Of all the decisions handed down by the Supreme Court in June, the one that gave me the worst panic attacks was Kennedy vs Bremerton School District.
Surprised? I’ve certainly written a lot more about the overturning of Roe vs Wade in light of my own adoption trauma. But high school football coach Joseph Kennedy winning the right to ostentatiously pray at the 50 yard line after games with his team was more of a trigger for me. Anyone who’s been to high school will know that there is nothing “voluntary” about those prayers, no matter how much the coach says otherwise. If he doesn’t pressure the players to join, or use participation as a criteria for playing time, he knows damn well which players will pressure others for him.
All I could think of the day the ruling came down was the feeling of being trapped in a Christian church, with no way to escape the pressure to conform and the oppression that hovered over my every thought, word and deed.
So let’s talk about what that’s like, since it seems like we’re barreling toward a nation run by the same principles.
And if, by chance, you think I’m being hyperbolic about the rise of Christian Fascism – first of all, what rock are you living under? But second, I urge you to read up. Start with this article, then check out everything you can find by Exvangelical author Chrissy Stroop.
For now, here’s a devastating paragraph from the article by Chris Hedges:
The Supreme Court is relentlessly funding and empowering Christian fascism. It not only overturned Roe v. Wade, ending a constitutional right to an abortion, but ruled on June 21 that Maine may not exclude religious schools from a state tuition program. It has ruled that a Montana state program to support private schools must include religious schools. It ruled that a 40-foot cross could remain on state property in suburban Maryland. It upheld the Trump administration regulation allowing employers to deny birth control coverage to female employees on religious grounds. It ruled that employment discrimination laws do not apply to teachers at religious schools. It ruled that a Catholic social services agency in Philadelphia could ignore city rules and refuse to screen same-sex couples applying to take in foster children. It neutered the 1965 Voting Rights Act. It watered down laws allowing workers to combat sexual and racial harassment in court. It reversed century-old campaign finance restrictions to permit corporations, private groups and oligarchs to spend unlimited funds on elections, a system of legalized bribery, in Citizens United v Federal Election Commission. It permitted states to opt out of the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion. It undercut the ability of public sector unions to raise funds. It forced workers with legal grievances to submit their complaints to privatized arbitration boards. It ruled that states cannot restrict the right to carry concealed weapons in public. It ruled that suspects cannot sue police who neglect to read them their Miranda warnings and use their statements against them in court. Outlawing contraception, same-sex marriage and same-sex consensual relations are probably next. Only 25 percent of those polled say they have confidence in Supreme Court decisions.
My Experience With Evangelical Christianity
Two days after by 21st birthday I stood at the bedside of my maternal grandfather as he died of lung cancer. It was brutal. His lungs had been filling with fluid for months, doctors had drained them as often as they could until he was too weak to withstand the procedure. That night the last bit of functional space was filled and my grandpa began to drown in the fluid. His eyes bugged out and he began to gasp desperately, but no air could enter. 20 minutes later he was still heaving sporadically when my grandmother was told he was “gone” and came in to say goodbye.
Grandpa was a good Southern Baptist and a Mason. One of his brothers was a preacher. I, however, was an atheist at the time attending Community College. If he did exist, I was angry at God for taking such a good man so early. But part of me really wished I could comfort myself the way everyone else was with the ideas of Heaven and a loving god.
Over the next year I began to feel a yearning when I drove past churches. I was still driving the ’79 Chevette I wrote about before that had only AM radio, so Rush Limbaugh was still working on brainwashing me politically. By that fall (of 1992) I was involved heavily in Republican politics and through that met members of the local United Pentecostal Church.
I was still grieving, and they love bombed me. Services were fun and exciting with good music and lots of dancing and clapping. Within a couple weeks I’d been baptized and was speaking in tongues. All of this was cool and exciting. Then my “discipleship” began.
Regular church services were three times a week, and missing them was a sin. In addition, the older woman who taught my Sunday School class offered to teach me a weekly Bible Study at her house. It felt like extra attention, but it was meant to “ground” you in church doctrine. Meanwhile, I was learning all the rules this particular denomination places on it’s members. You shouldn’t listen to “worldly” music because it fills you with impure thoughts, so only Christian music. No television for the same reason. Then there was how God expected me to dress. A man shall not wear that which pertaineth to a woman, and vice versa. So despite having very little money, I spent it on buying skirts and modest shirts. Said skirts had to come to mid-calf. Sleeves had to be at least to the elbow, and never show cleavage.
Worst of all for me, no makeup was allowed. I have allergies, and all my life have had dark circles around my eyes called “allergenic shiners.” Depending on how much my allergies are acting up they can be anywhere from “you look tired,” to “who punched you?” I’ve always been super self-conscious about them, and not being able to wear concealer was horrible for my self-esteem for the next 20 years.
The Psychological Effect Of These Changes
In this society, women are judged on our appearance. It’s wrong and unjust, but that doesn’t make it any less true.
Joining a church like the UPC is a huge life change, especially if you’ve not been involved in any type of church prior to this. As you’re making this life change, as a woman you are also stripped of control over the very thing that this society uses to judge you. Your appearance must begin to conform to the rules of the church. The overall effect of all of this change impacts you on a very deep psychological level – so deep you may not consciously realize it at the time.
The makeup and clothing stuff was unique to the denomination I was in, but the rest is not. Evangelical Christianity is 100% Patriarchal. Women are told we’re on a pedestal, but in fact that pedestal is nothing but a gilded cage. Nonetheless, there’s plenty of oppression unrelated to gender.
Bringing Every Thought Into Captivity
The total policing of my appearance was one thing. Christianity also polices everything you say, everything you do, and everything you think. It’s not enough to DO the right things if in your heart you don’t THINK the right things.
I’ve been in Wal-Mart minding my own business to have members of my church appear out of nowhere to ask what I’m looking at on the magazine rack. Passed them in the grocery store and gotten quizzed about why there’s cooking wine in my cart. Once one of the teachers at my kid’s Christian school (not even from my church) actually asked me why he’d seen me leaving a certain bad neighborhood (where my Mother in Law happened to live, as if it was any of his business.)
When I was struggling with depression, before I was on good meds, I was constantly accosted at services for looking sad or dour or not happy enough. I surely wasn’t praying enough – even though at the time I was spending literal hours praying and it wasn’t helping.
Every thought. Every word. Every action. It’s all fair game, it’s all everyone’s business because they just LOVE you so much and don’t want to see you lost and burning in Hell, you see. They just care so much they literally FUCKING SMOTHER YOU.
And this is my experience as a cis, heterosexual white woman. Who married a man in the church and produced two children, even participated in limited ways in church “leadership.” (I was allowed to write and direct plays and short skits, leading the church “Drama Ministry.” It was the only leadership position a woman ever held outside of leading children or other women. This was only because I had such a remarkable talent, and wrote a play that made the Pastor cry.)
It is 10,000x worse for LGBTQ people, who are told they are an “abomination” to God and literally unsavable unless they deny their fundamental makeup. The hate, the vitriol some of the people in that church poured onto a friend of mine from high school when we reconnected on Facebook was part of what drove me away from Christianity forever.
I won’t be going back, no matter what they do to the country. You can count on that.