The Makings of an E(x)vangelical
This post hurt to write, so it may hurt to read. If you identify as an evangelical of any stripe, please know this wasn’t written about you or against you – it was written regarding a particular way of seeing the world. I absolutely love and respect you – and I still consider you my friend or family.
Please allow that to guide your reading.
Here’s why they matter: they all publicly identify as gay Christians, and they each have significant platforms. But this post isn’t about that.
They’ve also experienced journeys out of and within evangelicalism.
Have you ever heard of David Gushee? (If not, thank me later.)
He’s an ethicist, a pastor, he’s straight, and he’s most prominently known for his relatively recent public reversal on LGBTQ affirmation that would later be turned into a book. He would, until recently, identify as a traditionalist evangelical.
Evangelicalism and the theological inclusion of LGBTQ individuals are a strange mix. For some, the two integrate comfortably with one another. For others, they prove irreconcilable.
These experiences of faith, sexuality, and conflict within community have much in common with my own.
My aim is neither to divorce nor reconcile these realities from one another; rather, I will elaborate on my experiences in two parts: this post on evangelicalism and the second on my journey with my sexuality.
Leaving a community, no matter the circumstances, is hard. There are always wounds.
When I say I’ve “left” evangelicalism, I’m speaking of an internal migration – I still attend the largest evangelical university in the world, but I no longer attend an evangelical church. I no longer assent to the diverse array of propositional truths espoused by the preeminent streams of evangelical thought. Much like adult me trying on a shirt I wore in fifth grade, it doesn’t fit. That doesn’t mean it didn’t have its purpose and meaning in its time, but no amount of struggle short of complete disfiguration would change the shape or nature of the shirt enough to make it work.
But first, what do I mean when I say “evangelicalism”? If you want denotation rather than connotation, I mean this.
But I also mean this.
Oh – and this.
There’s a lot I could say and a host of citations I could make, but you get my point. It’s not an ideological monolith, but in it we find the evangelical “machine”, as Jen Hatmaker writes in one of the more honest blogs I’ve ever read; it’s an incredibly well-networked domain of money-making enterprises ranging from books to movies, music, TV shows, everything beyond and in-between.
If you have a background such as mine, any number of names and titles just flashed through your mind.
Is it all bad? Absolutely not. I would never summarily denigrate such a diverse and prominent intersection of so many great people and genuine beliefs. I can cite so many beautiful and rich stories emanating from devout evangelicals living and working with the best of intentions achieving amazing things. I have my own experiences bearing witness to this.
When I and those like me reference “evangelicalism”, we’re discussing a deep and complex subject. We’re talking about a system of beliefs that has been used to oppress, injure, and silence minorities. We’re talking about colonialist theology. We’re talking about white supremacy. We’re talking about each of those things married through a theological framework.
While I’ve left the worldview, my heart still loves and holds dear the people from my previous faith communities.
Evangelicalism is not bad – please understand: but it can be that which undergirds dangerous, anti-Christ systems of belief.
What we believe about God – and the Bible – practically affects our behavior and how we interact with our world. This impact can be positive or negative, perhaps both, but there are profound implications for real people when your beliefs exclude them and deprive them of their ability to flourish.
If your view of God and Scripture enables discrimination against LGBTQ people, overlooks the real cries of justice from Black Lives Matter and racial minorities, opposes modern science, denies the reality of climate change, or refuses to acknowledge the existence of white supremacy in western institutions, then you believe that which I simply cannot.
If your view of God and Scripture prompts you to employ colonialism under the guise of missions, justifies your support of our current President, enables the silencing of women in churches or leadership, propagates patriarchy, or amplifies the concept of eternal conscious torment (the western idea of hell), then you believe that which I simply cannot.
I did not say you are the reason I left – this isn’t about any one person, but a way of seeing the world.
Perhaps you don’t fit these qualifications and you still identify as an evangelical: I have no doubt in the sincerity of your faith or the reality of your relationship with God. Would you consider leveraging whatever influence you have in your faith community to bring about reform for those living on the margins?
Our goal should not be centered on being “united” or opposing “divisiveness”, things I’ve heard leaders say from large platforms when members of their communities voice their genuine dissent; rather, it’s about having a holistic integration of faith and practice that moves beyond dualism, beyond black and white, beyond us-versus-them.
