Hannah Drake

Commentary

I'm Hannah and I'm an Immigrant

CommentaryHannah DrakeComment

Normally, around the 8th of every other month, I share the next instalment of The Expat Diaries. A LOT has happened in the last two months, since my 17th instalment of the series. This summer was absolutely lovely, but it was certainly a lot more hectic than last summer, especially in August.

Of course, you’ll have seen the posts already that we bought a house, we adopted a kitten, and we got a puppy and those are major life things for us! Unsurprisingly, we’re still settling in to our new normal. And things are not going to slow down the rest of the year. We have more trips planned (big and small), we have a long term house guest on the way (next week!) and that’s not even to mention the usual hustle and bustle of the end of the year.

But today, instead of talking about life updates, I want to talk about something different. I want to talk about being an immigrant.

Last month, I took my birthday off work because, well, who wants to work on their birthday if they don’t have to? I had booked in the kittens second round of vaccines for that morning and Luke said he wouldn’t be leaving work for it, so I would just take an Uber there and back with the kittens. This was the Tuesday after the deadly weekend in the US with the El Paso and Dayton shootings.

Sometimes I chat with Uber drivers, sometimes I just put my headphones in and catch up on the next podcast in my feed. On that particular day, I was very apologetic about having cats in the car (but he didn’t mind and I hope it goes without saying they were in their carrier) and I think I got all tangled up in the seat belt and my headphones. By the time we reached the end of our street, we were doing the usual British chit chat about the weather (it was pouring rain), but clearly neither of us were British. He asked me where I was from originally and whether or not I like it better here or in the US.

Then I asked him where he was from originally and he told me Turkey. He said that he’s Kurdish and he left Turkey 15 years ago because he didn’t feel that it was safe to be there anymore. He said, “What would you do if the government wouldn’t even let you name your child what you wanted?” I don’t know a lot about the Kurds, but I had heard mention of them in regards to Syria and told him so. He said that that area of the world is a very dangerous place for Kurds to be. He told me a bit more about his background and his choice to flee. He shared some of his feelings about the US and the UK in regards to how they’ve helped or haven’t helped his people.

It was a really powerful experience to have a conversation with someone who comes from such different circumstances, from such a different place in the world, and yet we both find ourselves living in Birmingham, England now.

The next day, I started thinking about the conversation and it dawned on me that I, too, am an immigrant. It’s truthfully something that I occasionally forget. It’s also probably something that people wouldn’t think about me walking down the street in Birmingham. I couldn’t help but contrast that to what some people might think about this Uber driver when they first see him, including my own prejudgement of where he might be from. I couldn’t help but contrast that to what some Brits and some Americans think about brown people they see in their day-to-day lives. I couldn’t help but contrast that to how people would see my British husband if we moved back to the States. I guess the main reason that I forget I’m an immigrant is that I have the privileged of identifying as an ex-patriot being from a wealthy and predominately white country.

I’m not at all equating my situation to anyone who has been forced to flee their home country to escape violence, oppression, or persecution. I chose to “move abroad” to the UK. Before Luke and I were even engaged, we had many conversations about where we would settle together. In fact, we get to “joke” about being each other’s back up plan for the Brexit vote and the 2016 election. I had the privilege of choice when the candidate I didn’t vote for was elected. I even get to use more positive sounding words and phrases when I talk about it, like “expat” and “move abroad”. Sure, it was scary to apply for my two visas, especially the first one, but at the end of the day, are they really going to turn down a middle-class white couple with no red flags with one person emigrating from the United States?

I met Luke on a mission trip to the UK. What if I had gone on a mission trip to another country my church partnered with—in the Middle East or Africa—and met a man there? What if he lived in one of the countries included on Trump’s travel ban?

The shooter in El Paso posted a manifesto to 8Chan before he opened fire in the Wal-Mart. There is no doubt that his motives were racist and xenophobic (and it’s worth noting that many of the rhetoric he used came from Trump’s own Twitter feed). He later stated plainly that he purposefully targeted Mexicans in the attack. Nobody has ever implied or explicitly stated that I “invaded” the UK. If Luke moved to Colorado to be with me, no one would ever say that he’s an “infestation” or that he’s just having babies with me to get his own US citizenship. That’s the privilege we have of being white and middle class and unfortunately that’s the battle that people migrating from Central and South America to the US or from the Middle East and Africa to the UK face every day. I mean, the reality is that ICE has already detained actual US citizens and not a single one of them was white. How can there even be a question that these attacks (verbally and physically) on immigrants aren’t based in racism? Trump himself said he’d rather get immigrants from Norway and Sweden, two of the whitest countries on the planet. And his policies are backing that up. Just last month, his administration announced that it would start considering education, household income, and health to determine whether or not to grant legal status to someone seeking a green card. That policy is absolutely intended to favour people like my husband, should he ever seek a green card, and his brother who currently lives in the US with a green card and discriminate against the people coming from countries other than Trump’s preferred Scandinavia. Later, the Trump Administration announced that babies born to US soldiers oversees will not automatically get citizenship. They will still be able to, but there will be more hoops to jump through. And throughout his entire administration, Trump has questioned birthright citizenship, which is a part of the US Constitution.

