What happens when Christ is left out of Christianity

Growing up, I went through a sampler, of sorts, of Christianity. 

I was baptized at Trinity Lutheran Church in Gardnerville. I went to the old Steamboat Baptist Church on Geiger Grade Road, and attended several Bible camps as a kid. I had a lot of Catholic friends—and even more friends who were LDS (aka members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, aka Mormons). I became a member of the LDS Church when I was 19, but left about six years later due to concerns I couldn’t shake over some elements of the church’s history, and the church’s treatment of LGBTQ individuals—particularly the members’ fervent support of ballot Question 2, which put a ban on same-sex marriage into the Nevada Constitution. 

All of this left me with a religious dichotomy: I grew to dislike most religious institutions, for a whole lot of reasons—but I’ve always loved and tried to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. 

Jesus was a dude who didn’t look down on others. He encouraged everyone to love and help their neighbors. He taught values like kindness, forgiveness and fellowship.  

One of those aforementioned reasons why I grew to dislike most religious institutions was (and is) that I didn’t see a whole lot of Christ’s teachings in a lot of their actions. 

This all was on my mind when I read a story about the uproar over the New York funeral of Cecilia Gentili, an activist and performer who died on Feb. 6 at the age of 52. I first heard of Gentili—an outspoken advocate for transgender people and sex workers—when she spoke at an event I attended last fall in Palm Springs. 

Her funeral was held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. This is how The Washington Post described it: 

The cheering began shortly after the priest opened the funeral. 

Bold-colored outfits dotted the hundreds of people in the pews of St. Patrick’s Cathedral for transgender advocate and avowed atheist Cecilia Gentili’s funeral Thursday. 

“Welcome to St. Patrick’s Cathedral,” said Edward Dougherty, the priest presiding over the event at the Manhattan church. “Except on Easter Sunday, we don’t (usually) have a crowd that is this well turned out.” 

As Dougherty chuckled into the mic, Gentili’s family, friends and a few celebrities applauded, with some chanting “Cecilia.” They were celebrating a woman who advocated for sex workers, immigrants and people living with HIV. The funeral was punctuated with cheers for a trans woman who exemplified their struggle for safety and acceptance, and speakers prayed for transgender rights and access to health care. 

In the days following the funeral, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York began to express disdain. What was so offensive, leading church officials—led by Enrique Salvo, the head of St. Patrick’s—to use terms like “scandalous,” “deceptive” and “sacrilegious”? From that aforementioned piece: New York Archdiocese spokesman Joseph Zwilling told The Washington Post that Salvo’s statement was about “the behavior of some of those in attendance at the funeral—including comments like ‘the mother of all whores’ or changing the words of the ‘Ave Maria,’ a sacred hymn, to ‘Ave Cecilia’ to cite just two examples.” 

Gentili’s family issued a statement on social media pushing back against the archdiocese’s claims, responding that the funeral brought “precious life and radical joy to the Cathedral in historic defiance of the Church’s hypocrisy and anti-trans hatred.” 

“Cecilia Gentili’s funeral … was a reflection of the love she had for her community and a testament to the impact of her tireless advocacy,” the statement said, later adding: “The only deception present at St Patrick’s Cathedral is that it claims to be a welcoming place for all.” 

Nobody was harmed by anything done at Cecilia Gentili’s funeral. Nothing was damaged. While some offense could be understandable if the intent of the service was to demean or mock the Catholic Church, it appears the service was purely a celebration of Gentili’s life.  

The only problem here is that uptight, privileged church leaders got offended—because they disregarded the teachings of Jesus himself. 

Portions of this piece originally appeared in our sister paper, the Coachella Valley Independent.