A Journey of Hard and Important Lessons
Content Note: Discussion of faith, spiritual abuse, abuse mentions, sexual assault mentions, death threats.
EDIT as of 7/18/2021: I talked through the trauma of this story with my therapist, and he pointed out that the “therapy” my family drove me too in 2004-2006 was actually conversion therapy; the 2004-2006 therapist(s) were Catholic-based and attempted to “cure” me through talk therapy of being gay and having doubts about my gender. I didn’t include it in the story below because at the time I wrote this in 2018, I was still in denial about the fact I went through conversion therapy. I’m starting to unlearn a lot of that awfulness now in 2020 and 2021.
Note: I wrote a clarification post in order to be more precise on the nature of the issues discussed. You can read it here.
What I write here will make some uncomfortable. We cannot grow unless we are uncomfortable, until we look at our core beliefs and remove the ones that cause harm and hold us back in our journey toward love, equity, and justice. I have done this so many times — this hard look at core beliefs, and I think maybe it’d help to provide context to my life. So, if you have a moment, feel free to read my story of some hard and important lessons.
I grew up a devout Catholic family. Being the middle child of eight children, I spent most of my time outside with my sister, who was a year younger. We shared rooms, or more accurately a hole in the corner of the basement of our small house. I remember wandering the neighborhood a lot and climbing trees, mostly to get away from the overly crowded house. When we moved to a larger home by a lake, that curiosity fostered from a youth spent exploring didn’t change, and it helped fuel the journey I would undertake as an adult.
To be clear, this story is not about my family or the poverty we faced and how my father worked his way out of poverty. No, this story is about my faith and the transformation from the Republican views socialized into me at a young age into my adulthood views as an intersectional anti-racist feminist. Note also that the socializing of Republican views wasn’t always done by my family, but also by family friends and various Christian institutions/Churches.
I had to go to Catholic Mass every Sunday. Each Mass tended to focus on different readings, and it took me until third grade before I realized that if you went daily, you’d go through the entire Bible in the liturgical readings. Talk about intense. Most Sundays the priests didn’t really get into politics that I remember. However, they talked a lot about love and how the fruits of faith manifest in the works that we do. Love one’s neighbor. Show kindness and give to others who have less. Welcome the stranger and the homeless and the immigrants. Do acts of charity and kindness to others.
My parents were also Charismatic Catholics, so they were big into the Holy Spirit and how the Holy Spirit works through you. So they often had us go to the Charismatic Renewal Mass on Thursday nights, which were a lot more “wild” than a regular Catholic Mass. After the Eucharist, there would be a long time of folks singing praises, talking in tongues, their hands raised in the air. To me, as a kid, it felt like a very long time. To be honest, when I visited Protestant Churches in high school and College, they would remind me of that Charismatic part after the Eucharist.
I liked singing the songs, but I didn’t participate much in “letting myself go” with the Holy Spirit because it felt uncomfortable. Because that’s not how I wanted my faith to be. I didn’t want to show it off like this. Even if it was supposed to be a safe setting to do so. I just wanted to be heard in my own way, but I had no way to vocalize this at the time. This became a common occurrence — this not having words to really pin down what bothered me. I wasn’t even sure how to phrase the questions I had.
I spent a lot of time listening, writing down what I learned, and trying to understand what people believed. After Sunday Mass or on special holidays, I hung out with the immigrant families’ kids that my father helped. I began to notice how differently they were treated in comparison to me. I felt confusion, and wasn’t sure how to talk about this with anyone. Most would just tell me it was because they were immigrants and weren’t used to how we do things in America, but it felt like more than just that. I just didn’t have the words.
This is also the time where I really struggled with my own role within my family and my Church and in society in general. I never felt comfortable in my skin — or at least not comfortable with how people perceived me. But again I had no words to talk about this. Instead, I wrote about transformations and shape-changers in my stories. I was always writing, trying to make sense of it all.
At around the time of 7th or 8th grade, I began to notice that there was discrepancies in how people acted versus what they said. Growing up, my family was pro-life, but as a child, I understood it as being for all life — including the environment. I took it very literal, and I kept that view through high school and most of my early college. I’d argue with folks that pro-life meant striving to cherish all life, to protect even the environment.