The day before that Uber ride, I was sitting at my desk in the afternoon when all of a sudden a conversation broke out in my office about how terrible Pakistani people are. The rhetoric they were using didn’t sound all that different from the rhetoric that’s being used to talk about Latinos in the US. It was obviously racist. I’m not going to repeat any of what was said here. It was awful. And I’m ashamed that I didn’t speak up. My blood was boiling. I felt paralysed at my laptop. I wanted to say something but I never found the courage to do so and I truly wish that I had. I’ve worked with this people for almost two years and unfortunately it’s not the first time there has been racist, xenophobic, sexist, or homophobic comments or conversations. And while I have been the subject of at least two outright sexist remarks, not a single one of them has ever said anything negative about the fact that I’ve emigrated to England. None of them say that I’m stealing their resources, that I’m not deserving of access to the NHS, that I took a hardworking Brit’s job, or stole a young eligible British bachelor so I could have anchor babies in another country. The fact of the matter is that it’s perfectly acceptable to them and many other people for me to be here and they don’t extend that same welcome to people who don’t look like them.

I don’t know if I want to continue to identify as an expat. But I also don’t know if it’s okay for me to outwardly identify as an immigrant. I’m torn between not wanting to equate myself with people who truly go through hell to give themselves and their families a new and better life, who leave no stone unturned to get there, who are the victims of racist and xenophobic attacks both in the US and the UK (and other countries) and wanting to draw attention to the fact that I, too, emigrated from another country and, guess what, that was perfectly okay with you. Does speaking up about my immigration status detract from the plight of people who feel they have no other choice or does it draw attention to the racial biases that white Americans and white Brits have towards the people who are coming into their countries? I honestly don’t know what the line is.

But I do know that I need to speak up next time a conversation like that breaks out around me, not because I’m an immigrant but because I’m a human. I do know that I need to spend more time listening to other people’s stories and finding more human connection, not because I’m an immigrant but because I’m human. And I do know that something needs to change in the countries these people are leaving and in the countries they’re fleeing to, because we’re all just human.

Feminism and the End of Game of Thrones

CommentaryHannah DrakeComment

I probably said last time that I wouldn’t post about Game of Thrones anymore, so call me an Oathbreaker. After the end of the series, I read so many tweets, subreddits, and hot takes on Game of Thrones that I just needed an outlet for all of my thoughts. So consider this my essay on Game of Thrones. (Fun Fact: I wrote a paper on hip hop in college. T.I and Dr. Dre were much of my sources. Writing essays on pop culture is fun!)

The rest of this post contains spoilers for Game of Thrones in its entirety.

Overall, I’m not upset about how the story ended. It’s fine. I believe the finale was destined to be a letdown (I’ll get to that), but I’m not bothered about how they wrapped up most of the characters’ arcs. What bothers me, like many people, is that the final two seasons felt rushed. I didn’t feel this way about season seven until we were nearing the end of season eight, though. Apparently the showrunners wanted the final 13 episodes in one season, but ultimately decided to split the episodes into seven and six for production purposes. Like so many other viewers, I feel that this was a mistake. In my perfect Game of Thrones world, season seven would have wrapped the Night Knight storyline. It would have flipped the script on what viewers had come to expect in Game of Thrones with a big, often shocking ninth episode and a wrap up tenth episode. A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms would have been a relatively low key ninth episode, while The Long Night would have been action packed and ended with a huge moment, Arya killing the Night King. Open season eight with the Winterfell crew burning the funeral pyres, and then slow down. They could have built the Daenerys vs. Cersei conflict and Daenerys’s descent into madness, leading her to burn King’s Landing. They could have sat in the aftermath of the destruction of the city and what Dany intended to do with her new power for a while. All of those scenes that we were left to fill in for ourselves (Sansa and Arya finding out who Jon is, Missandei getting kidnapped, Tryion and Bran’s conversations, Grey Worm for some reason arresting Jon instead of killing him, Sansa possibly vying for Jon to be exiled so she can have the North for herself, etc.) could have actually played out on screen. The ninth episode of the final season could have ended with Jon killing Daenerys and Drogon flying off with her body. Use the entire finale to wrap up character’s storylines and take advantage of the additional seven episodes to make these big moments (the deaths of the Night King, Cersei, and Daenerys) really land. I found it incredibly frustrating that we had to read between the lines in moments that would have been shown in past seasons or watch the Inside the Episode and Game Revealed featurettes to fully understand the characters and plot points. And with 99.9% of the promotional campaign for the final season centring around the Night King conflict, when he only appeared on screen for a few moments in the whole season, it made it difficult to get back into the politics of Westeros for the final three episodes.