If your view of God and Scripture has you insistently defending what you call a biblical worldview, telling others who’s in and who’s out, fostering a false persecution complex (especially if you’re white and straight), then you believe that which I simply cannot.
What we believe about God – what we believe about the Bible – affects everything. How we disagree with one another is just as important.
It’s all connected.
If you’re like me, and you’ve drifted – maybe ejected yourself – out of this worldview, then you know what it’s like. You know what it’s like to see from the outside what you once knew intimately from the inside; perhaps you’ve deconstructed, and you’ve unwittingly lost what you once wholly loved.
And if you’ve left or find yourself in the midst of an egress, you know the trauma that accompanies such change. It hurts more deeply than you could possibly anticipate, and it doesn’t happen in a single moment.
It’s an extended death, a death by a thousand cuts.
I don’t write out of antipathy or a need to change the minds of those around me. Please don’t mistake my passion for bitterness. I write to those like me who are drifting through evangelicalism or fundamentalist Christianity and experiencing the questions of sexuality, faith, doubt, and the like. I also write to those still living – even thriving – within evangelical communities who may not understand why people leave.
I hope this helps you see and equips you to have these difficult conversations going forward.
So where am I now?
I don’t always know the answer, but I’m inclined to believe that God is Love, and in Him is Light. When I’m met with darkness and have negative experiences, in the Divine I can find Light.
That’s what Jesus seems to suggest, at least.
Here’s the thing: Christianity is not a religion of certainty. Much like it’s Jewish heritage, it should be a religion of open questions, subject to dynamic interpretation, and amplified in lived experience.
I believe in Love, in equality, in open hands and an open heart, in the Kingdom that is a present and imminent reality – not a distant eschatological promise, in the God Whose mercy triumphs over His judgment, in the inclusivity of a Creator Who is “reconciling all things to Himself”, Who wants all people to know the Divine “Who”. This isn’t so He can save people from Himself (a thought for a future post), but so people can know God is not far away or angry.
I believe in Incarnation.
I believe in a God Who has lived and died, a God Who suffers with us and absorbs our wrath to show us there is a better way.
And though I really can’t epistomologically know if that’s what truly exists beyond this thin vapor of human experience, I don’t have to be certain or apologize myself back into “right belief”. I embrace the tension. I embrace the unknowing.
Even if you identify as an evangelical, you can do the same.
Perhaps it’s worth asking yourself these questions: Does your system of thought oppress or harm another person? Does your system of thought lead to that “life abundant” Jesus promised? Does your doctrine offer “truth in love” whilst still policing the behavior of others? Can you say that your system of thought is truly better for you and those around you?
Is your faith and your faith community participating in making the world a better place for all people, not just those on the inside?
Your answers to any of those questions may not be a resounding “yes”. If so, don’t be afraid to doubt. Embrace it. The Bible is filled with it.
No matter your theological convictions, understand this: faith is not certainty. Faith cannot be epistemologically defined. You can’t “know” aside from personal experience what it is you claim to know. But you can hope, you can trust that there’s something else to this existence beyond the breath that is a lifetime, and you can love in the midst.
Certainty does not build the Kingdom of God.
What does? Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Self-control.
What are the practical implications of these virtues? Gospel. The presence of the Christ.
Read Isaiah 61. Matthew 5. Jeremiah. James. From what I gather in those selections, from what I read in the Gospels – the utterances of the Christ – God is found on the margins of society.
And if you can’t see past your theology so as to catch a glimpse of the damage wrought in the name of God, then you need to let your walls down, get on your knees, and open your eyes.
Get your hands dirty, but don’t do it to change someone else – do it to change yourself. You may be surprised to find Him eating with us, laughing with us, suffering with us – He’s the God of the margins.
While I’ve left evangelicalism, you’ll still find me loving and pursuing a life of Christian incarnation; Jesus is far too compelling for me to abandon Him. The gracious God of Love is too beautiful and mysterious for me to leave. My faith is not about certainty in any of this, but necessarily and earnestly hopeful that there’s something to this Christianity thing.
There’s got to be something to this Kingdom of God, Heaven-on-earth concept. It’s not a gospel of colonialism or deception, but it actively dismantles corrupt systems and rids the world of injustice heart by heart. It lifts up the poor, heals the broken-hearted, gives sight to the blind, makes the crippled walk again.
I will gladly participate in this unfolding, universal promise.
God loves me, includes me, and wants to see me flourish – gayness and all.
The same is true of you – all of you.