Why I Could Never Again Be a Christian in America

First clarifying a couple things:

I dislike or hate people of Christian faith: To the contrary.  My mother is a Christian woman who’s faith shapes everything she is about.  She is a loving, wise, and generous soul.  Of the many times we talk, rarely does a conversation end without her talking to me about prayer.  She says often that, “God hears your prayers, son.”  She doesn’t say that like, ‘God hears everyone’s prayers.’ It’s one of those, ‘you have a gift and because your heart is good, God hears you,’ kinds of things.  Many of my close relatives, friends and social heroes are Christians.  Coming from a Christian background myself, there was a time when I based everything I lived on what I was taught within it.  If only I had a dollar for every time I was told I was going to be a preacher!

I am not an atheist:  I am a believer in evolution by the truest definition. There is easily accessible evidence that people and nature evolves and has been since the beginning. No way in hell do I trust that all that is glorious and magnificent in the universe is random.  It’s simply unintelligent to witness science, which is also merely discovering what is already, be fascinated by the wonders of what we could never duplicate, witness how nature and the world works together to sustain order and still somehow arrogantly believe it’s all by chance.  What I tend NOT to believe however, is that if we were to somehow be privy to the genesis of the universe, the answers would revolve around a religious mandate.  In other words, I don’t believe the Architect, if you will, would be obsessed with him/her/itself.  “Hey guys, its all about ME!  Worship ME!  Sing about ME!  Pray to ME!  Want rewards?  Come to ME!  Avoid destruction?  Come to ME!  ME ME ME!  Anytime there is an obsession with the WHO of God, there is by extension a narrow distinction which separates and isolates those who are not within that same group.  Basically it’s a group of people saying they have the market cornered on the WHO, and if you don’t accept their version of this entity, you are doomed for all eternity.

I’m courageous enough to ask critical questions and live within the journey as things unfold.  My faith tells me that anything I need to know to live my best life in this world is available to me.  This world is the only one I am present in and therefore assuredly accountable to.  

With that, there are many schematic reasons why I cannot embrace Christianity.  But I am not going to quibble with theology, dogma or doctrine.  My frustration is simply the wildly selective, inconsistent, hypocritical and vile display of all the worst in human nature that cuts against every basic principle taught by Jesus himself.  Though this is nothing new, specifically as it relates to Christian Conservatism.  I remember going to church during George W Bush’s re-election campaign.  The pastor of a local church here in St. Louis, named Raphael Green said, “I’m not going to tell you who to vote for.  But as a Christian you shouldn’t vote for anyone who is for killing babies.”   Translation – Vote for Bush.  Nothing wrong with being anti-abortion.  But being pro-life in all phases of humanity is consistent with the teachings of Christ.  It is now as it was then that Christians tend to care a helluva lot about the unborn, while caring little for the child who has ventured past the womb.  During that election cycle the church by in large took the position that the areas of abortion, gay rights and school prayer were the only issues that really mattered when choosing a given candidate.

I look at today’s embracing of Donald Trump by Christian Conservatives now as,”the more things change, the more they stay the same”.  The reality is that those Trump supporters who carry Christianity as a banner are race and religious separatists.  These are the same people who hate Barack Obama with all of their hearts.

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Let’s look at Mr. Obama (regardless of politics). Married to one woman; faithful husband and father of two daughters, has brought no scandal to the White House whatsoever during his 8 years in office.  His daughters are stellar and controversy free!   Christians should love them for modeling ‘traditional’ family, right?  No.  Their lives as a witness never stopped Evangelicals from railing against him at every turn.  Never did they stand up to birthers who questioned the president’s citizenship.  Christians refused to acknowledge the President’s own claim to the Christian faith.  According to Pew Research Center, 70% or Republicans are white evangelicals.  80% of Mormons are Republicans. According to The Hill, 43% of Republicans still believe the POTUS is a Muslim.  These evangelicals have never embraced President Obama on any subject matter.  There were even preachers who hate him so much they had the nerve to say God hates him, and even prayed for his death!  Imagine that!  I never heard the Christian Right criticize this or other ministers who used their pulpits in churches as platforms for attacking the president’s character and at times calling for his literal execution (from White or Black preachers).  Meanwhile, unemployment numbers are down to record lows.  The stock markets rose to epic levels even after the deepest recession in decades in 2008.

