I Am A Person Of Faith And The Religious Right Does NOT Speak For Me

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
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The 2016 election was considered a major victory for some Christians. I wasn’t one of them.

I’ve gone to church my entire life. I remember wearing poofy dresses and lace-trimmed socks to church, singing “Jesus Loves Me” and “Father Abraham” with my cousins and friends, and putting coins in the collection plate that circulated, hand to hand, during the hour-long church service every Sunday morning.

I vividly remember red carpet in the sanctuary, memorizing Psalm 23, and Saltines and grape juice communion. Women were the potluck-organizers, Sunday School teachers, funeral-and-wedding arrangers, and custodians.

Summers were for VBS (that’s Vacation Bible School for you non-church-goers), church camp, mission trips, and baptisms in lakes. Or, if you were lucky enough, in an above-ground swimming pool. In the fall, we went on hayrides and roasted marshmallows over bonfires.

At Christmas, we went to a candlelight service where we would sing about the birth of glowing (white-skinned, blue-eyed) Jesus. And then in spring, there were Easter egg hunts and car wash fundraisers.

The leadership was all the same: white, middle-aged men. They quoted from King James Version Bibles. For those who aren’t familiar, it’s a lot of “thou art,” “thine,” and amen pronounced “ah-men.” (Ironic, isn’t it?)

The ultimate sins were alcohol consumption, anything other than heterosexual sex after marriage, using God’s name in vain, and divorce. Some of these were so horrifying that they were never spoken of outside of gossip. Like when everybody knew one kid at church was probably gay.

I always felt different than most my church youth group peers. I was a skeptic in many ways. I never doubted that God loved me and that redemption was real. The foundational truths of Christianity weren’t in question. Because I worked several jobs to pay my college tuition, I had the opportunity to meet a lot of people who weren’t anything like my church friends. I had gay friends, black friends, older friends, and (gasp!) Democrat friends.

What I struggled with then, and I still struggle with now, is the white, male-created rules of what is and isn’t holy. Looking back, it seems that the rules benefited some far more than others.

Not much has changed, has it?

I know the stats, and yes, they embarrass me to no end. Reportedly, a whopping 81% of Trump voters were white evangelicals. (It probably goes without saying, but I was not among them.) How were Christian Trump supporters blind to his two divorces and three marriages, Twitter rants, and infidelity rumors? He couldn’t even properly state the biblical book of Second Corinthians, instead calling it “Two Corinthians.”

Frankly, it’s downright humiliating. I want to walk up to everyone who has told me that they hate organized religion and Christianity more than ever and tell them, “Trump is not Jesus.” Followed by, “I’m sorry that those who claim to be Christians have hurt you, and all of us, so much.” I want to implore them to not abandon their curiosity about my faith.

The reality is, church-goers are often assumed to be conservative, and based on the 2016 election, I don’t blame those on the outside for thinking that all Christians are anti-LGBTQ, pro-life conservatives, intolerant of anyone who isn’t just like themselves. However, the truth is, Christians are not monolithic.

For example, take strong, female, Christian women including Jen Hatmaker, Austin Channing Brown, the late Rachel Held Evans, and Sarah Bessey, four popular Christians who aren’t having it. The 2016 election fueled each of them, more than ever before, to rise up and resist, amplifying the voices and experiences of the oppressed. Their faith as prompted them to be outspoken on LGBTQ issues, racism, and feminism. They’re unabashedly liberal.

Where does today’s politics leave those of us who are Christians but do not agree with many Christian leaders and institutions? We can’t look to those who claim Jesus as their Lord and Savior on Sunday yet abandoned Jesus and America at the polls.

For my family of six, including our four black children, it meant abandoning church altogether. Almost.

It was difficult to sit next to someone on Sunday morning knowing that on Friday night, they posted a Fox News video with one of the many privileged white male hosts boasting about how Trump was going to build a wall to keep out dangerous “illegals.” Fear mongering at its finest.

This is the same Trump who tossed rolls of paper towels at desperate Puerto Ricans who were devastated by a Hurricane Florence. The same Trump who called white supremacists marching in Charlottesville “very fine people.” The same Trump who bragged, on video, that he “grabbed women by their pussies,” and who later blew off concerns by saying his words were merely “locker room talk.”

How could people of faith, who claimed to love Jesus, support a man who unapologetically commits sin after sin preached against on Sunday mornings? Jesus tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves. So what about the immigrant? What about transgender youth? What about the elderly? What about children of color? What about those without healthcare who are suffering?

Essentially, what about every single person besides the Trump-touting, middle and upper class, white, conservatives?

The Jesus I know, and the faith my family believes in, doesn’t exclude people because of the country they are from (or wish to travel to), the color of their skin, their ability, age, or sexuality. My faith has taught me all people have value and were created by God.

In early 2016, my family left the white evangelical church. In 2017, we were close to giving up, exhausted from church shopping. We decided to visit one more church that intrigued us and checked all the boxes. We went back a second Sunday, then a third, and then never left.

What was different about this one? The leadership isn’t afraid to talk about politics and social justice. And not just talk about, but be involved in the local communities, doing the work. You know, the hands and feet of Jesus that the Bible talks about. The people are vibrant and dedicated, and the congregation and leadership are over 95% black.

I stopped yearning to give up. Our church is different. Refreshing. Authentic. Subversive to the Trump cult. Everything that is preached and done stems from God’s powerful and redemptive love.

What I have given up on is looking to leaders who are cowards, terrified of the rising of people of color and women and the fact that Jesus was a Middle Eastern, radical guy who showed up. He wasn’t afraid to turn over tables, love “the least of these,” and speak truth into dark spaces.

I know there are many other women just like me, women who are tired of fellow Christians not getting on board with inclusivity, acceptance, and living the way that Jesus lived. Women who are exhausted by another white guy telling us what’s best for our families, our schools, our careers, our environment, and our healthcare. Women see right through the façade and acknowledge that fear is what’s driving some leaders, not faith.

We aren’t having it anymore. And perhaps we don’t always have the perfect solution, but there’s one thing I know for sure. We aren’t giving up.

*Rachel Held Evans, mentioned in this article, tragically passed away on May 4, 2019. She was a bestselling author, wife, and mom of two young children.

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