Cook: The church that stole Jesus

Cook: The church that stole Jesus

August 21st, 2013 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

I wish someone would stampede in, overturn your tables and drive the homophobic madness from your pulpit. Exorcise you.

Do you not see the damage you're doing?

Can you not hear the broken hearts falling to the floor all around you?

What you're doing is not Christian. It never will be. Packs of wolves are more compassionate than this.

"The unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God," reads Corinthians, which then provides a list of the unrighteous: the immoral, idolaters, adulterers.

And homosexuals.

With that very verse, (while ignoring thousands of others that instruct you quite differently) you crushed the heart of a family that has been part of your church for generations.

For more than 60 years, Linda Cooper and her family have been attending Ridgedale Church of Christ. Linda's daughter, Detective Kat Cooper, is gay, and a pioneer and hero. Thanks to her, the city of Collegedale became the first city in Tennessee to offer same-sex benefits to employees.

But you knew that. She started going to your church when she was knee-high to her grandfather, who used to clean the church pews with little Kat nearby.

No longer.

What did Kat's mother do that was so criminal?

So sinful?

She loved her daughter. Her gay daughter.

Because of that, some of your church leaders (not the congregation, mind you, which I hear is big-hearted in many ways) handed down to Kat's family a spiritual Sophie's Choice: repent publicly or leave the church altogether.

"Last Sunday, they were told that because they supported me and they unconditionally loved me even though I was gay, that either they could stop and not support my lifestyle and ask for forgiveness in front of the entire congregation or they could leave," Kat told reporter Kevin Hardy.

Kat's family wasn't rainbow-flag marching through church property or cross-dressing in Sunday School. All her mother did was sit beside her, publicly, while the city leaders deliberated about same- sex benefits.

Some newspapers and TV stations published pictures of this, along with a brief interview.

That was all it took.

(Why not just stone her for it?)

God tells -- and tells and tells -- me to be slow to anger and quick to forgive, and I'm not doing a good job of that here.

Because I am so stinking tired of the love of God -- so large it makes the five oceans look like a teaspoon -- being turned into a monstrous distortion, suffocating like an iron maiden and punitive like a parole board.

You're not the only ones doing it. Kat's wife has also been spiritually blacklisted and shamed, all in the name of God.

One day, I wish you'd take the time to survey the landscape of wreckage. Search high and low for a bucket large enough to hold all the tears shed. Put your hands on all the wounds. Count and keep counting until you reach a number high enough to document the line of gay Americans (and those that love them) whose hearts and faith have been crushed by Christian homophobia.

One author said it like this: You've stolen Jesus.

"The real Jesus ... was not about asserting power, judging, or destroying. He was about love," writes Bruce Bawer in "Stealing Jesus: How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity".

Those verses? Plenty of Biblical scholars interpret them different from you. St. Paul, they say, was talking about lust, Roman sexual aggression and male rape.

But the Bible can be read in many ways, with scholars ready at each turn to support multiple interpretations. So what do we do?

Bawer reminds us of Huck Finn, the Twain protagonist who once sat wrestling with his demons. He'd just helped his friend Jim -- a slave -- find freedom, and was suddenly haunted by the voices of the preachers and lawmen who said he had done the wrong thing.

In his conscience, Huck was then terrified: Did he help save Jim at the cost of his eternal soul?

After all, preachers and lawmen used plenty of Bible verses to uphold and promote slavery. After all, Huck was breaking the law and violating church doctrine.

But Huck's rebellious heart won out. He stayed loyal to Jim, even if it cost him his soul in the process.

"All right, then, I'll go to hell," he famously said.

Like Huck, we have to walk away from the false idol of strict literalism, and instead trust-fall into a God that doesn't know how to do anything but love.

You want a good example of what that looks like?

Go find the Coopers, the ones you just kicked out of church.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.