I converted to Christianity my sophomore year of college after taking a class on Christian ethics. Having been raised without religion and being queer (although I’ve been varying degrees of “out” even to myself over the years), I’d assumed faith was not for me, unless it fell under some nebulous heading like “spiritual but not religious.” There were times I felt the spirit moving through me, but because of my background and secular humanist values, I would not have used that language to describe the sensation, which I largely wrote off as irrationality, just me talking to myself. Like most Americans on the left, I conflated Christianity with conservatism, with homophobia, transphobia, white nationalism, and the entrenched belief that poor people, lacking initiative, exploit those without this defect.
Christian Ethics in Modern Society, as the course was called, exposed me to a diverse range of Christian thought. I learned about Walter Rauschenbusch and the Social Gospel movement of the early twentieth century, the activism of Dorothy Day, read MLK’s writing on the evils of capitalism and war, studied the liberation theology of Oscar Romero and Gustavo Gutierrez. I learned that God did not, in fact, belong to the Republican Party, that there was a long and beautiful lineage of faithful progressives like the Archbishop Desmond Tutu who, since his instrumental role in overthrowing apartheid, has campaigned for LGBT rights. Most importantly, I read the words of Jesus himself. Caring for the marginalized, universal and unconditional compassion, self-sacrifice, working to invert systems of oppression to bring about a better world: these were the values I already held.
I learned that God did not, in fact, belong to the Republican Party...
Many conservative Christians believe following Jesus is incompatible with leftist politics. The conciliatory phrase “God does not belong to a political party” has become popular. But I disagree. God says, repeatedly, in the Bible, that they are a God who chooses sides: not between arbitrary nation-states or sports teams, but between the rich and the poor. I do not believe that someone can be a Republican and a true follower of Jesus unless they have shown an actual sustained commitment to helping marginalized people through the private sector. Otherwise, their political affiliation is not based on disagreements as to the proper role of government, but on dehumanizing and othering people who, like them, are made in the image of God.
Because I am bisexual and Trans, and not celibate, I have had conservative Christians tell me I am not a real Christian, that I am “cherry picking” God’s truth to serve myself. Beyond the absurdity of taking literally a collection of disparate historical documents that contradict themselves and have been doctored over the millennia, this argument is blatantly hypocritical. Paul Ryan is not giving his wealth away to the poor as Matthew exhorts him to do. Conservatives by and large are not treating the foreigner as a native, remembering the treatment God’s people received in Egypt. Christians who support Black Lives Matter are told that they are being too “political,” as if anti-racism were a distraction from personal sin and salvation, as if the spiritual can be divorced from the material, historical and collective, as if it is political to care about the murder of innocents, but Christian to rescind health care coverage for those who most need it, to demonize Muslims, and psychologically scar queer people.
The gulf between those who purport to be Christians and those actually enacting the message of the Gospels deeply saddens me.
Ironically, it’s the demographic pejoratively referred to as SJWs (aka social justice warriors, although I’m not sure why caring about justice has taken on such a negative connotation) who are fighting the hardest to bring about God’s kingdom, to create a world in which the least are first. SJWs are also the demographic most jaded by and hostile to a faith that, co-opted by capitalism, nationalism and hate, has hurt so many. Conservative Christians continue to alienate the younger generation, pushing them further away from faith and the healing power of God’s grace. When I am exhausted and confused, when I feel like I will never be enough, Jesus’s unconditional love suffuses me with warmth and allows me to both forgive and hold myself accountable.
While unlike many Christians I don’t see other faiths as false or lesser manifestations of the spirit, and I believe firmly in a religious pluralism that includes atheism, the gulf between those who purport to be Christians and those actually enacting the message of the Gospels deeply saddens me. The irony is that those following Jesus by their actions — those who care about injustices that don’t directly affect them, who are willing to estrange themselves from friends and family for the sake of something greater — most resent God’s son, who in their minds wears the oppressor’s face. If the devil is at work in the world today, he is speaking through Donald Trump and others like him, commanding us against treating foreigners as natives, against caring for widows and children in their distress, against seeing the image of God in the most marginalized. We must listen carefully and see this perversion of God’s word for what it is, so as not to become demons.
Jason Phoebe Rusch is a queer, non-binary trans writer from the Chicago suburbs. He has a BA in history from Princeton University and an MFA in fiction from University of Michigan, where he was a Zell Fellow and received several Hopwood awards. His poetry has appeared in Luna Luna, his essays in Bust magazine, World Policy Journal online, Entropy magazine and The Mighty and his screenplay Banana Rat was a finalist in the 2010 Zoetrope contest. His work is also forthcoming in Civil Coping Mechanism’s A Shadow Map anthology.
Top photo: Jesus in Dieppe, via Wikimedia Commons
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