Tag Archives: Christianity

The Church Is Not A Safe Space

The last time I was in church was for the installation service of a close friend. I attended because she invited me to preach and that was a huge honor. The last time I attended church before that was the Sunday after election in the USA. Having been raised in the Church, I often relied on this community to be the safe space where I could bring my fears into with the hopes of being healed.

When Republican Party enthusiasts, emboldened by the rhetoric of President Trump and Republican leaders in the USA Congress, led a group of white supremacists, Nazis, and Ku Klux Klan sympathizers to march on the streets of a public university in Virginia, I felt the need to return to Church. I woke up on Sunday with the idea of finding a nearby congregation to attend. Somehow, I had equated church with healing and community and restoration. But then, I started to doubt it. I stopped to think about what Church had really been for me. All throughout my life, Church had not been a welcoming, healing, restoring community. On the contrary: Church was the people marching on the campus of the University of Virginia with torches, threatening many of my communities with violence and death.1374087_10152239912835620_459114692_n

Since my childhood time in Church, I had only heard hatred and violence against “sinners.” The goal was to rid the World from the sinful; to establish God’s kingdom, where the violent will reign with Christ and the Earth would be transformed into their playground. The images of fire and destruction were the ones used to exemplify this future. The King will stand to divide the crown and send some – the goats – to the pits of hell to rot for eternity, with pain and punishment unimaginable. Others – the sheep – will be lifted up to heaven to be with their Ruler.

I have been in several churches throughout my life, both as a parishioner and as a pastor. Every church has been different: my rural Baptist church in Puerto Rico, the underground Metropolitan Community Church also in Puerto Rico which I led for a few months before going to seminary, the urban, large Baptist church that sent me off to seminary, the suburban, white, moderate Baptist church that ordained me, the small, urban Hispanic Baptist church in New York City that welcomed me as their pastor, the multicultural, urban Methodist church also in NYC that provided refuge and welcomed me as a leader, the urban, liberal, white church in Seattle that made me question my call to ministry and which proved me that liberal churches are no safer than conservative ones, and the little suburban Episcopal church in Wisconsin with a worship service in Spanish that offered a few months of refuge while I served other ministries.

Here is what Church has done to me:

Church was the place where my first conversion therapy sessions happened. It was the place where I was made ashamed of my sexuality. It was the place where I learned to be secretive and embarrassed about liking men. It was the place where people gossiped about their neighbors throughout the week while coming to pray together on Sunday.

Church was the place where I had to hide my sexuality even as I was both on the ordination process and as I served as a pastor. It was the place where I was asked not to be creative with liturgy as this was not welcomed. Such experience was once again relived as I was invited to write for a white denomination’s worship resources and my work was deemed too “intimidating” because it didn’t fall within the liturgical styles of the white church. Both homophobia and white supremacy were present this weekend in Virginia. Both homophobia and white supremacy were present in this church experience for me.

Church was also the place where the white visitor who saw me walking down from my office responded to my greeting by saying “Are you the janitor?” No, I was not. I was the preacher that day, and perhaps that’s why you didn’t come back?

Church was the place where, behind closed doors and without ever telling me, the congregation had the excellent idea of paying for speech classes for me to become a better speaker of English… instead of learning how to accommodate their ears to a different accent. But that’s OK for them, because they are “liberal” and they “get it.” They too were present at the demonstrations in Virginia.

Church was the place where the fragility of the person who bullied me was most important than my safety. It was the place where I approached with caution because each time I pulled over to the parking lot, my hands started to shake and my heart started to race as the bully’s car was parked there too. It was the place where her dismissal of my leadership was encouraged; the place where they welcomed meetings with her behind my back to talk about the supposedly weak pastoral care I was providing the congregation, without ever knowing that I was often visiting, listening, calling, and praying with the elders who had asked me point blank to please keep this woman away from our household because they were afraid of her too… But I could not tell her that without facing the doubtful stares of cheering crowd. Church was the place that didn’t allow me to fall asleep from Friday night to Sunday night just because of the fear I had of coming to worship on Sundays. Even after trying different prescriptions – yes, prescriptions from my doctor – and relaxation methods, I could not do it. The bullying was that strong, and the lack of support was too much. This white fragility that didn’t allow this bully to recognize the leadership of a Latino man in church also marched in Virginia this weekend.