In high school and again in early college, I realized that pro-life did not mean to others what it meant to me. To others it was only about abortion. To these people their hyper focus seemed to omit entirely what happened after the baby was born. If I dared mention that aspect, I was spat at and accused of being pro-choice and pro-murder. Very few of them agreed with me on pro-environment causes. I was stunned. What was the point of the term pro-life if they were not for all life regardless of if it was in a womb or already born — regardless of whether it was a human being or the environment in which we lived?
That vehemence toward my questions pushed me into the arms of pro-choice advocates who listened, who gave reasonable answers that made sense, and taught me far more about life and love than I’d ever received from the angry pro-life crowds. My davenport friend, who I met in 2008, was perhaps the most instrumental person in my life during this time, and for whom I will always be grateful for opening my eyes to the truth, but this journey was a long road I took. I spoke with one of my supportive sisters, Jane, about it off and on, but outside of her and the feminists I encountered at the three state universities, I spent a lot of this time hurt and betrayed.
I ended all ties to the Republican party around the time I joined AmeriCorps*NCCC. I had discovered how Republicans had lied about how they treated and viewed immigrants — their actions showed this truth. And the more I researched the more I realized that they had lied about a lot of things to try to convince folks that they were the “Christian” political party. Their actions revealed their true purpose far more than their polarized and deceiving words.
I didn’t become a Democrat that day, but stayed Independent as I wasn’t sure who to trust politically at that point. I also knew that I had a lot of bias I was going to have to undo from all those years of being lied to about racism, about America’s history, about what Christianity is, and about gender roles within our society.
My father had often called me the “Evangelist” of the family. But that’s only because I spent so much time in high school defending the Catholic Church from Protestants who claimed it wasn’t a Christian Church. I’d show evidence with bible verses and history to show that yes, it is a Christian Church. I knew the Bible well and its history. I knew about the translations, how some were faulty and heavily corrupted by their time period, and that some translations were more honest toward the original texts.
I knew that even though some claim the Bible is the only source of God’s Word — I knew that wasn’t so. The universe was also God’s Word.
If we ignored the universe and everything within it for a few pieces of paper that we rigidly held to be most important, then were we not ignoring God’s own creativity and divine spark?
By my early years of college, I realized many of these Christians were just throwing Bible verses around when it was nothing but pompous ego trips. “My Christian sect is truer than yours! My interpretation is more right!” What sort of attitude was that?
I stopped defending, because to me, I had thought I had been defending my existence as a Christian, but in the end, I had fallen right into this pious trap and fed into this boosting of egos.
The truth hit me so hard those early years of college. So many of these people I debated didn’t care about what I thought or said. To them I was an enemy. To them I was the “other.” To them my ideas about what pro-life should have meant was “corrupted” by the “evil” pro-choice crowds who “took no responsibility and murdered with glee.” These people weren’t looking for people’s humanity, weren’t actually interested in the theology. They were looking for stones to throw. And I had emboldened them by giving their stones equal platform to my own assertion of people’s humanity.
Was there Christians I could have these deep theological discussions with? Yes, and I did have discussions with these people, but the vast majority of the discourse — the type that dominated the news and politics was the Christians who were more focused on stone-throwing and seeing any threat to their power as prejudice.
It took me a long time to differentiate between these groups, and to realize that it isn’t possible to have a theological debate when people aren’t willing to acknowledge the same basic facts about reality. It isn’t possible to be Christ-like when people are too focused on throwing stones and judgement of others, where they ignore the biases and prejudices they might have or their Church might have.
“Hard” love in a Christian Context
At the same time, from 2003 through 2007, I struggled with immense pressure toward gay conversion therapy by Christian friends and family. I had listened to horrifying things said to me since I was in high school, that linked me to being a lost sinner, my mind corrupted, my body defiled (not just by this “sinful gay lifestyle” but also from being a rape survivor). This came from specific friends and family members both — many phrased it as “hard love.”
Was I lost then? Was that why I felt horrified and repulsed by the pro-life crowd, by the way folks treated the immigrant families I’d grown up with? Was I so corrupted and bad that I had to be reforged into someone else to fit God’s image? Was the corruption I thought I saw in American Christianity my own ego or imagination?
I read books about gay conversion therapy, got in the talks with a gay conversion group, but my sister Jane warned me away with proof that it caused more harm than good. Her words were convincing enough for me because I trusted her far more than anyone else in my life at the time. So I cancelled and stopped replying to the gay conversion group. That group kept up emailing for months, before I changed my email address.
