Source: Huffington Post
By Elizabeth Baker
I don’t sleep through the night anymore. I suffer from near daily panic attacks and almost constant anxiety. The source of my joy, my security and my identity has vanished, leaving me with an angry grief that almost no one in my immediate circle understands. I have relationships that were once life-giving but have turned toxic. I feel manipulated, deceived and abused. And why?
The church that raised me is gaslighting me.
I am a 39-year-old, white, straight, suburban mom. And I am a Christian ― at least I think I still am. I grew up in a privileged bubble, in deep red Republican country, where identifying as a Christian didn’t set me apart from the majority of my peers. Being a Christian certainly wasn’t any risk to my life or reputation. I spent my childhood in Sunday school, church camp and youth group, learning Bible stories about heroes who battled a giant with a slingshot, survived a lions’ den due to unshakable faith, and led an entire group of people out of slavery and into a promised land.
The church also taught me the story of Jesus, the son of God, whom God sent to earth as a defenseless human infant. Jesus spent 33 completely sinless years on this planet, only to be brutally murdered as a sacrifice for me, because of me. I was born with my sinful nature and no matter how good I try to be, how many prayers I pray or Bible study gatherings I attend, I am ultimately a sinner ― and the wages of sin is death. According to the church, I deserve death, simply for existing.
But the church also claims there’s good news! Even though I deserve death, Jesus’ bloody crucifixion and subsequent bodily resurrection saves me from a fiery eternal hell ― all because I believe this supernatural story and earnestly accept the gift of his grace. And because of this sacrifice, I owe him a lifetime of gratitude, worship and a commitment to follow his commandments (even though, because of my human flesh, I will always ultimately fail him).
I didn’t think much about politics or social issues in my 20s and the first half of my 30s because my racial and socioeconomic privilege afforded me the luxury of not paying attention.
For decades, I bought this story and internalized and tried to live out the message. I followed the rules. I studied the Bible. I signed a “True Love Waits” purity pledge and walked down the aisle a “pure” virgin. I guarded my heart against the evils of the world: false religions, homosexuality, abortion, immodest clothing, foul language and excessive drinking. I believed that God created and loves everyone, but not everyone will go to heaven.
I didn’t think much about politics or social issues in my 20s and the first half of my 30s because my racial and socioeconomic privilege afforded me the luxury of not paying attention. The extent of my political ideology was that the Republican Party was the party of God and identifying as a Democrat was incompatible with calling oneself a Christian. So I voted Republican.
I lived in a conservative Christian bubble, a tightly knit, homogenous community where conformity was expected and rewarded. The church praised me for my good behavior and moral living, and the church took care of me. The sense of belonging is a hell of a drug, and I was loved, accepted and given community, which made me complacent and blind to systemic discrimination against people of color, LGBTQ people and people practicing religions other than Christianity, among other groups. I am ashamed to say I had no concept that large portions of the population were outright rejected by the institution loving me so well.
Prior to a few years ago, I listened to no one in the margins because my circle didn’t include anyone in the margins. We fed and donated Christmas gifts to the poor in our community, but made no effort to establish real relationships with them outside of a “mission” context. “Love the sinner, hate the sin” was easy to accept as a legitimate response to homosexuality because I had no gay people in my life whom I actually had to love. Their so-called “lifestyle sin” was framed as much worse than my own greed, gluttony and pride. I didn’t consider that perhaps my greatest sin was the self-centeredness blinding me from the pain of other human beings who were made in the image of God. Their value and contributions to the body of Christ were discarded by the church based on its narrow-minded interpretation of Scripture.
The people I followed online challenged my conservative Christian worldview and I learned that following Jesus isn’t nearly as narrow a path as I grew up believing.
Starting in about 2014, social media, specifically Twitter, began to open my eyes and widen my world. I listened to and learned from people with different voices and experiences, and for the first time, I heard terms like “white privilege,” “systemic racism” and “progressive Christianity.” I had no idea that someone could be gay and also be a deeply committed Christian who has a high regard for Scripture. The people I followed online challenged my conservative Christian worldview and I learned that following Jesus isn’t nearly as narrow a path as I grew up believing. I started to doubt and question the integrity of the insulated Christian bubble still benefiting me. My faith was shifting, but slowly and privately.
And then came 2016. Donald Trump, a man whom until then I most closely associated with “The Apprentice,” was now the Republican nominee for president of the United States. Trump’s campaign and election was a breaking point for me and many other American evangelicals. This was when we realized that everything we had been told was non-negotiable didn’t matter when there was power on the line. The election was like a floodlight on the underbelly of the evangelical church, and this is when the church started gaslighting me.
Gaslighting is psychological manipulation that leads one to question one’s own feelings and perceptions of reality. For more than two years now, I have watched, shocked, as 81 percent of the religious leaders and peers of my youth and early adulthood have embraced a man and a political ideology contrary to the teachings of Jesus. They have thrown out the foundational values of Christianity in exchange for tax cuts, Supreme Court nominees and political power. Today, those Christians are calling me a heretic and a godless woman because now I reject their Republican rhetoric and because my personal Christian values (that they drilled into me for decades) more closely align with the Democratic Party’s platform.
The boldness of the church’s hypocrisy is causing me to question the very foundation of my spiritual beliefs. It’s disorienting. Every biblical principle I hold sacred has been disregarded by many other Christians, and I often feel like I’m losing my sanity while the entire house of cards that is my evangelical upbringing collapses around me.
Those Christians are calling me a heretic and a godless woman because now I reject their Republican rhetoric and because my personal Christian values … more closely align with the Democratic Party’s platform.
Purity And Politics
The church’s obsession with sexual purity defined my adolescence. The ethics of sexual behavior limited physical intimacy to the marriage of man and woman. And at the time, the political values of Christians lined up with this teaching. Bill Clinton’s infidelity was unforgivable as well as evidence of a political party embraced by Satan.