“Am I the only one?”
Recently, it seems I can’t have a conversation about faith or politics without uncovering another story of someone who is wrestling with this question. Many have become increasingly isolated from their faith communities and families. Some genuinely believe they’re the only ones enduring the kinds of struggles and doubts haunting them. Others are convinced there’s something deeply wrong with them. Why can’t they just put aside the doubts and questions? Why can’t they buy into what is being sold so they don’t have to feel like exiles in their own churches and families anymore?
For some, it’s political views that have them feeling like outsiders in their own lives. Many evangelicals — most often younger women — struggle to buy into the Republican personalities and platforms that many evangelical leaders are equating with “biblical Christianity.” They wonder: Am I really a Christian if I am voting differently than every other Christian I know?
As Elizabeth Baker wrote in a 2018 viral Huffington Post opinion piece: “I suffer from near-daily panic attacks and almost constant anxiety. The source of my joy, my security and my identity has vanished, leaving me with an angry grief that almost no one in my immediate circle understands.”
For others, doubts about specific interpretations of Scripture have them feeling like exiles. Can I still be a Christian if I believe in evolution? If I lean toward full LGBTQ inclusion? If I question the objective historicity of certain biblical accounts? Even masks have become a contentious issue. I know one otherwise conservative fortysomething evangelical woman who feels like an outsider in her own church simply for taking this basic precaution on Sunday mornings.
“Am I really a Christian if I am voting differently than every other Christian I know?”
At first glance, the first commandment — “You shall have no other gods before me” — seems like a strange place to turn to for a timely, relevant word for contemporary culture. Most of us aren’t tempted to bow down to ancient Canaanite deities like the ancient Israelites would have been. But in their zeal to promote specific biblical interpretations and views of truth, many evangelical leaders are guilty of setting orthodoxy tests alongside or even ahead of God.
Sometimes the messages are overt. We’ve probably all seen social media posts claiming that no real Christian could possibly vote for a Democrat. Perhaps you missed one of the more recent (and despicable) memes, a picture of Vice Present Harris at the inauguration captioned with a quote from the “Whore of Babylon” passage in John’s Revelation. Other times the messages are implicit — references to “demoncrats” or subtle musings about Christians-in-name-only.
In still other cases, isolation is self-imposed by believers secretly conflicted about what their political leanings and biblical interpretations might reveal about the state of their souls.
“The theological fortress I had walled myself behind for almost two decades was crumbling.”
That’s how it was for me. As a Southern Baptist pastor, I felt my understanding of Scripture and the world around me begin to shift. For the first time, I saw the faces of the real people behind the issues I once championed. The theological fortress I had walled myself behind for almost two decades was crumbling, and I was left feeling like an exile in my own church and sometimes even in my own mind.
Some weeks, I would get up to preach on Sunday mornings and then spend the next six days wondering if I was even still a Christian. This kind of deconstruction is an intensely lonely and painful experience. I can only imagine that it would be almost too much to bear if I had been subjected to the constant barrage of criticism, spiritual diagnoses and I’ll-be-praying-for-yous others have had to endure.
It is time to reverse this, to put God back in God’s rightful place of preeminence, demoting our personal biblical interpretations and political leanings to the secondary spot they deserve. It is time to stop demeaning and demonizing one another over political views and differences in biblical interpretation.
There’s nothing wrong with disagreeing, debating or even sitting back, scratching your head and wondering how someone ever could come to such-and-such a conclusion. But those who weaponize faith and question the state of someone’s soul over these kinds of issues are doing irreparable harm to the cause of Christ in the name of human ideologies.
Jason Koon is an ordained Baptist minister who writes at the intersection of faith and politics. He lives in Western North Carolina with his wife and two teenage daughters. His “Almost Ex-evangelical” blog is at www.jason-koon.com.