Today I did what I do most days. I woke up before my children (as if I actually slept), make my way downstairs to pour a cup of coffee and enjoy some quiet time. I like to come down just before the sunrise because there’s nothing more spiritual to me than meeting my maker in the morning as God slows down to paint the sky.
But lately, there’s been this pit in my stomach. This dread. And recently, I was finally able to confess to God out loud, “Lord, I am dreading the anniversary of January 6th.”
I grew up in a medium sized southern town and my family attended a prominent Methodist church in the community. I knew all of the rules. I followed most of them, but I was a fairly quiet kid who battled anxiety for most of my childhood. As I grew up, my anxiety grew too. We called it perfectionism and a hard work ethic back then.
As a teenager I found myself spiraling spiritually and emotionally until I attempted suicide the week before my 14th birthday. I failed even at that. My parents did the best they could, but mental illness isn’t something that was acknowledged by my circles back then. So their response was to rip me out of public school and enroll me in several conservative Christian homeschool groups.
In a post 9/11 world, these groups offered a sense of belonging and purpose. There was a huge focus on defending the faith. But, I confess, I didn’t really know Jesus then. So, I’m not exactly sure what I was defending. Our group was the go-to group of “junior republicans” to help on republican election campaigns, canvas neighborhoods, march in parades with candidates, and work the polls on Election Day. We couldn’t vote yet, but we sure could expedite any future plans to rise in the republican ranks. Our group traveled to Washington for CPAC and prayer breakfasts. We often paged at the Georgia state Capitol. We did all of these things in the name of God and country. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was being thoroughly discipled in Christian Nationalism: the idolatrous entangling of God and country for the sake of power.
So fast forward a couple decades to 2020. My husband is Black, and we have four amazing nonwhite children. And as the world began to experience this collective racial reckoning in the middle of a global pandemic, I too realized that there is so much I had to learn—and unlearn.
As tensions heightened with the election and prominent evangelicals became consumed with conspiracy theories, I began to question the foundation that was laid so many decades before, and I lamented over the roots.
You see, my family wasn’t just southern, evangelical, and republican, but our lineage descended directly from confederate soldiers. In Heard County, Georgia, the biggest memorial of anyone in my family is of Hezekiah Almon, confederate soldier. My husbands parents are pastors in a rural Black church in North Carolina, but they descended from enslaved people. Probably one of the most painful experiences as a parent is doing one of those family tree assignments with your kids when their genealogy is either unknown or shameful. In our case, it was both. 2020 was the year I had to look my young daughters in the eye and communicate that a side of their lineage is unknown because of slavery. And a side includes people who were fighting to keep people like them enslaved.
Pretending that these details don’t affect our theology and the way we see each other is wholly unhelpful, and the only posture that feels honest is one of humility and repentance. Am I responsible for the sins of my ancestors? No. But I am responsible for mine. I’m responsible for all of the times I was and still at times am complicit in this systemic sin. But because I love God and my husband and children, there is nothing I won’t do to work towards healing and repair for our family. Because I love God, I know that racism and nationalism are evil and contrary to the kingdom of God. Because I love my home, I can say January 6th wrecked me to the core. And because I know hope in Christ, I take comfort that he will get the last word—because he is the Word.
That day I stood in the kitchen, stirring a pot of chili, and watched the attack unfold in real time. I hid tears from my children as they played and read books on the living room floor while the TV above the fireplace showed the smoke covering the Capitol. As I thought of all the times that I visited that building and worked so hard to advance republican politics, I felt so ashamed. I never had the stomach to vote for Donald Trump, but I was still ashamed even for my small contribution to the rise of the Religious Right. There were thousands of kids just like me. There still are.
As I sip my coffee this morning and count down the days on the calendar as we approach the one-year anniversary, I mostly grieve for my evangelical siblings that are wholly unwilling to search their hearts and see if there is any wicked way within them like our faith leads us to. Because when I searched mine, I found wickedness. I still find it sometimes. Rooting out the sickness of sin isn’t a practice of degrading ourselves, but it’s freeing ourselves towards the magnificent love of Jesus. Our faith leads us to lay down our crosses, not pick up torches or guns or flags. Our faith leads us to wage peace, not covet power and influence. Our faith leads us towards family, community, and belonging. Our faith leads us towards an otherworldly, upside-down kin-dom where the last and least are first. And as empires rise and empires fall, we would do well to remember that our patriotic anthems do not get us any extra points with Jesus of Nazareth.
When we are ultimately judged by a God who made us and loves us, we will give an account for how and who we loved. This is why I repent for all the years that I thought God needed a republican president to do God’s will. I repent for all the years I centered America and Americanism. I repent for all the years I weaponized Jesus and the Bible for political and personal gain. I repent for how my focus towards political power distracted me from seeing and centering the marginalized all over the world that God so loves.
As I curl up next to the fire with my children, I have hope. God has gifted our family this living picture of what holy restoration looks like and it is so beautiful. Regardless of power or politics or whatever happens in the future in America, I know my children will be armed with love, capable of waging peace and reconciliation, and invited to be led on an unexpected adventure towards the upside down kingdom of heaven by Hope incarnate.