It’s really no secret. Ever since Donald Trump declared himself God’s gift to mankind and the heads of Evangelical Churches around the country lined up in allegiance to him, I have gone on a hiatus from all things church.
Sure, the pandemic made it easier to leave the local church community. Added to that,, our pastor left the pulpit for full-time service to the homeless. It took another year before the church brought in another pastor. The ability to do church online allows me to tune into sermons from a church in Scotland I attended and enjoyed, enjoy still.
I grew up in the church, attending three to four times a week: Sunday School, Worship, Training Union, Worship, Monday night youth group, Wednesday night supper and prayer meetings. Add to that my entire social circle of friends, both as a youth and as a young woman, came from within the church.
Church has been home for me throughout my life, and throughout my many displacements.
I’ve written about it many times but I began my move away from the church during the AIDS crisis. Up until then, I had followed the rule book on church. I not only believed in the patriarchy of the authority of the predominantly white-male leadership, I perpetuated it.
It’s understandable, I suppose, given my background, my need for a father figure in my life. Thankfully, mercifully, I was not exposed to men who exploited that trust until I was in my 40s. I had the good fortune of being led by the kindest, most thoughtful and decent pastors. Men who didn’t exploit their positions, who maybe even questioned it at times. These were pastors who had a relentless appetite for knowledge and for knowing God better. They read the Bible, yes, but they read poetry and literature and biographies. I suppose today people might peg them as liberals although, unlike the pastors I would come to know later, they never once preached on politics. They were the kind of pastors who define the word Shepherd. Kind-hearted men who treated everyone with respect.
Mercifully for me, they provided the standard for the kind of man I would marry. I’ve said it before and now more than ever it makes me laugh to recall my college friend Lois telling me that marrying a egalitarian man was a total waste on me.
She was so right.
Marrying a man who didn’t set defined roles for himself or for me, was a waste on me in those early years. I so related to Michelle Obama when she said she had to stop looking for Barack to fill the emptiness within her; she need to find happiness within herself.
The very first time I ever heard a pastor talk politics from the pulpit, not surprisingly, was during Reagan’s first bid for the presidency. He literally told the congregation that there was only one right way to vote as a Christian and that was for Reagan.
I got up and walked out of church.
And that right there was the moment I began to push back against the patriarchy that continues to be perpetuated by far too many, who as Beth Moore states in her recent memoir – All My Knotted Up Life – seek power not Christ.
To be honest, I was reluctant to read Moore’s book. I haven’t read a book out of the evangelical community since Rachel Held Evans died and Sarah Thebarge fell in love with a Brit. Weird, right? Given that for so many years, I wrote within that community myself.
Like throngs of others, I consider myself an ex-pat of the Evangelical community. Since July of 2016, I have lived in exile, not from Christ, but from the community of Believers who aligned themselves with a religious fervor to the personhood of Trump.
I can’t tell you how much I have wept over this. Like Moore, I loved church. How could I not? It served as a place of refuge for me throughout much of my formative years. My dearest friendships were formed at Rose Hill Baptist. Friendships that had lasted me a lifetime, until 2016.
I wept again listening to Beth Moore recount her own falling out with the Southern Baptist. Unless you’ve been exiled yourself, you cannot possibly know the isolation and suffering leaving one’s own homeland makes. And, yes, for many of us, the evangelical community was our homeland.
Until it wasn’t.
So many friendships, lifelong friendships, have been sacrificed upon the altar of Trump.
Family members, too.
When Beth Moore and Keith found a new church home – an Anglican community – where they felt safe, she burst into tears. Bittersweet ones, I imagine. Relieved to have found a new home but forever grieving the one she left.
There is something that happened to women of my generation since 2015. We realized that patriarchy was sold to us as God’s Will, when in fact, it was never about anything godly. It was always about exploiting godly people in an unquenchable thirst for power. The way we’ve seen Trump do it.
We excused patriarchy for far too long. But faced with the bald-faced lies and unabashed quest for power by evangelical leaders providing cover for Trump and White Christian Nationalism, not to mention the epidemic of sex abuse within the Church, we women rose up from our beds of compliancy, and drawing upon the strength of our ancestors shouted: “Hold up a second.”
Beth Moore has made her way to the other side of all of this, whereas, I’ve remain in a state of paralysis. Still in shock and unsure of how to move forward, I repeat the only thing I still believe in, thanks to all those who loved me to Jesus all those years ago:
God is good.
It’s all I got. I can only hope it’s enough.
For those of you who’ve been on a similar journey, I recommend Moore’s memoir. And I highly recommend you listen to it. This is the kind of story best told in the author’s own voice. She’s an excellent storyteller and will have you laughing and crying.
Karen Spears Zacharias is a woman of faith, no matter how unsteady it might seem at times. She is also the author of After the Flag has been Folded (A memoir, Harper/Collins).