Category Archives: religion

I’m Liberal, I’m Religious, I’m Here.

I got a subscription to The Atlantic in the wake of the 2016 election to support high-quality independent journalism and all that, and though I love reading things in print, the magazines have been sitting under my coffee table until the last week or so when I decided to play catch-up. And, as inevitably happens lately when I start consuming media, the newly religious part of me heaved a long, exasperated sigh at yet another mischaracterization. And, not for the first time, I decided to reach out and write something. Is this going to be a thing forever? I think this is going to be a thing forever.

I just read Peter Beinhart’s “Breaking Faith” article in the April 2017 issue, and I wanted to comment. Beinhart seems preoccupied with voter “discontent,” so much so that he seems to ignore where the presidential candidates stood on the basic political spectrum. Republicans presented a far-right candidate in 2016, one whose rhetoric did happen to clash against the messages of love, acceptance, and forgiveness that are preached weekly from many pulpits in the U.S. Hillary Clinton was just left enough of center to get Millennial liberals like me begrudgingly on board, but Bernie Sanders’ politics represented the changes that we really wanted to see – the changes that the Democratic party has been too afraid to put forward, and that the party didn’t have to risk putting forward in 2016 when the opposition was so far to the right. We didn’t necessarily agree with his Sanders’ populist rhetoric, but we wanted his policies.

And so did liberal faith communities, like the Catholic church I recently joined. You don’t hear much about these faith communities – and certainly, positing the appeal of organized religion to “the values of hierarchy, authority, and tradition” only marginalize these voices further – but they exist, and their social teachings align more with Sanders’ vision of America than with any other vision that was presented by candidates in 2016. For many in my faith community, our discontent doesn’t stem from personal economic loss, or from anxiety over the erosion of some construct of tradition. Instead, our discontent comes from the presence of income disparity, poverty, homophobia, racism, sexism, Islamophobia, lack of access to health services, and other injustices that continue to exist in this country, injustices that are in direct contrast with our most important value: love. Sanders seemed the most committed of all the candidates to the eradication of injustice and thus to the spread of love.

Sanders is a revolutionary voice, but he’s not the only one. Pope Francis is another controversial, outspoken leader working towards equality. You’d probably find a correlation between Catholics who strongly support Pope Francis and those who strongly support Sanders. And didn’t that Jesus guy hold some pretty radical beliefs about equality, too?

I want people to know that I exist, that “liberal” and “religious” are not diametrically opposed, and in my opinion shouldn’t be opposed. That my journey to faith made me more liberal. That my faith is completely intertwined with every aspect of my life, like my work, my economic decisions, even my politics. Especially my politics.

The religious right does not have a monopoly on religion, but the use of the term “religious right” in liberal-leaning circles has essentially made “religious” a synonym for “right.” Or for “textual literalist,” or “traditionalist,” or “anti-abortion,” or “anti-gay marriage,” or a number of other things that do not describe me or my views, or the views of many of those in my faith community.

My community includes health professionals who are happy about the availability of reliable birth control in high-poverty countries, and parents who are fighting for their LGBT sons and daughters to be not only acknowledged, but expressly welcomed by church hierarchy. My priest openly speaks about how the Church needs to start including women and gave an impassioned homily about it on Mother’s Day. My husband, who has been reading Dorothy Day and getting interested in the radical-sounding Catholic Worker movement, has recently started identifying himself as a “Catholic leftist” because the term “liberal Catholic” isn’t left-leaning enough for him. This is the left, and it is the religious left. We exist.

11.12.16

As a Christian, I am heartbroken. Being a disciple of Christ means working within oneself to extend compassion and love to all human beings and especially to vulnerable people – in 2016 United States that means refugees, women, religious and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ, mentally ill, the homeless, the undocumented. Being a Christian to me means possessing a responsibility to make this world a better place for all people in it, not just people who are like me. And this country, one that claims so many other followers of Christ and worshipers of the God who is pure love, has spoken out and voted in defense of myopic self-interest at best, and at worst, the opposite of love: hatred, bigotry, sexism, and xenophobia.