All of these events happened around the same time. And all of them forced me to look hard at myself. To see if I was perpetuating the same pain that these people did, and I wrote reams of journals, trying to sort through this. I read more and more books by diverse authors from all races, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, and gender identity. I tried to find classes in college that were taught by folks of color about other religions, cultures, and different views of history.
I started going to church less and less. It felt uncomfortable, especially as I came to realize my own sexual orientation and gender identity didn’t fit what the Church or society or my family wanted it to be. I heard horrifying things said about LGBTQIA people in the Catholic and Protestant Churches I visited.
I had tried to be open minded to bridge the divide between those two sects of Christianity, but all I found drove me further from all of their churches. They were vicious with their “love” toward LGBTQIA folks, where they talked over them, ripped apart their lives, called them sinners, declared that they shouldn’t marry but stay chaste or try to change their orientation to straight or just “accept” their assigned at birth gender. Where they advocated for policies that caused severe harm to LGBTQIA people and eroded our rights and accesses to the same services these Christians already had. Some of them even called for the deaths of LGBTQIA people. This was what the Christian Church called “love?”
Subtle or not, Racism exists.
In 2007, when I did AmeriCorps*NCCC, I was sent to the southern states, and although, being from Iowa, I knew that the history of the southern states is heavy with racial tension. I was still shocked with how vicious “Christians” were to folks of color, the vivid divide between communities, the hoarding of resources by white people.
Those folks I met down south weren’t worshiping Jesus. They were worshiping whiteness and painted it up to look like Jesus. It reminded me of the glimpses I had seen growing up among the immigrant communities my father had helped. How folks had treated the Hmong and Sudanese badly at times, or with this “white savior complex.” How unnerving I’d found it as a kid, but I didn’t have words for when I was young.
In Iowa, the racism had been subtle that I only saw it in glimpses — mostly because my white privilege had blinded me to it. Since college, some of my friends of color had shared with me about the subtle but pervasive racism in Iowa. I listen to them, seek to understand, then when I slip up and do or say something bad or that is biased or hurtful, I try my best to apologize. It’s not enough to just say “I’m sorry,” that has to be followed up with an acknowledgement of the hurt and an honest change in behavior.
When I worked down south in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, none of the racism was subtle. It was in my face sprouted like it was Christian Doctrine and the way things should always be. It was horrifying to me, and it was my first real understanding of how devastating the concept of whiteness truly is.
So I devoured books on the topic, books written by people of color to educate myself. I listened and listened. To try to alter my actions and words to be a better ally. To unlearn this socialization. How can I be an ally to the people I was serving in AmeriCorps if I didn’t understand, at least in some ways, what they faced?
Wyoming was the last time I officially went to Catholic Masses. It was because the priest there recognized what I had seen:
Specific sects of Christianity in America held a great sickness. It no longer worshiped God. Jesus was no longer the core of its teachings. It worshiped whiteness. And whiteness was the god of America.
But what was whiteness? I realized it was more than just racial injustice and the legacy of slavery. It was also an legacy of erasure of Indigenous tribes and their cultures. A legacy of erasing nonbinary folks from existence — as many Indigenous tribes had nonbinary genders that were revered. A legacy of rigid gender roles and patriarchal dominance, where the failure to abide by the rigid gender roles had harsh punishments — to the point of killing LGBTQIA folks and viewing that action as “righteous.”
Whiteness was the judge, jury, and executioner of Black folks, Indigenous folks, LGBTQIA folks, immigrants, and anyone who failed to assimilate into the whiteness of American Christianity.
The priest in Wyoming saw that. He gave me further reading. But it was also one of the the last time I’d ever go by myself to Mass or any Protestant Church.
Perhaps people reading this will tell me I’m being too harsh. That I’m comparing apples and oranges, and I would kindly ask these people to do their research. To stop accepting blindly what their leaders claim is truth. Many people, myself included, have written of the evidence of the existence of white supremacy, of the damage of anti-trans attitudes and policies embedded in our culture, of the homophobic attitudes and policies, and in those posts I include research. But more can be found if one is willing to seek in good faith.
Yes, many of the Christian leaders in America aren’t always wolves in sheep’s clothing. But the false leaders, the ones that push this False and anti-Christ Christianity the most?
