I have a confession to make. It’s not something I’ve been hiding, except perhaps from myself–it’s just something I realized this weekend. For many years now, I’ve been processing my thoughts about leaving the evangelical church (more specifically, the institutional church). Yet all along, there has been this underlying subtext of guilt. I felt guilty about it.
After all, you’re not supposed to leave. Right?
I seem to be something of a pot-stirrer, a trouble maker, although I must say most of the time that role is unintentional. I actually like to be the “good boy,” “teacher’s pet,” that kind of thing. The Model Christian (which I most certainly am not). It wasn’t my intent to be a rebel, even when I was exposing things that were hypocritical or unjust or simply ridiculous. I never wanted to be at odds with this thing I grew up with/in that we call the Church. If anything, thanks to my own hero/Messiah complex, I was trying to save the Church, to rescue her, to make her all better.
But it didn’t work. And when I finally came to the painful realization that the institutional church and I were now at completely cross purposes…I walked away. I left the damsel in distress, tied to the tracks in front of an oncoming train, and since then have tried to find my place in the world without her.
I’m on social media with a lot of friends from my past, and they seem all happy in church. For many of them, their kids are now going to the Christian university we all attended. In a way, I envy them, because they still belong, which is all I really wanted to do–belong. Perhaps they didn’t see what I saw, or perhaps they have just been able to come to grips with it. Either way, I don’t want to ruin it for them.
And the guilt persisted, just bubbling under the surface. Not for the reasons you might think. I didn’t actually feel guilty for leaving the damsel on the tracks, because part of what freed me was the realization that saving the Church isn’t actually my job, and Jesus can do a much better job of it if I just get out of His way. Instead, I felt guilty because feeling guilty is sort of my thing. Like I said, I always want to be the “good boy,” always want to be liked and well thought-of. Now I felt like the “bad boy.” The Wayward Son. Perhaps I could have made more of a difference had I stuck it out. Perhaps I allowed myself to get too jaded. Perhaps…
But I have to say, this weekend something clicked in me that made me decide I no longer feel guilty for leaving the evangelical church–something that eliminated that self-doubt and confirmed to me that as a matter of conscience this was the right thing to do. You’ll probably never guess what it is, so I’ll just tell you…
I found out that according to a recent poll, more than 80 percent of evangelical Christians plan to vote for Donald Trump.
Okay, so I promise I won’t turn this into an all-out political rant. I’ve already said my piece about Trump, so if you can trudge through the next few paragraphs, I’ll do my best to get back on topic. But it’s important that you know why this was the turning point for me–and if you can get past the next little bit, you’ll see that the real issue isn’t about Trump at all.
I can’t help but say I’m absolutely astonished that so many people–people with whom I’ve claimed the solidarity of the faith–have apparently been completely bamboozled by this guy, whose track record of stretching the truth, underhanded business dealings and brazen, unrepentant arrogance are right out there for everyone to see. The evangelical church has claimed as its hero someone who is as far from Christlikeness in his nature and character as anyone could be. I don’t care that James Dobson says Trump has become a Christian; if you believe that, there’s a bridge about a mile from where I live that I just heard has come up for sale. We know them by their fruits, not by Focus on the Family reports–and since that news came out, there is absolutely no evidence that Trump’s fruit has changed. Suffice it to quote Trump himself, in his book The Art of the Deal: “I play to people’s fantasies…That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular.”
Now, I can hear the rebuttals and complaints. I know Hillary Clinton is no saint, and her dubious record of truth-stretching and scandal is just about as tainted as Trump’s is. I know her liberal agenda offends many believers, and on and on. I’m not saying we actually have a “good” candidate for President this year, because the truth is we don’t. They’re both bad. The only difference in my view is that Hillary has the experience and common sense to run the country and Trump does not. I don’t like Hillary, but I think America will still be around in four years if she becomes President. That becomes far less certain with a Trump presidency because he has no idea what he’s doing, and he has proven time and time again that he will act in his own interests above anyone else’s. (Translation: he’ll act in his own interests even when he has the interests of 300 million Americans to think of.)
Political rant over. (If you made it this far, congratulations, and thank you.) But I hope you can see that my point here isn’t that I disagree with the evangelical church’s candidate of choice–it’s that the widespread endorsement of evangelicals over a man who is completely contrary to their supposed belief system is exposing just how bad things have gotten, how selfish we have become as a people.
