It’s Okay to not be an Evangelical.
If you had said these words to me even 5 years ago, I would not have believed you. I’d been taught my entire life that it was only the Evangelical church that held the truth (and only select individuals within that group). I was taught to view anyone outside of our camp as spiritually lost.
And then I became part of the “spiritually lost”.
It’s not just a label that was slapped on me by those I used to worship with, though I know that many viewed me that way. It was how I personally felt for so long.
With the exception of a few periods of agnosticism, I always knew who God was. I just no longer knew where I fit in in the church world. If I’m completely honest, I hadn’t known for a long time. It just took me a while to give myself permission to not belong.
I had known since probably about 2010 that I did not fit in with Evangelical politics. I watched as Evangelicals embraced politics to further their cause in respect to abortion and same-sex marriage.
I rolled my eyes when I watched my fellow church-goers protest laws to change the definition of marriage in order to give equality to same-sex couples. During some most of my non-affirming days, I did not support political action to block same-sex marriage. Although, I did have some messed up reasoning that allowed me to remain non-affirming while not supporting the political action against gay marriage.
I watched as they began to accept Islamophobic beliefs and teach them freely from the pulpit, telling those of us in the pews to be alert because the Muslims were, evidently, a threat to us.
Around 2015, I lost all faith in the pro-life movement as I saw evangelicals embrace the lies around those videos that were supposed to prove that Planned Parenthood was inherently corrupt. And because I didn’t support the release of these videos, the people who once called me their friend and sister accused me of heresy. One lovely individual went as far as to call me an accomplice to murder. So that was cool.
Then the gay bakery story came out. The height of ridiculousness. And I was labelled a heretic for calling it as such.
These things simply added to the other things I knew I could no longer live with. They broke the camel’s back, so to speak.
So I left. I recounted my emotional state on leaving evangelicalism here.
WHAT TOOK ME SO LONG, ANYWAY?
The reason it took me so long to leave the Evangelical movement, even after years of knowing I didn’t belong, was because of the narrative I had been given around leaving.
I had been told that truth and salvation only existed within Evangelicalism. I have been told my entire life that damnation awaits me outside of the safe fold of Evangelicalism. I have devoted years of my life to studying all of the “right” books that teach how, exactly, the mainline churches, The Catholic church, and any other church that does not follow the Evangelical model/gospel are all heretical and worship false gods. I was taught to be afraid of them.
I spent countless hours learning all of the apologetic arguments if I should ever happen upon someone who attends one of those apostate churches. It was my job to convert them or shun them (Evangelicalism doesn’t exactly nurture healthy relationship dynamics*).
I was taught to view anyone who believed differently than me and held their grounds on their differing beliefs (even AFTER being show how the Bible CLEARLY says that they’re wrong) as bad. It’s truly fucked up. Grace no longer exists for that person because they are seen as willingly ignorant. They become the enemy. And the door to that relationship is shut tight and locked until such a time as that person chooses to repent and conforms to a theology that is more comfortable for Evangelicals.
I distinctly remember a coffee date with a friend about ohhh 15 years ago? She was attending Bible College at the time and there was a teacher of hers that belonged to an Anglican church. This teacher’s brand of theology was slightly more progressive than my friend’s and involved things like meditation and labyrinth-walking. This teacher became the evil agent in my friend’s stories. My friend simply wanted to graduate college only to get away from a teacher like that.
My friend’s response may sound extreme, but this was normal in our world. There was no room for differences. You were either one of us or you were against us.
Tribalism thrived in our world.
So of course when I finally left, I felt lost. I left my tribe. I lost my people. I had become the enemy. I was the villain in the stories of those who used to call me their sister. And all because I dared to be authentic enough to say the words, “I do not agree. I think you might be wrong.”
Who wants to be the villain? I certainly didn’t. It isn’t a good feeling. It’s something we will avoid if we can.
But, in my case, it was unavoidable.
As a side note, it is interesting to note that this “in/out” line of thinking is actually one that is used to control people within cults. You’re safe inside the system. And anyone else inside the system is safe for you. But walk outside? You become anathema. You are no longer safe. You are a threat:
‘Commonly described group conditions that may indicate manipulative or harmful cult involvement:
- The group or leader(s) promise the impossible
- The group or leader(s) is right, everyone else is wrong
- The group or leader(s) prohibits criticism or questioning
- The group or leader(s) demands devotion and obedience
- Individuals are expected to change their belief system
- Individuals are separated from familiar or normative social experiences
- Individuals lose their freedom to choose
- Group dynamics are overbearing, potentially in the guise of “friendship” or “caring”’
This is not to say, of course, that all of evangelicalism should be considered cultic. That word carries a lot of baggage, and may not be particularly useful or helpful in many situations. But suffice to say, this sort of attitude that I have encountered in many churches during my 28 years in Evangelicalism is extremely unhealthy.
IT IS SAFE ON THE OUTSIDE, BUT REMEMBER SELF-CARE
And so if you, like me, are finding yourself increasingly frustrated by the landscape of Evangelicalism and no longer feel welcome, I write this post as a way to encourage you. I want to encourage you that you are not crazy for feeling this way. There is nothing wrong with you or your soul. You have nothing to repent of.
Sometimes we just outgrow our communities and birthplaces. Evangelicalism was my spiritual birthplace. It is where I found God and I met Christ. It is where I first experienced the power of the Holy Spirit. It is where I fell in love with the Bible. Evangelicalism taught me to love social justice. It taught me to love truth. And when these things no longer seemed valued in my communities, I knew it was time to leave.
God can and will call His children out. And if you are one of the called, let me be a voice of comfort: It will be okay. You will be safe out here in the wilderness. This is where the Holy Spirit does Her best work; when we are ready to shed the expectations of community and follow wherever the Voice of Truth calls us.
But take care of yourself, please. Find yourself a new support system. It doesn’t have to be a new church, but find people who will listen to you, validate you, and give you freedom to find your way.
Know that its okay if church doesn’t feel safe to you. For some people, it can take years before finding a safe church to worship in. Some people never feel safe in church and find a new way to connect with their spirituality. Listen to your body, and he/she will tell you when its time to take new steps.
Find yourself a mental health professional with a background in religion (a licensed one, not a Biblical Counselor who comes with the agenda to shame you into returning the land you’ve been called out of).
Learn boundaries. Now is the time when you will be most susceptible to manipulative attempts to draw you back:
- You will have someone ask you out for coffee with the agenda of leading you into repentance. Know in those moments that it is appropriate and allowed for you to stand up and walk away.
- You will receive phone calls, texts, and emails from concerned friends and family trying to understand. Know that you don’t actually owe answers to anyone.
- You will receive books in the mail designed to show you how you’re wrong about your decisions and beliefs. Know that you are allowed to have your own thoughts and opinions. You do not need to people please here.
Be prepared, big emotions are coming for you. You will be hit with waves of guilt and self-doubt because of the teaching that has been ingrained in your soul. You’ve been taught that this path leads to death. You’ve been taught to fear a vengeful God. You’ve been taught that you cannot interpret Scripture for yourself.
In these moments, remember to be kind and gentle with yourself. God gave you a mind that He intended you to use. He guides you the same as any other Christian, you have no deficiency in hearing His voice.
You are His beloved. And in you, He is well -pleased. Keep following on the path He’s led you to. He will not lead you wrong.
You got this. And you are going to be okay.
*Yes, I am speaking in a general sense. I know many beautiful Evangelicals who do not believe in shunning someone based on differing beliefs. They understand the meaning of love. I deeply appreciate them.