NOTE: I wrote the following to process my own grief about the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg while also helping anyone else who might need to understand the dynamics of how right-leaning white Evangelicals feel about RBG from the perspective of a communication scholar who grew up that way. May RBG’s memory be a blessing, and may all of us be part of that blessing to the world. May we all fight for genuine truth and justice and the equitable treatment of all, even as such ordinary efforts may cause us to be classed with the “radicals.” As you’ll see, where I am today, I’m okay with that–but that is NOT how I was raised to be. Please stick with me as I unfold those dynamics and how they’ve shifted.
Starting at the Very Beginning: With the (Suppressed) Hate
I was taught to hate RBG.
Well, not HATE.
We Christians didn’t do THAT.
Especially not educated, moderate Christians.
Nope. We didn’t sling insults—in fact, we looked down our noses at people who did such things, on “both sides.”
(And then we excused that kind of judginess of others for their behavior with self-deprecating humor and references to the grace of God and all that about forgiveness and how it was up to God to judge, not us.)
A Toxically Christian Nice Kind of Hate
But yeah, we hated RBG–and others like her.
It came out passive aggressively, because as I’ve said before many times, we were Christian Nice.
Being Christians meant we were supposed to be the moral ones, so we denied the very idea that we could hate, because we knew we weren’t supposed to. We were thorough Bible-readers, so we knew we weren’t supposed to hate.
Some of us even prayed for RBG and others like her in the government on the “other side,” because, you know, love your enemies.
But we hated her.
Okay, Maybe Not Hate Exactly
Maybe hate is the wrong word, though, or at least an imprecise one.
We feared RBG.
We were disgusted by her.
And we saw her as a devil term (as I’ve described many times, that’s something to be fought at all costs).
Perhaps most importantly, we found it to be a moral duty to vote against her.
Because she was a RADICAL. (We didn’t do well with those.)
(I mean, it was up to God to judge as to whether she was going to heaven, but ALL THOSE BABIES? We shook our heads. Clearly those progressives were to blame!)
As I can see now, years later, it was because we’d swallowed the lies.
See, I know many of my people “held their noses and voted” for the current occupant of the Oval Office specifically to get Supreme Court seats like hers for “their side.” It was barely suppressed, that implication that the point was to get them away from “evildoers like her.”
Why My People Were (Suppressedly) Wishing for Her Death
Let’s be clear: The group who held their noses, at least, who were deeply disturbed when progressive Christians tried to hold them to Jesus’ words about taking care of the “least of these” in Matthew 25 during and after the last election? They were hoping for this woman, who had championed the least of these, would retire or, let’s be honest, die.
The first group were hoping for this because they were afraid of her.
Because she wasn’t “nice” enough.
Because she was “too liberal.”
They were hoping for this because she supported different solutions to the question of abortion than they did.
(Let’s be clear about that. When banning abortion isn’t the most effective way to lower abortions, my peops I grew up with don’t have the moral high ground on this one.)
What They Really Feared
I can see it now. They ultimately feared RBG because she wasn’t willing to sit on the fence and keep her place in the status quo, as they had been taught to do.
They feared RBG because they had been taught to associate “radical social change” with moral and political disgusts.
(This is coming out now with rhetoric that outwardly sympathizes with those grieving her death, but only as a precursor to expressing concern about “riots” that may occur connected to her death. The irony, of course, is that they fully support the American Revolution having happened.)
The Fear of Women Gaining Power and Voice
They feared her because she was a woman–and a progressive one, no less, that spoke for women’s rights–and had gained power and a voice. They feared her because she was fighting for the same for other women, and that felt wrong. Distasteful. Disgusting.
(My denomination had voted to ordain women as preachers when I was grown up, but the more rural places where I lived would still never hire a woman preacher. I’ll never forget the moral disgust I still felt as a young adult when I saw a woman not just reading Scripture or praying, but actually PREACHING from a pulpit. Ironic that that’s what I feel most comfortable with now. It’s been quite a journey, for sure, to where I am now.)
In Which I Publicly Apologize for My Former Self
All of this is to say that I get it. And I deeply apologize now on behalf of my former self.
I am thankful I was privileged to repent of my irrational moral disgusts against a champion of the deeply biblical concepts of loving justice and fighting oppression.
In Which I Call My People to Repent
The thing is, my people taught me the reading and listening skills it took for me to get where I am, so I know they’re capable of it too.
I call my people to do the same.
Repent, friends. This thing you were socialized into, this moral disgust of progressives who disagree with your political disgusts, especially vocal women, is not, and does not have to be, your identity. It need not be. It is a behavior. It CAN be changed.
Repent of your part in the unhealthy demonization of RBG and other progressives.
Please, for the love, show that repentance through responding to her death without the suppressed glee and gloating and fear-mongering about riots.
