I’m a Millennial born in the mid-1980s, so I’m old enough to have lived through some pretty extreme technological, cultural, and political shifts. I know what it’s like to get knocked off the internet when someone else in the house picked up a phone to use the landline, and I know that growing up in the church in the 1990s meant that the only kissing allowed by young people was when they “kissed dating goodbye.” (If you don’t get that latter reference, consider yourself lucky.)
The emphasis on “purity culture” that came out of the American Church in the latter half of the last century not only produced generations of suppressed heterosexual prudes, it oppressed people with same-sex attractions, gender dysphoria, and abandoned unwed women who became pregnant—arguably when both the woman and the child she carries are at their most vulnerable.
So it’s no wonder that a recent Gallup Poll found that for the first time in our country’s history, less than half of American adults say that they belong to a church, synagogue, mosque or other place of worship. Who can blame them? This “Christian Nation” has time and again demonstrated that its loyalty to its congregants is conditioned on how well they conform to their puritanical standards. It’s a story all too familiar to me because I was one of those who walked away from a church that appeared more interested in policing culture than showing Christ-like love toward it.
But while I walked away from the church, I never lost my faith. In fact, the more I learned about psychology, sociology and other social studies about what it takes for humans to thrive, the more I saw familiarities in what I learned about how Jesus treated people.
Jesus of the Bible was always drawing boundaries around expectations people had of him and he rigidly enforced those boundaries. He was constantly being told what he could or could not do by the religious leaders of his day, and he just as often bucked those standards. Not only did Jesus protect his own identity, but he also regularly stepped between throngs of people trying to enforce conformity on others, allowing them to get away from their tyrannical accusers.
It’s disheartening to me, then, to see so many of my fellow Christians fall into the very same behavior that Jesus combatted when he walked the earth. Can you imagine Jesus reacting the way Conservative commentators did this week in response to Lil Nas X’s latest song and video, “Montero (Call Me by Your Name)”?
Ben Shapiro, Matt Walsh and other Christian conservatives have suggested that the video encourages Satanism and devil worship and other worldly temptations. Sure, the video is provocative. Throughout the video the “Old Town Road” star doesn’t wear a whole lot outside of his wigs and makeup, and there are scenes where Lil Nas X dances suggestively on Satan’s lap.
The whole song, however, is a criticism of that very Christian culture that said Lil Nas X and others in the LGBTQ+ community would be condemned to hell if they acted on their sexual proclivities. And rather than sit back, create space, and actually listen to what Lil Nas X is trying to communicate through his art, Conservatives took the bait and played the same old record on repeat by attempting to condemn, er, cancel the rapper.
I’m not saying that breaking that mold is easy. As recently as 2013, you could catch me making Christian apologetic arguments against same-sex marriage. But the more I’ve consumed content by artists like Lil Nas X, the more I realize the church and some of the puritanical standards I parroted end up creating a special kind of hell on earth for those on the receiving end of that condemnation. And for that I am sorry.
As Christians, we have an opportunity to change that story, though, for ourselves and future generations. Jesus showed what kind of transformation in people’s lives was possible when you nurtured and created space for them to show up just as they are.
We don’t have to look at Gallup Polls to know something is amiss. It’s time we stop fighting Lil Nas X for standing in his power and time we start walking in our own.