Probably because I agree with it, but I feel like the “rushed” complaint is the most valid for the final season of Game of Thrones. It basically lead to zero interesting Cersei scenes and she has consistently been one of the most compelling characters on the show! A lot of the “hot takes” I’ve been reading have been about how Game of Thrones was ultimately anti-feminist, usually focusing solely on Dany, sometimes including Cersei and/or Brienne, and ruined Dany’s character, though, and I have to say I disagree 100%.

Dany’s descent into madness should have been more flushed out, yes. I felt like all signs pointed towards this since she coldly watched her brother’s execution in season one, but a lot of fans felt it was a disservice to her character. Storytellers should show not tell, and it wasn’t all that clear that we were supposed to know that seeing the Red Keep from the city walls is what ultimately led Dany to ignore the bells of surrender and burn King’s Landing. Instead, that was literally insider information from the Inside the Episode that followed. But Dany going full Mad Queen doesn’t make her story anti-feminist. Dany did a lot of things over the eight seasons to warrant her being held up as a feminist icon, including one of my favourite scenes in which she holds a war council with four other women, three of whom are representing three of the seven kingdoms. (At the time of this scene in the show, episode 7.2, Sansa was about to take over the power in the North from Jon and Cersei was ruling from the Iron Throne, which means you could argue that six of the seven kingdoms were ruled by women.) It’s probably not the ending for her character that a lot of fans of the show wanted, but that doesn’t discredit things to warrant praise in previous seasons. And it’s likely where the story is headed in the books, if they’re ever finished.

I read a lengthy article about the finale and the end of many of the character’s arcs that basically said “yeah, sure, it was cool when those women were ruling across Westeros, but ultimately they showed that women are too emotional to rule.” [Insert guy blinking GIF here, please.] If that’s how you interpret Dany’s and Cersei’s arcs, then I guess that’s on you, but that article didn’t at all mention some of the other female leaders or rulers that we’ve seen throughout the show, like Margaery, queen to three kings, Olenna, the real power in the Reach, or Yara, a chosen leader by the Ironborn. I wish that they show hadn’t spent nearly all of our time with Cersei in season eight just reminding us that she loved her children, but I don’t think that’s it’s fair to say that they were poor rulers because they fall into cheap stereotypes about women in power. In the books, Cersei is more clearly not as clever as she thinks she is, and even in the show, she falls into her own traps, like the mess she caused with the High Sparrow in season five. She thought it was absurd that anyone should view her as less than her brother or husband because she was a woman, especially her father. She simply lusted after power and, as she warned us in the first season, when you win or you die. Dany especially was so reminiscent of both her father and brother by the end, it seemed painfully obvious that it was a Targaryen thing, not a woman thing. That same article briefly touched on Brienne’s and Sansa’s storylines in a way that I don’t understand at all, and had little to say about Arya.

Brienne’s arc had been taking heat since the end of episode 8.4, when we saw her crying in her nightgown after Jaime rode south for Cersei. People immediately hopped online to say they completely ruined her character, so seriously, WTF? But I didn’t get that impression at all and I really bought into the explanation of that scene from the Binge Mode podcast that she was completely emotionally vulnerable with Jaime in a way she had never been before and he was abandoning her with little explanation. In her introduction to the show, we know that she wants to be a knight, but is restricted by her gender. We find out that she loved Renly because he comforted her when the boys her father had brought to court her laughed at her and ridiculed her for her appearance. She doesn’t open herself up to anyone after that, especially not a man. Just look at how resistant she is even to Pod, who was literally just there to help her. Just because she don’t need no man, doesn’t mean she doesn’t desire love and acceptance from the person she loves and respects. What Jaime did to her was really crappy. He tried to leave in the middle of the night and when she confronted him about it, he said incredibly hurtful things to her. She knew that he would be riding to his death to return to King’s Landing. That moment would be painful and shocking and difficult to process for anyone. But we don’t see her on the couch in yoga pants eating Ben & Jerry’s the rest of the season. She picks herself up and carries on to do her duty. Brienne was knighted in episode 8.2, becoming the first female knight in the Seven Kingdoms. In the finale, she is raised to Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, another first for women in Westeros. It’s her duty as Lord Commander to fill the pages of the fallen Kingsguard (Side note: I hope Arya told her what Meryn Trant really was and how he died so she can write that down too.) and she recorded Jaime’s deeds with admiration, respect, and honesty. She wasn’t snivelling over him or being petty. She accepted that he had an addiction to Cersei and I like to think she understood that didn’t discount his feelings for her.

