I like to think of myself as an optimist. I try to see the best in people or situations. I try; I really do. More than I'd like to admit, though, I can sink below my idealistic clouds of hope and positivity and bubbles into some serious cynical swamps.
Had one of those moments today, and it materialized with this thought:
I don't want to be a Christian anymore.
Actually, I've had several of these moments over the last few weeks and months. Today's moment in particular was sparked by a friend who jokingly emailed a link to a song by Ray Boltz called "Thank You" to several people, including me.
Some background: Ray Boltz made it big-time as far as Christian contemporary music goes back in the 90s and early 2000s. He was famous for some fabulously cheesy Christian songs such as this, this, and as I previously mentioned, this. When my friend linked to "Thank You" in his email, I assumed it was for the cheese factor, to put a smile on our faces. (It worked.)
I know that song particularly well because after my dad became a Christian in 1997, he fell head over heels for Ray Boltz's glorious mullet- and mustache-fueled ballads. The amount he played and/or sang Boltz's songs was directly proportional to the degree to which I wanted to grind my head with a belt sander. Our church sang "Thank You" at least once a year every year for thank-you services we'd have for our pastor or volunteers, and other Boltz tunes made their way into special music performances. My dad loved Ray Boltz. Our church loved Ray Boltz. A good chunk of conservative Christians all over the country loved Ray Boltz. Ray Boltz was to contemporary Christian music what Full House was to a 90s household: Pure. Gold.
And then Ray Boltz told the world he was gay.
Well. That changes things.
He came out publicly in 2008. I vaguely remember hearing about this a few years ago, and I never really gave it much thought. I think that's because when I moved out of my house to go to college, I was glad to leave Ray Boltz, his music, and all thought of him behind. A guy can only take so much cheese before he can't stand the sight or smell of dairy anymore. He was off my radar for years, and when the news first came out, it was a tiny blip that barely registered with me. Today, though, when my friend linked me to "Thank You," I felt compelled to look up Ray Boltz and get the scoop on this whole deal.
There was one article in particular I found entitled "Ray Boltz: Still Gay, Still Christian, Still Living the Dream" that moved me. Listen--I had spent years playfully mocking Ray Boltz. To be fair, he made it really easy. He combined the mullet of MacGyver, the mustache of Tom Selleck, and the campiness of the Left Behind series into this parody-friendly soup that begged guys like me to make jokes. It's accurate to say I, right or wrong, had little respect or concern for Ray Boltz.
Until I learned more of his story and what he's had to face. Coming out of the closet when you're a staple of conservative Christian culture is akin to the president of the NRA trading in his guns for daisies and an Obama t-shirt. In the article, Boltz mentions some of the backlash he faced:
I was very well known in the Christian music world when I came out. I had some people tell me to buy a gun and shoot myself. Other people demanded that I return the music awards I had received. Some people mailed my CDs back to me. They never bothered to understand that I wasn’t going out and picking up hustlers during all those years. Some people hunted me down here and knocked on the door to give me a piece of their mind.
And cue my heart breaking. Sadly, I bet that's only a fraction of what he's had to deal with.
These are the moments that tempt me to disavow my association with Christianity. That make me want to scream at the top of my lungs, or sink to the floor with my head in my hands, or run away to some island where the only dangers I'd have to deal with are starvation and hungry predators. Anything but hear more examples of how so many people in the church are brilliantly lighting the torch and setting the example for how to absolutely miss the point of the gospel.
Instead of gravitating toward the "untouchables" of society--the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the poor, the sick--"we" (and I use the word "we" with a great deal of frustration) push them out, hurl stones, and add to their burden and pain. We make people who shouldn't be untouchable feel more untouchable, more undesired, more marginalized.
We wield scripture like it's a weapon. We wield it like it's something that we have complete mastery of (which we don't). We flail it around recklessly like a kid with a Nerf gun, and we do it with embarrassing pride. We use our position of feeling like we're right to brand messages onto people that sear their skin, burn their flesh, and leave them with a limp in their gait.
I know there are a lot of great Christians who "get it," who are filled with love and grace. It may even be that those who aren't represent a minority. But every week, I read about or experience firsthand enough Christians who say or do something so graceless that it's enough to make me want to cut the cord and wash my hands of them.
Each time, I find myself saying, I don't want to be a Christian anymore. I'm done with this nonsense.
But then I remember this thing called grace, and it starts to lift me out of the swamp. I've got to believe that we have a God who offers grace even to the graceless.
At some point, I've been the monster I've come to loathe so much in conservative Christianity. I've lacked compassion and humility. I've used my platform of being right to crush someone beneath me. I've left someone branded with the wrong message about Jesus and the gospel and love. Graceless as I've been, God drenched me with grace, drowned me in it, wrung me out, and let me dry in it. He still does, almost daily.
The Jesus who calls me to have grace and compassion for the outcasts and the untouchables is the same Jesus who calls me to have grace and compassion for the graceless Christians who know not what they do.
God's grace was enough for me, and it's enough for Ray Boltz, and it's enough for every single person who has sent him a hateful email or returned his albums or showed up at his door.
It's enough for me to keep holding on.