Why I Left Trump & Evangelicalism Behind (Guest Post by Kaylyn Whitley)

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All Aboard

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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.

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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.

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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.

Ex-Evangelical

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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Kaytlyn

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. 

Find Kaylyn’s Blog, facebook.com/wondernation2011 and Twitter @KaylynWhitley

 

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30 Comments

  • Wow, so similar to my own story. I was never on the Trump train, because I had left evangelicalism and the GOP in my heart well before 2016. But I was still a part of that world. However, the election of Trump, and the fact 81% of white evangelicals voted for him, sealed the deal and I physically left my evangelical church shortly after the election. I just want to encourage you–you are not alone and please keep going. Thank you for writing this.

    • Thank you so much for reading and for the kind words of encouragement! I appreciate that.
      I had actually left my SBC church prior to the election, but that was because it was “suggested” to me by several folks that I should leave. They didn’t like my outspoken advocacy of egalitarianism/women’s equality. But evangelicalism was still deeply rooted in me. (I was at Jerry Falwell’s university, after all). I also had grown up with the expectation that Christians could only vote Republican.

  • Kaylin, this is a powerful story. I encourage you to seek as many venues as possible because white evangelicals who vote for the Republicans need to hear from one of their own, who can identify with their thought processes and values.

    I too used to be evangelical but it was when the evangelicals I knew were like the folks at Sojourners. Somehow they stayed evangelical, but I could not.

    Now I am Episcopalian.

    I have a couple of groups I would like to invite you to join. Celebrate What Christians Have is Common is no politics while Gloriamarie’s Progressive Stuff is all about politics. Hope to see you there.

    • Thank you so much for the support! It means a lot to me.
      I’m very much open to letting my story be shared. The response and kindness of people has been beyond what I expected.
      I’m definitely open to it being shared among current GOP supporters, because I certainly welcome any discussion or questions they may have.
      I’m guessing those are Facebook groups? I’ll be sure to look them up, or you can send me an invite.

  • Thank you for your insightful essay. You demonstrate that you are a very thoughtful person and are willing to question and reconsider your once long held beliefs. You write about being able to brush off the Trump Hollywood Access recording as something that happened years ago and was not important at the time of the 2016 election. I’m curious though, what was it that made you realize Trump was not a good man, president, Christian… Was it one thing that broke the camel’s back or cumulative things? At what point did you feel you no longer supported Trump and his administration?
    When you share your new views about Trump do you get support and understanding from your friends, colleagues, and family or not? Do you know other people, like you, who supported Trump in ‘16 but will not do so again in ‘20?

    • I’m glad you liked it, and thank you so much for the support!
      I did brush off the Hollywood Access tape as “something stupid he said a long time ago.” I thought people should have forgiven him and moved on.
      Change is sometimes so slow that it’s hard to notice. It was likely a cumulative effect that happened during the course of his first year in office. I did eventually notice that he was very clueless about how to run the government.
      There came a point where I looked back and saw so many red flags. Red flags that I likely had first chosen to be willfully ignorant about. The long I watched him, the more I saw his ignorance, his bigotry, his selfishness, and his immaturity.
      Most people have been very accepting and happy that I have was able to critically re-think my views. Only my family wouldn’t be happy about my changing views and political parties–they taught me that Republican=Christian.
      I can’t speak much about people changing their views from last election to this coming election, just because I don’t really know what other people are going to do. But I hope we all have a pleasant surprise of GOP voting blue.

  • And who was/is the proper pro-life alternative to Trump? If you can’t give a viable option, then there’s no reason to consider what is being stated here.

    • I’m pro-choice. Not sure why you assume my position on that topic. My support this election will be for the Democrat nominee. I’m especially fond of Elizabeth Warren.

  • I hope this is truth for you but I’m having a hard time believing you! I’m just so disappointed in people that voted for Trump! I really don’t think I will ever get over the betrayal I feel as a human and a woman! I don’t understand the level of denial it took to cause so much harm to US!

    • Welp, that’s my story.
      You can choose to not extend any grace to me or others like me, but that choice is on you.

      • I was abused by a man like Trump so lecturing me about grace isn’t helpful! I expect you will find many abuse survivors who need grace from people like you more than you need it from us. Our not voting for Trump was the grace we tried to give. We have tried for years, our whole lives, we are the ones that weren’t brainwashed by the things you were brainwashed into. We withstood the same indoctrination and didn’t fall for it! We have always been on this side of the story that you have just come to, always! We have always had the grace.

