My secret love affair with Mike Huckabee is over. Let's be clear. As an out and proud secular progressive, I would have to meet Jesus Christ his own bad self, (at Starbucks, preferably, where we could have a proper chat), to ever consider voting for the charismatic former Southern Baptist minister. Still, I'll admit I had a soft spot for Huck, stemming directly from recent experience with another army of Southern Baptists who undeniably helped save my sanity. But now when I hear Huck talk about godifying the Constitution, I have to wonder if I sold out some of my principles in my travels with Baptists, seduced by their tremendous hospitality.
Some background: four years ago, I was a Manhattanite, Chardonnay-swilling cheese-eating surrender monkey, pro-choice, pro-gay rights, avid NPR listener, childless, unmarried but cohabitating, atheist, all-around liberal puke.
Four years later, the only swilling being done is in my toddler's sippy cup. I had gotten pregnant, gotten married (in that order), and moved to a relentlessly dreary exurb. But nothing else had changed. I was the same godless uber-liberal I had always been.
The problem: I was crushingly lonely. After a decade of working in a fast-paced, curse-filled newsroom, I was desperate for company, small-talk. I talked to everyone I met in the exurb. I would have talked to a dog if I thought it might bark back.
One day a fellow stay-at-home mom mentioned programs at a Baptist Church. Southern Baptists. I immediately thought of what my media friends (almost entirely godless) and my gay BFF David would think: "Linda, at a Baptist Church?" Which is, by the way, what they all said. But this mom said, "I'm Jewish, and I love it." Loneliness is a powerful motivator, and within days I was part of two weekly parenting programs at the church.
At the church, I gravitated to an ethereal South African with a glowingly warm demeanor. As I would learn later, believers might say she has the "light of the Lord" in her eyes. I thought she was just plain nice. They were all nice. But I was an impostor, there's no way around it. How could tell her I was an atheist? With the South African, at first, I avoided the "G" word totally, and talked about, say, this great South African restaurant in Brooklyn, runaway inflation in Zimbabwe. She spoke openly about her faith, but never pushed it on me.
As I spent more time among the believers, I arrived at an unavoidable truth: they were better than me in some crucial ways. They put themselves out there, asking after me when I looked down, which was often. They didn't gossip about each other (a church rule). They cared deeply about global poverty, and unlike myself, they actually did something about it. They were striving to be great parents.
But there were moments of cognitive dissonance for this hardened liberal. At Christmas, we gathered toys to send to Africa and I asked "how does this work exactly?' I was told that they went through Franklin Graham's organization, Graham being the son of Billy who has said disturbing things about Islam. The kids who got the boxes were told that they came from Christians, and, if I recall correctly, a prayer book was included. Did the gift come with the attendant religious strings attached? Did that matter? A kid with nothing was receiving perhaps the only present of his or her lifetime.
Then later in the year, I was inspired to donate to young unwed mothers, and I then heard that part of the goal was to support women who had made the choice to keep their babies. Would they support a desperate woman who didn't make that same choice?
The truth was I never, ever heard a disparaging word at the church about gay people, those who got divorces, or even abortions for that matter. Instead, it was about supporting people, regardless of faith or circumstance. And I got the message. I put aside old baggage and got back in touch with a relative who was thrilled to hear from me. I began engaging more with my friends. I was reminded that my role as a parent was to raise an independent adult, not make a friend.
But now it's time to elect a president. I've moved away from the relentlessly dreary suburb and so I haven't been able to examine the political mood at the church. I'm guessing, though, that my old friends will surely vote against the very rights I hold dear: abortion rights, gay marriage rights, separation of church and state.
And yet, I know if anything terrible happens to me, I will have about 30 Baptist on my doorstep the next day. I have abundant faith in that, at least, in them, if not God. The question for you other secular progressives out there: would you open the door? Did I sell out? Was I using them? I would love to hear your feedback.