Shortly before she passed, my Aunt Dorothy told me she believed I'd make a good preacher. Though strong in my convictions, I know I just don't have the temperament for it. However, back in the late 1990s, as the internet was gearing up, a lot of things became easier. For instance, merely by entering my name on the website for the Universal Life Church, I became an officially ordained minister. Something needs to be said that seems to be going unsaid. I don't want to be the one to say it, but we lack leaders who are willing to take a principled stand, so it seems to fall to me. With that preamble out of the way, as an ordained minister, here goes:
Warning: This will not be my usual gentile tone.
Too many Christians (some I admire, some I know personally, and others who embody all that is wrong with religion) have been posting -- either directly or in the form of shared links -- that the recent murder of 27 people was God's punishment because we as Americans have rejected Him. Let me get this straight... you, a Christian, believe that God's plan to bring people closer to Him includes intentionally setting in motion events that would lead to a gunman shooting and killing 27 people, then taking his own life... just to make us all feel bad? You, a Christian, believe God wanted those innocent children dead as a punishment to their families, to the nation, and to the world, despite the fact a majority of the families, the nation, and the world believe in God?
I want to be absolutely, crystal clear about this: If you believe everything in the above paragraph is true, seek psychiatric help immediately. That isn't me insulting you by calling you crazy; that is me stating emphatically and humanely that you are not in your right mind, and you need help before you harm yourself or others. I am concerned for your safety and the safety of those around you. If you own weapons, turn them over to the authorities immediately. If you have children, please have them stay with loved ones while you seek help. This is not hyperbole. This is not me attempting to be funny. You are disturbed, and it is frightening the rest of us.
I believe in God. I attended Christian schools from the 4th through 8th grades. I was baptized and confirmed. I've studied the Bible. The Sunday before I graduated from a public high school, a prayer service took place in the school gym to give thanks to God for having achieved such a milestone in our respective lives. In that same public high school, passages from the Bible, sermons, and stories written by Christians were all part of the language arts curricum approved by the State of California. I've attended churches regularly. In the past two years I have worshipped in nearly 40 different churches alongside more than 15,000 people. The studies show that between 75 to 85 percent of Americans continue to believe in God. The word God appears on our money, in our pledge of allegiance, and in every major speech given by every US President since Washington. Over 200,000 gravestones at Arlington National Cemetary feature engraved crosses. Men of faith like Martin Luther King Jr. and FDNY Chaplain Mychal Judge (killed on 9/11) are revered men who have earned the respect and admiration of millions. Anniversaries surrounding the birth of Christ and the death/resurrection of Christ are national holidays. In spite of one of the worst economies in this nation's history, people continue to donate time and money to charities. People continue to crusade against injustice, intolerance, and hatred. People continue to try to cure diseases and heal the sick. New technologies are developed to allow the crippled to walk, the blind to see, and the deaf to hear. I simply cannot take seriously the assertion that God isn't prevalent in our society. He is undeniably a huge influence on America.
I'm not convinced the problems we face as a nation are due to those who don't believe. Let me put it into perspective. God isn't absent from this nation; He is an undeniable force. However, His will is constantly perverted by those who seek to harm others, to spread discord, and -- yes -- sometimes even to kill. To those arguing that we are choosing to remove God from our lives, He is everywhere regardless of whether we choose. What we keep doing as a society is using God as a convenient patsy whenever bad things happen, because to accept culpability and attempt to fix societal problems is just too hard. "It is God's will," people say, or "It is part of God's plan." We rely too much on God to let us off the hook when preventable wrongs occur; we take advantage of the grace of God. No, the problems we face are not limited to those who don't believe. If anything, the problems are greater with those who do believe but choose to work against the words of Jesus, who commanded us to love one another. He was the ultimate teacher who led by example. He showed compassion for those in need. He eschewed violence. And He never, ever hated.
Few things would please me more than if my atheist and agnostic friends saw the light and found God in their hearts and minds. However, I have seen kindness and generosity from those non-believing friends that leads me to believe Christ is working through them, regardless of how they may think or feel about it. Christians need to quit making God an excuse when bad things happen, unless you are equally vocal and credit God when good things happen, because He is just as responsible for those. Meanwhile, God gave us many gifts, and among the most important were the developed human mind and the human soul, both of which we can use for good or evil. Instead of pointing the finger at God, why don't you point it at yourself and ask what you could have done to make the world better, because your lame cop-outs about dead children being on God's hands is beneath you. There is no evidence to support such a baseless claim, and if you believe it to be true, you are ill and need therapy.
We as a nation do not love enough. We as a nation do not do a good enough job educating our children. We as a nation are not compassionate enough to care for our fellow man. We as a nation are too violent. We as a nation are full of hatred. And we are all of those things despite being one of the most Christian nations on the planet. That is the real dichotomy at work here. Christians hear the stories in the Bible wherein God commands us not to judge others because we are all far from perfect, that only He may do so, but then the same Christians proceed to dictate what constitutes love and what a woman may or may not do with her own body. Christians read the commandment unconditionally stating thou shalt not kill, then proceed to execute its citizens. In short, if you were God, which would cause you more anger: Someone who doesn't believe in you but does good deeds, or someone who does believe in you yet continues to disobey your very clear commandments, causing (directly or indrectly) harm to come to others? If you truly believe God is the puppetmaster who caused 27 innocent people to die, you better look to yourself first, make sure you've done what you could to serve humanity (and God), and really look at what it means to believe in God. Because, as someone who believes, I'm tired of having to apologize for you. I'm tired of having to say to others, "We aren't all like that." I'm tired of having to constantly point out that the fundamental and unconditional message of Jesus Christ was to love one another, and that commandment contained no conditions, provisos, or fine print. Love one another.
As politicians, the public, and friends on social media continue to debate the future of guns, health care (physical and mental), the dreaded fiscal cliff, and the meaning of life in general, at the forefront of everyone's mind needs to be the unconditional love we ought to have for our fellow man. When opinions are formed about taxes and liberties and freedom, at the forefront of everyone's mind needs to be the unconditional love we ought to have for our fellow man. Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful. If you are unwilling to accept those debating terms, then do not call yourself a Christian. And if you persist with the delusion that God wants more dead children, seek professional help immediately.