My first memory of politics is a babysitter telling me her family was voting Democrat in the presidential election. I was shocked and filled with as much indignation as a six-year-old child could muster (in my case, quite a bit). I did not know much about politics, but I knew this: people who loved Jesus also loved Republicans.
A few weeks ago, when a number of significant Evangelical leaders endorsed Trump, I was not shocked. I am older now and I know better. I used to think people who loved Jesus also loved Republicans, but now I knew that these were separate things, tied together by a culture and a time period, not a religion. I wasn't surprised by the endorsements — but I was surprised by my own reaction. Instead of the righteous indignation I experienced as a six year old, I felt relief.
I grew up in the Evangelical revivalist fury of the 1990s. I was homeschooled and church-bred, and I tried to speak in tongues before I tried to speak Spanish. I was raised in Christian churches and Christian schools, surrounded by Christian people speaking Christianese, and try as I might (and believe me, I’ve tried), religion is a habit I can’t seem to shake.
I cannot apologize on behalf of everyone. I cannot speak for other people. But I can speak for myself.
Since entering the real world — getting a big girl job, making friends who have never worn purity rings, etc.—I have carefully avoided public conversations about religion and politics. There are no winners in these brawls and I didn’t want to be bruised. Mostly though, I kept quiet because I was embarrassed.
I was embarrassed by the “Yes on Prop 8” signs peppering church lawns and the years I spent drowning my body in baggy clothes so I wouldn’t cause my Christian brothers to “stumble.” I was embarrassed for friends who assumed anyone with religious convictions was a bigot. I was embarrassed when reporters said people who voted Republican were uneducated morons. I was embarrassed because I didn't claim any of these beliefs as my own, but allowed the people I associated with to claim them for me.
Horrible things are done in the name of God. Horrible things are also done in the name of democracy, freedom, love, and justice. It seemed to me like everyone who speaks up wounds another person, and so I chose not to speak.
But when evangelical leaders like James Dobson and Jerry Falwell Jr. publicly endorsed Trump last month, I felt strangely free. The willingness of these leaders to back a man whose morals and politics they have long abhorred has lifted the guilt I have felt in the past for not defending the politics of this religion when others criticized it. Staying silent is no longer an option for me because I want it to be clear that whoever these people represent, it is not me.
Being a young, college educated, single, feminist, Christian woman is essentially living in no woman’s land. It is an infinite marathon of sprinting between ideologies trying to explain why the other isn’t so bad. No, Hillary probably hasn’t made a pact with the devil. No, the people supporting Trump are not all morons; some of them might actually have a point.
I could respect if they focused on his politics; but they are endorsing his character too, a feat of rationalization so ridiculous I can't even fathom it. I loathe pretty much everything Trump stands for, but I could still make a better politically-based argument for why he's the best presidential candidate then the morally-based one these leaders are making. Rather than endorsing his platform, they've focused on sanitizing his character with a convenient conversion, claiming that he's had a sincere change of heart regarding abortion, and touting the depths of family values now found in a man who once graced the cover of Playboy. I've always been suspicious about religiously motivated political claims, but now I know for sure: It’s never been about God.
These supporters are largely composed of televangelists, authors, and pastors of large churches. In other words, the religious figures supporting Trump have, in my eyes, a lot to gain by drafting off of a such a powerful man; they are business people desperately seeking a platform in a country increasingly hostile to their product.
James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, previously said he could not support Trump because of his position on gay marriage (Trump has claimed to have "tremendous support" from LGBT friends, but also would like to nominate justices to overturn the Supreme Court's ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges) but has now joined Trump's spiritual advisory board, calling the presumptive Republican nominee a "baby Christian." Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, has been a Trump supporter for a long time, saying Trump "lives a life of loving and helping others as Jesus taught in the Great Commandment.” Other members of Trump's Faith Advisors include the televangelist Paula White and megachurch pastor Jack Graham. These are powerful religious leaders, but it's unclear if their support will directly influence voters. Jonathan Merritt argued that these endorsements were motivated by a lust for power on the part of the Evangelical leaders and I agree, but on the level of the individual, voting probably has more to do with personal preference than power plays. If anything, it's likely their support of Trump will simply provide spiritual confirmation for those who were already planning on voting for him—a necessity for many who use religious values as their primary compass for voting. The average Christian voter is probably less interested in the church as a national institution than the church as a centerpiece of their personal community.
I found out this year that single women are the most powerful voting bloc in America. But I do not feel powerful. I feel trapped between a beautiful, broken religion and a beautiful, broken world, and I do not know how to stitch these chunks of my identity together.
When the news about Trump’s board of “tremendous” spiritual advisors broke, my silence felt suffocating. I realized I had become nothing more than a symbolic representative of whatever side was not present in my conversations with friends and family.
And this is where I have those Evangelical leaders to thank. Their endorsements are so outrageous they motivated me to make sure no one would associate me with them. I cannot apologize on behalf of everyone—the Christians, the atheists, the activists, the friends, the faith leaders. I cannot speak for other people. But I can speak for myself.
They did not speak for me when they advised we “end those Muslims.” They did not speak for me when they wrote the murder of innocent school children off as the result of gay marriage and a lack of prayer in public schools. They have literally spoken for me — and all women, for that matter — because they think God has designed women to submit to male leadership. They may have spoken on my behalf, but they did not speak for me then, and they certainly don’t speak for me now.