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a clarification of sorts.

June 25, 2014

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

Door and bricksThose 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.

 

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27 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike Rodgers permalink
    June 25, 2014 8:31 am

    Candace,
    This post and your last post are the only ones I’ve read of yours. A friend in our organization shared them with me. Thank you for writing them! I work with a christian organization in the Springs with an emphasis on a “new generation” of workers for missions. I have a daughter who must be about your age and a son who just graduated from college. Both share many similar views with you (as do I). I’m wondering if it would be possible to meet over a cup of coffee. I realize that is a cheap way of getting a consultant, but maybe it could be a start. Among other things, we do Business as mission, work among the under-resourced (nationally and internationally) and we have a growing presence among brothers and sisters in other major world religions. We just had our first leadership level meetings on how to love our LGBTQ friends. So my interest is not only to talk about topic in your last blog, but what you are learning about business and the Middle East. My offer of coffee goes for your husband… and dad for that matter. He sounds like a pretty cool father. I promise this is not a trap to change or attack you. I would really love to learn more. If you are up for it please reply to my email address. Thanks again for writing!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. June 25, 2014 8:58 am

    Candace, Love your posts and this follow-up. I think that context is a huge factor in the disconnect of labeling. I feel the same disconnect and, perhaps, it is because of the built-up connotations not the core definition of the words we use. The meaning, in some places, has shifted and we can’t ignore that in those places it no longer fits everyone.

    You are bold and awesome and your journey is encouraging. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Kim Geiger permalink
    June 25, 2014 10:37 am

    Your link for “helpful tools” to interpreting the Bible is insightful, if not scary. While I agree with most of the points, the application of these by the author (and by most progressive readers of the Bible) essentially boils down to the Bible means whatever the reader can get out of it. By this reasoning, the Bible contains no absolutes. Any sin can be justified (as the author does with homosexuality) and any statement can be disregarded. Thus, John Dominic Crossan has determined that neither the virgin birth nor the resurrection ever happened and that the miracles of the gospels are fiction. My observation (and I’ve observed numerous people go this way) is that when one adopts this approach to the Bible, it doesn’t take long for the whole Bible, God, and Jesus himself to become fully fiction. This is attested to by numerous commenters on your previous post, who are now avowed atheists.

    I am a Biblical literalist, in the sense that I take the Bible as literally the Word of God. Not all of it is intended to be interpreted literally, but it is all intended to be interpreted as it is written. I am also not ignorant, but am an intellectual, a questioner, and an aggressive pursuer of truth, wherever that may lead me.

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    • June 25, 2014 2:03 pm

      Hey Kim, I just thought I’d comment on your post – not because I know a lot – but because I’m interested. 🙂 I get the slippery slope problem. That’s the power of the intellect. We can rationalize ANYTHING away once we think we’re smart enough. And we do all the time. But I think that the Bible ought to be studied as a book that was written by its original human authors for its intended audience. I think that approach clears up a lot of eisegesis! Although, like you said, if people are now beginning to deny Jesus’ miracles (I suspect via imposing an anti-supernatural modernistic worldview on the world of the Scriptures), then that is also eisegesis. 😦 Whether you’re a literalist or some other kind of -ist, interpretation is never without its questions, confusion (learning) and messiness. Everybody needs to renew – not remove – their mind when coming to the Bible. So far, few disagreements to be noted here.
      When you say that “it is all intended to be interpreted as it is written” I’m not sure if you mean that we ought to take every parable, saga and ancient figure of speech as if it were actually literal. Like, the trees of the field literally have hands and David wants to see them clap! We need to be aware of the fact that we impose our understanding, our linguistic and cultural context, onto the text. We can’t help it. If we didn’t know what trees were, or had never seen them, maybe we’d take that part of the Bible literally. See what I’m saying?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Kim Geiger permalink
        June 25, 2014 3:34 pm

        No, that is not what I am saying. We should interpret a parable as a parable (a story that has one primary moral lesson), a saga as a saga and a figure of speech as such. One of the main duties of the Bible student is to learn and understand the style of writing, be it parable, simile, metaphor, allegory, historical, didactic or any of a dozen of types of writing.

        Yes, I believe the bible ought to be studied as a book that was written by human authors (who have a historical and cultural and personal context) to specific audiences (who also have contexts). All of these contexts radically affect the way we understand and interpret scripture.

