by Guest Contributor Tomi Obaro
The thought of writing about my faith terrifies me.
This terror is (mostly) irrational.
Convinced that most secular progressives would launch into a tirade about the evils of the church, (or worse respond with a measured, “Really?” maintain conversation but narrow their eyes and draw their wine glasses closer to their bodies, warding against my offensive Jesus vibes) I tend to keep my religion under wraps.
It’s kind of absurd, really, given the fact that my encounters with these militant secular progressives are entirely imaginary.
Yet, for reasons I shall soon elucidate (reasons both founded and unfounded), I’ve always felt the need to store up an arsenal of defenses, to have in place a series of ‘BUTS’ to interject in case the words “Yes I’m a Christian” accidentally (always accidentally) slip out of my mouth. It’s really a great exercise in compound sentence formation:
“Yes, I’m a Christian…BUT I support gay marriage,” or
“Yes, I’m a Christian… BUT I’m pro-choice.”
I’ve never had to use these arguments, but when I’m putting off writing a paper or doing an especially mundane activity, I imagine confronting these incendiary secular progressives, and showing them calmly, rationally how I can be both an evangelical Christian and progressive.
But I’ve gotten tired of (hypothetically) defending myself.
I guess these insecurities/weird, imaginary conversations with WASP-y secular progressives began when I moved to America for good in middle school. (Brief background history: my parents are Nigerian, my twin sister and I were born in England, we moved to Gambia when I was four, had a brief stint in Ohio, went back to Gambia, hit up England again, and then moved to Rhode Island to settle in the US for good).
Those were challenging times, man.
Here we were, tall, skinny, dark-skinned black girls with buck teeth and English accents. Armed only with a superficial Babysitters’ Club based knowledge of American preteenager-dom, I was at a loss for quite some time, trying to navigate the confusing world of adolescence.
But soon, both my sister and I came up with a solution. We stuck out like a sour thumb already so why not run with our difference?
So we became that strange, ludicrous, paradoxical human being also known as the black conservative.
I’m not quite sure how it started. I was certainly influenced by my parents who, like a lot of African immigrants, are socially conservative. But somehow I took it to a whole other level. To make matters worse, I married my religious beliefs with my political ones and the results were (as you would imagine) bizarre and comical. I’d slip in references to ‘the Creator’ in my Science papers. I’d quote Psalms 139 as I’d write about the evils of abortion for my Social Studies class. I watched The O’Reilly Factor every night. Did I mention I lived in Rhode Island—one of the most liberal states in the union?
Gradually, however, my political orientation began to shift. There are a host of reasons why this happened, many of which are too personal and cumbersome to delve into right now, but suffice it to say, by the time I was a senior in high school, my reputation had changed. Granted, moving to another state helped facilitate that transformation, but my sister and I were no longer known as ‘the Bible thumpers.’ We were now the race provocateurs– the ones that couldn’t go a day without bringing up some race-related issue or railing against our sexist, patriarchal society. But even though my political alignments changed drastically, my religious beliefs remained, largely, in tact.
Now a junior in college, I’m at a weird place. I’ve gone from Focus on the Family to Feministing. And both (albeit one a lot more than the other) have made some valid points over the years; yet the one-dimensionality with which each views the ‘other side’ is appalling. And, frankly, expected on one website, but not so much on the other.
Bloggers on Feministing regularly refer to fundamental Christians as ‘fundies.’ They once posted a (clearly) satirical rap song and cited a (clearly tongue-in-cheek) blog post on Stuff Christians Like about the “Christian side hug,’ presenting it in a very ‘look-at-what-those-crazy-prudish-homophobic-Christians-are-listening-to-these-days’ kind of way.
For Focus on the Family to have a movie review website dedicated to reducing films to their positive or negative ‘moral’ elements is to be expected. For a progressive, feminist site like Feministing to stereotype so crudely is not.
So often I feel like a minority within a minority within a minority. I so desperately want to participate in these conversations about race and sexuality and pop culture. Slut-shaming on the college campus! Let’s talk about it! Modern Family’s increasingly problematic racial jokes? Check! But so often, I stop myself from joining in, because at some point I fear my religion will come up and I’ll have to apologize or answer for any and all of the Church’s flaws.
I know that a lot of Racialicious readers have been burned by the Church. I’ve read your comments. I’ve seen the grateful, positively giddy exclamations of “Thank goodness I’m not the only one who (fill in the blank) by the church” or of “Thank goodness I’m not the only black agnostic!” or whatever it is.
I understand. I really do. My sister is currently working through her own religious issues and Nigerian parents can make that ish especially hard.
Here’s my ‘but.’
I have a story to share too. As a Christian. An evangelical Christian. One who has really felt the transformative power of Jesus Christ in my life (I know; you’re cringing.) And I suspect that there might be more of us in the progressive blogosphere than we let on. And by us I mean, those progressive Christians who read Racialicous or WhatTamiSaid or TransGriot or AngryAsianMan and agree with a lot of the posts and might want delve in, have their toes touch the proverbial water, so to speak, but are too afraid to do it because they feel like they’ll just have to keep apologizing and qualifying over and over again. And, man, I’m tired of all the guilt. I became a Christian to escape all that guilt.
Sometimes the progressive blogosphere can be strangely homogenous—so diverse in so many ways, and yet when it comes to its views on Christianity—so disappointingly unvarying.
But I’m not writing this to whine. Just to give myself some courage. To free myself from (mostly) imagined fears of rejection. Let everybody know where my privilege comes in, what my background is, before I dive headfirst into the crevasse (remember that 30 Rock episode?) and become more engaged in this progressive blogosphere that I call my home.