Saving your kid from the God of your childhood…

(This could not be more different from my food content, but sometimes you run into something you have to put out there and see where it goes.)

Sunday was Father’s Day. I’m 48 and my daughter is 5. I like to think the huge age gap allows me to have an even deeper appreciation of the love I have for her as I watch her grow, and that hopefully it adds some wisdom while watching her get older in a world that could not be more different than the one when I was her age. Her awareness is a learning curve for us. She doesn’t miss anything that’s new, different, or out of place. She’s the popular kid among the pre-K crowd. Her kindness that’s rooted in total honesty and innocence is inspiring. Those are the things you want a kid to hang onto longer than anything else. As she begins asking bigger questions that become more and more difficult to answer or explain simply, you still just hope none of it starts to chip away at that pure goodness. You want to protect your kids for as long as possible, but you also don’t want to drill simplistic answers to life’s biggest questions into their heads just to make it easier on yourself. Between her Christian daycare and my former life in ministry, plus her imminent entry into “big kid school” coupled with my hair-trigger instinct to protect with extreme prejudice…the dichotomies and the self-discovery as a father have barely begun. She won’t be the same kid a year from now as she is today. It seems dreadful, but it’s okay. As a species it happens billions of times over, but that doesn’t do a lot to ease the anxiety inside this nanosecond in the universe.

 

I’m a dad but I’m more specifically a white, suburban, middle aged, middle class dad who doesn’t want to rest on his privilege and blend into the scenery as the world goes through gigantic changes. I think that as a person I’m as good as I’ve ever been…not sure how much that truly says about me. I’ve embodied a pretty wide spectrum of “bad guy” at different times in my life, but wherever my “goodness” falls on the current spectrum I have to credit my little family, a pretty good support program, and the ability to acknowledge when I’m wrong along with a willingness to learn. When I was getting people to pledge their souls to their creator while I lived however I wanted, I was a much different man than I am now. When I pieced together no more than 2 sober days at a time over fifteen years, I was a much different man than I am now as well. Religion and drugs both tend to offer the fastest, simplest answers to life’s biggest questions. That can be comforting. Both can improve the quality of life, but when used without limits or accountability they can both become blinding, isolate, create chaos, alienate, and destroy. I’ve ridden them both to the limits of sanity and what the human body can withstand. I could just chalk it up to living and learning, put a shine on it, and move on altogether. If I did that though, I feel like I’d be ignoring big parts of what made me who I am now. Among a million other things, poorly applied religion is a big part of who I am. Highly unlikely survival due to epic excess is another big part.

 

When it comes to my five-year old’s spiritual and social development, I can’t really lead with my standard “fat or divorced people playing the Jesus card on homosexuals is the zenith of hypocrisy” or “this is why daddy doesn’t keep Listerine in the house”. By the time I was seven I was petrified of screwing up and missing the rapture, and I’m here to tell you there is such a thing as “too much” of God’s love. Uneducated white guys whose livelihood depends upon you following the rules are not the most reliable. So forty plus years later, with a keen grasp on the concept of my own mortality, and a deep distrust for any church where people raise their hands, what are my big-ticket items to pass along to the kid? What are the green and red lights I need to monitor during her elementary socialization? For me I go back to my early twenties for what I consider my first real white guy lessons-learned moment. When I was growing up the most unspeakably horrible thing on earth was abortion. Immediately after that was homosexuality. So between church and sheltered, hetero midwestern culture all my life, a move to Minneapolis for Bible college represented a seismic cultural shift. It’s gay as hell, that Minneapolis. Long story short, I could either hole up at the college with all of the terrified homeschooled kids and pretend the real (6000 year old) world didn’t exist, OR I could venture out and explore the types of art, music, and culture that I loved. So, you know, a couple of years of being shoulder to shoulder with the gays quickly teaches you that they are people and that none of them are out to trick you into an amyl-nitrate fueled night in the basement of The Eagle (because you are soooooo irresistible). They suddenly became people, and that included trashing the entire religious concept I grew up with that made me special and them hell bound for being who they are. Teaching a kid to value individuals, without pre-programmed judgmental religious baggage, is a good thing. A summary of MY teaching was – “Hell is full of nice people, kid. Sorry about basically everyone on the planet who didn’t happen to be born into our narrow version of this religion in this specific period of history.”  You have no idea how hard a road it was, and how much damage I did to people, until I realized how ignorant and cowardly that was.

