By now you’ve probably all seen the AP news report about a Massachusetts third grader, who has been denied access to a local parochial school due to his parents’ sexuality. Since I was on religion yesterday, I thought I would pick up the thread and share my opinion here.
Prefacing all of this with the understanding that it is entirely legal for the school to refuse entry to any child, I want to talk about why I have a personal problem with the decision. First, let’s go back to Matthew.
Matthew 19:13-15 (King James Version)
13Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them.
14But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.
15And he laid his hands on them, and departed thence.
Jesus did not ask his disciples to do a background check on the adults bringing the children to him. He did not ask if little Ezekiel’s parents were his followers, or if Elizabeth’s mother was still smoking crack, or if Alpheus’ fathers were still gay, or if Delphine was still being raised by her aunt because her mother was in prison and they weren’t sure who her father was. And if he was aware of each child’s individual situation, he did not look over them with a finger against the side of his mouth, tapping away the ones who weren’t good enough until he found the ones whose parents lived up to his idea of pre-Christian standards. No. He touched each and every one of them, loved them individually, and then went on his way. Such is the King of Heaven.
More to the point, when Jesus taught he didn’t require your holiness before you were allowed to listen and learn. He didn’t ask that you pass a test of righteousness, or be without sin. He didn’t even ask that you be attempting to live according to Levitical law. He asked nothing of you, and gave everything of himself.
Jesus did not ask you for money. He gave you fishes and loaves.
Jesus did not ask you for your righteousness. He gave you his own.
I get so angry and so aggravated at the Church universal, and how exclusive and exclusionary it is. You can’t come inside unless you fit the standard mold.
There is a local christian (and I am always being purposefully distinctive about upper- or lower-case letters) radio station that advertises with the slogan, “Safe for the whole family.” You would be hard pressed to find a piece of their marketing that would not lead you to believe the slogan ought to be, “Safe for the whole straight, white family, which includes at least two children.”
I worked for an international religious organization for years. Some things they got very, very wrong, but other things they got right. One of the things they got right was that everyone was accepted into the church*. Liars, cheats, drug addicts, fornicators, adulterers, gay, domestic abusers, gang bangers, strippers, abortionists and anything else you could want to shake a finger at, they were there sitting next to me. The only things that required background checks or agreements regarding lifestyle choices were teaching positions–and that’s as it should be.
How do people learn if they can’t be taught? Imagine if the public school system was able to turn away a child because of the color of his skin. How could that child learn, and grow into a man who could earn a living and participate as a citizen? We aren’t so far away from that time in our secular history, and we all agree that it is wrong. So why are we still shutting the church doors on people? “I’m so sorry,” we say, with a prim little smile on our lips and sorrowful eyebrows, “but we just can’t have you in here. When you stop drinking, you’ll be welcome. But until then… Tsk. I’m sorry. We just can’t. Think of the children.”
Yes. Think of the children. Please, for the love of God, think of the children.
I attended Catholic school as a non-Catholic, and I am grateful for the education I received. I am also grateful for having been forced to actually read the Bible in its entirety, and for having Mrs. Cardenas and Sister Sue Ann there to try and decipher it for me. Though I did not make a decision for Christ until I was in my twenties, those ladies laid a foundation for me. And isn’t that the whole point of having a religious school? Even if I had chosen to continue in an agnostic existence, I am a better person for having learned the philosophies taught by Jesus.
Aren’t religious schools intended to be places to instruct children on what your religion believes are the right and proper ways to live? In that case, wouldn’t you be welcoming the ones whose backgrounds were contrary to your own with wide arms? Aren’t those the children who need you the most? Aren’t those the parents you want to win over with love? Aren’t you in the business of saving souls through education? And isn’t your god strong enough to overcome any taint that some poor heathen child might bring into your camp? Aren’t you called to be a light unto the world?
One of the things the ministry I worked for got wrong was money. Money money money. Toward the end of my time there, it was all about getting money. We were in a meeting one morning, discussing just that. We were instructed to pray that God would cause something to happen that would deliver over to our ministry the finances of wicked men and women based on this scripture:
Proverbs 13:22 (King James Version)
22A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children: and the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just.
I’ll save my full Old Testament/New Testament rant for another time, and just say this: Either you believe Jesus fulfilled the OT or you don’t. You shouldn’t be mixing and matching Levitical law and the commandments of the Christ to build your doctrines. That said, I asked in the meeting, “Shouldn’t we be praying that God [being no respecter of persons, who would do for anyone what he did for Paul] rescue the wicked, and turn their eyes from darkness to light, so that they turn to Christ? And that way, doesn’t the wealth of the wicked become the wealth of the just?”
If looks could kill. They didn’t like my idea.
Because even when you are righteous it is easier to pray for someone’s destruction than someone’s salvation. And even when you are righteous it is easier to judge someone else’s lifestyle and avoid them than to share a cup. (I am thinking of my grandmother spraying down furniture with Lysol in front of him when an openly gay friend of my cousin would visit her house. Embarrassing!) And even when you are righteous it is easier to say no to one child than have to explain to however many other children that even though your religion does not condone the lifestyle that this child’s parents lead, your god still loves that family and sees them as part of his family. And, in fact, loves that family so much that he sent his son to die for them, just like he did for you.
Do you see? I get so angry! God loves gays and God loves druggies. God loves prodigal sons. And do you know what? God loves the ones who never love him back.
I am a mother first and foremost and I want you to know that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will ever be able to separate my son from the love I have for him. Nothing he does could make me stop loving him. Nothing could make me give up on him. He doesn’t have to be anything other than mine, and I birthed him, so that will never change. He could deny me all he wanted. He could change his name. He could run to Timbuktu. I am still his mother, and I would still love him. And I would never, ever give up on him.
God feels that way about you, about me, about Hitler, about Tom Cruise, about Rick James, about Betty Ford, about Marc Jacobs, about Ellen Degeneres, about that guy who lives next door to you, about your 7th grade science teacher, about that homeless man, about every single child in his creation. That love doesn’t go away. That love doesn’t die. That love is perfect.
The religious school is upset because the little boy in question only has mothers, and has no father. I’ve got news for them. That child has a Father, and it would serve them well to talk to Him about admission requirements.
*After Amy, who worked and sat in the congregation with me at this institution, read the post she reminded me: I agree completely, except that I would say “that church” wasn’t accepting of everyone. You commit any crime known to man and be accepted but I dare you to be a divorcee in that church. Even though every gosh darn person in leadership was divorced [and they had created a whole new doctrine to allow divorce of ministers], you’ll be
treated like an outcast.