I have watched the new era of our democracy unfold while harboring intense reserves of both fear and anguish. Like most of my friends, I’ve found it nearly impossible to escape the weight of sadness that comes with knowing that 81 percent of my white Christian counterparts chose to elect a Presidential candidate who was openly and enthusiastically endorsed by the KKK. I am not sure whether I am more bothered by their indifference to the sheer racism of their choice, or by the implications that arise concerning their understanding of the Gospel. Whatever the case, I am brimming with emotion about it. And yet, I have been silent—quietly afraid that I might not find a constructive way to express my anger, and fully paralyzed by an inability to gather the right words.
In my times of reflection, I have pondered the implications of sharing a “big tent” with religious people whose “literal” interpretation of the Bible somehow fails to capture the bare essence of what Jesus found most important: Justice for the oppressed, care for the sick, a welcome for the stranger, and an upending of systems that perpetuate injustice. A religion – my religion – which burst forth from the hearts and imaginations of a people desiring a world closer to God’s dream has become a monster of nightmares. Perplexed by all of this, I wondered aloud in a series of conversations with a clergy friend: How does one fight for justice from within a philosophy that has itself become oppressive? How does one fight Empire with empire?
After those conversations, I found myself at dinner with two other black women, each involved in justice efforts, and both writers. We talked about the soul of the catholic Christian movement and the soul of the black church. We talked about what it means to exist within a faith that requires so much soul searching. Inside a few hours of healing, sisterhood and lament, we dreamed together about what our religion might be in the world if oppressors within our faith took seriously this Jesus thing, this invitation to a way of discipleship that called an ancient generation to challenge its own ideologies. We agreed into the wee hours of the night that Christians have sided with oppressive ideologies in every generation, and that in every generation, this has caused a movement of visionaries to birth a new standard for radical love. And then we went home, a bit more whole and very grateful to have received a reminder from the Universe that we are not solitary contenders for the faith.
I knew after those conversations that I had endured a traumatic experience during the election cycle. I had been exposed to a harsh truth about my faith, quantifiable by a number: 81 percent — and I had witnessed the unveiling of Christianity’s great imperative: the imperative to end its own racism. This trauma had somehow changed my understanding of what God requires of me, of Christianity, of all of us.
Trauma always changes the survivor, and it always requires the survivor to ask themselves: Who am I now? Who am I now that the pain is unavoidably present, now that the world is different and now that a new truth is evident to me? Who am I?
Now that the world has changed, I painfully consider daily: Who am I in this religion? Who am I now that the world is different today from what it was yesterday? Who am I?
And I do so while desperately hoping that my religion – deeply steeped in racism and undeniably oppressive on many fronts – will also examine itself and ask: Who are we?
Crystal St. Marie Lewis is a writer and speaker whose interests include religion, liberal and liberation theology, secularization and the world in which we live. An advocate for inter-religious dialogue, Crystal earned her Master of Theological Studies degree (focus: World Religions) at Wesley Theological Seminary and a graduate certificate in Muslim/Christian Dialogue via the Washington Theological Consortium. Her book about finding faith after fundamentalism, “By the Waters of Babylon: A Collection of Doubter’s Devotions,” is available on Amazon. Please be sure to follow Crystal on Twitter and Facebook.