If you consider yourself a Christian, please hear me out on this. This is a man who has been involved in no less than 3500 lawsuits during his career, the vast majority of which had to do with either his stretching of the truth or copping out on his end of the bargain in business dealings. This is a man who has gone on record as never asking God for forgiveness. This is a man whom psychologists regularly label as a narcissist at best, and a psychopath at worst, because he has no concept of accepting blame for his actions. This is a man whose penchant for racism and sexism is well-documented. And THIS is the man that most of the evangelical community has put forth as representing their interests. And they aren’t just voting for him–they’re shouting his praises.
When I realized this, I stopped feeling guilty about leaving. Why? Because I realize now that I’m not the one who has strayed. The fact that the evangelical community as a whole has gone so far as to endorse a moral-less egomaniac who will tell anyone anything to get what he wants…that exposes just how far the Western Church has strayed from what Christ actually taught us to be. You see, the real issue isn’t whom the evangelicals support, but why they are supporting him. Why would we so vehemently support a man whose values are so contradictory to those we claim to embrace?
- The Bible teaches us to “fear not.” Yet Trump’s campaign is geared solely around stirring up our fears so he can pose as the hero.
- Jesus taught us to lay down our lives for our brethren, even to our own hurt. Trump is all about serving his own interests at the expense of others.
- Jesus taught us to love those who hate us, and turn the other cheek. Trump wants to build a wall that keeps out the good along with the bad, and to openly practice racial profiling. He has praised Saddam Hussein because although he was a “bad guy” he was good at killing terrorists. (Never mind that he himself was a terrorist who was killing his own people, too.)
I could go on and on, but the truth is that I believe many of the people who are supporting Trump (evangelical or otherwise) are doing so to serve their own interests, not those of our faith, nor of the Kingdom of God. The evangelical church has taken the stance of the “persecuted church” (to the great disrespect of the Christians in Muslim and Communist countries who get killed for their faith every day), not because they’re actually being persecuted, but because they feel they are losing the so-called “culture war,” and they think Trump can give them back the edge. This isn’t about promoting Christlike values, but about preserving a way of life that we as Christians were never guaranteed. We have bought into the belief that a vote for Trump means a vote for better national security, lower taxes and more money in our pockets.
There, I said it–that’s the real issue, mostly. We think we’ll do better financially with Trump as President, and we’ll be less afraid of terrorists.
In other words, I believe the Church’s primary motivations for supporting this man are fear and greed. The last I read in the Bible, those are both sins.
And that, for whatever it’s worth to you, is why I no longer feel guilty about leaving the evangelical Church. The very fact that so many people who claim to know Christ (including major figureheads of the faith) are now openly supporting someone in stark opposition to the faith they claim–this exposes the sin in our hearts. In my view, the Church shouldn’t be rallying behind Trump. As a collective, we as the Church should be on our faces weeping, repenting for the greed and selfishness that brought us to this point.
If this post offends you, I’m sorry. I realize this is an extremely polarizing topic. I see so many of my friends on Facebook supporting Trump, and while I don’t count that as a reason to unfriend them, I do sharply disagree, and I imagine if I posted something this brazen online, I’d lose about a third of my Facebook friends. If you’ve gotten on the Trump bandwagon, all I can say to you is, please consider why you’ve made that choice. I’m not the judge of your heart, but I do urge you to search your own heart. I know many Christians do agree with me on this, and their decision is not to vote at all. I can’t judge anyone for that decision. For me, if I vote for Hillary Clinton, it will only be to keep Trump out of office because I want to buy us four more years to try and get it together as a nation.
To close, I want to make it clear once again that I haven’t left the Church as Jesus describes it–you can pick your friends, but you’re stuck with your relatives. I haven’t left the faith. But I HAVE left the institution that man has set up and called “the Church.” And while I still believe in the mission to evangelize, I can no longer in good conscience associate with the term “evangelical church” and what it has come to represent, because I see it acting now almost completely at odds with what Jesus taught. And my loyalty must be first to Christ, not to a man-made institution that has so obviously lost its way.
Yes, I’m sorry if this offends you. But I don’t feel guilty. Not anymore.