Why ‘Jesus Loves Me’ Doesn’t Make Any Damn Sense
The gap between what we say we believe and how we live is often tragically stunning. I’ve explored different religious traditions to a lesser or greater degree before returning, to my own surprise, to a reclaimed version of Christianity, so I understand that this gap is most definitely not confined to any single tradition. I wish that were the case. It would make it so much easier to avoid, well externally anyway; of course we retain our individual proclivity for this behavior ourselves – our unfortunate bond of human nature. Americanized, Santa Fe/Sedona-style Eastern religion-lite (heavy on accessories, light on transformation) and new-agers (same ol’ ego) are at least as likely to mumble a sanskrit greeting while passing hateful judgement and practicing exclusion as are mainstream religionists are to tell you that God loves you while hating you in every practical way. And therein lies the rub, doesn’t it? What in the ‘h’-‘e’-double hockey sticks does it matter to any of us that God loves us while what we feel and experience from each other is exactly the opposite of love?
I can speak best about Christianity because, despite my pit stops in other traditions, it remains the source of my greatest abuse and my greatest hope and life’s blessing. Goodness knows I’ve witnessed progress, an opening of love in the tradition; the irrepressible love of Christ seeping through all our best dogmatic attempts to choke the life out of it . The fires of hope and the authentic Way of Jesus-love I’ve been exposed to and transformed by through reading Brennan Manning, Brian Zahnd, Jimmy Spencer, and Shane Claiborne, among others; discovering the true to the first church, alternative to the empire foundations of the Anabaptist tradition, the life-saving witness of my adopted family: Sue, Charlette, Bunni, and Kapri and others, first-hand in my own life, and the Love that captured me as a child and simply would not let me go have all conspired to “draw that circle that drew me in” in Parker Palmer’s words. Yet that chasm, in my life and in our lives, between what we profess and the frequently profane way we treat each other haunts me and makes a mockery and fetters of a love that we say sets us free. We are horribly morphed from intended witnesses to sacrificial, other-centered love to bondsmen withholding mercy, simutaneously jailing others and ourselves.
I’d like to think that most folk’s childhood was less abusive than my own. I know that many suffered much worse. I know that when I was a kid in church, like many of us raised in Evangelical homes, we sang the chorus, “Jesus loves me. This I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to Him belong. They are weak, but He is strong.” And as a child there was a claim layed on my heart by the Great Prospecter that is undeniable, but it was also undeniable that the gap between a Sunday school kid’s chorus and the reality of my little life at home nearly destroyed me. “Jesus loves me” we sang, but I could not figure out how He loved me when my legs were welted, my mouth bloodied, or I was crammed into the crawlspace under the house. How is it then that Jesus loves me if my parents clearly hated me? How is that? How does that work?
When women, like the dear woman I know that I’ll call Janie and millions like her, are driven to desperation and eventually to divorce and are then condemned by The Church for “their sin” of choosing life and survival, are made to nearly break under the weight of risking offending God and being denied communion in in The Church or continue in the daily death of their soul, and sometimes their body, and remain subservient to the “head” of their toxic household, how does it make any sense to them that Jesus loves them when The Church hates them? How does that work out? The love of Christ is a real tough sell when the witness of Christ in the world doesn’t bind and heal wounds, but instead deepens old wounds and tears fresh ones and in the pews we pass and pour the salt of judgement, inflaming the wounds of Christ’s first disciples, rather than comforting and supporting our sisters. How is it that Jesus loves me if The Church hates me?
When the LGBTQ community is ostracized, dehumanized, and demonized by religionists and pastors making money from hawking lies and fear, how does it matter to them, to us, when you say Jesus loves us? Religionists favorite refuge for their prejudice and hate and our least favorite tired old funds-a-mentalist “pop” refrain is “Hate the sin, love the sinner”. Newsflash: if this is “love”, we can’t tell the difference between your love and hate and shouldn’t that be a problem? Like Margret Cho said once, “Christians have lost their minds. The Christians are so mean, even the Satanists are like, ‘Oh that’s mean!” By the way, just something to consider: apparently our “sin” is love, but clearly yours is hate. Just something to consider. And consider this as well, for the very generous among us who say that “being gay is a just a sin like any other, no better or worse”, thank you, thank you so much for your generous orthodoxy that compares my love of my spouse to “any other sin”, say like lying, theft, or murder. Thank you, thank you so much for negating our love in equating it to “any other sin”. When we try to disguise the hate hidden deep in our hearts in spiritual love language, we repel others as effectively as we secretly intend to. No one, no one ever quotes “Hate the sin, love the sinner” to love them in, but to hate them out. Ever notice that. How is it that ‘Jesus loves us’ can make any sense, how can it be real at all when no matter how much we love God or how much you say God loves us, you can’t.
And finally, I wonder is that other children’s church song still sung that I remember? “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight! Jesus loves the little children of the world.” Do they still sing that? Do they sing it before or after preaching nationalism and strengthening America’s borders where the children are hungry and terrified? Did the president’s daughters sing it as little girls? Did Malia and Sasha sing how Jesus loves all the little children in the world while their father’s ordered drone strikes continue to kill children as collateral damage on a war game video screen? How is it that ‘Jesus loves me’ makes any damn sense to those children when we treat them like so much skeeting with a backdrop of a flag draped cross? Can you explain that to me? Better yet, and much more importantly, can you explain that to them?
I’m afraid we’ve been mislead for at least decades, much longer really. The challenge to our witness is not our “fallen, sinful world”.
The challenge to our witness is our perpetually denied hate for our enemies hidden in our hearts. No matter how we try to dress it up, no matter what doctrinal spin and justification we try to give it – it always feels and has the effect of the hate that it is.
If we cannot confess the deep incongruency between what we say we believe and how we live together, there cannot be any way for Jesus to bridge that gap and ‘Jesus loves me’ just won’t make any damn sense.