Sansa, meanwhile, turned out to be a major player in the game, eventually rising to Queen in the North in her own right. When we first meet her, she’s swooning over a prince and wants to have his babies. When we leave her, she’s the chosen leader of her people, she’s the queen of her own kingdom, she will likely be able to pass down the Stark name to her future children, and she doesn’t need a man by her side. In fact…

Many viewers, however, have been frustrated with the direction of Sansa’s storyline since season five when she was essentially sold to the Boltons, married to someone more cruel than Joffrey, and raped on her wedding night and repeatedly until she and Theon escaped Winterfell. She took the place of her best friend Jeyne Poole, who was married to Ramsay under the guise that she was Arya in the books. Her wedding night was an incredibly difficult scene to watch and there were complaints that we saw it play out on Theon’s face, letting a man, a bystander take precedent over a woman is getting raped. I guess my question is how did you want that scene to play out? Did you want to see what happened to Sansa rather just hearing it? I didn’t feel that it discounted what happened to her in any way, I was glad not to see it, and I thought it added another layer of torture to Theon, without saying that what Theon experienced in that room was worse than what Sansa experienced. Since her escape, her abuse at the hands of Joffrey and Ramsay has been called a plot point to make her stronger. In The Last of the Starks, she says to the Hound, “Without Littlefinger and Ramsay and the rest, I would’ve stayed a little bird all my life”. People have complained about that quote as well and I do think those are valid points, but we should also consider that sexual assault and abuse survivors deal with their trauma in different ways. I think there’s reason to believe that Sansa would have grown into who she was in the final episode without Ramsay and I think it’s fine that she found strength in her trauma. Some women do. The reality is, Westeros is a fantasy version of medieval Europe and women were raped in medieval Europe. Women are raped all over the world today by their partners (Daenerys, Sansa), by their family members (Cersei), and by strangers and each of those women will deal with the experience in their own way. Perhaps Sansa’s line to the Hound wouldn’t have felt as much like a plot device if the season had been expanded and we could have seen her dealt with it in other ways, with other people, or by herself. I just never took it the way I’m seeing other people did, which I think is okay. But I think it’s unreasonable to think that rape shouldn’t be a part of this world and, to be honest, maybe we shouldn’t collectively channel our anger toward the women who are raped in our world instead of toward a character on a TV show or in a book.

As I mentioned above, Arya was conspicuously left out of a lot of the articles and arguments that Game of Thrones ultimately descended into an anti-feminist show. Of course things looked different earlier in the show (I mentioned Dany’s war council and the women in power scattered across the kingdoms at the time), but Arya ultimately had the most feminist arcs and ending of all the female characters on the show. In season one, when discussing her future with her father, ("You will marry a high lord and rule his castle. And your sons shall be knights, and princes, and lords,” Ned said.) Arya first said what would be her mantra: “That’s not me.” From season two up until season seven, we see Arya completely on her own. Keep in mind, she’s about 12 years old in the first season of the show. She travels across Westeros, she narrowly misses reconnecting with her family twice, she sails to another continent and trains to become a Faceless Man, she seeks vengeance for the crimes committed against her family, all before returning to Winterfell to be reunited with her surviving siblings. She was responsible for the deaths of a member of the Kingsguard (Meryn Trant), the extinction of House Frey, one of the most powerful men in the realm (Littlefinger), and the Night King. The girl can bring it! In episode 8.2, she chooses to spend what could be her last night alive with a man she cares about, but when he proposes marriage, when he asks her to be his lady at Storms End, she tells Gendry “that’s not me”. Arya chose her feminist heroes well, naming her direwolf after Nymeria of Dorne, the warrior-queen of the Rhoynar and mentioning Rhaenys and Visenya’s roles in the conquering of Westors to Tywin at Harrenhal in season two. And those women have inspired her to truly be herself, to not conform to societal expectations, and to set her own path. I mean, people still clutch their pearls all around the world to this day when women decide they’re not going to marry (or enter into an arrangement marriage) and just have babies. That is still a dangerous choice to make in some parts of the world. Throughout the series, she subverts patriarchal norms and, in a lot of ways, shatters some glass ceilings. In fact, all of the women I’ve mentioned—Daenerys, Cersei, Brienne, and Sansa—shatter their own glass ceilings! She even models her outfits after her father and brothers instead of her mother and sister. While I do love the idea of Gendry and Arya together and the poetry of the Baratheons and Starks finally joining their houses, like King Robert wanted in the very first episode, I love even more that she is the captain of an expedition to find out what is west of Westeros and flying under the Stark banner.

