It was a Saturday afternoon in Miami, eighty-something degrees, and I was shuffling along with thousands of other scantily-clad humans into the doors of Ultra Music Festival, completely ecstatic.
Yes, I was pumped. I’d been waiting for months to attend this crazy festival, this three days and three nights of non-stop electronic music, sunshine, lights, laughter, and friends. I’d been planning my outfits for weeks—the brightest colors, copious amounts of kandi bracelets, coordinated eye glitter, sequined skirts, tops with flowers, tie-dye, and neon ribbon—I couldn’t wait. And now I was finally here!
The sun was beaming down on me, my legs and arms were tingling. I was so happy. Nothing could bring my mood down…
…except a gaggle of men and women in ‘JESUS IS THE ANSWER’ t-shirts and hats, holding megaphones and ‘GOD HATES SINNERS’ posters, waving them madly in the air.
This all happened so suddenly. My friends and I had just stepped out of our cab, turned the corner, and were basking in the sun when BAM! we were hit with a whole lot of Jesus and a whole lot of anger.
Here’s the thing. I’m a Christian. Born and raised, proud and passionate. I am not afraid to display my faith publicly. I have no problem being excited about the wonderful truths that being a Christian can give someone for life beyond earth. And no, I’m not ashamed to open up to people about what I believe in hopes of making others see the beauty as well.
But I’m sure as heck not going to stand on a street corner and tell people that they’re damned because they’re going to a music festival.
A woman on the corner stood on a small wooden box. Her hair was pulled back and she held a megaphone to her lips, screaming, ‘You should be ashamed of yourselves. Look at you! Look at what you’re wearing. You’re all going to Hell. ALL OF YOU!”
I watched her eyes. They brightened and widened with every hate-filled sentence. A man next to her followed suit, pumping his meaty arm in the air. “HELL! HELL! HELL!”
Another man shook his fist in the direction of a young girl in front of me, who was wearing black swimsuit bottoms and a red bra with lace and glitter. “Shame on you!” he yelled, “Shame!”
“Turn away from this music festival!”
“Turn away from sin!”
“You are the devil!”
“Repent before it’s too late!”
The shouts were everywhere, echoing off the buildings and bodies around us. I could feel my blood boiling more and more with every phrase.
As a fellow Christian, I tried to empathize with what these angry protesters were saying. There was a teeny tiny part of me, a little sliver below the surface that could agree with them. At music festivals (which keep in mind…this isn’t exclusive to music festivals) there are people wearing less than appropriate clothing, there are drugs, there are ‘sinful’ acts that occur. So sure, I do get what these ‘Jesus freaks’ are saying. To a small extent.
But to claim that you are a Christian, a kind-hearted, humble, forgiving, God-honoring, neighbor-loving Christian and damn a crowd to Hell—that’s complete hypocrisy.
That’s the epitome of why people who do not understand Christianity hate Christians. Because some do exactly this—demand that people follow their religion by telling them that they are terrible, horrible, Hell-bound sinners.
Here’s the thing. We’re all sinners. Different degrees, different types of sin, different actions and choices and means of sinning, but we’re all in the same boat. We all make mistakes. We’re all imperfect. And just because someone sins differently doesn’t make a person ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than another.
As I stood in line, watching the female protester kick a pile of cans and pop bottles and trash and scream at the crowd telling us we were ‘pigs’ and ‘animals’ and ‘less than humans’ I became more and more angry. How dare she?! How dare she stand on her box and act as if she was better than me because she had a microphone and an angry voice and some kind of self-righteous thought in her head that she was a better Christian. How dare she act like her God, MY God didn’t love me because I was attending a music festival.
NEWS FLASH, LADY. I CAN GO TO A MUSIC FESTIVAL AND STILL BE A CHRISTIAN.
The woman pointed at the pile of trash again. “Pigs! All of you!” She shouted. I clenched my jaw, leaned forward, and picked up a random Coke bottle.
“Here,” I said, setting in the already overflowing trash can, “Does that make it better?”
A man behind me shouted in agreement, “The cans are overflowing already and there’s nowhere to put the trash. Chill out, lady.”
The woman’s eyes met mine. Hers were brown outlined by a dull grey but they were flashing. I could see her anger, tangible in her harsh jawline and furrowed eyebrows. She put her microphone to her lips.
“Turn to Jesus!” she yelled.
“I love Jesus!” I shouted back, though it was apparent she wasn’t listening. “And Jesus loves me. He’s not going to love me any less for attending a music festival!”
There were a few shouts in agreement. I leaned forward, trying to grab the woman’s attention again. I wanted her to see my face. See the anger in my own eyes. See that she was wrong.
My guy friend pulled me away. “Come on,” he said, “It’s not worth it.” He steered me closer to the entrance, away from the shouts and megaphones and posters shoved in every passerby’s face. I took a deep breath, calming myself. I had gotten so fired up, but my friend was right. It wasn’t worth it. Because in getting upset and yelling back, I was only being hypocritical myself.
As we waited in line, I replayed the scene over and over in my head. I wished I could have done something, said something different, changed the thinking of those protesters, of the crowd members who would tell stories about the crazy Christians who damned them to Hell before entering into one of the best music festivals in the world.
I wish I could have helped them see that a marker of one’s faith is not measured by how many people you yell at, how many people you shame, or how many ‘sinful’ concerts you avoid. Faith, instead, is measured by how you love Jesus and how you share his love by loving others.
See, that’s the thing about Christianity. It’s been altered so much that people don’t really know what it is anymore. You aren’t any less of a Christian if you go to a music festival, if you wear a swimsuit, if put glitter in your hair, if you drink alcohol, or if you dance the night away with friends. Sure, those aren’t labeled as ‘Christian’ things, but those things don’t make you any less of a good person. Or a believer.
You can attend a festival and still love Jesus. You can do plenty of things and still love Jesus. That’s not an excuse to be a crazy hypocrite under the guise of ‘Jesus forgives all,’ but the true purpose of faith in God is to bring people closer, to bring people together, and to bring people to faith through love. Not through posters and megaphones and hate.
I took another deep breath and let my anger go. That’s all I could do. Pray. Let go. Let God.
Being a Christian is difficult sometimes, but the most important thing is to stay strong in faith, despite adversity. Even if that adversity comes from fellow believers.
Being a Christian isn’t marked in protesting, in anger, in hatred. But marked in love. And in a crowd of thousands of happy, jumping, laughing people, I can do just that. Love.