Those were the words a very earnest and polite 14-year-old said to me. I was living in Nashville, the Buckle of the Bible Belt. I had been sitting in the hallway of the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University where Sam was in rehearsal for the Nashville Boy Choir. It was a marvelous choir experience. The director, Hazel Summerfield, had an amazing way with the boys, ranging in age from 8-years-old to voice change.
She had formed another group called the Young Men’s Choir for those adolescent boys who were going through those awkward singing years. That is how I overheard a conversation between two of the 14-year-olds, waiting for their rehearsal to begin when the younger boys finished.
They were in discussion about the Reformation. (I was a bit surprised 14-year-olds knew about that, but then realized my own awareness of it came later. It had not been part of my Jewish education.) What really caught my attention was when one boy said to the other “And what is a real shame is they don’t even know they are not really Christian!”
The other guy immediately told him that his reasoning was limited (I’m giving you the cleaned up version of what he actually said) and after chiding myself to be careful, I gently asked the speaker to explain. He said that the ONLY people who were true Christians were members of his church. After further questioning I determined there were about 50 members of that church’s congregation. When I suggested it was a bit egocentric to think only those 50 people out of the billions on earth who worship a High Power were the right ones, he said they were, and he was particularly worried about me.
It reminded me of another conversation I had had with a man who was second in charge of a place I worked, again in Nashville. (That place was a challenged environment because of the management and I refer to it as the “Hell Hole of Vanderbilt” which is the nicest way I can describe the experience.) The work day was structured so that everyone ate lunch at the same time except for me, as I was needed to cover the phones. They ate in a room right behind my desk and I could overhear the conversation. Once this boss said something that made the table go silent. He said his church was the only one in Nashville where the members where Christian because the name of the church was the “Christian Church.” Other churches are Baptist or Methodist or whatever and their members are not Christian. No one said anything to him, shocked.
One day that man came into work looking exhausted. His wife had recently given birth to their second child so I asked if the baby had kept him up. No, he said, it was something church related that was bothering him. It seemed, he was slow at first to tell me but then eager to get it off his chest, that there were several members of his congregation who had been active and they had come forward when the news came out that new Sunday School staff was needed. He just was not sure they were right for the job.
He was a bit slow to admit to me that his concerns were because the people who offered to help were gay. I asked him what the issue was. His answer was simply “You know.” I didn’t let him off the hook. “No, I said, I don’t know your church. What is your concern?” He was afraid they would teach the “wrong” things. I asked if the church had a Sunday School curriculum. Yes. I asked if it involved getting naked and touching each other. Of course not! So? He walked into his office and shut the door.
But it wasn’t over yet. About a week later he came into work once again dragging his tail. Once again I asked if the baby had kept him awake and once again he said no, it was still the “other thing”. I didn’t have to say anything; merely raised my eyebrows.
He said he and his wife were in bed, the lights were out and she was already asleep. He was just drifting off when he heard a voice, very clearly. “Love your brother!” He sat up, very much awake and heart pounding. The voice came again “Love your brother!”
That was it. No other communication. It took him hours to fall back to sleep.
I asked him what he thought it meant and he said “I don’t know.”
What is clear to me with both the adolescent and this middle aged guy is that the fundamentalist church has such a narrow definition of love and acceptance that they would rather cut themselves off from mankind then realize we are all one family of God.
They are highly incensed that the fundamentalists in the Muslim world are killing others who don’t believe the way they do. They do not want to admit their church history includes the Crusades, the Inquisition and more, each time resulting in many many murders where people did not accept their practice.
Seriously, people, this can’t be healthy. Hating in the name of love is sick. Killing in the name of God is sick.