I jumped onto the “Trump Train” before it ever even left the station. From day one, the day Donald Trump announced his presidential bid, I was all about #MakeAmericaGreatAgain. Trump got my vote in the Republican primary, as well as in the general election.
Looking back, I’m astonished at the ignorance I allowed myself to stay comfortable in. My best comprehension of Trump was from what I saw on his reality show “The Apprentice.” He seemed like a savvy businessman, and I thought our nation could benefit from a leader who was outside of the establishment.
Like with a cult, I can’t put a definitive finger on when or how I began to ignore and justify his atrocious words and actions. However, a time did come when I was no longer able to reconcile my politics with my faith in Christianity; and with that came my inability to remain in evangelical Christianity.
Evangelicalism had become tainted and toxic due to its relationship with GOP politics. I slowly moved from right-wing conservative to liberal Democrat, and also from being an evangelical to being an ex-evangelical.
To Err on the Side of Love
Like most conservative evangelicals, I was not LGBTQ+ affirming or an ally to this group. I was the stereotypical “love the sinner, hate the sin.” I considered being LGBTQ+ to be a lifestyle choice. At some point, I had the idea that I could be an ally while still remaining non-affirming. At the time, my idea of being an “ally” was that I could still love you and be kind to you, but I could not put my stamp of approval on the LGBTQ+ lifestyle.
Change is often so slow that it’s hard to notice. I remember one day, when this topic was on my mind for some reason, thinking about attraction and realizing that I’d never made a conscience choice to be attracted to men (cis-het). If I hadn’t chosen who I’m sexually attracted to, why did I think anyone in the LGBTQ+ community chose their sexual attraction? Thinking through conversations that I’ve had over the years, I can’t recall a single LGBTQ+ person telling me that they chose that “life” for themselves.
The topic of sexuality was also woven into my views as an evangelical. Again, “love the sinner, hate the sin.” But, how can I love someone when I refuse to even acknowledge their identity as a human being?
I got to a point where I didn’t know for sure what was right or wrong; all I knew was that denying someone’s existence isn’t loving. From that point on, I began my journey of being an affirming ally, because I decided to err on the side of love, which included acceptance.
I believe God made LGBTQ+ people in God’s image. I believe that anyone who is LGBTQ+ can absolutely be a Christian, too. My journey here started with love, but I have also been diving into Bible study that has led me to believe that Scripture does not condemn the LGBTQ+ Christian community.
Pic was taken at a Liberty University last spring.
The CPAC conference was hosted at LU, and Jerry and Becky Falwell made disparaging remarks about LGBTQ people. Especially trans people. Donald Trump Jr was also there, and he made a joke out of the #MeToo movement. Students came out and supported LGBTQ and MeToo.
Whose Life Matters?
Nobody wants to believe that they’re racist, but the reality is that all white people have racist undertones; whether we notice them or not, it’s in our DNA.
I remember the “controversy” of “Black Lives Matter.” It now feels strange to me to refer to the movement as a controversy, but I was one of those people who responded with “All Lives Matter!” Of course all lives matter. Who’s denying that?
It took some time for me to get to the point where I finally had a good understanding of BLM. The African American community has been put in a position to be made to feel like society doesn’t care as much about their lives as it does for others.
Black lives do matter, and I’ll say that for as long as it takes for the African American community to heal and know that white America hears what people of color are saying.
White privilege does exist. Part of the privilege is that white folks can get away with denying or not acknowledge said privilege. That’s what I had been doing. A year ago, my white privilege had me believing that Colin Kaepernick, and anyone else who kneeled during the National Anthem, was disrespectful. The same goes for protesting the American flag, the Pledge of Allegiance, etc. It all boiled down to a display of disrespect for our nation.
I now understand that I will never be able to see or experience life through the eyes of a person of color.
It’s a monumental perspective shift when you realize just how much bigger than you something is. For me, I had to realize that this wasn’t about me at all; except for the fact that people of color just wanted me, as a white person, to listen and come to understand what they’re fighting for.
God Bless the USA
In my journey, I have also made an important distinction between “patriotism” and “nationalism.” This wasn’t something I had ever thought about much. It didn’t seem important or necessary to make this distinction; that is, until nationalism began to rise during the presidency of Trump.
Patriotism is an appropriate appreciation of or pride in one’s country. I’m a patriot. I’m proud to be an American. I feel blessed to be an American. However, being American doesn’t make me better than anyone who isn’t American.
