You Need Help: Your Christian Family Loves Trump’s Debauchery, Hates Your Gayness

Q:

I grew up in a very Baptist family in South Carolina, they’re still Baptist. They voted for Donald Trump despite the fact that his actions go against basically every teaching of Jesus. They’re still standing behind him no matter how grotesque his behavior gets, and I can’t stop thinking about how supportive they are of this man when they did everything but send me to conversion therapy when I came out to them. I am their child and grandchild and they’ve chastised me for homosexuality for eight years now, but what they feel for a man who assaults women and is blatantly and unabashedly racist is practically worship. I do not stand in opposition to the teachings of Christ. Trump does. Yet I’m the one who’s ostracized. Why are they like this? I’m serious. I think it would help me if I could understand why they’re like this. And, maybe it’s not possible, but do you know how can I ever move past it?

A:

Ah, friend. This is a tough one. I’m going to try to answer both of your questions, but the first thing I want to say is: I’m sorry. And also: I understand. My roots are deep and my experiences are wide in the evangelical Christian world; and I continue to struggle with these questions in my own life.

I’ll try to answer the why first because I think it makes the how a little more manageable.

The thing you have to know about the Southern Baptist Convention — the toxic garden from which all these evangelical leaders and politicians grow — is that it was founded when white southern Baptists split from white northern abolitionist Baptists prior to the Civil War, and they did so to continue to use the Bible to defend slavery. When they lost that fight, they championed Jim Crow laws. And when they lost that fight, they championed banning interracial marriage. It’s a religious movement literally founded on and sustained for a century by pure racism, and when Richard Nixon and Barry Goldwater came to the south in the late ’60s to court those white voters by appealing to and validating that racism, by telling them they were right to fear and resent the cultural change caused by the Civil Rights movement, that the liberal elite in the north didn’t understand what it meant to be true patriots, Southern Baptists and the Republican Party became inextricably linked together.

By the mid-90s, the GOP was finding it harder to be as overt in their racism as they had been 30 years earlier. Yes, their policies were still racist, but they had to be more palatably so. In a now infamous interview in 1981, Lee Atwater, a Republican consultant and adviser to Ronald Reagan, explained that the party had to keep finding newer, more subtle ways to appeal to racists: “You start out in 1954 [using racial slurs]. By 1968, you can’t say [racial slurs] — that hurts you, it backfires. So you say stuff like ‘forced busing,’ ‘states’ rights,’ and all that stuff. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.” So the racism remained, but the party needed a new scapegoat they could go after loudly. The Southern Baptist Convention made a deliberate and calculated decision to make that new scapegoat gay people.

It’s a very simple strategy: Baptist pastors convince church members their way of life is under threat by an other, GOP leaders promise to create laws to protect the faithful from the threat, Baptist leaders deliver votes to GOP politicians, GOP politicians craft the laws that validate the threat-rhetoric, the other pushes back and protests, Baptist leaders point to those protests and say, “See? Our way of life is under threat!” The GOP steps in and says, “We’ll save you!” Black people, gay people, immigrants, Muslims, trans people. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The tactic hasn’t changed in 150 years, only the scapegoats and the Bible verses used to justify persecuting them.

Which is why, when Fox News arrived on the scene, it became easy as pie for them to step into the swamp of that propaganda and exploit it. The structure was there; they turned it into a machine. For eight years, a black president occupied the Oval Office, and 24 hours a day, every day, Fox News and the conservative punditry herd doubled down and down, again and again, on the bigotry that’s coded into the very DNA of white evangelical Christianity and therefore the Republican Party.

Donald Trump is the through line, the inevitability of a political party and major religion whose lifeblood is creating imaginary monsters out of smoke and mirrors.

So that’s the world you were born into, friend, and the world your family still lives inside. Do you know cognitive dissonance? It’s the intense psychological stress experienced by a person who tries to hold two contradictory beliefs in their head at the same time. Now, everyone’s number one favorite belief is, “I’m a good person.” And every religious person’s favorite belief adds to that, “And I’m right with God.” For your family’s entire lives, they’ve believed they’re good people and they’re right with God in large part because they’ve “protected” themselves and their community and their faith by voting for Republicans, who are defending them from the others.

