I recently left a job at a faith-based nonprofit after being involved in it for over half my life. It came down to two realities for me.
Reality one: My former job and large portions of Christianity discriminate against LGBTQ people. The LGBTQ community are considered “nobodies” in most places of faith. Whether it’s intentional or incidental, it’s real, and I think it’s helpful that we acknowledge that in a black and white way.
Reality two: History tells us that telling someone you love them while discriminating against them doesn’t work.
We’ve used discrimination a lot in our history and religious institutions are serial offenders. It never makes people feel loved. It always puts someone on the margins. It makes them feel “less than.” It destroys their dignity and self-worth. It makes them “nobodies.” It always has, it always will.
The whole Christian faith is centered on this guy Jesus being God, in human form. I may have already lost you there, but stay with me. If that’s true, then it would be really interesting to see what that guy would do, right?
Well, one of the things he did most was hang out with the real nobodies in society, the marginalized people — blue-collar workers, poor people, the disabled, ethnic minorities, prostitutes. That was his crew, and that was who he picked to lead his mission. Nobodies.
It’s one of the things I like most about Christian faith. God would have to be the most important “somebody” a person could think of, and “nobodies” were the most important “somebodies” to God.
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The world keeps trying to push people down, give people shame and put people at the bottom; Jesus keeps building them up, bringing them love and putting them first.
Since this is about faith, I’ll tell you my favorite Bible story. Someone asked Jesus what the most important commandment is, and he gave them two tied together: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself.
God’s world doesn’t have “nobodies,” only neighbors. The problem with discrimination and discriminatory systems is that they require us to choose our neighbor or ourselves while love requires us to choose our neighbor as ourselves.
That’s why my wife and I decided to create a new nonprofit serving young people in our community called Neighbors. We wanted to make a space where no one was a “nobody.” We use volunteer mentors to give belonging to every young person we can regardless of faith or background. We explore faith with whoever wants to, in a way that’s inviting, approachable and non-judgmental. And we actively love our literal neighbors through service to our community.
We hope that Neighbors is a place where all young people know they are loved by us and by God and that we are with them. Full stop. We hope that they grow in love and service for all of their neighbors. Full stop. We hope that they know equity and justice just as much as they know fun and adventure. We hope that every young person finds a home at Neighbors not because they’ll believe something of value one day but because they are someone of value today.
We look forward to love without condition, explanation or qualification. We can’t wait to make a neighborhood out of a bunch of “nobodies.”
James Tutson is a local musician and co-founder of Neighbors of Iowa City, which is hosting a COVID-safe launch event Jan. 29. Comments: neighborsofiowacity.org