I grew up in an AG (Assembly of God) church. I was taught that all people without Christ are going to hell. Trained how to “win” all unbelievers to Christ. Was taught to speak in tongues, which often involved being slain in the spirit, rolling around on the floor, and or running around the church. As I child, I often felt like God wasn’t within me, and I would do the things I saw other kids and adults doing to win #acceptance and approval from my Mother, and her peers. I was taught to judge, and reject those who believed differently than I had been taught to believe. That most people were without God, and destined for an eternity of damnation, and suffering.
When I was in my early twenties, I began traveling the world, and quickly became exposed to many other world views and religions. Although my own faith had been something I’d struggled with for quite some time, it steadily became apparent to me that I believed differently than I had been trained. Years later, I can unashamedly profess that I remain a person of faith, but a faith I have arrived to on my own experiences, studies, convictions, and what I believe to be a natural desire to do what is right, no matter the cost. I’m not a professing Christian any longer, but remain close with many believers, was married in a traditional Christian ceremony, and acknowledge and value many biblical principles as true. Of course I’ve also discovered that most of those values are consistent among most of the mainstream religions, which was a bit of a surprise I must admit.
Our World in recent years has been plagued by the division that difference brings. Different faiths, race, world views, cultures, and in some cases values. I’m particularly bothered by the amount of fear, hate, and bigotry that so many Muslims endure outside of the Middle East. I’ve traveled to the Middle East, specifically, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Yemen, Bahrain, Turkey, Oman, Kuwait, and Egypt (technically North Africa, but a Muslim country.) In all my travels, not once have I ever been afraid of being an American in a Muslim country, even when I was in Bahrain a week before a riot broke out, or in Egypt, three days after the US ambassador was killed in Libya, and there were so called riots all over Egypt. In fact, we drove by one of the riots, and it was underwhelming to say the least. I’m in no way making light of the terrible acts that terrorists are responsible for, and the killings of innocent people. However, unlike most Americans, I have at least a dozen Muslim friends, some of which are Americans. What’s most interesting is that they call a terrorist the same thing I call them; a terrorist, because terrorism has no religion.
I often feel like I’m not doing enough. Look, let’s be clear, if I felt as if someone’s religion or world view put me and/or my family at risk, I would respond defensively. I’m no fool. However, I really feel as if so few are asking the right questions, but instead are just jumping on the no toll bandwagon. Sadly, I think that most, on both sides of the argument are just not bothered enough by what’s wrong to stand up for what is right. The attitude is, hey, “you stay out of my way, and I’ll stay out of yours.” It’s only the radicals and lunatics in the World that have a voice, because it’s the only thing the media will report on.
Think about this. Young black men are killing each other by the thousands each and every year, and our government and society are allowing it to happen. The solution is simple; education and opportunity. School shootings are happening so frequently now that most feel it’s not if it will happen again, but when. The solution is simple; better controls on gun ownership, which may included psychological exams. Gay men and women are being brutally attacked, bullied, and killed for loving a person of the same sex. No one needs to “understand” this, they just need to #accept it. Homosexuality isn’t a trend. The point is, there is never a reason to resort to violence in the name of any God, or world view. Every man, woman, and child, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation has just as much right to their next breath as you or I do. And this I believe is the answer. For each of us to resign to what we think we know about God, religion, or particularly our neighbor, and start finding out for ourselves what’s on the inside of strangers. I’m confident if humans so desired; we’d find much more sameness than difference in every stranger and friend alike.
When watching movies like Milk, Selma, Remember the Titans, I’m overwhelmed with a sense of grief, and responsibility to stand up for what I believe is right, and as simple as it is, I do believe in “live and let live,” but most of all, I believe in “love and let love.”
I don’t think stoning women who commit adultery is justifiable, nor do I think thousands of America’s youth killing each other is necessary. I don’t think slaughtering Jews or native Americans was something any God would have ordered. I think above all, the problem remains, the ignorance of weak men, and the fear in those who have the power to change the World, one mind at a time. Have I changed yours? You have the power to do the same.
#acceptance | http://www.acceptance.org
When I was four years old, I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior. This is of course what I was told anyway, because I certainly don’t remember it. I do remember however vaguely a time when I was about ten or twelve feeling compelled to recommit my life to Christ. It was very emotional, as was most experiences in my church growing up. Many people cried during worship, and then after the preacher was finished with his thrashing, everyone one go to the alter for 15-20 minutes to pray, and cry, and in some cases speak in tongues, or perhaps be slain in the spirit. If you’ve never attended a service in a Pentecostal or Assemblies of God church, this may all sound very foreign to you, but for me, growing up, it was very normal.
I was taught not to lie, cheat, steal, curse, drink, dance, lust, among many other things that were thought to displease God. So, I worked very hard to be a “good Christian,” by following these teachings, and many others that I understood at the time to be “the Truth” and what would lead to an eternity in paradise with our God and Savior.
Over the past ten years, I have experienced a great deal of spiritual evolution. In other words, most of what I believed to be true as a child and young adult, I no longer believe to be true. Specifically, and most disrupting to most, especially those close to me, or who have strong Christian convictions; I don’t believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to Heaven, which disallows me to profess Christianity as my religion of choice. Before you judge, please understand that for me to say that has required a death of my own faith, years of soul searching, traveling the World, hundreds of hours of study, research, discussion, and prayer. In other words, it’s a much bigger deal for me to say that and mean it, than to be concerned about the consequences of doing so. In other Words, don’t email me, call me, or pray for me in hope that I will return to the Faith. I’m happy, whole, and convicted in my own belief system. Keep reading, and you may be surprised that we’re not as different as you think.
Very simply, I believe that if what the Bible says is true; that no man will enter Heaven that has not accepted Christ, the rest of it questionable. The acceptance of Christ as God in the flesh, and Savior of the World is the most important and most fundamental part of the religion, which is what so many overlook, and so few truly understand.
If you ask most Christians the question; “Do you believe that if someone doesn’t accept Christ, they will go to hell?,” their answer will be “no,” or “probably not,” or “I’m not sure.” The reality is that the Bible is very clear; death and eternal damnation. This is where I draw the line, as it would mean that every friend I have that is a Muslim, Hindu, Jew, Mormon (yes I said Mormon,) or of any other religious flavor is going to hell, which I think is ridiculous.
Although I would very much enjoy providing life experience, logic, historical evidence, and opinion to support my position, I will just say that I very much agree with Mark Twain when he said; “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.
I’m not arguing Jesus’ existence, or the fact that he was and is to this very day, the most influential person who has ever walked this Earth. Jesus was in fact, a Badass by anyone’s account, including religious leaders and scholars of many other faiths and religions.
I aspire to be like Jesus, and can’t imagine why anyone in the World wouldn’t want to do the same. He was kind, compassionate, selfless, generous, and exemplified true Love and Acceptance. I’m grateful for many of the things I learned as a result of growing up in Church, and I’m equally grateful for God giving me a mind and a will of my own, that has allowed me to remain curious, and develop my own set of beliefs, that stem from experience and personal conviction.
All religions; there are thousands, require Faith, not just Christianity. My challenge to those of you, who call yourselves Christians, is to open your eyes and your hearts to those around you who believe differently than you. You don’t have to agree with us, but the World would certainly be a better place if we all could learn to accept others as they are. Standing up for what you believe, doesn’t mean forcing those around you to lie down. Jesus invented Christianity, disrupted the World’s religious community, told everyone he was God, and never raised his voice, or his hand. He hung out with tax collectors, lepers, and whores, only to be later hung on a cross. I’m not making this up, it’s in your Bible. Let your life be your witness, not your tongue.