When I was growing up, church was one of the constants of my life. My dad was a church elder, my mom the church librarian. We went to church during the week for church activities and then to services twice on Sunday– once in the morning, once at night. As a teenager, the evening service was followed by youth group. Monday mornings I had swim practice at 5:00am and I was probably the only one at practice who was dragging and tired on account of too much church the night before.
The church I grew up in was in the Calvinist tradition, with a sizable number of members who were either immigrants (from the Netherlands) themselves or first generation Americans. We were a politically and socially conservative group. Hard work was virtue, but being ostentatious about any wealth that hard work gave you was frowned upon. Don’t talk about money. Don’t talk about sex. Live quietly, circumspectly. Remember that faith is a serious business, remember that your life is your testimony. To the extent we talked about politics, there were a few things, like voting pro-life, that were a given. Also assumed and stated was the idea that the country was going to hell in a hand basket, so you better vote for the man who was deemed to be the most Christian of the choices.
When I went to college, I went a Christian college in the same tradition as my church. While there, two important things happened– I met my first ordained pastor that identified himself as a Democrat (that…that was possible? This seemed suspicious to me, then a member of the college’s Young Republicans club, but he seemed sincere) and I fully bought into the college’s philosophy that critical thinking (what they called cultural discernment there) was a cornerstone of a well reasoned life of faith. I came to realize that the world of Christianity was actually far more diverse than I had realized. Not everyone believed that women couldn’t be pastors, not everyone believed that evolution was anti-Christian, not everyone even agreed about which translation of the Bible was accurate. Here was where I watched Christians spar intellectually about things like if you could be both pro-life and in favor of the death penalty and what our obligations are to the poor and how should that shape things like tax policy and our welfare system. It was still largely a conservative place, where students spent more time trying to not have pre-marital sex (there was A LOT of back rubs and long walks around campus to work about all the hormones) than drinking and partying. And so, when it came to politics, there was still the overt message that when it comes to choosing who gets your vote, you look for the person that most represents the values of Jesus.
Since college, my faith has evolved. I’ve gone to ultra-conservative, Biblical literalist churches and to Quaker meetings and, lately, to no where at all. I won’t go into what I believe or don’t at the moment, except to say that I don’t currently belong to a church and my children aren’t being raised going to church. Sometimes this makes me sad. My childhood church was imperfect and I would never go back to that denomination for about 1,000 reasons but I know that I was loved in that church. There was a value to knowing that there were adults other than my parents who cared about me. Our family had a community there and I’m not sure that my children have anything that is the equivalent to that.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the faith of my childhood this week. Like a lot of people, I’m deeply dismayed at the results of the election. I work at a community college and I fear what a Trump presidency means for my immigrant students, my Muslim students, my LGBTQ students. I worry about what a Trump presidency means for my family. I believe Trump to be a racist, a misogynist, a liar, and to be the most profoundly un-Christian (in the sense of “how much does this guy remind me of Jesus?”) candidate I’ve ever seen.
I’ve spent the last few days trying to sort out my feelings and to decide when and if and how to engage in political conversations now, especially with those in my life (and there are many) who voted for Trump. I’ve been mocked on Facebook by people who love me and called a cry-baby for expressing my sadness over the fact that the candidate who was endorsed by the KKK won the election. I felt quiet gratitude that we don’t have Thanksgiving with my Republican family, because I don’t think I could do it this year.
What I’ve come to realize today is that one of the things that I am feeling is grief. I see that people who’ve told me in the past that they believe the most important characteristic in a political leader is that they are a person of faith– voted for someone who has never been described as a person of virtue and who appears to be wholly unfamiliar with the concepts of self-restraint, humility, charity, and grace. It feels, instead, that what many of them actually meant was that they’ll vote for anyone who gives lip-service to being a Christian– as long as they are white and male and Republican.
I should, of course, hash tag here #notallChristians and indeed I am heartened by the fact that I saw some people who I would describe as deeply religious speak out against Trump . But I also saw them suffer cruel attacks from their fellow Christians, people who flooded comment sections with words like “baby killer” and “liar” and “Satanic” when pastors and writers suggested that being pro-life meant that one shouldn’t vote for the candidate who marginalized, mocked, and rejected the poor, the refugee, the disabled, etc. It was ugly and unkind. It made me feel like if this is how Christians treat other Christians, than I’ve made the right choice to opt out of that label, that community, that part of my past identity.
Grief is tricky. I thought I’d made peace with my loss of faith. I didn’t think I would still be so disappointed. But I guess I never thought Trump would be elected either.