Christianity · LGBTQ Christians · Religion

We Were Wrong. And We Have to Fix It.

In the fall of 2006, a colleague and I sat at a backyard picnic table supervising freshman Homecoming float building. In the course of our meandering conversation, she vaguely alluded to relationship problems. She was clearly being evasive. I don’t remember if I probed or if things just got awkward, but eventually our exchange went like this:

“I’m gay, and I have a partner.”


“I didn’t know if I should tell you. I know you go to a Presbyterian church, and I’ve been reading in the newspaper…”

“Oh. Right. I’m sorry. It’s fine.”

She was right. At the time, the Presbyterian Church, USA was embroiled in a very public internal clash over the question of whether “practicing homosexuals” could be ordained in the church. This was by no means a new issue. I first remember it arising in the mid-80s, and it wasn’t new then; I had only just begun to pay attention. The issue bubbled up every few years, as progressives periodically challenged the denomination’s official position, but so far, a “hate-the-sin-love-the-sinner” ideology had prevailed.

I had written my first-ever college research paper on the question in 1990 and, oddly given my whole-hearted buy-in to conservative theology, took the position that yes, the church should allow it. It was the right academic answer based on the research I had done. The evidence supported this position. But it bothered me. It was one of many times in my high school and college years that I felt torn between the doctrines I had been taught as a lifelong conservative Christian and the ideas that compelled me in school. I turned in the paper with a hint of queasiness, feeling that I’d compromised my faith ideals for a grade. That those faith ideals might have been flawed was not an option I was willing to entertain. I couldn’t.

By 2006, I had settled uneasily into the decision to believe despite doubt, to take the Bible (or the interpretation I’d been told was the correct one) as the infallible Word of God, and to accept the positions that made me uncomfortable because that’s what it meant to be a true Christian. I viewed this as humble, not arrogant. Who was I to pick and choose? God’s Word was God’s Word. I might not like it, but God called me to obedience. I could be a friend to my colleague and still oppose her lifestyle. So I did. And so I was the worst kind of friend. I stood alongside her and stuck tissue paper in chicken wire but looked at her disapprovingly. I let her stay in my spare bedroom when she separated from her partner but worried about what people would think. Once we were no longer co-advisors, we quickly drifted apart.

A short time later, our church worked through a difficult separation from the denomination and moved to a new, more conservative one. As a new, incoming elder, I had been asked to affirm three tenets: that the Bible is the infallible Word of God (check), that Jesus is God’s only son, sent to die and rise again for our salvation (or some version of that; again, check), and that marriage is between one man and one woman (WHAT??). I was told in response to my query about why the last statement should make the Top Three that they wanted leaders during this time united on the issue. I accepted, with reservations. I convinced myself that I agreed with the premise, if not that the ordination of gay pastors warranted separation. In fact, there were larger issues at play. The ordination of gay pastors was enough for many, but the conflict was multilayered. Still, those reading about us in the paper didn’t see the complex theological debate. They saw Christians willing to fight other Christians in court over the right to exclude people from full participation in the life of the church. I asked a fellow elder one day, “Do you think it’s okay that I support the decision but not the reason?” He didn’t answer. And of course it was not. But I did it anyway. I cast my vote, first as elder, and then as a congregant.

The church’s role in state-level legal battles exacerbated the tension I felt. When Proposition 8, eliminating the right of same-sex couples to marry, came before California voters in 2008, I voted no, primarily because I could not justify denying a legal right on a religious basis. The “marriage-is-sacred” argument did not sway me. Christians did not oppose the legal rights of atheists and Muslims to marry. Proposition 8 felt discriminatory. I knew that I had broken with most of my fellow conservative Christians with my vote. I also felt far more comfortable with it than I did with the vote to leave the denomination. In this vote, I felt I was standing up for people rather than doctrine.

Six years later, I moved from my conservative community to a progressive one in order to attend a far more progressive university. Before I left, I had “Psalm 71:5” tattooed on my wrist: “For you have been my hope, sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth.” Politically, I had long since moved left of center. 20 years working in public education will often have that effect. But from a faith perspective, the move scared me. I knew my beliefs would likely be challenged, and I desperately wanted to stand firmly in my Christian faith.

