I have been a Christian for as long as I can remember — it’s an essential part of my identity. However, there have been times when I struggled with what it means to identify as Christian. In sixth grade, I almost lost faith in my religion when I doubted my church’s welcoming environment. I was sitting in my Bible-study session waiting for the lesson to start when I saw the projector display the title: “Living with the Bible.” I imagined that it would probably be about loving our neighbors and living with a generous heart. It wasn’t until I reached the last slide that I was taken aback. It read in big, bold letters, “No Homosexuality.”
Admittedly, I wasn’t the most knowledgeable sixth grader when it came to sexual orientation, but I knew that it constituted an important part of somebody’s identity. I was confused, to say the least. Why would our sexual orientation have anything to do with the Bible? As the pastor went on, he explained that homosexuality is considered a “sin.” I searched for the reasoning behind his claim, but I couldn’t come to understand how someone’s identity in and of itself could be a sin. In response, he flipped through the pages of the Bible and pointed out a verse that said marriage was only between a woman and a man: “But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and woman her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2 [ESV]). I was still lost and unconvinced. But my heart stopped after I heard the words that came out of the pastor’s mouth: “Gay people will rot in hell.” In that moment, I knew that I wanted to leave this church.
I didn’t understand how so much hate could stem from a religion that I believed to be based on love. I think that most — if not all — religions have love and peace as the foundation of their dogma. For example, “Love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these” (Mark 12:31) is Christianity’s central teaching. Brahmaviharas, the four central beliefs of Buddhism, includes a concept of loving-kindness. And yet, there are still some people who use their religion as a means to spread hate and violence.
This can be seen through terrorist groups, such as ISIS, who use their Islamic “faith” to justify the evil and vile acts they commit. Because of ISIS, there are so many misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding about Islam, despite the fact that Islam centered around generosity and peace. One of the main pillars of Islam is Zakat, the practice of charity and giving to the impoverished. To acquire balance and growth, the individual gives a portion of their wealth to help rid inequality and help those in need. I think there is a human tendency to impose our values onto our religion. As a result, people are losing faith in their religious groups or creating false ideas surrounding religious groups.
How we use our religious beliefs in our daily lives are reflective of ourselves. One can interpret one line in a religious piece as a means of supporting hatred, such as homophobia, while another individual can interpret another part of a religious piece as supporting queer rights. Our religions aren’t shaping our opinions — our biases are shaping the ways people internalize their religions. Because religion isn’t part of everyone’s identity, it shouldn’t be used as evidence to prove or discredit people’s ideas. Our opinions subconsciously affect the ways we view everything in our lives, and it is important that we allow religions to keep their ideologies of love and peace, especially because of its role in many individuals’ lives.
Jane Park is a Junior from Roslyn, N.Y. Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.