Now let’s look at Donald Trump.  The Donald, a serial adulterer, who publicly flaunted his new women while being married to the old ones.  He had a child with #2 while being married to #1.  He ‘joked’ that if Ivanka wasn’t his daughter, he would sex her up as well.  Not a big deal?

But let’s put Barack Obama in Trump’s shoes and then tell me if the person who takes this point of view is going to feel the same.  Trump claims to be Presbyterian, but openly admits that he has never and will never ask God for forgiveness regarding anything.  This eliminates him from the possibility of being a Christian according to Christian teaching.

“Why do I have to repent, why do I have to ask for forgiveness, if you are not making mistakes? I work hard. I’m an honourable person. I have thousands of people who work for me. I have employed tens of thousands of people over the years.” – Trump on Anderson Cooper 360 July 2015

This dude is so biblically inept that he blamed his ‘Two Corinthians” comments on the Evangelical Minister Tony Perkins who gave him his talking points for his speech at Liberty.

“Tony Perkins wrote that out for me. He actually wrote out the 2, he wrote out the number 2 Corinthians. I took exactly what Tony said, and I said, ‘Well, Tony has to know better than anybody.'”

Militarily, Trump criticized Arizona Senator John McCain for ‘getting caught’ as a POW.  Of McCain he said, “He’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”  He refuses to attend a debate because Megan Kelly is a moderator, saying he’s going to raise money for wounded veterans.  I wonder why?  I would think he would be more approving of veterans who didn’t get shot or wounded from IADs.  The reality is, he doesn’t want to be a part of any situation where he does not control 100% of the narrative.  All of this and yet… he is the leading GOP candidate among American Christians.

I was watching CSPAN the other morning.  The subject for the open phone section was for Conservative Christians as to whether they were voting for Trump or Ted Cruz.  Most all of them chose Trump.  The moderator asked a few of the callers if they believed Trump was a Christian.  One lady said she believes he is.  When the moderator talked about how he didn’t feel the need to ask for forgiveness, she said, “I know.  He’s still a Christian in my heart.”  WTF????   I guess its the way he mocked a mentally disabled journalist that was indicative of the character of Jesus.

When asked about Trump’s comments about having so much support that he could shoot someone and still not drop in the polls, another Christian caller laughed it off and said it was funny. When asked about Trump’s 3 wives and history of infidelity, another Christian caller said, “As long as he keeps it with women!” 

This isn’t just for white Christians either.  A plethora of Black Conservative Christians that came out the wood-work early on slobbered all over Trump for his money.  They tout his business savvy in spite of several bankruptcies.  When questioning that logic they say, “Well he just took advantage of the system the way it’s set up.”  Not quite like calling him a welfare businessman or predicting he would be a food stamp president as Newt Gingrich called President Obama.  I wonder if these people know that ultimately the tax payer picked up the tabs for these business decisions that put thousands out of work?  Now these Christians who criticized Obama for being ‘ungodly’ after almost a decade when confronted with Trump’s shenanigans, all of a sudden say they are electing a president and not a pastor.  The hypocrisy revealed by irony has been on warp speed in 2015 and the start of 2016.

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The Trump phenomenon is just an example. The rest of the Christians favor Ted Cruz.  This is a man who’s father tags along with making statements like, “What many people don’t understand, is the fact that Obamacare was actually put in place to act as a bridge for ISIS terrorists. A bridge that’s supposed to enable them to come here illegally and pose as doctors who allegedly want to help. And that’s not surprising, considering the fact that fewer and fewer doctors in our country are actually Caucasian, which is something Obama is well aware of, hence Obamacare as his weapon of choice. Do you understand what I’m saying? Our president is actually helping terrorists come to this country and not only that, he has created a permanent way for them to be able to wreak havoc all across America.”   Ahh, just let that sink in a moment!

