Today, I take back my church and my country: you, my politicians, have done enough.
When I was 17, I was born again. Not in the snake-handling, tongue-speaking, bomb-a-clinic kind of way. In the “I believe in a frontline God, a Creator who stands with me as I face this human experience: joy and loneliness, hunger, pain, heartbreak and exhilaration.” (I mean, like ,so frontline that S/he would come down from that high and mighty place and live here for a little while in a measly little human form with all its rollercoaster of experiences.) After this realization that I believed in a compassionate God , I found an amazing spiritual community. In college, I found other Christians who believed in radical kindness and taking care of the planet and the weak and the poor and “all God’s Creatures, Amen.” I found sisters who kissed me on the head and celebrated my spirit and body as I muddled through society’s contradictory messages to me as a woman. I found men who believed both in God and in my right to be a strong woman (and by the way, being a strong woman did not mean becoming more male). I lived, worked and served side by side with some of the most generous of spirit, time and money.
Then I went out into the world. And the world looked back at me complacently and said, “Oh no, sister, you can’t be a Christian and an environmentalist. And also that’s nice that you’re a feminist, but I think we’ll just stick to our language of Almighty Father, obedience and conformity, okay?” Insert head pat here. Well, actually, in many cases there wasn’t a head pat. It was more of a blank stare.
My disengagement grew as the political system increasingly made Party and Religion synonymous. I didn’t know this was happening. I thought I had just hit a spiritual nomad phase and couldn’t find “my people.” Friends around me assured me that science was the answer. (It is…if the question is “How?” not “Why?”) Some churches told me there was only one way to interpret this incredibly layered Biblical text. (It was not my way; it was their way.) Other churches said “It’s about loving yourself.” Hmmm…not what I was thinking either. I was unsuspecting that these voices were being influenced by the political us and them. Gradually my spiritual community dwindled to a few spare contacts kept alive through social media and occasional telephone calls.
The election on November 9 sparked grieving for me. The grief wasn’t about government policy – big government vs. little government or tax cuts or increases; it was more about character. How had we – conservatives and liberals both – allowed the greatest role model in our country to be a man so devoid of moral character. Many made a difficult voting decision based on policy issues that deeply influence their lives. I struggle, however, that this means we’ve trusted this man to act in our and our children’s best interest rather than his own; I don’t believe that he will. I don’t believe that he’s paying attention to the weak, the poor, the middle class, the marginalized or “all God’s Creatures, Amen.” I struggle that we have given him permission to be our national leader.
In these last months, I thought a lot about this situation and my role within it. I didn’t believe he would win and I sat back. After November 9, I waited and hoped that I would be pleasantly surprised. I hoped that the first weeks in office would show me a man who didn’t walk the party line and provided a much-needed shake up in our political system. I sat back.
As it turns out, these first weeks have been a shake up for sure. The shake up is not one that honors some of the most important foundations of democracy: input from the people, checks and balances, and collective good. I’ve watched this man – and many other politicians on both sides – manipulate the public into seeing the world in black and white. If you aren’t with us, you’re against us. They dictate our affiliations. You can’t be both for women’s rights and a republican; you can’t be a democrat and believe in conservative fiscal approaches; you can’t be republican and disagree with Muslim bans…and you sure as heck can’t be a Christian and a liberal. We’ve all been buying into this divisive dialog for too long.
I’ve absorbed too much of this “either or” outlook. I’m awake to it now. I will not sit back and complacently allow political rhetoric guide my sense of spiritual belonging. Nor will I allow myself and other Christians with a feminist and ecological ethic to feel like we don’t have a seat in the congregation. Nor that I have to pretend to be one or the other – Christian or environmentalist – when I show up for a town hall meeting. I am taking back all belief systems. I refuse to believe that I can’t be a Christian and desire equity. I refuse to believe I can’t be a Christian and have progressive ideas. And more importantly, I refuse to let the political rhetoric convince me that I can’t be both. I’ve let political divisiveness chase me from the Church and separate me from an amazing community of kind, grace-filled people.
I have known many Christians whose behavior is a living testimony to grace and generosity; Christians who are kind – not to convert people to Christ but because kindness is what Christ would’ve done. Christians have been among the bravest people I know – willing to have meaningful conversations with those most different from them. Many Christians I’ve known have refused to accept hunger or poverty or abuse as unavoidable aspects of society. We need to stop letting politicians present Christians as self-righteous and exclusionary. We need to stop letting politicians pitch liberals as godless and selfish. All scientists aren’t atheists; all devoted congregations aren’t haters.
The blessing in this garbage dump of a political situation is that it has called me and many others to action. For me, this means permission to own my spirituality, which means honoring and caring for other humans and the planet. It also means a kick-in-the-ass to step into the conversation that defines the direction of my church and my country. I am done sitting back. I am done letting the rhetoric seep mindlessly into my brain, beliefs and behavior. You do not have to be either or. You can be both and. Define things for yourself but most importantly get into the conversation and stay in; it’s gonna be a long one. Take your seat at the table back – whether it’s in a congregation or a town hall meeting. Politics is not a dirty word; complacency is.
Peace be with you.
**If you’ve found yourself on the fringes because you think you no longer have a place in the church, check out John Pavlovitz. **