You are saying: Look at these facts. Can you not see that Donald Trump is a corrupt, depraved con-man?

They are hearing: Look at these facts. Can you not see that this man you’re defending is racist and xenophobic and transphobic and sexist, and therefore your actions are wrong, and therefore your faith leaders are lost at best or corrupt at worst, and therefore the church and political party you’ve spent a lifetime supporting is not good?

Rather than confronting your facts — which would shake the foundations of their very identities — they turn instinctively back to Fox News where James Dobson is saying it’s okay that Trump is embroiled in perpetual sexual scandal because he’s a “baby Christian.” Where Jerry Falwell Jr. is saying it’s okay that Trump calls POC-populated countries “shitholes” because what that really means is he’s not a “phony.” Where Billy Graham Jr. is saying the proof Trump’s a Christian is in his conservative judicial appointments. Never mind that those transparently dishonest and self-serving sentiments would have Jesus spitting “You snakes! You brood of vipers!” at them. Those words soothe the consciences of your family. Their core belief that they are good people remains in tact.

The hard truth is, humans are narcissists above all else. When you came out to your family, they didn’t ask themselves, “Is she bad?” They asked themselves, “If she’s gay and I’ve been taught gay people are sinners, am I bad? Is my religion bad? Have I devoted my life to a lie?” And rather than wrestling with that, rather than self-interrogating and trying to find grace in nuance and compassion for a person they loved, they settled on, “No, I’m good; she must be bad.”

The next question is much harder: How can you move past it?

I’m sorry to tell you: You can’t. You won’t. You will never forget that your family voted for Donald Trump and you will never forget that they have stood by him through every ugly, outlandish, monstrous thing he’s done. You will never stop mentally juxtaposing the way they treated you when you came out as a lesbian with the way they treated him when he said he grabs women by their pussies. Even if, one day, they realize the way they treated you was wrong, you won’t be able to stop yourself from feeling incandescent rage and despair that they can’t extend that same compassion and logic to the other minorities getting scapegoated and pummeled by this presidency. And honestly, I don’t think you should get over it.

I think the best thing you can do for yourself is to move forward with a clear-eyed understanding of the reasons your family believes what they believe and votes how they vote and defends what they defend. Because if you get that, you can understand that it was never about their love for you (though it should have been) but about the terror of confronting their own wrong and bigoted beliefs, and the way that confrontation would have unraveled their worlds.

And then, with that clear-eyed understanding, you can decide where to go. You can start working from the outside-in to try to help them change. The best thing you can do for them is cut off their access to the propaganda. As long as they’re seeking daily (or hourly!) confirmation bias from the conservative punditry herd, they’re never going to change. If you can pull or push them away from that, you’re on the right track. Or you can keep them at arm’s length and refuse to engage with them if they’re not arguing with you with real facts based in reality in the real world, if they’re just parroting whatever bullshit they heard Rush Limbaugh say the day before. Or you can take some time away from them and heal as you grapple with the myriad ways and reasons they’ve hurt you. Or you can stay close to them and continue to appeal to them on an emotional level by explaining the ways their hypocrisy hurts you; you can even bring Jesus into it. Jesus doesn’t have anything to say about gay people, but he has PLENTY to say about the kinds of religious leaders who support a man like Donald Trump.

I looked a man I’ve loved my entire life in the eyes a few months ago and said, “You’re racist.” That tactic is not supposed to work, but something about the fact that it was me — a little girl he’d spoon-fed and taught to read — shook him in his deepest heart. He turned off Fox News.

Here are three facts:

1) Our families are pawns in a zero-sum propaganda war that’s been funded and fueled by the white evangelical Christian Church and the Republican Party for decades.

2) We can’t side-step our responsibilities as activists.