I’ve talked to some of my black and white conservative friends about this subject.  Most of them are so blinded by their hatred of abortion, and same sex marriage, all the other scriptures regarding love, truth, justice and righteousness seem irrelevant.  For instance:

Mass Incarceration: These are the numbers for the federal prison population increase for mostly low level drug offenses:

1990 – 64,936

1995 – 100,958

2000 – 145,125

2005 – 187,394

2010 – 210,227

For states the total is well over 2 MILLION!  In most of these states prison is privatized and in addition, these institutions are guaranteed by the state to have a certain percentage of inmates. Where is the church on this?

We have a water crisis of epic proportions in Flint, Michigan.  This was caused by men who decided that poisoning an entire mostly minority and impoverished community was suitable.  Where is the outcry from the church regarding how Jesus said that how you treat the least of them is how you treat him?  I remember when Pastor Marvin Winans, in Detroit, refused to baptize a young woman’s child because the woman had the baby out of wedlock!  Won’t hear a word from him on this!  Black ministers are the worst for being fixated on material things, building mega churches and flying in private jets. If you held your breath waiting on them to speak on other issues like what Michigan’s governor did to residents in Flint, you would pass out.

I’ll tell you some of the reasons why they won’t say a word.

  1. They are bought and paid off.  These ministers make much of their money by networking with other ministers.  They don’t want to jeopardize those relationships and compromise future earnings from speaking engagements and perdiems.
  2. White Evangelicals have defined the metrics for what is moral vs what is ‘just the devil, and is therefore ignored.’  While they railed against gay rights and abortion at the turn of the century, they ignored the lies by a previous Christian president (Bush) that got us into war, murdered tens of thousands Iraqi civilians and mentally destroyed thousands and thousands of US servicemen and women. Clearly for them God only moral emphasis deals with who has sex with whom, and whether women keep the babies they are impregnated with, even if they are raped.  Many black ministers were given their biblical points of emphasis and marching orders by their white counterparts.  Since these white ministers are the majority that provide the gateways to get wealth, they close their eyes and ignore the obvious.
  3. Tribalism: Like most other religions, there is an US vs THEM state of mind.  If you’re not in the group, there is reticence to ask serious question and challenge any thought that doesn’t already support the status quo.  When 5 Americans were released from Iran recently, one of my Facebook friends only mentioned Christian pastor Saeed Abedini’s release as ‘an answered prayer.’  In other words, to hell with them other dudes.  I guess they’re just lucky or got to roll on the pastor’s coattail.

I’ve had conversations with black ministers.  There is only one that I know who agrees with me.  The others tell me that I am using my intellect too much.  When I challenge their ideas of traditional marriage with facts about the historical precedence of marriages being arranged for money, class, and inheritance, or how the god in the bible never challenged men who had multiple wives, even Solomon who had 700 of them along with 300 extra concubines, they say I am rejecting the word of God with my rebellious logic.  When I ask them which sex hermaphrodites should choose and who are they to marry, I get nothing but a dismissive smirk.  I’m sorry, but I just cannot accept this American Western civilization’s version of morality and base my life on it.  I cannot suspend serious questions just to make it into their heaven.  I cannot suspend critical thinking for the sake of the fear that I won’t have fire insurance. I cannot live in a bubble that ignores police brutality, and mass incarceration, while denying climate change.  I refuse to submit to a theology influenced and based on (that continues to be filled with) White Supremacy.

The Black church, while never perfect, used to be about something.  Going back to the 50s  and 60s, ministers like Martin King would use his influence to force those in government to hear the issues of the poor, those who were discriminated against and so forth.  In the tradition of Moses they echoed they cried, “Let my people go,”  when those at the bottom were being trampled upon. Today’s preachers just want to be in Pharaoh’s house. They want to rub shoulders with him and speak of his great virtues.  “He’s a billionaire and knows how to make money!”  They have become concerned with prestige and profits instead of being prophets.  These days far too many black churches have allowed themselves to be spiritually manipulated into fighting culture wars. I’ve had to debate black Christians who have defended Kim Davis for breaking the law of the Supreme Court.  And yet Kim Davis would never ever stand up for them if they were profiled and shot dead unjustly by police. She doesn’t desire to worship and associate with black Christians.  Think about it.  THE most segregated hours in America remain on Sundays between the hours of 10:00 am and Noon.

Martin Luther King Jr., with the Rev. Ralph Abernathy (center) and the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, defied an injunction against protesting on Good Friday in 1963. They were arrested and held in solitary confinement in the Birmingham jail where King wrote his famous "Letter From Birmingham Jail."

