Like many religions, Christianity is often criticized. And like many critics, the negative speak the loudest. Therefore, many inaccurate tales of woe are consumed by minds young and old. These consumed ideas are made into an umbrella that shadows the church as a whole when in reality, those ideas are far from accurate for many Christians. This creates an offensive and maybe even hostile environment surrounding the topic of Christianity. Many readers who are wary of Christianity will look over this piece because of its title. Fallacies rooted with a negative overtone can lead to a bombastic superiority complex and a secular unchanging conservative narrative about what Christianity is.
I can already see what one would think of when they think of a Christian pastor; one would imagine a white-bread man with some kind of comb-over, wearing an all black outfit with a Roman collar (those little white plastic things underneath the collar of one’s shirt). I spoke with local pastor Josh White of the Church Door of Hope. That depiction is possibly the farthest thing from Mr. White’s appearance. White wore a light wash denim button-up with just enough buttons undone to show the top of his chest which was covered in tattoos, as were both of his arms and part of his neck. This was accompanied by several chunky silver rings, complimenting the large accessory of a belt buckle around his light washed slightly worn-in jeans that went with his vintage black biker boots. Along with a blinged-out Canadian tuxedo, he had a shaved head with a short beard that perfectly accented his large smile with his gold front tooth. None of what I have said in his description is any form of exaggeration; this was the appearance of Pastor Josh White. He was very stylish. When I asked him how he thought his appearance affects the way people perceive him as a pastor, he responded with, “there are times when I’m in more conservative areas where I actually have to teach to break through those barriers because people look at me and they think ‘there’s no way that guy is saved.’” White eventually came to the conclusion that his appearance helps to reach out to a younger crowd of people in Portland. When he started the church, Door of Hope, it was a majority of twenty-somethings looking for a more modern approach to the religious experience. The dynamic of a church (church being used in the sense of a community of Christians that gather together as a family and not just a physical building in which Christians gather), is heavily influenced in Portland due to how young the city’s majority population is. Making appearances and a presence on social media becomes an even more important factor for a church to spread awareness and educate.
The Oregonian article “Yes, Portland is America’s most religiously unaffiliated metro. But who exactly are the ‘nones’?” states that Portland is the least religiously enthusiastic city in the United States with a whopping “42% identifying as atheist, agnostic, or no specific religion. “I spoke with Pastor White about the conditions and differences of being a pastor in Portland and how that special 42% affects his profession. “I think what makes a place like Portland an appealing place to be a pastor… is that it allows a lot less space for waffling, like you need to be all in or you won’t survive.” This really emphasizes the dangers of being a religious figure in Portland.
But what would a writer be without the word of his or her people? When pondering the topic at hand, I conversed with my classmates and requested that each of them write down how they feel about Christianity and what ideas come to mind when they think about the religion. The first question I was asked was if they needed to put their name on the Post-It, and I told them that was their decision. The result was unanimously anonymous Post-Its. There were responses such as, “I’m not Christian so I don’t really care about it.” This was to be expected by an unenthused crowd of youth. An interesting concept, was that the ones who claimed to be neutral on the topic wrote the most on their Post-its speaking of claims and predetermined biases set in place by our predecessors. But there is one overall Post-it writer whose comment I found most intriguing, saying,“From a personal experience it is a negative experience, but as I have stepped away from it I can see that the overall religion isn’t that bad. Specifically about sexuality and judgment I think it is the people being negative and judgemental.” This Post-it, and several like it, eloquently states the idea and the irony inside of what most negative connotation is placed in about Christianity as a religion and the church as a people.
Portland is a uniquely wonderful place that is famous for its tolerance of ideas and uplifts those with dreams that do not traditionally coincide with the conservative societal norms. But the irony of the matter is that when somebody expresses intolerance to those norms, many Portlanders aggressively reflect that intolerance, which is ironically the exact opposite of what Portland is known for. How can we create a tolerant community with such intolerance to entire ideas in communities? The answer, is that it’s not possible. If Portland projects intolerance towards Christianity, then Portland is wrong to preach of such liberalism if the city itself cannot tolerate intolerance.This creates a vicious circle of unattainable tolerance.
Now I come to the unique viewpoint of Franklin High School student and Christian, Anneliese Coppock. I would like to state that even though Coppock is the only student interviewed, she in no way speaks for all Christian youth . I asked Coppock how she feels about how people perceive Christians as homophobic and she responded with, “That’s what a lot of people tend to think, just because you’re Christian that you’re homophobic. Which I feel like I might not agree with you, but I’m not going to be mean to anyone just because of my own life choices. I’m not not going to be nice anymore, I just treat them (people identifying as LGBTQIA+) like a person. Just because I’m Christian doesn’t mean I’m going to be like ‘oh you’re gay.’ No I’m just going to be nice and I’m not going to treat them differently.” As it is stated in Mark 12:31 in the English Standard Version “The second is this: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” That is really all that there is, for it was Jesus who strived to show that we as human beings are all equal, whether you adhere to a religion or not, if you were condemned as a leper or the most extravagant king, and so we should therefore meet each other with love and grace.
I then asked Coppock if people were more educated about the Church and Christianity, if their views and opinions would change due to it. She said, “Yeah, I do feel that they would change their mind a bit, but also just being around people who are Christian. A lot of my friends in youth group, you could not tell like they’re just nice and I just feel like if you know someone who is Christian.” This response aligns with the viewpoints of my aforementioned Post-it participants opinions that it is the people who do wrong and not the religion itself.
So if the pathways of conversation were to be open and recognize each as equals then both parties, those accused and those assuming, could help educate, create understanding, and fight stigmas around Christianity. I do not expect this to suddenly happen in Portland’s tolerant society; it starts with open minds and respectful responses, not specifically in agreement but in respect. Pastor White gave a good answer to the questions of how he responds to accusations of homophobia which I think also apply to this. “Listen, we’re all broken people. I always start with that when people ask me those kinds of questions when they try to pin me down on a hot topic. And I think that we can answer those questions and maintain our orthodoxy and at the same time diminish the confrontation in the way that I do that is that when people ask me, ‘Do you think this or that is a sin?’ I just say everything is a mixture.” Such as many things in life, so I implore students to open those pathways and find the mixture.