There have been about twelve posts dealing with the common theme that ends with - at the fence. I realize - with the help of comments - that I must be a bit more clear about my rants that are focused at the fence. In a very concrete way, they have to do with a real fence. That fence is the one that serves as a decorative and protective barrier separating the sidewalk from the property of the Planned Parenthood clinic at which I volunteer at times. It is also the whole ensemble of newly planted trees and bushes that have been placed into a new bed of mulch. It is all quite decorative - but it is also a strategic planting. The signs mounted on street-side trees or on the sidewalk become less visible to clients at the clinic. The fence and the plantings are a much more clear statement as to where the protestors may plant themselves.
In addition, the notion of being at the fence has to do with my way of distinguishing between separate world views. Those who mount their protests at the fence can be loud and they are very pointed in their comments to the women and men who come to the clinic. For those of us who volunteer, we remain silent - we do not try to provoke those at the fence - we speak to and welcome and attempt to be a non-threatening presence to folks who can be very intimidated by the protestors. At the same time, we are there to make sure clients who would like to show their contempt for the protestor are held in check. I find that the folks at the fence are all people who claim to be Christians - of one sort or another. There are the independent protestors - the families - the recruited and trained protestors - the militant folks - the professional protestors. Those of us who are volunteers come from a variety of backgrounds: Christians, Jews, Nones, Atheists, U.U. folks, and people of a variety of political viewpoints.
It is this Christian thing that causes me to rant about the fence. Though the identity of the volunteers is generally protected, that doesn't always work. Along with several very active members of the team (whose social activism makes me look like an old man sitting on a porch swing) - my identity has become know. Each group has learned that I am a pastor. I think that makes them all the more disgusted at my involvement with the hospitality and escorting offered to the clients. I find it to be more amusing than disturbing. It is amusing because their use of Scripture - their bible bits and pieces - their claim that their words and actions are divinely inspired - their self-righteous and rambling words of condemnation - do not exemplify the vision of Scripture I have learned to appreciate. We physically stand five to twenty yards apart, but the lens through which we claim as our base (the BIBLE) is used very differently. I find that even their uses of love is encased in and surrounded by judgment and condition - which means the love is negated.
I take up the ranting banner because I will not let those words and notions and vision at the fence define a faith into which I continue to grow more and more as I study and attempt to enact that faith in my public life. So, though I do not have the opportunity to talk to those at the fence I do want those who stand with me and walk alongside the clients to hear very clearly that the version and vision of Christianity at the fence - though popular in our culture - is a form of violence that is not central to the faith. The condemnation - the language of heaven and hell - the public shaming - the scripted words that try to set up a zero sum religious game, is antithetical to the vision of God's Reign of justice and peace - hopefulness and grace - endless forgiveness and reconciliation - that has become so central to the story that is presented in the Scripture I honor and study.
As I once told one of these folks who is planted at the fence at the clinic and at Pride parades, I was once converted to and recited those words he passes out at the fence. Then, I guess I would say those words soon did not and could not match the message of love-put-to-life-even-unto-death-for-the-well-being-of others that is central to the vision of Scripture that has grown up in my heart. In fact, now those words of condemnation and the sour dispositions they create are like spring boards into comedy sketches that play out in my mind - and sometime come out (silently) to those around me. Okay maybe not so silently.
I tend to think that we who claim to follow Jesus or live within the Peaceable Reign of God (in which more than Christians dwell and thrive) must speak of this other vision of nonviolence whenever closed-minded 'good religious' folk are practicing their brand of Christianity. Remember, it is only a brand - brands can be discarded - brands work for awhile until the superficiality of the words and the life wear down. Yet, when their words and actions are refuted and shown to be shallow or ineffective, the last action they will use in an attempt to redeem their lives and values is violence. So we must be watchful. We must never rise up to their violence. We must be willing to stand up and go about our faithful lives even as our lives are contrary to the life that is packaged in those words at the fence.