Martin Luther King Jr., with the Rev. Ralph Abernathy (center) and the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, defied an injunction against protesting on Good Friday in 1963. They were arrested and held in solitary confinement in the Birmingham jail where King wrote his famous “Letter From Birmingham Jail.”

Can you imagine Martin King, Fred Shuttlesworth and Ralph Abernathy caping up for Trump, Cruz, and Huckabee over same sex marriage, abortion and guns?

Encouraging enough, some of my Christian friends praise me for my stances and the challenges I bring to their thought process.  More of them pay attention to my social media posts than I ever imagined, though they rarely make it publicly known.  I appreciate that.  My goal is only to provoke thinking and searching.  If something is true, it will continue to be true after further investigation.  If it’s not, one should strive to grow beyond remaining in a comfortable lie.  It was very difficult for me to walk away from that which I knew my entire life.  But I am thankful to have the courage to ask questions and not be afraid of the journey.  The problem with religion is that it doesn’t trust people with that journey. It has to tell us what to do and how to find God it’s way.  It sets the perimeters and doesn’t allow for any personal discoveries.  It’s controlling.  I’ve always said that if technology progressed like religion, we would still be riding camels and horses.  We certainly wouldn’t have computers and smart phones.  Technology is growing by leaps and bounds simply because of a hunger and thirst to learn more and reach for the possibilities.  And yet everything we are supposed to know about The Divine and our own lives has been completed hundreds of years ago?  I appreciate the United Church of Christ for their slogan, “God is still speaking.”  It gives us hope.  **Shout out to Rev. Tracie deVon Blackmon, a real 21st Century warrior and an excellent example of the teachings of Christ!

I am for a faith that is concerned with promoting all that is good, that speaks out against all wrongs without any sacred cows.  A faith that isn’t too afraid to think, question, challenge and grow from it’s evolution.  A faith that loves justice, grace and kindness.  If all this Evangelical Jesus cares about are the things they emphasize, as Curtis Mayfield once said, “If there’s hell below, we’re all gonna go!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Catching Hell, Grieving the Loss of Natalie Cole

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Joey, where are you going
Where will you sleep tonight
Will you be alright?

Some people can tell you exactly where they were when certain artist have died;  Lennon, Elvis, Tupac, Michael, Teena.

I will always remember that I was in a department store when I saw the Facebook post from my friend Jerome Noble that Natalie Cole died.  When I saw the post, I took it like I have taken many tragedies initially in my life; I went into a robotic mode mentally, and shut down mode internally as a coping mechanism. I pushed away that thought that such an important figure in my life was suddenly gone and went on about my day.  I understood that as time went on I would have to grapple with it.  This is a way of attempting to start the process of doing that.

My entire life story can be described with the music I have grown up with. There are certain artist that helped shape particular aspects of my way of looking at things.  Natalie Cole was pivotal in shaping my views and perspectives on love, communication, intimacy and vulnerability.  This was before I had a single girlfriend.  Her  words and expression were what I imagined love should be.  And thus what I wanted.  Her voice alone is right up there with Aretha’s.  But if I could compartmentalize, Aretha was like that chick you heard about.  She was/is a legend that everyone knows and yet you were lucky to see live if given the chance.  Aretha is a legend.  For me, Natalie Cole, no less legendary in stature was still that chick you knew from around the way.  She lived in my neighborhood.  My family went to her house for back yard cookouts.  Through her music I felt as if I knew her personally.  Even as a child her deep and thoughtful lyrics were totally relatable.  That is amazing to me when you consider that this is a woman who grew up in a home where on any given day Sinatra, Davis Jr. Ellington, Fitzgerald, and Basie would be just hanging out with her parents.

Getting to the music, I would be remiss to not mention the brains behind the lyrics and music that Natalie gave life to.  Chuck Jackson and (former husband) Marvin Yancy were a dynamic team that brought out Natalie’s own signature style. The game changers for me were two LPs released both released in 1977, “Unpredictable,” and “Thankful.”  I listened to the former time and time again via 8 Track living in South Bend, Indiana.  My mother played it every weekend when we were doing the detailed cleaning in the house.  While the radio played hits like, “I’ve Got Love On My Mind,” I was blessed to hear the rest of the songs like, “Still In Love,” featuring a soft melodic guitar not at all common in R&B music.  Then there was “Peaceful Living,” which compared the inner workings of a loving relationship to living in a land of paradise.  “Your Eyes,” is a beautiful compliment to a man who eyes she finds so captivating, not recognizing that the man was also blind.

