It seems a troubling day when a pop artist notoriously prone to outrageous acts of theatricality becomes the voice of reasoned Christianity. But, that’s where we appear to be.
After a recent story printed in the New York Times regarding the current Vice President’s wife working at a Christian school that bans LBGTQ students and teachers (according to Snopes.com the school requires employees to affirm in writing that they will not engage in homosexual acts or have a transgender identity, while it also reserves the right to refuse to admit or expel students if those students or their parents support, condone, promote or engage in homosexual acts), Lady Gaga took a moment during a performance in Las Vegas to declare:
To Mike Pence, who thinks that it’s acceptable that his wife works at a school that bans LGBTQ, you’re wrong. You’re the worst representation of what it means to be a Christian. . . . I am a Christian woman, and what I do know about Christianity is that we bear no prejudice, and everybody is welcome. So you can take all that disgrace, Mr. Pence, and look yourself in the mirror and you’ll find it right there. [USA Today, 1/21/19]
Franklin Graham rushed in to side with the Pences, tweeting that Lady Gaga’s statement was “misguided and inappropriate.”
This whole unfortunate episode brought to my mind my own experience of Christianity, the Church, and the local church—and how incredibly important it is to feel welcome. I’ve been thinking especially of my own childhood and my early teen years, when I wore thick coke-bottle eyeglasses on my face. I had lots of braces on my very crooked teeth. I was described by my teachers as “painfully shy.” I had few friends.
While I was a generic straight white girl from the suburbs of Boston, and never felt inclined toward anything related to LBGTQ, etc., I still often felt like an outsider, someone who just didn’t fit in anywhere.
At church, though, I found my place, a sense of myself as a beloved child of God. I encountered lots of people who could see beyond my glasses and braces and my introverted style—including adults and other teenagers. By the time I was a sophomore in high school, I was spending a great deal of time at church—teaching Sunday School and as a very active youth group member.
Church was where I discovered a lived experience of faith, where those Sunday School lessons of loving God and neighbor and welcoming the outsider became real. They were not just words. They became a way of life, and how relationships and friendships were formed.
It wasn’t perfect by a long shot. I remember, for instance, the youth group leader criticizing our sometimes very harsh nicknames for each other. In retrospect, I’ll admit that he had a point. We were sometimes mean to each other and to those outside of our group.
But, still, there were lots of incredible, wonderful moments of grace, and opportunities where, in very real ways, I experienced love and welcome that I experienced nowhere else. By the time I graduated from high school, I had lots of friends and I was no longer described as painfully shy. And, more than that, I had learned to love myself while learning the value of sharing that experience and knowledge with others in how I would live my life.
How could anyone want to keep that sort of experience from other people, especially young people? How could anyone want to horde that sort of love just for themselves and only for those who are like them? How could any school that calls itself Christian devise such a restrictive statement about who can be a part of their so-called “Christian” community?
Does the school where Karen Pence teaches also ban tattoos (Leviticus 19:28), discourage marriage (1 Corinthians 7:8,25,32-34), and dictate proper hair length (1 Corinthians 11:14-15)? I doubt it.
Christians who pick and choose those whom to welcome, who seek to reject and marginalize those who don’t quite fit into the majority group, make, as Lady Gaga declared, a big mistake. And, so much more. Christians ought to be about the work of welcome and inclusion, of seeking out the marginalized and helping them to experience love and acceptance.
Is Mr. Pence the “worst representation of what it means to be Christian”? I’m not sure I would go quite that far. But, he and the many other “Christians” who share his views need to realize the harm they do to others, as well as themselves, in declaring some people deserving of God’s love and others not, or some people’s behavior deserving of God’s love and others not. It is their attitude that is “misguided and inappropriate.” And, they also harm the Church, the institution that is called to share the love of Christ with the world—not just with some, but with all.