Braving My Wilderness

Gazing out from Bell Rock at beautiful Sedona, AZ

Have you ever walked away from someone or something for a season and wondered if you were really done and then something happens and it lets you know that you are definitely done?

I had that happen today. I have been on a journey the last four years that has been incredibly painful but also full of growth and hope and new opportunities. I always thought I would have written my way through it but there were a lot of things that kept me from doing so. 

One was my own self-imposed silence to preserve the peace or not offend. (Sidenote: I know there might be some who follow me on social media thinking, "that was you holding BACK??") And yes, it was. I fully give myself many kudos from not unleashing my inner dam upon humanity.  As a matter of record, I still don't go looking to do that, folks. But I also don't want to stay silent on things that matter to me because it may make someone else feel uncomfortable. (If you would like to keep your peace, click away. I won't be offended....honest.)

I have also been silenced by others. Well-meaning people (and some not so well-meaning) have told me that what I thought was wrong, misinformed, not led by the Spirit, immature, not the time or place, and many other things. I got the message. I should just be quiet.

But my silence has come at such a high personal cost. The price tag has been my own integrity and the silencing of my own inner voice that I have KNOWN was connected to the Spirit. So, I shut it down for the most part. There are books I could have written. Poems I should have written. Definitely letters I should have written (and probably sent). But I have not. 

I have not been silent about the fact that I am no fan of Donald Trump. His integration and acceptance into the White evangelical church has been of the utmost confusing and disturbing to me over the last five years. The intertwining of Moral Majority politics, Christo-Nationalism, acceptance of degradation against women, the LGBTQ community and BIPOC led me away from the institution I grew up in because I will not remain part of a place/group that not only allowed Trump and all that he brings with him inside but warmly welcomed him. I don't think I will ever get over this. It's been one of the great heartbreaks of my life.

But today I cannot be silent. I am deeply grieved. I am outraged. And I am done. 

Today is Tuesday, June 23rd. Today is also the day Donald J. Trump flew across the country during a world pandemic -- where the numbers in the U.S. keep rising out of control to a state that is one of the hot spots of the country. 

Did he fly there to offer aid, to rally the healthcare workers, or to provide inspiration and hope for a nation on the brink of economic and medical disaster?

He did not. He flew there to speak at a rally. A political rally. It was not a Trump rally per se, but he was very much welcomed as the keynote speaker and for all intents and purposes he intended to and did use it to advance himself politically. He also used it to stoke the fires of racism and hate by continuing to use the highly offensive and racist term, "K*ng Flu." (Sidenote: I watched snippets of the video but could not watch the entire thing. I can't stomach listening to him speak. I don't know if it's an actual thing, but he gives me Authoritarian PTSD)

Not only did he spew this and more, but he did it in front of a group of children. Yes. This rally was for the Conservative group, Turning Point Action which is now affiliated with or becoming Students for Trump. This is a group that is hooked in with the Christian Republican Moral Majority machine. These young attendees are the true believers and defenders of the "Conservative Christian Way of Life."

It physically pains me to see him whip up hate against the mainstream media who were in attendance today. In a church. Encouraging Christ-following children to boo a group of people made in the image of God. In. A. Church.

I am appalled. I am angry and I am also sadly not very surprised. 

Because all of this today happened in a church in Phoenix. An Assemblies of God church -- the denomination that I was born and raised into.

The church said that they didn't know that Trump was coming until after they booked the event. They said that the rental of their facility does not mean endorsement of a political view blah, blah, blah. They said someone in their church invented a machine that will kill COVID and a now-deleted video stating it's safe to attend, (Sidenote: It does not and it was not. Science continues to win out.) It is hard for me to see all those precious young people (estimated to be 3,000 souls) packed in that auditorium with nary a mask in sight.

And, the very worst of it is I know in my gut that the pastors and leaders of that church are THRILLED to have Trump there in their church. They are bursting with pride. They believe in what he is selling. Their students are part of Turning Point/Students for Trump. He is them. They are him.

I know that this is going to ruffle some feathers of friends and family who are a part of the A/G and who will see my comments as being disloyal, disgruntled, and probably more. My intention is not to attack you or make you feel protective of something you have membership in. I need you to hear that. I can love you and be your friend/family member and not agree about what is happening with the Church and Donald Trump in the USA. Please believe me when I say this. I am not trying to take down the Assemblies of God. But I see her for what she has become and I cannot unsee.

The denomination found its roots in the Azusa Street Revival movement in Azusa, CA in 1906 where Black preachers, female evangelists, the poor and even children found a welcome home and a place to worship together. Out of that place, a Pentecostal movement was born that unfortunately fractured quickly into many splinter groups. The A/G was one such splinter that I was born into in 1973. Over the decades I have seen it continue to grow into a group of people desperate for respectability. Tired of being viewed mocked as snake-handling and chandelier-hanging holy rollers, they wanted to be mainstream. And it came at a cost.

My experience in these spaces is one where White Maleness is centered. Not many Black people are in the crowd. There is a streak of White colonization that needs to be examined and addressed. LGBTQ+ people are firmly not affirmed or welcomed. (Sidenote: The A/G spurned Bobby Burke of Queer Eye fame. Bobby Burke, who is doing holy work on that show!) Although women can be and are ordained in the denomination, they are few and far between. Women are not given high-level leadership roles beyond the usual children's pastor or women's ministry leadership roles. "Biblical gender roles" and complementarianism are very much taught. And upon recently seeing a photo of the national leadership, both they and the local leadership is sadly lacking diversity even in 2020 -- over 100 years after Azusa Street. 

I am so sad at what I see when I look at the denomination that raised me. Because she also made me who I am today. She gave me a sense of belonging, taught me how to stand up for the marginalized and oppressed, to love without expectations or requirements, to understand my giftings and personality as given by God, the opportunity to sing and train my voice, a community, the support to get an education, a beautiful start in my marriage and motherhood blessed with things for our home and life, biblical knowledge, and teaching, and so much more. I am grateful for these things.

But with the good, I also received the bad. And these are things that I won't go into in this piece because it's not the focus. 

The focus is that I so desperately want the denomination that raised me to do better. 

It's been the saddest and deepest cry of my heart for a long time and more insistently the last five years. I know she is capable of so much more than she is right now. Her roots are inclusivity and access to all. Her roots are humble and poor. Her roots are loving embraces, healing touches, and timely Divine words spoken to a soul in need. 

And so, sadly, I have had to walk away from her because she is none of these things to me any longer. And yet, I hold out hope that she could be these things once again. She taught me that no one and nothing is unredeemable. Yes, even Donald J. Trump. But until that day comes, I'll be out braving the wilderness (thanks Brene Brown) with the other orphans, exiles, and weirdos.

I've found a home out here.

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