Migration — Birds do it. Fish do it. Cells do it. And people do it. Oftentimes, life depends on it.
People migrate from one location to another for a lot of reasons — the old place isn’t inhabitable any more; they’re seeking freedom; they need more food sources.
We migrate from belief systems or thought-camps for the same sorts of reasons.
Gradually, over the past six to ten years, I’ve migrated.
For a long time I was camped out in right-wing, conservative, evangelical Christianity. I was pretty comfortable there. I knew the language. I’d been taught the beliefs. I knew all the right answers. For the most part, the voices around me all echoed the same ideas, the same beliefs. It was where I belonged. Home.
Then God moved me. God expanded my circle.
As I listened to people with different ideas, I realized that somebody could love God with all her heart, soul, and mind and approach an issue from a different perspective than I did. This challenged me immensely. It was like those multiple-choice test questions had all been changed to short-answer. You mean the answer isn’t either/or, black and white? There is nuance? Things can be both/and? Whaaaaaat?? This was crazy-talk!
I remember one particular time when I was probably 36 and I had listened to someone express her passionate beliefs about the necessity of welfare, completely based on her love for Jesus and other people and with the Bible as her foundation, and I walked away thinking, “Wow, God! She loves You just as much as my conservative, Bible-belt, Baptist, Republican friends do, yet she has come to totally different conclusions than they have!”
Another day, I was sitting in a large circle of women. The metal folding chairs spread out around the tiled floor of a church fellowship hall. It was a familiar place for me. Home.
We were studying Isaiah; and, for the most part, I was reading it through the same lens with which I had always studied the Bible. I grew up in a conservative Christian family and went to a conservative Christian college and settled into a conservative Christian church. I had read the Bible my whole life. I had listened to over 1800 sermons at that point in my life. Then the woman beside me spoke up in that discussion circle. This lady had met and fallen in love with Jesus later in life, and she came from a totally different background than I did. When she talked about what she saw in the passages of scripture, I saw my well-worn Bible pages with fresh eyes and new life.
This particular day, we were reading a passage in which God, through Isaiah, is warning the Israelites not to put their trust in strong armies. Isaiah reminds the people that God wants one hundred percent of their trust in Him and Him alone. Earlier in the study, we had read of God’s displeasure with Israel because they lacked compassion for those who were oppressed and disadvantaged. So suddenly, this lady beside me said something like this — I read this and I am thinking of our own nation. We spend such a huge percentage of our country’s money on our military, yet we have children starving and homeless. We turn a blind eye to the oppressed, but we spend a fortune on wars. Maybe if our country spent less on the military and fighting wars, instead trusting God, and we spent more on taking care of the oppressed, God would bless our country and protect us.
Whaaaaat? Nobody in my bubble talked like that! Was she using the Bible as the basis for her liberal ideas? This was a brand new concept for my brain to absorb!
As the GPS robot voice would say, “Rerouting. Rerouting.”
The migration had begun.
As my circle expanded, my compassion grew. It’s very difficult to other people you love. When we’re all in the circle of friendship and family, there stops being an Us and Them. We’re just a We.
My Christian friends from other countries showed me that a love for Jesus doesn’t have to be wrapped up in the American flag, that Christianity and capitalism are not conjoined, that the United States is not God’s chosen nation, that “pray for our troops” doesn’t reflect the heart of Jesus as much as “pray for everyone affected by war.”
The more I listened to Christians from other cultures and the more I studied the Bible, the more I inched away from the “God, guns, and ‘Merica” script of the right-wing. It is impossible to share Jesus’ heart for the world and maintain a strong sense of nationalism. It is impossible to put first the kingdom of God if we are putting first the kingdom of the United States.
I am grateful I was born in the United States, and I think our country is a fantastic place to live. However, I am not blind to our faults. And if I have to choose between fighting for my rights as a citizen of the United States and pointing other people to Jesus, I will pick the gospel any and every day of the week and twice on Sundays.
When we love others as ourselves, then we want for others what we want for ourselves. Grace. Acceptance. Belonging. Life. Wellness. Love.
So much of the right-wing, conservative, evangelical Christianity I was encamped in was rooted in a privileged, white, twentieth-century American lens. And the Jesus I love isn’t confined to that subset. Jesus isn’t about political power or imposed morality or legalistic outward appearances.
As I’ve watched outspoken right-wing, conservative, evangelical Christians for the past five years, I’ve been so disillusioned and disgusted. I cannot align with that camp. I have not been at home there for several years. Migration was necessary.
Because that brand of Christianity hypocritically supports Donald Trump fewer than 20 years after excoriating Bill Clinton. That brand of Christianity picks and chooses sins to battle over while ignoring the sins most written about in the Bible. That brand of Christianity celebrates Corrie Ten Boom and her brave faith during World War II while refusing to exercise that same sort of brave faith with modern-day refugees. That brand of Christianity quotes and celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr. yet dismisses the pain and frustration and oppression of black brothers and sisters across our country right now. That brand of Christianity endorses Donald Trump and makes excuses for him when what he says and does is against everything that Jesus teaches. That brand of Christianity ignores the oppressed and places faith in armies and walls and power, which is not at all representative of the heart of the God I know.
I am no longer at home among right-wing, conservative, evangelical Christians who seem to have grown cold in their love for Jesus and people. I don’t want to be guided by fear. I choose faith. And love. And life. And wide circles filled with people who don’t look exactly like me or believe exactly like me or speak exactly like me.
The old camp wasn’t inhabitable for me any more. I had to migrate.