Struggling with Faith
And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of God,” and since then has been waiting “until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.” For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds,” he also adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
I admit it, oftentimes it is really hard to have faith. It is hard to call yourself a Christian.
Those who defame and destroy the name of our faith are everywhere today. They wrap themselves in flags of nations. They call for purity (which I find laughable). They swim in the pools of misogyny and whiteness. They profit from war and promote violence. They are in love with weapons.
A few weeks ago another house of worship in the United States was invaded by a gunman who shouted “…all Jews must die…” as he opened fire with an AR-15 killing eleven people who were there for a bris which is the Jewish ceremony of male circumcision, held typically when a baby is eight days old.
A BABY. EIGHT. DAYS. OLD.
This makes me want to scream.
When my daughter was born, we had barely been home on Day 8. After a complicated delivery and a concern over a heart murmur, we were kept in the hospital for five days. On Day 8 I was barely functioning. I remember her baptism three months later, a day our family planned for. Like our Jewish siblings, we had a party after and celebrated the joy of a new life with friends and family.
I imagine those who were gathered in the Tree of Life synagogue that day. Family and friends. Proud parents. Tired parents. A mom whose body was really tired after giving birth just a week earlier but who got herself together for this important day in her faith tradition. Loving relatives. And a baby. A BABY. A baby EIGHT DAYS OLD. A baby. Eight days old. I feel like this information has somehow been lost in all the chatter and all the conversation.
Who were terrorized. Not just by an AR-15. But by hate. And who will remain terrorized forever because that is what violence and trauma does to you.
Eight. Days. Old.
A few days later the denomination I am a part of offered condolences and solidarity to our Jewish siblings and repeated our demand that AR-15’s be banned. After all, they are the weapon of choice for all mass shootings – maiming children, adults, the elderly, the movie-goer, the worshipper, the student, the shopper alike.
I think this is a 100% reasonable demand for a Christian denomination to make. That weapons whose only purpose is harm are banned. That is a simple request.
And the backlash online was swift by so-called Christians mocking us for standing up for life, saying that they love their guns, mocking us for proclaiming the Jesus of love and the Jesus of abundant life (which means we are against weapons).
It is sickening.
So am listening to these words in the Letter to the Hebrews – themselves persecuted, themselves afraid:
“Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
I admit that I have run out of ideas on how to provoke others to good deeds of love when some who say they follow Jesus say they love their guns. I do not know how to talk people out of the love of violence, the love of weapons, the love of hate and the love of things like anti-Semitism. It makes no sense to me. I want nothing to do with these “Christians.” I admit that I too am so broken, hurt and adrift that I do not want to make common cause with people like this. I do not want to talk to or be with people who mean those I love deeply harm, who want to hurt my own family.
And I am struggling deeply with forgiveness.
But I do want to encourage others to know that there are Christians like me out there. And there are so many of us. And we reject violence, and we reject war, and we reject the killing of the Creation, and we reject neo-liberalism, and we reject weapons, and we reject misogyny, and racism, and hatred.
Because we love Jesus. And we love his law.
We need to get louder and bolder in that proclamation. Even if it costs us everything. We need to stop our addiction in the Church to cheap grace. Because that addiction (that is all about our comfort and privilege) is killing everyone.
Rev. Shannan R. Vance-Ocampo serves as the Director of the Center and Library for the Bible and Social Justice. Ordained in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), she also serves as the General Presbyter for the Presbytery of Southern New England and Co-Moderator of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship.