Some of the bravest, most deliciously compassionate people I know believe in God. They are magnificently heroic, gracefully wise, and unendingly generous. You ask them why they do the crazy things they do — like love their enemies or empty their bank accounts to feed the poor — and they answer, rather softly: God.
Christians, sure, but not just Christians. Hindus, Jews, more Hindus, this one Muslim I know who is everything good in the world and then some. Every stripe and flavor of believer can embody this elevated, transcendent way of walking on the earth that is so powerfully sweet and radically good.
It’s like listening to Ted Nugent when somebody turns the dial to Mozart; ahh, how lovely is the difference you make.
And yes, there are atheists out there who are spectacularly ethical and do-good moral. Sometimes faith has nothing to do with things.
But you see, it’s Tuesday, which means it’s City Council, which means I feel this hackles-up need to defend religion, namely Christianity, because tonight, once again, its name will be tarred, feathered, rode hard and put up wet.
“Wicked,” one man said at the last City Council meeting. “Wicked … wicked.”
He was talking about the domestic partner benefits plan, a proposal which has nothing, and everything, to do with religion. The plan would provide equal benefits to opposite- and same-sex domestic partners of city employees, but past meetings have become small holy wars of public protest and mean-speech mixed with Bible verse.
The councilman who introduced the legislation — Chris Anderson, and yes, he’s gay — has had a Chattanooga cop as body guard during this circus-spectacle which has become the theological equivalent of the bearded lady: brash, shocking and weirdly out-of-place.
“I would remind you God destroyed two whole cities,” another man said.
Actually, it’s called corporate greed, and it’s destroyed far more than two cities. But instead of talking about crime or the economy or how to get our infant mortality rate out of the toilet, Christians flock to City Council to argue over whether unmarried people in an intimate relationship can have medical benefits and gym memberships just as married spouses do.
“Our God, the god of Christians, hates homosexuality,” the man continued.
No, no, umpteen times no. The God of Christians doesn’t hate homosexuality. Or homosexuals. Or lesbians. Or transgendered people. God doesn’t hate anyone.
And you use the name of God to project your homophobia onto the world.
“I’d like to read you three verses out of the Bible this evening,” one man said.
Please don’t. Everyone has heard them, and they’re 1,000 others that totally contradict whatever you think Leviticus or St. Paul said. In fact, don’t read your Bible anymore. At all.
When this verse or that verse hijacks the overall fragrance of religion — to mend hearts, to heal the world — then those verses have become surrogate and substitute gods. Sure, understanding the divine can be tricky, and those holy books can be good road maps.
But the books aren’t the moon. They are only the finger pointing toward the moon.
The books aren’t the shore. They’re just part of the boat that carries you to it.
Believing in God is not about being right or wrong. It’s about the things we find when we drop Ruby Falls-deep into our own interior world. Down there in the dark, domestic partner benefits don’t matter.
Surrender does. And powerlessness. So do mystery, joy and magic. And finding the power to love in ways that are like medicine to the world.
“I have literally 500 letters along those lines,” said Collegedale Detective Kat Cooper.
Cooper, who’s become the public face for this movement, led the effort to change her city’s laws toward domestic partner benefits. She’s also gay, which means she’s heard plenty of bigotry from certain Christians.
But she’s also received messages of acceptance and support. Letter after letter of encouragement and apology, each saying much the same thing.
“Please know all Christians aren’t that way,” she said.
Tonight, she’ll walk to the City Council microphone and speak to the crowd, and then do something rather wonderful.
She’ll ask other Christians to stand with her.
And they will.
Contact David Cook at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.
David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...