I finally joined my Baptist church after two-and-a-half years of attendance. I can't believe that they would let such a slacker claim membership, but they are, and now I'm dreading the moment my mug is plastered on the jumbotrons to announce my arrival. Yes, we have jumbotrons. I don't know if Jesus would have them or not, but I do know that he's about the only person I would give up my vanity for. I'm telling you, this picture is hideous.
Like many Southern Baptists, I grew up in a church that exalted racism at times. Our church was across the highway from a truck stop, so we often had truckers visit our services. If that trucker, or visitor of any other occupation for that matter, was a black person, we had a deacon who would walk right out the back door in protest.
I often heard my very own minister tell watermelon and fried chicken jokes. He felt we should avoid people of a different race because the Bible says we should not be "unequally yoked." We were also drilled many Sundays on the wife's place of subservience in the home, which some believed excused disrespectful behavior toward women, or even worse, verbal abuse and violence.
Avoiding the church for a long time, I fled hypocrisy and secrecy and attended Episcopalian services. Or I had church in my back yard with the Bible and the squirrels. But somewhere deep down, I missed something about the Baptist church.
Fortunately, there had been a time I had accepted Jesus in pure love. I made the decision not out of fear or social pressure or family expectations, but out of understanding that Jesus was the human form of God. Jesus was proof that whatever we are given in this life, we are also given character to overcome it. Jesus was proof humans are innately good creatures. I still believe that.
I love that Jesus struggled in the face of temptation. I love that he questioned God, even cried out to him in anger, while on the cross. I love that he talked to prostitutes and spent his time with sinners, but kept a small group of friends who supported his beliefs. How so very human of him.
And I still believe the Baptist doctrine I knew as a child. A sin is a sin is a sin. Sin is when we know something is wrong, but do it anyway. God makes us aware of sin to protect us, not to simply exalt his power. Sin is not good for us for reasons more than that the Bible says so.
I'm afraid many of us are overlooking the good things God gave us, such as joy, laughter and faith, hope and love. I am afraid that for some Christians, the fight against homosexuality and other "immoral" behavior has superceded the true example of Jesus. For me, the war against homosexuality is sounding alarmingly like the war against integration.
Monkey and I listen to contemporary Christian music. I have found it lifts my spirits, keeps me grounded, and is an excellent alternative to popular music glorifying the objectification of women and greed. However, there is one particular station that includes repeated commercials against homosexuality, and try as I might, I just don't get it.
One of our favorite songs by Casting Crowns contains the lyrics:
But if we are the body
Why aren't His arms reaching?
Why aren't His hands healing?
Why aren't His words teaching?
And if we are the body
Why aren't His feet going?
Why is His love not showing them there is a way?
As my best good friend pointed out, half the time our arms are folded, our back is turned, our feet are still, and our lips are silent. When we do decide to perform any movement as a fragmented body, one arm is used to shake a fist, the other to point a finger. As MF says, "I'm quite sure Jesus never shoulder-poked anybody."
Fortunately, we have other radio stations and a choice of churches as well. But most fortunately as Christians (and Baptists!), we have the option of reading the Bible for ourselves. As my pastor says, "You do not have to leave your intellect at the door to be a Christian, but you do have to leave your pride."
The sanctimony of some Christians has stereotyped our belief system as one of intolerance and hate, but I know better. It is the belief of this Baptist that love is the greatest gift He has given us, and I will continue to judge not lest I be judged. I refuse to allow these few pointing fingers to define my spirituality, and I will continue to worship in my church despite the stereotype. We are on an even playing field in God's eyes. We are all, in fact, only human.
JFP columnist Emily Braden is a free-lance writer and mom who lives in Rankin County with her son "Monkey" and her dog Zeke.
I am new at this and unsure if I am doing this correctly. My wife grew up with emilyb, but lost touch after moving out of state. We were amazed to find her on this site. Emily if you read this please respond to the email provided, Jade Maxey would love to play catch up.
If you know Emily or how to contact her, please pass this along to her.
Brandon & Jade (Maxey) Britton
I have every intention of playing catch up this weekend! ICAN'TBELIEVEMYBESTFRIENDFROMBACKINTHEDAYFOUNDME!!!!
Thanks Brandon! Tell Jade HI and I will, in fact, email her!
Did you get to go in the big wading pool?
I was Baptized years ago if that's what you mean. In fact, I was Baptized the same night as my friend Jade who found me through this article.
Teasing aside, great article and I am enjoying your column. Congrats on finding your friend! Happy Holidays, Miss Emily.