It is hard to imagine being a Christian in the wake of a great tragedy, such as the massacre in Pittsburgh. On one level, the suffering and violence are a challenge to my faith. When people die violently, whether by accident or malicious intent, I question the goodness and benevolence of God. After years of reflection on suffering and the nature of God, I ask why and my faith compels me to question God. That’s one way I respond.
It’s also tricky to claim the name of Christian when I see the muted and sometimes tone-deaf responses of those in the Christian community. Everyone seems to know an appropriate level of compassion, regardless of your stance on the 2nd Amendment, after a school shooting. I do not see it. I’m observing a fair amount of “what is he talking about” when I bring up anti-Semitism and mention how our grandfathers (veterans) went to Europe to defeat fascism. Instead, the deaths of innocent Jewish senior citizens have morphed into insidious talking points for the fear-driven ideologies driving the final days of the political campaign. I’m not sure many Christians, self-defined and self-selected in the age of Trump, are moved by the same human suffering which inspired Jesus to teach and preach.
I have always called myself a Christian. I self-identify as a Christian. Were there Christian pronouns available, I might use them on my Twitter biography. This is the primary way I understand who I am, how I live, and what I do. However, I’m no longer sure it’s worth struggling over an identity that is being diluted to the point of nonexistence by people who see no problem in booing a United Methodist pastor, at an event about religious freedom, who is quoting scripture. What does it mean to be a Christian if Jesus can’t get a fair hearing? I don’t think it means anything other than Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s era of “Religionless Christianity” has definitively arrived. The old symbols, words, and means of identifying Christendom are dead. My black shirts are going to the thrift store. I think I’ll turn my collars into bookmarks. I’ll call myself Richard, a follower of Jesus. That, in and of itself, is a dangerous statement to make.
The world is changing fast. When the General Conference finally meets to decide what it means to be a United Methodist, will any of it matter? By that time I’m afraid many American Christians will think “Lock Him Up” should be applied to Jesus. Anybody who is that loving, forgiving, and travels among caravans of migrants cannot be trusted. I can hear it now. You know it is coming.
Richard Lowell Bryant