“The Fighting Temptations” is one of the funniest, tongue-in-cheek depictions of the Pentecostal Baptist church. The 2003 movie stars Cuba Gooding Jr. and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, and uses humor to expose the wickedness flowing through some church pews. In the film, Gooding navigates church politics to organize a viable choir for a gospel competition.
His arch-nemesis is a devout Christian and the church treasurer, Paulina (Latanya Richardson). Paulina praises God and His word in the sanctuary and defiles His teachings in her own life. Paulina believes Gooding stole the choir directing position from her, so she proceeds to ruin his life. Richardson’s character resorts to everything from sabotaging the competition’s auditions to revealing Gooding’s deepest secret during a church barbecue.
Though Paulina is a caricature, my then 14-year-old brain couldn’t comprehend how any Christian could be so devious and conniving. Paulina was the polar opposite of what I was fed in church, so I turned to my mother for answers. My mom’s answer was succinct: “All Christians don’t follow God’s word.”
I’ve held onto my mother’s impromptu teaching, adding it to an ever-growing arsenal of lessons about the Christian church’s hypocrisies. Her words to me resurfaced this weekend as I watched the latest episode of OWN’s “Iyanla, Fix My Life.” Spiritual life coach Iyanla Vanzant was offering guidance to the Pace Sisters, a world-renowned gospel group in crisis.
Most of their conflict stems from one sister’s struggle with her sexuality. DeJuaii is attracted to women and is angry because she sees this as ungodly and an embarrassment to her family. Her sisters agree and shun DeJuaii instead of supporting her.
Their lack of love and support led to a major confrontation between one of the sisters, June, and Vanzant.
June left the room and refused to return while DeJuaii was discussing her dilemma. When Vanzant requested June’s presence, she put her hands on her hips and responded, “I mean, we know better,” as if ‘knowing better’ can quell same-sex attraction. This defiant act initiated an important conversation about how June perceives Christianity and what it actually entails.
Vanzant made a stark clarification when she said, “What you need to understand is what that look, that energy, that vibration does to your sister.”
She continued, “That is not a godly energy you’re giving off now! I don’t understand being so saturated in a dogma and a theology that you would not embrace your sister in her deepest need and pain… I just want you to be mindful of how your energy hurts her.”
What June fails to realize is how her negative energy and refusal to embrace a sister in crisis doesn’t align with the teachings of Christ or the spirit of God. Being a Christian entails more than reading scriptures, attending service and attempting to proselytize. Christianity is a politic and responsibility that must be sharpened continually in our lives. The praxis begins by recognizing the core of Christianity as love and attempting to exhibit that within every aspect of our lives.
Nice-nasty Christianity, similar to Paulina and June’s, doesn’t embody God. Instead, it further alienates other religious faiths and creates an unlikeable image of Christians.
Internet personality Funky Dineva speaks to this in a blog post. Dineva writes:
At what point do you challenge some of these nonsensical doctrines and guidelines that have been transferred from generation to generation and perpetuated by ignorance?
It seems as if there is no systems of checks and balances within Christianity for some Christians. The best Christian is the Christian that does not think or challenge anything. Mind you, many traditions, particularly within the African American community were started and passed on by uneducated, illiterate, disenfranchised slaves and former slaves. Back then people did the best they could with what limited information and understanding they had. In 2013 however, WE JUST FLAT OUT KNOW BETTER. Yet many of us voluntarily surrender our ability to exercise our free will to think critically in the name of salvation. Sounds very GODLY to me. Not sure about you, but the Gawd I pray to doesn’t feel honored or get any kind of glory out of me being blind, dumb, or stupid!
Christians must stop wielding religion as a tool of oppression by engaging in nice-nasty religious politics and return to the art of love.