Church was the place where the priest addressed the violent rhetoric of the election season and the overwhelming support of white supremacists for President-elect Trump by calling the small group of Latino and Latina people by asking us… us… to come together with our oppressors and to find unity.

This was the last drop. I had tried long enough to make the Church a place of respite and community. The Church has not been such a thing for me. I need to break from this abusive relationship for good. Church, you are not safe for me as long as you march with torches and hatred.

Perhaps Church has been different for you, and for that, I am glad. Perhaps you will send a few words of “encouragement” and some apology on behalf of the Church. Don’t. I do not need them, nor do I need to explain more than I had already expressed here. Theology as a discipline and a field of study will continue to be a passion for me. The Church as a place for community, on the other hand, will not.

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Filed under Church, Culture, discrimination, ethnicity, Gay, Human Rights, Identity, LGBTQ, ministry, Philosophy, Queer, race, racism, Sociology, Theology, United States, USA

Trying to Argue With Circular Logic

When I was in college I was introduced to the concept of circular logic or circular reasoning. This is a form of logical fallacy in which the reasoner starts with the argument they want to use as their conclusion. To some extent, the argument can be made that this type of logic is the bedrock of religious reasoning. In fact, it was through religion that I was introduced to use circular logic as my modus operandi for reasoning: the Bible is the Word of God because the Bible says it is the Word of God, therefore, it must be true that the Bible is the Word of God. There is no way of going away from this reasoning… you just have to either accept it altogether or reject it altogether. But if you are a religious person who has never been exposed to any other way of reasoning, leaving this type of logic is not an option.400px-bible_cycle

It has been a while since the last time I had a conversation with anyone who used circular logic. For the most part, I try to stay away from trying to engage in philosophical conversations with people who use this type of reasoning. Sure, I could have wonderful conversations about the weather, aspects of life, work, ourselves, etc., but it is impossible to have real conversations regarding faith with people who only use circular logic for their religious arguments. There are some people who might realize that they use this type of reasoning and, not wanting to step away from it, just accept that other people have other ways of looking at things and move on. But there are others for whom circular logic is so ingrained in their lives and way of thinking that they cannot comprehend why someone would step away from this way of thinking in order to find answers somewhere else. For some of them, trying to convince you to go back to using circular logic is not only their mission: it is their duty in life as the lives of those around them depend on it!

Unfortunately, I fell for this not long ago. When I noticed that I was engaging in a one-way conversation with someone who could only use circular logic, it was too late for me to step away. I tried, but failed miserably, to point out the invalidity of the arguments. Of course, this was to be expected! How can an argument be invalid if the only way to validate it is by going back to the premise that made the argument valid in the first place! Ha!

Although I grew up using circular logic for my religious arguments, I have come to grow in my understanding of religion and faith. I now use all the tools available to me in order to understand the religious premises that I live by. I have also come to understand that other people will have different ways of approaching the same questions I have, and that many times, depending on the approach, the answers will be different. The fact that the answer is different doesn’t make it invalid; it just makes it… well… different! I accept that. Thanks to the wonderful mentoring of Angela Figueroa, who was the sociology of religion professor who introduced me to the world of deductive and inductive logic and how to step away from circular logic, I have come to grow in my understanding of religious arguments and how to use them. I have also come to understand that “feelings”, “hunches”, and “inklings”, are not valid reasons to start arguments and to come to conclusions. That doesn’t mean they do not have a valid place in the human experience of the immaterial (or God, or the Divine), it only means that they cannot and should not be used as the bedrock of argumentation.

When I stepped out of using circular logic to “prove” my religious believes, it was a painful process. For a very long time I felt lost, confused, and completely out of control. There was a time when I even came to accept as my reality that there was no evidence of a Divine being, and therefore, there was no such thing. It took me a long time to understand that I could still be faithful, religious, and connected to a Divine being without the need to base my beliefs in circular logic. But again, this is a long and painful process. In my recent conversation, I failed to understand and accept that the person using this type of logical fallacy could have been deeply hurt by stepping out of their way of thinking. I only hope that our conversation was a small seed planted in them to be able to see the wonderful, fulfilling, and satisfying opportunity to have a faith that continues to grow and not one that is stuck in an empty sphere that takes you nowhere in your relationship with God. I also hope that I do not have to engage in another argument like this, as it was extremely painful to see how little progress you can make in trying to have an actual conversation when the other participant has already decided what the conclusion must be.

