I often read about social movements on Twitter long before they hit any sort of mainstream discussion. If you can put in the time to curate your Twitter following, you can find quite a world of stimulating (and sometimes asinine) discussion.
One subset of people I follow happen to be Christians or ex-Christians who are trying to shine the light of #metoo on sexual abuse in the church. Some of these folks have coined the hashtag #Exvangelical to describe their abandonment of Evangelicalism, especially in the wake of the 2016 election and its aftermath. This started with #emptythepews and #churchtoo, a couple hashtag discussions about unchallenged rape and sexual abuse in Christian circles that hasn’t yet forced much of a behavior change or policy changes. But the community grew to include thousands of Tweeps who flocked (haha) to share their stories of abandoning a faith they were raised in.
I didn’t mean to become an #Exvangelical…. until one day, I realized I was already there.
This is going to get messy if I try to write a post about it. Let me do a Frequently Asked Questions instead – I can probably hit all the salient points, reassure some fears, generate others, and keep it shorter.
Q. So, if you’re an #Exvangelical, does that mean you’re no longer a Christian?
A. Not at all. I’m 100% committed to the Gospel and to faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. I affirm the historic creeds of Christendom. I’m not here to tell anyone else how they should feel about their church affiliation.
What I’ve abandoned is Evangelicalism: that particularly American, individualistic strain of Christianity which prioritizes a personal conversion experience above all else, tends toward extreme biblical literalism, and is currently lusting after political power and a “win” in the “culture wars.”
Q. Wait, you can’t have it both ways. If you aren’t an Evangelical anymore, then you are left with only apostate, liberal, compromised churches for fellowship, right? And not all Evangelical churches are power-hungry or harboring Tea Party conventions.
A. Way to be judgmental? Also, I’m not sure you asked a question.
Ok, this is a critical point, and I understand why people who’ve been thoroughly taught that there are only two options — in the tribe of the True Believers or standing outside in the wrong –struggle to see alternate pathways for genuine Christian belief. It would take me weeks of blog posts to untangle this point. If you care that much, either Google till you find others who’re writing about their faith journeys, or have a cuppa with me and we’ll talk it out.
The short response to your query is this: the world isn’t a simple “you’re in or you’re out” with regards to Evangelicalism being the only right way to be a Christin. If you genuinely believe that, then we probably aren’t going to do anything except disagree over fundamental assumptions.
The Church is larger than I was led to believe. This has happened to me twice in my life: first, when I was in Fundamentalism and left it for the PCA. I remember how betrayed yet happy I felt to discover that Evangelicals didn’t worship Satan’s devil music, and they were pretty great people. And now, I’ve learned that Evangelicalism never had a lock on being “right.” There are good, faithful believers in many faith traditions. Romans 14 speaks to this pretty strongly, IMO, and I recommend reading it and taking a deep breath if this post is making you angry or anxious.
Q. So what’s changed for you? How are you different than you were, say, 5 years ago?
A. This will be easier as succinct bullet points. Again, I’m not inviting you to come argue with me over the bullet points. They’re here for reference, not as an invitation for argument.
- I believe the study of theology should begin with an understanding of God and His Ways, and then move to a discussion of the inspiration of Scripture. Karl Barth explains this way better than I can, and before you burn his Church Dogmatics, you might consider reading it. His view of inspiration is far more vigorous than anything I found in Fundamentalism or Evangelicalism, and it avoids the bible-olatry that continues to plague the American conservative church. Christ is The Word. The Bible witnesses to Him. He is the center, the beginning and ending.
- I reject the individualism that plagues American Evangelical Christianity, including the excesses of revivalism and dispensationalism. I think we were created for community, and prioritizing the experience of the individual above the powerful voice of the Church through all her ages and expressions is dangerous.
- I reject the dominating narrative of the American culture wars. I reject the assertion that American Christians are a persecuted minority. I reject the combative personality by which Evangelicalism is known, especially after the 2016 election. The battle line between good and evil runs through, and not around, every single human movement or institution or idea or group. “Us” vs “them” tribalism is toxic. White Evangelicals have bought hook, line, sinker into a racist, xenophobic vision of America, and I’m just not ok with it anymore. And the culture war’s main fronts – the creation/evolution battle and the anti-abortion movement – are generally doing more harm than good. Why are people walking away from the Church in droves? Because they have the frikkin Internet and can read science articles for themselves.
