Keeping the Coversation Alive
These are frightening times in our increasingly dichotomous America. Having aligned itself on one side of the divide, the evangelical church is not doing much to bring us together. In this most recent election, 81 percent of evangelicals voted for the Republican presidential candidate. According to a Pew Research study released last week, 76 percent are supportive of the president’s executive order banning immigration from seven primarily Muslim nations. Evangelicals have shifted to the right.
I attend a church with an ethos of tolerance. “Conservative or liberal here, we’ve all got to give a little here,” is one of the lines of the Highlands ethos, which we read every Sunday. Just a few weeks ago one of our co-pastors preached a sermon some saw as leaning politically left. While I did not agree with that assessment, I was impressed with how our leaders responded. Just two weeks later our founding pastor shared the pulpit with a member who was unhappy with the previous sermon. While their joint message was not itself without controversy, I was pleased our co-pastors were willing to enter troubled waters in an attempt to live out our ethos. Mistaking uniformity for unity, most evangelical churches never present both sides of an issue.
Without a full-throated loyal opposition, how can iron sharpen iron? How can we be sure our theology is not so inbred that new perspectives never see the light of day? If our church is all white, how can we understand the lives of people of color? Those from the majority culture often say, “I don’t have a prejudiced bone in my body!” They do not think they are prejudiced because they rarely place themselves in an environment in which anyone challenges their perspective.
I believe the evangelical church has gotten itself into this monochromatic mess by its long history of domination by men, specifically white men. When that male control arises from what is believed to be a biblical endorsement, it creates an arrogance that is pernicious. God’s supposed preference for male leadership has allowed untold prejudice to thrive without challenge. The result is an evangelical world tone deaf to the voices of women and minorities.
I am truly embarrassed I did not see how complicit I was in enabling such a slanted worldview. But I was too comfortable in my privileged position. There is no excuse for not making more of an effort to understand what life is like “on the other side.”
Understanding the other side is one of the most important tasks of any privileged culture. That is one of the reasons I now find it important to understand those who voted differently than I did in the election. One of my biggest lessons is the realization that I do not know America. If I am not going to add fuel to a fire already burning too hot, I must get to know this nation anew.
My first act was to buy a copy of Hillbilly Elegy, the book by J.D. Vance about growing up in poor white Scots-Irish Appalachia. His stories resonate because I grew up in Scots-Irish Appalachcia. These were the teens who voted me Most Likely to Succeed in my senior year of high school. They are also the people who strongly suggested, after I became Paula, that I not attend my high school reunion. They are not fickle, just resistant to change.
I want to understand the anger and frustration of those who feel left behind and are disadvantaged through no real fault of their own. At one time I was one with these fellow citizens. Now I am other. I am socio-economically other, professionally other, and other-gendered. I am a threat to their tribe. I am an outsider, and outsiders are to be feared. It is important for me to understand that fear and not increase it unnecessarily.
I say unnecessarily because I do believe the truth matters, and there are times when one must speak. Much of the fear I see in today’s evangelicalism is not based on fact. In this age of multiple news outlets, there are many who do not hold truth in high regard. Infowars is a site with over eight million unique viewers and 1.8 billion page views. It is also the program that denied the reality of the Sandy Hook school shootings and claimed 9/11 was an “inside job.” In other words, Infowars is apparently more interested in conspiracy theories than it is in the truth. What they report is verifiably not the truth. I have a friend who once was a teacher in Sandy Hook. She taught the parents of some of the students who were killed. Try telling her that Sandy Hook never happened.
When it comes to big government or small government, there is plenty of room for differences of opinion. But when it comes to the facts, there is not much room for discussion. The truth matters. Speaking the truth is essential. The spirit in which one speaks truth is also critical. Does it open doors or slam them shut?
I will keep reading and listening and doing my best to be a part of the solution to the rift that divides our nation. I will speak up for the truth, and what I believe to be my responsibility to rightly interpret scripture as it applies to today’s salient issues. When I disagree, I hope I remain focused on topics and not personalities. These are trying times, and now, more than ever, we must unite on the knowledge that the truth sets us free.
And so it goes.