        Here is a great example: In Luke 11:27-28, someone said to Jesus, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you.” Jesus replied, “On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” Some have used this scripture to point out the misogyny of Christianity and to say that Jesus was “anti-women”. However, when you understand the historical context, you realize it is exactly the opposite. Jewish culture of the time had a very low opinion and view of women (an old saying of the Rabbi was “thank you God that I was not made a gentile, a slave or a woman”). In the culture, a woman’s value and blessing was derived from what her son’s accomplished. That is what the woman was saying to Jesus. Jesus rebutted that each person’s value comes from their own relationship with and obedience to God. He was lifting up women, not putting them down.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Kim Geiger permalink
    June 25, 2014 11:22 am

    Just mulling over what I wrote and want to clarify. I am not trying to scare you or tell you that you are going to become an atheist if you don’t change your approach to Biblical hermeneutics. I teach hermeneutics and I believe with all my heart that our approach to scripture is the foundation of all of our thinking. It is the foundation. If the foundation is askew, nothing built on it will stand. Is it possible that you learned a wrong hermeneutic at CC? Have you considered a more conservative, orthodox approach to the scriptures. “Understanding and Applying the Bible” by Robertson McQuilkin is, I believe, the best text on the subject. Have you read it?

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    • June 25, 2014 2:10 pm

      Perhaps here is another point of distinction between our thinking. 🙂 Scripture is valuable in that it shows us the Word of God, whose name is Jesus Christ. He is King; Scripture is not. Jesus is better than Scripture…but, of course, we need the revelation of the written word to learn about God. All I’m saying is, I believe many Protestants miss the mark a little because they’re treating the Bible as God, rather than one of a few sources (church being the next thing that comes to mind) that point to God.

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      • Kim Geiger permalink
        June 25, 2014 3:39 pm

        I agree with this, Amy. The Bible is only a communication from God to lead us to genuine relationship with the Father. It is not all truth, but it is true truth. It is not the end in itself, because there will come a day when the Bible will no longer exist. However, if the scriptures, as we know them, are not reliable, if they are full of errors and not able to be understood, how can we ever know that the “god” we are coming to know is the real thing? This is why, historically, the inerrancy of scripture (the original, autographic texts) has been foundational to the Christian faith.

        Liked by 1 person

        • June 25, 2014 3:48 pm

          Kim, yes, what you’re talking about is something I am learning to hold in tension. On the one hand, we need to see the Bible for what it is, “not all truth” (not in the way we might be used to understanding truth); on the other hand, we must affirm its inerrant nature on matters of faith, including God and our relationship to Him. For me on a more personal level, it’s the tension between not letting my own fallen nature (i.e. self-serving motives and self-deception) get in the way of seeing God revealed in Scripture, and working out apparent contradictions using my own reasoning and experience with the insight of scholars and others. But I’ve found that studying the Scriptures in seminary (where I learn through people who are much better at this discipline than me) has helped me more clearly perceive the “heart” of a given passage or book. That kind of study has a way of helping one separate peripheral details from the main principles that are being communicated, so that one can still have questions but doesn’t get hung up on them. 🙂

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          • Kim Geiger permalink
            June 25, 2014 4:33 pm

            I agree, Amy, with a couple of clarifications. First the phrase, “inerrant on matters of faith” is often used as a way of saying that the Bible is full of errors and the history is fiction, but where it touches faith (and it is up to the reader to determine that), it is inerrant. I prefer to say that the Bible is inerrant in all that it addresses. It is not exhaustive truth, but it is true truth, as Francis Schaeffer once said. So, where it communicates history, it is accurate, where it communicates law, it is accurate. That’s the way I see it.

            Second, I like your phrase “apparent contradictions”, which I use often. Some people say the Bible is full of contradictions. I say they are apparent contradictions because of our ignorance of context, culture, language, and God’s heart and ways. “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”

            Liked by 1 person

            • June 25, 2014 6:08 pm

              Wow, I really dislike how wordpress compresses people’s replies so you can’t read them. No wonder they call it WORD-PRESS. (yuk yuk yuk).
              Anyhow, I pretty much agree with your clarification. Again, I see that tension. We don’t say dismissively, “The Bible is FULL of contradictions,” but we also approach the Bible as learners, who will have to adapt our theology as we continue to learn. How much we adapt, of course, is the subject of endless debate 🙂

