As the United States deals with the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd and protests advocating for reform are being violently suppressed, a significant movement to bring real change is emerging and that brings me hope.
I’ve been reflecting on my life and my experience as a white American Christian, and I have realized there is a common thread that has been present in almost all phases of my life, from childhood through adulthood. That thread is this: ‘ ‘We’, the American white Christian church, are oppressed or will soon be oppressed’. I heard this message over and over growing up, “Only we have the truth and sooner or later the rest of the world will hate us because of it, some already do”. In childhood, it was fear-based evangelism based on the end of the world and the coming persecution. As I grew up those fears in the community began to grow into intolerance for differences. These ideas were preached, stay strong, live the truth no matter what, and never back down from the truth. They slowly soaked into our souls like a slow steady rain.
To this day I find it incredibly difficult to separate myself from these ideas. For example, growing up in an ultra-conservative church community, drinking alcohol of any kind was considered sinful and wrong. To this day I struggle with seeing Christians drinking alcohol. I no longer believe it is wrong but I have an ingrained subconscious reaction to the sight. It triggers a reaction of moral superiority and intolerance for immorality or deviation from my perception of the social contract, I have to constantly address and be consciously aware of. These ideas created a culture where differences were not accepted, they were highlighted and vilified. This has had significant implications on how I perceive the value of people, specifically people who are different from me. I heard and learned my first racial and gay slurs in a Christian school, and even to this day, they return to haunt my thoughts, subconsciously tainting my view of the people I see and meet. In my Christian community hazing and bullying, those who were weak and vulnerable was a constant source of entertainment for those with physical or social power. These two elements, the fear of oppression and the culture of intolerance created a dichotomy of belief. On one hand, we were trained to expect oppression while at the same time intolerance and abuse were regularly overlooked and tolerated especially towards those who dared to be different.
I lived in that culture for years and over the last decade have slowly been moving from believing in its ideology to an understanding that these ideas create perceived supremacy and teach intolerance. The perception of theological superiority was lived out as a calling to fix or save those who were lost and help them purify themselves to match our ideals. The mindset of superiority that I grew up with is something that I have found is constantly with me. It has created absolutism in my thought processes that are painfully real and impossible to completely eradicate.
Having lived outside of the United States for almost 7 years now I have become much more aware of this belief, and the shape it takes both at home in the US and abroad in ex-pat circles. I see and hear it articulated in a variety of different ways using different words but the idea is usually the same – we are right and everyone else is wrong. We must do everything we can to save them because if they don’t join us they will eventually be against us. This leads us back to the fear of oppression , and this fear fuels the demand for control as a method of achieving safety and assurance.
Conservative Christian political power is the perceived safety and assurance the church has been seeking, to offset the fear, feeding the desire for control that has been fermenting and growing over the years. Pursuing safety through forced homogeny. These ideas of intolerance and the desire for power have existed for decades and centuries in our country and terrible actions have been taken to legalize this oppression, but we often neglect to include the true nature and volume of these actions in our retelling of history. We tend to justify our intolerance as a fight against our own oppression.
To get a taste of these narratives and how they fuel the transition to oppression read this article, with quotes from Franklin Graham of Samaritian’s purse and other high profile leaders.
(A) “rampage of ‘political correctness’ … is coming to your state, your town, your church. Christians you know are targets … maybe Christians in your own home.” Tony Perkins
“We’ve gotten to the point where courts have held that morality cannot be a basis for law, where ministers are fearful to affirm holy writ from the pulpit, and where one group can actively target religious groups by labeling them hate groups. This president (Donald Trump) and the Department of Justice are determined to protect and advance our heritage of freedom of religion. … The Constitution’s protections don’t end at the parish parking lot nor can our freedoms be confined to our basements.” Jeff Sessions
This translates to “We shouldn’t be forced to tolerate or share our communities with people that think, believe, or are different from us. We should have the right to enforce Christian standards and be able to decide what rights and privileges others are entitled to based on our beliefs. Our government should operate in a way that is most advantageous to us and supports our belief system. Granting human rights to people we disagree with is a violation of our rights.”
I think there seems to be some confusion about what oppression means and frankly about why these precious values are ‘under attack’.
According to Webster’s dictionary oppression is defined as the unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power. The conservative movement currently has plenty of power, controlling the United States Senate and White House along with a significant number of state and local governments, which negates the argument that someone is exercising cruel or unjust power or authority over the Christian community. It seems the idea that is being reacted to is not that white Christian America is oppressed, rather that there are other groups in our society who are different and they dare to voice their dissent and objection to the intolerance and discrimination perpetuated in the name of Christian belief.
IF there is a suppression of conservative points of view, or a lack of acceptance of conservative ideals, it might be that the reason these opinions are not accepted and promoted is that they tend to be centered around ideas and opinions that are more political than biblical. They seem to be based on the opinion that the unification of conservative Christian doctrine, dogma, and political ideology is superior to all other forms of thought, and this political ideology has been granted equal footing with the teachings of Jesus. These ideas are finding less acceptance because they are being used to devalue, dehumanize, marginalize, and oppress those who refuse to accept the superiority of this ideological doctrine, maintain control and place the church in positions of political power.
When this fear of oppression is perpetuated and dominates in the mind, the need to protect ourselves and our interests become our primary concern. Our perceived position of moral superiority demands that others move to accommodate our rights and beliefs ahead of their own. The fact that police officers incarcerate, beat, and kill black men in alarming numbers without adequate checks on their power is not a concern to us because they are not us. Our inner narrative quickly tells us that they must have done something that caused the police to get involved and they are getting what they deserve.
I am heartbroken by the government’s actions (and by Christian support for these actions) both historical and current attempting to purposely neglect, segregate, politically disempower, and economically blight people based on the color of their skin.
I am sick of the war on social welfare programs and the vilification of people who are in need of assistance. Many are in this position because they have been denied equal opportunity and forced into poverty and dependence while we as a country spend billions of dollars creating weapons, waging unnecessary wars around the world, and granting tax breaks to wealthy individuals and corporations.
I am disgusted by the resistance to the idea that health care is a human right, and by the belief that a capitalist, corporate profit-driven health care system is somehow a pillar of conservative Christian policy.
I am sick of hearing about the sanctity of heterosexual marriage and family when the Christian divorce rate is equal to or higher than the divorce rate of the general population. The idea that a couple’s right to legal commitment and the economic benefits we grant to married couples should not be reserved for the select majority and withheld from the minority based on the personal beliefs of the majority.
I am sick of hearing government leaders who are professed Christians condemn protests and property damage while ignoring murder by police officers and actively working to obstruct justice on their behalf.
I am tired of listening to people of privilege complain about their oppression.
I am tired of listening to the gospel according to the American political church.
I am not oppressed. I want to build relationships with those who are oppressed and live, work and fight alongside them.