I was 15 years old when I stood outside the courthouse in Montgomery to protest the removal of the Ten Commandments. At the time, if you would have asked me, I would have said that I was standing up for what was “right,” that Roy Moore was champion of my faith, and that Christianity was being threatened. Roy Moore had been a renowned political figure in my hometown—my grandfather, a city council member at the time, had known him.
I look back on this day and this photo, especially through the lens of what has happened in Alabama politics lately, and I wish my adult self could sit down and have a conversation with that 15 year old girl. What would I say to someone so convicted that this was all so righteous? What would I say to a girl that might enlighten her without having her family think I was corrupting her? What could I say to a girl who would later come out as gay?
Sure, I could’ve easily pulled out the transcript of the First Amendment and read the part that prevents lawmakers from preferring or promoting one religion over another. But I know myself. It’s a Christian nation, I would have said. Because that was what I thought. Growing up in the conservative, evangelical Baptist church, I knew the trinity to be the Father, Son, and American Flag.
Later, I would learn that the Constitution of the United States is, in fact, a secular document and that our nation was founded on will and liberty, not necessarily religion. In fact, many founders thought religious preference would corrupt the state and vice versa. This is not to say that our country wasn’t culturally Christian and influenced by basic morality, but Christianity was never heralded as the “national religion.” But a lot of southern politicians will rally supporters with this vague untruth.
Roy Moore is clever, though. Just like Donald Trump succeeded to do in 2016, Moore rallied a crowd through the demagoguery of God ’n’ Country type speeches. Feigning allegiance to both faith and forefathers, neither man really gives a damn about either. To care about a the United States of America, one would have to admit that its beauty and strength lies in its diversity. To care about faith, one would have to adhere to a set of moral codes or decency. It sometimes seems that the people who claim Jesus the most (especially in the political realm) are furthest from His teachings.
Twisted within this convoluted mess of “God and Country” mindset, we have also lost sight of the reason we were put on this earth. Too often, as Christians and citizens, we become obsessed with the conquest, the end game. The conservative protestant church is so consumed with discussing the afterlife. Old gospel songs, fiery sermons, hateful admonitions are always lamenting over the sinful world and yearning for heaven. I find it tiresome and repugnant, really. Don’t get me wrong, I think there’s more than just our lifetime on earth, but what’s so awful about dwelling on this present life? What about God’s Kingdom on earth and those who are in need now? Sometimes, people view death and heaven as the ultimate achievement, having endured the earth and all its perils. In my opinion, that seems self-oriented—living life with such tunnel vision, we can’t see the people hurting alongside us. Hot button topics ignite an impassioned flame of controversy so hot that we view deeply flawed leaders with a more reverence than our fellow humans.
I risk getting off topic here, but I feel that it is important to see this misalignment of faith and party loyalty. Let’s face it—abortion is the most disputed topic among Christians. The laws have been around since the 1970s, and I can’t recall Senator Shelby or Senator Sessions ever doing anything to change them—and they were sitting under Republican presidencies, too. Unfortunately, as with any other thing on the legality spectrum, people will find ways around them. Are risky, back-alley abortions really what we want the alternative to be? Providing proper and affordable healthcare before, during, and after these decisions is more important until moral disputes can be resolved. And do we really want Roy Moore at the front lines of something so deeply tied to personal ethics and decisions?
There is a brand of hard-nosed, toxic Christian Republicans who are more concerned with party than people. Roy Moore (and other politicians like him) are wooing throngs of people with his “ethics” while shoving sexually harassed skeletons in his closet.
I look at my 15 year old self in that photo and see a girl who wants to fight for something. She wants to stand up for some sort of justice and defend her conviction. As I have grown in my faith, I have realized that I missed the mark then—but I was on the right track. Back then, I didn’t want my belief systems stolen. But back then, it was just about this 1-ton piece of granite and some misguided propaganda. Fast forward to now, and I still want the same thing. I don’t want my belief systems stolen and paraded around by men like Roy Moore and Donald Trump. That’s not my kind of Christianity. My type of Christianity is not living how I want and proclaiming something else. How have we been fooled? How was I so fooled?
Sometimes I get frustrated with folks’ inability to shift their mindset, but I have been there. I was that person. I was once immersed within some prejudices and convictions I thought to be worthy, but I’ve found that they are just judgmental. So here I find myself in this cyclical process, looking back at my old self and becoming impatient with how glacial this process of progress truly is. But I must hold fast to that benevolent resolve—the same compassionate and patient magic that worked on my heart and helped me to see past the hypocrisy of religion and embrace a new and rectifying creed.
That day, my family wanted to fight for something good—but it shouldn’t have been for that piece of stone or for that deviant man. It should have been for that binding cord of morality that runs through every faith—love folks and love your Creator. Don’t worship Nation or facade—revere good.
Perhaps we did do something right that day, though.
“Until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.” —MLK Jr.
We wait in steadfast hope that justness and virtue will prevail. And pray that we will be wise enough to know the difference between those who are sincere and those who just want a Senate seat.