Is Anybody Out There?

How does one fall so in line with a political party, leader, or ideology that they become incapable of seeing the contradictions between what they say they believe and what they actively support? Is the propaganda consumed by the Fox and Trump diehard believers so powerful that it turns one’s mind to mush? Does it make one impervious to provable lies and misdirection? Or does a fear of being proven wrong make one incapable of looking in any other direction?

The fact that the American Evangelical Church has continued to be the largest (and most staunch) base of support for our current corrupt administration is no coincidence. There lies an unwelcomeness for introspection, questions, and doubt at the very foundation of this church. One can be forgiven for any number of indiscretions that the Bible contains teachings on. But, if one dares to question whether the loudest evangelical voices might be wrong, an unpardonable sin has been committed. And if one came from an Evangelical tradition yet dared to voice doubts that church teachings and traditions may not be supported by the scriptures that we supposedly base everything on—well, we shall speak of those people no more. I am one of those people. A quick skim through other writings on this page will make that abundantly clear. And the precipitous loss of evangelical friends and acquaintances that coincided with my voiced questions was no accident.

The other day I read a friend’s lament for the callousness and dismissive attitude of our president toward the humans affected by the chaos created by his recent actions (regarding Turkey, Kurds, and Syria). I expectantly watched for Trump apologists to swoop in. It did not take long. The poetically composed cries for loss of life and betrayal of allies was greeted with, “I LOVE President Trump. I thank God that he is finally bringing our American soldiers home….” Only, those soldiers are not coming home. Verifiably not coming home. They have simply moved to a more oil-rich country to protect our ally. You know, the ally responsible for the murder of an American based journalist. The ally responsible for the terrorists that flew planes into our twin towers. Those allies. Not the ally that fought alongside our troops to weaken ISIS into insignificance. That ally was dispensable. That ally is not liked by the nearby strongmen. Now the Kurds are “no angels”. As if to say they have earned their betrayal. (Later edit: since the original writing of this piece, troops have started moving into Iraq also. Again, still not coming home.)

The loudest voice in that conversation was a family member of my friend. I have seen these ugly displays of partisan and trumpian loyalty over concern for their relative’s feelings many times before. I read comment after comment displaying anger, defensiveness, dismissiveness, and arrogance. Like a cornered defendant, excuses changed. The topic at hand kept being altered when no good defense could be made. But never once was there a comment of understanding why my friend would be upset over the loss of innocent life. Never once was there recognition that one claiming the faith of Christianity should be upset over any people being harmed. Heartache over possible ethnic cleansing was somehow seen as naiveté. Somehow the people crying out for justice and care are blind to what is happening. Somehow the family tie is less precious than the defense of a stranger creating destruction in his incompetence.

But, really, why should this surprise me? Many evangelicals see every non-evangelical as lost. Clueless. Blind. Why wouldn’t this attitude splash over into the rest of their lives? This attitude creates a sense of superiority. A sense of exclusivity and pride in finding the one true path. We are the only ones who know the truth. If only those others would listen and follow OUR beliefs, all would be well. Our interpretation of ancient writings is the only true interpretation. Our beliefs are not to be questioned, ever. Me condemning your beliefs, traditions, lifestyle, is all done out of love. Most evangelicals are completely unaware of this paradox of their pride in what they say they are humbled by. But their words and actions show their unseen hand.

But, I suppose this cult-like defense of a politician, a party, a despicable man, should not surprise me at all. It is simply a bastardized extension of a mind convinced that it knows the Truth. A mind certain that God is who they say even though they cannot prove it. After all, isn’t faith all about the unseen, the unprovable, the unexplainable? But–caution to those who dare to ask about the unanswerable, the unprovable. Those people are blinded by the Evil One. Their questions could not possibly be because their mind does not function in a concrete, black and white world. Could they? Some minds dance in the grey. Some people love the beauty of the unexplainable, the unknown, the “what ifs”. And if God is as big as Evangelicals say, shouldn’t those grey dancers be ok too? Shouldn’t Evangelical’s faith hold up to questions? If it is based in irrefutable fact it should.

But therein lies the rub. The “one true way” is claimed by many faiths. The core beliefs of Judaism, Christianity, Muslim, Buddhist, Pagan (need I go on?) are remarkably similar. Love. Care for others. Generosity. Something out there that is bigger than us. And yet, for Evangelicals, this paragraph is a heresy.

The fact that human history is strewn with the bodies of those who disagreed with the chosen faith of the day (or of the region) should in and of itself foster a spirit of caution and a willingness to question our “rightness” in all things. Would we be willing to die over an unprovable belief? Would we be willing to kill over it? Should we? Would we be willing to become estranged from loved ones over it? Would we consider others inferior or lost? Should we?

There is a strength in one being willing to say “I don’t know” or “I could be wrong.” There is a humility in admitting that we didn’t see the whole picture before. That we were wrong. It is commendable to be willing to listen to new facts that emerge. To voices that speak differently than our own. To allow ourselves uncertainty. Is there a blind spot in my world view? In my never-faltering defense of a fallible human? In my unwillingness to look critically at my faith?

