a clarification of sorts.
Ho. Ly. Buckets.
I was not expecting that last blog to go viral. I mean…maybe a few hundred would view it and it would create an interesting conversation on my Facebook page with some of my friends. But crap. Over 40 thousand people have read that last blog where I discussed some of the reasons I have decided to leave evangelicalism. Many who responded shared their own stories about their exits from evangelicalism and even the church as a whole. They were honest and kind and inquisitive and vulnerable. And many others asked really great clarification questions that I want to address here.
First, no, this isn’t my blog where I discuss LGBTQ equality and the Bible. That will come later. (UPDATE: I have finally written about this!) But I promise it will come. And honestly, full blogs are probably going to be necessary (maybe even multiple posts) to really clarify a lot of these issues.
Before we get there though, I thought that it might be helpful to describe my background a little more. I find that as we come to understand each other’s stories, it gives more shape and nuance and life to an avatar online that we might be tempted to just argue with. Anyway, I grew up a pastor’s kid in rural Eastern Oregon, in a non-denominational church that had theological ties to the Assemblies of God and Four Square denominations. My dad and his dad and aunts and uncles and everyone in my family basically were pastors and missionaries and evangelists in the Assemblies of God. I grew up learning about the Holy Spirit and the necessity for personal convictions and hospitality. After high school and an AA program at my local community college, I moved to Colorado Springs to join a large non-denominational missions organization. I traveled to Thailand right after the tsunami. I worked in orphanages in India. I taught English in China. I encountered a lot of things that I was not expecting, most surprisingly, my own inability to answer the questions of people I was working with, if I could even understand what those questions were in the first place! (No, I’m not talking about language barriers here. I’m talking about true cultural and religious and ideological barriers.) As a supposed missionary wanting to share the love of Jesus with the people around me, I struggled with knowing how to contextualize and communicate the gospel in ways that was helpful and meaningful in the places I was in.
I started asking different questions about the world. About faith. I interacted with people who shared their lives and experiences with me. I grew. Somewhere in the midst of all of that I started developing a deep love for the Middle East, Arabs, Muslims and seeing peace, reconciliation and justice come to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I decided to follow that love and passion into college (actually before I had even visited the region!) to study history/political science focused on the Middle East. I minored in religion and my journey of faith continued.
As I was going to school (at my highly secular college), I was also leading worship at a large non-denominational, evangelical church in the Springs. I enjoyed the friendships made there and thoroughly loved the band that I was able to work with. However, some other aspects of this church environment were less than great (another post necessary to tackle that bear of a topic). After five years there, I eventually ended up leaving on very poor terms with the church, in a state of woundedness and hurt. The effect that this had on my faith journey cannot be overlooked.
Whew. That was a lot of my autobiography. Onto some of the clarifications that need to be made after my last blog.
First, no, while you may have thought you ran upon the blog of a freaking genius prodigy, I do not know all the things. Shocking, right? With that embarrassing tidbit out of the way, we’ll all agree that I will say something that I don’t actually think or say something in a way that doesn’t quite express what I want or that I will have to leave something to smarter minds than mine to figure certain things out. That being said, I’m really invested in this conversation that we’ve started here and I’m committed to learning and sharing and journeying with whomever wants to.
While discussing the things brought up in my blog with my dad, he mentioned that it may have sounded like I thought all who read the Bible in more literal ways are ignorant or unintellectual. Clarification: no, that’s not what I think. I do believe that there is much to be learned about the Bible from academic scholarship both inside and out of the Christian spheres. However, I also think that literalist churches tend to discourage (maybe not intentionally or maliciously though) their members from academic reading and the asking of intelligent questions, hence my use of the word ignorant when discussing the overall feel of many of the evangelical churches that I’ve interacted with. That being said, I know MANY intelligent, thoughtful individuals who describe themselves as literalists, who approach the Bible with humility and honesty. I respect them very much. For those who have questions about the way that I am currently interpreting the Bible, this might be a helpful tool.
Many people mentioned the fact that evangelical does not equal anti-gay rights, complementarian, biblical literalist/fundamentalist, republican/NRA card holder. Sure. You all are correct. I was not as nuanced or specific with my words as I could/should have been. The National Association of Evangelicals describes the evangelical movement as being concerned with the “‘good news’ of salvation brought to sinners by Jesus Christ” and then uses these four distinctions of evangelical belief:
- Conversionism: the belief that lives need to be transformed through a “born-again” experience and a life long process of following Jesus.
- Activism: the expression and demonstration of the gospel in missionary and social reform efforts
- Biblicism: a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority
- Crucicentrism: a stress on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as making possible the redemption of humanity
Those things being said, some would argue that there are ways to identify one’s self as a progressive evangelical, or to be evangelical and hold the beliefs I have. I would agree with them. There might be those ways. However, in the context that I find myself, in Colorado Springs, a center of the culture wars, the Mecca of evangelicalism, the term evangelical has become something that I don’t identify with. Language, identification, labels should be helpful, useful even. When I call myself an evangelical in this town it does not say what I want it to. It comes with baggage and connotations that I cannot fight with on a day-to-day basis. So, I think my context has a lot to do with my decision. There may come a day when I decide that evangelical means something useful to me again. Or maybe we’ll all move on to different language that describes the place we’re at in our faith journey. Who knows?
The overwhelming response from my “coming out” blog has been a positive expression of people relating with the things that I have written. This excites me. Let’s continue in this journey that so many have traveled before, exploring our faith, testing the limits, stretching out our tent pegs, seeing how we can, “with God, set a table for all who hunger and thirst.” This is the vision statement of the church in which I am currently finding freedom to explore. I think it states beautifully the hope of inclusion, welcome and hospitality that so many of us are looking for. Let’s start creating this space for others.