Our neighborhood has a Facebook page, and when I saw Republican politics shaping the posts, I could have ignored it. Instead, I shared this comment about signs in my neighbors’ yards I find disturbing.
“One of the things I love about our neighborhood is the presence of our children and youth. We see them playing in the streets, riding bikes, walking to catch the bus. Now they encounter this message: ‘God, Guns & Country.’ Three words strung together as if they make perfect, harmonious sense. I respect freedom of speech, but I keep wondering. What does this teach our youth about the state of our nation? What does it teach them about faith? Powerful words of Jesus come to mind, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.’”
As expected, I got a flurry of comments. They are familiar but nonetheless chilling.
- It was Christians that miraculously founded our country, and the Democrats want to cancel that history.
- What about abortion? The thought of a baby’s neck snapping at nearly nine months makes me sick to my stomach.
- We have the right to bear arms, especially to defend ourselves against a government that wants to force socialism on us. Leftists will take our guns!
- The ungodly protests in our country are happening in cities controlled by the Left.
One woman requested a session of private messaging. She asked me to explain what I meant by my post. I told her it would require a longer conversation, but here was the gist:
“There is a brand of American Christianity that believes God favors our nation more than others. It allies itself with gun lobbyists, calls for increased expenditures on military and police, and turns a blind eye to the non-violent message of Jesus. 2,000 years ago, Jesus himself challenged the nationalism and violence of his people. These yard signs teach children that God is partial, and that God protects certain Americans by any means necessary, including violence. I believe in a God of all peoples, all nations, who ultimately desires unity and peace.”
She responded with a host of internet links cited out of context, including a ranting letter-to-the-editor published online in The Intelligencer: Wheeling News Register. I have to hand it to the author. His words are a masterpiece of religious bigotry. At his frothing crescendo, he blames Democrats for divorce, school shootings, riots, rape, unwed mothers, gangs, and the “Sodom and Gomorrah” abomination of same sex marriage.
The woman summed up her position by saying: “The Left is trying to take our God!”
Her abject fear struck me, and I think I understand some of the psychology behind it.
In his Stages of Faith, James Fowler called Stage Three a “Synthetic-Conventional Faith.” It is often enculturated into children and becomes part of their tribal identity. When its rightness is challenged, people lash out in anger and fear rather than work through doubts and ambivalence to courageously examine larger questions. They hunker down and become “defenders of the faith,” as if God need champions to protect God’s chastity.
Where does this fear come from? Fowler put it this way:
When we are grasped by the vision of a center of value and power more luminous, more inclusive and more true than that to which we are devoted, we initially experience the new as the enemy or the slayer – that which destroys our “god.”
I believe that for a moment, many “true believers” get a scary, vertiginous view of something grander, something that tugs at the threads of their conviction. Rather than moving forward, they patently reject this new knowledge and retreat to militant orthodoxy.
If this woman and I had a longer conversation, I would say, “No, we are not trying to take your God. The sanctity of each person’s faith and conscience is sacred. But if you mean that we are lifting up a vision more powerful, more luminous, more inclusive than your tribal deity, I can tell you this:
We will not stop!”