I don’t remember the details of the conversation. I wish I did. I’ve turned it over and over and over in my mind. But it’s in a genre folks raised in Christian communities will recognize: the faith and works debate. In my case, it was a conversation about elderly congregants in a rural Midwestern church, and about faithfulness:

One person says something like, but they know their Bible so well; they’re prayer warriors. 

And the other asks, does it matter?

Does it matter that they’ve memorized the whole Heidelberg Catechism, that they can recite all 150 Psalms, that they spend hours in silence in front of an open Bible every morning, if they’re trying to prevent a refugee family from settling in their community? If they keep telling everyone Barack Obama is a Kenyan Muslim? If they’ve cut a gay grandchild out of their will? Or, in 2020: if they’re spreading vicious and nonsensical QAnon theories on Facebook, defending the guy who murdered two people who were protesting the police shooting of Jacob Blake? If they agree with the president that we should let Democratic cities “rot”– does their commitment to daily devotions matter then?

I am really angry every single day. When I’m on Zoom calls with my parents, it’s like I can’t help myself from saying ugly and bitter things about the American church, Christian institutions, and all the people I associate with power in those places. I can hear myself as I say these things, and there is a part of me even in that moment that feels so sad and heartbroken. I am so sad. And I am really, really angry.

There is a part of me that wanted to write a post entitled “for the love of God, don’t vote for this asshole.” There is a part of me who wanted to reason with some imagined audience of acquaintances about why being against abortion is not a good enough reason to vote for an authoritarian fear-mongerer whose policies will only make abortion more common, and there is a part of me that wanted to yell about how appointing a Supreme Court justice to repeal Roe v. Wade will subject women who experience miscarriage to criminal suspicion, which is clearly abhorrent, or should be, and there is a part of me that wanted to loudly declare how eternally done I am listening to men talk about abortion. There is a part of me that wanted to carefully outline the Republican party’s decades-long and explicit plan to suppress the vote and undermine the legitimacy of our elections. There is a part of me that wanted to write a thousand posts to respond to every possible talking point, every reason someone could give for voting for a serial liar who brags about assaulting women, and a thousand follow up posts responding to every critique they could lob about the ways in which I had said that it is unconscionable to support him. There is a part of me that wanted to write a post like this one, where I burn it to the ground, where I say defiantly: block me if you support any part of this bullshit, even “reluctantly,” because there is no justification you can give that will make it okay

There is a part of me that wanted to beg. Please don’t do this. Please don’t destroy what remaining faith I have in you.

A Christian writer I follow on Twitter, who has been protesting police brutality in Portland where, again, do not forget that federal agents have kidnapped protestors in unmarked vans and the police have allowed right wing militias to wave their guns at Black Lives Matter activists, wrote on Twitter that until a few weeks ago she had called herself an evangelical Christian, but she can’t do that anymore. For so many, the election of Donald Trump and the famous 81 percent was the breaking point, but she held on. “I’ve been trying to ‘get my people’ ever since then,” but “at some point you gotta realize maybe they aren’t your people anymore.”

There’s that. And then there’s a statement from Nicole Cliffe, editor, writer, and twitter authority, who reminds everybody that Mike Pence is, in fact, a Real Christian, and we who do not want to claim him have to stop playing “No True Scotsman” just because we don’t want to be in a club he’s also in. (As Anne Lamott says, you can tell that you’ve made God in your own image when it turns out he hates all the same people you do.) And then there’s the call to confession from our chapel service a few weeks back, in which the pastor gently reminded us that you may want to thank God that you’re not like those people, whatever people they are for you, but Scripture tells us that we are all of us broken and in need of forgiveness.

I do believe, somewhere deep in the caverns of my heart, that God really does love Mike Pence and Donald Trump and Stephen Miller and every convicted felon who ever worked for the Trump campaign. And I should be in greater awe of a God who can extend to those men the same love and grace he offers the rest of us. But I am not God. And right now, if you ask me, does it matter? Does it matter that this particular person voting for a corrupt, anti-democratic, avowedly racist and misogynist leader is also a “prayer warrior” and a “champion of the faith”? The very best I can do is ask, politely, what God they think they’re talking to and why they think God needs defending.

There’s a scene in Grey’s Anatomy, about a hundred seasons ago, where Dr. Robbins meets her girlfriend’s conservative Catholic father for the first time. He is struggling with the revelation that his daughter is dating a woman. Robbins tells the story of her own coming out—that when she told her father she was a lesbian, he said he had only one question. “Are you still who I raised you to be?”—a loyal friend, a committed citizen, a generous, truthful, and moral person?

I’m not exactly sure why I think about this scene so much. 

Part of me wanted to write a post that just asked, over and over: are you still who you raised me to be? 

And I’m sad, and scared, and so angry, because I know that you’re not.

21 Comments

  1. Avatar

    I think we’ve been having very similar struggles here. Thank you for writing about it more eloquently and calmly than I would.

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Thank you for saying what so many of us are feeling and find frightening st this time. Sadness at the divide that has opened between families, friends and coworkers, anger that so many did not see what was happening to America and that so many still refuse to see, and the anger and sadness within ourselves that we never wanted to be there.

