For the hardcore Democrat, there is a church for you. Inside you’ll find your social justice comrades, as equally passionate as you about climate change, same-sex marriage, and government-run health care. Your values will be affirmed in fellowship and confirmed by the gospel. You will feel welcomed, loved, and at home.
For the hardcore Republican, there is a church for you. Inside you’ll find your pro-life friends, those who share your affinity for capitalism, health-care reform, and putting God back in schools. Your values will be affirmed in fellowship and confirmed by the gospel. You will feel welcomed, loved, and at home.
For the intransigent Independent, or lowercase libertarian, good luck to you. You’re already politically homeless, unable to vote your way to middle ground and compromise, to that blessed place where civil rights apply to all, the war on drugs is over, and the government has nothing to do with your health care.
Am I being dramatic? Possibly, but my family and I are in the midst of discerning whether there is a place for us on Sunday mornings, where the week’s headlines aren’t repeated, debated, or subtly inserted into the liturgy, where God is at the center of the conversation, not a politician, a piece of legislation, or even the sitting president.
Witness My Religious and Political Pilgrimage
First, a history. I was raised on Army bases, where a non-specific place of worship served one purpose on Saturdays and another purpose on Sundays. My mother taught my sister and me to say that we were Protestant, a signifier I still use.
By my early teen years, I was baptized in the Southern Baptist Church. In this right-leaning space, I completed Bible studies by Beth Moore and Kay Arthur, attended summer camp at Ridgecrest, and bought my reading material from Lifeway.
As I approached and crossed the threshold of 30, I grew fully out of this tradition, and my husband and I decided that we were indeed not Baptist. After a brief stint out of church, we tried again, this time visiting, becoming enchanted by, and eventually joining a Presbyterian church. We enjoyed several years of looking forward to Sunday mornings. In this left-leaning space, I read Rob Bell, Rachel Held Evans, and Nadia Bolz-Weber. I joined college students as discussion leader to Montreat, and added “Reformed” to my Protestant signifier.
Parallel to our pilgrimage was a sizeable shift in our politics. Although I voted for Bill Clinton in my first of-age election, I voted for George Bush initially with confidence and secondly with hesitation. Then, I paused.
A shift began, and by 2012, I was openly Independent, a lowercase libertarian who homeschooled her two children and considered putting a FairTax bumper sticker on the back of the car. By the 2014 midterms, I was politically homeless. In this moderate space, I learned to listen carefully and think critically.
At the start of the last election cycle, conversations at church were a-buzz. Theologically, I love living in the tension. Put me in the middle of a theological discussion about women in church leadership or whether hell is literal or figurative, and I am in my wheelhouse.
But those conversations were becoming fewer. It was 2015, and the tension wasn’t the same. It got personal. Then it was 2016, and then election night, and I, like millions of others, watched the news in disbelief.
Then Open Discussions Were No Longer Possible
Some were elated at Donald Trump’s win, but many were shocked and worried, and the church ought to be the place to go when those feelings are too heavy to carry. However, I’d never felt more disconnected from my country, and once the election was over, I felt entirely disconnected from my church, even though the people I vote for never get elected. The shock and worry morphed into bitterness and anger.
A few days after the election, I shared an article on Facebook, one of the first I’d seen that analyzed blue-collar workers who voted for President Obama twice but went for Trump in 2016. As someone who hadn’t voted for Hillary Clinton or Trump, I didn’t have a dog in the fight and found the article interesting and informative.
Yet the next time I logged in, I had a message in my inbox from a church member telling me, albeit eloquently, that anyone who voted for Trump is racist, whether he consciously recognized it or not.
“Really?” I replied. Just like that. Racist.
From that moment on, I was on guard—at my church. Soon, politics from the pulpit were too tempting to resist, and my church wasn’t the only one experiencing a shift. I crowd-sourced. I watched my social media feed. At every turn, there was pressure to either “resist” or support the president, and do so publicly. I saw memes that said, “If your pastor isn’t preaching on immigration, find a new church.” Really?
Never mind what one believes about President Trump or anyone in Washington. If, as Christians, we say we believe we are all made in God’s image, then what in the world are we doing to one another? There is no room for reason or grace in our current climate.
Take a side. Stake your claim. If you’re not with us, you’re against us, people say. To say, “I think Trump is terrible, but I’m glad we pulled out of the Paris accords” is unacceptable. All in, or all out.
We Want a Refuge at Church, Not More Harassment
Two weeks ago, when The Atlantic article about Beth Moore dropped, I was surprised to see her appear on a national platform. I loved her message and found it sincere, even poignant, but some of her fans disagreed with her.
Is it that they don’t think sexual assault is a worthwhile topic? Or is it that they want one place to go that isn’t connected to Trump or Clinton or ISIS or immigration or sexual assault or the national deficit or climate change or, heaven help us all, the next Supreme Court nomination.
Some of us are tired, and we can’t keep up with the outrage machine. We aren’t built that way, nor do we want to be. The headlines are hard enough Monday to Saturday. Come Sunday, some of us want a day off.
Over the years, I lamented to my pastor, whose messages I believe to be heartfelt, about discussing headlines at church, even preaching from them. I didn’t understand why it was necessary when there are plenty of other topics to spotlight, particularly when tension is already high.
She told me that she was taught to preach with the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other, a concept born out of theologian Karl Barth’s quote, “to take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.” Of course, in the era of “fake news” and “democracy dies in darkness,” this begs the question, “Which newspaper?”
But that’s another topic altogether.