It has been a while since I’ve written much of anything lately. When I left my last job as a cell phone salesperson, I looked forward to the increased amount of free time to read and write, but whenever I sit down to do so I get hit with a ton of emotions about a ton of different things. I want to write about it all because I believe it’s important to do so; writing has been a form of therapy for me. But trying to tackle them all at once is exhausting.
If I had to pick just one topic, though, it’d be the weird feeling I get when I think about how invested into evangelicalism I used to be.
Every now and then a Facebook memory pops up from when I was in college, or I read through my journal entries from my days in the dorms, or I simply glance at what used to be my favorite books now sitting a box designated for Goodwill, and I get this weird feeling that I’m looking at someone else’s life – someone else’s hopes and dreams, wonders and worries.
I see a guy who believed that Jesus was everything and that no matter what happened in his life, Jesus was going to take care of him. I see a guy who believed he’d live in a nice house in some small town with his wife and three kids. Both he and her would work full-time jobs while being part of a ministry on the weekends. They’d wear the trendy clothes and cook all the trendy meals, complete with Instagram photos of every one. Once or twice a month, he’d hit up the local golf course with a few friends from church or work, enjoy a beer or two afterword, and then head home to a movie night with his family. I see a guy who didn’t worry about healthcare, rent, car payments, having a decent credit score, etc., etc.
Essentially, I see a guy who believed he could live a white male life where every one and every thing around him was simply a prop that celebrated him.
When I went to seminary, this vision for my life was still sort of there. I saw myself becoming a professor of theology at a small college somewhere back east, complete with several published books and annual trips to SBL/AAR. Every class I had taken was another means of honing my academic skills toward this vision. But then Michael Brown Jr. was murdered by a white police officer and I felt compelled to call it an injustice via my Facebook and Twitter profiles.
That was when I lost my honorary white male status.
I had quickly lost track of the number of white guys – both evangelical and non-believer – popping into my comments or Twitter mentions to tell me how wrong I was about police brutality overwhelmingly impacting people of color, or how racism no longer existed. Twitter mentions from random white guys don’t really matter to me at all; I can block or mute and move on. But the folks commenting on Facebook posts were people I had known, people I had talked to in person, people I had been in physical community with – holding hands together in prayer, or slapping high fives after an Oregon Duck touchdown. We barbecued together, golfed together, and had deep conversations about God together. So when I pointed out an injustice that primarily targets people of color – myself included – and then received such silencing comments from people I had been so close to, the life I had envisioned for myself disappeared.
To say that I was hurt or burned by the church or by former friends would be an understatement.
What came next was not a response out of fear of losing more people from my life, though. Instead, I felt it was my purpose to explore my Cherokee heritage – something that I had once convinced myself was not worth doing simply because Jesus was the way, truth, and life, so all other perspectives were fruitless endeavors. After all, police brutality – amongst other institutionalized abuses on behalf of the state – largely impacted Indigenous communities as much as black communities, so when white evangelicals would say, “All lives matter,” they were silencing my voice, too. When I chose to learn the histories of Indigenous communities broadly, and Cherokee communities in particular, I saw nothing but blood on the hands of Christians both past and present. Bringing these findings to light, however, was yet another point at which white evangelicals told me to be quiet. Or they were quick to point out the violence of the Indigenous communities, too – as if “both sides” were equally violent.
It was then that I realized these “friendships” were nominal at best. I was only accepted into the fold of white evangelicals if I kept my mouth shut about race – if I believed police departments, courtrooms, legislative agendas, etc., were all impartial entities not controlled by white supremacist ideologies. If I dared to question these empire-produced institutions, I was made to feel as though I was no longer a Christian. However, in retrospect, if being Christian meant accepting the life experiences of the white male as the norm, then I was never destined to be Christian at all. It would be impossible given that I am, as I have always been, a consequence of colonialism.
It is no surprise, then, that evangelicalism feels so foreign to me. At least it shouldn’t be. It is a contextual theology founded on an understanding of itself as universally true – that there is no other way to commune with Creator than through the patriarchal, US-exceptionalistic, hyper-capitalistic, white supremacist lens which had been so divinely bestowed upon the Reformers roughly 500 years ago (as opposed to, you know, when Jesus walked the earth) and preserved through the thousands of different Protestant denominations since. Any other type of theological framework is inherently flawed because it does not deduce theology from a “plain text” reading, but instead “constructs” one through an ideological framework (e.g. queer readings, feminist readings, liberationist readings, etc.). But it does not evaluate its own framework for these same contextual influences – that western culture has influenced western theology (e.g. “debts have been paid”). Thus, it is a belief system that is inherently hypocritical producing almost nothing but hypocrites.
You might think my language here is harsh, but look where we are. We have a Donald Trump presidency largely due to white evangelicals’ obsession with appearances over impact – they have allowed their western civilization to influence their theological framework so much so that they have ignored massive amounts of the biblical text, which they supposedly hold so dear to their hearts. They further displace the homeless, remove access to healthcare from the sick, and exploit the black and brown inmates rather than helping them rehabilitate into society. Their actions do not exemplify their faith.
And before it gets thrown at me, I am not creating divisions where there were none. I’m not inventing an “us and them” mentality; I’m merely pointing it out. I have long operated within evangelicalism as a foreigner – as someone who doesn’t naturally fit in so they have to learn to acclimate (or rather, assimilate) to the norms of the dominant culture. I had to learn how to talk and act civilized well before I became a Christian, but especially after. And I am simply done with it.
It is too much work.
Instead, I’m going where Creator leads me. Right now, that means exploring Cherokee history, culture, and spirituality even more than I already have. Because I have found that at the crossroads of cultures – of being both white and Cherokee – there are plenty of people like me seeking to restore what was ripped away from our ancestors. And I’m going to do this right, I cannot try to rely on anything evangelical. Since I’ve started to discuss racism from my own experience, I have been silenced and criticized, and all of this tells me one thing: white evangelicals were never my community anyway.
If my experiences have no place in their hearts, then my existence has no place in their church. If they are not willing to exercise compassion upon the marginalized and displaced of western society, then I have no reason to believe that Jesus is there among them.
So why should I be?