At the very first department event I attended, my advisor casually pointed out a colleague’s partner and told me her name. I nodded and then glanced sideways at him, waiting for…something. He moved on. There was no awkward pause, no qualifier, no raised eyebrow. It had not even occurred to him that I would flinch. He had told me his colleague was gay as easily as he would have pointed out that the sun was shining. And I wanted to be like that. I never wanted to flinch again.

Over the course of the year, as I entered into this new community, I continued to marvel at who these people were and how they lived their lives. They accepted each other’s varying family configurations, partnerships, and other personal choices. They attended diligently to the language they used, striving for inclusivity. They celebrated each other’s new relationships and engagements, no matter what gender or orientation the partner was. These were not morally bankrupt people who appeared in need of the Truth that I held. These were deeply compassionate people. They shed tears over police shootings and immigration raids. They had come to graduate school because they had recognized the ways in which the education system ignores, fails, even actively hurts some kids, and they wanted to change it. They had devoted their careers to pursuing justice. They came from a range of religious backgrounds. Some had grown up in Christian churches and since left, some had no religious background, some were Muslim or Jewish, some had connected with other spiritual traditions. But to a person, they showed love, they spoke and acted with integrity, they welcomed the stranger, they fought for the oppressed, they cared for the poor. That some of them were gay or bi or gender-nonconforming had no bearing whatsoever on how they lived their lives. It made no sense to me qualify their morality. These were not good, kind people EXCEPT…These were just good, kind people. They treated their partners with the same love and respect and took their relationships as seriously as any Christian married couple I had known. For me to take issue with their “lifestyles” made no logical or moral sense. They may not have identified as followers of Christ, but their lifestyles reflected the values I had long associated with Christ.

When I began attending progressive churches and engaging with the online progressive Christian community, I experienced these same convictions. Same-sex couples, trans men and women, and gender-nonconforming people honored God in their worship and in their church leadership and service as faithfully as straight married couples. They identified as Christian for the same reason I did: they were compelled by the story and the example of Jesus, and they strove to follow that example alongside and in accord with the rest of us -as part of the body of Christ. And it struck me that the only thing in their way of being powerful Christian witnesses and leaders was a church that shut them out.

And as I saw what the church could look like and the richness of Christian community that grew out of inclusion of LGBT+ people, I began to reflect more honestly on the role I had played in exclusion. In the name of faithfulness to God’s Word, I had turned people away -in off-handed comments about “Christian values,” through my votes on denomination policy, and simply by being part of a church whose conflicts over this issue regularly appeared in the news and failing to dig deeper and examine our stance. Now that I read the work of LGBT+ Christians and attend an affirming church, I see with new eyes how much we have lost over many generations by silencing these voices.

The conservative church’s approach has not made anyone less gay, less bi, less trans; it has made them less Christian. Countless LGBT+ people have walked away from church, and often, as a result, from God, as their church communities have condemned them. Gay Christians have limited options. They can pretend not to be gay and enter into a heterosexual marriage, which may be perfectly loving but will never be sexually fulfilling for either partner (and given all the “God-created-sex-and-he-wants-you-to-enjoy-it” youth group talks I sat through, it seems that component should not be ignored). They can remain single and celibate, sacrificing the opportunity for partnership that Christians believe God so highly values. They can seek a church that will accept them, which can be a painful, lonely, and frustrating process. Or they can walk away. None of these options allow people to live out their full identity in Christ the way straight Christians can. And to impose this forced choice on people because the interpretation of Bible we’ve chosen to accept deems their relationship sinful is to ignore a number of other Biblical commands, some of which Jesus himself identifies as more important than the others.

I regret that it took me 45 years to understand what has always been obvious to progressive Christians and to LGBT+ Christians themselves. As Jared Byas pointed out in a recent episode of “The Bible for Normal People,” in conservative Christianity, we are “conditioned not to trust ourselves.” On some level, I have known since I wrote that freshman-level research paper that the conservative church was wrong on this issue. But over and over, despite the conflict I felt, I squelched my own intuition, and that was dangerous and unwise and ultimately hurtful. God creates us to know right from wrong. I should have heeded my own internal discomfort.