And here we are in utopia where the sun never seems to go away
And the moon is our friend, hmm
Looking out on a starry night and the sky is like a slate for writing on
But you don’t need a pin, you don’t need a pin
Precious one, you’re a joy to me
And I know that there’s no place else I’d rather be
Peaceful living is here

The most impactful hit on, “Unpredictable,” was “I’m Catching Hell.”  This was an anthem in which the likes of Mary J. Blige would go on to follow in the footsteps in.  Here she opens with a monologue talking to women, encouraging them not to make mountains out of mole hills when it comes to small conflicts in their relationships.  The message is simply, “If you got a good man, you’d better keep him!”  She addresses the potential resistance to her message by acknowledging that she isn’t privy to each and every situation.  But if its not a deal breaker, stick to it.  From there she sings her ass off to her man acknowledging that devastating results of her rash emotionalism leading her to put a period where a comma should have been.

If I could replay, if I could replay ,that whole scene again, oh well
You know that I would never, never say it again, that our love, our love is at its end
And oh, you know that I would kind of ease on back, yes I would
And let confusion pass on by, I took a fools’way out, oh yeah
Without one good reason why

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“Thankful,” was introduced to me in the outer suburbs of Pittsburgh, PA from my grandfather whom I visited most summers as a youth.  He had the cassette tape and played it when we rode in his 1978 creme colored fully loaded Lincoln Continental Town Car.   That car was an immaculate beast!  Whether it was around town or on road trips to Meridian, Mississippi where he was born, like “Unpredictable,” I listened intently and learned every word to every song.  “Thankful,” is nothing like “Unpredictable.”  To this day I am still amazed that she released two totally different iconic albums in one year.  Who ever does that?

You’re my morning star shining brightly beside me
And if we keep this love
We will last through all eternity

Again doing what normal R&B divas didn’t, she jazzed it up from the start with the up tempo swinging, “Lovers.”  Without pause she soon gives us a calypso ladened and poetic La Costa.  “Nothing Is Stronger Than Love,” is sang like a cross between a church service and the signature song in a Broadway play.  “Annie Mae,” is a powerful tribute to the young girls struggling with life on the streets.  Both of these albums played like an opera for me, each song a scene in the lives of my mother and other adults I looked up to; waiting to play my own part in my own life as an adult.

When I became an adult and no longer had access to my favorite Natalie Cole works, and with the release of CDs I looked for years with great displeasure learning that every piece of work she had up to that point were not released.  For some reason Capitol Records was holding out.  Eventually I found the single LaCosta on a Capitol compilation.  Then eventually I purchased both Thankful and Unpredictable three years apart from Japan.  (Thank you Ebay) Thankfully with the internet and some streaming services these songs are easily accessible.

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I find it ironic that I was recently watching an old episode of Grey’s Anatomy and noticed Natalie was playing a heart patient with little chance of living long into the future.  I am so disappointed that I never saw her perform live.

Natalie reinvented herself plenty of times.  From R&B to pop, then following in her father’s footsteps in recreating his works in Unforgettable.  Unforgettable is so amazing because she not only does the standards her father mastered, she managed to still make them totally her own.  She went on to do several classical jazz standards and her voice was always astute for the occasion.  I love those works, but it was those two 1977 releases that changed my life.  Listening to those jams last night my mood started to lighten a bit.  Instead of falling into despair, I will simply say, “Thank You for blessing me with your gifts, that voice, that heart.  You may be gone but your music will last forever in the playlist of my heart.  It would be selfish for me to ask you to stay forever.  You are allowed to take your rest for a job well done.”

When the snow falls on the Sahara, ‘And the sun freezes over,
When the Mojave red turns into blue.
When the music’s no longer playing and the faithless start praying,
I’ll stop loving you.

Your #1 Fan

 

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