It’s just after noon on a Sunday, and I’m not at a restaurant.
Nobody should be at a restaurant right now, but this isn’t just pandemic-whining. I’m also not at a restaurant because my entire Sunday routine has changed. Restaurant Sundays were a byproduct of Sunday mornings spent at church. But I haven’t been to church in nearly eight months. And I don’t know if I’ll ever go back.
It’s not that I don’t believe in God. That wrestling match has been at an uneasy draw for over a decade now; I wrote songs about it and haven’t been able to shut up about abandoning the dogmatic faith of my childhood, but I still believed — just with an open palm instead of a closed fist. So we still went to church; that’s what you do when you believe, right?
It would be easy to blame this on COVID-19. After all, that was when we stopped going. We tried doing video church for awhile, but it just wasn’t the same. The same level of discomfort that I’d felt in church for years was still there, but now it just seemed silly to force it when I could just… relax. Making a family proclamation that we’re not going to church anymore is a lot more difficult and dramatic than just deciding to stop turning on the TV.
After all, “church” isn’t the sermon, it’s a community, right? It’s the coming together of believers?
Maybe that’s the crux of this (no pun intended). I don’t feel a part of the primarily-white American evangelical community any longer. I haven’t felt that connection for a long time now, actually. The pandemic wasn’t what broke my relationship with the church, it was just a convenient distraction so I could finally slip out the door.
The fatal blow came nearly four years earlier, in November of 2016. After eight years of hearing nothing but unease about Obama’s faith, questioning whether it was sincere or not, questioning if he might secretly be Muslim (as if that would disqualify him from leadership), 81% of “my people” then turned right around and voted for a man that embodies everything I was raised to reject.
It felt like a knife in the back; like I had been tricked into believing that they cared at all about morality. I remember hearing how “situational ethics” were the slippery slope to Hell, since once you had one excuse to commit what would otherwise be a sin, then you could find many other loopholes.
You know, like voting for an incompetent authoritarian racist charlatan, because abortion.
Once I saw how easily they had been duped into supporting the most embarrassing and vile presidential candidate in my lifetime, everything other lesson I had ever been taught was called into question. On the ballot in 2016: pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony, and — okay, I can be fair: maybe not sloth. 6 out of 7. Over 80% of the way to a deadly sins blackout bingo.
Sounds like situational ethics test to me. And you got a grade of 19%.
Still, we went to church. Politics didn’t come up much, which — fine. Politics and faith becoming too intertwined is how we got ourselves into this mess in the first place, right? I wanted to give the American church a do-over. Yeah, it was a huge mistake. An enormous, embarrassing mistake. But maybe you just weren’t paying attention in 2015–16. Maybe you regretted the decision. I wanted to give… grace.
And here we are, November of 2020. Exit polls are suggesting that somewhere between 78% and 81% of white evangelicals voted for him again.
I’m leaving the church, not because I don’t believe in Jesus any more, but because I still do. And I don’t see him there. In his place, I see a black-and-blue colored American flag that would put itself on the cross in his place. I have no interest in bending the knee to a nationalist’s idol—that was sort of the message of Jesus in the first place, wasn’t it?
So what’s next? I don’t know. It’s scary shedding an identity, and it’s heartbreaking to have the proverbial scales lifted from my eyes to realize how fraudulent it all was. Am I even still a Christian? I think so, but that word has a lot of baggage in the here and now. Maybe I just stick with “believer”. Or some other word. Maybe we’ll find another community someday of fellow seekers who have given up on the church, but not on Christ. Maybe that is the church now, and we just need to find each other.
Maybe I should know by now. It’s been long enough. But I spent the last four years hoping this wasn’t the case. I didn’t have a plan for this.