Here's how it happened.
“You’ll get more conservative as you get older,” my college roommate’s father said. “People mature, grow up, and realize what’s life’s all about. Nobody gets more liberal as they age.”
Flash-forward twenty years or so, and both my college roommate and I are some of the more progressive moms around. She got there before I did, several years ahead of me. For a long time, I actually wondered how she and so many of my other former college friends all got so “crazy.” So liberal.
Guess they forgot everything our parents taught us. Forgot what folks like Ron Luce, Oral Roberts, and Lisa Bevere said. Guess they didn’t really care about Jesus after all.
My young adult years were a strange time as I tried to make sense of the world and my life in it. Instead of going straight to college after high school, I spent a year with Teen Mania Ministries. That entire year was a deep indoctrination into right-wing politics. The leadership and teachers there were constantly pushing us into one direction while saying that wasn’t the case.
“I’m not going to tell you who to vote for,” Dave Hasz, the internship director said. “But there’s one candidate who honors God, and one who doesn’t.”
It was obvious that Dave wanted all of us to vote for George W. Bush. Most of us had only been living in Texas for a few months, but the pressure to fall in line was palpable. And yes, abortion was typically the key issue.
Like most kids in the evangelical bubble, I’d been raised to believe that abortion was wrong. That it was murder. There was no gray area. No middle ground. Sure, some folks said they were “okay” with women having an abortion when their life was at risk or if they had been raped.
Within much of the evangelical bubble, those things are seen as excuses. There’s a good deal of pressure to believe that God can use any supposedly bad situation for good. This means that if I was raped, or, if my life was in danger during pregnancy, there would be coercion to “look on the bright side,” and “choose life” for my kid.
Leadership within the internship was so convinced that voting was a “Christian responsibility,” that they bussed us all into the city to vote.
Well, almost all of us. I held back. I didn’t vote. I knew I was expected to vote for George W. And I knew I thought the Democratic Party was all about promoting evil and godlessness. But there were things — a lot of things — that didn’t sit right with me. Frankly, I didn’t understand how so many Christians conflated religion and politics.
Jesus wasn’t political. In fact, one of the things I grew up hearing was that the Jews didn’t recognize Jesus as the true messiah because they were looking for a political leader. If that were true, I couldn’t understand why folks now insisted Jesus had all of these political expectations for my spiritual life.
Was it strange that Evangelical Christians were expected to vote for Bush largely for his pro-life stance when he wound up getting us into a war? In my experience, evangelicalism is never short on irony or hypocrisy. For evangelicals, abortion is the big bad evil. The thing that God will judge America because we supposedly have innocent blood on our hands. Why that concept doesn’t seem to follow for other issues in politics is really beyond me.
If anything, it’s convenient.
When I was a young teen, my mother used to warn me that my interest in saving the world was going to “lead me astray.” She didn’t approve of my environmentalism — most Christians I knew didn’t approve. They told me that saving the planet was a “new age goal.” Corrupt and not biblical. They were so dismissive and I challenged what they told me.
Isn’t environmentalism good stewardship? If God gave mankind dominion on earth, didn’t we have a responsibility to take care of the earth we’d been given?
I was genuine and earnest in my convictions. My mother and various evangelical leaders were earnest in chastising me. I’d understand when I was older, they said.
But my interest in activism covered a lot of ground. I cared about the environment. I cared about animals. I became a vegetarian, recognized myself as a pacifist, saw myself as a feminist, and yes, I even believed myself to be pro-life.
All of these causes made my mother worry about my salvation. I grew up hearing that these things made me a rebellious or weak Christian. I didn’t understand because I found biblical arguments to back up my beliefs. I didn’t understand why there seemed to be only one acceptable way to be a Christian. Rules often went unspoken until I found out that my basic mindset had inadvertently broke them. It often left me feeling like dirt.
When I was a freshman in high school, my English teacher announced to the class very early on in the semester that she was a lesbian. She told us that she left her family — her husband and her children — when she fell in love with another woman. I was terribly homophobic in those days, as I was raised to be, and I couldn’t believe that she was sharing such a personal and controversial secret with her students. Wasn’t she ashamed to admit that she hurt so many people?
