God, Guts, and Guns, Part 3: Jesus Loves the Little Children

This post is part of a series. You can read part 1 here and read part 2 here.

A rural church on a nice day. Text says: "You'll find bigots anywhere, but a rural church is a good place to start.

…All the children of the world…

But once again, it seems that some people have a hard time with the definition of ALL.

Instances of racism in my early years in the Methodist church weren’t nearly as abundant or as cruel as they could have been. My mother sat on the charity committee that decided which families received a turkey and a box of food from the church for their holiday meals, and so the lower income racists of the congregation feared that offending her might result in a leaner holiday for them. Ironically, my mother would never have held their bigotry against them because Jesus told us to love our enemies. So, I was aware, every holiday season, that my mom delivered boxes of food to people who absolutely hated us.

Maybe it was my mother’s unrelenting dedication to showing Christ’s love by example, but somewhere along the line, it became cemented in my brain that I, too, had to be a good example, not just as a Christian, but as a Christian of color. It was up to me (and my family) to change the small minds of our small town. Once, when a little racist girl from my school attended the Vacation Bible School class that my mom taught—and had really good time—I was excited that, “Maybe we changed their minds, and I’ll be allowed to go to her parties now.”

How naïve I was!

Racism and bigotry are antithetical to the teachings of Christ. Yet, I remember a number of occasions on which my mother had to wipe my tears and reassure me of that, because someone suggested that someone I loved was going to Hell. Not because of anything they did, but because they were part of a certain marginalized community, or not a Christian, or simply not the right kind of Christian. People had no problem suggesting that my dad wasn’t going to be in Heaven with me. Of course, it was chalked up to his being Catholic and not attending church and having nothing at all to do with the color of his skin, but a few of my white friends’ dads didn’t go to church with them, and no one told my white friends that their daddies weren’t going to Heaven. Or the time a Vacation Bible School teacher told me that my Mormon cousins were part of a cult and needed to find the real Jesus or—you guessed it—Hell. Or when my uncle died, and they whispered that he was most certainly in Hell because he was a gay man who died of AIDS. Never mind that he was one of the kindest souls that you’d have ever wanted to meet, a bit of a trickster, and exactly the kind of uncle I wish I’d had in my life for much longer.

My mother always made sure I knew, “That hatred is their twisted belief and misunderstanding of God, but it’s not true. We don’t believe that.” And I know that on a few occasions, she went to the sources of the nonsense and told them to watch what kind of crap they said to me. Still, the sheer number of times I had to be convinced that it was only a few, fringe bad apples suggested to me that the fringe was bigger than I was being led to believe. Eventually, my mom realized it, too.

Unfortunately, when the general toxicity got bad enough that we started trying other churches, and my mother no longer held the keys to the charity chest, I got to learn just how racist the white evangelicals in our little rural valley really were. 

The crown jewel was being told that I shouldn’t even exist. A “pro-lifer” told me that in my case, abortion would have been okay because mixed-race children are an abomination. Of course, it was twisted to sound like love, that God forbade race mixing for our own good because He doesn’t want us to suffer the hatred that mixed-race children face. Apparently, it’s easier to ask mixed-race kids not to exist at all than it is to ask vile racists not to be vile racists.

Turns out, micro-aggressions were the best-case scenario and a sign of acceptance. White kids looking to me to lead them in song and dance any time “Lean On Me” was played (because that’s obviously my thang), was a better experience than worshipping on Sunday next to people who attacked me with the N-word Monday through Friday at school.

Not in your church! Why, you’ve never heard any of this hateful stuff before! Well, let me ask you: Are you white? Are you straight? Was there ever any reason or occasion for you to have had to hear it? Because I assure you: Yes, in your church.

For the record, I know that #NotAllChristians are bigots. I personally know quite a few good Christians with proven records of calling out and standing against the hatred they see in their churches and communities, because they know that’s what Jesus would do. I’ve read numerous articles published recently (from both religious and secular publications), about Christians of all flavors taking stands against bigotry of all flavors. I’ve worshipped side by side with Christians who truly believe that Jesus loves all the children of the world—no matter their race, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity. ALL.

But I have to wonder, if I hadn’t grown up mixed-race in a sea of white people, if my family hadn’t been so diverse, if I hadn’t been told that so many of the people that I loved the most were going to Hell, would I have ever questioned any of the other evangelical beliefs that caused so much harm? Would I have ever gotten out?

I shudder to think that if I’d ever felt truly accepted in the white evangelical community, I might still be one of them.

Next: God, Guts, and Guns, Part 4: Where Do We Go From Here?