        • Again, that’s my story. It’s 100% truth. I can’t make you believe me. Again, displaying some grace is up to you. I’m absolutely owning up to the mistakes I made. Moving forward in a positive direction is all I can do from here.
          I’m sorry to hear about abuse you’ve had to go through. I hope you find healing and peace.
          I, too, am a survivor of narcissistic abuse.

          Blessings

  • I am a graduate of Liberty College (Correspondence) back in the 80’s. Was raised on Jerry Falwell and the “Old Time Gospel Hour”. I too became disillusioned with the hate and intolerance of the group and left for the Episcopal Church where i have spent the last 20+ years trying to undo the damage. Keep the faith, as we say in the Episcopal Church, if it’s not about love it’s not about God.

    • Breaking old habits and mindsets can be tough. I’m glad I was able to. I’m glad you were able to and that you’ve found a great place for you.
      Thanks for reading and for the kind words!

  • Thank you Kalin. For your honesty and integrity. Like the poster above, i’m curious as to what specifically changed your mind. Did it happen suddenly or was it a slow awakening?

    • Thank you!
      It was definitely a slow awakening. It’s hard to describe all of the red flags that I missed; plenty from my willful ignorance. I’d say it was after his first year that I realized I’d slowly been distancing myself from him and the things he said and did. Things that many of you had seen since the beginning were things that I was finally opening my eyes to and choosing to see him and the situation for what it was. The hate, the self-centeredness, the ignorance in general and also for how to run the government, scandals…so much.

    • Wow, thank you so much!
      I am blessed to have a few people here who have stood steady by as I deconstructed my politics and theology. People who’ve listened to my questions and didn’t judge my doubts. It’s nice when you have quality friends like that.

  • Well said, Kaylin! Thank you. My journey has some similar undertones. The only difference is that from the beginning, as a Republican, I could not bring myself to vote for Trump. I voted third party as a protest vote. My own tribe tended toward Evangelicalism however, we were more aligned to anabaptist thinking (at least historically–we weren’t anabaptist, mind you–but we shared a lot of similarities especially in the 1800s).

    The last 30 years my tribe had been trying to “catch up” with Evangelicalism and seemed to aspire to it. I cannot do that–especially for the reasons you have so clearly iterated.

    Again, thank you. And thank you for the call to gentleness. We all are in process.

    • “Finding my tribe” is a phrase I’ve used over the past few years. I think we instinctively know when we’re in the right place for ourselves.
      Thank you for reading my story and for the kind words.

  • This mirrors my story, I have a sense/hope that it’s growing… That the true message of Christs universal love and will for unity is moving into more hearts and minds.

  • Thank you for sharing this story. As a lifelong atheist and political/social progressive, I find your experience about as far from my own as another moderately privileged white person can get. Growing up in a Boston suburb, I never went to a church; the closest I came was on annual visits to my maternal Grandparents. I don’t remember ever hearing a classmate discuss religion except in a “comparative religion” framing; while I’m sure some of my schoolmates were believers, it never came up. I always remained silent during the “under God” phrase of the Pledge.

    We marched in antiwar protests as a family during the 1960s; my mother was arrested many times in the 1980s protesting US govt. policies in Central America. We had friends from all over the world and conversation in our house was very free-ranging.

    I knew quite a few gay teenagers during the 1970s — their situation was pretty awful for the most part, and many of them are dead now — and in my circles it was just another feature of our human diversity.

    The ascendancy of Trump was a huge shock; the realization that so many of my fellow Americans were under this man’s thrall was and is incomprehensible to me. Narratives like yours help me to understand at least a little of it, and a little bit of why people like me and my family were and are so often described as “evil” or “anti-American.”

    Need I say that we are neither?

    • Wow!
      First, let me say thank you for reading my story with an open heart and open mind.
      Second, I’d like to thank you for sharing your story with me!

      I think we all live in a cultural bubble to some extent (some more or less than others). You made me think about what it might be like if we could all set aside religion, party lines, etc. and simply gather at the same table. My, what we could accomplish!

      Blessings to you!

      • My wife’s family are all Hindus from South India. While this is changing with the rise in political & social power of Hindu fundamentalist groups, it has always been my experience that Hindus are very accepting of other peoples’ religious orientations — which includes the “nones.” My in-laws just asked themselves, “is he a good man?”

        I wrote a long account of “Growing Up Atheist” here:

        http://www.warrensenders.com/journal/growing-up-atheist/

        I’d be very interested in your thoughts.

        Warm wishes,

        Warren

      • Your honesty in self-analysis is beautiful, Kaylin. Yes, we are all in process and we need to be gentle.
        I drove through Lynchburg earlier this month after visiting my friend Letha Dawson Scanzoni in Norfolk. Her book, All We’re Meant To Be, started the Christian feminist movement in 1974.

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