Years later, of course, I would come to understand what she did, why she did it, and why she told her students the truth. She was very passionate about students growing into themselves.
I think she recognized a great deal of conflict in me. Despite my then prejudice about homosexuality, she became one of my favorite teachers because she took me seriously. She once clipped out a newspaper article for me about eco-feminists who were also pro-life.
It was the sort of kindness no Christian had ever given me. I shared the article with my mom, hoping to share some relief that there were other people like me. People who cared about human rights on a deep level.
But my mother didn’t like that. She made it clear that there was only one way to be pro-life, and it didn’t involve the environment or feminism.
A lot gets said about identity politics and victimhood — usually as criticism against the Left. That’s funny. The Religious Right is the OG of such claims. Make no mistake, such Conservatives believe they are fighting a holy war and that the Left wants to take everything away that the Right holds dear.
That’s how they can be so rigid about going against abortion, yet support the “war on terror.”
To grow up in the evangelical bubble is to be constantly prepped and prodded for a culture war. It’s horrible, really. Painful.
Conservative, politically-charged Christianity requires a victim mentality. We’re literally raised to believe that the world is run by Satan and that it’s our job to stand up for Jesus. We don’t have to talk about the real factors behind issues like abortion or racism. No one within our ranks questions the hypocrisy. There is no accountability, just the talk of “avoiding the appearance of evil.”
The truth that we can’t see what an incredibly toxic and disjointed platform we live in, one that only “works” because of identity politics.
If you are a Right-Wing Christian, your political views are supposed to look a lot like this:
- Pro-life (but only for the unborn)
- Christian prayer in schools is a force of good — banning prayer in schools is evil
- Welfare is an unearned handout
- White on Black racism doesn’t exist anymore — these days, reverse racism is the problem
- Homosexuality is a sin, and marriage equality will lead to the acceptance of pedophilia or bestiality
- Feminism goes “too far” and usurps our God-given gender roles
- Trans rights also fly in the face of God’s gender roles
- There’s too much sex on television
- Other Religions are bloody and violent while Christians are routinely persecuted
- It’s our job as Christians to support the politicians who will push for Christian legislation (prayer in schools, anti-abortion, anti-marriage equality, etc)
Keep in mind that perspective is everything. Far-right Christians generally believe they’re doing “God’s work.” People like my mother, for instance, genuinely think their beliefs are the right beliefs. People like myself, who were steeped in Evangelicalism, were raised to believe these beliefs are pure and righteous. For a long time, I really did believe that I had to align my views to the Christian Right if I wanted to be a “good person” and if I didn’t want to go to hell.
For many years, I thought I was one of the victims too. The persecuted Christians who only wanted to do the right thing.
The irony, of course, is that I couldn’t see how my insistence upon these supposedly Godly beliefs persecuted others. I didn’t care — I couldn’t. Again, I had the victim mentality Right-Wingers need.
Not to mention the deeply held conviction that everyone on the Left had an agenda. Gays wanted to turn you gay. Pro-Choice people wanted you to… have abortions, have sex, sell baby parts. Liberal educators wanted to indoctrinate their students. It never fully made sense, but it didn’t have to make sense.
People often ask what made me stay in the evangelical world for so long if I had so many doubts. It’s simple, really.
When people stay hooked into Far Right politics because it’s supposed to be the Christian thing, there’s often a lot of guilt or shame keeping them there.
It was the guilt and shame that held me. I wanted to be a good Christian. I wanted to be close to God. I didn’t want to waste my life, you know? And in evangelical Christianity, wasting your life means not serving God well, or well enough.
And not going to heaven as a result. Suffering for all eternity.
My deconversion from Christianity and Conservatism didn’t happen overnight. Frankly, I fought myself at every turn. There was this fear hanging over my head that I was careening down a path to my own demise.
Sure, it’s easy for me to look back on my young beliefs and see that there was always liberalism there. But it’s always easier to see ourselves in hindsight.
I didn’t know that my true convictions were liberal. Actually, I thought I was just an awful sinner.
Various events — big and small ones — began to take their toll. That year I spent in Texas for a ministry internship took its toll. In it, I didn’t just learn about the political expectations of me as a Christian. I also learned how well-planned and orchestrated it all was.
