We are living in a time of deep division. Surface conversations easily trace the fault lines of our most foundational beliefs. I can have a ten second conversation about a James Baldwin book a patient at work is reading, and we share understanding as quickly as the chill hits me when someone casually mentions they’re fine with re-electing our current president for another four years. I don’t think it’s ever been more impossible to not be “political.” The personal depth and implications of politics become clearer by the day if not the hour.
There’s a dynamic I’ve been pondering which sits at the intersection of politics and faith. If you’ve been around here more than a minute, you know I grew up in deeply conservative faith communities. I learned so much from these spaces, ironically including how to stand for what I believe in, even (especially?) when it contradicts the opinions of others. There was even a catchy kids song called Stand Alone.
I have a truly chilling tale for you today. Once upon a time in the land of conservative evangelical Christianity, there was a fear that I felt viscerally as a child - that all of the scheming liberals were trying to ruin our Christian nation, and wave people on down the wide road to hell. This may be a slight exaggeration, but really, not much of one. Whether our faith community was talking about if a statue of the ten commandments would stay on public property or not, or if Christian prayers were led in public schools, if people chose to say “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas” during winter solstice celebrations, or what kind of sexual education (or lack thereof) kids got in public schools, or legislating rights for LBGTQIA folks and other vulnerable communities, it all was (and in some places still is) viewed as an attack on The Faith.
There’s a groundbreaking concept I’ve learned in my personal development journey and I believe it applies to this topic in a unique way: What other people think of you is really about them. Conversely; what you think about other people is really about you.
What other people think of you is really about them. Conversely, what you think about other people is really about you.
Friends who I love dearly, if the things in the last paragraph feel like a personal attack on your faith, please do some self reflection, because the call is coming from inside the house. No one is trying to corrupt your family values. I promise they aren’t thinking about your family, they are just trying to do what's best for theirs. This concept of a corrupting “liberal agenda” is so prevalent because in reality there IS an Evangelical Christian agenda that masquerades as sharing faith or even exercising freedom of religion. (However, if any other religion had as many of their sacred emblems and practices enshrined publicly as Christianity does, I doubt Christians would respond favorably, so is it about freedom or control?)
Christians worship the God who cared so deeply about human autonomy that humans were offered alternatives to living in paradise - but The Agenda keeps legislating religious beliefs that not even the entire Christian community agrees on. Just because you may have a political agenda that you’d like everyone else to adhere to doesn’t mean those you see as your “opposition” have one too. It’s possible (and likely) those cast as the enemy are just trying to protect choice and autonomy which are pretty important to God.
The whole concept of America being a “Christian nation” flies in the face of the first amendment which is supposed to give everyone freedom of religion. Instead of honoring and respecting fellow faiths, we’ve managed to mold Christianity into a colonial tool of suppression and oppression. Sound familiar? It should--it’s been happening for hundreds of years.
When I grew up and started having conversations with folks who held a wider spectrum of political beliefs I realized that the “liberal agenda” and the “gay agenda” were created by conservative evangelical Christians because of course, everyone must have an agenda and plan for how others should live their lives. I also noticed something else deeply disconcerting: Evangelical Christians were fighting for religious freedoms they felt they were owed, when vulnerable communities were fighting for civil freedoms necessary for their basic needs to be met.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is pertinent to this conversation, so let’s revisit it:
When vulnerable communities are fighting for civil rights, they are fighting for the bottom two to three levels shown here. These are essential needs. Withholding them creates trauma and psychological scars that last a lifetime. We shouldn’t need laws to treat each other humanely, but here we are. There is such opposition to multiple vulnerable communities having civil rights of personal security, health care, employment, and belonging that a large portion of an entire political party is manipulating our systems of government to exclude them. If this doesn’t highlight why these communities need protection, I don’t know what will.
In contrast, the very real agenda pushed by various faith based groups lives in the top two sections of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I’m not saying self esteem, personal concepts of freedom, and self actualization don’t matter, but I AM saying that religious freedoms should include all religions, and never exclude someone else (especially those who don’t even share your faith tradition) from accessing civil rights.
I understand that others practicing their civil rights (existing) may bring up some difficult conversations and ideas when it comes to whatever faith we choose to practice, but that isn’t their fault. Denying people access to basic necessities to avoid religious cognitive dissonance is the epitome of privilege and misuse of power.
Denying people access to basic necessities to avoid religious cognitive dissonance is the epitome of privilege and misuse of power.
This won’t be news to anyone whose civil rights have been at risk or unprotected for the last few hundred years, but I hope it connects some dots for those in my community who may not have that experience to draw on. I hope it provides the space to pause, and dig into where the “agenda” is coming from, because it’s coming from inside the house. And a house divided against itself cannot stand.
If we ever believe that our faith requires those outside it to sacrifice their civil rights, it should be a giant red flag to rethink our theologies and belief systems. And before we start labeling others “agendas” lets evaluate our own.
This Halloween let's deal with the skeletons in our closets, because they aren't as well concealed as we'd like to believe.