Years ago I had a dream. In the dream I was at a summer camp and everyone there was engaged in praying and fasting together. When I woke up from the dream I longed for it to be true; to that point in time in my religious experience, long hours of prayer or days of fasting was something only done in solitude. The idea of joining together with a group of people to do such a thing was something I had never had the opportunity to do, but the dream created a conscious longing for such an experience.
I was a young 20-something charismatic evangelical in 2004, when I got an email about a well-respected Christian leader who was inviting 50 people to Colorado Springs for 50 days starting in late July to pray, sing, and fast together for the 50 states of the USA. It was billed as something with rawness and intensity, appealing to my GenX hunger for such things; it would be held in a warehouse with sleeping accomodations being sleeping bags and the floor, and food for the non-fasting times would be rice and beans. I thought this was an amazing invitation and chance to “live the dream”, and as I had summers off, at least part of the 50 days would be doable for me.
As I drove to Colorado I thought about what I would pray for during 50 days of prayer for America. I thought about pollution and poisons in our air and water, the messed up foster care system, the need for more organic farming practices, what I perceived as the over-medicating of children and youth and even adults, addiction in general, poverty, inequity in education, corruption in big business, and so on. I had a burgeoning interest in the Middle East and the influx of muslims from all over the world into the USA, and how these people needed to be loved and received by Christians in the US and the overall US population. And of course there was ever-present need for all people to see the truth about Jesus and “get saved.”
I was not a politically interested person. I was not registered with any political party and if pressed, I had a certain allegiance to the idea of being independent. I actually didn’t even know what each of the parties stood for and couldn’t have told you if evangelical Christians generally preferred to vote for Democrats or Republicans; it was nothing I had paid much attention to and hadn’t really heard many pastors talking about it. That was all about to change.
During my weeks with “The Cause USA” as it was called, we had a generally open mic where people could pray what they wanted to, and it would get woven back into corporate prayer or song if people felt the Holy Spirit had underscored the importance of any particular theme that got mentioned. I found that everything I had originally thought needed to be prayed for in the country was generally brushed over or not given much airtime, as in, just generally not in step with what the group as a whole believed the Spirit was seeming to focus us all onto. Instead I was encouraged to defer more to and pay attention to what themes built together from everyone else’s prayers and spend time focusing my own prayers on those issues as well. This was initially a bit frustrating but not entirely unreasonable so I tried to just go with the flow.
The main issue of the prayers, hands down, was ending abortion. This wasn’t an obstacle for me to get behind because I indeed believed abortion was wrong. I had come to that conclusion earlier in life not from any church teaching but from investigating the topic and running across photos of aborted “fetal tissue” — “tissue” which while covered in blood also had identifiable human features such as heads, hands, and feet. This very visceral and visual encounter with the topic sealed my view on the subject long before I had even thought of it as a political issue. So, as the hours and days of praying for abortion to end unfolded, I ended up asking myself why I hadn’t been more active in caring about this issue. By the time our group was told in no uncertain terms that if we prayed for the ending of abortion then it was only right to “only vote for politicians who stood for ending abortion,” I accepted this imposed new allegiance to Republican politicians as my own new conviction.
The other main issue in our prayers was a bill before the Senate that would state that marriage was only possible between one man and one woman. This really was something that was off my radar completely, but in the super-charged environment of intensity where every dream we had during the night was brought forward for interpretation by the leaders, and the leaders would share dream interpretations daily of specific leadings all with political content and guidance about how we should pray about specific Senators in regards to this bill, it was easy to get excited that the Lord was leading us corporately and that He wanted the Senate to vote against any form of non-heterosexual marriage unions. Ultimately, the bill didn’t pass, but that was then understood that we were in a battle of spiritual forces and sometimes we didn’t always win right away. We just kept praying about abortion and LGBT marriage issues anyway.
In general, my view was not unlike most evangelicals at the time, in that I viewed homosexual sexual intercourse as aberrant and sinful; but at the same time I had up till then felt it was wrong to impose or legislate my view of Christian sexual morality on the general populace, as I would have viewed that as an unnecessary violation of the division of church and state. However, while participating in this prayer group we were taught that God indeed cared about making sure this bill passed, as it was essential to the moral fabric of our nation and God’s blessing on the USA — and that we should spend several days fasting together and praying specifically for this to occur. I joined in – after all, my dream was to fast and pray with others. And after giving up food for 3 days and singing nonstop spontaneously written songs about this issue, I allowed my viewpoint to be molded by the group-think — even when the bill failed to pass.
One of our group members in fact had a dream on his way to Colorado Springs about this two-issue political positioning. He said a tornado started chasing him and it kept saying, “AH-HA! AH-HA!” as it pursued him, as that was the tornado’s name. When he woke up he interpreted the letter A to mean abortion and the letter H to mean homosexuality, and shared the story with the group about the two big evils that we were confronting in our brave stand for the nation. Two-issue politics was embraced as vital for the sake of the morality of the country. Our group leader encouraged us to keep praying and fasting in this war for the moral soul of the country and said, “Never has so much been owed to so few,” with us being the few who would stand for days and days of the work of faithful prayer together.
After a few weeks of this I had to leave the group to return to my job. It had been a truly riveting time. I worked throughout the school year hoping and waiting for the following summer when I could again join my newfound friends and drink in the atmosphere of prayer and song again together, laboring spiritually for our nation. That November, I stood on an overpass on election day, jumping up and down with a ‘Bush 2004’ sign, and was told to find a new apartment by my non-religious Democratic housemate after she cried for several days when Bush actually won. Meanwhile, though, I eagerly gave money and assistance to my friends who had the ability to do things for the prayer group over the course of the year while I was stuck at my job. I had entrusted myself to the group culture and accepted that the shaping of my political positions was simply a part of coming into alignment with what God thought about politics and the nation.
However, today I no longer vote exclusively for “pro-life” politicians (nor hardly at all), and that story ought to be shared as well. While this post is the tale of “How I Became a Right-wing Evangelical,” stay tuned for part two as I share my journey of “Following Jesus Right out of Right-Wing Politics.”