It’s my understanding that feminism is about the equal right to choose your own path, which all of these women did. Cersei’s path or Daenerys’s path may not have led to a place viewers wanted, but they both made the choices that pulled them further and further into destruction and madness. Feminism doesn’t mean that at the end of the show, it’s just the women left standing and everything is hunky dory and no one is too emotional because then they’re emotional because they’re women. It’s not anti-feminist to have a female character make poor decisions or ultimately turn out to be a villain. But it seems to me to be irresponsible to take one aspect of Brienne’s story and cry anti-feminism on her behalf or to completely ignore Arya’s entire arc just so you can say Game of Thrones as a whole was just one more patriarchal, misogynist show. (By all means, yes, let’s talk about how it’s a real shame that these women were written and directed by mostly men!)

What did you think about the ending of Game of Thrones or, more specifically, the character arcs of these female characters?

Header photo from Entertainment Magazine. Show stills and GIFs found via Google.

How My Faith Shapes My Politics

CommentaryHannah DrakeComment

I started this post earlier this year. I typed out a bunch of jumbled thoughts and nervously sent it to Luke to read it through before I posted. (I rarely do this, but he’s always helpful.) He rightfully pointed out that I didn’t really have a point. Where was I going with all of this? I was way off topic and went on too many tangents. He suggested I rework it and tighten it up a bit, and it’s been sitting in my drafts ever since. I kept pushing it back a month or so at a time before I finally realised that maybe I should just save it for peak election season.

So here we are. The election is four weeks from tomorrow! Unless you live in Alaska or Rhode Island, which closed yesterday, voter registration is still open across the country. But register today, because registration closes in all but 14 of the remaining 48 states in the next week, with 5 more states closing on the 16th, and Arkansas closing today. (You can find information about voting in your state here.)

I started this post after a lengthy conversation with two Brits last year around Christmas. One had political beliefs that more closely align with mine. The other had quite a few different viewpoints on politics. We all go to the same church and we all believe in Christ as our Saviour. The conversation was thoughtful and was in fact a conversation, not an argument. In fact, I was the one closest to toeing that line. I'll be the first to admit that I have a hot head and sometimes have a difficult time remaining calm and even-keeled about things I feel very passionately about. It got me thinking about Christianity and politics--especially in the current political climate of the US--and how we as Christians reconcile our political beliefs. I’ve thought about this conversation often over the last ten months and it’s made me determined to be more articulate and less hot-headed when it comes to talking with someone from the other side of the aisle.

Four years ago, I went on a few casual dates with a guy I met at church. I had recently been dumped--for a number of reasons, including our differing political beliefs--by the first actively Christian guy I had ever dated. On a second date with this other guy, if I remember correctly, we went to a Christmas concert at the University of Colorado that my aunt and uncle had given me tickets to. As we were walking out, we had a conversation that went something like this:

Him: It was really interesting to hear so many religious songs at such a liberal school like CU.
Me: Well, it is Christmas.
Him: I just thought they would do more secular Christmas songs, not so many religious songs.
Me: Well, liberals can be Christians too.
Him: [Some other comment continuing his same line of thought.]
Me: Yes, but liberals can be Christians too.
Him: [More of the same.]
Me: Okay, I'm a Christian and a liberal.
Him: What do you mean by liberal?
Me: I believe in universal healthcare and that gay marriage and abortion should be legal.

We had plans to go to dinner after the concert and we continued to have the same conversation for the rest of the evening, over dinner and then over drinks. Later, we sat in my car, parked next to his car, we continued the conversation. In the end, he suggested we should just be friends as it was important to him, understandably, to have similar beliefs with his wife, so why pursue a woman he already knows doesn't fit that qualification. We're now both married to other people obviously, but we've remained good friends over the years.

At this period in my life, I was just returning to the Church. I was making it a priority for the first time since probably high school and surrounding myself with more Christians than I ever had before. I had never considered how tightly interwoven conservatism and Christianity were in America until this point in my life and, while it was shocking and upsetting to be “dumped” because my political views didn’t match theirs, it was incredibly eye opening towards what was going on in the country and even in my own community.

