In previous blog entries, I mentioned that I no longer consider myself an evangelical, something I’ve also said publicly on social media and to my friends, in person. But really, what does that mean? Am I deconstructing? Have I left Christianity? Have my beliefs changed? Do I go to church? What kind of church do I go to? In the interest of transparency, so readers who want to know will get a sense of what I am about, I would like to provide a little more information about where I am coming from these days.
Simply put, to answer the big question first, I have not left Christianity. I no longer want to be identified with a sect of Christianity that I believe is far too intertwined in non-Christian goals regarding power and politics. But, really, it is only a label. I do not know if my current church is “evangelical”, and I am not going to avoid attending any specific church because it does or does not claim that label. It is, after all, a fairly loose tem. What is important to me regarding attending or belonging to a church, is that it is living out a Christian ethic, and increasingly, the word “evangelical” is associated (not by outsiders, but by insiders) with goals that do not reflect my faith.
I do want to address the question about “deconstructing”, since it is a hot topic right now. As I understand deconstruction, that is not how I would describe my own process. The term tends to be overloaded with meanings, depending on who you talk to, but my own faith journey has followed much of the same flow that it always has: testing what I assent to, determining if it is consistent with my core beliefs, and rejecting that which does not align. It is true that I have had to reject a bit more in the last few years than previously in my life, but it still feels like part of one fluid journey. And yes, I transitioned away from identifying as an “evangelical”, but I do not think that word should carry the weight of a faith identity change. It would be one thing if I was re-thinking basic Christian doctrines, but I have not. I still believe in the core creeds that have held true since the early life of the Church (not that these items cannot be on the table, I just have not seen a need to change them, as they still make sense to me). It is more that I have seen very clearly how much “evangelical” is associated with things outside of those core beliefs.
Now, a savvy reader will note that I wrote I test to see if what I assent to is “consistent with my core beliefs”, NOT, as evanglicals will most likely demand, “testing against scripture”. I have seen people say the litmus test to whether you are deconstructing depends on rejecting the inerrancy of scripture. I DO hold to a view that scripture is inerrant, but I ALSO believe that this question is one that is “on the table”. That is, if I were to one day come to believe scripture is not inerrant, that would not destroy my faith. I know that early Christianity existed without the full scripture that we have now, and for a period in history many Christians were unable to even read it. If faith is possible without access to scripture, I cannot see an assent to inerrancy as being essential. If I meet someone who follows the teachings of Jesus, but does not agree that scripture is inerrant, I see such a person as a fellow believer in Christ. Ultimately, I believe faith is measured by following Jesus and doing the work he has given us to do in the world. By contrast, were I to lose faith that Jesus is God and has provided salvation through his death, burial, and resurrection, that would be a fatal blow to my faith. So I DO test beliefs against scripture, but this is because a trust in scripture is stilll a core belief of mine.
So what HAS changed for me? What drove me away? For a long time, I lived with a tension about ideas taught in church that bothered me. I wrestled sometimes with how I saw the church treating outsiders (and making people outsiders), but my internal dialog always understood this tension to be a product of finding a balance between living in the truth, and showing compassion and love to a fallen world. This is not to say that in the past I did not hold to beliefs I reject now. For example, there was a time that I believed having women preachers was against scripture and a Christian ethic. I understood women preaching to be a rejection of the truth of scripture, and while well meaning, a triumph of human desires over God’s instruction. To be sure, this bothered me; I did not understand this command of God, but for some portion of my life, I believed that assenting to ideas that were not aligned with my emotions was a true test of faith. Since people I trusted with faith matters told me that this was the only valid interpretation of scripture, I believed it. As of writing this, though, I attend, and serve in, a church where one of two pastors is a woman, and I reject a patriarchal interpretation of scripture.
I started questioning many of the issues I internally struggled with due to two events in my life. The first was my divorce, and how the church responded to it. To put it mildly, I was shocked at how unloving this was. I had always assumed that the church would have a compassionate answer for difficult situations like divorce, instead of doubling down on the pain. I was sorely let down.
The second event was the high degree of support Trumpism gained among evangelicals. I do not want to deal with politics on this blog, but I cannot separate my faith journey from politics this point: I could not understand the overwhelming support the church would give a person who is so transparently antithetical to the Christian ethic, an ethic that that same church had spent a lifetime instilling into me. It felt like failing the very basic Christian morality test. And it was not just that the church was agnostic on the area of Trumpism, but highly supportive, with examples of actually pushing people out who disagreed.
Once I started to see the failure of the church around the issue of divorce, and the large support granted to a personality like Trump, I realized a lot of the “difficult” issues that I had wrestled with were really things I held on to because I trusted the people teaching them to me, and not because I saw them as critical to my core understanding of Christianity. When I lost trust in those leaders, I no longer had a reason to hold on to those teachings. And of course, that led me to understand that many of those teachings were not, as I had thought, grounded in Christ or His teaching, but additions to the faith that served social and political agendas.
Yes, I go to church. I love to be around Christians who profess faith in Christ, evangelical or not. I may not agree with what has flown under the banner of “evangelical”, but I love people, whether they wear that label or not. I love to worship God, and I still believe the core idea that we are made by God and need the grace of Christ, provided through his death, burial, and resurrection. I cannot look around the world today and NOT see a brokenness, and that real healing requires outside help; that real healing requires supernatural intervention, and Jesus and His work best explains and addresses our real world situation.
In the end, both Jesus and Paul said the most important thing for us to do was to love: to love God and to love others. I believe that if any interpretation of scripture defies this, we are on shaky ground. And this core idea is what I do not see reflected in the evangelical church today, at least not in the broad sense. And yet, it IS an idea I see reflected in many Christians, and those are the folks I want to be around, and commune with, whatever labels any of us choose to wear.
I do not want to be associated with a group known for its hostility toward some groups, its rigid beliefs regarding some very debatable issues, and its support for a political agenda that is very damaging and harmful to people. Yet I do not want to disassociate from Christ, nor do I believe “evangelical” has the corner on Jesus (though they appear to claim it a lot). Thus, I simply aim to be known as someone who loves and follows Jesus, and would like to work with others who are of the same mind so we can, together, live that out, whatever labels we do or do not adopt.