(Salon) – Though I’ve been an atheist for about 15 years now, I was born into born-again Christianity 43 years ago. I was raised in a church called Grace Gospel Chapel, a no-frills, non-denominational church in the Plymouth Brethren tradition. We didn’t call ourselves fundamentalists or even Evangelicals back then, but we were both. We were biblical literalists and inerrantists, and we were encouraged to “witness” — if not actively, then at least passively — for Christ in every aspect of our lives. But my experience of Christianity is far different from what goes by that name today. And while I’m certainly happier and healthier for leaving it all behind, it still pains me to see what it has become.
There’s probably no more important symbol of this for me than Franklin Graham, whose father was an icon of the Christianity in which I grew up. It was one of his TV specials that allegedly convinced my grandmother — a chain-smoking, man-chasing alcoholic for most of her life — to decide to accept Christ as her savior. Yet ever since the awakening of the self-proclaimed Moral Majority in the late ’70s, the insidious, corrosive, corrupting nature of politics has infected the tree of Christianity — and Franklin Graham is arguably its most emblematic fruit. He’s become the Donald Trump of the Christian religion.
In my church’s understanding of the Bible, Christians were supposed to be new creations, in the world but separate from it, categorically different from it — and that meant politics, too. My politically and socially formative years — my middle school and high school years — occurred during the Cold War of the Reagan era. There was no “war on terror” back then, so the topic of Islam never came up in Sunday School, the Sunday evening sermons, or our Wednesday night Bible studies. The issue of immigration, illegal or otherwise, wasn’t on our radar either. Iran was briefly mentioned in our church at the beginning of the Reagan years, but not because of any concern over nuclear weapons — we were implored to pray for the safe return of the hostages.