Properly mourn with those who mourn, dammit! You may not agree with her, but be humble enough to genuinely honor her life and work and pass the mic to those of us who are mourning for her.
A Call for True Repentance
And furthermore, work to fight your own moral disgusts that say that progressive policies are soooo scary. As you tend to say, this is a “heart matter” as well as a systemic issue.
Listen to the Bible that tells you to be fair and just to others. Support policies that do better at that.
Be genuinely humble enough to recognize what a still small voice inside of you has already been telling you—that you haven’t gotten this one right.
That voting for only a particular solution re: abortion, that being defensive about that vote to where you’ve doubled down repeatedly, that listening to nationalistic propaganda, has led you deeply astray from the Christian message. Has led you into complicity with gloating over an honorable woman’s death and fear-mongering. Has led you to vote against the least of these.
All because this woman RBG’s assertive voice, and others like it, scared you.
No Need to Be Ashamed
Here’s the thing: there’s no dishonor in fear. It’s a natural stress response. But I now say to you what the Bible says to God’s people many times: Do not fear. Let love cast out fear.
It’s been four years since you held your nose and voted. Don’t be deceived again, friends.
Don’t follow the same path.
Things You Can Do Now
And at the very least, for the love of all that is holy, PLEASE don’t wait for your time of voting to show your repentance.
As I said, stop with the fear-mongering about riots supposedly caused by progressives.
Call out those who are gloating about this wonderfully strong yet human woman’s death. Ask them to leave space to genuinely honor the death of RBG. Call them to genuine respect for the opposition.
Hold your representatives responsible for voting in healthier ways on issues up to and beyond abortion.
Refuse to let your unhealthy moral disgusts guide you, friends.
I don’t think less of you because of your past. You raised me to believe that God was a God of forgiveness.
But as Maya Angelou says, eloquently lining up with the biblical principles of repentance: once you know better, do better.
In Which I Acknowledge I Doubt You’re Listening to Me
Before I go, though, I’ll be honest: it’s been a tough four years, and it’s been rough on our relationship.
To be clear, I doubt if you’re even reading this.
And if you are, I have even less confidence that you’ll be in any way influenced by what I have to say.
Prophets in Their Hometowns or Something Like That
You say you’ll love me no matter what, but when you do, there’s always a subtext of those same moral and political disgusts underlying that phrase when you say it.
Addressing the Fear of Listening and Influence
I recognize it, because I once did the same. I just happened to jump ship before the worst of the religio-political bilge-pump for the Republican party was needed as badly as it is now.
I did so by learning to genuinely listen to my progressive brothers and sisters with as few barriers as possible.
And I know that’s terrifying to do.
After all, listening can lead to influence. Listening may have to lead to changes of your hearts and minds. Listening may have to require surrender of that moral high ground I can see you clinging to soooo hard.
Of Course It’s Hard!
And dear Lord, don’t I know it down to my very last piece of viscera that the other things I’ve asked you to do are hard. The loudest voices right now are bullies. (And no, the other side isn’t perfect either—we never said it was—but Democrats are NOT the loudest most bullying voices in the room right now. Both sides are NOT the same. Again, for the love of all that is holy and just, please stop straining a gnat while swallowing a camel.)
Here’s what I know to be true. What you yourself taught me from the Bible: the road to freedom is difficult and narrow.
Genuine internal change, turning away from our socialized moral disgusts, from supporting those who are hurting vulnerable populations, isn’t an easy thing to do.
You Don’t Even Have to Consider Yourself Progressive
And it doesn’t even have to mean you “join the other team,” to be honest.
You don’t have to identify as a “progressive” to speak up against the issues with what “your side” is doing, or to vote for the “other side” this year (you get to hold them accountable–they’re a thousand times better at listening than the current guy, which is maybe one of the things you may be resenting them for?).
Turn Off Your Usual Sources and Leave Your Comfort Zone
Just stop listening to your sources of information and try to listen to what the other side is genuinely concerned about.
Recognize that they may have valuable things to say.
Start by listening to what Ruth Bader Ginsburg had to say. Learn about this woman who’s been initialized as RBG and branded as “notorious.” Maybe watch the movie “On the Basis of Sex.” Honor her death and life. Sit shiva with her—not because that’s a tradition you’re comfortable with, but because honoring her means truly honoring her tradition.
Pray over it, since that’s what you do.
And then, well, we’ll see what happens. You don’t have to agree with me, but dammit, it’s not okay that you should have so much suppressed glee over this Supreme Court seat that’s opened up with RBG’s death. Move beyond this surface sympathy you’re offering into genuine mourning with those of us who mourn.
And in the process, allow for your heart to be changed. I believe, to use the words you raised me with, it’s what God is calling you to.
A Final Charge
Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s continue to do what we can, where we are with what we have toward a healthier world for us all. We can do this thing. May Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s memory be a blessing, and may we all be part of that blessing.
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