If you consider yourself religious, or a person of faith, I'd like to take time in this column to remind you that all our religious traditions have an immense propensity to harm rather than help. We tend to dwell on the positive goods of our religious traditions, and this often blinds us to the shadow side of religion. It is human nature to use religion to cover over and justify all kinds of ugly behavior--judgmentalism, hate, disgust, dislike, exclusion, distaste. Often religion is used as a way to simply turn up the volume on whatever we personally believe, regardless of its faithfulness to the actual core of our tradition.
I know this mostly because I have friends who have been hurt, horribly hurt, by their churches or faith communities. They have been kicked out of churches, snubbed by fellow students at private Christian schools, disowned by family based on differences of religious conviction or sexual orientation. When they tell their story, I regularly learn how deeply it hurts for communities, who supposedly subscribe to a doctrine of grace and a commitment to love God and neighbor, suddenly turn on them and exhibit all the opposite patterns, glossed over with justifications from religion or scripture.
Hate with a bible bullet behind it is still hate, and it hurts all the more. And those who have been hurt in this way find it very, very difficult to trust other religious communities in the future. The betrayal they have experienced is so deep. It's the kind of thing Jesus likely had in mind when he said, with only a hint of hyperbole, "If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea" (Mark 9:42).
I've wrestled over the years with what to do about this, how to help. I can't really apologize for the actions of others. I don't always know the other side of the story. I can't play judge, even in those instances where I'd quite like to judge.
What I do know I can do, something I've learned from my own faith tradition, is that I can confess. I can begin the process of healing by naming my own complicity, admitting to my own wrongdoing. So, here we go. I'm going to apologize. To all those who have been hurt by a church, or a religious person, or a religious community, I say, "I'm sorry, and I'd like to be there for you. I acknowledge my own complicity in the wrongdoing of my community. I'm sorry for the ways I have used my religiosity as a cover for my inhumanity. I'd like to formally apologize, inasmuch as a clergy person can apologize in a public column, not for the wrongs of anyone else, but for the various ways my religious commitments have contributed to inhumane treatment of others. Please forgive me."
I think being truly human means beginning from this posture of confession. True community happens when we find ways to be reconciled, and we can't be reconciled if we don't acknowledge what divides us. I'm not at all interested in being religious if it doesn't unite me with others, heal our relationships, and make us better people, better individually and together. I want to practice religion in a way that makes me more human, and more humane. I'm really not interested in any kind of faith that elevates me over others, or separates me from them. I'm especially interested in a faith that draws me more and more deeply into the common humanity I share with all people, and the common createdness I share with the world.
Jesus didn't simply "become" human. From a biblical and creedal perspective, he was the first fully human one. As such, you could say Jesus never was that religious. He was faithful, incredibly faithful, to his Father and to all those he named brother and sister. If it weren't for his example, I doubt I'd be religious at all. But Jesus in his full humanity makes a rather compelling case.
[simultaneously published in the Northwest Arkansas Times]