of this.

  2. Thank you also. I understand completely and feel that same. As a woman my betrayal by the church cuts in a completely different way, but my sense of fear is as palpable as the fear you describe. I mourn for the church, and no one understands my grief. I go forward with God alone.

  3. drdenis

    Reblogged this on Dr Denis’s Weblog and commented:
    Padresteve Has it right. We should question not only our faith (Go ahead God doesn’t mind a bit) But all those who quote a verse of scripture with no thought of what it means or what is behind it.

  4. Bill Ramsey

    Padre Steve. You remain a bright and illuminating light in an otherwise dark world for many, I’m sure. Much thanks for all you believe, think, share, and do.

  5. Padre,

    “Are you saying that Jesus Christ can’t hit a curve ball?”

    I agree with everything you say. But I found in my own walk while the problem is still with other people. I had to take some ownership of it as well. Today I try to be a bigger, better person that will defend those who need to be defended. I try to be nonjudgmental, speak only when I have something positive to say and not allow my heart to be filled with anger when confronted by the people you speak about. It is hard and I love you and your attitude.

    rob

  6. I have spent the past 3 years dealing with a crises of faith, coming 99% near losing mine. Then, I bounced back. I have learned what a gift faith is. It’s not for sissies, that’s for sure. I admire your grit, and determination to question what you believe. I think we all must go through this, once in our Christian lives – if we are to go deeper into it. Unfortunately, it takes a crises that must turn our lives inside out, to do it. For once, I just wish growing in faith would be really, really easy.

    Thank you for your service. You are saying the very same thing I am. Being a Christian today, when dealing with the far right, is not easy. I’m sorry, but I swear they don’t have the same Christian religion the rest of us do. And yes, I’m one of those evil, horrid Episcopalians!

    • padresteve

      It is amazing. For many a “strong faith” means never having a crisis or never doubting. But that is not the essence of faith. Faith is difficult and even Jesus understood that when he prayed to his Father to take the cup from him…

  7. Seems Christianity is undergoing a stage of some becoming less believing than others. The Church needs to invigorate and draw the numbers in again. Great article.

  8. Thank you first and foremost for your service (…I don’t mean that just in a military sense, but also in a discipleship sense) and your honesty, and your love — it takes love to be honest, especially when people do not want to hear it.

    It is interesting that you used that Anne Rice quote because I too wrote a much less experienced — but along paralleled sentiments expose — on an old blog using that same quote: http://kozydabear.blogspot.com/2011/12/just-quote-i-really-like-from-ann-rice.html

    (It’s striking to me how similar our views, though yours are more informed and seasoned and I appreciate all you shared)

    Anne Rice hasn’t finished her “Christ the Lord” book series on a historical fiction perspective, but if you get a chance (or maybe you already have) read at least her second book in that series “Christ the Lord: Road to Cana” — a beautiful book and made me feel really close to God.

    One of my favorite passages of Scripture and one of the things I’ve found most interesting is Jesus’ last prayer at the last supper recorded in the Gospel of John — John 17:20-26 is:

    Out of all the things “the Son of God” the “God-man” (however you want to phrase the great mystery and power of the Incarnation in our always ambitious yet always failing human language) could pray for — 1st of all He prays for “all believers” (…”those who would come after them [‘them’ being the disciples] “) what does He pray for? He prays for (1) Unity in the body of Christ (“that they would be one as we are one Father”) and (2) He prays that “the love you have for Me Father would be in them, and that I MYSELF would be in them.” Jesus prays that He personally HIMSELF and the love of the Father would be in ALL OF US believers! And that we would be united together in that love! That to me is the ESSENCE of Christianity.

    My dad told me today (and he probably got it from somewhere else, as a matter of fact as I’m typing it I know I’ve heard it somewhere else just don’t remember where) that the cross represents two things to him visually — the longer or vertical “beam” of the cross represents “Man’s relationship with God” — it’s pointing vertical towards God (“Love the Lord your God with all your heart all your soul and all your mind”) and the horizontal shorter “beam” represents loving “each other” — (“Love your neighbor as yourself”), and that’s a really beautiful way to interpret the Cross and remember when looking at it I think — that the Cross is directly related to the great Commandment, that Christ’s sacrifice is inextricably woven into his message and His person: “God is love” — “Christ is love” — “love God above all else, and your neighbor as yourself”. (Matt 22:37-40)

    Anyway sorry for writing such a long response, but you just hit a lot of chords with me on that post Padre — thank you again for your service (both in the military and in Christ), honesty, experience, and love.

    And we are all sinners “and fall short of the glory of God”, and all need many prayers, but my prayers definitely go your way, as a Christian author and speaker I like once said: “the Church is a hospital for sinners, NOT a country club for saints.” (quote from Frank Turek)

    God be with and bless you Padre, as He always is and does,
    Sincerely,
    Matt Kozak

    • padresteve

      Matt,
      Thank you for the kind words and I appreciate them much. Thank you also for subscribing to the site.
      Blessings again and peace
      Padre Steve+

  9. padresteve

    Reblogged this on Padre Steve's World…Musings of a Passionately Progressive Moderate and commented:

    Friends of Padre Steve’s World
    It has been an interesting day and you will find out all about it tomorrow or the next day when I finish writing about it, but life is never dull for Padre Steve. Thank you as always for your taking the time to read what I put out here. Time is valuable, we only get so much of it, so I do appreciate your readership. This is an article I wrote about six months ago, an article that does kind of tie into what I will be writing about soon, something that will be a bombshell; so hold your horses and get ready to ride.
    Peace
    Padre Steve+

  10. I know you were joking when you said “or my baseball team” but it’s closer to home than you might think. For a great many Christians their religion is simply a license to judge, to separate, to hate, and there are an awful lot of god-whisperers encouraging them to do just that (while pulling in millions because nothing unifies quite like hate).

  11. Pingback: Padre Steve’s Year in Review | Padre Steve's World...Musings of a Passionately Progressive Moderate

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