Do You Worship Paul or Jesus?
They’ve come to be known as the Christian Karens, those who repeatedly respond in the comments on my social media posts and videos with scripture as if it is the ultimate smackdown. (Hint — it isn’t).
Yet it repeatedly happens, several times each day in fact. The verses are always the same: the ones that have been interpreted to condemn homosexuality, women in ministry, and people who seek a spiritual path outside the construct of evangelical Christianity. That last part you read right, because Christian Karens believe their religious way is the only way, and their interpretation of scripture is the only way to interpret it.
Let’s leave the Karens to their own path, because we all know they aren’t going anywhere. They’re refueled each Sunday by a theology that convinces them they are the gatekeepers of spirituality for the rest of us. We know better, don’t we? For we are indeed the keepers of our spirituality, so come — let us focus on our own empowerment by looking at these “smackdown scriptures” so they may be a balm for your healing instead of the source of your wounding.
It’s inarguable that the Apostle Paul was a passionate and prolific writer, although several books in the Bible attributed to him were no doubt written by others. His strong opinions on women in leadership, homosexuality and rules of order for church communities have prompted many Pauline followers to use his teachings as the foundation of their faith, prompting keyboard warriors to drop scriptures in comments as if the argument begins and ends with Paul’s writings. It is not uncommon even among the “modern” evangelical churches, where the rock band-style worship team and the pastor in jeans are intentional to invoke a feel of liberal theology (Another hint: it is not) to strictly adhere to the “no women ordained” and “no LGBTQ+ people in membership” theology — all based on Paul’s letters to the emerging churches as they struggled with organization and leadership.
This hyper-focus on Pauline theology is not anything new. The marriage of Christianity to monarchies and politics happened generations ago, benefited by Paul’s writings that demanded obedience to a higher spiritual authority. This acquiescing to church authority with silent submission benefits the church when all that is required is a quick reference to Paul’s writings, and the debate — if there ever truly was one — is over. A recent example of this is when Hillsong’s mega-pastor Brian Houston masterfully shut down rumors about Hillsong NYC being LGBTQ+ affirming when he said, “My personal view on the subject of homosexuality would line up with most traditionally held Christian views. I believe the writings of Paul are clear on this subject.”
And just like that, the conversation is over, that is at least is Brian Houston is concerned. But is it really? I know from my own experience when church leaders would respond with this type of “end of discussion” comment, it only left me frustrated, feeling as if I had once again been dismissed as being a troublemaker for not submitting to church authority.
Paul’s writings, however, were written in a time when women had few rights, and society bears little resemblance to our society today. I’m often left completely confounded by this ridiculous notion that we here in the 21st century should be held captive to a man writing in the 1st century, especially when there is compelling evidence that Paul’s words have been distorted to affirm a homophobic agenda.
There are so many layers to this conversation that to adequately address them would take a book. Perhaps someday that is exactly what I will do.
But for this day, Beloved, your healing balm comes in knowing these things:
→ You cannot prevent people from believing what they believe. That should not be your end-game. People have a right to their beliefs, even when they believe that your beliefs are flawed or your soul is in peril.
→ You do have the right to live unimpeded by those beliefs, free to be who you are even if it doesn’t align with another’s beliefs. That means that human rights should always take precedence over religious beliefs, and religion should never be the filter through which this nation is governed.
→ You have the right to know exactly what your spiritual community believes. There is a difference between “loving” someone and “affirming” someone as equal to and deserving of the same benefits within that spiritual community. If your church will not answer your questions directly, then they are most likely hiding a homophobic, racist or sexist culture to fill the pews and keep the tithes coming.
→ Jesus affirmed women in leadership.
→ Jesus never mentions anything about homosexuality. Ever. If it was the major issue that evangelical Christians have made it out to be, Jesus would have most assuredly said something.
→ There will always be someone attempting to gatekeep your humanity. Always. Your focus shouldn’t be on changing their mind, but instead finding the people who unabashedly and unconditionally celebrate the authenticity of who you are, regardless of where you were born, the color of your skin, who you love, or your sexual or gender authenticity.
Ending this with where we began — the Christian Karens. Yes, Beloved. They will always be here.
They have no power over you.
Focus your gaze beyond them.
See us here, waving at you, beckoning you to join us out here where love awaits.
Keep your eyes on those who love you.
Keep your eyes on us.
Keep your eyes on me.
We’re waiting to celebrate you.