I regret the part I have played in perpetuating the harm that conservative Christians have done to LGBT+ people. I will never again attend a church that isn’t openly and fully affirming of LGBT+ people. I will do all I can to amplify the voices and teachings and scholarship of LGBT+ Christians. And I will not sit passively by anymore. It is important, and it is urgent.










Christianity · Politics · Religion

Dear Progressives Confused by Conservative Christians…

Note: If you’re a conservative Christian, you probably don’t want to bother reading this. You already know everything I’m going to say, and how I’m going to say it will annoy you. I know that because it would have annoyed me a few years ago, before you all elected a mean-spirited bigot and sent me spinning into a crisis of faith.¬†

As a senior in high school, I watched a video one night at youth group that depicted a group of teenagers just killed in a car accident facing judgment and then plunging, screaming in terror, into the fiery pit of hell. Just before the door to the cage they were placed in slammed shut, they cried to their Christian friend, who was of course spared this fate, “Why didn’t you tell us?”

I assume and sincerely hope that this particular VHS has been removed from the shelves of the Christian Children’s Video Library (or wherever youth directors get these things), but the message embedded in the video is still a central theme in conservative Christian teaching. We have the truth. They are lost. If you don’t convert them, they will burn for eternity.

Recently I was talking to a woman who was expressing her bewilderment over conservative Christians’ attitudes: “I don’t get it. If you think abortion is wrong, don’t have one! If you think homosexuality is a sin, don’t be in a same-sex relationship! Why do you have to impose your beliefs on everyone else??”

Answer: See description of video, above.

“Live and let live” is not an option in this paradigm. There is only one truth. There is only one way. We learn about narrow gates and broad paths that lead to destruction. Your way is not simply another viable alternative; it’s wrong. If I am a faithful disciple, it is my responsibility to lead you through the narrow gate.

So if all of this is about concern for your eternal life, why do you feel more self-righteously policed than loved to salvation? For me, believing that I was right and you were wrong led to a sense of moral superiority that trumped love. That doesn’t happen for everyone. My own weird mix of pride and insecurity made “having the truth” manifest for me in uglier ways than it does for some, but I’m certainly not alone.

Because I was right and others were wrong, my beliefs and values warranted protection from those who wished to assault them. Legalization of abortion, broadening acceptance of homosexuality, increasing tolerance of divorce and sex outside of marriage…all of that is threatening. These things don’t just run counter to my own religious beliefs- they’re wrong. Because my religious beliefs are Truth. So not only must I not engage in them- I can’t condone them.

Of course I was taught to be kind, but there were many times when being kind clashed with being right. My “lifestyle” aligned with biblical principles of morality, even if my attitude often did not. I didn’t drink or do drugs. I went to church every Sunday. I dressed modestly and was so extremely cautious about sexual contact that I couldn’t manage a healthy dating relationship. I didn’t cut class (well, once, to hide in the library and finish an essay on Edgar Allen Poe that was due that day, but that’s so nerdy it seems like it shouldn’t count), I didn’t swear (which in my house included “butt” and “fart”), and I didn’t take God’s name in vain (I still don’t, even though I interpret that commandment slightly differently than I used to). And for the most part, my life was charmed; my parents were married, my home was comfortable, I always had more than I needed, and I coasted somewhere around the top 20% in school without a lot of effort. When you follow all the rules, and life is pretty easy, it’s easy to consider yourself “blessed” and to attribute other people’s hardships to their own immoral choices. Homeless and addicted? Shouldn’t have used drugs. What? I never did. It’s not that hard. Pregnant with a child you aren’t ready for and can’t support? Well, serves you right for having sex. Dying of AIDS? The Bible warns about homosexuality. The list goes on. Should have stayed in your marriage. Should have complied with police. Shouldn’t have crossed the border illegally. It’s not that I’m not compassionate; it’s just that we’re all accountable for our moral choices. And why was I so easily able to float above it all? Free from neighborhood violence, tensions with police, the anguish of divorce, a life of poverty? I’m blessed.

This line of reasoning worked for me for a LONG time. I had people in my life who questioned it, but I disregarded their perspectives because they weren’t Christians. They didn’t understand. They were lost. The belief system reinforces itself and inherently blocks out competing ideas.

