Reconciling The Faith and Political Divide
Indulge me for a moment while I tell you a little bit about who I am and my journey through the Christian faith so far.
I, like so many others from Northwest Ohio, was raised Catholic. I went to a Catholic school until 4th grade, I completed Catechism, and every Sunday you could find me at church with my family until sometime in high school. My entire family (at least my mom’s side, who we saw the most often) was Catholic. It was part of our DNA.
I was the stereotypical kid at church. My mind wandered, and no amount of money could coax me into remembering anything the person teaching spoke about on any given weekend back then. I remember some of the daydreams I would have in the church, of becoming Spider-Man and escaping by climbing through the rafters. Yeah, I had an overactive imagination.
I’m not sure exactly when or why we stopped going to church. But again, like so many others, our attendance gradually waned until it was non-existent.
From high school up until around age 19–22 I wasn’t going to church at all. My faith was on life support. I have a vivid memory of riding in the back of an ambulance (I was an EMT at the time) along with a patient on the way to hospice and wondering that if this person is fighting for their life, who are they fighting against, and why does that entity want them dead? I think I was done with belief in a higher power at that moment.
Then my parents started attending a newer church in the area that was unlike anything they or I had ever experienced before. It was what I now know to be referred to as a non-denominational Christian church. At the time I first started attending I don’t believe it had reached “megachurch” status yet (megachurch’s are congregations that consist of over 1000 regular attendees). They had modern music played by an actual band, teachers who wore normal clothes, and free coffee. So when my parents started bribing me to come by offering me a free lunch after (I was living on my own by then, and dirt poor), I was for sure not going to turn down free coffee and a meal.
The church started to grow on me. The things that were taught were relevant to my life, and almost always had some nugget I could apply quickly. Back then TEDTalks weren’t a thing, but looking back, it felt like roughly the same experience as watching a good TEDTalk or getting the cliff notes to some “5 steps to making <insert whatever> better in your life!” book. The music was pretty good, and the coffee, while pretty terrible (and it never got better) was still free and appreciated.
Fast forward eleven years. In that time I not only became a member of that church, but I also started volunteering regularly and eventually became a staff member. I would work a variety of different roles over my ten years of work there, but I ended as the Video Director. When I left (for the second time… there was a brief stint where I thought I wanted to be free and do crazy things, but I came back after a year) for good it was on amicable terms. I was heading down to Florida to help plant a church with a group of friends.
During my ten years of working for that church, I often felt like an outsider. I really enjoyed what we were doing, and I felt like I was oftentimes helping to make a real difference in people’s lives. Never did I feel this more than when I spent a week in Covington, Louisiana directly following Hurricane Katrina, helping a community rebuild. Regardless of the highs, there was always a few things dragging me down. I could align myself with so much of what was being taught and how we operated, but something always nagged at me.
Of course, I’m talking about that church’s view on the LGBTQ community.
I wouldn’t say I grew up liberal or even conservative. I think I grew up pretty politically agnostic, to be honest. Even my teen years and early twenties were spent thinking about anything other than politics or social issues. Regardless, I have always felt like everyone has the right to love whomever they want, and God couldn’t possibly care less. So when I started working for a church that taught “love the sinner, not the sin” in reference to “welcoming” the gay community, but still acknowledging that in their belief being gay is a sin, I had a rough time with it.
One of my biggest regrets in my life is not challenging that more. Not that it would have resulted in anything other than me exiting that job sooner… but some hills are worth dying on.
There were other things too. I had found myself starting to become more engaged politically with society, and I was definitely falling on the progressive spectrum when it came to social issues. This was in direct contrast to… just about everyone else I worked with, to be honest. By this time our staff was well over 60 people, and our weekly attendance was around six to eight thousand people, and whether it’s true or not I felt like one of a handful of people who saw the world as I did.
After returning to Ohio from Florida where my family and I only lasted two years, we started looking for a church to attend again. I wasn’t interested in working for a church anymore, as I had secured a really good “real world” job, so I felt some freedom in trying to find the right church. We eventually landed at going back to the same place I had spent a decade working for previously. I think we ended up back there, for the most part, because it was easy and comfortable. We knew people there, we knew what to expect, and with five campuses all across the city, we knew it was easy to even access.
By this time I was firmly a Democrat, if not a full-blown progressive (or, liberal if you prefer). Shortly after Donald Trump was elected president, my crisis of faith truly began. I remember going to church one weekend at the place I had spent ten years working at, looking around at the people around me and thinking “what the hell am I doing here?” We were in the middle of a lively worship song, with moving lights and fog coming across the stage where the band was energetically singing and dancing, and people all around me were clapping to the beat and singing along to lyrics about how great God is, and how great life is. I looked around and felt deeply sad, and deeply out of place. I did not feel like God was great, and I certainly didn’t feel like life was great.
Because meanwhile, outside the church walls, Donald Trump had just enacted his Muslim Ban and started his attacks on accepting refugees.
After the music had ended, we were asked to say hi to someone around us before we sat down. I shook some hands, said hello, forced a smile, and couldn’t help but wonder how many of these people voted for Donald Trump. I estimated that in that room, at least half of those people were Trump-voters. Probably more. I decided right then, that at that moment I could no longer view my faith and my politics as separate entities.
I had a conversation with a leader of the church that I decided I could no longer be a part of. I felt like I owed him an explanation for why I was leaving, as we had known each other for almost 13 years at that point. I told him that I was no longer comfortable pretending everything is okay. I told him that I am not alright, the country is not alright, and I no longer believed that the local church, this church, was on the path to doing anything about it. I told him that I believe that silence is complicity and that by not speaking out, we were becoming part of the problem… that I was becoming a part of the problem.
We stopped going to church altogether. It was simpler this way. I couldn’t imagine a church that would have the courage to speak out against the abhorrent policies and behavior of the sitting President and be in existence longer than a few weeks. It had, after all, been well documented that a good portion of the reason Trump won was on the votes of white evangelicals. My tribe. I was sick.
I started to wonder if I was actually even a Christian. I felt all alone on my island of #resistance and faith. Maybe I was the one doing it wrong?
I spent several months in the faith wilderness after that. In many ways, I’m still there. It infuriates me that those in “my tribe” are largely responsible for this abomination. White evangelicals who voted for Trump were willing to sell out all other forms of life except for the form of a fetus. Young, old, brown, black, female, queer… screw them all, but “save the unborn babies.”
I was angry. So very angry.
I eventually found a new faith community that more closely marries my faith and my politics. Don’t get me wrong; they don’t speak overtly about it on the weekend, but it is very clear how important social justice is, and how it is inescapable from the Christian faith. They’re also inclusive and do not view LGBTQ people as sinners. We’re a small bunch, but we’re mighty, and we work on better understanding the text, rather than simply finding a tasty and easy to digest “McNugget of Faith” every week.
But I still have these nagging doubts. I still have these deep feelings of anger and betrayal from those that also call themselves Christians. Because of those feelings of anger and betrayal towards those that I identify with, sometimes it’s hard to separate myself from it. Sometimes I am legitimately angry about my faith. Sometimes I feel like I’m still in that wilderness… lost and alone. Between the faith leaders who still vocally support Trump, to those that don’t say anything and continue pressing on like everything is okay while the world is burning around their church walls, where do I fit in?
Do I even fit in anymore?