When there was only a small handful of you late last spring, I wouldn’t have extended this invitation in a public forum, even anonymously, for fear of identifying you by specific details. But now, many months in, there are so many of you who have shared such similar stories that I am not in danger of outing your situation. Your numbers are legion, and you need to know that you are not alone.
In late-spring, when COVID numbers, hospitalizations, and deaths began to rise, your churches decided they were finished with the pandemic and resumed meeting in person. At best, they made mask wearing optional. At worst, they brazenly flaunted proven public health measures. These people who taught you to fiercely love your neighbors refused to make bold sacrifices for the good of their neighbors, all under the banner of “freedom.”
You couldn’t believe what you were seeing.
In late May your eyes were opened when a black man, just before his dying breath, called out for “Mama” with a white cop’s knee on his neck. You paired that story with one of a young black woman being shot in her bed, and of another black man being hunted down and shot by neighborhood vigilantes, and you got it. All the social media arguments from previous years, all the protests that you couldn’t quite understand, you finally received clarity. And you grieved and repented that it took video evidence to believe what people of color have been saying for generations.
Others around you did the same, such as your churches and pastors. For a moment, anyway. They realized they couldn’t let the moment pass. They reached out to their black pastor colleagues and began “unity coalitions.” They preached on love and against bigotry. Some of them even showed up to protests and vigils downtown. But then things became a bit much for them. When they couldn’t corral the conversations about injustice to fit their narrative of rare, individual sin, they bailed. The words “systemic” and “institutional” scared them away. They recoiled for many reasons, but mostly because it was an election year and they knew that one of the ways to change institutions and systems is to vote, and they knew bringing that up was approaching dangerous territory.
At this point they reflexively returned to their default positions. One of them even said, in a sermon, “Don’t give me a lecture about black lives mattering if you support abortion, which kills millions of black babies every year.” Even though you, yourself, have serious reservations about easy access to abortions in this country, your eyes were opened in that moment to the ways the unborn are used to shield us from other difficult conversations, and to excuse any number of atrocities committed by people we voted for.
Speaking of which.
In October your pastor resumed talking about politics in that cryptic, coded way they do that tries to make you think they aren’t actually talking about politics. But you knew. They preached about the sanctity of life. They talked about how you should support a platform, not a person, and you’ve been around long enough to decipher the code. You knew what lever they were telling you to pull.
In mid-November some of them talked about how the truth will finally be revealed and on January 6th they denounced violence “on all sides,” and you knew the implication of the words “all sides” was evasion of accountability. Around January 20 they returned to a theology that our hope is not in this world. They are telling you that you now have to speak out against this guy as much as you spoke out against that guy and, in so doing, they are gaslighting you into thinking the past four years simply didn’t happen.
Somewhere along the way, you had enough.
For some of you, it went like this. You believed the website or the bulletin or the person who told you “Here, ALL are welcome.” You breathed a sigh of relief because you have been captured by the story and life of Jesus, and you can’t imagine life without connection to others who have been equally enthralled by the man from Nazareth. Slowly, though, over time, you began to realize that some use the words “all” and “welcome” as a hook, but have a more restrictive understanding of those words than you do. Eventually you realized that “all” didn’t mean you or someone you love, and “welcome” came with conditions.
What you all have in common is this: You are seated alone in the rubble, grieving what you have lost.
We don’t say this enough, because I think we assume everyone already knows, but you need to know– There are more of us out here. You may have been a more recent addition to the army of the disillusioned, but you are not alone. Some of us have been here for a while. Some of us got here after a singular event, whiles others of us lingered in the old world longer than was advisable, hopeful that we didn’t have to lose all that we held dear.
We are sitting in front of screens on Sunday mornings, knowing its not the ideal way for God’s people to gather, but trusting that our collective sacrifice is worth it.
We are cracking open our Bibles again, with fear and trembling, trying to shed the lens of whiteness and privilege with which we had previously been taught to read it. We are trying to see it as a treasure book, not an answer book.
We don’t believe who you love, or who you know, deep down in your bones, yourself to be, should ever be seen as a “struggle,” but rather a gift to be celebrated.
We will never ask you to pretend that the last four years didn’t happen.
We believe Black Lives Matter. Immigrant Lives Matter. Trans Lives Matter. And once we finally make that a reality, then all lives will matter.
We don’t think you can have a “biblical worldview” without supporting sanctuary cities.
If you’ve been on the outside, we not only want you on the inside, we want you leading us.
We are high church, low church, emerging church, home church. Some of us can’t wait to sing Handel’s Messiah in person next year at Christmas, while others are most excited for traditional Wednesday night dinners and prayer services to resume. We meet in bars and in rooms decorated like Harry Potter houses.
Many lifetimes ago, before I found these tribes, I thought they were weird. Now I know them to be, but they are my people, and I think you’ll love them.
When I was younger, we talked about revival a lot. When I was in college, we were obsessed with it. We always believed it was just around the corner. This feeling of imminence usually occurred at the beginning of semesters, rarely right before finals. We had a hard time defining what it was, but in general it took on a feeling of a greater zeal for God. If we were honest with ourselves, it meant that more people would adopt a similarly narrow view of God that we had. Regardless, we were ready for it.
I haven’t said this in decades, but you know what? I feel a revival coming. If you know me, you know I don’t say shit like that lightly or without some degree of snark. I say it now with trepidation, but I believe it.
I believe it will come for those of you who have been left out and disillusioned. It will pass by those who have acted like the past year, the past four years, were normal times, and it will land on all who have been stunned by this passivity. You will dance and you will raise your hands and you will celebrate living in a New World. You will love and have fond feelings for those you leave behind, and you will continue to grieve the loss, but you won’t fear what is to come.