Fake Christians Academy
(Disclaimer: All opinions herein are mine and mine alone, and are based on my experiences as a student at the school mentioned.)
© 2018 Beth Leyba
A few months ago a story blew up in the local media regarding the private Christian school that I attended 7th-12th grade. Apparently a longterm teacher/chaplain has been fired, presumably for a panel discussion that he organized during a weekly chapel service, on the topic of race and faith (Transcript). I was out of town at the time, at an annual retreat for Unitarian Universalist religious professionals of color, but fielding messages from fellow alumni.
A follow-up story aired in June (with a quote by yours truly at the end), and the story was also covered by some other local and national outlets. I have struggled all these months to try and write something about all of this, but every time I try the bile of unresolved trauma rises in my throat, choking me. When I let all of the memories surface I find myself enraged and filled with grief.
Because you see, the thing I am most angry about, is that you ruined Jesus for me. It was largely my experiences at your school that led me to reject Christianity. I wanted nothing to do with a faith that taught kids how to lead double lives, that used the Bible to clobber people, that would only offer grace to the kids who slipped up if their parents were big financial givers or the kids were athletes who helped net the school championships; a faith that said love God and love your neighbor but acted in a totally different manner.
I know the school is currently under fire regarding racism, which absolutely lines up with the experiences I had there as a mixed-race individual, but there is so much more. The thing is though, of course the school is racist. Of course it is sexist. Of course it is homophobic. Of course it is damaging to any student who isn’t male, straight, and white. All of that is in the very fabric of their brand of evangelical Christianity, which I prefer to call American Churchianity.
It is written into the curriculum. I was taught abstinence-only education, creationism, and history that was entirely white-centric with the voices of the marginalized either erased or whitewashed. I was taught that this is a Christian nation, and that colonization and subordination of the indigenous peoples who were here first was “our” destiny. I was taught that the Civil War was fought over states’ rights, not really over slavery. I was kept from reading books that would have widened my knowledge and opened up a wealth of important perspectives. (I went on a “banned book” reading spree in my early 20s and it was glorious; glorious, I tell you. The Color Purple changed me.)
I was taught to glorify Israel based upon the supposed eventual fulfillment of Christian prophecy. When I dared to say in a Bible class that I thought perhaps Romans 11:26 was meant to be taken literally and that all Israel would be saved (recent introduction to the theology of Universalism may have been slightly intoxicating and daredevil-inducing), I was subjected to a 45-minute talking to in the vice principal’s office, where he jumped from Old to New to Old testament prophecies to let me know that only 1/3 of Israel would be saved.
I went on to give a presentation on Universalism in that same class, and as if one student yelling, “You’re WRONG! You’re WRONG!” at me wasn’t enough, within two class periods I was being accosted by students in the hallways. “I heard that you believe everyone is going to be saved! What is your Biblical basis for that?!”
I’m not even going to give a full picture of everything I experienced in those hallways, but here is a partial one: prolonged sexual harassment by a group of boys that included walking behind me in the hallway one day and threatening to rape me, constant racial micro-aggressions including racist jokes, comments about me or the urban neighborhood and small house I lived in, classism in the form of making fun of my clothing or inability to afford things, constant misogyny, sexism and the reinforcement of patriarchal hierarchies of valuing (hint: girls are at the bottom), and as I referenced above, preferential treatment for those students who were deemed a financial or athletic asset to the school.
Some things went on that may have bordered on criminal, but I’m not going to get into that here, except to say that I have a vivid memory of the tears I cried after I wrote a letter to the administration to plead for grace and compassion for my friend who had disclosed being raped by one of our classmates at a party, which fell on deaf ears. She was essentially blamed for her rape because she had consumed alcohol at that party, and was expelled from the school for violating the honor code.
I have written a bit about my faith journey, an epistle that is probably almost a decade old now. I still have not been able to reclaim the label of Christian, but I have to say, it is the embodied and authentic faith of other queer people of color that is the only thing gently calling me back to Jesus. The real Jesus. Black Jesus. Turn the tables Jesus. Jesus the Mystic. Jesus who embodied radical hospitality and love.
Not the White American Warmonger Jesus who is exalted at your school.
In January I had the honor of attending the first Mystic Soul Project conference, and in one of the breakout sessions I attended, it was only afterward that I realized with wonder that I had been able to hear scripture without having an immediate negative visceral response. It was just a line from Lamentations, but it was spoken into the room by a queer woman of color, who despite living through the wrath and judgment of an evangelical Christian community when she came out, held on to her faith.
That is a faith I can get behind.