I grew familiar with systemic inequality sort of organically. 20 years in public education made me more aware of the relationship between race and class and success and less sympathetic of wealthy parents demanding schedule changes, lifted suspensions, and a host of other privileges for their deserving children. But a few specific incidents disturbed my religion-based moral compass. When I was a new assistant principal, a colleague mentioned, almost in passing, that many people in her community regard U.S. policy as having created the economic conditions that lead to illegal immigration. A community I was newly a part of erupted, uniformly, in outrage when Darrin Wilson was acquitted in the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson. I sat across the table from a Muslim friend as she described the marginalization the Muslim American community experienced after 9/11 and how that felt to her as a second grader. I rescinded a comment I had made about Christians’ treatment of the LGBTQ community that had offended conservative Christian friends and realized that by pulling back, I had hurt my LGBTQ friends. A friend I deeply liked and respected was visibly offended when I used the phrase “being a Christian” as a synonym for being kind and gracious. I started to question prayer requests from friends that their children be granted transfers to “better” schools (what happens to the children left behind?) and social media posts praising God for blessing a couple with the perfect¬† house (why would God want you to have a 3000-square-foot house and allow another family to live in their car?). I became suspicious of any sentence that began, “The Bible is clear…” In fact, the Bible, like any text, is socially and culturally situated, and it is rarely as “clear” as I was raised to believe. It’s not that I’d never confronted these questions before; I’d just always been able to answer them within my framework. But each new story and new experience stretched my framework, until eventually, not coincidentally right around November, 2016, it broke.

When I look back now and wonder how I lived 40-something years never questioning, never recognizing that significant strands of what I considered my Christian beliefs directly conflicted with the core themes of Jesus’ teaching, I alternate between anger and shame. I should have questioned. I should have known. But I also remind myself how strong the pull of ideology is, and how powerful a force it is to live in a community of people who share those ideologies. I never wanted to be anything other than a strong Christian, standing on the solid rock of the truth of Christ, but the notion of truth is complicated, and it is surprisingly easily misused.

So I’ll continue to search, and wrestle, and challenge, and question, but I’m not deceiving myself. It’s an uphill battle. And I’m significantly under-qualified to fight it.

But here’s the upshot: although it appears to be a baffling contradiction, it’s not a giant leap from Sunday School to Trump.



From the Shoreline

I have always felt that the action most worth watching is not at the center of things but where edges meet. I like shorelines, weather fronts, international borders. There are interesting frictions and incongruities in these places, and often, if you stand at the point of tangency, you can see both sides better than if you were in the middle of either one.                -Anne Fadiman

This passage, from the preface of Fadiman’s beautiful book, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, rang in my head yesterday as I navigated, poorly, between two worlds: the world of my Evangelical upbringing and the one in which I now reside, albeit still as something of an outsider.

I stood at the shoreline, seeing both sides, fully connected to neither and pulled toward both. In a moment of thoughtlessness, I wounded people on one side, and in my desperate attempt to repair the damage, I wounded people on the other.

I have dwelt in the middle of Evangelical Christianity. I lived the first forty years of my life steeped in its doctrine. I know first-hand the certainty of a single truth, the conviction that those without it are lost, and the call to resist a culture straying from God. I know the sense of injustice at being called hateful when you know, deeply, that you are seeking to protect what God has created and ordained. I know the voices reminding you that the insults, the hits you are taking were prophesied; they confirm that your path is God’s path. I know the urge to cry out that you don’t hate people; you hate sin. You love humanity because God loves humanity and you yearn for their salvation. You know that, in the end, it’s all that matters, and you will fight for it whatever the cost.

But now I am standing outside, at the edge. And I see it differently, if not better. I see it from the standpoint of those who feel hated. I see inconsistencies and disconnects that I never saw before. I see, from the shoreline, that the greatest dangers the world faces are not the ones at which the Evangelical community is swinging its sword. I see the strongest voices in the Church driving people further away, reaffirming their belief that if there is a loving God, this is not where He is to be found. I see the horrific damage being done in the name of Christian values, the very real pain people feel. I see, from the border, that even if Evangelicals are right, they are wrong. People are wounded, threatened. They are not turning to Christ. They are turning from you. However certain you are that you are acting in obedience to God, the consequences of your actions are devastating. From the shoreline, it’s ugly.

