My dad used to believe that White people shouldn’t date Black people. At a young age, I remember him explaining why he changed his mind. While attending university, he met a young Asian woman and discovered she was allowed to date White men, because she was mixed-race, but had been forced to choose one race and stick with that one. This seemed so backwards to him, as it should to anyone, and he decided that any squabbles Christian leaders had with interracial couples were unfounded. The interesting part of this story is that his change in beliefs did not directly correlate to a new understanding of Scripture, which he has always claimed is his guide in all things. Instead, it was essentially based on his feelings. And yet, if anyone explains that their feelings drew them to a new theological perspective, he is quick to point out that, “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick, who can understand it?” This, of course, was also his response when, several years after coming out to him, I admitted I believed G-d loved me as They created me, and my queerness was not a mistake.
My dad used to believe that listening to rock music (and especially performing rock music in church) was sinful. He genuinely thought that a style of music, or rather, a musical technique, was from the Devil, and no Christian was to partake of it in any way. As far as I know, he still recoils at the sound of rock music, but doesn’t seem to believe it to be inherently sinful. As a pastor at a church that frequently plays contemporary Christian music, he seems to be able to stomach the rock beat for the sake of well-intentioned congregants here and there. Again, there’s no place in Scripture where you could find a reason to make rock music an enemy of the Church, but my father’s feelings, as always, dictated more of his beliefs than he will likely ever admit.
My dad used to believe that adultery was a sin. When we would talk about the scandals of the Clinton administration, he was disgusted, and moreso, horrified that former President Clinton was only re-elected after being impeached and remaining unremoved by the Senate. Almost seventeen years later, when then reality television star, businessman Donald Trump, glided down that infamous escalator, my dad was not under any illusion that this man was any sort of G-dsend. He derided him, mocked him, called him “Biff,” in reference to the character featured in Back to the Future. He was more interested in supporting a candidate like Ted Cruz, or Marco Rubio, but unfortunately, the extremist won out against a crowded center, as is common, and Donald Trump became the nominee. This was in 2016, and at the time, as a 16-year-old, still living with my parents, I was incredibly supportive of Trump, often watching YouTube videos slamming the “idiotic, radical liberal Democrats.” If I could have voted in 2016, I absolutely would have voted for Trump.
For a moment, it seemed my father would not vote in the 2016 election. When he did, he was convinced by me, in part, and also by his own father, and family members who felt more strongly about it. At the end of the day, my father voted for now-President Trump because he correctly believed that he would choose conservative Supreme Court Justices, and he was enthusiastic about voting for someone like now-Vice President Mike Pence.
What is sad, looking back, is how little my father cared about the history of Donald Trump. Months before the tape came out which featured Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women, he didn’t seem to be bothered by the fact that Trump had married three women, and committed adultery on each one of them. Behind the pulpit, and during midnight lectures in the kitchen, he seemed to think there was barely any sin worse than that of lust and adultery. But in the voting booth, and at the dinner table, he was unbothered. After the aforementioned tape came out, all I recall him saying was, “Are we really that surprised?” as if this was a defense. As if this was an explanation for why he, as a conservative Pastor who supposedly found adultery and sexual sin to be detestable, would still be voting for this sexual deviant and abuser. Donald Trump was the ultimate poison to the Evangelical prejudice disguised as moral integrity. He appealed to everything they felt, deep down, and they supported him, despite his blatant disrespect of everything they believed in.
The massive Evangelical support for candidate Trump and now President Trump only serves to prove how double-minded Evangelical leaders are when it comes to topics they’ll passionately rant about from their pulpits. Trace every Evangelical talking point to its source, or have a long conversation with a conservative person of Evangelical faith, and you will find a reliance on feelings, not Scripture; on fear, not faith. This brings me to the main point.
For years, conservative Evangelical leaders like my father have exclaimed, “Oops! We were wrong!” Back in the day, they used the story of Noah and his sons to explain why Black people were meant to be owned by Whites. Then, as public opinion shifted, they suddenly re-interpreted the Bible and said “Whoops! Turns out G-d doesn’t support the enslavement of any group of people, however, our White daughters are not going to be marrying Black men.” Yet again, they used the Bible to back up their own thinly-veiled prejudice. And yet again, as in the case of my own father, their feelings suddenly shifted, and they based changes in theological perspective on those feelings, agreeing that interracial marriage was not sinful or against the Bible.
