A couple of years ago my wife and I decided the time had come to leave the denomination in which both of us had been raised. It wasn’t easy at all. But we had reached a point where we couldn’t make any more excuses for our continued membership in that denomination. And somehow when you attend a church, give to that church, participate in its programs, baptize your children there and send them to Christian education classes and camps with that church, it becomes a question of integrity if you’re constantly having to explain how even though your entire spiritual identity is tied up in that church, you’re not really like the others there. You don’t really believe like they do. Sure, you worship and spend a lot of time with people who preach and teach that gays shouldn’t be “allowed” to marry, that abortion should be completely illegal and creationism should be taught in schools. But that’s not really who you are.
Living like that is fundamentally dishonest. It’s just like saying “some of my best friends are black.” I’m working through my feelings about the faith tradition in which I was raised. I don’t need to hide it, and I don’t need to be ashamed of it. But neither do I need to gloss over what’s happened to it or defend it to “outsiders” just because I was — and still am in many ways — an insider, a native. I can be proud of that tradition’s historical commitment to helping the poor, its understanding that Christianity puts ethical obligations upon us. That doesn’t mean I must then also be proud of how it’s allowed itself to be taken over by American Fundamentalist Christianity, how many of its pastors and members are now far more committed to fighting abortion and homosexuality than helping the needy.
It seems that as I vehemently object to how the right-wingers have taken the word “patriot” away as term that all dedicated Americans can use, taken the flag away as an inclusive symbol for all of us, so do some Christians object to how those same right-wingers have taken their churches away from them.
We can’t be “patriots” without supporting the Bush administration, and its unconstitutional and war-criminal policies. We can’t “support our troops” without supporting the war, and, by extension, the administration that’s waging it. We can’t “cherish freedom” without supporting the freedom-crippling excesses of this administration, and its shredding of the Bill of Rights. We can’t “condemn terrorism” without being willing to agree to the mistreatment and torture tactics that our government is using against political prisoners. And we can’t belong to certain Christian denominations without tacitly siding with those who want to control every aspect of our society and measure it against standards of behaviour that are mired in the Middle Ages.
I’m pleased that Mr and Mrs Suh have been able to keep their spiritual identities and their socio-political ones, but it’s sad that they had to leave their spiritual community in order to do it. As I said before, in “On Patriotism”, we have to take back all of these identities — those of patriots, troop-supporters, freedom-lovers, and, yes, Christians, for those who believe that way — and make them inclusive, not divisive, once again.