From Croatia, with Love

From: Sven Reinold
Subject: A Little Epistle to the Church of God that is in Los Angeles :)
Date: September 7, 2014 at 10:30:24 AM PDT
To: “The Reverend Dr. Neil G Thomas”

Hi, Neil!

Greetings to you and all the MCCLA! You folks are really “blessed to be a blessing,” I remember your series of sermons on that subject.  

 -         Are you fully aware how big is the work you are doing, among other things, by internet broadcastings of your worship services?
-          Do you really know how blessed you are?
-          And do you really know how big your congregation actually is?
-          You are doing much greater job then you can ever imagine.

Please let me explain…

Me and my partner for 9 years, we are joining you in worship every Sunday for over a year now, ever since I discovered your church as a little part of the Heaven on Earth. We are 47 and 50-year-old guys, a lawyer and a journalist, who enjoy every service of yours, every sermon, and even partake in communion (with cookies!) in our home during the service. We live together, are in peace with ourselves, we know who and what we are, and we are accepted by our parents and
friends, and everything is just fine, except…

Except we are living in a little country deeply influenced with the overwhelmingly toxic religion that, among other things, is very eager to openly promote hate towards LGBT people from the pulpits and through the society as a whole.

Officially, over 90% of the population is catholic here. But, as it turns out, only small percentage of the nominal Catholics are really devoted “church going people”. I suppose, most of them feel comfortable and just enjoy being part of Catholic and Croatian majority. Religion and nationality are very closely connected. There are so many people that are proud to be Croats and Catholics; they worship Mary as “the Queen of Croats” (!), they listen to their bishops talking about the usual “abominations”, consequently a considerable number of them hate homosexuals (others tolerate them at best), and they are sure that there is no way they could be wrong. So, it’s some kind of tribal religion the people are practicing over here, and as we all know, tribal religions and tribal mentality can be very harmful for other people that are somewhat different (historically proven).

Now I don’t want to complain or cry here too much, but as an illustration of the society we are living in here, I could mention just a few things. First, the dominant Roman Catholic Church (commonly full of “malakoi & arsenokoitai” priests, but that’s another story!) recently managed to organize a national homophobic referendum — using a civil society organization called “In The Name of the Family” as a disguise (madam president of that organization is a proud member of Opus Dei) — to put the following stipulation in the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia: “Marriage is a life union between woman and man.” Clear, short and simple.

Such a referendum in a society deeply intoxicated with all different kinds of hate (it’s Balkans after all!) could only be a success. And it was: 946.433 people (that’s approximately ¼ of the entire population of the country!) or 65,87% of the voters voted YES. Only 33,51% of the voters voted NO. So we are now officially a heterosexual country, with dreadful homophobic definition of the marriage – right in our Constitution! Now isn’t that just great, huh? No wonder our gay pride parades must be secured by twice as many police officers as the participants! And it happens in Europe, not in a “galaxy far, far away…”!

Please note that I am not angry, I just feel so enormously sad about all of that. There are many “Christians” that are known not by their love, but by their ability to hate. Did those “Christians” ask themselves what would Jesus do?  I’m sure what He was doing during such a hateful constitutional change. “Jesus began to weep” (John 11:35; NRSV). Isn’t it sad to see religion as one of the main divisive forces and tools of hate even in the 21st century? That’s why many young LGBT persons (and many other people for that matter) don’t want to have anything with the church, religion and God any longer. Many people give up on God because of toxic religions. I’m sure God understand their pain and sorrow, because I once also thought God hates me (for number of my “iniquities”) and that there are people with authority to remind me that it is so, and that there are people who have the God given right and are entitled to hate me because who I am. But I guess I was particularly insistent in my “wrestling” with God… :)

When you have a dominant and toxic religion that feels so secure that it can dictate from the pulpit what politicians, doctors, teachers and everybody else should think and do, — it’s the moral end of that religion. Notwithstanding, toxic religions have great influence on the society, make no mistake about that. They are pursuing their teachings in schools, their opinion on such questions as artificial insemination is discussed in the  parliament, and they preach about necessity of voting for conservative parties (or risking going to Hell) before every election. Thus the actions of the toxic religions can result in vicious hate towards people that are a different. And insults here and there. And ridiculous referendums. And “kill-the-fags-graffiti” in towns. And shattered souls. And beaten people. And so on.

Now I know you preached on that many times, but I think you just can’t overemphasize how great and positive could be the influence of a loving and inclusive religion based on spirituality and love, and not on fundamentalism and hate. We the people “from a galaxy far, far away” are living proof of that, and we are so glad that you MCC folks exist. Although not physically present, we love to worship with you virtually. Remember always, those empty pews in your church services are not really empty: we are sitting there, you just can’t see us. ;)

I and my partner, we don’t go to church anymore and your services are the only church services we attend. I went to the church for many years and was once an organist in small local protestant congregation. Now I miss playing the big church organ so much, but I don’t go to services anymore because being gay is a reason for excommunication, and I suppose I’m too old to pretend to be something I’m not, just because I want to participate in worshipping God. Nobody should do that. And most important, God doesn’t want us to pretend that we are something that we just aren’t, causing emotional and spiritual damage to ourselves. I’m not interested in being part of any church that is kept together in homophobic unity anymore.

“In God I trust; I am not afraid. What can a mere mortal do to me?” (Psalms 56,11; NRSV). There are countries like mine where it is just a little harder to live if you are gay or lesbian. I mean, it’s not that bad after all; we can cope with the situation. As an answer to mentioned conservative success regarding homophobic definition of the marriage in the Constitution, liberal government recently passed the life-unions-law, and few days ago first civil ceremony of the life union between two men is performed.

We are fully aware that there are much worse societies in the world and that here are people who are hungry, persecuted, beaten and killed on daily basis, some of them just because of their sexuality. Or their religion. Or for some other reasons. We are not hungry or persecuted, and you won’t be executed or burnt at the stake for being gay over here, but on the other hand you just can’t and won’t be welcomed in any of the existing churches either. And as gay, you are at best tolerated, but seen as a potentially lost soul destined to be stabbed by devils with their little forks in Hell. :)

It would be so nice to have a local MCC church here, but for now that’s just wishful thinking. Concerning the high degree of hate, “radically inclusive churches” would have to be built like fortresses around here, I guess. So having such a great “online church” as yours just might be more important for many more people than you think… And I’m sure my story is not unique at all.

You see, going to church may seem to you like the usual way to spend your Sunday mornings. But count your blessings and please remember that around the world (in those “galaxies far, far away”) there are many people who can only wish that some day they are going to have an opportunity and advantage to worship in an inclusive and genuinely warm church like yours! For such people, entering an MCC church building would seem like crossing the Red Sea and the threshold of heavens at once, I suppose… And you just can’t possibly know how much I would love to play “How Great Thou Art” on your beautiful new church organ! If I just could play that hymn and die! :)

Thanks be to God (and internet), we really are connected. Be encouraged and blessed in your work of true love. To God be the glory!

With love,
Sven & Zlatan
Zagreb, Croatia