I became more involved in the community in that church over the next few years as the country inched closer to the 2016 Presidential Election and I was truly shocked to see that most of the pro-Trump Facebook posts in my feed were coming from people I knew through this church. (Which, by the way, did not include the guy I mentioned above.) After the election, I was at church that Thursday talking to a friend who was interning at the time who mentioned that she was only one of a handful of staff members upset about the results and most seemed relatively indifferent, while some seemed happy. I was really surprised and honestly a bit disappointed.

I can't speak for all of American history, but it's strange to me that Christianity has become so intrinsically linked with the Republican Party. So much so that it's apparently slightly jarring to discover a regular church-goer who's also a registered Democrat. Or at least more centre. Over the last two years, it has surprised me even more that Christians continue to hitch their wagon to the Republican Party, so much so that 80% of white evangelists voted for Trump in 2016 and 16% voting for Clinton (down from 20% voting for Obama in 2012). 

I’m proud to say that I’m a believer in Jesus as well as a registered Democrat. I’m not interested in bashing the other side, but today I want to explain how my religious beliefs inform my voting record and the candidates and policies I support.

PROTECTING WOMEN’S HEALTH

Republicans have exploited this one issue and turned so many voters into one-issue voters. Abortion is now--pun not intended--a trump card for so many Christian voters. It doesn't matter if they want to save the environment. It doesn't matter if economic policies, like this new tax bill passed at the end of 2017, hurt them. Sometimes it seems like nothing else matters because...dead babies. Let me make something quite clear: I do not believe abortion is a good thing. I don't know that anyone inherently believes abortion is a good thing. It's not. It's an awful thing. But sometimes abortion saves lives or saves a baby from an awful state of life. 

The Bible never explicitly addresses abortion, but yes, it does speak to God's creation of life from a mother's womb. (Psalm 139:13-16) I believe God has a hand in creating each human life from the beginning. But, as my friend put it in the conversation that sparked this post last December, digging up a planted seed isn't cutting down a tree.

I believe that a woman has the right to make decisions for her own body. If someone asked me for advice about abortion, I could talk until I'm blue in the face about how I don't think she should do it, but at the end of the day, she's going to make her own decision, a decision that she alone can answer for. I feel that it's my responsibility as a Christian, as an American, as a human, to do what I can to make sure that procedure is as safe as possible if that's what she chooses to do. That means keeping the procedure legal so it's medically safe and so that there is support readily available, because no one walks out of an abortion clinic unscathed emotionally. It is not possible.

I support politicians who will make birth control more accessible. I have no problem telling you that the Affordable Care Act saved me a lot of money since its passage in 2009 with my birth control pills (which I went on for medical reasons) going from about $8-$10 a month to $0 and later an IUD costing me $0 at Planned Parenthood in 2016, which could have been $1,500. The abortion rate was in 2017, about 8 years after the Affordable Care Act was implemented, the lowest on record since 1971, two years before Roe v. Wade. The harsh reality, which truly breaks my heart, is that women were having abortions before Roe v. Wade, have continued to do so, and will continue to do so, even if it's made illegal again. In my opinion, it makes sense to support candidates who will fight to make women's health and maternity rights better to keep abortion rates low. If kids are taught how to use birth control and still taught abstinence is the only 100% guarantee to not get pregnant, if birth control is free and accessible to anyone who wants it, if women can take paid time off after giving birth (without delaying their retirement age or dipping into their retirement funds), and there are childcare subsidies, we're supporting women from before they even choose to have sex through after they've given birth and statistics show that contributes to lower birth rates both in our country and abroad. To me, that seems pro life.

As a Christian, yes, it would be ideal if everyone waited until marriage to have sex and those who chose not to marry chose a life of celibacy, but the reality is, that's not happening right now, just like it wasn't happening in Biblical times. It's then our responsibility to protect people from disease and unwanted pregnancy, to support young or single mothers, and stop claiming to have our hands tied, especially in instances of rape, incest, and the mother's health. All sins are equal in God's eyes, we are all sinners in our own ways, and forgiveness is available to everyone if we seek it out from God. We don’t have to answer for someone else’s sins and it’s not our responsibility to judge someone because their sin looks different than ours.

