Believers: The Evangelical Outsider
The Believers Series features conversations with people of faith as they navigate the more complicated and controversial aspects of their beliefs.
Nish Weiseth is an evangelical Christian (well, it’s complicated) who has often found herself at odds politically with those with whom she worships. But, she leans into that tension both through her writing and more recently with her podcast “Impolite Company.”
Weiseth admits that she has a high tolerance for discussing the intersection of politics and religion.
“Faith affects every aspect of my life and it affects, ultimately, how I interact with the world," she says. "And a huge piece of how we interact with the world and interact with changing the world around us is politics. So the more I can understand people's faith, it actually helps me also understand their politics.”
Weiseth’s own faith journey began as a teenager in North Carolina. Her parents weren’t the church-going type, but she was surrounded by religion. That, in a way, made her feel like an outsider. Until one summer, lured by some cute soccer players, Nish attended an evangelical camp called Young Life.
“I started reading and started listening to my Young Life leaders talk about this man of Jesus and actually investigating who he was," she says. "I realized that this man was a man who loved the outsider first and he was a man who went into the places where the outsiders felt the most outcast. He went to the hurting. He went to the sick. He went to the dying. He went to the adulterers. He went to the people he shouldn't have associated with.”
Weiseth was also drawn to the story in the New Testament when Christ cleansed the temple by toppling over the tables of merchants and money changers.
“I've always had a soft spot for people who liked to stick it to the man … he took it hardest to the religious leaders of the day first and the people who always felt like they had the corner on something and he always turned their world upside down.”
This is what Weiseth’s faith is based on: compassion for the outsider and sticking up for what is just and right. But, almost by the day, she’s feeling a greater separation from her evangelical roots. She understands when faith informs politics but, more and more, she says, it seems that politics are informing faith.
I get asked about evangelical Christians and conservative politics all the time because those are the ones that take up the most airspace right now. You know, these people are getting pastored for an hour and a half a week. But then Sean Hannity's getting them hours a day.
“I get asked about evangelical Christians and conservative politics all the time because those are the ones that take up the most airspace right now," she says. "You know, these people are getting pastored for an hour and a half a week. But then Sean Hannity's getting them hours a day.”
Nish says there are a few pillars of belief that set evangelicals apart. Being born again, the need to preach the word and help others find Christ, a high regard for the Bible. But, these days, it’s different.
“If you were to talk to any random person on the street like what do you think an evangelical Christian is, they're going to go 'any Christian who likes Trump,' which is really unfortunate because there's a whole bunch of people out here where that's not actually the case.”
In this way, Weiseth is an outsider again. She says she doesn't "fit the mold."
“It creates this like horrible cognitive dissonance for me. Like, ‘Wait, I know you call yourself a Christian and you say you believe in Jesus and who Jesus was and yet you're advocating building a wall.’”
This dissonance has done more than disrupt her belief, it’s disrupted her community. Nish and her husband moved to Salt Lake City from Portland, Ore., to start, or “plant,” an evangelical church. They ended up leaving that church a year ago.
Nish and her husband are very accepting of the LGBT community, their church, less so. But more than that, the leadership made it clear that there was no room for disagreement or discussion on the matter.
So, for the last year, both in a broad sense and in a very personal way, Nish hasn’t had a spiritual home.
“It's heartbreaking. The late Thomas S. Monson, who was the former president of The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints, had this wonderful quote. He said, 'Never let an issue to be solved become more important than a person to be loved.'"
"I find that to be so important. I look at the reality of where the American evangelical churches are now, and I think we're doing the opposite. These issues and these giant chasms that we can't seem to cross anymore have become more important than just loving each other well.”