Those are the pastors in their mega-churches, who own rich estates and reap the benefits of those who have nothing. Who ignore the plights of the hungry or homeless or the immigrants unless it furthers their carefully constructed images of the pious, the righteous who shows off his “faith.” Who push for legislation that upholds their version of Christianity as supreme in order to further their power and wealth at the cost of the lives of millions, who are harmed by these policies.
Those are many of the leaders in the Catholic Church, who turned a blind eye to the abuse of kids, who advocated for single-issue voting in regards to “pro-life” and engaged in vitriol against demographics that did not align to who they view as “God’s people.”
Those are the so-called Christians who vote for politicians that destroy communities with the racist Drug War, with racist policies such as the school to prison pipeline, with homophobic and transphobic policies, with police brutality, with economic policies that bolster the pockets of the rich and destroy the lives of the poor and marginalized.
The Catholic Church taught me that faith without works is nothing. Quite a few protestants scoffed at me when I said that, as they asserted that faith did not need works. Sure, works might happen due to faith, but one can have faith without it.
No, I must disagree. There is no faith without works, because without works, faith is meaningless. Jesus did plenty of works that showed his faith and his miracles and his mission. He was not just talk. He was action embodied.
If anyone dares to say that their wealth and their going to church and their prayers is all you need for faith, then they blinded by the False Christianity. They have allowed themselves to fall into the well of corruption within American Christianity. They have become all talk and their “love” is nothing but empty words.
Love is not just an emotion but an action. Without action, there can be no love.
This False Christianity is married to whiteness, and to colonialism and imperialism that forced whiteness on not just the lands of America but other countries as well. It took me far too long to see just how much this Christianity had married itself to whiteness, to wealth, to power for centuries. And the leaders of this white, colonialist, imperalistic Christianity try to paint it up as “hard love,” but it is not love they preach. It is hate of the other. It is fear of a hell that they use to judge anyone that does not act or think the way they do.
A lot of Christians talk about the End Times, when the Anti-Christ comes to rule, but the Anti-Christ is already here and has been for quite a long time. That Anti-Christ is Whiteness embodied deep within the patriarchy colonialist Imperialistic Christianity. It is this False Christianity that has ruled with an iron fist for centuries with its elevation of whiteness to godhood, with its destruction of people of color, immigrants, LGBTQIA folks, poor folks, those of non-Christian faiths.
Is it not irony that the Christians in power, that subjugate and punish severely any infringements on their power, claim that it is us, the oppressed, that are the coming Anti-Christ for their end-times prophecies? This False Christianity claims they are being “prejudiced against” because they see any threat to their power as prejudice. This is a powerful deception that holds tight the minds of so many people, many of whom may not realize the destruction it does to them as well.
A Challenge for Myself and Others
Yes, most of this discussion has been of the deception by the Anti-Christ Christians, so, I want to again acknowledge the true Christ-like Christians. Some haven’t been as vocal as they’ve needed to be — out of fear or self-care. Others do their actions quietly within their communities to try to help those local due to the lack of power they may have. Some are being more vocal today, but they may not avoid the term “Christian” because of how that term has been twisted by the False Christians. Others have been incredibly vocal and on the front lines, and some of them have been been killed for it.
There is great diversity in the intersectional anti-racist trans-inclusive feminism, the vast majority of which isn’t Christian at all. I focused on Christianity in this piece because of where I come from, and because I wish to evaluate, using their own language, what corrupts Christianity within this country. I wanted to name the corruption that has haunted us for so long.
It horrifies me quite a bit how much the False Christians twist facts and Bible verses to justify the harm and deaths caused by their complicity in the oppression of huge swathes of people. How they claim to be using “hard love” toward “sinners,” how they claim they are Christ-like, but their actions sow hatred, despair, and great harm to people that aren’t like them. It’s taken me a long time to find words to even describe this and what is the core of this problem. It is my hope, by writing this in full, I can finally give words to those thoughts, and perhaps help others on their journey. It is hard to examine our core beliefs under a microscope, and I keep on trying to do so today.
Thus, I reject this False Christianity, and by doing so, I became the outcast. I was rejected by the Church. Rejected by various friends who were furious that I would question the beliefs we had shared. Who were furious that I dared point out the corruption at the heart of Christianity today. I received death threats, where folks described in vivid detail how to kill me, why I deserved to die, and how I was going to hell.
