a better story.

It’s bad out here, people! The political division, the way Christianity is all tied up in it, the fear, hatred, ugly, and unknown. Everyone who reads here doesn’t agree with my faith and politics but most everyone these days is feeling the pressure, disorientation, anger, the sometimes-hopelessness that we will ever come back to some kind of unity after this much division.

I really don’t know how this is all going to turn out; we’re only 100 days into this administration and it’s far more brutal than I expected.

There’s fallout everywhere, but one of the primary ones I’m seeing right now is how many are truly grieving the reality that “Christianity” has become so deeply tied to the religious right and that is how we are being reflected in the world in this tumultuous season.  Far-right Republicans and Evangelical and/or Fundamentalist Christianity are tied together in a significant way, and it’s telling a story that most of the Christians I know (including a lot of evangelicals) don’t want to be connected to in any way, shape, or form.

“Christians” are stripping people of health care, lowering taxes for the rich while the poor lose their services, gunning for a wall to keep “those people out”, and loving guns more than peace-making. “Christians” are advocating against equality for all and systematically dismantling protections for women and vulnerable people. “Christians” are cheering that the White House finally has God back in the center after all these years, rallying for Muslims to be discriminated against, to close our borders to refugees, and approving of this administration at a higher rate than any other group.

I have worked hard to remain a Christian despite all of the ways my faith has shifted and still identify as one because no matter how you slice it up, Jesus is still who I’m following, who I still believe is at-work-healing-the-world.

But damn, I’m embarrassed right now by how we’re being represented in the wider world.

I’ve already written about how when people ask me if I’m a Christian, I usually say, “Um, well, it depends on what you mean by that?”

That was before the election, the reality of the exit polls, the past 100 days, the gleeful cheers and pats on the back when a whole bunch of elected officials voted to completely gut health care for millions of Americans, before executive order after executive order discriminating against refugees, immigrants, Muslims, and LGBQT+ folks and stripping rights for women.

Now, it’s gotten way worse.

“Christian” is no longer being aligned with Christ and all he embodied–compassion, mercy, love, justice, humility, that in our weakness we are strong, and the deepest alliance with the vulnerable, the marginalized, the oppressed.

Instead it’s being aligned with a system that is centered on power, strength, might, division, and separation from the hurting and vulnerable.

And that hurts,

Evangelicalism is embedded in my story and the reason why I’m here today; it’s my extended family, the tribe where I was forever changed.  Even though I no longer align with some of the beliefs, I can’t escape that we are all under the same umbrella of “Christian.” But how in the $(@#$^?!% could we have grown this far apart? How has it become that I can’t even look at them on a TV screen or read a poll without feeling a deep pit in my stomach? How do I disconnect from what I perceive as their destruction of so many things I deeply care about?

I think our best shot here is to play our part in telling a better story.

And we know that better story!  We are touched by Christ’s love and trust that story in us, and have also seen it work around us not just in theory but in flesh and blood and spirit. The good news that is actually good news–God with us–remains a story to celebrate and share and live out.

The media might not notice at first.

Our lawmakers may not notice at first (until they are up for re-election).

But our friends and our neighbors and community leaders and other-people-who-care-about-people-in-our-cities will.

They need to see a better story.

And, goodness gracious, we need to live a better story. 

They’ll notice that all Christians aren’t advocating for walls and tax cuts and protections for the strong.

They’ll notice love in the strangest places, people risking their position and power on behalf of change.

They’ll feel the touch of healing hugs and unconditional presence and the taste of what it’s like to be treated with dignity and respect.

They’ll hear us stand at town halls and share that the reason we are advocating for health care for all is because of our faith, not in spite of it.

They’ll see us love our neighbor instead of hide from them.

They’ll see us empower women instead of subjugate them.

They’ll see us flood organizations who care about the marginalized and oppressed and most vulnerable with resources so they can continue the work (This is tricky; very conservative Christians pour a ton of money into a lot of places, greatly influencing who does what in the world. We’ve got to change that at the grassroots level).

They’ll see us show up in hard places like never before.

They’ll feel Jesus without someone telling them they’re supposed to.

They’ll see us advocate, educate, agitate despite the costs.

It’s rough out here, people, but goodness gracious we need a better story.

We need to be part of a better story.

We need God to remind us there is a better story. 

We need to tell a better story.

We need to embody a better story.

Yeah, as hard and brutal as it is out here, it’s a beautiful gift to be part of, too.

Thank you friends who are telling a better story right now.

I need one. The world needs one. I’m guessing some of you do, too.

