Dear Secular, Liberal America, We Need Your Help – Christian Dissidents.
A few years back I had the same vivid dream over the course of three nights. In the dream, the world was watched over by a totalitarian power which monitored your every move and word. There was a lot of fear and tension because getting caught saying or doing the wrong thing could get you hunted down and punished. Because moving about out in the open was risky, I had gathered up a couple of orphaned children I found on the street and brought them with me.
A realtor was showing me homes with “for sale” signs out front where I might be able to hold meetings without drawing undue attention from the authorities. As I toured each home, I was pleased to learn that there were large gardens behind them. But when I walked through the gardens, they were filled with angular, unattractive and unnatural looking plants, like something from a bad sci-fi movie.
Within many of the homes I found a hidden door which lead to a cavernous underground area filled with more people than I could count. Unlike on the surface, everyone here was clearly enjoying themselves. There were giant video screens scattered about where people watched movies, sports and TV. Others were playing video games, eating, talking, romancing and just hanging out. Children played freely. The people in this underground area gave me an enthusiastic welcome and arranged for the children I had brought to be placed with families. I was happy to see that there were many more people living happily underground than there were people living scared on the surface.
Now, if you’re reading this, you may not put much stock in dreams. Not even dreams that repeat three nights in a row. I, on the other hand, sometimes find meaning in my dreams. After spending some time thinking and praying about the dream, the understanding I came to was that the authoritarian power represented religious powers that claim the right to control what people are allowed to believe, think, say and do. The houses represented churches. The sale signs indicate that the church has put itself up for sale by adopting the methods, mores and priorities of a money-obsessed world. The gardens behind the houses contained plants which represented the people that the church grows. They were unknown and unattractive to me because they were unnatural. The caverns and people underground represented the majority of people who are being kept in the dark by the church above them. These are God’s people as they are in a natural state. This is why these people were the ones to take the orphaned children in.
I’ve been thinking about this dream a lot lately. I’m still one of those rare people trying to move out in the open on the surface where the religious establishment rules. As many of you have noticed by now, there are some very not nice people who are running American Christianity, Inc. They play rough. Depending on your position within the church, you can easily lose your income, your career, your community, your family and have your reputation destroyed for speaking out or questioning. Just this week, I heard a story of a young family who will be losing the father’s income as a pastor 6 days before Christmas because the wife attended an event where Contemporary Christian Music was played. I have heard stories of forced labor. I have know people who had to create entirely new lives for themselves after being cast out of church communities on the thinnest of pretenses. And let’s not even get started on the stories of sexual abuse either happening in or covered up by some of these Christian leaders.
Along with the constant fear, such obviously immoral church leadership retains power and influence over those for whom their Christian faith is central to their identity because they have marginalized the voices of anyone who questions or challenges the status quo. Once you are marginalized, no one will take you seriously and few people will ever hear what you have to say. As often as not, the most oppressive factions of the church decide who gets published, who speaks at conferences, who has access to their networks, whose music is heard, whose talents are recognized and nurtured. Which means the voices of dissent have very little outlet and do not get heard. It is so bad that people like Amy Grant and Jen Hatmaker cannot get their material into the largest Christian bookstore chain. Which is why I’m putting out a call for help.
I am convinced that nearly everyone is interested in spirituality and religion. I have talked about God with drunk men at bars, the waitress at the truck stop, the guy running the weird massage/hypnotherapy place who believes that we’ll all be nudists after Jesus returns, felons on parole, housewives and homeless people, atheists and really, just about every sort of person you can imagine. What I’ve learned is that most people have their own spiritual experiences and a deep belief that something more than we can see is going on here. And most of them rarely, if ever, set foot in a church.
The church calls these people “lost” (or as a Charisma magazine headline described Super Bowl 50: 144 Million Americans Blatantly Ignore God’s Word). In a world where being religious means submitting to people who think like that, a lot of people understandably decide that the church isn’t for them and go underground with their spirituality. It becomes something that they keep to themselves as they go about living like normal human beings who simply enjoy life and don’t worry much about the judgment of some blow hard who wants to micromanage their most intimate thoughts.