Since I am transgender and my orientation is demisexual (used the term gay for a long time as well), this only added fuel to their death threats, gave them more inventive ways to describe why I deserve hell, and why I was going there, and why they wished I would die. I spend a lot of time in fear, because these people hold so much power in our society today and in our government.
And I wept for many years over the loss of people I thought I could trust. I was afraid. I didn’t know how to go forward. I didn’t know even what I believed anymore.
This was all happening at the same time I was struggling with sexual assaults, healing from those, and then the years of abuse from my former partner. All that trauma dug deep, my trust in my fellow human beings became frail, and I struggle still to retain any hope.
I don’t know how to label what I believe.
But I can say this: I reject the dominant Christianity that is currently in power in America. I reject it’s normalization into politics, it’s worship of whiteness, of the patriarchy, of the colonist imperialistic tendencies to dominate others in thought, body, and land. I reject it’s single-issue voting, it’s blatant disregard for all life and the environment. I reject the dominant Christianity’s tendency to vote in liars and cheats, who harm large swathes of people with devastating policies. Who is the group that overwhelming voted for Trump? It was white Christianity — the False Christianity that is married to whiteness above all else.
I know I have a lot to learn. I still do. I’m imperfect. I’m going to fuck up a lot in this journey. But I cannot live a life of love unless I reject the false idols that sadly many Christian Churches have painted on their version of Jesus. Jesus who, in his time, would have condemned such pious, rich megachurches, and thrown them out of the temple in disgust. Who would have said, “get behind me Satan,” to them for their showing off instead of living their faith, for them acting with their desires rather than following Christ’s mission.
Jesus Christ’s mission isn’t whiteness. It’s not the patriarchy, colonialism, imperialism, nor capitalism. To view these as Christ-like? That I fear is dangerous and must be examined at all costs. If we cannot have that conversation, then Christianity is doomed to be the Anti-Christ yet again — like it has been throughout the history of American and European Imperialism and Colonialism.
Are there good Christians who are Christ-like? Yes, there are progressive Churches who recognize the evils that have corrupted Christianity. That strive to liberate themselves, to fight for a more loving, equitable world, where justice and reparations is achieved. Even Christ-like Christians need to be on guard and fight against the corruption that rots Christianity — the whiteness embodied in this False Christianity’s patriarchal colonialist imperialism.
Growth happens when we are uncomfortable. I once thought I was a good Christian, but I realized in college that I wasn’t. I had been trapped in that world-view of the False idols of American Christianity, and it’s taken me decades to unlearn it all. And truth is, I’m still unlearning — as it’s a lifelong fight considering how much of False Christianity has permeated our culture. The fight against oppression is on-going still today, and unlearning what society conditioned into us is a lifelong endeavor.
What I write here will make many uncomfortable, and it should. We cannot grow unless we are uncomfortable, until we look at our core beliefs and remove the ones that cause harm and hold us back in our journey toward love, equity, and justice.
Love to you all who read through this. Love to you all who strive to learn more, to fight for justice, love, equity, and equality for all people. It’s a long hard road, and we all can do our own actions — big or small — to help this journey continue forward. No action, no matter how small it may seem, is not worthwhile. All actions have an impact. Let us all help each other and ourselves to be aware of that impact. So that our lives embody love, justice, equity, reparations, and hope.
- Rescuing Jesus: How People of Color, Women, and Queer Christians are Reclaiming Evangelicalism by Deborah Jian Lee
- Samantha Field’s Blog
- Jesus for the Non-Religious by John Shelby Spong
- Working Through White Fragility and Spiritual Bypass
- How Evangelicals are Diluting their Faith for Power
- Why White Women Love Esther … but Ignore Zeresh
- So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
- Anything by bell hooks
- Anything by Angela Davis
- Anything by Te-Nehisi Coates
- …But I’m not Racist! Tools for Well-meaning Whites by Kathy Obear
- White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson
- The Lies My Teacher Told Me: What History Textbooks Got Wrong by James Loewen
- The Transgender Language Primer
- The Whipping Girl: A Transexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Feminism by Julia Serano
- Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People by Joan Roughgarden
- Let’s Queer Things Up by Sam Dylan Finch