Religion and I have a weird relationship. I don't consider myself religious, and I don't know if there's any sort of Gods or afterlife, but I'd like to think there are. I don't know all the begats and begots of the family trees in the Bible, and there are more than a few stories and parables in there I don't know. However, two of my most treasured personal possessions are my mom's old Bible and my dad's pre-Vatican II Catholic missal that has all the feast days and prayers in Latin. For me they're more personal keepsakes than spiritual guides. For the most part, I tend to defend religion since for most people it's a good thing, though I certainly recognize that it has been used to defend some of the worst things in history. But I also know that if religion wasn't the excuse, we would most certainly find some other reason to be cruel to each other. When people do use religion as a defense for their awfulness, especially Christianity, it infuriates me to no end.
That's why when I heard what happened to Isabella Red Cloud, a two-spirit woman in South Dakota, I was mad enough to scare my cat. Red Cloud, who is currently homeless and relying on friends for support and shelter, went to the Union Gospel Mission in Sioux Falls to get a hot meal at its soup kitchen but was thrown out simply because she was wearing a dress. When asked why they did that, the director said that it was disruptive, that they were trying to keep a safe space, and that his mission was acting in accordance with the Bible. This is funny because in Mark 2:13-17, Jesus calls out to Levi, who is better known as the Apostle Matthew, to follow him. Matthew, a tax collector considered a sinner and traitor to the Jews of the time, accepted and Jesus went to his home to eat with him. People were outraged at this and asked how he could dine with sinners -- Jesus replied that he did not come for the righteous, but sinners.
That's what infuriates me so much about this mission turning away Red Cloud. If you actually read the Bible and see what Jesus said and did, time and again, he chose not to sit with the righteous but the sinners. In one of Jesus's most notable acts in the book of John (8:1-11), he came into a town where they were about to stone an adulterous woman to death, pushed his way through the crowd, and proclaimed that those without sin be the only ones to stone her. Of course the crowd faded away. Jesus said, "I don't condemn you either." This is important when you learn that a convicted murderer founded the mission and it's named after him. Murder is the most egregious sin in almost every faith on earth, and here they have chosen to dedicate a charitable mission to a murderer who redeemed himself, but judge someone they find a sinner and turn her away.
All of this is compounded by the fact that one of the things that even the most stridently anti-Christian, religion-hating, vitriolic atheists have to admit unless they are blinded by their own dogma is that the Bible says in no uncertain terms that charity is not only expected but an obligation. In Proverbs 21:13, it says that when you ignore a plea for help, you will be ignored yourself. Matthew 5:42 says for you to give when asked and not to turn away. Proverbs 14:31 says that to oppress the poor is an insult to God. That's just three examples, I could probably provide another 20 or 30 where both the Old and New Testaments say that charity is core to being a Christian, and to not refuse anyone because you believe they are a sinner.
When the church officials say Red Cloud's presence was disruptive and could bring on animosity, that is simply a temporal excuse. She wasn't pulling up her skirt and waving her crotch in people's faces; she wasn't screaming and yelling transgender atheist manifestos. She wanted a plate of spaghetti. If she was so disruptive simply sitting at a table eating a roll, they could have given her food and said she could eat outside or in another room. You can't tell me that a soup kitchen doesn't have paper plates, plastic utensils, and tinfoil to make a to-go plate for her. I say this because they chose to refuse help in any regard. Contrast this to a place many of you may not have heard of, Most Holy Redeemer Church in the Castro District of San Francisco. Back during the 1980s at the high of the AIDS epidemic, it served as a hospice for those dying. Its members marched in San Francisco Pride and not merely accepted this community, but embraced it. Over 80 percent of the congregation is LGBT, and charitable outreach focused on community is their main focus. Yes, this is a real church, and yes, it is Catholic. Not a fringe breakaway group either -- it still owes its fealty to Rome and Pope Francis.
This mission in South Dakota is not only failing to follow in the most basic tenets of the Bible, but actively working against them. Only the most hypocritical of Christians would refuse to make even a small effort to help someone. I have known some truly mean-spirited people who have hidden it behind their faith, but I really don't think most would refuse to feed a homeless person. It takes a deliberate, selective reading of the Bible and the theology of Christianity to not only refuse to help, but to ban a person from your charity because they offend you. Yet in an interview, Red Cloud was quoted as saying, "We all have to love one another, regardless of who we are and who they are and how much hatred there is in our hearts for certain things." I don't know what faith Red Cloud follows, but that sounds more like the teachings of Jesus than anything I've heard from Union Gospel Mission.
AMANDA KERRI is a writer and comedian based in Oklahoma City. Follow her @EternalKerri.