Obviously, a religious establishment which would pressure their followers elevate a man like Donald Trump to office and claim that this pleases God is, at the least, dangerous to our survival as a nation. Most of what passes for Christianity in this country is nothing more than complicated explanations for how a person can reject everything Jesus ever said while remaining Christian. Which is a travesty. Real Christianity is something which most human beings would look at and say, “even if I can’t believe in the religious stuff, I can see that this is good and right. It makes sense.” But right now, that kind of Christianity has been rendered all but voiceless both inside and outside the church.
Which is why I am asking secular, liberal America to start sharing the voices of Christian dissent on social media. And not a little. A lot. Like a tidal wave that rolls over and drowns out the sort of voices who have appointed themselves the “real, true” Christians while being vile to anyone who doesn’t meet their standards. What better way to challenge their power and their hold on the narratives that Christians and indeed the world hears than by amplifying the voices that the right deemed too threatening to be heard? Christian dissenters know our holy texts and historical thought well enough to speak truth to power in a way that other sources of challenge just don’t. If we are ever going to overcome this malignant strain of religion, Christian dissenters need to be heard. We can’t get heard on the surface, but maybe if you folks who have taken your spirituality underground gave us a megaphone, we could all break through from below and take the wind out of the sails of these pretenders to the throne who are wrecking havoc in the lives of individuals, families, churches and the nation as a whole.
Interested in helping out? Here are a few things you can do:
Go to the blog Slacktivist. It’s written by a man named Fred Clark who is, without question, the sharpest, smartest, truest voice of Christian dissent writing*. Not only that, but he keeps blog roll lists writers who are Christian women, minorities and lgbt people, if you want to help those voices get heard. In addition to being a brilliant thinker and voice in his own right, he’s an old school blogger who reads everything and links to the best of it. If you search either “smart people saying smart things” or “postcards from the culture war”, you will find posts filled with links to dissident Christian voices. It shouldn’t take you 5 minutes to find something that you personally wish you heard more Christians saying there.
If dirty laundry and vengeance are more your style, allow me to direct you to where the dirtiest of the Christian right’s dirty laundry gets aired and encourage you to share a story you think needs to be heard. Two sources are Recovering Grace and Homeschooler’s Anonymous. These sites are where you can find background and stories from survivors of organizations/movements like ATI, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Churches, Sovereign Grace and Quiverfull (these are organizations/movements which the infamous Duggars, the family that owns Hobby Lobby and a number of religious right politicians associate with). The Wartberg Watch focuses on the broader church and is a good source for keeping up with the latest scandals, lawsuits, accusations, firings and obfuscation being produced by Evangelical church leaders.
Perhaps you like the idea of giving a megaphone to the voices the religious right wants silenced, but swore off Christianity altogether as hopelessly corrupt, silly and harmful ages ago. Completely understandable. If this is you, then I would invite you to take a look around a blog called The Upside Down World where you will find a weird yet strangely reasonable example of what dissident Christianity (ie authentic Christianity) sounds like. Check out Is Christianity the One True Religion, What Is the Christian’s Role in Society and “The End Times” for examples. There are hundreds of posts on pretty much every theological question you can think of and more. Just so you know you’re not trading one load of bull for another by participating in this.
Another way to help this effort is to share the link to this post, with one caveat. Please don’t share this particular post with what I’ll call “church people”. Obviously, it’s the internet and everyone can do whatever they want, but the whole point of this effort is to get these voices out into the great wide open rather than keeping them stuck inside the church where they are subject to censure, marginalization and blowback. Try to share this post where it will be seen by people who don’t normally have anything to do with religion will see it. Send the link to your favorite blogger, writer or personality and ask them to share it on their platform. If you have a platform and would like to do an interview, podcast, vlog, etc about this effort, please fill out the form on the contact tab above. Think of how delicious it will be when it finally gets back to the religious right types that the atheists, the scientists, the lgbt, the wiccans, the gamers and all their other boogeymen are releasing the voices they sought to silence into the open without so much as giving them a chance to react.
Finally, when you share this post or stories and voices of dissident Christian, please use the hashtag #dissidentchristians so others can easily find examples of material they can share as well. Or use the hashtag to search for stories yourself.
Are you ready to help us take this right wing, religious beast down, secular, liberal America? It’s just going to take a little slacktivism.
“They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.” ~ Dinos Christianopoulos
*If you’re looking for somewhere to throw a few bucks, his patreon page is a good place to start. The poor guy is stuck working a big box retail job at the moment.