Recently several different people have expressed surprise (not in a good way) that I have changed in the past five to ten years. I have had so many responses rolling in my head for months now that I decided it warranted coming out of blog-hiatus to write. So here it is – why I migrated away from the Tribe of Right-Wing, Conservative, Evangelical Christians and where I am now.
First, I should say – friends, rest easy; I still love Jesus. Even more today than I did 20 years ago. All my hope is wrapped up in Jesus and His upside-down kingdom. After all these years of life and mess-ups and brokenness, I am more aware every day of my great need for Jesus and His mercy and grace.
Next, I hope that in ten years and ten more years and ten more years, my opinions and ideas will shift and change even more. Because that is what happens as we learn and grow. And I sure hope I never stop learning and growing!
Does this mean I’m a liberal now?
Well, I’m not sure I fit well into a label. I take that “I Side With” quiz, and I’m sort of all over the place. I don’t tend to agree with any political candidate or party about an overwhelming majority of things. I like to think that the guiding force for my opinions about issues is love: my love for God and my love for people and the most basic, simple truth I learned as a child – Jesus wants me to do unto others as I would want them to do unto me. This focus on love puts me all over the political and social map. In this way, I think my migration away from right-wing, conservative views has aligned more with the heart of Jesus and His gospel. It is precisely because I have grown in my faith and understanding of the Bible that I have become less tied to the rhetoric and teachings of outspoken conservative evangelicals.
So what happened? Why did I change my mind about some issues?
The most simple answer — I got out of my bubble. When we have opinions and we surround ourselves with people who believe the same things and we listen to radio shows or read books that parrot back those same opinions over and over, we never grow. I like to grow and learn, so I expanded my circle. And as I listened to people with different ideas, I realized that somebody could love God with all her heart, soul, and mind and approach an issue from a different perspective than I did. This challenged me immensely.
I remember one particular time when I was probably 36 and I had listened to someone express her passionate beliefs about the necessity of welfare, completely based on her love for Jesus and other people and with the Bible as her foundation, and I walked away thinking, “Wow, God! She loves You just as much as my conservative, Bible-belt, Baptist, Republican friends do, yet she has come to totally different conclusions than they have!” As the kids would say, “Mind blown.”
My Christian friends from other countries showed me that a love for Jesus doesn’t have to be wrapped up in the American flag, that Christianity and capitalism are not conjoined, that the United States is not God’s chosen nation, that “pray for our troops” doesn’t reflect the heart of Jesus as much as “pray for everyone affected by war.” The more I listened to Christians from other cultures and the more I studied the Bible, the more I inched away from the “God, guns, and ‘Merica” script of the right-wing. It is impossible to share Jesus’ heart for the world and maintain a strong sense of nationalism. It is impossible to put first the kingdom of God if we are putting first the kingdom of the United States. I am grateful I was born in the United States, and I think our country is a fantastic place to live. However, I am not blind to our faults. And if I have to choose between fighting for my rights as a citizen of the United States and pointing other people to Jesus, I will pick the gospel any and every day of the week.
Oddly enough, one major nudge away from the conservative, right-wing, evangelical movement came when I was reading a John Grisham book. I cannot remember which book it was; but in the book, Grisham questioned the evangelical Christian political agenda and who decided which moral and social issues we would want to legislate and which ones we would not. I remember reading and rereading that paragraph, then closing the book and feeling like I had been manipulated for years. I was prompted to study the Bible more and pray more and ask God to guide my heart toward social issues and political issues that matter to Him. And I desperately wanted not to be a lemming, swept away in a mass of other lemmings over a cliff and away from the heart of God.
God also used a study of the book of Isaiah and a godly mentor to spur me on in this migration. Sometimes, He has used a gentle nudge or the gradual dawn of an ah-ha moment, but this was definitely more like the poking of a quick spur in my backside. I remember where I was sitting in the large meeting room of a church, in a giant circle with other women of all ages and backgrounds. We were studying Isaiah; and, for the most part, I was reading it through the same lens with which I had always studied the Bible. I grew up in a conservative Christian family and went to a conservative Christian college and settled into a conservative Christian church. I had read the Bible my whole life. I had listened to over 1800 sermons at that point in my life. Then the woman beside me spoke up in that discussion circle, and God jabbed me hard. This lady had met and fallen in love with Jesus later in life, and she came from a totally different background than I did. When she talked about what she saw in the passages of scripture, I saw my well-worn Bible pages with fresh eyes and new life.
