Saturday, January 13, 2024

Threatened by Fire

I wrote this post the afternoon of September 26, 2020 and with some slight edits I decided to publish today. A bit surreal given everything that's transpired over the last 3.5 years including the January 6, 2021 insurrection caused and put in motion by none other than the previous president of the United States of America.  


I'm choosing this title for both a practical reason and a deeper heart wrenching reason. Today I received word that our old family cabin is in the Mullen Fire evacuation area in the Medicine Bow National Forest.  My sister asked if there is anything of value that we'd like to retrieve. The fire is about 10 miles away as the crow flies. The next few days will be telling. Likewise my world, our world, our America, our understanding of America, our understanding of Christianity, our connection with Christianity, our grounding in Christianity is threatened by fire.

This blog post needs to be written and I suppose mostly for me. I need to get these would out on the page. I need to give them voice. At times these words feel eloquent, at times tortured, at times self serving, and at other times maybe helpful or thought provoking. This is about the messy middle. My messy middle. I have no idea how this will resolve and what the "Third Act" will look like. I just know that my insides are in knots. My mind a whirl. My heart angry. My body stiff. My soul depressed.

Most recently I embarked on a journey to know and receive the deeply disturbing knowing that American Christianity was far more involved in upholding slavery than I understood or was taught. Priests, preachers, and theologians provided the ideological and theological framework to keep this horrifying institution in place and undermined its reversal at every turn. Was it every priest, preacher, or theologian?  No, but according to recent research it was many, predominant, and from multiple denominations. Not just the ones we would normally assume. Recent research also suggests that American Christians were at the very center of horrifying dismemberments, tortures, hangings, and deaths.  

We want to believe that American Christianity stood up for people. Stood up for humans. Stood up for their neighbors, and (God help us) for their slaves. [Never lose sight of the fact that during chattel slavey a slave was property. This human had no rights of their own and had a literal price tag attached to their life. They were inked into wills and ownership transferred at someone's death.]  

I want to believe that we are better. I want to believe that the ideological and theological underpinnings of slavery were stripped of their power and cultural influence during that last 100 years, but if you listen closely you can hear them still. If you listen closely they still have weight and they still have power. I wanted to think we were better when the Twin Towers fell on 9-11. And then I remember American Christianity's predominate support of torture all while watching Mel Gibson's movie, The Passion of the Christ, and "being horrified" by the torture Jesus experienced at the hands of government authorities. My mind plays back all justifications that state these were different situations.  

Fast forward to today and I hear the same justifications. As I'm journeying through this time I try to make sense of the 81% of evangelical Christians who voted for Donald Trump and will likely vote for him again. I want to believe that my family and friends who identify as evangelical Christian will be part of the 19% that didn't vote for him. But probability doesn't work that way. Just to drive home the point in my head I made a list of 30 people (arbitrary number) in my life who identify as evangelical Christian.  Twenty-four of these people likely voted for Donald Trump and 24 will likely vote for him again.  Only 6 will likely abstained.

From where I sit four more years of Donald Trump will mean the destruction of American Democracy.  Will it be the end of America?  Probably not, but I have no consolation that institutions and norms that both Democrats and Republications (used to?) hold dear with little dispute will be threatened, weakened, or destroyed.  A recent example is DJT threatening he will not concede the election if he loses and there will be no peaceful transition of power.  You can make the argument that it's bluster and this is Donald being Donald, but if this doesn't at least give you pause then ... no words.  

Every conceivable excuse enters my mind to not post these thoughts, but I feel like I need to do something.  I feel like I need to at least speak my thoughts. At present these words are still safe in draft mode but all of these little thoughts will course through my mind before I hit publish and will torment me for days after.
  • don't make waves
  • don't cause discord
  • don't challenge "authority"
  • don't challenge "leaders"
  • don't question assumptions
  • be supportive
  • follow the rules
  • be a servant

I had a thought today that weirdly gives me courage to speak.  Among my greatest fears, one is fearing that people will think I am mean.  "Keeping peace" and "getting along" were highly prized in my family.  Being mean fit in neither of those goals. 

As I reflect on the last few weeks I see that I can be mean and I have been mean. Just yesterday at 11:30am and two weeks ago Monday at 10am. I remember my exact words and I remember what I said and I remember why I said the words I said. I can come up with 100s of specific examples over the last few year. Not even sure where I am going with this, but all that to say is I am not a "good Christian".  I am not that sweet, lovely, supportive person. I'm pissed. I'm angry. I'm disappointed and disoriented. I'm discouraged and exasperated.

Last weekend B and I came back from an outside social distanced gathering. On the way back home we were talking through our exasperation at evangelical support for Donald Trump and his naming of Justice Ginsberg's replacement. Brad waxed a thoughtful explanation on why support for Donald Trump is an existential threat to us, to our dear trans friends, to our friends in same sex engagements and marriages. We know he is a threat to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color and to immigrants.  His record is clear on that. Given this backdrop the only thing he's not a threat to is the unborn, American Nationalists, and the wealthy.  

So today I cannot square a Christian vote for Donald Trump. With my beliefs, my theology, and my ideology, I'm left with "what I'm I missing"? What do evangelicals see in Donald Trump?  Why are they willing to put this faith up for sale on the chopping block? Why are they willing to align themselves with someone who ultimately isn't aligned with their stated morality, ethics, and their stated family values. Unless maybe he actually is aligned? Maybe all of this is about American Nationalism?

This scares me because that means what I thought they believed isn't actually all that important to them or their circles. What I thought evangelical Christians stood for isn't all that important to them.  I must turn this around and ask "what is it they really want"?  

That's where my recent learning of the underpinning of White Privileged, White Exceptionalism, and White Supremacy are more active than I care to admit.  That's when I question the system I grew up in and the water we swam in and the air we breathed in. These questions come to mind:

  • when you think of an American what is the color of their skin?
  • when you think of a solder what is their nationality?
  • when you think of a senator or congressman what is their gender?
  • when you look at your bookshelf do the authors primarily look like you?

When Brad finished describing his mystification I said to him, "but that's not what they are thinking".  They believe they are being loyal and patriotic. 

They see themselves on the right side of this.    

His conclusion was the mystified thought, "how can a person actively vote to harm other people"? I do not know the answer to this penetration question, but these words come to mind, "Do not abandon the faith.  Don't take wrong turns.  Do not listen to other voices."  

This is actually the reason for the post.

This is why American Democracy is on the brink.  

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