I’m glad there is one.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

7 Comments

  • Kathy,
    A big part of the “better story” will involve accurate reporting of what your political opponents believe, value, and say.

    You write this:

    “Christians” are stripping people of health care, lowering taxes for the rich while the poor lose their services, gunning for a wall to keep “those people out”, and loving guns more than peace-making. “Christians” are advocating against equality for all and systematically dismantling protections for women and vulnerable people. “Christians” are cheering that the White House finally has God back in the center after all these years, rallying for Muslims to be discriminated against, to close our borders to refugees, and approving of this administration at a higher rate than any other group.

    I am a Christian who voted for Trump, and I reject every single thing you wrote in this paragraph as an accurate portrayal of my views. Nor do I know a single person who voted for Trump who would agree with anything you wrote in this paragraph.

    I think that the “Trump-voting conservative Christian” you are upset about is a fictional being.

    Therefore, a better story likely begins with better listening.

    Reply
    • Jeremy, what Kathy says there certainly does not represent all “Evangelicals”, or conservative Christians, Republicans, etc. But the careful listening and reading I’ve done backs up those things as general trends, tho admittedly many would choose more benign or neutral words to describe their views or positions.

      But the overriding issue is that there were PLENTY of valid warnings about Trump being not only unqualified but glaringly unfit to be President. I saw it clearly before and see it only proven and reinforced since the election and his taking office. Even if he CAN improve the economy or move parts of a valid conservative agenda ahead, all the serious negatives already created, with more certainly ahead, is not even close to worth having him there.

      So bad judgment combined with rationalizations, etc. are the main issues, though I agree hearing people’s reasoning for supporting him and the related concerns is important… listening respectfully. It’s what I do if/when occasion comes up in face-to-face or phone encounter. I also go further with that online than most. But there is a time when one must also argue a case on the merits and with pertinent data, not just feelings and opinions.

      Reply
      • I read the comments and statements, and since I am quite proud of Trump and what he is doing, here is the position of people like me:

        “Christians are stripping people of health care” – No. We are trying to make more affordable for all and to allow people to keep it. My premiums tripled under Obamacare and many people I know among the poor and middle class lost their doctors. This needs to be fixed.

        “Lowering taxes for the rich while the poor lose their services.” No. It’s about making the corporate business environment competitive in the world so that our jobs stop getting shipped overseas.

        “gunning for a wall to keep those people out” – No. I’m not a big fan of the wall, but the idea is that we need proper vetting of people who want to come to the US.

        “loving guns more than peace-making.” No. It’s about the proper use of guns. Police have guns. What for? For peace making.

        “Christians are advocating against equality for all and systematically dismantling protections for women and vulnerable people.” No. I don’t even know where this came from…

        “Christians are cheering that the White House finally has God back in the center after all these years.” No. No Christian believes that Trump is a wonderful Christian man.

        “Rallying for Muslims to be discriminated against.” No. It’s not about Muslims and never has been. It’s about terrorism, wherever it comes from.

        “To close our borders to refugees.” No. We love refugees. Many of us are refugees. We want proper vetting of refugees.

        How would you respond if I wrote a paragraph that said this:

        “These so-called ‘Christians’ on the left want to kill babies and allow terrorists to kill my children. These ‘Christians’ want to send my job overseas and take away my right to protect my family. These “Christians” believe that people who break the law are more important than people who obey the law, and that people who have darker shades of skin are more valuable than people with lighter shades of skin. These “Christians” want me to pay for the sex-change operations of other people. They also want to silence anyone who disagrees with them.

        You would clearly take exception to every line in this inaccurate and incendiary portrayal of your views … especially in how I put “Christians” in quote marks, implying that anybody who disagrees with me is not actually a Christian. It also shows that I only want to score political points with those who agree with me, and I don’t care about the feelings of those who disagree, nor do I care about accurately representing their views.

        This is the problem with political dialogue in the country today … on both the right and the left.

        Reply
        • Jeremy,

          I agree with your overall point about problems in how people these days (though it’s not new) are demonizing opponents, distorting their positions, etc. And on both “sides” (to take party affiliation, for example, which is not the full picture of course).

          I’ll also reiterate what I at least tried to imply if I didn’t directly state: I do care about the feelings of those who differ with me. So I try to hear, respect, reflect back what I think I’m hearing to establish clarity and positive connection, etc. But my prior point is what I’ll come back to. There is still often a big problem when all that is done and a person with an opposing viewpoint either disengages or may be willing to go deeper than, “Ok, we know we hear and understand each other”… move toward WHY there is a difference and IF certain data, established history or other facts bear on the rightness or superiority of one position over the other. (While I think of myself as pretty progressive, I’m not a full relativist, which is largely a caricature of progressives in my view, tho fellow progressives are sometimes confused and/or don’t articulate their principles re. this well.)

