Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. - 1 Peter 4:16Lately in the news, we've heard a lot about religious freedoms laws, because people are afraid they will be persecuted for being Christians. The idea that in America that people would be persecuted for being a true Christian who follows a loving God, is preposterous. Sadly, however, Christian persecution in the United States is real. It’s just not what you think.
Christian persecution isn’t about having to offer birth control to women. It’s not about having to serve wedding cakes to gay and lesbian couples. Christian persecution isn’t even having people call you out when you spout homophobic, sexist, or racist opinions, veiled blasphemously as biblical.
Real Christian persecution is having your church burned to the ground because black people worship there.
Real Christian persecution is sitting in a church as a minister misinterprets the Bible to fit his own narrow minded views.
Real Christian persecution is having your church graffitied hatefully because gay and lesbian people can worship there. Real Christian persecution in the United States terrorizes people — often Christians themselves, and more often then not, it is done by people professing to be Christian but persecuting LGBT Christians and LGBT-affirming Christians.
This type of Christian persecution uses hate and violence, because hate always leads to violence, done in the name of God and continuing in the name of God. And Christianity— particularly as it has been historically practiced by white, heterosexual people in the United States—has a very deep, very long history of perpetrating this kind of violence.
The latest victim of such persecution is the Church of Our Redeemer, a Metropolitan Community Church in Augusta, Georgia (MCCOR). It’s an open and affirming church in the midst of a deeply homophobic culture that birthed the Southern Baptist Convention.
The church is a beacon for LGBTQ equality, a home and safe haven for many in the town.
But a neighbor Tuesday morning called the church’s senior pastor, the Rev. Rick Sosbe, after noticing a vandal had sought to extinguish the church’s light for equality. Someone had spray-painted “Leviticus 18:22” on doors of the church along with the words “burn” and “lie.” And just an hour away, the KKK, a self-professed Christian organization, is protesting the Confederate battle flag being removed from the South Carolina capitol in the most vile and hateful of ways. Certainly, these two shouldn’t be simply equated with each other, but at their core, both are motivated by hate and by violence toward difference.
Hate, it seems, has become a “Christian” value for some. These Christians use biblical verses out of context to spew their hate and to justify their violence. They may not be as well-organized or as violent as ISIS, but they are no better. Many would love nothing more than to have a Christian version of ISIS in America, yet in the same hate speech they will denounce ISIS without seeing the correlation between the he two.
How in God’s name has Jesus been fashioned into an idol for bigotry? Need we be reminded that almost half of the gay, lesbian, and bisexual community are professing Christians? Need we be reminded that the vast majority of Black Americans are Christians? Need we be reminded—yet again—that in the United States, it has almost always been Christians terrorizing Christians?
White Christians have been terrorizing Black Christians for centuries since whites forced African slaves into conversion to Christianity. Heterosexual Christians terrorizing gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Christians for decades and longer. Those categories aren’t mutually exclusive mind you, but it bears remembering that hate crimes in this country have tended to be committed overwhelmingly by Christians, frequently against Christians.
It’s terribly ironic. Christians like Franklin Graham fret and worry about attacks on the Christian faith from Muslims or other vague bogeymen who aren’t white, who aren’t Christians, or who aren’t heterosexual. But the real attack on Christianity is coming from Christians.
As tempting as it is to focus just on this evil and hateful crime in Augusta that’s not the whole story. The MCCOR community is continuing to shine its light in Augusta . Church and community members—even a few passersby—have rallied together to repair the damage, to clean and re-paint. There has been shared joy in the joining together to literally erase the hate, according to folks there.
As always, the whole story can be so much bigger and more generous than an act of hate, and we can be a small part of that. In many ways, MCCOR is a beacon—and a fairly isolated one at that—in Augusta for ministry to and among LGBTQ people. My sister used to live in Augusta, so I know how it is not one of the most welcoming of cities. She and her husband only stayed a couple of years.
May God bless LGBT Christians everywhere and especially MCCOR.
Sources: This is an edited version of a Believe Out Loud post by David Henson who received his Master of Arts from Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, after receiving a Lilly Grant for religious education for journalists. He is ordained in the Episcopal Church as a priest. He lives in North Carolina, is a father of two boys, and the husband of a medical resident.