Last week, I found myself in the back of a church service. For the first time in years, I was seated in God’s house.
It was redeeming. It was joyous. It was uplifting. It was long overdue.
It was also conflicting. Very conflicting. This moment was a culmination of the see-saw contention that has been the road traveled by my heart and soul since my last time present with a congregation.
A lot has happened since that last time, and as I’m sure you’ve experienced, the world has endured and changed quite a bit since then too.
I’ve maintained my faith through that entire time. Though, it did wane and weigh throughout moments, periods, happenings, and various reflections. We all have our struggles. There were moments I failed. And others where I've held on steadfastly. Regardless, it continued as a vital source of my existence - my faith, my substance for being, and my purpose for existing.
Yet, through this gap, I’ve found myself at odds with “the church”, with the representation of it, and the mode in which faith has been ostracized, weaponized and politicized within our society and in our country.
During that gap, I’ve bounced between many social circles - churchy folks, social justice activists, conservative Trump-ers, the "scholars", the "experts" and others - of people who have either stigmatized faith in the packaging of the entire individual or have judged the person - any person - based on one identifier that now comes as the proverbial socio-political bundle.
Such is life in the 2020s, am I right?
I’ve grown skeptical of the church-going person who aligns their politics with their faith as a merely fundamental given - voting a specific way because “that’s what we do”. As if voting this way were outlined in the book of Hebrews: And the Elephant shall be your guiding light in the leading of all man, as is the church. With the amount of misinformation and those who soak up this kind of stuff out there, I wouldn't be surprised...
There is also the placing or packaging of identifiers together for fallacy outcomes because with those powers combined, that is what “makes a real American!”. I don't need to expound anymore. We all already know the "starter pack" jokes and references.
And as you can imagine, there is the new Republican Party - really, a mindset - in a post-Trump world that adds to this mix. Along with that, the Democratic Party still seems like it has zero ideas on how to push forward equality despite its claims as the party for the working class and the underrepresented. Throw that in as well.
During this time I’ve found it immensely difficult to balance my views on the rights of (and for) low-income persons, for people of color, and the equity of all in the presence of my faith, church "responsibility", the gospel, and at a baseline, the goers attempting to hold the political line (thread or hook) for a purpose that feels outside of everything else.
Jesus was a radical. He defended the poor. And had love for all. That is fundamentally lost these days.
We have a church that prefers a fight rather than an approach of love and being just. A mindset of believers who have given into fear and uncomfrtability rather than the trust in something higher than themselves - or anything, really.
As a kid who at one time was poor; a son of two immigrants; and an individual who daily advocates for students within a system that should have turned even me into a statistic, the story of Jesus - still - resonates so much with me.
I’ve felt for so long that the church and churchgoers alike have positioned themselves in a climate that empowered it through self riotousness and holier than thou divisiveness through the root of fear, and at the expense of itself.
It became difficult to see faith, love, joy, and the gospel - my God, how we've missed the target of the gospel - in so much of the church’s positioning.
From issues on LGBTQ rights, the country's lack of atonement for our past (imagine the irony in not wanting to repent?), and ultimately how much faith has aligned itself within the real world instead of offering the light - and love - it should, it's easy to see how lines of been blurred.
In fact, the country is seeing a trend of individuals turning away from the faith (see here, here, here, here, and here, among other stories and research out there).
From hypocritical pastors and leadership, homogenous-driven churches, and the close alignment of supremacy thinking and ideology with the church's motives, it's not hard to believe why less and less of our country find solace in faith. Not for its political or social advances, but merely just that - faith.
This brings me to the latest, and massive topic of contention - abortion.
Oh yeah...we're going there! But read on, it's not lambasting from a certain position...I promise.
I’ve tried all week to keep myself away from cable news networks and the sensationalized and politicized spin on it all. Even more troublesome is the vulnerability to the number of surface reactions, reposts and shares via social media - that may or may not be true. Once again, there are the circles of people I know, most importantly, who are very far apart on this view - which makes for an unintentional high level of discourse to take in. But it is one that does help with my inner conflict on the church's position here, as well as just merely where I find myself on the issue, which is once again, conflicted.
It’s easy to dismiss others, or even cancel them, for opposing your viewpoint, but also for not completely agreeing with it. Yeah, that's where are as a society...
I ultimately, and again yes, wholeheartedly, believe in the sanctity of life. And there really is a big part of me that does indeed question why we play God in deciding who and what areas we extend our decision-making process into. I do wrestle with that. Even beyond the topic of abortion.
I also think about how the church makes this a huge cornerstone of its work and fight within the political (and social) space, yet does the opposite or is silent in policies that will ultimately help support these children, provide for these beings, and provide a fundamental, sustainable, loving approach beyond just “pro-choice” mantra.
Ditto for the women involved.
Abortion bad! But yet, we do little for support systems of healthcare, paid maternity leave, or even the accountability of men in this sphere. We separate kids at our borders from their families and continue to downplay the lack of responsibility and resources in communities to support these lives.
Not once in our history have we proven otherwise, or else, we wouldn't be here.
The truth is - in my heart - we all know this isn’t going away just based on account of law-making and policy. Abortions are going to happen whether it is law or not. And I honestly can’t conform to my heart that churchgoers who denounce this with tremendous effort to express their seriousness on the issue, will replicate that spirit in providing support, counsel, monetary services, and more, on the other end of such a possible decision.
Because quite frankly, that's where the true test of your faith comes in - where love, compassion, forgiveness, and sacrifice are needed.
I have my doubts (obviously). From a political perspective (again, obviously), and yes, I don't have faith in churchgoers to do the same, or collectively, the church. Ironic, huh?
I feel tremendously so for women who are tied to this - after all, it’s not lost on me the immense privilege I have within my perspective, especially as someone whose closest comparable bodily legislation experience was getting the OK from the athletic trainer or physician.
My heart breaks for the stories of ectopic pregnancies, and I grapple with their existence. Even with faith, I still am at loss for why such things happen.
I know many of you will judge me based on this post, (on either side). Some may never return, and I am okay with that. I’ve always been honest here and will continue to be.
I just hope these words can reach others who, like me, remain conflicted. This is not easy.
think know believe the church can do better. The church has to do better. When my radical Jesus is now packaged with pickup trucks, guns, and voting Republican for social stature rather than eternal perspective, I think it’s time to reevaluate our approach as being salt and light of the world.
Until then, I’ll continue to grapple with these thoughts and make sense of these feelings, from the back of a Sunday church service.