Growing up a lot of sermons were the same: How we were all awful and depraved and terrible people who God pretty much hated and couldn’t even look at because we were so gross but because he had killed Jesus (because of us) we were kind of acceptable and maybe even loved but only if we got our shit together and stopped doing all of the really terrible things that made God hate us. You know, the terrible things like… being born and existing.
I would hear sermons like this and just feel awful. I would look at my life and pick out all of the places where I had screwed up. But the thing was I was a little kid who went to a private Christian school and had no siblings. I didn’t lie or cheat or steal. I didn’t curse. I didn’t really do much of anything wrong.
Sure, sometimes I was rebellious or disobedient. Sometimes I was jealous of my best friend who had all of the coolest name brand toys because I didn’t because my family couldn’t afford them. I maybe didn’t pray enough or read my Bible enough or witness to other people enough.
But seriously, I was the kind of kid who, when I was sent to my room as punishment, would lay on my bed and stare at the ceiling even though there were shelves of toys and books. Why? Because it was supposed to be a punishment and I was trying to do it right. True story.
So why did God hate me so much? Either I was totally fucking things up without even realizing it OR God was pretty capricious and holding a lot of stuff against me, a little kid.
(I don’t need anyone commenting about “original sin” or “Adam and Eve” or any of that. I know the reasoning behind the conservative theology. The thing is, that reasoning? Still makes God a ginormous bully.)
Was the time I talked back to my parents really worth the death of Jesus? Like for real? That one backtalk made me so vile to God that God had to butcher his own kid? Cause like, that’s a pretty disturbing picture of God, you know?
Why all of this focus on how awful we all were? Why were almost all of the sermons about how we needed to do better, to try harder, to suck less? Why was everything centered in how bad things were? Why were there no sermons about how things were good but could be even better? How because of our faith we could change the world in positive ways? I’m sure some of it was about control: If we were constantly in need of saving then we were easier to control because the minister had the hook up.
But I think there might be something even deeper going on:
I’m beginning to wonder if the reason all of these conservative pastors teach about how awful people are all the time is because they themselves are awful. Because all of these pastors? They are cisgender, white men. And presumably (though probably not in actuality) they are straight white cisgender men.
And straight cisgender white men have been brought up in a world where they just get to do whatever they want. They get to treat other people however they want. They have all of the power. And when you have unchecked power, sometimes it corrupts you. Sometimes it corrodes your soul. Sometimes it makes you pretty awful. You have to really work to fight it. Because when you are taught you can get away with anything you start to do anything you want. And maybe when these men found Jesus they figured out that there should be some limits on their behavior (because they understand, somewhat, that following Jesus means being counter cultural) but they don’t know how to set those limits because they’ve never had limits set for them. So they project their own ability to set personal limits onto everyone around them and assume that everyone has the same struggles they do. And they also misunderstand what being counter cultural means. Instead of seeing it as meaning they should treat women and marginalized people with respect they instead see it as being strict about how women should dress and how marginalized people should behave. It becomes one more method to control other people instead of to change themselves.
Because I’m pretty sure the reason Mike Pence feels like he shouldn’t be alone with women has less to do with the women and a whole hell of a lot more to do with Mike Pence and how he feels about himself (and how he feels about women and how they deserve to be treated).
Like maybe the reason all of these men criticize how women dress is because they have never learned (and don’t care to learn) to respect women. Or the reason they say that men can’t control themselves is because they don’t want to control themselves or be held responsible for their own actions. Or the reason they say LGBTQ people should just change themselves and be straight is because they can’t understand why anyone would ever want to not be like them: and have those positions of power.
But the way I see it? If you don’t want to be a terrible person, you don’t be a terrible person. It’s not that hard.
And if you feel like you are a selfish asshole maybe it has nothing to do with your sin nature and everything to do with your own flawed personality. So instead of blaming it on Satan and claiming that if it weren’t for Jesus you’d be a raping mass murderer (which, like, WHAT?!??! and also, that is a real thing that I have heard from male pastors) maybe you should find a legit therapist and work out some of these seriously deep seated misogyny and violence that is running through your life and is rooted in your soul.
And stop preaching sermons about how we’re all wretched because maybe, just maybe, it’s you.