The following story is about white Christian young person, raised in a rural area, insulated inside a world of “religion,” “family,” and questionable morality.
Once upon a time, there was a young person.
They lived with their younger sibling and parents in a hundred-year-old farmhouse in rural Ohio near Lake Erie. The family was very poor, and lived in the farmhouse in exchange for caretaking their elderly next door neighbors.
The house sat on a road about an hour’s walk away from the nearest grocery store, in a place with no public transportation. The township was “economically depressed,” and the nearest town wasn’t much more than funeral parlors, drug stores, and bars, of course.
The young person was alone a lot.
Being alone was so painfully normal, that going to Bible study with cousins was the least they could do to be outside the house. The family didn’t have a car. Neither parent “worked” caretaking and disability checks on the neighbors. Church was something to do.
Two key factors impacted their adolescence: Going to church youth groups regularly, and seeing a psychiatrist.
The young person told their psychiatrist about the classmate who just died, about multiple family members who’d in quick succession in recent years. They mentioned using a Ouija board, with a friend, to contact a deceased peer.
The young person was medicated.
Being treated for psychotic symptoms, the Risperdal was provided daily, morning and evening. After the morning dose, it became difficult to stay awake in school. The young person’s grades became to fall so low, they were in danger of repeating the 8th grade.
They slept a lot in school, and they slept a lot at home. They wore black almost every day, and had almost no friends. Bullying was severe.
The school’s vice principal, an upstanding white Christian man, met with the young person’s parents to discuss rumors that their child was a “Satan worshipper.” He reported that on more than one occasion other students had observed, based on the child’s appearance, that they were “worshipping Satan,” and possibly selling marijuana.
The young person didn’t know the outcome of those meetings. They only knew that they were taking medications every day and reporting their experiences to a therapist; sometimes. The therapist wasn’t helpful, but nice. No grief counseling was provided.
The young person compromised.
The young person took the MMPI-A because their mother begged them to file for disability, even though they didn’t need to disability. They wanted to work as soon as they were able, and disability didn’t add up with having a job. Their dad and younger sibling were already on disability, but the young person wanted for themselves.
The young person acquiesced of course, to taking the test, with their mother’s agreement that they could work at sixteen. The thing was, the family needed money right now.
Their application for SSDI didn’t go through, though. After taking the test, it wasn’t enough to warrant an application. The young person never got the results: they just knew that nothing else happened.
The young person realized.
They kept going to church youth groups. The thing was, the longer they spent time there, the worse it felt. Tracts to leave for people with tattoos. Images of aborted babies to leave on car windshields. The Billy Graham crusade. The questions and giggles about homosexuality; constant berating of anything perceived as “gay.” The orating about Jesus and His love in a way that sounded like a lie. The questions about purity and Catholicism to make sure you were a “real Christian instead of a Catholic.”
Church people were not, the young person came to gradually realize, nice people. They also didn’t seem to care about discussing anything other than how to get other people to come to church.
And when youth group was over, there wasn’t much else around that wasn’t completely Christian. Christian “rock.” Christian morality tales on VHS tapes. Old Christian sermons by favorite TV preachers. Christian activities like picketing the sex shop on the highway just outside of town, and harassing people at the mall with Bible tracts. The routine was becoming uncomfortable for the young person in so many inexpressible ways.
The older they got, they noticed the talk became worse. Violent. Racist. Openly aggressive. Paranoid. Acts of domestic terrorism like the Oklahoma City bombing were described by some white Christians as a “means to an end” for the “sins of America.”
The Book of Revelation was used as teachable moment for turning an AR-15 into a fully automatic gun, before “war games” were played in the backyard of a churchgoer’s home. The property; acres and acres of private land to shoot your fully automatic AR-15.
The young person made a change.
Home life was boring and strange. Their parents had taken to using a Ouija board themselves, and speaking openly about believing the old farmhouse was haunted. This began around the time the young person was testing for disability.
When they mentioned their beliefs in spirits and ideas around death to the psychiatrist, the medication Risperdal was proposed.
Somehow, the young person managed to make it to high school without failing the eighth grade.
It wasn’t until the young person had reliable internet access — for the first time, at sixteen — that they discovered which medications they were on, and what for. One night, with the help of their boyfriend and a friend, the young person weened themselves off of both Paxil and Risperdal. A nightmare of nausea and shaking ended their time with those medications forever.
Their parents didn’t seem to care or notice or when they stopped taking their medications.
The young person grew older.
As the young person grew older, they became more curious about the world around them. They saw the good in it: Good things outside their home. Good things outside Christian beliefs they were taught. And they loved their family very much: That they could respectfully talk about the good things in the world with some family members in their generation.
Their cousins would listen and respond as the years went on. Eventually, the young person began to argue with their Christian cousins. They argued for racial equity, for human rights, for gay rights, for reproductive rights and the right to choose.
Their positions were met with counterpoints: that a “good woman is obedient,” any sex before marriage is a sin, abortion is murder. The counterpoints grew outrageous: A one-world government is trying to control everything. Women are less than men. It’s the God-given duty of Christians to bring Jesus to every single person on the planet. The United Nations is “evil.” Racism doesn’t exist. Marriage is between one man and one woman. Global colonialism is a good thing, because it “brought people to Jesus’s teachings.” We are living in the End Times.
The young person learned.
It took the young person decades to learn that nobody was really listening to them.
And why would they? At the end of the day, they were only given attention only when they could fill a white Christian need: whether financially, or emotionally, as a surrogate confessional when someone messed up outside the norms of a “good” Christian.
They got validation for adding a notch in someone’s beltloop of newly “saved” people. They certainly got attention when they were shunned for not going to church, once it became clear they were never getting baptized after all.
Good people aren’t anti-Semitic, or racist. They don’t train their children to fight and kill their own neighbors, “brother against brother,” in the name of the
Good people don’t beat their wives, adopt children from the global south just to abuse them. Lord. Good people don’t neglect, starve, or beat their children; sparing the rod and spoiling the child. They don’t use their children, or relatives’ children for money, clout, or bloodlust.
Good people don’t build their white, Christian, schools on Native reservations and claim to be doing God’s work, imposing their beliefs on others.
The young person left.
The young person, our protagonist, eventually moved to a different place. They went on to live a boring, inconsequential life. One they barely could conceive was even possible when they were fourteen. One that no one who knew them when would have believed .
They give a critical side-eye to the media’s sentiment that extreme white Christian Nationalism is new.
They know their own sad heritage of white European puritanism infects at least one significantly sized family to this day. They’re aware that white Christian colonizers have lived on Indigenous peoples’ stolen land, for the last seven generations.
Theirs certainly wasn’t the only white, Christian, American family affected.
When I see other white people’s commentary on white Christian Nationalism and Evangelicals, I wonder: Don’t you know yourself? Do you know why you are on this land, how long your peoples have been stealing it, let alone the cycles of abuse embedded into your culture, which you excuse and tolerate?
The secret to smashing white supremacy, is that if white people want to participate, we have to examine our individual familial cycles of abuse, and name them as they are. We have to identify ourselves and our personal experiences within the larger societal history of abusive colonization. We must see what’s been put inside of us to understand how hatred gets perpetuated outside of us.
White supremacy resides inside our family histories. Inside our beliefs about individual freedoms, and morality. Inside the Christian, anti-Semitic, anti-Black, heteronormative, ablest, xenophobic, American, norms.
Why would you do this, one may ask. And it’s a valid question.
I have to ask, though, if you’re white like me, and any of this resonates with you: why wouldn’t you?