I'm going to open this blog post up with a statement. This opinion piece will likely open up a debate about a so-called taboo topic that we have always been instructed to avoid discussing for fear of offending someone else. This piece may cost me a couple of friendships with people who hold different opinions than I have.
But you know something? I have to have my say in the matter. Too much has gone on in the world for me to remain silent on this issue much longer.
I am not a supporter of organized religion.
The key word here, of course, is organized. Religion in itself is not bad. In this huge world are dozens of religions and belief systems. And while the majority of these religions are designed very differently, there are definite similarities between each one. In fact, I would say that in most religions, the ideal of being kind and showing compassion to your fellow man would be at the ideal of anybody who considers themselves spiritual by nature.
I don't consider myself to be religious by any means, but I do consider myself to be a spiritual person. I'm not exactly a believer in God, but I don't really consider myself to be an atheist either. I would probably best describe myself as an agnostic. Someone who does not know if there really is a deity or angels watching over us, but hasn't ruled out the possibility of them existing. I probably won't know until I die.
Even when I was enrolled in "Sunday School" as a child, I didn't really show much interest in the religious aspect of it all. I was only there for the fun activities we did, such as making cookies, or doing arts and crafts. Of course, I was eight years old during that time, and was admittedly the "Bart Simpson" of the group. At least I openly admit it! I do appreciate the time that I spent in Sunday School, but it just didn't seem like a right fit for me, so I didn't go back after my 10th birthday. It was a choice that I made for myself, and although my parents did come from families that were very religious, I appreciate the fact that they allowed myself and my two siblings to make our own choices regarding religious affiliations.
And, well...one of my beliefs is that I don't need organized religion to be considered a good person. But that is only my feelings.
Every place of worship is very different. Many of them are wonderfully warm places of worship where people are singing and dancing to gospel music, and where people hug each other in the pews, and they consider the church to be a place of healing, and kudos to those who attend one of these churches. I would imagine that even though organized religion is not my cup of tea, I think that if I went to one of these places of worship, I would likely be welcomed with open arms and have a good time.
Simultaneously, there are places of worship that do more harm than good, and I would imagine that if a God is out there, S/He would not be pleased seeing a group of people commit old-fashioned blasphemy by exhibiting prejudice against the poor, the minorities, the homosexual, and the non-believers. Nor would S/He be pleased at people committing criminal acts in their deity's name.
Of course, the most extreme examples of this in action would be the Westboro Baptist Church, or supporters and sympathizers of ISIS. That much is a given. But what happens when a situation occurs where a person is basically denied a human right by a person representing a place of worship right in your very own community?
As you may have guessed, this post was inspired by the events that took place in Lakewood, Colorado one week ago yesterday, and how the decision made by the pastor of a ministry sent shockwaves and anger throughout not just the state of Colorado, but the entire world as well.
The tale begins on December 30, 2014 with the sudden death of thirty-three year old Vanessa Collier. Collier left behind two children, as well as her spouse, Christina.
Over the next few days, the family and friends that Vanessa left behind planned her funeral, choosing New Hope Ministries as the place where the service would be held. It was founded in 1981 by Pastor Ray Chavez and his wife Lola, and it was located in the same area where Collier grew up. One of the beliefs that the church held was that it was "a place where those bound by drugs, alcohol, gangs and violence can find an Ounce of Hope".
Unfortunately for Collier's family, that ounce of hope was denied to them on the date of the funeral service. January 10, 2015.
Initially the service was progressing the way that most memorial services would. Family and friends sat down in the pews, mourning their loss, sharing stories about the deceased, and displaying photographs of happier times spent with the person who had passed.
Perhaps it might have been one of the photos that set Pastor Chavez off. Nobody really knows. All that we do know is that fifteen minutes into the service, Pastor Chavez could not continue with the service.
The reason? Photos of Collier and her wife embracing each other and kissing each other were present at the funeral service. And as long as the photos of two women kissing were present in the church, he could not continue with the service.
In other words, he cancelled the funeral because the deceased person happened to be a lesbian.
You can just imagine how well that went over. The mourners were furious and left the church in anger, taking programs, pictures, and eventually Collier's casket out of the church entirely. The entire service was moved across the street to a funeral home.
Still, this whole story just leaves me with a very bitter taste in my mouth. To have a church deny a person of their final right on this planet because of who they happened to fall in love with is the very definition of disgusting. There was absolutely no logic and no common sense in Pastor Chavez's decision to stop the funeral right in the middle of the service. Nobody in the world could ever justify that decision being made at all in my eyes.
Not that some haven't tried to. Some have taken the side of the New Hope Ministries, stating that they had the right to their opinions and that they had every right to stop the service if that was what they felt was right. Mind you, I do NOT agree with that stance at all.
Honestly, I don't think that any church has the right to stop a memorial service for anybody regardless of who they are or were. People in this world have died who have done some rather reprehensible things and even they get the right of a basic sendoff. As far as I'm concerned, Collier's only crime was growing up near a church that clearly showed its bigotry against homosexual people.
I didn't know Vanessa Collier. But by all accounts she was a woman who wanted to do right by her wife and her children. She deserved more dignity at her funeral than what she was given.
And it's incidents like these that have turned me off of organized religion in the first place. Granted, this is an extreme example here - one that I hope is not repeated at other places of worship any time soon. However, I have come across people who are very much churchgoing types who have exhibited less intense displays of cruelty. These people attend church services every Sunday morning to pray away their sins and to praise God, only for them to treat their fellow man like garbage the rest of the week. The amount of homophobic, racist, and thoughtless comments that I have seen coming out of the mouths of these people who claim to love everything about God and what God teaches are enough to make a sailor blush.
It is not okay for people to behave one way at a church and behave in a completely opposite manner when they take off their church attire and interact with people in their homes, jobs, or public places. And honestly, I am afraid of people who are like this.
Now, does this mean that I will avoid going to a church again in my lifetime? Absolutely not. That would not be common sense. But I can't say that those people who show their hypocrisies and their closed-mindedness after the wine has been spilled and the bread has been broken are absolute shining beacons of God's work.
So, let me have it. I've said my piece. And I stand by it too. While my thoughts about whether God exists are ones that I actively question, they are mine, and nobody influenced me to have these thoughts but me. And one day, I hope that there will be a place out there where people can go where they do not have to be judged by how they feel about religion, or how they don't have to feel left out because they believe in something that others do not. It will be a place where people love and respect each other for who they are...the way that God intended them to be. And until we get rid of the hypocrisy and the judgment that people take with them into organized religion, then I refuse to be a part of it.