- I condemn Donald Trump as a pathetic human whose morality is in the sewer. Watching “Christians” like Dobson fall all over themselves to paint Trump as a believer, rather than defending the victims of his abuse and rebuking his lechery and misogyny and greed and corruption, is what broke Evangelicalism for good, for me.
- I cannot in good conscience be part of denominations where the only functionally acceptable political position is to be a Republican or a libertarian. You’re welcome to be part of those camps, but to assert that no good Christian could be a Democrat is ignorant and unwise — and just plain wrong. Good Christians have historically fallen across the entire political spectrum. Again, I’m somewhat stunned this is even a point of contention among people who claim that we should be reading our Bibles every day in order to be good people… (Sorry. This is an area that makes me rather angry these days.)
- My LGBTQ+ friends have never been welcome in Evangelicalism. I don’t know how to reconcile the fact that a loving sovereign God has created humans who are wired from birth to love the same gender, or humans who experience such gender dysphoria that they cannot identify as the person their body parts would suggest that they be. I don’t disagree that a literal reading of the Bible would suggest that LGBTQ+ are, in a word, “born wrong.” But I can no longer deny a place within the church to my gay Christian brothers and lesbian sisters and transgender friends who’ve been beaten down by the church again and again. God’s going to have to sort this mess out Himself. Till I get a chance to ask Him in person, I’d prefer that we accept LGBTQ+ Christians as full citizens of the kingdom. Even if they’re wrong. Especially if we’re wrong about them being wrong.
- If I had a daughter, I’d be angry that she would never see a woman in a legitimate position of authority within 99% of Evangelical churches. (Small exception for a few ARP churches that ordain women and the AMIA Anglican congregations who hold to conservative theology but make room on their platforms for women to teach and preach.) You’re welcome to bar women from being a preacher if you want, but to bar them from every single position of church leadership except running the nursery or children’s Sunday school seems ….well, blatantly misogynistic. I don’t think the New Testament was trying to define church leadership primary by who does/doesn’t have a penis, and I certainly don’t think male-only leadership makes for healthy organizations. A whole lot of sexual abuse by powerful men might have been avoided if women had been given a voice – any kind of voice – and genuine power within the church. Conservative Christianity has been sleeping with abusive patriarchy for a long time. This one is an easy fix, folks: women as deacons, women as ruling elders, women as equal teaching partners per those obscure little sentences in I Corinthians 13 that nobody wants to talk about (“a woman, when she prays or prophesies, must cover her head”). Just….start somewhere…..
Q. I think you’re dead wrong.
A. You know what? I sometimes wonder that myself. Like, how do we know anything about anything?
One of the worst things about any Fundamentalist system – and Evangelicalism has a whole lot of Fundamentalism in its DNA, despite its rock worship bands and willingness to let megachurch pastors say “shit” in a sermon or talk about masturbation — One of the worst things about this system is the way it stifles doubt.
The opposite of doubt isn’t faith. It’s certainty. And certainty can be dead wrong. Faith is hopeful; it can co-exist with doubt because faith IN God means I’m ok with letting Him catch these details I can’t make sense of myself.
I’d be a fool if I were so arrogant as to think my little mind can contain the universe, the whole of God’s will toward mankind, the order of events of salvation – ha! what hubris!
When you let the world get perfectly quiet all around you, what do you hear? Do you hear little tiny questions creeping into your mind? “What if I”m wrong? What if, once I die, I’m just….dead? What if there isn’t a God? What if the Hindus or the Jews or the Muslims are actually right?”
I’m not saying you have to doubt to be a good Christian; that seems a bit backward. But good Christians can –must!–be honest about their epistemic uncertainty.
I left Evangelicalism because I’m tired of people telling me they have The Answer. You don’t. You and I are in the same place: we seek wisdom in the Word to see God for who He is. And we shake our heads at the ugliness in this world. And those two ideas conflict in uncomfortable ways. Can’t we be honest about that for just a minute?
And once we’ve got this honesty train going, how about we be honest about a few more things we shouldn’t claim certainty about…. like whether life actually begins at conception, or how exactly this world came to be and the processes of creation, or pretending like every issue has a clear-cut moral answer just waiting out there along the side of the road carrying a big ol’ “I AM THE RIGHT ANSWER” sign.
Q. So where are you going to church these days?
A. You aren’t going to like this….but truth is, I haven’t been to church in a while. I didn’t mean to leave…. it just….happened. I stepped away from music ministry in 2016 because of a job change, and when I tried to come back, all I got from the guys in charge was crickets. So …I left.