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I Have No More Tears Today

Oh, no! She sits alone, the city that was once full of people.                     Once great among nations, she has become like a widow.                  Once a queen over provinces, she has become a slave.                             She weeps bitterly in the night, her tears on her cheek.                           None of her lovers comfort her. All her friends lied to her;                   they have become her enemies.                                                                          Lamentations 1.1-2

I have no more tears today. I have cried since last night.

I have cried for the future of my family.
I have cried over the prospect of having a Supreme Court that will undo my marriage, and with it, all the protections that my immigrant spouse has.
I have cried for the well-being of my niece and nephew whose parents might be taken away from them.
downloadI have cried for my other relatives who live and work and contribute to the economy of this country while not being able to access proper documentation.
I have cried for the prospect of my own, Congress-imposed US citizenship been revoked with no other alternative to fall back on.

I have cried for my friends.
I have cried for my gay, lesbian and bisexual friends whose rights are now at the hands of vice-president elect Pence, who has done all in his power to strip LGB Indianans of their rights.
I have cried for my transgender siblings whose lives are placed in great danger due to the same vice-president elect and his antics.
I have cried for the many women I know – young and old – whose safety is not guaranteed anymore as a sexual predator takes over the highest elected position in this country, thus giving permission to other predators to “grab”, to touch, to violate their beings.
I have cried for the workers of this country, whose wages are going to be frozen for decades to come and whose jobs are not guaranteed anymore as they are being shipped overseas as the president-elect has done with all the other bankrupt businesses he has run.
I have cried for the poor and sick who could barely access healthcare and had a last fighting chance with the soon-to-be-overthrown Affordable Care Act.

I have cried for humanity.
I have cried for the black community whose safety – which has never been guaranteed – will now face “stop and frisk” experiences with the proposed changes in law and order.
I have cried for the Native American communities whose ancestral lands will be desecrated without impunity.
I have cried with the immigrants and refugees who will no longer find relative safety in this country nor will they be welcomed to access it anymore.
I have cried with those of us who practice some form of faith – whether Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, or any other – whose religious liberties will be at the whim of the far-right Evangelical Christian camp that will dominate this fascist regime.
I have cried for the environment and all the relentless desecration that will occur.
I have cried for all the people of all the countries that the president-elect has promised to destroy making use of the military forces that are now under his control.
I have cried for all the children who will not be safe any longer for a generation or two as laws protecting them will be revoked.

I have no more tears today. The only thing that I still hold on to is the hope that the fascist government ahead will help this country wake up from its deep slumber and that it will shake it to its core as to make it see how terrifying the near future looks like.

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November 9, 2016 · 10:59 am

Church: Do Not Be Afraid of Change

I am often asked if the transformation that the mainline church is going through (with the fast and marked decline) scares me as a minister. My answer is a bit complicated, but I will try to summarize it here. The very short answer is: yes and no.

Let me explain…

As a minister, the decline of the mainline denominations makes me scared. First, because I grew up in the mainline church. It pains me to see an institution that had such a huge impact in my life declining. The mainline church – in my case, the American Baptist Churches, but also the two other denominations that have welcomed me, the

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The ruins of a church altar in Antigua, Guatemala. (Picture credits: J. Manny Santiago (c) )

United Methodist Church and the Episcopal Church – has been my spiritual home for all of my life. It was in the mainline church that I learned the stories of the Bible, the teaching of the “Golden Rule”, the hope for a coming kingdom and the eternal reign of peace that God will bring. It was the mainline church one of the institutions, along with school, that fostered my leadership skills and gave me a chance to begin learning how to be a leader. Sure, experiencing its decline is both scary and sad.

Second, as a minister, I rely on the church for my income. Contrary to what the media may portray and to what popular culture tells you about ministers, the truth is that this is like any other profession. I went to graduate school. I took psychological tests to examine my readiness for serving people under stressful circumstances. I did an intensive internship unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) to help me understand myself and gain knowledge on how to serve others who are undergoing major challenges in their lives. I also learned about history, economy, sociology, religious pluralism, political systems, non-profit administration, rhetoric and debate strategies, philosophy, literary criticism, multiculturalism and a bunch of other areas that are transferable to non-religious positions but that very few places would recognized as such because of preconceived ideas about religious leaders. Moreover, I took student loans because it was the only way to pay for graduate school and because the opportunities for scholarship when studying theology are minimal (although, I did receive some scholarships from religious organizations and the school itself.) Thus, if I lose my source of income, my family would be in a really difficult position. Of course that scares anyone!