Despite positive changes in beliefs like the one above, based solely upon feelings, rather than the Word of the Lord, Evangelical leaders continue to condemn feelings as illegitimate sources of change. Do you feel that it is okay for you, as a man, to marry another man, because you love that person? “Well, the heart is deceitful, and desperately wicked,” they’ll say. “Of course you feel that!” Do you feel that you’ve always been a boy, and you’d rather not continue pretending to be the girl you were born as? Once again, “you can’t trust your feelings!” they’ll say, as they refer to you with incorrect pronouns, “All in love.” Meanwhile, they themselves do exactly what they condemn others for doing.
They say their opinions are more worthy, because they are supposedly derived from the Bible, but when push comes to shove, they depend on their own feelings as much as anyone else. Their forefathers felt that slavery was just, and so they turned to the Bible to easily find their justification. Later, they decided that it was unjust, and again, found support from Scripture. They felt women shouldn’t have the right to vote, and found justification in Scripture. Later, they pretended they’ve always supported that right. They felt that interracial marriage was wrong, so they found justification in Scripture. Later, they felt it was all well and good, and went back to Scripture, admitting the verses they used were never talking about interracial marriage in the first place. They felt that going to the movies is sinful, or they felt that a certain kind of music is sinful, or they felt that drinking alcohol is sinful. Over and over again, Evangelicals are seen relying on their feelings just as much as anyone else does, and yet, they continue to claim ultimate divine authority.
Today, Evangelical leaders will admit they’ve been wrong about a lot, but they want you to believe that now, they’re right about everything. So they’ll pull out misapplied Scripture passages to condemn anyone they find distasteful, and they want you to believe them this time, despite having wasted every ounce of credibility history has afforded them.
I am pleading with you, whether you consider yourself Evangelical, progressive, Catholic, irreligious, conservative, liberal, centrist: whoever you are, please, don’t trust the conservative Evangelical leaders. Whether you’re a congregant at my father’s church, or a congregant of some non-denominational mega church, don’t believe the pastors when they claim that this time, they’re right. Don’t let them keep up the scam. It’s not about the Bible; it’s about their feelings. It’s always been that way.
When they get up behind their pulpit and rail about the culture and the society and why they feel like I shouldn’t have the ability to serve my country, or the right to be married, or my trans friends shouldn’t have the right to seek employment and live their lives, please, don’t listen. Don’t let them pretend, all over again, that the Bible agrees with their feelings. Don’t let them say, “Oh, no, this isn’t just what I feel, this isn’t what I think, this is the Word of the Lord!” Don’t let them use the Bible as a weapon. Force them to confront their own prejudice, the darkness within their own hearts. And just keep loving people. The G-d who heals, the G-d who listens, the G-d who presides over your every breath, and over every breath of your gay family member or trans friend—that G-d would never want the Bible to be used the way my father uses it.
Many months before writing this, I had the transformative experience of reading Unfollow by Megan Phelps-Roper, who was once a part of Westboro Baptist Church, and is the granddaughter of the former leader. Despite the fact that Phelps-Roper comes from a background more extreme than my own, I found I could understand her experience and felt it was similar, albeit much more difficult, to my own coming out and experience of leaving home and the rigid faith my parents raised me with. Unfollow opened my eyes to the lie my family and so many other Evangelical leaders live on. In order to lay claim to divine authority, they deride feelings and experiences and proclaim their ideas and perspectives are sourced from the Bible. If this were true, of course, those ideas and perspectives would never change, because the Bible doesn’t change. And yet, even as Evangelicals change their beliefs decade by decade to “catch up” in a sense, to the culture and society at large, they expect us to take them seriously when they get up on their platform and share dogma, whether it be political in nature, or simply anti-gay. Every Christian person would benefit from reading Unfollow. Here is a link to purchase it. I am not making any money by recommending this to you.