Thursday, November 8, 2012

This is the America I've Always Known

I've seen a lot of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth today, and that's no big surprise. I live and work in one of the most deeply conservative areas of the country.  I get it that people are disappointed that their candidate lost and the guy they really disagree with got into office.

What I really watch with amazement is the sense of deep hopelessness and gripping fear that a lot of Christians are expressing over the result of this election. I talked to a friend today who said she was deeply discouraged, feeling heavy the weight of the change in this society. It's different than the country she grew up in. She feels like she's lost her bearing. Another friend is afraid for her children's future. And you know, moderates and liberals may laugh at that reaction, but in a way it's true. This election kept in office a deeply liberal man with some beliefs and values that seem in direct conflict with the beliefs and values of most evangelicals. Marijuana and same sex marriage were legalized in unprecedented waves. That change is shocking and difficult for many, and I can understand that.

I can't relate to that feeling, though. I sit back with fascination and listen to them express their emotions because it's just so interesting to me, the difference in perspective. See, for me, this is simply the political realization of the America that I have always known. I moved overseas when I was five and have no memories of America before that time. I came back to the USA on vacations and for six months or a year at a time, here or there.

This was my experience of America. In my public middle school, marijuana was available to anyone who wanted it. When we had a DARE assembly, my friend commented to me as we walked out that he didn't know anyone that hadn't tried drugs, and he was shocked when I told him I hadn't. The pervasive availability of drugs was there in every school I ever attended in the USA, and my high school students in deeply conservative north Dallas tell me the same is true here.

Teasing classmates for being "gay" was pretty standard in my American schools. Kids may not have "come out" very clearly yet in the early years, but the fact that homosexuality existed in my peers was clear every time I was in US. It may be true the media normalized homosexuality for a generation, but my experience was far more influenced by my own peers discussing their sexual identity, by friends (out and in the church) who identified as gay. I've have a  number of friends and former co-workers in committed long-term homosexual relationships. Beyond homosexuality, my general American experience has been that marriage is simply something you do when you're in the right life stage, and it's great because weddings are fun and love is great. Sex, though, was meant for love, and isn't tied to marriage. Serial monogamy is simply expected, divorce is painful but it is the norm.

What my friends in the evangelical world identify as "liberal" is simply what most people around me in public schools, jobs, and social clubs exemplified.  America has always looked like this to me. It's true, in every area the church looked different from the secular world I encountered in America, but.... that's the point.

When I came back to the US to visit, it was often a lonely world, but over time, I've made peace with this country. I now know the society and culture. I know where I agree with the mainstream world and where I am different. I expect to be different. In the American world that I have always known, the mainstream majority is secular, has been influenced by theism but picks and chooses their areas of agreement, and generally looks on Christians and the Christian world as conservative and different. Of course, moving to Texas revealed a different side of American culture where religion, society, and culture are interwoven, but the thing is that I don't really like it and I don't think faith comes out stronger.

What I see happening in politics today is not a sea change in American society, but rather our politics reflecting the sea change in American society that already happened years ago.

I think that's why I'm not so taken off guard, because this looks no different than the America I've always known and already made peace with. Here's the brilliant thing. America has this awesome thing called freedom of religion. Assuming we continue to hold to that principle strongly (and really, despite the fear, I think this principle is still strongly in place though I know some of you disagree), this country will continue to allow Christians to worship and live as conservatively and differently as we please.

That I look different from my society is merely what I expect, both from my American childhood and from what scripture tells me I can expect. A societal swing towards increasing liberalism and secular materialism merely gives the Church a chance to even more vividly exemplify for a watching world a different way, a different purpose, an entirely different worldview built around the man Jesus.


AHLondon said...

It's not about the social issues. It is about the spirit of self reliance, about a government that doesn't meddle in everything we do. Gay marriage and legal pot are sideshows. It is the taxes, the deficit, the crippled economy, the fact that so many people think that this status quo is fine that they are naive enough to think that more of Obama's policies would make it better, not worse. That's not entirely their fault as the O admin backloaded all the costs of his first term reforms, the taxes and the requirements don't kick in until January and most people won't pay them until April. The layoffs and cuts have just started. The IRS delayed the new regulations about full time employment being 30 hours until September. The reclassification is why the unemployment numbers went up in the last two reports, but businesses have until December to cut back their employees hours to avoid the healthcare penalties so the cuts are coming soon. The Boeing layoffs were announced yesterday. The Administration had asked the defense firm to delay announcing until after the election as it is in Colorado. And that is just domestic policy.
We just didn't think our countrymen would settle for this. But they did. Things are going to get worse and we can't stop it.

lisa said...

LOVED this post.

Kacie said...

For my friends around here, it really is about the social issues.

CatharineKariana said...

Love this post. I relate to everything you're saying. I really like how balanced your perspective always is in regards to left and right wing views.

Hans said...

catching up on posts... it amused me recently that my mum (English, of course, and a committed christian) phoned me to express her horror that Billy Graham (the one American evangelist well known in the UK) had endorsed Mitt Romney. "But he's (Billy) a christian", she said, "what about healthcare? and providing for the poor?"...

And I said... "wow mum, you really don't know anything about American politics, huh?!"

Kacie said...

Hah, that is fantastic!
Also, a few insider comments into Billy Graham's endorsement suspect that those words were fed to the press by Billy's son, who his much more politically conservative. Billy rarely goes out to speak anymore.