My husband and I saw the signs. We knew what to look for, and we had diagnosed our son ourselves years before we felt the necessity to seek a formal, medical diagnosis. It was as if all these people and situations were highly contagious and I had now become infected. If I had not been so well informed on autism, then I never would have given birth to someone on the spectrum. There. Fleshed out in a sentence – cause and effect – in all its explicitness, it looks utterly ridiculous. And yet…there are times when we operate this way, aren’t there? If I pray a certain prayer, use special words, God will answer me….If I fall asleep praying, tomorrow will be ok… If I ignore a pain in my chest, it will go away… If I stop thinking about something bad, it will just disappear…. If I think about happy things, I won’t have problems… Have you ever felt yourself reverting back to humanity’s ancient cultural myths? Out of desperation, helplessness? The visceral takes over not because we are not intelligent enough, or faithful enough, but simply out of fear. It is the knee-jerk reaction of humanity to hedge our bets.
…Of course, the fact is that God did not bless me with a son with Asperger’s because I had accumulated enough autism run-ins, but rather he blessed me with the gift of preparation.
The problem with this view, though, is that it’s actually a heresy, or at least a seriously false teaching. Leithart again: “Americanism is a heresy; in certain respects it is simply idolatrous. Jesus, not James Madison, brought in the ‘new order of the ages.’” Indeed. To set our ultimate hope and give our ultimate fealty to anything other than Christ alone is false worship condemned by the first commandment, America included.
There are a myriad of reasons why this matters, as Leithart points out. Americanism of this type blinds us to America’s very real, human, failures and sins. Historically, we’re tempted to whitewash things like slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, or Manifest Destiny and the brutal, un-Christian treatment of the Native Americans (you know, the Canaanites standing in the way God’s New Israel.) What’s more, it has a tendency to blind us to some of the dark stains on our current foreign policy record such as consorting with tyrants for the sake of American just cause in the world.
The problem with Huckabee’s brand of American exceptionalism is that it’s idolatry, plain and simple. It’s crafting a god after our own image, turning our values into his values, and making our enemies into his enemies.
Monica Taffinder, a Christian counselor who specializes in trauma recovery, depression, anxiety, and sexual abuse recovery, argues that many pastors tend to be somewhat naïve when it comes to the probability that both victims and perpetrators exist within their church.
“I really think people don’t think that it happens in their congregation,” Taffinder told The Christian Post. “I mean, [pastors] know these people. They see these people. They go to dinner with these people. They worship with these people. I know they’re savvy enough to realize that there’s just as much as they don’t know people in their congregations as they do, but still.”
Abuse in church-going families is real. I’ve seen it firsthand. Sure, it’s excused as “headship,” and victimization is brushed aside as “submission,” but those are gross misinterpretations of Biblical concepts in order to justify the unjustifiable. God is not okay with abuse, and we Christians cannot condone such behavior with our silence.
“At least he didn’t take your virginity,” the leader of my Bible study group murmurs sympathetically, handing me a tissue to wipe away the tears brought on by my choked confession of a previous abusive relationship. I tense, mutter “that’s true,” and escape the conversation feeling just as broken and empty as before I worked up the courage to talk to her.
I have this conversation with three separate spiritual leaders at my Christian college, a roommate, and several close friends, and when they hear my ex-boyfriend never abused me sexually, their well-meaning first response always falls along similar lines: “It could have been worse—he could have raped you.” “At least he never laid a hand on you.”
I leave each conversation with none of the relief I expected, and each time, I spend a restless night staring at the walls of my dorm, wondering, Is my depression wrong because I was never sexually abused? and the more destructive, Maybe if he had taken my virginity, someone would listen to me.
“It could have been worse,” is never the right response to someone who has experienced abuse. Emotional abuse can lead to very long-term psychological damage, and we of the church should be providing a shelter for healing. Sometimes the most understanding thing to say is nothing at all. Just listen.
In a recent Facebook discussion, someone asserted that as long as we consider being Christians more important than being Americans, then our nationalism isn’t idolatrous. But it’s not that simple.
In the Bible, we find that the Israelites struggled with polytheism throughout the Old Testament. It wasn’t so much an outright rejection of Yahweh; it was a desire to worship Yahweh along with other gods. Or to make images to worship and call them Yahweh.
“I’m sorry for being white!” His comment glowed from the computer screen with such weight that for a moment it was as if it was etched there permanently. What, you may wonder, was the context of this comment? It was written on the Facebook wall of one of my congregants. It was written by her father in response to her trying to explain why Ferguson has been so painful for so many in the African-American community. I was truly in disbelief. He was once a Southern Baptist pastor.
What I wanted to write back, but didn’t is “Are you?” Are you sorry for being white? Or are you sick of having the privilege of your whiteness surfaced and challenged by the plight of my (our) collective “blackness?” Are you tired of “us” pointing out the obvious inequalities of our society? Should I, as a Creole, mixed-race, African American, Evangelical leader sit quietly by, not saying a word about what has transpired in Ferguson and many other cities so that your white daughter would not feel compelled to speak out and the comfort of your reality would remain.
This comment is filled with the type of sarcastic, defensive vitriol that has populated the Twitter timelines, Instagram feeds, and Facebook posts of so many white evangelicals. And it seems to capture the mindset of the majority. Note, I said majority, not all. I make that point to ensure that I (with my white wife, tri-racial children, and transcultural church) won’t be labeled here, as I have been in other places, a “racist,” “race-baiter,” or “divisive.”
This comment captures the very reason why many African Americans feel so alone in this, and why men like my friend and mentor Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile have had to call out our camp for being saved on silent. This comment, and others that seem to quickly jump to the defense of officer Wilson with disregard for the fact that a human life has been taken, creates a struggle in me that I must diligently work against: the belief that my white brothers and sisters simply don’t care about the African-American narrative in this country or they don’t believe it has enough value to be acknowledged.