“Do not cause others to stumble.”
This verse is usually pulled out and dusted off whenever youth ministers want to convince teen girls not to wear crop tops and short shorts. “Others” is often switched out for “your brother,” as in your brother in Christ who would be ignited by lust with such dress. But these days, it’s come to mean something very different to me, personally—a lowly seeking agnostic.
During this tumultuous election season, a week doesn’t pass that I don’t receive some chain message touting a “prophecy” about how Donald Trump is ordained by God to remain in power. It’s usually sent by well-meaning older relatives or people I used to be good friends with at church.
It’s a warning wrapped in a hysterical call to action. And just as these believers have spent decades spreading the gospel of Jesus with such urgency, working to save as many souls as possible from eternal damnation, they’ve now shifted crucial words once again; this time replacing Jesus Christ with Donald Trump.
For so long, I’ve ignored these “prophecies” when I’ve received them. I don’t reply. There’s no thumbs-up reaction or even a response because how do you respond in contradiction when someone truly believes these are words directly from the creator of the universe?
For me to be against them would make me “anti-Christ,” after all.
And I’m already on very shaky ground there. See, back in 2017, I left the church. Everything had become so political and divisive. Yes, it’s a hospital for the sick. No church is perfect. The problem is, I didn’t see anyone getting better. Instead, I saw them spreading a toxic ideology amongst their masses. So, I inoculated myself from this contagion by leaving.
My extended family was horrified when I announced my loss of faith in man and an institution. But for me, personally, it felt like I now had complete dependency on my higher power alone. There were no more middle men, no more Pharisees, no more “Gods with skin on” which I now realize were tantamount to idols for me.
Jesus is all I ever really knew when it came to examples of unconditional love, and while I struggle with so many other parts of the Bible that have been used in the past by power hungry people attempting to tell me what to think or how to act through twisted scriptures and clever justifications, I’ve always seen the exact opposite in Christ.
So I went where I thought Jesus would go.
I marched with those in pain because people who looked like them were being killed in the streets with little regard and even less justice. I sat with the pregnant mom who’d been trapped in sex work for the last 11 years, never fully understanding her true worth. I went to the border and broke bread with pregnant migrant women—the most ignored and vulnerable among us.
And as the world caught fire with the rage of politics, I knew my work would never change. Oppressors will always prey on someone, and even if all we can do is make sure they know they’re not alone in that debilitating darkness, that’s something.
That’s what I learned from the Jesus I fell in love with as a child. And that’s the same love I feel coming from the higher power I now connect to, even if I don’t know exactly what or who it is. That spirit implores me to go and see the reality rather than hearing about it from people with vested interests on TV, at rallies, or standing behind pulpits. And I get to help. Because we all can in some small way.
So today, when I received yet another message from a long time family friend whom I adore, talking about the “wickedness” in this nation trying to steal this election from Trump, I responded. Not out of anger, though perhaps out of a bit of hurt.
I told her how fragile my faith was. I told her I’d seen “wickedness” first hand in the cruel policies her chosen candidate was carrying out on the pregnant migrant women I’ve come to love at the border. Wickedness is white supremacy. Wickedness is supporting systems that discard women deemed “unworthy” by the rest of the world. I told her that my speck of dirt on a mustard seed of spirituality either had to believe we had a different higher power, or that hers was one I would never want to worship.
In so many words, I told her she was causing me to stumble.
And, sadly, I’m not the only one. Far from it. I was on a Zoom call on election night, when an atheist friend of mine mentioned something rather powerful.
He said, “As someone who used to believe, but no longer does, the enthusiasm by Christians for this man is disturbing. They see what he’s said and done, and yet they still support him. Why would I ever want to be a part of their ‘church’ again?”
And here’s the thing, believe it or not, this isn’t about Trump. I’m no fan of Biden either. And if you told me he’s the man that God is putting on the throne of America to carry out God’s plan, I’d struggle with that too, because no man is perfect. All humans are flawed. That’s the whole point of religion in the first place: that we need something bigger and better to help us.
The problem is when we exalt any politician to the level of God, we are making God so small and God’s followers even smaller. Humans will always fall short, and as they fall, they will take so many of us down with them.
This is merely a plea to believers to keep their eyes focused on the right person, not a politician.
Look for the people in your community experiencing injustices, and search your heart for how to serve them, not a candidate. Focus on the issues, not those looking to use them for personal gain. Your God should be bigger than a ballot box—because people like me, stumbling and lost, need God to be. I don’t know if I will ever return to the church, but I also know exactly what’s keeping so many in my generation away.