We had not spoken in four years, not since Trump got elected. She, in fact, told me she took my phone number off her phone after three decades of friendship.
We had been the closest of friends. We’d raised kids together, traveled together, shopped together, prayed together, attended Bible studies together. I knew the things that broke her heart. She knew the things that broke mine. We have photo books full of joyful moments shared: Dances, weddings, tea parties, birthday parties, cross-country trips.
It was on the I-5 bridge between her new home in Washington and my old one in Oregon that I promised God I would work hard at this new writing career I was pursuing. I had just spent the day talking with her about matters of faith and how we should respond to the emerging LGBTQ community within the church.
I confess that I am the one who has changed. I take full responsibility for that. It had to be confusing for many of my friends. For far too long, I was absolutely unwavering in my convictions. I had more answers than I did questions. I was that mother who took my children around town to pray over places where demonic spirits found refuge: public schools, certain churches, etc. My world was completely wrapped up in an “us” and “them” theology. When my children made bad choices, I tried to love the demon out of them. (I wish I were dramatizing this, but sadly, I am not).
I opposed everything from school dances (too sexualized) to gay marriage (an abomination to God) to abortion (murder) to marijuana (only leads to harder drugs) to drinking (leads to alcoholism). I maintained a very long list of all the ways in which Satan was trying to entrap good families like ours. Every decision I made had to be prayed over, from whether the bread I made would rise, to whether I should allow the kids to remain in school for the sex ed classes (nope, that was my job). I am sure if the old me was parenting today, I would be the one yelling the loudest about Critical Race Theory.
But the old me doesn’t exist any longer.
I don’t know if she died as much as she just evolved.
If you read Where’s Your Jesus Now? Examining how fear erodes our faith, you might recall the moment when I began to turn away from that old self. It was the day I sat on my porch and prayed that God would help me age in a way that my world expanded rather than grew smaller. I had a vision of how building a fence of supposed “protection” around my family could very easily turn a home into a locked down facility. I recognized that as I shut people out of my life due to some preconceived notion of “right” against “wrong” or “us” against “them” (in this case “Christians” against “LGBTQ”), that pretty soon I wouldn’t even be able to exit my house because I was literally building all kinds of fences in the name of Jesus.
My faith didn’t feel like a faith at all. It felt like bondage.
For years, I had listened to Dr. James Dobson. I had faithfully sent in a check to his “ministry” every month. I had religiously adopted his “formula” for childrearing. I know the moment I began to think he was a wacko. I was in the kitchen reading his monthly newsletter. This was shortly after Matthew Shepard had been brutally murdered for being a gay kid. Instead of expressing shock and horror over a kid being tortured and murdered simply for being gay, the newsletter had claimed that the reason people were gay is because they were pedophiles.
I knew the moment I read that statement, it was a bunch of bigoted bull-hooey. I never sent another dime to Dobson. I resigned from the board of the pregnancy crisis center I had helped build. I started listening to NPR instead of K-Love. I quit attending the church where the pastor’s main sermons were drawn from the TV shows he watched religiously. My job as a reporter put me in close contact with the suffering in the midst of their sufferings.
I spent time with parents who had lost children to car wrecks, overdoses, rare diseases, terrorist attacks, and gun violence. I spent time with kids whose parents overdosed, or abandoned them, or abused them, or neglected them, or simply didn’t like them. I spent time with firefighters while they fought fires, and SWAT teams as they made arrests. I had inside scoops on politicians who were sexually abusing and harassing the women that worked for them. I was on the receiving end of some of that sexual harassment by local politicians and businessmen.
I was no longer living within the cloistered environment of the “us” against “them”, “Christians” against “them.” Instead, I was simply caught up in the daily dramas of humanity, in all of its joys and all of its sorrows. I discovered that some of life’s most sacred moments happen when no one else is around. The moonlit drive on Interstate 84 after reporting on how neighbors banded together to save a farmhouse from a wildfire. The frozen stubble providing the only light as I reflected back on the father who had just brought his daughter home from the rehabilitation center where she’d been recovering from injuries sustained after getting struck by a train. The two little Hispanic boys struck and killed trying to cross Highway 395, and the racist comments made by the City Manager about their deaths.
These people, they changed me. They made me think about humanity as just an “all.”
“Together” reads a favorite basketball shirt of my husband’s.
All of us. Together.
I admit it’s more than a bit ironic that the thing that prompted me to look at the world and all of humanity as God’s work of art, instead of a demonic playing field, is the very thing that put me at odds with many whom had once called me friend.
“I never wanted to talk to you again,” my friend said, explaining why she had deleted my phone number from her phone. “You are passionate about your politics but I am even more passionate about mine.”
She was a Trump supporter. She still is. “I think he’s a patriot,” she said. “And I think Biden has lost his mind.”
“I will never understand how a Vietnam veteran (her husband) or an Evangelical Christian could vote for Trump,” I replied.
“I don’t like some of the things he does,” she said. “But he’s a patriot.”
“I think it’s probably best we don’t talk about this,” I replied.
She had reached out to me to ask me about something she knew I had first-hand knowledge about: Alabama.
“I have to move,” she explained. “I need to live in a Red state. I can no longer abide the taxes or the policies of this governor.”
I had read articles recently about this very thing – how people are moving to locate in areas that align with their politics or religious convictions.
We spent the next three hours together, reminiscing, catching up, avoiding the topics that divide us. She is in the place I had been so very long ago. The place of “us” against “them.” She hopes moving to a place of only “us” will make her happy. I know it won’t.
The problem with a faith that makes you long for the next life is that you are rarely happy in this one.
The problem with a faith that demonizes others is that it cuts you off from your own humanity.
The problem with a faith that invokes fear of the future is it robs you of the sacred in the here and now.
The problem with a faith that builds fences is that it eventually entraps you.
The problem with a faith that isolates is that it primes you for the next seducer who comes along.
The problem with a faith of promises broken is that it leaves you embittered.
And the problem with all of that is that is it isn’t faith at all: It’s sheer manipulation masquerading as faith.
I confess I am in a place where I have more questions than I do answers about God and Creation but I have come to accept that it’s okay. I don’t have to have all the answers. That’s why they call it faith.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Christian Bend (Mercer University Press).