As you may know, I’m from Jersey. I’ve told a few choice “Joizey” jokes in my day, and they always get a laugh.

But if you try to knock New Jersey in my house? Oh, heck no.

I’d tell you to make like a banana. And split.

Make like a tree. And leave.

Make like a shepherd. And get the flock out of here!

It’s like this. You know how dysfunctional your own family can be. But they’re still your family. You might give your sister a hard time, sure. Goffa Bids (Jerzese = God Forbid) anybody else does it.

Likewise, I feel defensive when I hear anyone knocking religion. Even though I don’t belong to a particular church myself, my faith is the hinge of my life, and prayer is the door.

But lately, I’ve seen things in the news that make me wonder if certain churches didn’t get the memo – you know, the one about doing unto others. They may have missed the class on compassion, and they’re giving all of us who are spiritually inclined a black eye. The litmus test for a person of faith is simple: if you don’t treat people well, you don’t know God.

Take this church (please!) in Knoxville, Tennessee, with its billboard designed to offend those who believe everyone is entitled to equal rights.

Or this one in San Francisco, California, with shower sprays that aim out toward the front of its church building. Not to put out fires, mind you; no, they’re used for the sole purpose of discouraging homeless people from sleeping there by drenching them with water.

The great Thomas Merton said, “The fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.” And these churches may really believe they are following God’s leading by driving away those souls already feeling disenfranchised.

Even though it isn’t always clear what to do in a difficult situation, one thing is certain. Nobody claiming to hold faith has any right to diminish another. I’m no theologian, but I know one thing, as sure as I’m sitting here. God has an open door policy. Everyone is welcome to walk through.

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