With all that said, the transformation of the Church – in this case, the Church with capital “C” – is not what makes me feel the most scared. Why? Well, because the Church, and its expression in the mainline denominations, is not of my own making. The Church is, as the New Testament attest and we proclaim every day, the body of Christ. The Church has been around for a long time, and it will continue to be around even after all the institutions we have built around it have faded into history. Sure, there will be – as there have always been – enormous transformations of the institutions. Some of them will not survive. Others will merge and create new things. And still others will grow and expand steadily.

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12.27: “You are the body of Christ and parts of each other.” Paul’s words are an expansion of what Jesus himself said earlier in his life. The gospel of John 14.19a-20 tells us that Jesus said: “Because I live, you will live too. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, you are in me, and I am in you.” If the people of the Church is the body of Christ, then we must not be afraid of the transformations through which the Church goes. Sure, the institution will look very different than the one we were raised in or are currently a part of; but the main truth remains: the Church will continue to live.

I believe that our fear to lose the institution that we so much love has stood in the way of letting the Church grow and transform. Many of my colleagues who, like me, depend on the church’s salary to feed our families, are too afraid of losing this source of income. As I stated before, this also scares me. But I am also confident that the tools and the experience I have gained while serving the mainline church will serve me well in finding a suitable position should the time come when the institutionalized church cannot offer a position for me any longer. I believe that we must let go of the fear of losing what we know in order to let the Church and its mainline expression to go through whatever transformation it has to go through.

This also means that we should find ways to give each support. All transformations are both traumatic and difficult. We will go through painful moments. During this time, it will be important to have the support of those who are close to us and who can extend us a hand in making whatever transition may come less painful. However, fear is not, in my opinion, the answer. And thus, my invitation is to let go of the fear of change and accept the transformation that is already present within the mainline church as the manifestation of an ever present Spirit of newness and renewal. Remember that we confess an ever creating God. Let God do a new thing and show us what wonders and awe-inspiring new things God is bringing to us!

 

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A New Reading of Luke 2.1-7

It has been a very long time since that last time I wrote something for my blog. I hope that I can keep a better schedule of posting for next year and perhaps even have a few readers! =) In the meantime, I came up with this new reading of the story of Christmas as it is found on Luke 2.1-7. It is based on recent news about Israel’s building of new settlements on Palestinian territory. As a Christian theologian, it is my hope and my prayer that both the Palestinians and the Israeli could find a way of living peacefully and recognizing each other’s humanity. May peace reign in Palestine and Israel for Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze, atheists, Humanists, and every other person of faith or of no faith that lives on this part of the wonderful Mother Earth.

——

That December, while Palestinian Christians were celebrating the Nativity of Christ, and in a move that could jeopardize the US-brokered peace talks, the Israeli government decided to build even more settlements on Palestinian territory. This happened while Benjamin Netanyahu was Prime Minister of Israel, and the Palestinian National Authority was still debating the legitimacy of Mahmoud Abbas as its President.

Many people decided to move to safer communities. Among them was a couple that lived in Nazareth. Yusuf, a Muslim man from the town of Bethlehem, had married Miriam, a Jewish woman from Tel-Aviv. It was not uncommon for men and women from different faith traditions to fall in love and get married, although it was frown upon by the government officials and religious authorities who put a lot of hurdles for such couples to get married. Miriam was eight months pregnant by now and Yusuf thought that it would be best for them to travel to the town of his forebears, thinking that the Christian majority in Bethlehem will protectthem from any violence that might ignite due to the building of the new settlements.

As Yusuf was driving his old car, they came upon one of the check-points that dot the border between the State of Israel and the Palestinian National Authority.There, Yusuf and Miriam were stopped and asked to exit the vehicle while the guards searched it. Upon noticing that Miriam was Jewish, one of the guards was suspicious of Yusuf and took him into custody. Miriam pleaded with the guard but he did not want to hear her. She was so nervous and stressed that she went into labor before the baby was due. The guards didn’t want to pay attention to Miriam’s pleads and told her that there wasn’t a place for them or for the baby to come on either one of the countries. The guards kept telling the family that there was no space for them anywhere within Palestine or Israel. They had both betrayed their faith, their people and their ancestors by loving each other and building a family…

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