“This World Is Not My Home” by Esther Nelson


I’ve been puzzled for a long time why people, especially conservative Christian people who seem to be decent human beings, enthusiastically support Donald Trump, our current president.  My thinking stems from my own experience of being brought up in an evangelical, fundamentalist space.

I grew up with ultra-conservative, missionary parents in a small community of believers who thought they were the only people who understood “life” properly.  Especially relevant to the theme of this essay is their understanding that political leaders are in power because God willed it.  “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God” (Romans 13:1).  Nothing happens in the political arena (or anywhere else) outside of God’s will which is perfect even though we may not always understand God’s strategies.

Along with supporting leaders that are in power because none other than God placed them there, there’s another piece that informed my parents about the world, a place they understood as inherently evil and corrupt, therefore, alien.  “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I [Jesus] have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (John 15:19).

However, that doesn’t answer the question as to why so many Christians today see our current president as a savior.  My premise is simple: We create God in our own image.  The more alienated and powerless we feel in relation to the wider culture, the greater likelihood that we will be drawn to an authoritarian figure who assures us that he (usually a “he”) has things under control.

The following song, “This World is Not My Home,” was (and may still be) popular among conservative, evangelical Christians who believe the world is out to ensnare and destroy them.  Consequently, there’s an aura of paranoia about them as well as a longing for acceptance and belonging in some by-and-by. [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJP5XGFbcUQ]

There are many communities such as the one my parents found themselves in.  They’re not all in agreement one with the other, however, the one thing they do have in common is that they see themselves as apart from, not a part of society/culture.

My parents supported an authoritarian Richard Nixon (1913-1994) to his bitter end (and beyond).  “Such a fine Christian gentleman and look how the press is smearing him,” became their mantra in those days leading up to Nixon’s resignation after being accused of obstructing justice.

John Kennedy (1917-1963), somebody with whom they vehemently disagreed (he was Roman Catholic, for heaven’s sake!), became president of the U.S.A. presumably because God ordained it.   There was this tacit understanding that God’s ways are not our ways and so they lived as best they could, chafing under “ungodly” (meaning the endorsement of social programs) leadership.  When Kennedy was assassinated shortly after taking office, my father was convinced God used a human instrument to “get our country back on the right track.”  At least Lyndon Johnson (vice-president who became president upon Kennedy’s death) wasn’t Catholic!

Another puzzle piece comes from popular mythology informing us to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.  When some people don’t achieve “what I’ve accomplished with old-fashioned hard work,” they find an ally with our current president who goes after people they believe “drag our country down”—immigrants, the poor, and non-white people.  “I made something of myself. Why can’t they?”  There’s no thought given to the structured inequality built into our institutions, laws, and policies.

My parents were committed to being as separate from the world as possible.  They refused financial assistance from the British Hospital where my youngest sister was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, backing up that decision with Scripture: “…they [disciples] went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles” (3 John 1:7).  The disciples did not accept support from those outside the chosen inner circle.  My missionary parents followed their example, pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps.

I generally don’t find memes or copied Twitter posts floating around Facebook to be helpful—or even accurate.  There are exceptions, of course.  Corey Reynolds, someone I do not know, posted the following on Twitter:

Here’s the truth; Trump’s supporters don’t measure his success by what he does for them, they measure by what he does against people they don’t like, that’s why they see him as being “successful.”  This is why they will NEVER abandon him.  His tormenting of “others” sustains them.

I think Corey Reynolds may hae unlocked (at least partly) the reason our current president garners such support.  Donald Trump embodies characteristics so many evangelical, fundamentalist people attribute to their God.  Their God is authoritative.  “I am the LORD thy God from the land of Egypt, and thou shalt know no god but me: for there is no saviour beside me” (Hosea 13:4).

Their God is also capricious.  “Now go and smite Amalek and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass” (I Samuel 15:3).

I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”

It’s an in-group/out-group mentality. “They” belong outside your protected circle. “They” are not part of the chosen few.  In the cult-like community that raised me, “they” are “of the world” (alien).  Have nothing to do with them.  When our president puts his weight against people you believe are not up to snuff, it’s easy to believe he’s on your side which, of course, is God’s side.

Most people, I dare say, have not had the upbringing I endured.  However, I do think the God my parents worshiped has seeped into the fabric of our society so when an authoritative person comes along promising to slay our “enemies,” it feels right.  Corey Reynolds gets it.  “His [Trump’s] tormenting of ‘others’ sustains them.”

 

Esther Nelson is a registered nurse who worked for several years in Obstetrics and Psychiatry, but not simultaneously. She returned to school (Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia) when her children were in college and liked it well enough to stay on as an adjunct professor. For twenty-two years, she taught courses on Human Spirituality, Global Ethics, Christian-Muslim Relations, Women in the Abrahamic Faiths, and Women in Islam. She is the co-author (with Nasr Abu Zaid) of Voice of An Exile: Reflections on Islam and the co-author (with Kristen Swenson) of What is Religious Studies? : A Journey of Inquiry. She recently stepped away from teaching and now splits her time between New Mexico and Virginia.