 

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Photo Credit: Washington Post

 

I hammer on Christian fundamentalism a lot. It’s my thing. I’m my own echo chamber 99% of the time I’m sure. And look, I’ve still got plenty of church folk in my family, and I love them, they’re my family and my daughter needs to know her family. The only person I’d throat punch on sight isn’t even related to me. I think we all have healthy boundaries; family time isn’t something I actively avoid. But over the decades I’ve watched major church leaders I grew up to blindly respect and never question turn into exactly what I predicted when I took my exit. 81% of their congregations voted for a man who embodies every single aspect of secular life that I was warned against upon pain of eternal damnation. I don’t have the time to recap “whataboutism” but look it up. And look up cognitive dissonance and false equivalence while you’re at it. Those things are at the core of evangelical culture. They supersede all Biblical principles. Abortion exists, and Donald Trump gives lip service to the issue, therefore there are no limits to what else he can do and still count on the evangelical vote. Homeless vets exist, therefore there is no liberal social cause deserving of attention (except abortion!) until there are no more homeless vets. Deflection is key to avoiding the thing that terrifies them most: change. I grew up believing everything could be broken down into a black or white scenario. It’s good or it’s evil, it’s heaven or it’s hell, it’s legal or it’s illegal. Asking about, or making a case for, the grey areas was a slippery slope to disobedience or “losing your walk with God”. Higher education, even at a Bible college, made me immediately suspect by the elders in my church. Learning to preach didn’t require college, hearing the voice of God in the shower didn’t either. All they did in those colleges was make you question your (profanely ignorant version of) faith and challenge systems that kept people obedient and dedicated to the church. Being open to anything other than a straight Republican ticket during every single election was the same as saying “I support a holocaust of the unborn”.  Just going with the flow is easy, comforting, reassuring, and a confirmation that God is God, the law is the law, it’s not Adam and Steve, they’re not migrants they’re illegal aliens (because the law is still the law unless you can claim deeply held CHRISTIAN belief), etc. etc. Easy answers to life’s biggest questions that can be shrunk down to bumper sticker size…that is the goal. All thinking has been done before it is passed on to you.

 

I know junkies, and junkie behavior is the closest parallel I can draw. Conservative evangelical life is a constant hyper-emotional existence; a manufactured high from the “spirit of God” acts as a counterpoint to the fear and anger that is wielded with a masturbatory level of lust as the darkness and evil of the modern age is interpreted for you by your pastor and Fox News. The spirit of this world is so dark, and so dangerous and evil, that you have to treat it like a war. You are super, extra important. Extreme highs and extreme lows. Black and white. Anything that falls outside of those extremes is either ignored, explained away, or forced to fit into that model to feed the cycle. When you see people with the “I thank Jesus for Donald Trump” signs, or the pastors outfitting their children with MAGA gear, this is them. They are the most misguided and desperate individuals on the planet, and the more you trash them the more convinced they are that they are on the right track. They have a Spurgeon quote for EVERYTHING.

 

So back to the kid thing…when the religious questions get more complicated, what do you use as your guide? The million different variations on “THE WORD OF GOD THAT’S WHAT!” that fly through my brain when I ask the question is not the answer. But the question is way outside the scope of stuff like- how to handle mean little boys or never forcing her to hug someone. I don’t want to scare her, trick or manipulate her, or instill judgmentalism disguised as discernment. I’m fine with the spirituality that is part of my program, it’s no big deal to me to not be part of an organized church. But I don’t want to discourage her or poison it for her should she seek it out at some point.  I can look out for her- I’m not sending her off to a vacation Bible school I haven’t vetted or send her to some charismatic non-denominational church with another family because her little friend from school would not. shut. up. about it. But I also can’t make her live vicariously through my experiences. I don’t want her to learn the coded language that is still hardwired inside of me, with the cookie-cutter application of misunderstood and misused Bible quotes. That’s programming, not development. And I say that with a lifetime of “Don’t you fear for your relatives who will spend eternity in hell if you don’t convince them of the truth?” under my belt. Irrational fear can’t be the driver though. Fear isn’t honest. If Hell is a big child development tool for you, you’re broken and possess zero grace. Your faith is nothing more than getting even with people…it’s the Golden Rule with nasty baggage.