There is strength in one’s faith if one can still believe something while acknowledging that there are contradictions and ugliness alongside the beauty and traditions. There is such depth in the grey. Such love and freedom in those shades.

But we can never see the grey if we only listen to those who paint in strict black and white. We can never learn we might be wrong if we block out the voices that differ from our own. We can never know we have been lied to if we cover our ears to all other voices. (Are you listening, Fox viewers?)

The world of American Evangelicalism holds much responsibility for the atrocities and corruption of our current Presidential administration. They provide cover. They parrot excuses. They mock those who disapprove of the current political climate of “us before them”. Isn’t that the opposite of Christ’s teachings? They create an assumed political affiliation without examining the wildly unscriptural reality of such a political marriage. Politics have no place in the church–except for conservative Republican politics. Those are ordained by God himself. But, please, do not ever say those words out loud! The church does not have a political affiliation! We just hate the Democrats. And the Socialists. They are all lost.

All of the above words are written with a sense of heavy-heartedness. Of sadness for kindness and compassion lost. Grief for the beloved leader of my youth swirling in the muck of the loyal trumpian sycophant. I am pained by the vitriol spewed from the mouths of those claiming the name of Christ (the One who is to be the purist example of love to have ever existed). I am saddened over relationships severed due to an “us verses them” mentality. It stings to be called hateful for crying out for those with no voice. I am at a loss over the willingness of so many to choke down the lie that all other revelations are fake news but those that align with my politics/religion/opinions.

But really, my biggest question is: Is anybody listening? Anybody out there?

Epic Fail

I nearly made it.  Nearly reached 47 years as a good, obedient, evangelical Christian.  Alas, I have failed.

Well, to be brutally honest, the church has failed.

As one who has attended church from even before she was born, I must admit that it is quite sad that the evangelical church can’t even keep me.  I should be thoroughly indoctrinated.  I should be thoroughly submissive.  I should be loath to question and afraid of the grey.  I should unblinkingly support the republican party.  I should parrot the words of Franklin Graham and those like him.  I should happily condemn homosexuals and those who consider abortions without stopping to ask why.  I should worship the flag, this country, and the military.  I should rage against the moral failings of Bill Clinton while dismissing and outright excusing Donald Trump’s.  I should do all of this un-ironically.  I should do all of this without seeing the blatant disconnect from the faith I claim.

But I don’t.  I can’t.

I blame my mother.  Ok, I really don’t.  But I do acknowledge her for being a strong woman with a critical mind who wasn’t afraid to think.  I blame my childhood surrounded by boys and daring to think that I could talk to them in the same manner that I talked to girls.  I saw no difference in their worth than my own then.  I don’t now.  I went toe to toe verbally with any boy and will still do it to this day.  But, I must confess, many men of the church do not appreciate a woman getting all logical and smart and stuff.  Cuz, you know, breasts and periods and all.  And submissive women.  And blah blah blah….men retaining power over all.

I like to think.  I like to question.  I like to seek.  I refuse to submit strictly because a man tells me to.  I refuse to follow tradition simply because the church decides to.  I will not shut off my brain for fear of shaking my faith.

And therein lies the problem.  When one ceases to fit into the tidy box created for us in the evangelical church one risks exile.  One risks attack.  One risks pious prayers for our lacking discernment and wisdom.  Pity.  Anger.  Disdain.

Really.  I tell you no lies.  I have been the blessed recipient of all of the above.

I have been on a fascinating journey in my faith for many years.  But it has come into picture perfect focus within the past year.  Thank you Donald Trump.  Thank you Franklin Graham.  Thank you Westboro Baptist.  Thank you stubborn homophobic cake bakers (it’s a cake people!!  A stinking cake!).  Thank you alt right, confederate flag waving, nazi saluting, gay condemning, conservatives.

Thank you for exposing the hypocrisy and self-told lies in my own mind.

For years I had complacently looked past the bigotry disguised as love in my own faith community.  I accepted the notion that those scholars who researched and found flaws in translations of scripture were out to destroy the Bible (yes, I have heard this statement many times).  For decades I bought that we alone had the correct interpretation of scripture.  For nearly half a century I happily lived amongst the Pharisees.

Yes.  The Pharisees.

The Pharisees were those in religious power in the days of Christ.  They were the recipients of Jesus’s most direct displays of anger and rebuke.  They were blinded by their own righteous thinking.  Blind to their own snobbish hatred of those beneath them.  Completely clueless that they had left their God long before and traded it for power and rules.  Lacking the discernment of the Truth in front of them.

Sound familiar?

Today I step away from this toxic brew of political power and pious judgment the American evangelical church has become.  Today I close the door to those who wish to guide me off of the path I am on.  I am on this path because of my faith, because of my seeking, because of my prayers.  Not in spite of.  Not opposed to.