      Reply
  2. Avatar

    Thank you. None of this is easy, for anyone, and it’s especially troubling for Christians (or likely anyone of faith when the same faith is used to defend diametrically opposed views). As for God, yes: lots of grace, and love, and mercy, too.

    Yet, at the same time, clarity: there is no greater place of sin than the Temple (e.g. Jeremiah) or Jesus and his angry, ANGRY, hometown crowd, when the folks found out from him that they were not the central characters in God’s purpose, a purpose large enough to include “those people,” or Paul battling the sanctimonious ones with their eager paring knives.

    It’s hard to draw lines in the sand, and anyone who does so is wise to second-guess themselves. But times such as ours do not afford the luxury of waiting for more information or waiting for others to make the decisions.

    Self-righteous prayer warriors full of bible verses rarely, if ever, second-guess themselves; no need for it, because they have the truth. Somewhere along the line, many an evangelical has forgotten “walk humbly with God.”

    Anyway, my thanks for your take on things … keep up the good work, always second-guess yourself, but not to the point of retreating into the sad corner of indecision. God’s Peace.

    Reply
  3. Avatar

    Snaps for this well-written piece that puts into words the thoughts that cross my mind nearly every day.

    Reply
    • Avatar

      You summed up my current dilemma. I pray to God that God’s plan is bigger and far better than ours.

      Reply
      • Avatar

        Always! Lean on Him.

        Reply
  4. Alex Westenbroek

    Elegant and poignant. This speaks so much to the pain and fury in my heart.

    Reply
  5. Avatar

    Do you know how hard it is to be the writer for the 26th when you write fire like this every month, Katie? My own ego aside, though, thank you for writing the things the rest of us are too scared and ineloquent to say (again).

    Reply
  6. Elaine Schnabel

    A counselor once told me that anger is a secondary emotion born from either sadness or fear. Which is how I learned that the rage I have and that we live with is a holy lament for the beauty we were taught, that is now being so intensely and repetitively violated. And the fear that the beauty we were taught and long for is a lie.

    Reply
    • Avatar

      This. All of this. Thank you, Katie and Elaine.

      Reply
    • Katie Van Zanen

      I’ll be thinking about that for a while. Thanks, Elaine.

      Reply
    • Avatar

      Yes, Elaine – for the beauty we were taught, the beauty of truth and morality and integrity and compassion, and so much more that leads to shalom.

      Reply
  7. Avatar

    Well done Katie. You are not alone.

    Reply
  8. Avatar

    You carry me, Katie. Your words frame my indignation . Someone said, “ They have scripture in their mouths and hatred in their hearts “

    Reply
    • Katie Van Zanen

      Thank you, Jerry. I consider myself very lucky to have grown up in a church community that struggled toward justice. It’s devastatingly rare, I think, and it’s also what keeps me hanging on. It has been a deep comfort and encouragement this week to hear from you– and many on this comment thread, and on Facebook, and people I don’t know who have shared this post far beyond its usual circles!– and know that I am not alone, that there are so many people who share the heartsickness and also the resolve.

      Reply
  9. Avatar

    My heart breaks for all of us, for everything, but especially for young people like you, coming into adulthood at this wretched time. Remember, remember how you feel right now. Keep this anger and make it productive. This is an historic moment, and you have written the truth of it, Katie. Please know that you are heard, your pain is shared, and many of us oldsters are entirely with you.

    Reply
  10. Avatar

    Thank you, Katie, for expressing so eloquently and understandably, the thought that have been, and increasingly are, running through my mind daily. I don’t like the way it makes me feel about myself. Your words have give this 84 year-old retired pastor a renewed perspective on this whole mess. Thanks again and may God bless and guide you in your journey.

    Reply
  11. Avatar

    Thank you for putting this seething muddle inside me into words.

    Reply
  12. Avatar

    Thank you Katie for expressing the thoughts and feelings our extended family is struggling with. Frustration, anger, sadness and sometimes, disbelief at the mindset of some Christians today is a constant struggle we have. It is encouraging to read and hear from others in the faith community who share our struggles and pain and gives us hope for the future, a future where love, truth, compassion and the common good are cornerstones of Christian life and work.

    Reply
  13. Kyric Koning

    One thing I’ve heard recently that I’ve been thinking about is how out of all the other religions only the Christian God allows people to question him and why bad things happen. Other religions don’t have that. There’s no questioning. It’s either karma or your own attachment or chaos that causes suffering. But God invites us to question because he wants a relationship. He wants us to lean in and ask and pour out our hearts and thoughts. He may not always give an answer, but he will always give himself.

    Present circumstances are difficult. They always have been. And there is certainly a lot of wrongs to focus on. I would encourage you to try to look on the good that is happening, or at least hope that good will triumph, no matter the perceived outcome.

    Reply
  14. Avatar

    Thank you, Katie (and Deb R, for linking here from The Twelve). I heard a phrase this weekend, and Google tells me it originates with Augustine: “Hope has two lovely daughters: anger and courage.” Thanks for showing both “daughters” in this post. Keep going to Father, Jesus, and Spirit for True Hope.

    Reply

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