Savannah’s Story: Republicanity (or, When Politics Is Your Religion)
CC image courtesy of Flickr, Grufnik.
TW: Religious/Political Indoctrination, Religious Trauma, Fundamentalist Politics, Cults, Slut-Shaming, Abortion
HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Savannah” is a pseudonym.
“A liberal Christian is an oxymoron.” The sentence garnered applause and amens from Baptist churchgoers in suburban Georgia. Like many Southern Baptist churches, mine was primarily composed of staunch Tea Party conservatives, people whose pastime was gossiping about Obama’s birth certificate, the liberal media’s war on Christians, and homosexuals shoving their lifestyle down our throats. Whatever the preacher said the Bible said about a particular issue was what our beliefs must align to. Forget thinking it through for yourself if the conclusion you’d come to differed from the platforms of McCain in 2008 or Romney in 2012.
Here, political conservatism and true Christianity were inseparable—indistinguishable.
I can’t remember the preacher going more than two sermons without bringing up some hot conservative topic. The liberals want to kill unborn babies. The liberals want to jail men for acting on their natural desires when a slut prances around them with her tits out. The liberals want to squash Christians’ free speech and arrest us for calling out sin. He pointed to cases like lawsuits brought forth by same-sex couples that were refused services. How the media and internet vilified the poor business owner just trying to practice her beliefs in peace. How she could go to jail for her faith.
All of it proof that the era in which we’d enjoyed the luxury of a persecution-free life in America was coming to a terrifying close.
I remember being taken to a walk-through drama in sixth grade. The theme, “End Times.” It wasn’t particularly political, which, looking back on it now, was rather unusual for the denomination—and the topic. I don’t remember much about this drama (it was traumatic for a number of reasons), but I do recall that in this near-future, fictional but supposedly soon to be non-fiction setting, Christians were being slaughtered. I saw one actress play a young woman who stole bread from a garbage can because Christians were not allowed to buy food. She was discovered, and given a choice, just like all the others: abandon her faith—conform—or die. The stage lights went out as we heard a gunshot and her scream.
This was where we were headed, my pastor said. If we continued to let the liberal world win, it would come sooner—but if we resisted, we might be able to push it off long enough for us, and our children, to live in peace.
This was our culture war, and our side of the fight was not only divinely sanctioned, but vital to our own survival. The trademark of a cult is an aversion to the outside world. We and only we are your friends. We keep you safe. Everyone else is the enemy. Everyone else will kill you.
Many places foster this mentality, but this church’s (and I have no doubt that many churches share this idea) was doubly potent. While failing to comply with the liberal world could result in being declared a bigot—or, if the world kept going to shit, death—rejection of conservative Christian principles had a much more serious consequence. The strong stance of anti-abortion, anti-LGBT rights, and pro-everything Republican was much more than a political alignment or a voting guideline.
It was delivered to us by God’s spokespeople, the pastors and spiritual leaders of our time, and to disagree with it was to disagree with God himself.
Over the span of many years, I heard more messages than I can count about what constituted a “true” Christian. Most of the characteristics on the list involved some kind of community service, particularly volunteer work with Christian non-profits or within the church itself. However, the one thing that was always consistent—and perhaps most important—was an adherence to conservative values. One could not be a “true” Christian if one did not hold to these.
A person who called themselves a Christian and held even one liberal political view was misguided at best, but more likely a fraud.
Oft-repeated passages that referred to false believers as “goats” or “tares,” and phrases like “going through the motions,” served to further cement the idea that failure to conform to the conservative ideal was a prime indicator of one’s placement on the path to Hell.
As I grew up and branched out of the sheltered homeschool world, I was met with things that challenged the political views that were beaten into me as a requirement for Heaven—and this experience terrified me. At times it made me suicidal.
I was not only worried about maintaining my acceptance by the cult (when a group convinces you that everyone outside the group wants to kill you, you believe that acceptance by the group is essential to survival), but also about the fact that I now was drifting down the road to damnation.
The more progressive the world gets, the fiercer conservatism-worshiping Christianity lashes out. The cults grow tighter. The bigots come out in full force, and become leaders within the pack.
Some adults may genuinely believe that the rest of the world is out to persecute them, and the rest may just be bigots, but children—children are oblivious. Innocent. Children are told what to believe and they believe it until they learn to question when they are older, if at all. When you tell a young child that a certain kind of person wants to kill them, they do not have the ability to think it through and weigh the evidence. They simply trust you.
I cannot speak for all people raised in such an environment. While I learned to abandon my conservative ideas in favor of what I thought was right (which will never include discriminating against any kind of person), I’ve mostly kept my faith—and reconciling these two things is nigh impossible. I still have panic attacks. I’m still afraid.
It’s been three years since I left the cult, but I’m still suffering.