Things that I thought were genuine and spiritual, were heavily manipulated. Healings, wonders, and words from God — I began to doubt what I’d grown up believing the more I interacted with those who led such ministries.
It took time to recognize what was happening. Time to see just how widespread spiritual abuse was.
I was sexually assaulted by a religious leader and told to get over it by another. I saw others similarly abused as well.
For a long time, I watched and tried to process the abuse. What I finally realized is that lots of people within evangelical Christianity mean well and genuinely believe what they’re buying and selling. There’s a certain simplicity in seeing the world as a battle between good and evil. It feels safe. It feels warm.
But things are different in leadership. Where many Christian followers are earnest, Christian leaders tend to have more… self-interest.
For example, Christian televangelists need to pay for their airtime. Other ministries need to fill seats at their conventions. Even power-hungry pastors need to squeeze tithes and offerings from churchgoers.
It should hardly be surprising then that the closer I got to evangelical leaders, the more I saw that these were folks with their own agendas. Agendas to convert people over to Christianity. To raise more money. To wield more power. And, of course, to shape society however they see fit.
Over time, I realized that as much as Conservatives kept insisting that the Left “had an agenda,” it was the Right working so hard to be dominant.
If it was really about “family values,” or “religious freedom,” it wouldn’t be about pushing their will upon everyone else. I began to question things I’d been taught. Like that homosexuality was wrong, or that abortion was murder.
I questioned those things and realized that if I was ever on the fence about an issue, I would choose the side of love. So, that’s what I did. And when I did that, I discovered that I no longer aligned with the Religious Right at all.
I never really had a “testimony” about the moment I came to Jesus when I was young. I was raised to believe in God and be a Christian. Since I was so often scared to lose my salvation, I was constantly rededicating my life to Christ. Looking back on all of those years, it’s absurd. I was never truly happy, constantly yearning, and always striving to be a “super Christian” while never feeling that I could measure up.
It’s only fitting, then, that I don’t have a single experience that pushed me away from Conservatism. It was a lot of things that added up. Lots of abuse, for sure. But also, by simply gaining more life experience, my perspective shifted.
By watching the way Conservative Christians treated those whom they felt had “sinned,” made a mistake, or made whatever they deemed to be a poor choice. I noticed how they expected non-Christians to live under their codes. And then I saw the way they let their leaders do completely non-Christian things and support them anyway.
Lots of Christians complain that too many people like myself leave the church, the movement, the politics, etc because of hypocrisy. They don’t think that’s a fair way to judge their beliefs. I disagree for many reasons, but the most compelling reason for me is the question of why so many Conservative hypocrites hide behind evangelism, anyway.
Because they can.
It’s amazing, really. Evangelical Christians are so wrapped up in Conservatism and the Republican party that they can’t even see that the Bible they’re thumping doesn’t support their policies.
The Republican Party is short on grace. Short on mercy. And evangelical Christians are alright with that. Hypocrisy hides so well in religion — in plain sight when it has to.
And who does it benefit? Not the poor, not the children, not the widows, not the downtrodden or anyone who Jesus actually said should be cared for. It benefits the leaders. The wealthy. The rule-makers — who also happen to be avid rule-breakers.
Conservatism benefits the hypocrites. Republican leaders cite “personal responsibility,” but for others.
For about five years now, I’ve recognized that I’m a Progressive. Not a Republican. Not a Democrat. Sure, I’m more in line with Dems, but I still have very little respect for most politicians. I may have left evangelicalism and its related politics, but it never endeared me to most of the Democratic Party.
I believe in doing what we can to be good stewards of the planet. I don’t believe that money should ever stand in the way of quality medical, dental, or mental healthcare. A civilized society, in my opinion, is one that places people over money. I believe in common sense, but I don’t see much of that in Washington DC. I even believe in abortion despite my upbringing being so adamantly against it.
I’ve lived long enough to see that abortion saves lives. Most notably, women’s lives. But from everything I’ve learned about Republican leaders, they have little use for saving women’s lives.
As it turns out, my college roommate’s father was wrong. We don’t all get more Conservative.