Does it not seem arrogant to even suggest that we have the definitive interpretation of the gospel?  Does it not seem foolish to think we and only we understand God’s teachings, God’s reasons, God’s will?   Does it not seem counterproductive to quash those who dare to be different?  Dare to ask questions?  Dare to follow with both their heart and brain?  Why would it be wrong to leave some questions unanswered?  Some facts unknowable?  (Who is right when declaring God’s will for hurricanes?  Is it judgment for homosexuality, abortion, lack of support for Israel?  Or is it God teaching us to love and depend on each other?  I’ve heard all those variations and more.) Why can’t we admit that not everything in life was outlined clearly in scripture?  That life is full of grey.  Isn’t that the definition of faith?  To use our brains for as far as they can take us and then leap for the remaining unprovable parts?

I find myself at a point where I can no longer suck it up for the sake of community.  In fact, I find that notion laughable given my community lately.  Parts of my community have regularly blamed me for being unkind and harsh.  I have been confused if they were referring to my constant pleading that we  reach out to the marginalized OR to the fact  that I disagree with them politically.  And that…THAT is just pure heresy!!!  Is my dysfunctional heart reflected in my devotion to charity or to my disdain of falsehoods?  Is my poor discernment proven by my questioning the Christian defense of despicable personal beliefs OR by my belief that we are to strengthen each other’s faith through challenging that which is against Christ’s teachings?  I must say that I am confused about these things.

I have had a rotten few days.  I have not seen the loving side of my evangelical brethren lately.  My children have witnessed their cruelty cloaked in piety.  They have seen the venom dripping from lips claiming to love me.  My family’s faith has been damaged.  It is too soon to tell if the damage is permanent.  It is too fresh to know when or if the wound will heal.  But I grieve for my children.  I grieve for their pain and concern over mom’s red, swollen eyes.  I grieve for their worries about implications to their own lives.  I grieve their innocence in thinking that Christians really do love each other.

And what caused such grief?  Pettiness.  Stubbornness.  Wounded pride.  A desire to quiet different thought.  Assumptions about me based on nothing other than my gender, my defense of facts, and my refusal to back down on the core of Christ’s teachings.  The core of love and grace to all.

Literally all people.

LGBT included.  Poor included.  Addicts.  Those who don’t plan ahead.  Those who vote democratic.  Those who’ve had abortions.  Those who fight fascism.  Fascists (yeah, that one stings).  Atheists.  Single moms who’ve never been married.  Dads who have walked away from their responsibilities.  Divorced people.  Parents who neglect their children.  Children who are disrespectful. Christians who think differently than the unwritten evangelical handbook says they should.

I’ve thought back over other times when loving, caring christians have felt it necessary to scold me for causing others to stumble.  Yes, this accusation has been used several times.  Most, if not all, have been over a difference of political opinions.  When I refused to apologize for thinking that our current president is much like Saul  in the book of Isaiah, I was condemned.  I guess God only agrees with blind support of political leaders.  Because He placed them there.  How dare I suggest that perhaps they weren’t placed there for the reasons they believe.  Are either stances provable?  Absolutely not.  But, I suppose my version of unprovable is far more blasphemous in the handbook.  And they have freely pummeled me with verses to confirm their superior view.  Pay no attention to the verses that don’t.

Please pay no attention to past religious giants who have stood in opposition to government leaders due to their personal Christian beliefs.  I’m sorry Dietrich Bonhoeffer, you should have followed Hitler.  My apologizes to those Christians who hid Jews in their homes.  Martin Luther–how dare you nail your treatise to the door!  Daniel should not have prayed because the king said so.  Tsk tsk Moses’ mom for hiding him from Pharaoh.  I can’t for a moment think that the disciples who found themselves in jail defied any government authority!  Could they have?  What were these good people thinking?!?!?   Clearly out of line.

There are far more examples of Christians disobeying authority because of not in spite of their faith.  But, hopefully my point is clear.

I also will address the painfully large elephant in the room.  Many do not take too kindly to a women suggesting that their views may be skewed.  People bristle when a mirror is held up by a….girl.  They’d rather break the glass than study the reflection.  Many faithful men are shaken by a strong, thinking woman.  But not Esther! (from the book of Esther)  She was an excellent and godly example.   She spoke truth to power and we revere her for it.  Or Abigail.   Let’s not forget her strength. (Google her story).  Hmmmm…  I guess book examples are fine since no one can witness you learning from a woman that way.

So, I apologize for the epic fail of my American evangelical christianity.  I apologize for choosing to follow Christ’s example over all else.  I apologize for taking Jesus at His word when he stated that loving God and one another were the greatest commandments.  I am sorry that I passionately fight for the poor, the wounded, the marginalized.  I am sorry that these choices are causing people to stumble in their faith.  I am sorry that these choices are causing you pain.  I am sorry that I cannot control my tongue when calling out destructive beliefs or behaviors found in Christians.

Or better yet, I will move on with my faith while it is still intact.