A Crisis of Faith

This post has been on my heart for a long time (four years?), but I kept hesitating to write it and put it out there in public. However, after seeing so many people who refuse to wear masks to protect other people, the ridiculous reactions to the election results and false claims of fraud, and then the actual raiding of the Capitol building by violent extremists, I feel like it’s time to unburden myself.

I saw someone say this past week that they keep their faith close, and I really connected with that. I’ve always had a distrust of people who have to loudly advertise their faith – it just (to me) feels disingenuous, and many of those people’s actions and words don’t end up reflecting what I was taught about Christianity. I am, in no way, perfect, and I have A LOT of work to do when it comes to “loving my neighbor.”

Image of an open Bible on a wooden table with a blurred background.
Image from Canva

And therefore, I’ve been having a really hard time with faith lately. I still believe in God, and I still pray, but I don’t go to church anymore. One night when I was having a particularly hard time, I found this article that digs deep into American Christianity and white supremacy. It’s an uncomfortable, but excellent read and reminds me of one reason that I became uninterested in attending church in my small town. I was attending a meeting and several people in that meeting (who are all members of a certain church) made racist remarks; I ended up walking out because I was so disgusted, and one of those people later called me to tell me how he wasn’t racist because “a Black woman works for me.” All I could do was laugh because sir, you just verified your racism. The hypocrisy and intense hate that has been coming from “Christians” lately is shocking to me and doesn’t at all add up to the Jesus and God that I learned about growing up.

For another example, this past summer many students from the school where I teach had a Black Lives Matter walk from the school and through the community, which is very religious. Community members came out and threw beer bottles AT STUDENTS, had massive guns and knives strapped to their backs, and screamed some really nasty words to these students who were peacefully walking through the town, simply asking to be treated as equals and for their lives to matter. And of course they were all screaming “all lives matter” in response.

Image of white hands writing Black Lives Matter on a black piece of paper
Image from Canva

Many of these community members posted their thoughts and feelings about these Black students on Twitter…and almost all of them had “Jesus Lover” or “man of God” in their bios. I’m pretty sure there’s a verse that goes, “this is my commandment, that you love one another.” Are there exceptions, footnotes, or restrictions to that command? How can you call someone the n-word and then go sit in a church pew on Sunday?

Another common thread that these people have are “Christians for Tr*mp” signs in their yards, and I saw that same message on the flags of the insurrectionists who raided the Capitol. I honestly cannot, and have not been able to for the last four years, wrap my mind around this statement – nothing about that man or his words or his actions align with how Christians are supposed to live. Or maybe I’m looking at the wrong Bible? I’m truly shocked at the cult-like actions, demagoguery, and violence from the people who scream about Christianity. The hypocrisy and hate is astounding. And don’t get me started on how frustrating the amount of misinformation is…(by the way, this article is fantastic and was published this weekend while I was writing this post – I highly recommend reading it. It’s long, but so worth it.).

I have a Ph.D. in early/19th century American literature, so the manipulation of scriptures is nothing new to me (slaveholders did it ALL the time). The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is a perfect example of this, and his Appendix to the narrative is one of my absolute favorite readings, especially to teach and discuss in my American literature classes because his explanation of religion and what he finds problematic with the religion of America is spot-on. Douglass writes:

What I have said respecting and against religion, I mean strictly to apply to the slaveholding religion of this land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper; for, between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference–so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one, is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity.

-Frederick douglass, appendix to the narrative of the life of frederick douglass

I highly recommend reading the entire text (I love the Norton Critical Edition that you can find here). I’ve been teaching for over 10 years, and it still surprises me how often these older readings are so applicable to current events in America, and the article I linked earlier actually starts off by discussing several situations in Douglass’s narrative where he demonstrates the hypocrisy of religion.

This past summer I taught an upper division course titled Women in the Early Republic, and many of the scholarly articles we read discussed how early Americans were incredibly serious about virtue, which included being a good member of society and making choices that benefited society, rather than the individual self. We had a lot of uncomfortable laughs about how much things have changed – we’re in rural North Carolina, so again, the hypocrisy of “I love Jesus” but “my individual rights and comfort are more important than anyone else’s” is strong.

I wish the solution and “fix” was an easy one. Unfortunately, calls for “unity” and cute t-shirts with messages to “be kind” and “be a good human” aren’t it – sorry, but I have no interest in unifying with people who wear “Camp Auschwitz Staff” sweatshirts. That’s despicable and disgusting, especially when you also have a Jesus sign or flag in your hand. We have to have difficult conversations; we have to use critical thinking; we have to be more angry that a violent mob waving the confederate flag next to a “Jesus is my savior” flag stormed the Capitol at the urging of the president and hold those people and the ones who encouraged and incited it accountable; we have to put more funding into education (good riddance, Betsy DeVos!); we have to address white supremacy and stop protecting whiteness…and the list goes on.

If you’ve made it this far in my post, I really appreciate you taking the time to read something so personal and uncomfortable. And now I’m going to get busy trying to tackle the problem of misinformation by creating my syllabus for my research class…

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