RESPECT FOR ALL HUMANITY

There is a lot one can say about Trump’s personal transgressions standing in stark contrast to Biblical teachings. It’s no secret the things he has been accused of (sexual harassment to rape by 19 women, paying off a porn star and a Playboy Bunny to silence them about affairs) and the things he has freely admitted in public (supporting someone credibly accused of paedophilia, mocking victims of sexual assault, bragging about grabbing women by the pussy). He frequently makes degrading comments toward women to commenting how women who work for him dress to saying a reporter is “shocked” he called on her for a question. But as Union Theological Seminary tweeted earlier this year, “The Bible isn't primarily concerned with personal morality. Too often it's commandments are reduced to “how one can live a moral life," when, really, Scripture is far more concerned with how a society cares for the most vulnerable. It's not "What do I do," but "What do we do."“ And many policies from him and his administration do not embrace the Christian ideology of “what do we do”.

So much has happened in recent years that have brought hateful and racist beliefs into mainstream politics. A lot has been said that shows me there isn’t a general respect for all humanity and a belief that we’re all created equal in the current administration, from “rapists and murderers” to “shithole countries” to demonising an entire race in the name of ISIS or MS-13. But the biggest disregard for human life is the crisis happening at our southern border, locking people in cages, separating children from their parents, bussing them to unknown locations in the middle of the night. I’ve seen heartbreaking videos amidst this crisis from a four year old boy who doesn’t speak English made to represent himself in a court proceeding to a mother reunited with her toddler who no longer recognises her and fought to get away. There is no excuse for what’s going on. No one is being held accountable. Deadlines are not being met. And we’ve seemingly let this crisis fall out of the headlines to make way for a new outrageous story every day. This is not who we should be as Americans and it is absolutely not who we are called to be as Christians. Ignoring, downplaying, or arguing for the treatment of human beings seeking refuge in America is in direct opposition to God’s calling for us and how we treat refugees and immigrants throughout the Bible, specifically in Exodus 23:9, Leviticus 19:9-10, Deuteronomy 10:18-19, Job 31:32, Malachi 3:5, Matthew 25:25-36, Luke 10:29-37, and Galatians 5:14.

It’s been a year since the #MeToo Movement began and we’ve seen countless headlines alleging various sexual misconduct from powerful men in the public eye, including politics. Most recently, a Supreme Court nominee was credibly accused of attempted sexual assault, among other allegations, but still confirmed nonetheless. It seems that these latest allegations against the back drop of #MeToo and #TimesUp have culminated in some fearing for their sons, brothers, husbands, and male friends and relatives that they may be falsely accused of rape, sexual assault, or sexual misconduct. While there are false accusations levelled against some (it’s estimated between 2 and 10 percent of total accusations [BBC]), they are often sensationalised and fit a recognisable pattern. That still leaves an overwhelming majority of claims being true and the fact that one in six women in America has been the victim of rape or attempted rape. The Bible calls us to care for the most vulnerable among us and I believe sexual assault survivors are in fact some of the most vulnerable members of our society. Politicians who claim accusations are a political play or an orchestrated hit job discount the pain that a victim has experienced from the moment of the assault. Implying women come forward for fame or money in an attempt to silence someone’s voice is refusing to see them standing in their power that they’ve struggled to hold on to from the moment of the assault. Mocking the bravery and vulnerability it takes to come forward to cheers and laughter is not caring for the most vulnerable and shows more about your own character than that of the victim.

Treating healthcare as a human right and guaranteeing healthcare for all falls under the umbrella of caring and respecting everyone. I cannot even being to wrap my head around the idea of denying someone healthcare, limiting the scope of healthcare, and allowing citizens to go bankrupt and enter financial ruin for the health care they need. The Bible speaks often about caring for the sick and Jesus himself performed many miracles to heal the sick. I believe that the development of modern science is a gift from God and a way to take care of ourselves until Christ returns. If Jesus wouldn’t pass by someone on the street who was sick because of their economic status, race, or gender, what right do we have to deny anyone the basic healthcare that they need?

RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE EARTH

I believe that Climate Change is real, that humans are accelerating natural Climate Change, and I believe that it's our responsibility to take necessary actions to slow the damage that we're doing to the earth. In only the 26th verse of the entire Bible, God says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26) "Dominion" can be twisted to mean that it's our world and we can do what we please, but in reality, the original text is better translated to the English word "responsibility". So if God calls mankind to take responsibility for the earth and everything on it upon our creation, why aren't churches talking more about Climate Change?

I don't agree with leaving the Paris Climate Accord and I find it embarrassing that we are now the only country not taking part, including Nicaragua and Syria who both joined since it was announced that the US would pull out. It wasn't a trick to ruin American mining jobs and even the coal industry has said that investing in the industry will bring about machines, not bring back jobs. We had the freedom to set our own goals and make changes that we wanted to see take place, no one was telling us what to do. And on top of that, the current administration has increased import tax on solar energy, which will continue to restrict a growing industry in the States. So instead of setting an example for the rest of the world, they're all moving on without us. Recently, the White House admitted that the global temperature will rise by 7 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100 but continues to offer no solutions or counter efforts and instead purges the EPA, silences experts, and hides information from all of us.