That’s how  I updated my Facebook status on Wednesday, the day after the election. Before this week, I’d sign onto Facebook maybe once a month or so. Since Wednesday, though, I’m on it constantly and putting up multiple posts per day, reading news articles people link to and checking their statuses. I’ve been on Facebook more in the past four days than in the past year. The first day or two were posts like mine, which encouraged me to post my own. Saddened that bigotry won. Unbelieving. Angry and fearful for the LGBT and Muslim and Black and Latino people in their lives. I hoped I’d wake up Wednesday morning, Thursday morning, and it would all be a dream and go away. I felt empty inside, like I had lost something very dear to me. And I had: I’d lost my belief that good would prevail in America, and that we as a nation would act in the best interest of everyone who lived here. After the grief (or rather, concurrent with the grief) came posts about how to fight his policies. How to get active in politics, organizations to donate time and money to, Change.org petitions for the electoral college to follow the popular vote, rallies and marches and community conversations to attend. I donated to Sierra Club and ACLU and shared my story with Planned Parenthood and urged my Facebook followers to do the same. I attended a peaceful protest last night in New Haven, and read the notes for a community conversation that I missed.

The Facebook conversations are changing now to report violence and hate-filled actions. The friend of a friend, an academic in South Philly, had her car keyed and “it’s our pussy now, bitch” or something like that carved into it. Black students in the area of PA where I get up are being bullied and called names. Teachers’ students have gone from asking if their parents will be deported to reporting classmates telling them that their parents will be deported. Somebody opened fire on a protest in Portland. And Donald Trump is silent on the violence that has been condoned by his speech over the past year and that people feel they can come out and say now that he’s won the election.

I understand how the whole “Make America Great Again” message could have resonated. It’s the same reason folks got swept up in Obama’s “Yes We Can” eight years ago. And I treat it with the same deep skepticism that I did Obama’s 2008 campaign. It’s an empty promise with no real path forward. But anyway, Trump was a break from politics as usual, and I know lots of people voted for him as a protest against Hillary Clinton. And in a normal election, protest votes are usually fine. But you can’t deny the racist, sexist underpinnings of his speech, and I cannot forgive those non-racist, non-sexist Trump voters for implicitly giving the green light to the ones who are spray painting swastikas and saying “you’re next” to brown men and women. Especially since his racist and sexist rhetoric was always 1) illegal or 2) unconstitutional. The young, college educated Republicans I know believe the Constitution is a near-sacred document, but lots of them came out and voted for a candidate that doesn’t seem to give a lick about the Constitution. And who endorses racist practices and sexually assaults women. And is a fascist.

I also can’t forgive myself for not fighting harder than I did. I thought we had this. The “sensible” people I talk most with, and the media I consume, told me they and others were going to come out and vote against Trump. I thought I had done my part by participating in social justice stuff at my church and letting some people know about it, posting my photos of a service trip to Nicaragua and sharing a fundraiser link right before our Syrian refugee family came over in July. I should have talked to my grandmothers about how sweet and polite the kids are, and how the parents are desperate to learn English and find work, and how they have shown immense gratitude and hospitality to me and members of my church. I shouldn’t have worried about appearing holier-than-thou if I talked about it. I should have checked the box for ‘Democrat’ instead of ‘Unaffiliated’ when I registered in March so I could vote in the primaries and get on mailing lists to help make phone calls and canvas my town. I should have tried to talk more with my stepdad about what I encountered in Black neighborhoods in Philly, Chicago, and New Haven. I should have convinced my apolitical mom to go out and vote. I should have pushed people to recognize the racist code underpinning some of the phrases they’ve picked up from the political sphere. I should have checked in with my liberal friends and made sure they were registered to vote.

I didn’t though, and now this election started a fire in me to start fighting back as hard as I can. I need to keep that anger to propel me, because once I start waking up in the morning and I don’t feel that burning inside right away, once I no longer want to shout with my husband about injustice, I still need to keep this fight going. For at least the next four years, and throughout my life. It’s only the last two or three years of my life that I’ve realized the sort of power that I have, that I can be the change I want to see in the world. Now it’s time to stand up and do it.