          If I read rightly, the only thing you said in reference to my contention about supporting Trump (its flaws) was that you’re “quite proud” of him and “what he’s doing”. Maybe you don’t want to go into specifics, at least here, which is fine. But IF we were taking it further, I’d want to know why “proud of” him and what specific actions. Also if you are disappointed in anything, or feel he should have done other things by now, or be speaking to certain things further.

          That relates to my contention that even IF he were able to accomplish some good things (which I’ve not seen yet, other than perhaps a couple small jobs examples or such), I cannot see, at all, how it would be worth all the detrimental aspects to him becoming President and the detrimental things he has already said and done in office. Now, I’d expect you to press me on specifics. If you did, I’d be happy to go into them. But won’t now for brevity’s sake.

          And all this relates to the point that while better tone and listening, better manners, etc. are crucial to advance genuine political dialog these days, that is just the beginning. Part of the reason the problem even exists as strongly as it does is that people, fairly broadly, but slightly more so on the “conservative” side both my observation and some research suggests, do not possess or much use good “critical thinking” skills. They are not practiced in tracking a complex argument, analyzing it effectively for valid or invalid logic, strength of documentation or sourcing, development of the argument, anticipating counter-arguments, etc. It DOES take at least avg. level intelligence AND some practice to be decent or good at these things. Practice can mostly be reading extended articles or books that deal with various subjects in this manner. Both much of science and much of theology is this way. (Both areas of my in-depth study.) Unfortunately, it seems fewer and fewer people read on this level, if they read anything beyond their smart phones at all, and often-superficial articles online (though in-depth sources certainly exist online as well).

          If you DO want to engage about pros and cons on Trump specifically, or the critical thinking process, I don’t think Kathy will mind my suggesting you go to my naturalspirituality.wordpress.com blog, find the couple posts I made some months ago on Trump and psychology, etc. and comment there. I promise to reply asap. Or look at some of my many other posts on issues of NT scholarship, Christian origins, religious or cultural trends, etc., etc. I’m coming up on my 10-year anniversary of running the blog!

          Reply
    • Funny how I kept thinking of the majority of folks who comment on Franklin Graham’s page – including Mr. Graham, himself – as I read Kathy’s words. The beliefs and values she mentions are very much alive and well there, unfortunately.

      Reply
  • i’m so behind with birthday & mother’s day & all-around hard stuff so sorry that i am just now responding, jeremy, howard, and meredith. it’s so hard, jeremy, when the roads are just so divergent. when i say “Christians’ what i mean is that is what people are associating with some of these big themes politically right now, not that anyone is a so-called christian. i hear you on what it must sound like and i admit, i’m not the best at listening right now and trump-supporters aren’t really who these words are addressed to. they’re addressed to people who are hanging on to their Christian faith by their fingernails and know that what’s happening doesn’t resonate in the deepest parts of their experience. i am deeply saddened by how many have been shattered by the evangelical/fundamentalist connection to DT. i also respect that his message and policies do work for you and many others. i know my words sound harsh but i’m trying to share as honestly as i can. those things that you wrote have been shared with me and many others, and i think when it’s all said and done, there’s a yup, it’s pretty brutal, our disparities and we each have to do what God is calling us to do as best we can. for me, it’s to try to honor some of my core convictions and i know that you need to do the same.

    Reply
    • Kathy, I like that you come back and at least acknowledge your commenters, if not reply specifically. I like your non-defensive answer to Jeremy. I’m sorry he’s not continued in the dialog. My comment in reply to him was admittedly long for this genre. But I think it covered valid and important points, pertinent to him, it seemed, but meant more broadly also.

      You and I both deal with issues of growth stages. And those in relation to issues of faith and relationships, the use of and response to authority, etc.

      Oh! How I wish I could just install a solid curriculum of teaching on HOW we grow, HOW to best use our full mental/emotional/spiritual capacities in relative balance and wholeness, etc.! These things ARE teachable, to a great extent, though each person has to move through stages in their own way and timing. But this is key: “To be forewarned is to be forearmed”. I’d put one form of such teaching/coaching in church education and community life, and another form in public education. In both cases, I presume it would be roundly opposed by many, but hopefully it would catch on well in many places.

      Reply

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