Bill Maher makes a good case for the idea that Christians are judgmental hypocrites. I know it is a good case because so many people use it as the basis for their relationship to the church. It is the reason many people I know who used to go to church don’t anymore. The argument is plastered between the lines of Pew Research Polls, and even ordained Elders in the United Methodist Church find themselves on the ropes defending congregations whose attitudes towards the poor, the disreputable, and the criminal better line up with the attitudes of the Economy than they do with Paul (Romans 2).
On the one hand we Christians publicly denounce Muslims such as Malala Yousafzai and Eboo Patel as violent people who adhere to a violent religion, while on the other we are more supportive of torture as a tool of national security than non-religious people. We proclaim an ethic of life while supporting church policies that shame people into closets, prisons, and suicide because we can’t wrap our prudish minds around intimacies that are not our own.
Hypocrisy really is not too difficult to prove.
But what about the judgmental part?
Over the course of our history, The United Methodist Church has made headlines while wrangling whether we are guilty of heterosexism or guilty of failing to sanctify sexual sin. We have held trials, requested declaratory rulings from our Judicial Council, and processed a variety of complaints in attempts at what we call “just resolutions.” People in these processes are accompanied by counsel and, in the case of trials, there are even juries and rulings by precedent. While members of the church swing widely between those who want to see church law evenly applied and upheld and those who believe some laws are unjust and must be confronted with civil disobedience, the whole of the church seems to believe deeply in the rule of law.
Our whole method of accountability is built on judgment.
The Rev. Anna Blaedel here in Iowa is undergoing just such a process of official judgment. A few months ago, some people here in Iowa decided they had to “complain” about Reverend Blaedel, and our Bishop, Julius Trimble, decided that complaint had merit. I presume the complaint was made and received because there are a couple of sentences in our book of church law that say Anna Blaedel, an out, partnered, queer clergyperson, is incapable of bearing fruit, of shining Christ, of discipling others, or of being entrusted to care for the souls of those people the denomination appoints under their charge.
Which is all well in good, except that those statements are demonstrably false. Whether or not our book says they can, I have witnessed Anna Blaedel balming broken souls. Whether or not our book says they can, I have witnessed Anna Blaedel’s teaching inspire others to commit to a life in Christ. Whether or not our book says they can, I have experienced the passage of Grace through Anna Blaedel’s hands into my own flagging spirit and faith.
The Reverend Anna Blaedel is one of those rare, shining souls whose very presence breathes peace and wholeness. They live a life of faithful dedication and unwavering discipline. They exude Holy Spirit. I knew Anna by name before I ever met them. I knew they were brave, kind, compassionate, authentic, deliberate and special simply by the ripples they left in their wake; from their parents, from my husband, from the children at Collegiate United Methodist Church in Ames, from members of the Osage First United Methodist Church. Over and over and over again, Anna is described as a “beautiful” soul, and that soul ignites and rekindles faith, hope, love, joy, compassion, peacefulness, patience, generosity and kindness in others.
What is that if not fruit? What is that if not ministry? What is that if not a God-given Gift, and what does it mean that the United Methodist Church wants to cast that Giftedness out of its circles?
Bill Maher would say it means we are judgmental hypocrites.
But you know what? Finally, I don’t think it is that we are judgmental, even if we are hypocrites. I think it is that we fear Judgment. People who are filled with faith and the Holy Spirit shine on us, and in that shining, our own meannesses and cruelties become visible. What we thought was our loving is shown to be conditional contracts where we exchange power and control. What we thought was our generosity is shown to be mere grudging pity. What we thought was our hopefulness is a thin veneer of sentiment layered over fear.
It is their shining that exposes our nakedness and it is our own flawed relationship with Christ that has us cowering in fear. John said it,
“The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” (NASB)
“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” (NIV)
In many ways, the whole of John’s Gospel spins the story of how desperate people are to escape that Light, to stay out of its beam. So desperate they took their hammers and nails and saws and baseball bats to tear it down and smash it to bits. What makes us think we are any different than those people in John’s Gospel? What makes us think we are immune to the fear? That we are ready and able and happy to stand in Christ’s Shining?
I don’t think it is in judgment that we are casting out our Anna Blaedels. I do not think we are even doing it because we actually deem them unworthy. I think we are casting them out because we deem ourselves unworthy. We do not hate them because we see some kind of darkness in their living. We hate them because we cast shadows in their light.