3) There’s always hope.

And now you get to choose how to engage with those three truths with your eyes wide open!

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle managing editor who lives in New York City with her partner, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Heather has written 835 articles for us.

45 Comments

  1. heather, this is incredible!
    your words have consistently been built with endless empathy, care, and truth that has softened very sharp corners of (at least my) world. I cannot thank you enough for sharing this insight. it has given me plenty more consideration to unpack as I navigate my own fox-news-consuming-christian-propaganda-fueled-familial ties–and I am sure countless others

    thank you, thank you, thank you!

  2. Thank you so much for this gift, Heather. I too was raised in a very conservative Baptist family, and it took me so many years to come out as bisexual because I was terrified of my family’s reaction. Some of my conversations have been better than others, but there are absolutely members of my family that defend Trump, watch Fox news, and still manage to rationalize this behavior through the lens of evangelicalism. It’s so difficult to process and live with, and your words are deeply appreciated.

  3. I think I bring a unique perspective here. I am an evangelical Christian (please don’t cringe). Two important things from my view: Not all of us support Donald Trump. I dislike him strongly for many reasons mentioned above. And, I do not believe anyone reading this or anyone else on this planet is any more “bad” than myself. If it is worth anything at all, I would say, please forgive any others who have directed hatred toward you in the name of Christianity. You are loved by me. And you are loved by God. He alone is our judge. We are all sinners, totally imperfect, and fall short of God’s holy perfection. We all need His forgiveness, which He offers to everyone willing to accept. I respect everyone’s right to believe this or not. Just know that us Christians are not all the same… except that we are broken individuals desperately in need of God’s grace.

    • it must be frustrating to see your religion used to influence people to live in a way that is actually in opposition to the core beliefs of christianity. you have a responsibility to lead, to evangelize the true path of jesus, do you not? i hope you are doing all that you can to help your fellow evangelicals turn away from these charlatans.

    • Hi Grace! Thank you for your comment. I’m glad that you came here to disavow Trump, and I wish you the best. I do have one issue with what you said:

      “We are all sinners, totally imperfect, and fall short of God’s holy perfection.”

      I hope that you recognize that this is simply your belief, and that you’re able to focus on yourself (e.g. “I am a sinner”) rather than imposing your belief upon others (e.g. coming into a secular space and stating “we are all sinners”). Your god is not my god, and I find the idea that people are born sinners to be absolutely abhorrent.

      As an atheist, I respect religious people right up until the point where they tell me what they believe about me, or what they believe me to be. Keep that shit to yourself, please. Anything beyond that is violence.

      • Please see from note from my original comment: I respect everyone’s right to believe this or not.

        Honestly, I think the biggest problem is that we don’t truly listen to what one another are saying. Stating my opinion doesn’t impose my belief on one anymore than the perspectives shared by the author of this article.

        • well, do consider that you’ve come into a space full of people who have been treated cruelly by those of your group (christians), many of whom justify their cruelty directly by way of your religion. you’ve come into our space and something you’ve said has been identified by one of us as something we don’t like and do consider to be connected to that long long history of cruelty that not even the christians in our group have been spared from their christian peers.

          part of listening to one another is seeing that even an offensive to you response to something you’ve said in this space full of people who belong to a group that is vulnerable to the machinations of your group is understanding where it comes from and not taking it personally. consider what this vulnerable person has said to you about your behaviour and learn from it.

          the truth of it is that stating your opinion may not be imposing your beliefs on someone in all cases, but in the case of coming into a queer space where we are specifically discussing persecution by christians and then saying that we are sinners (even if you also consider yourself a sinner) is actually not a harmless action. i don’t doubt this isn’t the effect you wanted your comment to have, but you’ve got your feedback. what you do with it is between you and your god.

          • Thank you for both of your comments. I hear you both and will reflect on your point of view. It breaks my heart to even grasp at the cruelty anyone in this group has encountered. Since the intent of the article is to better understand where Evangelical Christians are coming from, I shared my own perspective (which left me extremely vulnerable as well). The article specifically mentioned that Christians view the person as bad. My hope was to communicate my belief that no one is worse than myself. My hope was not to “invade” this space, but be a unique part of it. Love to you both.

