It's the hope that kills you
A Ted Lasso title but also something I've been feeling longer
The beauty and the terror of the Christian life are one and the same: we are never quite at home on this earth.
That’s a good thing, because the world is the sort of place that ought to make us uncomfortable. Even if we did not know the God who loves every single person equally, we ought to be repulsed by a system that lifts billionaires into space at huge financial and environmental cost while so many starve.
If Christ is really risen, then Christ’s ethical standards are real too. And there is unimaginable joy that the values of the powerful do not ultimately win — that there really is someone on the side of the poor and the powerless who will someday make things right. And there is also a responsibility to figure out (both individually and collectively) in which ways we’ve been on the side of God and in which ways we’ve been on the side of the world.
This is why the Evangelical church has been such a strong force in favor of introducing what’s now being called “Critical Race Theory1” into primary education — taking ideas like white privilege, internalized bias, and the long-term effects of racism seriously.
As a bible-based movement, Evangelicalism immediately recognized Critical Race Theory as exactly the sort of critique the biblical prophets and apocalyptic literature are engaged in, exposing ways in which society has failed to treat its members with justice and dignity.
They also saw that its diagnosis of the nature of injustice was essentially the same as Jesus’s: cruelty and apathy by the rich and powerful, unjust power systems working against the dignity of the poor, and hearts so profoundly steeped in sin that even without malice we misjudge and mistreat our neighbors.
It is uncomfortable to be told the society we live is in sinful, and even more so to be told that we participate in (“are/act racist”) and benefit from (“are privileged”) our country’s brokenness. But the church has always stood up to empires, both American and otherwise, and so it certainly didn’t surprise a church claiming so much expertise in spotting the devil’s work when the scientific literature made clear that these types of conscious and unconscious racism were having unbelievably destructive effects.
This all helps to explain why Evangelical churches came out so strongly against Glenn Youngkin’s cynical attempts to campaign against “critical race theory” in Virginia. Because nobody would fall for such a brazen—
*checks the news*
Oh, for fuck’s sake.
I’m not mad,
(but also mad.)
A few months ago when a person in my life (not one of you) was causing me a lot of misery, my therapist asked me why I found her behavior so upsetting.
At some level, the answer was straightforward: she had a habit of doing hurtful things, and then accusing me repeatedly of having done the thing she had just done in some sort of weird gaslight-y scenario. And that sucked for me.
But what conversations with my therapist helped me realized was that a big part of my stress was coming from my own refusal to admit to myself that this was the sort of person she was. It wasn’t just that she was behaving inappropriately. It was that every time we talked I would hold out hope that maybe this time she would finally change.
At the time I thought this was sacrificial love. Perhaps that might have been true if I had been clearly expressing to her the ways she was hurting me and the boundaries I needed to set for our friendship to continue. But continuing to give her chances to hurt me without doing anything to spark the change that needed to happen was self-destructive, not self-sacrificial, using my own hopes as an excuse to avoid difficult conversations.
As British soccer fans say on television, “it’s the hope that kills you.”
I’ve felt this way with my church home recently. I love my bible study and my friends there and I’m still figuring out the rest. But I think part of the solution to maintaining my sanity is that I have to stop pretending it will suddenly become something it isn’t, that sermons will go differently than the way they always do.
In all likelihood, my church will continue to talk about “loving the marginalized” as some vague abstract thing so we don’t have to confront the fact that members of our congregation vote with the intention of keeping refugees out of our country.
We’ll continue to put out lame and half-hearted sermons calling out racism and critical race theory in equal measure so we can pat ourselves on the back for taking “a Christian stance” that calls out “both sides” and avoid confronting the sins we’ve committed in our own community.
And we’ll preach an empty version of “the gospel” that won’t even acknowledge that the world is on fire and people are dying because of sins our church doesn’t talk about because they aren’t related to sex or marriage or generic Jesus talk.
I know that this state of affairs doesn’t reflect the character of God, and it’s right for me to be upset about it. I’m not certain what the answer is — probably a combination of seeking out more places I see God better reflected while being more intentional about trying to change things that need to be changed here. But I do know that it isn’t right for me to keep being surprised by it.
I’m tired of the hope killing me.
“Critical Race Theory” of course being an actual phrase with an actual meaning that isn’t this. I don’t know why the GOP picked such a specific technical term to mean “literally saying anything vaguely left-leaning about race,” or why it’s caught on so well.