And I see this other world too, where I don’t quite belong either. It looks less like Sodom and Gomorrah that I expected and more like the community I’ve often heard described from the pulpit. People fight less for valued norms than for each other. They stand up for the marginalized and they challenge structures of power that keep some voices silent. I came to this community believing I had a higher moral calling, but from the shoreline, morality is less clear-cut. I don’t feel “right” asserting my Evangelical beliefs in this world. I don’t even feel Godly. I feel ashamed. Because where the edges meet, the values we have come to associate with Christian faith look nothing like the character of Christ.

Yesterday, I reacted with anger and cynicism to what I see as destructive behavior on the part of Evangelicals. My post was sarcastic and mean, and in that sense just as destructive as the behavior I condemned. But when I removed it and apologized, I betrayed the values, and the people, I’d sought to defend. A friend sent me a message last night that said, “I agreed with your post, and with your decision to remove it.” I felt the same way, and the opposite. I simultaneously stand by and regret both choices.

The shoreline is a fascinating place to be and a painful place to be. I am learning and growing by leaps and bounds and crashing to the ground with nearly every leap.

But for all that I don’t know, I do know this: Evangelicals, the message you believe you are sending is not the message being received. You are obscuring rather than illuminating Jesus. Your reasons don’t matter. Your justifications don’t matter. Your convictions don’t matter. You are not advancing the Gospel. If that is somehow okay with you, then you have lost sight of the mission.

Do with that what you will. But I’m standing where the edges meet, and I love you enough to tell you what I see. Over and over. Until you hear. Because it matters. The Gospel matters. People matter.



Christianity · Singleness

Christian, Conservative, and…Single??

I took my first “spiritual gift test” (yes, that’s a thing) the summer before my senior year in high school. It was sort of fun. Like a personality test. I remember very little about the results. What I do remember is that one member of our group was more than a little alarmed when the “gift of celibacy” emerged near the top of her list. I listened as others reminded her that she was only 15 and assured her that it was unlikely a multiple-choice test could destine her for a nunnery.  But the gift of celibacy came out high on my list too, and I knew exactly why. The test included true-false statements like, “The idea of being single is traumatic for me.” I wasn’t yet 17, but I answered the question confidently as “false.” Evidently, most people had not.

Four years later, I was sitting around a table with a church leader and several other high school and college students. We took turns responding to the question, “Where do you think you’ll be in ten years?” My answer included school, career, and geographical location, but it left out an essential element. Someone quickly followed up:

“Do you think you’ll be married?”

“No…I really don’t.”

The church leader chimed in, “The problem with Heather is that she has no self-esteem. She’d be a great catch. She just doesn’t believe it.” It was true that I lacked self-esteem. But I thought it was an interesting assumption that if I expected not to marry, I must deem myself unworthy.

I’ve been asked many times by well-meaning friends and acquaintances how it happened that I never got married. I’m sure any psychologist would relish the opportunity to explore all the weird and complicated personal history that contributed to this circumstance, but the truth is that it was never part of my vision for my life. I never imagined myself as a wife and mother. I never dreamed of my wedding like so many young women do.

But I’d be lying if I said I’ve never been bothered by it. I often am. I hate seeing “and guest” after my name on a wedding invitation. I dread bridal showers and baby showers because it’s hard to celebrate rites of passage that I sometimes feel like I missed. I’m uncomfortable in groups when conversation turns to marriage and relationships. I have asked family members and close friends if they think something is wrong with me. I have ventured into dating several times and every time have reached the same conclusion: I hate this. It doesn’t fit. It isn’t me.  When I am asked (and I have been), “Do you wish you were married?”,  the honest answer is no. I do not wish I were married. I just wish I weren’t abnormal.

In college and throughout my 20’s, I asked my mother several times if it worried her that I might not get married. And -God bless her traditional, conservative, Bible-believing heart -she always said no, and I believed her. My maternal grandmother, also a conservative Christian who will forever be one of my favorite people and greatest heroes, adored her husband and grieved his loss but wished marriage on no woman and made no bones about that. That the two most important women in my life, traditional as they were, never urged me to find a husband was a gift I didn’t recognize until years later.

