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.
Katie is a doctoral student in English and education at the University of Michigan. She loves the New York Times crossword puzzle, advice columns, oceans, and dogs of all kinds.