The morning after the election, I wept.
I wept for my country.
I wept for my friends and neighbors who feel marginalized and afraid.
I wept for the deep division and distrust that this election has cultivated.
But mostly, I wept for the people all around the country who wanted to tie my faith to a political platform, a hate-motivated agenda, and a man who has given us no reason to trust him.
I wept for the people who will drive right by their neighborhood church and feel more fear and anxiety than compassion and grace.
I wept for the mangling of my Jesus into a symbol of prejudice and injustice.
I wept because I woke up and felt like the place I had called home for so long was a place I didn’t recognize.
I wept because that feeling – the feeling that the white American evangelical church is not a safe place – is a feeling many of my brothers and sisters have felt for a long time.
The day after the election, I sat in a Starbucks and studied for a Greek exam.
I was knee-deep in vocab flash cards and pneumonic devices when I realized how odd this all was: sitting in a coffee shop drinking a peppermint mocha in the middle of 80 degree Texas, struggling to learn a language no one speaks anymore.
The words on the page in front of me felt a million miles away from anything real.
All the fear and violence and hate swirling around my country and I was learning how to translate sentences that had been translated a million times before, to read words that had been read for thousands of years in thousands of languages.
But as I painstakingly pulled meaning from the mess of my notebook page, something real began to take shape.
Learning an ancient foreign language in order to understand the Bible is a great reminder of a truth the American church has largely forgotten: we are the ends of the earth.
When Jesus instructs His disciples to be His witnesses “in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth,” that last part is about us, American church. We are the gentiles, the “other,” the ones who would come later.
The white American evangelical church is the ends of the earth – thousands of miles and years from our Middle Eastern Jewish Jesus. This story was never about us.
It’s a story we were told secondhand, passed down by more people of color than usually fill our pews on a Sunday morning. It’s a story first told in a language we don’t speak and in a culture we don’t understand.
Not one story in the Bible is filled with white characters. If it makes some of us uncomfortable to realize that the particular historical and cultural context that our Jesus occupied was one void of people that look like us – maybe that will help us understand how our black and minority brothers and sisters have felt in the largely white evangelical church.
We (no matter who that “we” are) are not the center of the story we most cherish and seek to live into. If we let that truth sink deep into our bones, it will change the way we interact with those who are not the center of the sociopolitical spaces we inhabit.
Until we really get this, until this realization fills our hearts and our churches, we are going to keep pulling focus from the real story. We will revert back to the most basic human tendency: to make everything about us.
Our churches will continue to be filled with people who look, act and talk exactly like each other. We’ll keep insulating ourselves from engagement with the communities around us and the world will suffer for our ignorance.
The gospel is proclaimed more fully, the Truth is upheld more completely, justice and compassion are more robustly realized when we recognize that we are one small part of a larger story that is not about us.
If we miss this fundamental truth, we won’t seek racial reconciliation, we won’t fight for gender equality, we won’t weary ourselves in the pursuit of justice. Until we learn to listen – quietly, fully, and with the intent of actually doing something with what we learn – we are going to continue hurting our brothers and sisters who have been marginalized by the Church. We’re going to continue ignoring the racism, xenophobia, and misogyny that plague our nation because we just don’t see it. We’re going to continue unintentionally marginalizing and sidelining our brothers and sisters out of simple ignorance. We can do better than this.
Sometimes, moving forward requires looking back – thousands of years back, actually.
Let’s remember – fiercely remember – that we are not the point of this story. Let’s make our not-centeredness a huge part of who we are. Let’s identify ourselves as we truly are – a tiny part of this huge global church that has been radically changing the world for much longer than our Twitter wars, our country, our culture, or our very language. We’re supposed to base everything we love, do, and say on an Aramaic-speaking first century Jewish Middle Eastern man who ruffled everyone’s theological and political feathers. That should change some things.
When we reclaim the notion that we are not the whole story and that we were never at the heart of the story, we can begin to ask questions with humility, listen with hearts intent on learning, and give more than we take. We can start living more like the one we claim to follow and less like the people that crucified Him.