This particular day, we were reading a passage in which God, through Isaiah, is warning the Israelites not to put their trust in strong armies. Isaiah reminds the people that God wants one hundred percent of their trust in Him and Him alone. Earlier in the study, we had read of God’s displeasure with Israel because they lacked compassion for those who were oppressed and disadvantaged. So suddenly this lady is saying something like this — I read this and I am thinking of our own nation. We spend such a huge percentage of our country’s money on our military, yet we have children starving and homeless. We turn a blind eye to the oppressed, but we spend a fortune on wars. Maybe if our country spent less on the military and fighting wars, instead trusting God, and we spent more on taking care of the oppressed, God would bless our country and protect us.
In that moment, I felt like the hand of God Himself reached down and picked up my snow globe of a life and shook and shook and shook. Again, she was looking at scripture and social issues with a love for God as her foundation, yet she was seeing something completely different from what my tribe of right-wing, evangelical, conservative Christians saw. I was challenged to delve more deeply into the Bible and into prayer and re-evaluate my own ideas and opinions.
I suppose the more gradual sauntering of my migration has happened as I have chosen to lean in and listen to my friends whose life experiences are different from mine. Not listening to respond, but listening to learn. See, I can’t be a good friend and I can’t love people well if I don’t listen to them and want for my friends the same things I want for myself. It goes back to loving people and treating others the way I want to be treated. It’s very easy for groups of people to vilify or alienate other groups of people by thinking in terms of “Them.” But when my circle of people includes individuals who are different from me, then it isn’t as easy to think in terms of “Them.” Whether it’s my black friends, my gay friends, my friends with mental illness or other disability, my adult students who are poor and uneducated and have been charged with a crime, my students who were raised with none of the privileges I have been fortunate enough to experience — if I listen with compassion and empathy for those who have experienced oppression and disadvantage, I will learn.
See, one thing that has not changed in the past 20 years is my desire for people to know the Jesus I know and to experience His grace and love. And as I have gotten out of my bubble and listened to people and dug into His word and looked at the world, I have come to the conclusion that right-wing, conservative, evangelical Christians have viewed the world through a privileged white American, twentieth-century lens and have spent far too much energy trying to impose legalistic morality on our country from the outside-in or the top-down. In doing so, this tribe of Christians has failed to do the big job Jesus actually assigned to us – introduce people to Him and disciple them as individuals, and watch them grow from the inside-out. In recent years, the right-wing, conservative, evangelical Christian obsession with defensively holding tightly to perceived rights and choosing to be offended often and gaining political power has harmed the cause of Christ. Because it doesn’t reflect AT ALL the heart of Christ.
This tribe and brand of Christianity hypocritically supports Trump for President fewer than 20 years after excoriating Bill Clinton. This tribe and brand of Christianity picks and chooses sins to battle over while ignoring the sins most written about in the Bible. This tribe and brand of Christianity celebrates Corrie Ten Boom and her brave faith during World War II while refusing to exercise that same sort of brave faith with modern-day refugees. This tribe and brand of Christianity quotes and celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr. yet dismisses the pain and frustration and oppression of black brothers and sisters across our country right now. This tribe and brand of Christianity endorses a man for President and makes excuses for him when what he says is against everything that Jesus teaches. This tribe and brand of Christianity ignores the oppressed and places faith in armies and walls and power, which is not at all representative of the heart of the God I know.
As I have grown in my understanding of Jesus and my love for Him, I cannot align myself with the tribe of outspoken right-wing, conservative, evangelical Christians who seem to have grown cold in their love for Jesus and people and who seem to be guided by fear rather than faith.
So yes, I have changed. Thank goodness God doesn’t allow me to stay the same! How horrible would that be!