In my early 30’s, I began to realize that nowhere was being single as uncomfortable as it was at church. Once we pass the college/career group stage, we define groups by gender and marital status. We have couples’ groups, moms’ groups, men’s groups, women’s groups, senior groups, and, yes, singles’ groups. I have attended exactly two singles’ group meetings in my life. One quite obviously offered treatment for singleness; the other was a struggling start-up in a church clearly geared to families. I tried to attend women’s events but got tired of hat themes (“We ladies wear so many hats! Wives, mothers, career women…) and Bible studies about busyness. I cringed every time a pastor said from the pulpit, “Ladies, turn to your husbands…” and avoided every sermon series on dating and marriage.

I knew these topics applied to most people and never expected the church to cater to my interests. But I have always felt that church didn’t quite know what to do with me. It was organized around the traditional family structure, and I didn’t fit. I so wanted to eliminate the categories and just be one among many adults. I wanted not to be excluded from a house-building trip because this one was a “men’s” trip or a “family” trip. I wanted not to have my gender, age, and marital status constantly highlighted.

Importantly, it only recently occurred to me that my own discomfort would barely even register compared to that of someone who was gay or gender noncomforming. I can walk into a women’s ministry event without turning heads. I might not feel like I fit, but at least I look like I fit. My cultural practices match, for the most part, the types of activities that take place at church. The styles of music are familiar to me; I can easily make a batch of vanilla cupcakes for the Easter party; when I’m called on to read a passage of Scripture, I can do that smoothly and without embarrassment. If I often feel like a misfit, how might church feel to people whose cultures, lifestyles, and family structures fall far outside the boundaries that church draws? If we want those people to feel welcome, do we ask them to adapt to our structures? Or do we ask ourselves how we might move toward genuine inclusiveness? Are we willing to rethink men’s and women’s ministries to accommodate those who identify as non-binary? Are we willing to make Sunday School look less like traditional school to help embrace children for whom school is alienating?

It’s a long road ahead, and there are no simple solutions. Historically, church has been slow to adjust to social change. Churches remained racially segregated long after federal law mandated integration of schools. But it bothers me that I have often felt more easily accepted and included in secular circles than I have at church, when it should be just the opposite. Of course, church should sometimes make me uncomfortable, but it should make me uncomfortable because I feel convicted to love more fully, to show greater compassion, to live in deeper communion with God. Not because I can’t find a social group to join.

Christianity · Politics

On Santa Claus, Jesus, and Trump

Shortly before Christmas, when I was four, I challenged my mother on Santa Claus. I asked (as I imagine many children do), “If he’s fat, how can he fit down the chimney?” My mother answered, “I guess he’s magic.” The answer was acceptable enough. He rode a flying sleigh around the world in one night and evidently had a cadre of elves who could secure thousands of Barbie vans and Baby-Come-Back dolls without ever making themselves visible at the mall. I guessed he probably was magic. And if my mother said it, it was true. This was the woman who once spent ten minutes at a grocery store bakery counter insisting that she be allowed to pay for a doughnut the cashier had forgotten to charge her for the previous day.

Two years later, when a friend told me at a sleepover, “Santa Claus is really your parents,” I was disproportionately (although not uncharacteristically) worked up. Several years later, I took up the issue again with my mother:

“But I ASKED you about it. I gave you a chance to tell me, and you just said, ‘I guess he’s magic.'”

“Well, you knew we didn’t believe in magic.”

“WHAT?? Mom. We believed Noah put ALL THE ANIMALS on the ark, that three men were thrown into a furnace and didn’t burn, and that a pack of lions’ mouths were sealed so they wouldn’t eat a guy who spent the night in their den.”

“That wasn’t magic. That was God.”

Okay, yes. I had been taught the distinction. I knew God wasn’t magic. Still, for a four-year-old raised to believe in the supernatural, accepting Santa’s ability to navigate chimneys as magic is not a giant leap.