I don't agree with slashing national parks and protected land because I don't believe that somehow corporate greed won't move in on those lands and use them for their resources and property value. I can't even begin to wrap my head around the idea that reports are being hidden, federal employees are being silenced, and words are being banned to try to hide the truth about Climate Change and justify the these actions. I want my children and their children to have a world to see. I want them to fall in love with the landscape of our country and our world they way I have. I want them to see the beautiful mountains that I grew up looking at every day. I want to do my part to protect that, as God has called me to do.

REVEALING HEART THROUGH TREASURE

I prioritise Jesus' teachings over any one else's from the Bible, including Paul, and Jesus spoke more about money than anything else. While I haven't managed my personal funds perfectly all the time, I do believe it's my responsibility to use my time, talents, and treasure (money) to further his kingdom, as I was called to do in the Great Commission. I do not believe that a person's wealth is a reflection of their faith, but that "Where your treasure is, your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21) Take the story Jesus told in Mark 12:41-44:

And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

History has shown us that trickle down economics doesn't work and that's because humans are greedy. I don't believe that someone who makes $1,000,000 a year works 4,000% harder than someone who earns $25,000 a year and is therefore more deserving of a tax break. And I think it is unacceptable and despicable to trick someone into buying into a tax reform bill that will increase their take-home income up to 3% over 7 years and suddenly decrease it by 3.2% the following year and continue to do so. To me, that's not meaningful tax reform and that's what will actually happen to someone earning my most recent US salary. When 400 people now have more wealth than 204 million Americans combined (Forbes), I do not believe that the solution is to continue to pad their pockets, especially if the motivation is to keep the cash flow coming in via political donations, which quickly proven to be a victory for Republicans after the passing of their bill. Everyone is greedy to some extent, that's a part of us being imperfect and sinful. But these kind of economic policies are not supported by anything in the Bible, especially Jesus's teachings. In fact, I believe Jesus’s teachings more closely align with socialism.

Everyone is, of course, entitled to their own opinions (but not their own facts!) and I 2016 exit polls show that I'm among the minority of American Christians. It's hard to argue with someone about religion and politics when both sides are citing the Bible to back up their beliefs since people interpret God's word differently. This is how I've chosen to interpret it based on my understanding of Jesus's teachings. Jesus taught us that the second greatest commandment is to love one another and I try to do so through my politics as well. I think it's been proven that people won't come to Christ by restricting their freedoms in the name of Christ and ultimately we all have our own sins to answer for. I try to live my life in a way that shows people who have been so hurt by religion and Christianity that what hurt them didn't come from Christ, though I fall admittedly short. I'm not without sin, so I cannot cast stones at others. And I've read enough about what it looks like to rule a country with religion and it never ends well, so I strongly support a separation of Church and State, the way our Founding Fathers intended our country to be run.

I’ll leave you with another quote that Union Theological Seminary tweeted earlier this year because I couldn’t have said it better myself:

The biblical message is clear: End economic exploitation of poor people, liberate captives, heal the sick, welcome strangers. It's why Amos decries leaders who "sell the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals." It's why Isaiah declares:

"The Lord enters into judgement
against the elders and leaders of his people:
'It is you who have ruined my vineyard;
the plunder from the poor is in your houses.'" (Isaiah 3:14)

It's why we find clear commands to treat citizens and non-citizens equally, why we're asked to cleanse all debt in Jubilee every seventh year, why God's gravest condemnation is generally reserved for tyrants who oppress the people they're meant to serve. It's why, in Jesus' first sermon, he says he's sent "to proclaim good news to the poor...freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free." And, it's why Jesus was executed for opposing an empire that subjugated his people. … Christians should also be outraged by policy that violates Christ. It's a sin to deprive people of healthcare. It's a travesty to steal from poor people to line rich pockets. It's abominable to lock migrants in cages, to rip their babies from their arms. When Christians can't see this, it's because they haven't been taught the gospel.

God promises more radical salvation than a mansion in the sky. God talks of swords turned to ploughshares, spears to pruning hooks; God promises that the first shall be last, and the last shall be first; God dreams of a world in which all have enough—and all have a place. That's the other part of the Christian witness absent: We don't have to wait until we die to start building God's kingdom. We can pass policy that guarantees healthcare for everyone. We can ensure no one goes hungry. We can open our borders to all who need asylum. Because, if the gospel means anything, it calls us to work together to bring God's future just a little bit closer.

Updated May 2019 for formatting purposes.