    • hi grace,

      i can appreciate the kindness and generosity in your words and your good-hearted intentions. however, this strikes me as the equivalent of the men who respond to women’s experiences of violence with “not all men”. we already know that not all evangelicals are evil, because lots of them are people we love or who loved us once. you may see yourself as “one of the good ones”, but that rhetoric isn’t helpful to people being oppressed by institutions the “good ones” continue to support and help to maintain.

      i understand the instinct to defend something you love by pointing out the good things about it. but a simple ‘i’m sorry. i hate that the church does this too’ may do.

    • I used to be more okay with religious conservatives than I am now. Then my girlfriend died. Her family left me out of the obituary. It was not clear that I was going to be welcome at the funeral. The funeral was held at a church that was not the kind of church with a rainbow flag out front. The slideshow of pictures of her prominently featured her early marriage to a man. I could not bring my children. I parked across the street and brought two friends. We had a plan for what we would do if we were physically attacked.

      At her funeral.

      Her family continued to harass me after her death.

      When I posted an essay about her life and work as an artist online, more religious conservatives came in, posting homophobic abuse and death threats. I had to move my children out of my house for a week.

      Your people have harmed me and my family. I am not okay with you if you are hanging around with them. Instead of talking to us about forgiving them, how about you go talk to YOUR PEOPLE about how THEY need to change instead of asking us to forgive people who have no intention of changing and will just hurt us again tomorrow?

  4. Just gotta be that person again who says that people who distance themselves from their toxic families are valid!! (I don’t know the asker and I’m not implying that this is right for them). If you were in danger and did what had to be done, I’m proud of you!

    • I too think that sometimes it is best to distance yourself from this kind of toxicity. My relationship with family has been on-again/off-again since I came out 30 years ago. I’ve found that at times I have to say my peace and move on after letting them know that it’s up to them to take the necessary steps toward reconciliation. And like Heather said, I can never forgive them for voting for that man.

  5. Applause!

    Neither of this applies to my experience (no strong religious ties in family, no Donald where I live/not in community that supports the crass idiots or dumb media we have here) — but yet it does, and my brain has still to unwind this and transfer it to my experience with my mother (basically I guess she has to claim furiously and continously that I am a bad child, because else she would have to deal with what harm she may have done).

  6. Thank you for this Heather.

    I recently had a long visit with the white lesbian couple who changed my family’s church from wanting to vote to not be ‘reconciling’ (accepting queer ppl) to enthusiastically becoming reconciling. It took decades of inviting people – siblings, strangers, and in between who refused again and again and said hateful things or, worse, refused to say anything – inviting them over and over until they finally said yes, to have coffee, to eat cake, to just step inside their home. It’s no coincidence they also put me on the path I am on with prison abolition – they invited me to come to prison with them one Sunday.

    I am at least two steps removed from people under the sway of Fox etc. For other readers with a similar distance – the church I grew up in is a very different white-dominated Christianity, and there are infinite shades of the faith between that and the Southern Baptism Convention. It helps me to remember that every faith tradition, every branch and twig, grew from seeds that hold transformation, curiosity, wonder, redemption, and grace, no matter how deeply those seeds are buried in centuries of white supremacy, violence, bigotry, and worldly (I say idolatrous) political ambitions. An earlier autostraddle post has helpful advice for us bystanders who are not in personal danger: “it really doesn’t take logic or arguments, it takes kindness and sowing the seeds of doubt. We were taught to fear everyone who was different from us because they would try to sway us away from God. In this context, when you are met with kindness, that inspires doubt in what you were taught; and that doubt can eventually grow into something that looks like an escape. If you want to defeat Christofascism, your time is best spent being involved in your community and extending kindness” https://www.autostraddle.com/here-are-the-strategies-that-actually-work-against-christofascism-from-a-former-believer-369915/. My guess is that part of why Heather’s directness worked is not just her close relationship but because her kindness is so strong.