Believing in the supernatural became increasingly hard for me as I got older, as deeply ingrained as it was. In high school, I was terrified of looking stupid, and I felt, increasingly, that talking about the Bible as literal truth made me look that way. In college, as a literature student, I began to see the broader picture -the horrific damage that had been done to people and cultures in the name of missions work, the warring among religious groups over the power to control the narrative, and the many world views that felt as real and true to the people who held them as Christianity felt to me. It became harder, and less desirable, for me to believe that ours was the only truth. I would have preferred to be selective and piece together my own theology, but I was deeply afraid to do that, or even to raise hard questions. Christianity was the core of my identity, and I feared that if I pulled one thread, it would all unravel for me.

In my early adulthood, I made a firm decision to take the Bible, in its entirety, at face value. I said to my mom, “Maybe we’re wrong. But so what? If it turns out in the end that none of it was true, I won’t be sorry to have lived my life striving to be like Christ.” And there I remained, for many years. I clung to Jesus, his words, and his life as the core of my faith. I taught Sunday School. I served in church leadership. And as for all the issues that continued to make me uncomfortable, I hoped and trusted that if God was who I thought He was, He had it figured out and I would have to live with not knowing the answers.

And then it was 2016. And the Republicans put forward a candidate who was “different.” For awhile it was funny, like the idea of Arnold Schwartzenegger being governor of California. Then it became serious. He made anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and blatantly sexist statements. He called people losers and mocked them like a seven-year-old, he lied openly, and he talked about wanting to punch protesters in the face and “joked” that he would pay legal fees for supporters who did. It made sense that a few isolated, angry white men yearning for pre-civil-rights days would relish the idea of Trump as president. But I genuinely expected that Christians would be at the front of the line speaking out against his behavior. It seemed obvious. He was everything we are called not to be. How do we claim to promote Christian values and even consider placing someone openly hateful in our highest position of power?

Then the audio recording came out -the one where he bragged that he forces himself on women because he can. Because he’s a star. And that should have sealed it. But it didn’t. Supporters came out in his defense. Christians compared him to King David, using his sexually violent language to validate him as God’s choice. He claimed he could walk out on 5th Avenue and shoot someone and people would still support him. And by this point, he seemed to be right.

I stood by as people already skeptical of Christianity had their beliefs confirmed. Evangelical Christianity was aligning itself with hate and claiming “conservative values” as its justification. Muslims, atheists, Buddhists, agnostics -everyone but Christians -spoke out for the vulnerable, for the poor, for the oppressed. Christians defended, rationalized, ignored.

Even though I suspected he might win, when the numbers came out -81% of Evangelicals voting for Trump  -I was stunned and devastated. And in the next few months, I circled all the way back to the beginning: to the ark, the lions’ den, a childhood firmly anchored in a loving, merciful, gracious God who so loved the world that He sacrificed His only son. And I wondered what happened. I had chosen to embrace the whole, despite doubts and apparent contradictions, because it all felt worth it if it led me to a life of love, compassion, and kindness. If that was the core, I could live with some discomfort and tension. But the election and all that led up to it suggested that it was not the core. Reeling from what felt like the sudden ripping out of my life’s foundation, I pulled the thread. As I feared, it has left me unraveled and a little lost.

I have been told that I just don’t understand the big picture, that I’m too narrow-minded, that I’m just being influenced by people. I’ve been reminded that I’m studying education, not theology, which I suppose implies that I have no business suggesting that anything is wrong. And maybe it’s true. Maybe I thought I understood the major tenets of Christianity and I never actually did. Maybe a faithful Christian just accepts the assurances of Christian leaders that this is all worth it for a conservative Supreme Court, or that we shouldn’t judge each other for our political choices. But none of that helps me to know what to do now.

I miss my church and the people I came to know and love. I miss feeling grounded in a faith community. I miss being certain. But I don’t know how to be a part of it right now, or how not to. It helps to know I’m not alone -that there are others, some who actually do study theology, who are equally shaken and also struggling to find a place. And I trust that we eventually will. We will either unite around our core and find reconciliation, or we will crumble, and I can’t believe we will let ourselves crumble.

But even if we do, it doesn’t have to be over. Learning the truth about Santa was a necessary step in my coming to understand Christmas as a celebration of God’s gift to the world. Maybe we’re experiencing something similar right now, on a much larger scale. Maybe we will let it all unravel and slowly put it back together again. And maybe we’ll start with God’s love, mercy, and grace and work from there.