I remember the moment the first crack appeared. I was a freshman at the University of Southern California and had chosen “Reading Scripture as a Skeptic and Believer” to fulfill one of my general education requirements.
We were talking about the exodus from Egypt and our professor matter of factly said, “The exodus from Egypt didn’t really happen, not historically.” But in addition to being my professor, he was also a rabbi and a man of deep personal faith.
There’s the historical truth of what did or did happen thousands of years ago in the Egyptian desert and of that we can be reasonably certain. There’s no mention of a mass exodus of slaves in any Egyptian writing, there’s no archeological evidence to suggest an entire nation had setup camp for decades. It just didn’t happen.
But then there’s the Truth of it.
That, as an orthodox rabbi told my gay friend over a Passover seder, “With a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, God will schlep you out of your own personal Egypt.” That God is forever on the side of the disposed and disenfranchised. That God will free the slaves even if it means sending plagues to the oppressors. That when you’ve hit the end of the road, when an army has you up against a wall (or a river), God will make a way. That the impossible is possible.
I didn’t like that. My faith had been built upon the understanding that the Bible was not just a religious text but a historical one as well. I was told that men had one less rib than women because God had taken one of Adam’s to make Eve. I was taught that Noah’s ark was grounded upon on a mountain in Turkey (but that the “Muslim government” wouldn’t let excavators in [which, obviously overlooks that Islam has the story of Noah and the flood as well…])
I wondered, if the Bible isn’t true then why should I believe it and how can I be a Christian?
It took me years to ask the question: are my beliefs about truth true?
Just because my youth pastor told me something when I was thirteen, doesn’t make it true. Just because he told me that the Bible describes historical events rather than teaching moral (or preaching political) messages, doesn’t mean it’s true. Maybe the Bible doesn’t intend to be a history book. I mean, if it did, why would it offer two contradictory versions of creation in the first two chapters! Maybe, just maybe, the Bible is asking and answering bigger questions.
In fact, most of conservative Christian beliefs are only around 200 years old!
I often say “I’m glad that I’m queer because otherwise I might be a sexist, transphobic, classist asshat” — that being queer put that first crack in an oppressive worldview. It’s sorta true: I took that class, yes, to fulfill a general education requirement and, yes, because I was a Christian and interested in studying religion more but also, yes, because I wanted desperately to find in that class some assurance that I was ok.
For me, being queer prompted me to register for that class which struck the first crack, Fr. Shay shares sometimes about the moment when his conservative Christian college uninvited a not-quite-conservative-enough Christian band from performing.
When I was on the Equality Ride, a mother shared that she was withdrawing her son from an evangelical college after he witnessed his school arrest other young adults for coming on campus to talk about the Bible.
My friend, and Centurion’s Guild founder, Logan Mehl-Laituri had his own “crystallization of conscience” when he realized that he could no longer engage in armed combat as a member of the US military, instead asking to return to Iraq with his unit unarmed.
The cracks appear for each of us in different places, at different times, and triggered by different events.
I remember when I first heard the CRACK! At first I tried to pretend it wasn’t there, then I tried to cover it up, then I tried to fix it. I couldn’t. The crack got bigger and started to spread. And it was utterly terrifying. Contraception. Women’s place in the church. Social services. The eternal fate of the world’s billions of non-Christians. What about the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven? Crack. Crack. Crack.
For as proudly, unabashedly, radically queer as I am today, when I was 18 and a freshman at the University of Southern California, this is not the future I wanted for myself. I wanted to fit in at Campus Crusade for Christ, I wanted a place at the conservative church in Bel Air that all the pretty white kids on campus drove out to every Sunday, I wanted my crush on the girl in my acting class to grow into a relationship so I could ignore and hide all the crushes I’d ever had on guys.
And then once I realized that “the gay” thing had to give, I wanted everything else to stay the same. Maybe I could keep all of my evangelical beliefs, my Republican/libertarian political leanings, my complete cluelessness about the reality of gender, my ignorant benefit from living in a racist society.
I could go to gay clubs on Friday night and church on Sunday mornings and buy an HRC bumper sticker and one day get married to another gay Christian and raise good Christian kids in the suburbs and everything would be fine.
Crack. Crack. Crack.
Except for that crack that I just couldn’t ignore. If they were wrong about about me, maybe they were wrong about other people too. If Jesus challenged us that the law could be summed up in loving God with all your heart and loving your neighbor as yourself, I had to set about how to love—how to really love—my neighbor. To do that, I had to know and understand (as best I could) them. I had to have relationships with them.
And once I began to know my neighbors, the crack exploded and I had no choice but to tear it all down.