Savannah’s Story: Republicanity (or, When Politics Is Your Religion)

politicalseries3

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.

4 comments

  • I might have written about this before. Long story short……married to an abuser for 31 years, found the courage to get a divorce; allowed the x to live in my house after divorce……… my church (baptist, what else) put me thru an 18-month long nightmare. Called to a meeting of deacons, asked if I was still having sex with the x…16 “men” at that Kangaroo court. In the end, on my birthday, my name was put up on a big screen (3 times), followed by the words, “Conduct Unbecoming a child of God.” That happened 15 years ago; still haven’t healed; talk about betrayed…….something positive came from the debacle: http://www.churchabusepoetrytherapy.com with over 25 thousand hits. I used my life story to win a scholarship and am a Sophomore (social work) at 69! Working hard to make a difference; been in the papers, radio, etc…talking about spiritual abuse….and my key passion is to speak on national television regarding verbal abuse: The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans saved my life; I feel it should be read by everyone on the planet; My memoir is in the process of being published…my words, my voice. Love to all. As for the spiritual abuse, sadly some of my family still attends; it is like a hot knife.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    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.

    “Give me your children and I will make them mine. You will pass away, but they will remain Mine.”
    — A.Hitler, cult leader

  • Loura Shares A Story

    I can relate to this post, and I would like to encourage the author by saying it takes time to untangle everything you’ve been taught. Time to unravel and think things through, time to lay down new foundations and knowing why, time to build. I thought I had done all this in 1-3 years, but looking back I believe it has taken more like 10! There are so many issues to reevaluate, and I don’t mean to imply you will lose your faith. I am still a Christian, though most church-goers would likely label me as “faux”, lol.

    I was a moderator on a Christian news site for several years and I heard it all! I realized I was in my happy place when the true liberals who posted there labeled me “ultra-conservative”, but the ultra-conservatives labeled me “liberal”. As balanced as I can be, in the middle ground; that’s my goal.

  • Hi, Savanna! Thanks for sharing your story. While my experiences with the enmeshment of conservative politics and Christianity weren’t as heavy-handed as those you recount here, I resonate with much of your story–especially the fear that comes with changing some beliefs. Kathy Escobar’s book called Faith Shift has been such a comfort to me because it helped me see that the distress I felt was normal and experienced by many people in similar faith stages.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s