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  5. June 25, 2014 12:24 pm

    Hey Candace (again),
    I’m interested in this discussion too! FYI, I found out about it because of a certain Christian author/blogger whose stuff shows up on my Facebook news feed. She’s a pretty well-known figure, so that might explain the viralness. 🙂
    You’re right, context is key. (That’s why, as a Canadian, a lot of the inter-denominational bashing I see in the States makes me shudder…but now I’m probably starting to sound elitist). For instance, all the travels you’ve done just served to open up your world and make you realize that life and truth aren’t as simple or black and white as you thought. We all go through that, and then we’re faced with the choice of how we’re going to respond – to adapt or to shrink back into our simpler worldview?
    Another thing that came to mind while reading was (Note to readers: imagine me saying this in a friendly tone, with a biiig smile on my face as I attempt to articulate a thought for the first time!) the fact that evangelicalism, while basically orthodox, still offers a pre-packaged (or at least IMPLIED by the culture) set of values on which to focus. For instance, notice how people can get so hot and opinionated so quickly about homosexuality…Why? Maybe because American evangelicalism is (pre)occupied with sexual mores. Notice how (a) the Bible scarcely mentions the sin of homosexual acts compared with overwhelming amount of ink spilled over the prevalence of social injustice and greed, and (b) those same people don’t seem as bothered by greed (a Western problem for sure, but not as many evangelicals seem concerned). Nor by violence. Why not? Is that too “Marxist?” Just not one of the core values of evangelical dogma? Just thinking out loud…my point is, if someone feels that certain implied core concerns of evangelicalism aren’t their major concerns, then it makes sense to not follow evangelicalism too rigidly. At the risk of sounding simplistic, perhaps we need to get back to following Jesus. :\

    Liked by 2 people

  6. June 25, 2014 2:55 pm

    Hi Candace, I had to comment..just came across your blog. Your posts the last couple of days really resonated with me too. I too left a conservative church after a number of years for many of the same reasons. Too much nationalism, anti-labor, conservatism, militarism, in the politics and way more guilt than I needed to deal with in the theology. I too found that furthering my education was a big part of my theological beliefs changing. What a great blog. I look forward to reading good stuff from you!

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  7. June 25, 2014 5:11 pm

    Hey! You did it. I live in an area where evangelical has a very narrow specific connotation with which I do not identify. My personal feelings very much reflects yours, as you’ve described them here. It’s left me wandering a bit, wondering where exactly I fit, and until your accidental viral explosion I was beginning to suspect I was a singular traveler. In the past I’ve experienced sudden controversial attention, in my case it was not so extensive or over anything so consequential, but I’ve had a small taste of what you’re going through, and it is probably what kept me from posting my own musing about my flight from the evangelicalism online. Your boldness is appreciated. I’m supporting you in prayer, and with these meager words, and perhaps I can be moved now out of my complacency. Not all who wander are list, after all. Now if I can just keep from being distracted from my life full of rainbows and unicorns.

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  8. Laura Beth permalink
    June 25, 2014 5:55 pm

    Good job clarifying yourself. Writing in an online forum is so challenging exactly because of the lack of cultural context. Having recent come out as transgender after a lifetime of evangelical education and ministry, I recently wrote a paper where, in the introduction, I also announced my departure from evangelicalism. In writing that, I pointed out that that the evangelical label and other like it (Protestant, catholic, reformed, conservative, liberal, etc) are man made. We have no Biblical obligation to uphold them or conform to them. We are, as individual believers responsible for reading and understanding scripture and engaging in a highly personal, very spiritual relationship with a living, active God. All too offer our labels become a crutch that we lean on in place of our own understanding and exploration of God and the truth he blesses us with. All truth is God’s truth – I’m convinced more than ever that no one label has a corner on it. Anyway thanks for opening the conversation and giving voice to the thoughts of so many.

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  9. June 25, 2014 8:41 pm

    Love this one as well. I’m quite fond of your blog. I did some research that I think might help you in your upcoming LGBTQ and the bible blog, if you’d like it it’s yours. I also gave you a shoutout in my blog today for inspiring my most recent post. This isn’t a comment asking for you to read it or anything like that, just saying thanks for being awesome, and for being true to yourself, and God. You’re the kind of person we need more of.

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    • June 25, 2014 10:55 pm

      I’ll definitely read your blog and I’ll send you an email tomorrow for more info on your research. I’m excited about the next post because of the research it’ll require me to do!!

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  10. June 26, 2014 12:00 am

    Preach it sister! Hope you’re doing well my dear 🙂

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  11. June 26, 2014 2:05 pm

    Way to keep the conversation going Candance! As Brene Brown would say, it’s all about vulnerability. I love that you’re willing to share your story and are inviting others to share with you! https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability

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