The invitation had surprised her. In fact, she had stared at it in disbelief for a full two minutes before re-checking the name on the envelope and its return address. Still using conventional mail, she had mused.
The change since her departure from this privileged, self-assured, megachurch context had been dramatic; her life had taken twists and turns few knew about. But here she was: keynote speaker at one of the largest charismatic evangelical conferences in the south.
Preparation for the speech had forced her into murky recesses of experience, and had demanded her return into a once familiar theology.
As she mounts the podium, glaring lights of television cameras focus on her. For an instant she hesitates, but her determination is emboldened by secrets neatly stored in dank church memories, propelling her forward.
“Good evening, people of God,” she hears her own voice, suddenly strong and clear.
“Thank you for the privilege of addressing this rally of distinguished world changers and history makers who get up every day fulfilling purpose,” she turns to acknowledge the dozen or so men and women on the stage behind her. Their perfectly artificial faces gleam.
“It’s time for gratitude,” she continues. “We are here for such a time as this.”
After these opening words she becomes blessedly unaware of everyone and everything around her.
“Thank you! Thank you for the mess we’re in in this country — for delivering a vile, hateful, unscrupulous president who routinely utters language and makes decisions that would have previously caused the most calloused among us to cringe. Thank you for enshrining a cadre of his clones to do his bidding. Because you support them all, I owe you a debt of gratitude.
Thank you for protecting the strong, the powerful, the rich, the white, the males — for allowing them to enjoy their protected positions, while sometimes taking time out to allege horror at ‘false’ accusations leveled against …themselves.
Thank you for mocking the disabled, survivors of trauma, those struggling in the aftermath of national disasters, those whose sons and daughters have given their lives for our country.
Thank you for disbelieving women who come forward in our homes, schools, places of work, communities, and churches to share their stories of assault and abuse at the hands of men.
Thank you for separating small children from their families under the pretense of national security.
Thank you for causing so much fear that now everyone looks over their shoulder, assuming those who don’t look like us pose a threat.
Thank you for ensuring that more people of color than ever before will be incarcerated or dead in our communities.
Thank you for paying lip service to caring for the marginalized while giving enormous breaks to the wealthy again and again.
Thank you for making it easier to destroy our already fragile and reeling planet by cutting environmental protections and allowing violations to public lands and national treasures.
Thank you for giving hostile powers free access to manipulate and control our masses while making it increasingly difficult for our own citizens to vote.
Thank you for being tone deaf to millions who demand justice whether it’s for women, people of color, the immigrant, those who’ve been the target of indiscriminate killings, or simply any group who isn’t you!
Oh, you didn’t do this? That’s interesting. You go to great lengths to re-define Scripture to protect those in power, going so far as to call them men of God.
We owe a debt of gratitude to YOU, the leaders of evangelical, charismatic, and denominational Christian churches who have spent decades deliberately re-wiring your flock spiritually and mentally; paralyzing them; destroying their ability to discern!
You know just how you’ve done this—but in case your flock doesn’t, let me be explicit.
Because you routinely lie to your people, yet demand complete and unquestioning allegiance, your flock has come to disconnect truth from quality leadership.
Because you steal from your people, yet demand more and more, your flock believes it’s part of their ‘covenant’ to give and give, and to allow the recipients to use, spend, and live indiscriminately.
Because you do not hesitate to take what is not yours sexually by way of prostitution, pornography, child abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault, or any other form of power, your flock no longer sees this type of behavior as disqualifying for anyone regardless of which level of office is in question.
Because you show no restraint in spending parishioners’ donations to expand your empire without input from anyone except your inner circle, your flock discerns no disconnect when trillions of potential tax dollars are cut, benefitting the very wealthiest while education and healthcare deteriorate to alarming lows and costs become insurmountable.
Because your personal and church life moves from one crisis, one scandal, one accusation to another, giving no space for process, your faithful find the folding of one scandal and horror into the next an everyday affair; personal survival necessitates turning a blind eye.
Because you groom women, men, teenagers, girls, and boys to see males as superior to females, even some women will rather side with an abuser than stand up for those who rise up against patriarchal oppression.
Because you ensure your ongoing grip on your flock by touting the grim, incorrectly applied warning, ‘touch not God’s anointed,’ your flock is silenced through fear.
It’s on YOU — it’s yours to embrace and defend. Every leader of an evangelical, charismatic, and denominational church who still supports what we see played out on our national stage every moment of every day bears responsibility for the devastating results.
But please don’t claim Jesus as being any part of your leadership or church.”
She mops her face with the sleeve of her sweatshirt. The cup in her shaking hand is cold, but it contains coffee, not kool-aid.
© Julia Penner-Zook, 2018
Photo credit: Jametlene Reskp via unsplash.com