My birthday is this week. As has been the case the past few years, I have tried to reflect on myself and my world. Earlier this month, in a moment of anger and frustration at Marjorie Taylor Green’s despicable and disgraceful display at President Biden’s 2023 State of the Union Address, I tweeted the following:
“You cannot be a real Christian and support current Republican politicians.
*The Democratic Party is not perfect, but they don’t proclaim God-endorsed righteousness, and are more in line with Christ.
(Libertarianism is not helpful and 3rd party unfortunately not an option yet)”
Friends who I’ve known for decades acknowledged the sentiment behind the Tweet, but also pointed out how it sounded rather gatekeep-y. Friends who would know what that’s like because they got the opposite - that Democrats cannot be Christians. Obviously 280 characters doesn’t provide much space for nuance, but it seems my phrasing could be better. Perhaps it’s better to call in than call out.
I have mentioned before how the pandemic has made me lose faith in humanity…it even threatened to make me lose faith in my own faith.
I have been a Christian...well, since I was a baby, but even after becoming more aware, I still embraced the religion and thankfully I was raised by two parents who were pious, but not zealots. I took it pretty seriously at a superficial level (I refused to swear until I was...18?), but I was allowed to ask questions. It would not be until my college years that I started to hear how the religion that had been a staple in my life was a terror for others. The Crusades were ancient history, but oppression in the name of religion was decidedly still present.
As I came up through college and into medical school, I started to see how often people would justify hatred in the name of religion, but still my own faith never wavered - I felt confident. Until the pandemic. There have been moments in the past two years where I actually wondered if I myself could be a Christian anymore after watching so many self-proclaimed Christians use Jesus to justify ignoring public health by refusing to make even the smallest accommodation (I find it difficult to call it a sacrifice given how little effort it should take) to protect not only themselves but their loved ones.
I remembered how many of those people labeled a Black president the devil incarnate yet rejoiced because apparently Jesus came back in the form of the "grab 'em by the pussy/Mexicans are rapists" guy (who, even after getting sick with the disease that would kill over a million Americans, refused to encourage public health measures so he could look like a hero to his fanbase - not exactly Jesus-like in the example he set).
My critical view of overzealous Christianity had started even earlier. I was decidedly neutral on the topic of abortion until partway through medical school when a corporate crafting company fought to avoid giving its workers healthcare if that meant abortion would be part of it, and the same folks - who would later elect Donald Trump president - celebrated that corporations could have rights over people, in the name of religious freedom (which actually translated to Christianity only).
More recently, during Super Bowl LVII they honored recipients of a scholarship from the Pat Tillman Foundation. Among many reasons that ceremony and the associated commercial were frustrating (mostly the fact that Tillman was killed by friendly fire that was covered up by the U.S. government for propaganda press junkets - thanks, Behind the Bastards) there is the fact that Pat Tillman was an atheist and one of the soldiers who conducted an investigation into his death was an Evangelical Christian who would ignore Tillman's friends/family's requests that Pat would not want a religious memorial or any of the propaganda the Bush administration paraded forth. Christian Nationalism was shoved down their throats anyway.
That same Super Bowl featured the #JesusGetsUs commercials, the campaign a subsidiary of The Servant Foundation/The Signatry (and tied to evangelical churches), which... "has donated tens of millions to the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal group" which has created legislation "to curtail LGBTQ rights and quash non-discrimination legislation in the Supreme Court." Sounds like exactly who we want to bring new people into the Christian fold.
I have repeatedly found inspiration to fight back against the misuse of Christianity in situations like this, but it never waivered my own faith until the pandemic hit and I watched so many patients die from what could have been a preventable illness in so many cases, especially after the vaccines rolled out and (despite so many claims to the contrary) worked, but with such poor uptake as so many claimed that "Jesus is my vaccine" (not the only faction, unfortunately, but a significant one). That was topped off with the overturn of Roe v. Wade striking a crippling blow not only for healthcare access, but privacy, and still these people praised the name of a Savior who never spoke against abortion in the Good Book they liked to quote.
Finally, as our nation cemented its place as the Gun Violence Capital of the World, people posted their family pictures of putting guns in the hands of children with Bible verses or weirdly memed Jesus references. Children were dying in the streets at the hands of people, some of whom cited the Bible as their reasoning, and supposed Christians were celebrating the means of their destruction and claiming their “God-given right” to own guns (because who needs separation of church and state?).
The most outspoken "Christians" were misusing their religion - at best, a misguided application, at worst promoting a political agenda of selfishness and self-absorption to maintain the status quo and corporate powers that be. Could I really consider myself a part of this faith when this was the name it was developing for itself?
I'm not gonna lie...it hurt. It was painful to contemplate abandoning the faith that I'd grown up with - not that I used it as a crutch, and not that I needed it to be a good person, and not that it made me a perfect person (because I am far from that). Still, seriously contemplating a significant aspect of your life at a time when your emotional state is already constantly raw (from all the death you're seeing) is not something I would recommend for fun.
At some point, I emerged from that particular dark place and remembered that a vocal minority does not always represent the values of a group, and that AmeriJesus (the nickname I gave the gun-toting, MAGA hat-wearing, racist, corporate idol) is not actual Jesus. And we must protest that misrepresentation.
As a doctor and a Christian, I plan to continue that fight. But how do I go about that? How do I avoid throwing the same gatekeeping language back at people as I try to stop our religion’s oppression of those whom Jesus would love the most?
As with my scientific communication (science, which can go hand in hand with religion far more than those on either side of the debate will sometimes admit), this topic demands nuance and and explanation of reasoning. Like how Exodus 21:22-25 is not actually anti-abortion. The Anti-Choice lobby claims that it calls for the death penalty for death of a fetus, but rabbinical scholars have had this debate. If a man hits a woman and the fetus dies, it's a fine. If the woman dies, it's his life as payment. The autonomy of the woman demands a greater price than the fetus. Tell that to the legislature of South Carolina, who is now proposing a bill that would call for the death penalty for anyone who seeks an abortion. I'm not sure if that really qualifies as pro-life.
And, as a reminder, until the Evangelical lobby pushed for greater Republican political power as part of Nixon's Southern Strategy in the 1970s-80s, the Christian church's position on abortion was that it was necessary at times as long as the fetus was treated with respect.
And until 2021, it was only the very fringes of the Christian lobby that tried to be anti-vaccine.
This is the part at which I do better. The meme-able snark is not my forte, anyway. But I can’t resist a parting shot, so I’ll end this with a Tweet I wrote in December:
“If your “Christian” love is making it harder for people to access healthcare, it’s not Christian and we actual Christians do not want it.
Anti-choice ideology is outdated, so I will use an outdated expression so those spreading anti-abortion propaganda understand:
Get a life.”