 

Sorry, I know I’m jumping back and forth and covering a lot of the same ground. I guess it was the Biblical justification the White House used this week to explain separating children from their families that set this off. I’m not going to dive into that subject specifically, but it is one symptom of what makes conservative evangelical culture something I believe will die off once the baby boomers are gone. It will morph into more of a white nationalist movement in order to attract the younger fundamentalists  the boomers leave behind. Right now it exists as an arm of the Republican party, and is led by people who enforced or grew up in a culture where asking too many questions is considered dissent.  Non-Christian tactics are encouraged if there is some “greater good”…the end absolutely justifies the means. These are people who are satisfied punishing the world into finally submitting to a cult-like version of Christianity. SUSPICIOUSLY they always seem to arrive at conclusions that in no way challenge what they already believed. They make zero sacrifices but are thrilled to make the difficult decisions for everyone else. Like junkies they have no limits. They only want more, and there is no shortage of talking heads to help rationalize their hypocrisy. The liberals are such a threat to the existence of America that it would be foolish not to espouse whatever disastrous and evil agenda it takes keep a majority. They don’t love any version of America where they are not in control.

GOP 2016 Trump

(Credit: AP Photo/John Bazemore)

In my experience, what I describe is comprised of two types of people; the cheerleaders and head bowers. The cheerleaders proudly align themselves with anything Donald Trump says and does simply because he isn’t Obama. They truly have convinced themselves that their white Christian supermajority became “the forgotten people” who are under constant attack, and they live in constant fear pretending it is vigilance. The belief is that the all-encompassing love of Jesus they pretend to have, and the allegiance they have to unfettered capitalism at all costs (minus abortions) are not mutually exclusive. In reality it’s just a twisted form of nationalism that makes them the textbook example of a hypocrite, a reprobate mind, someone unequally yoked to unbelievers, lukewarm, and double minded. Fake smiles and proclamations of Jesus’ love masks their appetite for cruelty and revenge. They are proud to act in ways they believe have been used against them now that they have a political majority, and they are defensive (think of Franklin Graham, Huckabee, or Pence if you need a quick example). They memorize Fox News talking points like scripture in order to prove they aren’t exactly the same as their enemies. But they are worse than their enemies. Their enemies (anyone who isn’t as dedicated to Trump and Jesus) don’t pretend to have the almighty on speed dial, yet spend 99% of their waking hours engaged in partisan, secular political shilling disguised as patriotism or Christianity. I know many of these people, and they are the absolute worst. They preach love, but revel in the pain of their enemies (they call it loving the sinner and hating the sin). They love how Trump will “tell it like it is” on topics like shithole countries, but play the victim if what they refer to as “the so-called tolerant left” calls them out. They are used to the privilege of being an unchallenged majority, and inevitable cultural shifts terrify them. At their core, they’ll allow for anything that keeps a conservative, white, male-dominated, Christian worldview in power. Other races and religions are allowed, as long as they know their place. If you are someone prone to quoting Spurgeon and immediately follow it up with divisive garbage from Tucker Carlson or Sean Hannity, you are the person I’m describing, and I don’t like you. If you use Facebook to share daily devotions and hop over to Twitter to push your twisted political philosophy in an echo chamber, I honestly believe that you are an evil person. You will choose ruling by force over accountability to your own faith every single time. It’s un-American, anti-Christian, and cowardly. You’re just a cheerleader. A remorseless liar. If hell does exist, it was created for people like you. You are the reason for the failure of your movement, not the mythical “powers and principalities circling your encampment”.

