In the end, we decided to go “for our grandkids.” The Grand Rapids Women’s March would undoubtedly be cold and small. But when my granddaughter asks if the injustices mattered to me, my words will mean nothing unless I was there. So, we went.  

But I did not shout on Saturday. I cannot blame the dullness of my applause on my gloved and frozen fingers alone. I was busy evaluating everything said to see if I could believe it.

I call my problem a Partial Faith Shutdown, similar in some ways to a Partial Government Shutdown.

It results from an ability to negotiate between faith and policy to reach a conclusion, a sort of principle, by which to govern one’s life.  The inability to negotiate to agreement results in inaction.

Instead of parsing the analogy so that neither God, faith, or myself must play the role of Mr. Trump, let me explain the problem.

I grew up conservative. It was a conservatism backed by a very literal interpretation of scripture and populated by single-issue voters. They were generally, I would have always said, tolerant and ethical people.

And somewhere, other doctrines of capitalism, party allegiance, and so on started shaping beliefs on healthcare, taxes, immigration, and so on, and they were held with the same intensity.

The more my social and religious circles expanded, introducing me to people who would repeatedly change my mind, the more I struggled to make my faith and politics consistent.

Eventually, I adopted 1 Corinthians 13. I like the wording of it set as a hymn to the tune of “The Water is Wide”:

Though I may speak with bravest fire,
And have the gift to all inspire,
And have not love, my words are vain
As sounding brass and hopeless gain.

If I am to live by love, here are some policies I have established.

I cannot love and in any way nurture fear or ignore prejudice against Muslims or people of religion since we are united by the vital thread of faith.

I cannot love and not cry for justice, for affirmative action, for systemic change for racial minorities, every one of which has been systematically oppressed, abused, and murdered, often by supposed Christians.

I cannot love and listen to arguments about jobs and resources and turn deaf ears to families separated at the border, stranded in refugee camps, or stuck waiting or in fear of deportation while we reform our immigration system.

I cannot love while rejecting a fundamental aspect of my LGBTQ brothers’ and sisters’ identities and without accepting them as the fully beloved of God.

But in some of these things, love is not enough. I must also have an answer to those who object. To many people I knew in childhood, I have undoubtedly “strayed,” even been indoctrinated.

On what do I base my doctrine? A general principle of love does not seem unshakably rational or very intellectually defensible. Even policy of the CRC and Calvin that “chastity is the biblical pattern for ordering the sexual dimension of our lives, and honors sexual relations as having their proper place in a marriage relationship between a man and a woman,”  seems incomplete in love and explanation. Against the chapters and verses I’ve heard all my life, I have a conviction that no person can be locked out of God’s love for any aspect of their identity.

And what policy of love could I propose that would answer the political questions of immigration?

And what argument would legitimize my so-called “over-sensitivity” when I object to those that minimize racism and oppression?

I do not have the doctrine or the verses to answer on LGBTQ issues; I do not have the policy and research to answer on immigration issues; I often do not have the courage to answer on race issues.

But I could definitely go and look for the doctrine, the policy, and the courage. I have not done so because the intersection of faith and practice in any meaningful, real-world way is uncomfortable and I am lazy.

On Saturday, I saw a woman with a sign that said “Proud Christian Mom of a Muslim Refugee.” I agreed with her but I wasn’t to the sign-carrying part yet. She’d succeeded in negotiating her faith with politics and now she was living a well-governed life.

The traditional words of “The Water is Wide” lament a false love.

I have been false in my love. Where I should have pursued truth and action I have settled for mere observation. I’m like the Ents in The Two Towers—full of wisdom and words and doing nothing.

Either I commit to believing that a policy of love is sufficient and no other answer is necessary, or I find the doctrine, the policy, the courage to back it up.

The call goes out again and again for the church to “do better,” and to end there now seems hollow. To say I need to do better is only slightly less hollow, only slightly more fresh, but it is true. And when my granddaughter asks if the injustices mattered to me, my words will mean nothing unless I was there.

post calvin direct

Get new posts from Emily Joy Stroble delivered straight to your inbox.