Why did you tell us if we were never supposed to believe it?

It’s been hard watching so many disparate parts of my past that I’d hoped would remain in the past intersect over the last few weeks as the Roy Moore story unfolded. Harder than I thought it would be.

Aside from dredging up everything about courtship culture and then watching as sites like The Federalist proved my point and started arguing that child marriage was fine, I’ve also gotten to watch as the Operation Rescue/Operation Save America crowd is running around Alabama defending Roy Moore.

My time with Operation Rescue is still one of the parts of my past that I have a hard time writing about, and while I’ve been talking about it more since the presidential election, it hasn’t gotten easier. I’ve spoken up about what I lived through in the ‘90s because it’s important to understand the past if people are going to figure out how to resist the religious right and the Trump administration, but rehashing the past when you’re still feeling your way forward is exhausting. That all of this is going down in Alabama, a state where I was arrested with Operation Rescue when I was 13, just adds to the emotions.

I haven’t really written about that big Holy Week event in Birmingham because I don’t know how to fit together the fact that it was a hugely formative part of my life because of how the youth events that week focused on race and racism, and yet I now know none of the white male leadership ever actually believed any of it. I feel like I missed a memo somewhere along the line that would have told me that it was all an act and that I wasn’t really supposed to care about racial injustice.

One of my distinct memories from that week was of Flip Benham talking about how the people in Birmingham who put their bodies and their lives on the line to fight for civil rights turned the world upside down. I heard about the church bombing and the four little girls who were killed so many times that week from various white male pro-life leaders, and we were supposed to see ourselves as carrying on the legacy of those who fought for justice back then. Those same leaders are now busy campaigning for a man who thinks we’d be better off if all the Constitutional amendments after the Tenth would go away.

I thought I was at the point where the hypocrisy and the lies didn’t bother me anymore, but it feels like a betrayal. None of it was real, they co-opted and appropriated the struggle of the civil rights movement for their own ends, and while I’ve known that for a long time, the last few weeks make it incredibly concrete. It was all an act to pick up support of Black pastors in Birmingham, and I honestly have no idea how to process that I’m where I am today politically in part because of that week in Birmingham and yet here we are and Flip Benham and Rusty Thomas are campaigning for a white supremacist against the guy who prosecuted the church bombing.

Back then I was so young and idealistic and thought I was part of something big and important that would change the world for the better. I didn’t know that I wasn’t actually supposed to believe any of it. 

Photo of the Operation Rescue event in Birmingham, AL, taken from the cover of Rusty Thomas’s book. I’m kneeling on the far right.


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  • PRS

    My slow falling away from my faith began when the loving Christianity I experienced in high school and college was shown to be little like what existed outside my weird bubbles. Condemnation of my friends for being gay, unwillingness to look at other perspectives, out and out hatred for others with different beliefs—this is what I saw far too often, and I couldn’t see how people could truly believe in a divine being who healed the sick and had compassion for outcasts could hold all this hate within them.

    As I have seen the true face of southern evangelical Christianity in terms of their politics, it seems more and more clear how little of it is driven by real contemplation of Jesus’ teachings, and how much is driven by blind nativism, white supremacy, and the worst aspects of John Birchian worship of mannon.

  • Ben KARLIN

    So odd how similar and yet how different we are.

    I grew up an atheist with a strong antipathy for killing. It led me to increasingly deep involvement in leftist politics. When Nixon was elected I came to understand “democracy” cannot be practiced successfully, especially under a republican system where the masses no longer have the say, handing authority off to corruptible representatives.

    It was that condition which lead me to belief in a creator who identifies himself in the Bible as Jehovah. I still have a strong antipathy for killing but have dropped all involvement with politics. Has anything beneficial ever come from legislating the morality of others.