Nationalism often ties in with racism and the idea of a “white America.” It places America on an unhealthy pedestal of being better than any other nation or culture. I am not against the National Anthem, but I understand that it isn’t a Gospel song. I am not against saying the Pledge of Allegiance, but I acknowledge that my allegiance is first and ultimately to the Kingdom of God.
Grab ‘Em By the…
I should have known better. I, of all people in my circle, should have known better. I have been an outspoken feminist and egalitarian for years. I’m proud of the opportunities I’ve had to represent women and be an advocate for women’s rights.
This is the part of my story where I can’t adequately describe how it was that I was able to brush off and ignore Trump’s very blatant and very strong sexism and misogyny.
I remember when the video of Trump surfaced that clearly showed him bragging about his sexual acts with women that he had done without their consent; from kissing to the most notorious “Grabbing them by the p*ssy.” I, somehow, managed to brush it off with the excuse of it happened a long time ago, and someone was only then releasing that video as political smearing.
I dismissed all concerns of sexism and misogyny; downplaying the fact that, even into the political race, Trump was still attacking women.
Trump attacked his female opponent in the GOP primary race, and Trump attacked Hillary Clinton constantly throughout the general election. I’m not referring to the “normal” dirt that gets thrown around during election time. I’m speaking of Trump’s direct attacks against his female opponents for simply being female.
I don’t know how to adequately explain how I let this sexism and misogyny slide by. I turned my head and closed my eyes. The cognitive dissonance that I had still astounds me. I had somehow compartmentalized things as a way to make them ok; or, at least, less bad than it all sounded.
During the time of my political shifting, my theology was shifting, too. My theology and politics were actually shifting with one another because they fed into one another. I grew up a conservative evangelical who was taught to vote straight card Republican.
I had always been told that one couldn’t be both a Christian and a Democrat. “Liberal” was a dirty word used to describe those who were seeking to ruin the United States and spiral us into some godless society.
My degree is in Theology and Biblical Studies. I now understand how theology and politics usually work in conjunction with one another (granted, my alma mater would now disagree with me in regards to much of my theology and most of my politics).
As someone who was very saturated in evangelicalism from all sides, I noticed my theology falling in line with my changing politics. When I could no longer view Trump as even a remotely decent human being, I began to question the evangelical alliance that was occurring between Trump and evangelical Christian leaders. Even if the lay people in the church didn’t know better, surely the church leaders would help steer this ship, right? Wrong.
The majority of the white evangelical Christian church continues, to this day, their support for Trump. They see Trump as God’s anointed who has come to save America. They back him no matter how immoral his actions.
Evangelicals have long believed that GOP politics automatically equates to Christian values. Personally, I have yet to see this current presidential administration look remotely Christ-like. Evangelicalism has been in bed with GOP politics for so long—which includes ignoring the teachings of Jesus and other Christian values, turning a blind eye towards immoral behavior, and accepting wrongdoing as right—that I see little to no redeeming value in regards to evangelicalism and the relationship it has been entertaining with Trump.
So, when I left GOP politics behind, I also left evangelicalism behind for a more authentic faith in Jesus.
People in Process
I want to leave you all with one final thought: People will constantly be in process and making progress. We don’t stop learning and growing until we die.
My plea to all of you is to be gentle with those who are in process.
Not everyone grows, learns, or matures at the same pace. If everyone who disagreed with me prior to my political and theological deconstruction had unfollowed me, unfriended me, blocked me, etc., then I would have lost the voices that ultimately helped me grow as a person.
I would have had no one to learn from if everyone who disagreed with me ceased their communication with me. Please stay patient with those who are still working on their journeys. Please don’t degrade or disparage those who are seeking knowledge and asking genuine questions.
I’m grateful for the people who were patient with me during my process. My journey would probably look a lot different if I hadn’t had people who were willing to walk with me, at my own pace, through my doubts and questions; even when it got messy. Grace is messy, and I hope that I will always be humble enough to give grace to everyone who is still in process and are works in progress; because when I look back at my past, I don’t even know that girl anymore.
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Kaylyn Whitley resides in Lynchburg, VA with her “fur baby” (Lucy) and is a graduate of Liberty University with a Bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies: Theology and Apologetics, and a minor in Biblical Studies. She grew up as a conservative evangelical in a Southern Baptist church, but eventually left the SBC due to her passionate commitment to both egalitarianism and feminism. Kaylyn’s ultimate goal is to continue to her work in social justice advocacy, especially on behalf of women’s rights in the Church and political arena.