 

The head bowers support the same exact system, but they make it like kicking a puppy to call them out. They are quiet, hopeful, sweet, and…..wait for it…….abortion is, ONCE AGAIN, absolutely enough for them to vote republican every single time without question or hesitation. Babies are so precious! Everyone just focus on THAT! The preciousness! I got eighty-five prayer chains! Haven’t missed a church service since Bush #1! No lie, I’ve even had one sainted older lady tell me, “My husband says honey just put a check next to the R’s when you vote.” They find their faith in the day to day and are what you think of when you picture solid Christian folk. Real Norman Rockwell stuff. Honestly, I could hang around with zero drama, even though they are the poster children for the phrase “Not ALL Christians!” (the ultimate phrase for dodging any action that might rock the boat). Politics never comes up. If they aren’t directly impacted, they choose to do and say nothing. The only big religious discussion is usually in reference to some illness or issue they credit the Lord for solving. How can you not be like “Well way to go!” The big problem is that their laser focus allows the organization to which they belong to go in any direction decided by the cheerleaders. Keeping an eye on heaven and sending timber up for Jesus to build your mansion is a great way to live in denial. This is a textbook case of what happens “when good men do nothing”. They can’t bank on the rapture happening anytime soon, but they do. There’s a good chance their grandchildren are going to live a full life in the world they are helping to create for them, and their leaders consistently make choices that history has proven to be evil time and time again. Sorry, but you can’t use “the lesser of two evils” logic to justify your stance. Evil only becomes more evil. They are already supporting leaders that would make their parents and grandparents roll over in their graves. They sold off their moral high ground for political ease and to avoid confrontation or negative attention. The head bowers are big on personal testimonies and pride themselves on how their faith has gotten them through every obstacle humans experience. Why would standing up for what’s right instead of just following along be any different? They will let faith cost them everything but the ease and comfort of just blending in. The all-male power structure is one heck of an enforcer, any politician with an “R” next to their name can literally own them.

 

No matter how strongly I’m stating things or how outrageous and hurtful it sounds to ol’ time religion practitioners, I don’t come up with any of this out of a vacuum. I know I’m considered backslidden, or that I blasphemed the Holy Spirit or something. I’m the ex-minister who went on to sell porn. But this was my life for a very long time. AND I have a functioning brain. I can put everything I see and hear through the evangelical filter. To anyone who thinks it’s inaccurate or overstated, I say to you…81%. I had only ever voted Republican for any race of any kind until Dubya’s second term. My religious pedigree is solid: I was three the first time I met Jimmy Swaggart, I was part of the original Masters Commission in Phoenix, I have been in the mission fields, I gave an altar call at my own brother’s funeral, I was a licensed AG minister. I was a 400 pound preacher who held a protest sign at a gay parade with no sense of the hypocrisy. I did all the things. So, my goal in life wasn’t to put myself through existential hell and alienate everyone I knew in order to figure out my place in the universe. I’m not that dedicated to needless drama. The system I suspected was corrupt was indeed corrupt beyond the dismissive “you can’t throw the baby out with the bath water” that I’d get from leadership every single time I brought it up. Now that I have distance between my irrational fear of religious judgment, a self-serving version of patriotism, and an ocean of bourbon, things become clearer. Add the responsibility of fatherhood on top of that and it provides even sharper focus. My daughter can’t begin her life with lessons in how to abide by a spiteful double standard. I know how the religious speak in public vs. how they speak and live in private. I’m not the definition of high moral standards, but other than my profanity among my peers, I’m pretty much the same guy all the time. I’m never going to use the phrase “home talk” with my kid. I’m not going to try and explain how even though we love her Aunt Dotty and Aunt Darlene, their lifestyle is evil and if they don’t change they’ll go to hell. We LOVE them sweetie, we just HATE who they are. The terrified, screaming children her age, sitting in cages and begging for their parents on TV? It’s sad honey, but they don’t belong here like you do. Their parents are guilty of a misdemeanor. Kiddo, when OUR guy is in the White House, it’s okay that we let him do things that made us call the last guy the antichrist. The kids at your school who get the special lunches don’t have mommies and daddies who work as hard as yours. Basic kindness. Basic humanity. Somewhere along the line those things became so conditional that nobody who is different than you deserves them. The kindness and the love you teach in Bible stories when a kid is 5 become a form of weakness or naivete by the time they reach voting age. TOO much kindness or love is a slippery slope to people getting something you claim you worked for that they don’t deserve. What changes along the way? It can’t be the Bible, right? That doesn’t change. Are the kid’s stories a lie? At what point does the power and strength of a being that supposedly created the universe with a word suddenly need protection from “leftists”? What kind of a wuss is God? He killed around a bazillion people in the Old Testament. That’s the guy you evangelicals have the personal relationship with, right? What’s with the hiding behind politicians and having character so weak you voted for a guy who claims he’s too perfect to even need forgiveness from God?

