Caitlin, a follower of Christ Jesus by the will of God, an apostate of the Church by the will of God-knows-what,
To a Straw Man Representation of the Evangelical Church in the United States of America:
Grace and peace to you from me, just me. I don’t feel comfortable dragging Jesus into my well-wishing just yet.
Praise be to Jesus and to God and to the Holy Ghost for gifting me with goosebumps at every Lake Michigan sunrise. The holy presence of the Trinity is not contingent upon piety, and we are all indebted to God for at least that much.
According to the inspiration for this letter, I ought to always thank God when I remember you, but I don’t. While I am often grateful for my baptism and for the friendships you offered to me, I don’t always sing your praises because, frankly, you have done some evil shit. You have lent your aid countless times to the oppressor: to white supremacy, to homophobia, to misogyny, to trickle-down economics, to laissez-faire gun regulations, to the prosperity gospel.
Do not mistake my ire for elitism: I am complicit in a world of harm. Born white in the USA, I, too, have capitalized on the privileges of my race, whether consciously or not. As a born (again?) Christian in the USA, I, too, have maligned those whose so-called “perversions of the flesh” were purportedly punishable by hellfire. I used to believe that anyone who cussed too loud or dishonored the marriage bed would be subject to swift justice in the form of a roasty-toasty trip to h-e-double-hockey-sticks. I peaked as a Pharisee in ninth grade, but it’s all been downhill from there.
I say this because once I grew boobs and critical thinking skills, my role in the church changed. By age sixteen, I was no longer a lilywhite pearl to polish into deference and protect from spoilage. Rather, I became a potential threat. Every neckline was too low, every innocuous hug a temptation. You taught me that men were “visual creatures” and that if a man coveted my body, it was probably my fault. You taught me to be ashamed of being enfleshed and to forget that I, too, was created in the image of God. More than this, in the same breath that you told me to “make my faith my own,” you feared my intellect, my questions, and my ideas. You told me that if I were a man, I’d make a great pastor—my vagina, it seemed, was a dealbreaker in that matter. With the same hands you used to immerse me in baptism, you covered my mouth and shackled my womanhood to inferiority and shame.
Since then, I have wasted so much time trying to be good enough for you. I have spent years of my life being actively and passively silenced by systems that claim to reflect God’s vision for her people. Worse, I have observed the active and passive silencing of more oppressed voices than mine and still have not advocated for them as boldly as I ought. This is my own sin and I own that—but if I call you out, will you listen? If I scorn you, will you still welcome me to the table? If repentant sinners are welcome, then what am I? ‘
I regret that I needed to taste oppression to recognize how you were abusing others still more severely. I ought to thank you, though, because despite your failures, you handed me the Bible and instructed me to read it. And, because I wanted to be good enough for you, I did. And, as I studied, I grew to love the only God who could ever save my soul from you.
Jesus. Yes, Jesus. A radical, unprecedented character who shared meals with prostitutes and tax collectors, revealed himself as Messiah to a Samaritan woman, and treated every last person he encountered with dignity. The God of the whole damn universe, born in a bin to parents from that shithole, Nazareth. You know the story.
Jesus spent his earthly life walking, eating, teaching, empowering, suffering, and healing. And Christ is the reason why I can’t reconcile myself to a Church that’s committed to anything less than what he’s about. I serve a God who challenged whomever was without sin to cast the first stone; I cannot serve a Church that routinely pelts rocks at people who aren’t white enough, male enough, English-speaking enough, celibate enough, submissive enough, married enough, and/or straight enough to be welcomed fully into the fold.
Thanks be to God—I know some people, Christian and otherwise, who resemble Christ more fully than you. Some of them even have the courage and inimitable grace to keep showing up for you. I honor them, I love them, and I beseech their pardon for my fury. I beg their mercy on my lackluster words. Peace and grace to them, my brothers and sisters, and love with faith from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
As for you, O Church—you have lost me already but not yet.
Caitlin Gent (’15) graduated with a writing major. She lives in Milwaukee and works in fundraising and development. When she’s not working, Caitlin is usually walking with a friend or singing in the kitchen. She likes to wax poetic about Wisconsin to anyone who will listen.