    • This is really important to me : “We were taught to fear everyone who was different from us because they would try to sway us away from God.” – I was very lucky not to get this brand of religious brainwashing but I need to be reminded that it is predominant.

      But mostly, this is my takeaway : “My guess is that part of why Heather’s directness worked is not just her close relationship but because her kindness is so strong.” YES.

    • Thank you for this story!

      I was briefly part of a reconciling (but still very divided about it) church in the 90s. I left it because it was too much work – I was looking for a refuge and they were still arguing about whether announcing the gay family group meeting during service was “flaunting” ones sexuality. I also wasn’t very secure in my queerness / bi identity at the time and it felt like too much to take it on. I wish I could have done more – I’m glad to read about those who could do more.

      Today I’m part of a lovely parish in the tradition I grew up in (Episcopalian) and I’ve marched with them at the Pride parade the last 3 years. Last year I came out to them when I testified during Pride month about how amazing it feels to have found a church home in my 40s that’s accepting of every part of my identity.

  7. Wow!

    It always seemed to me that the republican party had gotten hijacked along the way. I just didn’t know that it had happened so long ago !

    Everything about this is terrible. Family bonds are so important and when your family has become toxic… I am so very sorry.

    • Yeah. The Republican Party was the party of Lincoln and reconstruction and white southern voters were solidly Democratic until the DP (or part of it anyway) started supporting civil rights in the mid 20th C.

      I remember reading about “Dixiecrats” – socially conservative white southern Democrats – in the 80s, when they helped elect Reagan. You don’t hear that term anymore because they’re Republicans now.

  8. I feel like it’s worth pointing out that sometimes it’s not your job to repair the bridge between you and your family.

    They’re the ones who took planks because they wanted the wood, and let termites fester under the surface.

    Sometimes the cost of maintaining that broken bridge is too much. Your job is to look after you, and sometimes the best way to do that is to burn the whole thing down and scatter the ashes.

  9. It’s hard not to feel connected to Christianity, particularly this sort, when it was your entire universe and caused so much pain. I truly admire queer Christians who find comfort in their faith. Personally, I needed to abandon it for my own mental health and well-being. I have never once regretted it, but it’s a profoundly personal decision.

    Thank you for your words and insights, Heather. I hope many others find something here.

  10. “They asked themselves, “If she’s gay and I’ve been taught gay people are sinners, am I bad? Is my religion bad? Have I devoted my life to a lie?” And rather than wrestling with that, rather than self-interrogating and trying to find grace in nuance and compassion for a person they loved, they settled on, “No, I’m good; she must be bad.””

    OH. Oh. These are also words for the good parts, too.

  11. This is really beautiful Heather. Thank you.

    LW – my answer for how you get over it is slightly different. I agree that that kind of betrayal isn’t something one gets over, but I do think it’s possible to get to the point where one isn’t obsessed with the betrayal, where it doesn’t feel like you’re walking around with an ice pick in your heart and you’re bleeding out – you may not feel like this at all – thus may be more about my feelings about my family’s very different betrayal of me. But for me, the key has been to keep gently bringing my focus on my present. Therapy and mindfulness training have helped me to notice when I start replaying conversations with various relatives in my head, to notice that I’m still thinking about an argument from 20 years ago. And to keep gently pulling my attention back to who I am now and who I want to be.

  12. I also want to recommend a book (I’m a librarian, I can’t help myself) that has helped me start to be able to do what Heather is suggesting in regard to a lot of my parents’ behavior.
    It’s called “Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents” by Lindsay Gibson. My therapist recommended it to me and it basically changed my life.

    Here it is on Goodreads

  13. “it was never about their love for you (though it should have been) but about the terror of confronting their own wrong and bigoted beliefs, and the way that confrontation would have unraveled their worlds”

    This. Thank you, Heather.

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