I want to find a new church home, I really do. I miss the sacraments and how they shape our understanding of what really matters in this world.
But I also needed to detox from the grind of the “Christian lifestyle,” where everything is matchy-matchy and sorted out. I’d been uncomfortable about that for years, but I genuinely enjoyed the worship ministry team and the fellowship I found among my fellow musicians. It’s a special thing to lead a congregation in praise, and I was honored to do it for as long as I did.
Aside from the bond I had with my fellow musicians, I have very little in common with women my age in an Evangelical church. I never had kids (wasn’t on purpose; just never happened) so my #1 function as a woman in the PCA went completely bust. I don’t enjoy babies or little kids. I don’t have endless stories about diaper poops and elementary escapades to link me to these women whose lives are so different from mine. I hold two masters’ degrees and am married to a man who’s practically earned two PhD’s. I love video games, science fiction, and progressive metal. I can read the Bible in the original Greek and Hebrew, and — if I’m being truly honest here — am more qualified (if we’re talking about education) to teach the Bible than nearly all of the male elders at the churches where I’ve been a member. (Except I don’t have a penis, so…. ) Making “small talk” with adults at any church function will always be a struggle, unless there’s a gamer/metalhead church out there somewhere I haven’t found.
It wears me out to think of jumping into the church dating scene again – I mean “finding a church.” Because that’s what it is, right? A bad dating game. A church is a collection of people, and honestly, it’s the camaraderie and community that differentiate two congregations. The trappings and faith statements and liturgy have their own effects, but the day-in, day-out experience of being a member of a particular church rests entirely on the group of people who meet there. The only way to find a new one, unless you’re going to go all Fundamentalist and filter out all but a couple based on their statements of faith, is to visit around and smile politely and be the weird stranger and listen to people constantly tell you how much they SO HOPE YOU’LL KEEP COMING.
Gah, the sheet awkwardness of it gives me hives.
And, to be frank, I don’t know where I belong. Where we belong. I want a church where Grace is central (and not just talked about, but lived out as Grace); where sermons are short yet meaningful; where people are open about their struggles; where Christian lingo isn’t so pervasive that people from outside are turned off; where the prevailing theme isn’t “how to do the right things this week so God will love me more.”
With kickass music.
Q. Last question: Aren’t you afraid people are going to be disappointed in you? What about all your former students? You could tear them down too!
A. If my students are willing to throw out their entire belief system because of what they see me do (or don’t do), then I failed as a teacher. I never wanted robots, or students who would accept what I said as THE right answer. I pushed my students to wrestle, reason, challenge, think for themselves. So I’m 99% sure they’re going to be ok, and I’m also sure the Holy Spirit is in charge of bringing people to faith and holding onto them. If you think my actions are going to overwhelm His work, well, that’s the disagreement right there.
Are people disappointed in us for leaving the PCA? Hell if I know. I’m not sure anyone really cares. If you’re a committed Evangelical, then good for you. Please, for the love of all that’s holy, question the connection between your faith and your politics, your power systems, your views on social injustice and the culture. But have at it. (See: what I just said about the Holy Spirit, above.)
I wrote this post because I know thousands of people– mostly Millennials–have left the Church in the wake of the 2016 election. You’re not alone, friends, and please don’t throw out your own relationship with God just because you’re not happy with how things are going in the American Church.
I don’t think Evangelicals really grasp how UGLY this power-grab has been. You have sold the Gospel for a pot of beans. Actually, Esau got a WAY better deal than you did on Trump and the Tea Party, because at least his mess of beans filled his belly for one night. This whole moral-majority nonsense has cost you pretty much everyone under the age of 40…..and people like me who didn’t sign up to ride this crazy train all the way to the final destination. American Evangelicalism is nearly all white. And as the cultural influence of white people (especially white men) wanes in the face of America’s changing demographics, it’d be nice if you didn’t drag Jesus down with you as you howl in despair at your loss of power and influence.
Jesus TOLD Y’ALL THIS. He TOLD YOU that following Him means picking up a cross and dying. Y’all. What part of “a corn of wheat must fall into the ground and die” made you think you’d get to run America? What makes you think worshiping guns and libertarianism and America and military might and “family values” is the equivalent of “taking up your cross” and following Jesus?
*raises hands* Peace. I’m done. I’m not trying to start a fight. We could go have a beer instead.
I’m an #Exvangelical because I love God and the Gospel. You may disagree with me, but at least you know where I stand.