 

I think the simple answer is that at some point the natural progression is to eventually abandon actual faith for a version that is purely symbolic and follows an easily repeatable cycle. Something that fits on a t-shirt or in a tweet. Some form of entertainment that mirrors what secular culture created and mastered that can be repackaged in an inferior form and called ministry. Coffee shops in the lobbies. Theatre design in sanctuaries. Worship teams that look like a Gap commercial. Creature comforts designed to draw people in and help remain competitive to retain current customers. Things that don’t really matter begin to define the culture and then become something that needs defended or justified. Self-reflection and accountability come to a halt. It becomes more of a numbers game. The focus is pushed outward and becomes about changing society before coming to terms with the inner changes. The brutal truth is that the selfish motives are transparent and the tools and methods totally suck. The push-back against your church becomes reinforcement of the belief that you’re right. So your voice needs to become louder. Aligning with the political class is a great way to do that. Values become more platform than personal. Every form of technology, communication, and entertainment, has been customized into an impenetrable bubble of “family values voters”.

 

I’m not indoctrinating a kid with all of that. I know, I know…”Not MY church! You ain’t been to MY church”…”When was the last time you were even IN church?”…  “You’ll whine about those illegals but how about human  trafficking/abortion/Israel/Venezuela/homeless vets?”. But this is how it is. Well, it is at least how 81% of it is. I can teach a kid right from wrong without all of the baggage of a self-serving clubhouse. Basic kindness, respect, and empathy don’t have the glamour for the church folk that they used to, but they are still basic building blocks of socialization. I know, I know…”We spent x-dollars on homeless outreach last year!…”We fed x-number of families at Christmas!”. So did a thousand other non-profits. Probably even some Muslims and atheists are included in there somewhere. The thing about the 81% is that they no longer offer anything exceptional. I’m going easy on them. Look at the guy they voted into office “because we need a businessman and Washington outsider”. With every single terrorist attack committed by a Muslim they’ll scream “where is the outrage from the GOOD Muslims?”  Well, where is the outrage from GOOD Christians as the majority of them gleefully allow the epitome of an antichrist to act like a spoiled five-year-old on the world stage. They think nothing of sweating through shorts made of the American flag but lose their minds if someone kneels.  I’m not raising my kid to be that kind of coward. The 81 percenters are a group of people who want to say and do whatever they want with no consequences because of the “scourge of political correctness” that has to be destroyed, but at the same time expect the opposition to act according to the rules of political correctness. Trump can call entire countries shitholes and get cheers, but one government intern screams “fuck you” at him and oh my god…the clutching of the pearls…how DARE he besmirch the office of the president? For years I was told “hypocrites aren’t a reason to miss church”. First of all, yes they are. Second of all, hypocrisy is now a universally accepted tool in order to remain in political control. That’s not God. That’s not a starting point from which to begin your child’s spiritual journey. I can’t teach the two sets of rules I grew up with and then later used against people myself. I don’t have all of the answers, but for the first time in my life I can honestly say I can live according to a conscience. It’s okay to tell a kid “I don’t know, sweetheart”. It’s okay to go through things together that break your hearts and not always have an answer.

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Photo Credit: faithonview.com

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One Comment on “Saving your kid from the God of your childhood…”

  1. Kimberlyn Shook
    June 25, 2018 at 5:45 pm #

    Perfect, Jerry. I’m glad you put the link on for me. Sharing on FB. Too bad that the people who really need to read and absorb this never would.

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