Twenty-plus years ago I won one of those radio call-in contests. I had to solve this riddle:
What do Mr. Peanut, Adam and Eve, and Charlie Chaplin all have in common?
Figure it out? Okay, here’s a harder one:
What do Trump’s ban on trans* people in the military, Tennessee’s new law requiring public schools to display “In God We Trust,” and me getting kicked out of church have in common?
If you answered “rampant intolerance,” you are certainly not wrong, but I think there’s a larger underlying issue. I’m having trouble finding the words to express it, so I hope you’ll bear with me.
I’ve noticed a pattern in Evangelical culture, though it is certainly not confined there, of appearances trumping reality. Sermon after sermon is preached about how we’re to be set apart, visibly different, Not! Conformed! to the Ways! of the World! (But, I was taught by the very pastor who instructed us carefully to interpret Scripture through the lens of the time, place, and culture in which it was written–unless it was about homosexuality and then a plain reading was fine–don’t look *too* different, not like the Hutterites, the German Baptists, the Amish, I mean, that’s just strange, and no one likes strange people!).
This Not Conforming to the Ways of the World is then used to…force us into conformance.
Putting God’s name on the wall of a school building does not make the school, the teachers, or the students any more Christian or godly than they were–it’s just aesthetics. Refusing to let trans* people serve in the military does not make the military stronger–it’s just aesthetics. Refusing to let openly queer or queer-affirming people in your church doesn’t make your church more unified–it’s just aesthetics.
Under the pretty picture you’ve created, you have the same mess, made uglier because you’re trampling on people you’re supposed to be building up. And those who do this seem to believe that if they make things look good, then they are good. They can feel good about themselves, I guess, as they gaze at the pretty picture they’ve created? Never mind that it was painted with others’ blood and tears.
This is, of course, not at all what Scriptures teach us. Instead, we are to appreciate variety, recognize that there is strength in our differences, build one another up, and love, love, love, and love some more.
Mr. Peanut, Adam and Eve, and Charlie Chaplin all had a cane (or a Cain). The military trans* ban, mandated ‘In God We Trust’ signs, and forcing me out of church all have this: a coating of “Christian” culture on top of a rotting pile of garbage.
Remember Jesus’ words about whitewashed tombs? Oh, our irony runneth over.