By Christen Gall
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Her protest started with a plane ticket.
Verity Ramirez, a 26-year-old medical resident at Maine Medical Center in Portland, Maine, is a Christian who attended the Women’s March on Washington last month. She came to rally for women’s rights and for refugee and immigrant communities she felt were attacked by President-elect Donald Trump during the campaign season.
As a physician, Ramirez often works with newly arrived refugees as their primary care doctor. She represents a minority of Christian voters who did not support Donald Trump’s as a presidential candidate.
“This is the time to stand by the vulnerable and the marginalized — these people are my neighbors,” says Ramirez, referring to the biblical commandment to love your neighbor as yourself from the New Testament book of Mark.
During the 2016 election, 81 percent of white evangelicals Christians voted for Donald Trump, one of the highest turnouts for Trump by religious voters, according to Pew Research’s compiled exit data. Evangelical Christians, part of the Christian Right, have been a reliable Republican coalition since the 1980’s. Christians leaders such as the Rev. Jerry Falwell Jr. and the Rev. Pat Robertson, remnants of the Religious Right initiative supported Trump throughout the election. Franklin Graham, son of famed evangelical the Rev. Billy Graham, gave the benediction at Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20.
Ramirez grew up in a religious home and attended a conservative Christian high school in Maine before spending her college years at Taylor University, an evangelical liberal arts college nestled in the cornfields of Indiana. It was in medical school that her views about the biblical doctrine she learned growing up were challenged during a medical ethics class. Now Ramirez says her thoughts on polarizing issues like abortion and LBGT rights aren’t as clear-cut as they were once.
“Ultimately, I think the most compassionate response as a Christian isn’t whether you agree or don’t agree with homosexuality or with abortion, [but] is realizing that there are people who do and who feel very hurt by the words of Donald Trump and by the church,” Ramirez says.
She says the way Christians voted during the election was frustrating, as many sided with the Republican candidate.
“The people who should care most about the well-being of our neighbors, even if they’re different from us, should be people of faith,” Ramirez says.
The young physician wasn’t the only woman of faith who felt compelled to travel to D.C. for the march.
Lori Radder, 25, who graduated from Wheaton College, is another Christian who attended the Women’s March. She drove to Washington, D.C., with three other Wheaton alumni. Radder is a congregational organizer at Community Renewal Society, a faith-based organization that advocates for social and economic justice in Chicago, and believes Christians should be at the forefront of activism like the Women’s March on Washington.
“There’s something really important and powerful about making a public witness, especially as Christians and an evangelical,” Radder says, pointing out the high support for Trump by evangelicals during the election.
Radder, who works with church leaders on Chicago’s north side and suburbs, quickly decided to go to the Women’s March soon after she heard about it. She has helped and participated in local Chicago protests, but had never been to a protest of this scale before Saturday.
While Saturday’s Washington, D.C., march was chaotic, drawing nearly 500,000 attendees (not to mention hundreds of thousands at sister marches across the globe), Radder found the march to be a place of deep spiritual connection.
“As an organizer, I have experienced some of the greatest moments of the presence of God in protests with other people,” Radder says. “It was definitely a spiritual experience like I had hoped.”
She says the high number of Christians who voted for Trump is a sign the church has a lot of work to do toward racial equality and justice for marginalized communities.
“The biggest reason that the church voted for Trump is because they live at such a distance and out of relationship with people most impacted by this election,” Radder says. “That’s to me what’s most devastating.”
She believes some of the tenets of the Christian faith were lost on many churches during the election.
“The church isn’t consistently teaching us that we need to be at the margins in relationship with people, like Jesus was, who do not have the power and privilege we tend to have as educated white evangelicals,” Radder says.
Though the Women’s March on Washington’s rallying points were purposely vague, many marchers support pro-choice initiatives, at odds with the Christian pro-life movement. Radder says Christians should have been involved in the march to be a witness to society, a role they often reserve for social issues like homosexuality and abortion, which “demonstrates inconsistencies and a lack of rootedness in grace and love.”
“If we continue to separate ourselves on issues we can’t disagree with, we eliminate any opportunity to work together on issues we agree with each other on,” says Radder, pointing out issues like racial inequality.
Radder, though disappointed by what she observed to be a low turnout by women of color during the march, hopes white Christians who went will return home and engage in conversations around race.
“I hope Christians will push the church to be the church on issues of justice and to speak up,” she says.