“I’d be a Christian if it weren’t for all the Christians.” --Mahatma Gandhi
“In the name of God”…
Sometimes I wonder what God thinks when folks say they do something in God’s name, especially when such “God” inspired acts can make God look…well…pretty bad. A story…
If I had children, Carla Hale is the kind of wonderful teacher I’d hope for them. At the Christian school she taught at in Columbus, Ohio, Hale was widely respected and loved by her fellow teachers, administrators, parents and most important, the kids, whom she taught physical education. For 18 years, Hale loyally and lovingly taught until an amazing and awful week last March.
As Frank Bruni wrote in a recent New York Times piece, “Rather suddenly, [Hale’s] mother died, and an hour afterward, she and her brother numbly went through the paces of a standard obituary, listing survivors. Her brother included his wife. So Carla included her partner, Julie, whom her mother had known well and loved. Leaving Julie out would have been unthinkable, though Carla didn’t really think it through at the time. Her grief was still raw.”
This is where the story becomes unbelievable. The obituary ran. A parent of one of the school’s students read it and wrote an anonymous letter to church officials who oversaw the school. She complained they could not let a woman like Carla Hale teach her kid or any kids. Within days Hale was fired, the school’s principal stating in a termination letter that Hale’s, “spousal relationship violates the moral laws of the…Church.”
Two months later Hale is still heartbroken, devastated by her firing. “Every morning from the time you walked into the building, kids would be yelling down the hall, ‘Hey, Miss Hale, what are we going to do today?’ ‘Hey, Miss Hale, I remembered those shoes.’ It felt so comforting.” But no more because hey, we’re Christians and we can’t let one of ‘those people’ influence our children, right?
So Hale is out and why? She was fired in God’s name, I suppose, because she broke God’s “laws”, because that’s what God called that school’s “religious” leaders to do, right? I wish I could say I’m shocked by the mean spiritedness of this “God” based act of intolerance--that it is rare, an exception, but the truth is, it is not. As a Christian and clergyperson so often these days I cringe and weep at the behavior of my fellow believers. In whose name do they act?
A “God” who apparently is very exclusive in love. A "God" who condemns folks who love the wrong person. A “God” who gets angry if we worship the wrong “God” or go to the wrong house of worship or do not fit into a narrow and self-righteous definition of the Almighty.
To be fair Christianity has no monopoly on this “name of God” stuff. Every other major world religion seems all too ready to be petty as well, finger pointing, small minded and small hearted, even violent, in the name of “God”.
So last week the Protestant TV evangelist Pat Robertson commented on the deadly Oklahoma tornadoes by declaring that if only the folks in Moore had prayed more, they would have been spared. Two weeks ago in Israel a group of Jewish woman won the legal right to pray at the Western Wall of the Temple, Judaism’s holiest of holy sites. They prayed but did so surrounded by hundreds of angry Orthodox Jews who spit on them, swore at them and threw chairs at them. The Boston Marathon bombings? Carried out, apparently in the name of “God”, by Muslim brothers using the cloak of religion to justify killing and maiming the innocent.
I can’t make this stuff up.
Now I know it is risky to presume to know the mind and heart of God but my faith tells me that God must cringe and weep too at all these things done in God’s name. Makes me imagine if and when we all get to the pearly gates God won’t much be interested in how religiously zealous we were, or religiously pure we were, or even religiously devoted we were. To institutions. To doctrines. To laws. To human made buildings or traditions.
No perhaps, instead, God will ask each of us just one question: “When you acted in my name, did you love?” I think Carla Hale will certainly be able to answer that Divine inquiry pretty easily, with a humble and heartfelt “Yes”. I think lots of so called religious believers and leaders will answer with a fumbling and bumbling “No”.
“In God’s name”: pretty powerful stuff. So here’s a suggestion: let’s just try love. Let this be what we do in the name of God.