In November 2016, my faith took a hard nose dive. It was going that direction already, after a difficult season at a conservative seminary and acknowledging hard questions I couldn’t find sensible answers to. But if there’s one thing that really threatened to destroy it all, it was seeing a group of people, supposedly united by godly principles, throw themselves at a man who is the antithesis of everything Jesus preached.
I felt completely alone in a community of people I was supposed to call brothers and sisters. Cynicism replaced any hope that I felt about the church’s future in America. I’m still working on handling that cynicism in a more mature, responsible way than simply sharing angry memes on social media.
Here’s the pattern faith has in my life, though: it tends to come to me in moments of crisis. Personal hardship lead me to turn to God in the first place, because I felt I had nothing else substantial to rely on. Friends came and went, and my family, loving as they were, just didn’t “get” me (hardly abnormal). And so I turned to God, and would keep turning to him as the stresses of college, relationships, and life in general just kept mounting. While some people lose sight of God in these times, they only served to make my faith stronger.
So how has my faith weathered in the era of Donald Trump? Quite honestly, for all the anger I’ve harbored, all the shock I’ve ingested from watching the hypocrisy and hearing the excuses made for Trump’s behavior time and time again, I’m shocked that I still want anything to do with religion at all.
Yes, I know that God’s followers can be a flawed representation of his true, holy agenda (whatever that is), but when the majority of Christians you know seem to have drunk the orange Kool Aid, you can’t help but wonder what the hell is wrong with Christianity as a system. Jesus promised that the world would know his followers by their unity – if Trump is the unified cause of the Church today, count me out.
What is happening in our country, and in our churches, is unprecedented on so many levels. And in prayer after prayer, asking God for some kind of clarity in this mess, a funny thing happened to me:
Faith started to come back. Just a little. It came back in the form of a memory – why I chose this in the first place.
For one thing, faith compels me to live to a higher standard. It compels me to act in private the same way I want to be perceived in public. It holds me accountable for my words, my behavior, and compels me to confront the personal sins that harm my relationships with those closest to me. But it’s more than just a self-improvement regimen: it’s something I just feel in my bones, and can’t adequately explain to skeptics in a way that makes sense. If there is such thing as a “God gene,” I think I have it.
I really don’t understand it myself most of the time, but nonetheless, it persists. Sometimes it’s a matter of going through the motions, reading my Bible and writing down prayers, even when I’m halfway convinced it’s all exercise in nothingness. I keep the higher purpose in mind even when there’s a disconnect between my brain and heart.
When I read about self-proclaimed pro-life advocates doubling down against welfare, against affordable healthcare coverage, and stricter gun control, I have this odd inspiration to double down on everything I believe Jesus calls me to. The issues that made him angry – failure to adequately care for the poor, religious showmanship and hypocrisy –are also making me angry.
Also helpful has been spending more time in books, learning about church schisms of prior centuries, and how Christians weathered through them (spoiler alert: the church endured). Reading the life stories of men and women who broke boundaries and cultural taboos for the sake of a calling (and were considered heretics in their own lifetimes, but saints and Doctors of the Church today) has helped.
Maintaining a healthy perspective during these challenging times continues to be difficult. There will be days of frustration, and days I feel like giving up. There will be moments when I will have to evaluate whether some influences in my life are too toxic to keep. Ultimately, all I can do – all anyone can do – is filter the toxic teachings through the lens of who I believe Jesus to be.
The faith book survival list:
Turning Points by Mark Knoll
Radical Integrity: The Story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Michael Van Dyke
Love Undocumented by Sarah Quezada
Still Christian by David Gushee
A Bigger Table by John Pavlovitz
50 Women Every Christian Should Know by Michelle DeRusha