Categories: Abuse of Power, Bible, Christianity, Evangelicalism, General

Tags: , , ,

25 replies

  1. Yes, the longer I’ve been separated from my “creepy” roots, the odder those roots seem!

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  2. This is very helpful insight and I appreciate you sharing your background with us. Very disturbing and thought-provoking. But as Jesus said, “the truth shall make you free!” Many thanks.

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  3. The unfortunate truth.

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  4. Good for you! Your survived that fundamentalist, authoritarian upbringing! I’m glad you broke out. The PBS Newshour ran a report last night that authoritarian leaders are rising and gaining strength all over the world. Now that is majorly creepy and scary.

    Bright blessings!

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  5. This is the best and most comprehensive explanation of why Evangelicals still support Trump that I have ever read. It also shows the importance of spaces like the Feminism and Religion blog which discuss why it is essential that all people be seen as spiritually equal as well as politically, socially, and economically equal if our world is going to be made better. I’m sorry that you had to experience this environment, but it has made you a wonderful resource for explaining what is happening. Thank you so much!

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  6. Thanks, Carolyn, for your supportive response. My experience growing up in evangelical, fundamentalist world all seemed so normal and “right” at the time. It took years to shake it off. Progress never seems to happen in a straightforward manner.

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  7. Thanks for writing this, Esther. You’ve really helped me understand why evangelicals often support Trump. They do really push the Old Testament idea of God, that’s for sure. I also have read that they support Trump because he is anti-choice.

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    • Thank you for commenting lindacostelloe. The being anti-choice thing is in itself authoritarian. No government body in the US forces a woman to have an abortion. Yet, authoritarian mentality forces women NOT to abort. I doubt DT is “pro-life.” He courts the evangelical vote by taking that stand.

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  8. As a former Christian fundamentalist myself, I can so relate to your article. In my most recent book–Return of the Divine Feminine, Rise of the Divine Masculine: And the Men Who Are Calling for Her Return–I write the following: “And it may very well be that we make God in our own image because he turns out to be just as dysfunctional as we are at a particular time in history, whether thousands of years ago or just last week.”

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  9. I have asked myself a million times, “Don’t they see what he is doing????” Yours is the first article I’ve read that says, “Yes, they see, and they like it, and here’s why.” It is scary, and so sad. It would take a whole shift in perspective for liberals to speak with the ultra conservative; I hope we have it in us to do so.

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    • Thank you, maryannshank. It would be great if we could talk with each other about what’s important to us. I see less and less tolerance for that in the public sphere. The one exception I’ve found is in the college/university classroom.

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  10. Oh dear, just left a comment about music, then lost it. Thank you for this insightful post, Esther, and for sharing some of your story. The gist of what I was saying: In the Episcopal I was brought up on Bach and the 1940 hymnal. I don’t know much about evangelical music or contemporary Christian music. But I have always loved Southern Harmony, shape-note singing, Appalachian folk music, much of which expresses a yearning to escape life on this earth. Like wayfaring stranger “I’ll soon be done with earthly trials….I’m only going over Jordan, I’m only going over home.” It is sad to me that such haunting music that must have come out of real hardship could become part of alienation from our shared humanity on this earth. I shall continue to ponder.

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  11. Thanks, Elizabeth. As always, you give us much to think about. What you note about your love of Appalachian folk music with its “haunting” quality can also be said about African-American music and what were called Negro spirituals–a genre of music I’ve always loved. Both kinds of music were born out of hardship. There’s something to that. My experience involved a fear of becoming tainted by the world–something I learned early on to eschew until I didn’t anymore. That longing to remain pristine and pure is ripe for authoritarian figures to move right in. We see it in our current political landscape where so many people want to “keep to our own kind.” I’m in the middle of a cross-country trip (driving) right now. I like to listen to local radio when I’m passing through new areas. Kansas, especially, came down hard on immigrants. Vote for so-and-so–“he will protect YOUR family from foreign invasion.” These people are deadly serious.

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  12. Esther, you nailed the point of the question I always had and have, you spoke right out of my heart and I thank you for that. What ever religion we might find our peace of believe, yet they speak of having compassion for one another, unfortunately our POTUS , doesn’t have any compassion in his bones and heart for the well being of this country. Most important is that we keep our believe that the compassion we show each other will have an effect on the people and our daily lives.

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  13. Wow Esther -you are surely onto something here when you say “My premise is simple: We create God in our own image” in response to those who support Trump…. he is kind of a “big daddy” isn’t he? A disgusting one to be sure – but when “you are not of this world” any authoritative figure – especially one who feeds revenge and hatred becomes a god. Frightening. I do see him and his supporters as being locked together in a cult mentality.

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