THE BONFIRE OF INTOLERANCE

This week I have watched a misguided pastor in Gainesville, Florida, take the media hostage by exercising his right to his Freedom of Speech. What this man has reminded me is that Freedom of Speech is every American’s right even if that right gives an ignorant, intolerant person an opportunity to spread their ignorance. He’s also reminded me that sometimes, the freedom to shut my mouth is sometimes much more important and impactful.

Given that, I’m going to exercise my Freedom of Speech right now. 

Another freedom that Pastor Terry also, by exercising his freedom of speech, is, indeed, drawing attention to is some Christians’ double standard of Freedom of Religion. Many Christians jump on their religious soapboxes to laud their freedom as Christians to do whatever they want to in the name of God, then cry out in horror when another religion wants to exercise the same right. Freedom of Religion is freedom for ALL religions (regardless of what some may say the original intent was) and Christians in America are going to have to get over that fact.  If Christians in America feel their freedoms are being attacked, maybe, in retrospect, they might see they did that to themselves by acting as if Freedom of Religion was all about them all these years.

Some may be unwilling to say this out loud, but in our lifetime, America has ceased to be a “Christian” country.  Without going off on a tangent about the reasons this has happened, I’m going to point out one: I believe misguided, intolerant Christians exercising their Freedom of Speech are in part to blame. If someone on the journey of seeking God, continually sees these “representatives of God” spewing hate, showing up at soldier’s funerals with banners saying, “God hates fags,” and blaming earthquakes on voodoo and hurricanes on homosexuals, it’s no wonder that so many people, even if they believe in God, no longer want to have anything to do with organized religion in America.  I teeter on that abyss all the time.

We are a society driven by media, so it’s no wonder that the pastors with the microphones in their hand and the the ones with the most outrageous notions and ideas are the face of Christianity in America. The bonfire of intolerance and ignorance is burning higher each day and I cringe at the thought of it blowing up into irreparable ashes because people couldn’t exercise their right not to speak. I honestly think these people believe, again misguidedly, that God needs them to say and do all these crazy things on his behalf so they’ll see that he is…God.

I am reminded of my days in journalism class when I was challenged often by my wonderful teacher, Bonnie Shipman, to exercise my right of Freedom of Speech, but to also be prepared for the consequences of that action.

I don’t think Pastor Terry thought, when he sought to burn the Quaran, that General Petraeus and the US Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, would be calling him, begging him to think of what the image of the Muslim’s Holy book burning being blasted throughout the Middle East would do to the safety of those overseas fighting for his right to say whatever the heck he wants in the name of God on television and in the newspaper.  I think he honestly believes he is honoring God by hosting a good old-fashioned book burning.

I don’t believe anyone will come to saving faith through this pastor’s actions. In fact, what I do think will happen are bad things. Very bad, unloving, un-Christlike things. Protests have already begun in Afghanistan. People have already been killed. The outrage has already begun and one Quaran is yet to be burned… or not burned. Stay tuned.

I can’t say I’ve never said anything stupid or hateful over the years in the name of God. For those of you who have heard me say those things or have been hurt by them, I beg your forgiveness. Those things were drawn from the well of having yet to understand that God is big enough to handle Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion. I think I finally have a better understanding of who God is and that what God does and does not do… is bigger than me.

I’ve learned so much from my diverse pool of friends, be they atheist, Buddhist, liberal, Jewish, Muslim, gay, straight, lesbian or a mixture of some or all of those things and more… mostly how to get along with people who don’t think or live like I do (and if you bother to get to know people, sometimes you find out they DO think like you do – amazing!). It’s a lesson I unfortunately did not learn early on in my exclusive pool of conservative, Christian only, friends. 

Please don’t get me wrong. I love my Christian friends and I am in community with some of the greatest Christian hearts and minds around. I simply believe that if I am to walk where Jesus walked, that means hanging out and walking through places a lot of Christians just flat out refuse to go – with the people being hit with the weight of hateful, intolerant actions and words spewn by people who claim to be followers of Christ.  I don’t believe I can grow in my faith if I’m not challenged to examine what I believe every once in a while and learn to love people in spite of myself.

By the way, if it’s not too late, I’d like to shout from the rooftops:  people like Pastor Terry DO NOT SPEAK FOR THE MAJORITY OF CHRISTIANS!   …which means the rest of us need to start opening our mouths or better yet, reaching out to people, not to counteract one man’s ignorance, but to show people what Jesus is really about – loving our neighbors, which, I know some of you won’t like this – that means our Muslim neighbors, our gay and lesbian neighbors, our Jewish neighbors, and every type of neighbor that just came flooding to your mind that made you think, “eww…” or “no way!”

Yes. Them, too.

I think Time columnist Tim Padgett (who coined bonfire of intolerance) summed up my feelings for the week:

So what can American Christians outraged by Jones’ hatefulness do? Stop by a local mosque today and wish the people well as they celebrate ‘Id al-Fitr, the end of the holy month of Ramadan (and try one of the great sweets). Or for that matter, wish Jewish people well as they celebrate the High Holy Days that began Wednesday evening with Rosh Hashanah. But most of all, remember how lousy it felt this week when the world equated you with Terry Jones.

While Terry Jones has made me angry this week, I also need to remember his right to do and say whatever he wants is protected, even now, by the people he is setting up to be attacked because of his actions this week.  I’ve seen some comments by people wishing him ill and just take a deep breath and realize being a hater back to him isn’t a Christlike answer either.

It all boils down to this:  If I believe everything I just said, I have to be tolerant of Terry Jones.

Dang, this practicing what I preach thing sure isn’t easy, but worthwhile endeavors rarely are.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Meg says:

    So beautifully put, Shae. You are, without a doubt, the most Christian Christian I've ever met.

  2. Matthew says:

    Love it Shae. As one of your Christian friends, you know how I feel about this. As Christian's it is not our job to show hate. It is, on the contrary, our responsibility to show love to our community just as Jesus did. You are right that it is the Pastor's right speak freely, but it is not right for him to speak on my behalf or for any other Christian for that matter. I just don't understand how someone can take the same bible that I see as a collection of love stories, poetry, and testimony of God's sacrifice for us, and intepret it to the point of hatred. To all of my non-Christian friends, please know that I love you. There is not any hate from my side of Christianity. Don't judge me based on the idiot zealots that claim they represent me.

  3. Toemailer says:

    Lots of good thoughts there and thanks for sharing!

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