I occasionally hear people asking why those of us who have left Evangelicalism continue to talk about our issues with the movement. There are a lot of people out there who truly do not understand why so many of us feel compelled to keep speaking up about our experiences and the impact that Evangelicalism has had on us. Evangelicalism is our past, so why dwell on it?
There is a narrative out there that paints us all as angry or bitter. We’re often seen as sitting stubbornly in our sin and blaming the church for all of our issues. We’re painted as children who are looking for ways to escape taking accountability for our own problems or our sin. We’re seen as being incapable of moving on and letting go.
While this may be true of some, I feel like I can confidently say that this person does not make up the good majority of former Evangelicals who speak up.
That said, all I can do is speak for myself. So here are three reasons why I keep coming back to the topic of Evangelicalism in my writing years after I’ve left the movement. What I am about to discuss doesn’t express all of the reasons behind why I continue to write about my experiences with Evangelicalism, but these are three major motivations in my work.
I Speak Up For Those Leaving
If one falls down,
the other can help him up.
But it is bad for the person who is alone and falls,
because no one is there to help.
When I left my last evangelical church, I did not know that there were others just like me. People who had finally listened to their conscience (or perhaps the leading of the Holy Spirit), and could no longer passively sit in the pews of their Evangelical churches. I felt alone. I felt disoriented and confused. I didn’t know what my next step should be.
I didn’t even know that I had permission to leave Evangelicalism.
All I knew was that, after a lifetime in the Evangelical church, I couldn’t do it anymore. I saw too much hypocrisy. I felt the blunt force of church politics hit a little too closely to home. I witnessed people wounded by the gate-keeping. When I finally began to speak up, I felt the enormous pressure to be silent.
I felt stuck and alone.
And then a friend (now my wonderful partner) introduced me to a Facebook group of people like me. People who had grown up not only evangelical, but also on the fringes of the movement. We were all home-schooled for much if not all of our childhood years. Many of us came from families that could, rightly, be called cults unto themselves. We had all experienced the cutting wounds of church environments that were more interested in maintaining a comfortable status quo than sitting with the marginalized.
I found common humanity in that group. I discovered I wasn’t alone.
This community quickly turned into its own brand of toxicity, and so my time there was short. But it opened my eyes to a new world. A world where my story was a common one. I wasn’t alone.
I sought out other communities. I looked up books (I wrote about the impact that Rachel Held Evans had on me early in my deconstruction journey). I was hungry to find people who could tell me, “you are not alone. I have been where you have been, and I can tell you that you will be okay.”
If I can be that light in the darkness for even one person, it is worth it to me to keep speaking up.
I Speak Up Because The Bible Tells Me Too
My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.
One constant message I have heard my entire life from my Evangelical teachers is to always preach the truth in love. More often than not, the verse above was mis-applied to “correct” people who were part of the LGBTQIA community or those whose theological leanings began to err in a direction not held by the local Christian community.
However, knowing the high calling the people of God have to social justice and love over legalism, etc… It seems completely appropriate to speak the truth in love when it comes to calling out systemic sin within the Church.
We know there are serious problems in regards to sexism, racism, authoritarianism. sexual abuse, financial abuse, etc… We know this because people keep speaking out about their experiences. It isn’t hard to find instances of various sorts of abuse all over Evangelicalism, and yet nothing ever changes. Just this week, Daniel M. Lavery and his wife publicly spoke out against Daniel’s parents, John & Nancy Ortberg and their church for the way they failed to protect children from a self-identified pedophile (who happened to be their son and Daniel’s brother, John Ortberg III).
We know our histories are filled with sin. One such example is the creation of the Southern Baptist Church. It’s origins are steeped in racism, and it’s racist legacy persists to this day. Russell L. Meek also made the interesting connection between the slave-holding beginnings of the SBC and the current wave of sexual abuse allegations against leadership withing the denomination.
All too often, when we (and I am including myself in this category because I was guilty of it when I was an Evangelical too) hear these stories of wrong-doing, we either deny them outright or we simply write these predators off as “bad eggs”. We assume it was a one-time thing, and it was unfortunate that it happened, but that’s all: unfortunate. We move on, and we never question the church or the system that allowed any sort of abuse to occur or continue. We never stop to consider that a church filled with “bad eggs” quickly becomes a hellish place to live.
We just stay in our comfortable little bubbles, assuming that the abuse will never find its way to us or someone we love.
And then when it does? Our worlds fall apart because we were assured that we were safe. We were assured that our pastors, elders, and communities had our best interests at heart.
We never want to consider that there may be big issues at play in the hearts of our communities or churches. We never want to consider the idea that our church leaders may be involved in or enabling sin against others. It’s too overwhelming to dwell on. And so we don’t.
But the Bible tells us that when we identify sin, it is our job to call it out. It is only by being confronted with our sin that we can have any hope to change our ways and repent. It is in this way that we show love, not just for the sinner, but for the people that might be sinned against.
Calling out systemic issues is how we can love and protect our neighbours.
I Speak Up Because I Have Hope
For I am about to do something new.
See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?
I will make a pathway through the wilderness.
I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.
Even though I can no longer, in good conscience, continue to support the Evangelical movement with my time, my presence, or my money, there is still love in my heart for this movement and the people within it.
The Evangelical church is my spiritual birthplace. It was where I found God and fell in love with Jesus. It is where I met some of the most influential people in my life. These are the people who shaped my understanding of the gospel. I will never be able to repay the debt of gratitude that I have for those who instilled in me a love for Christ and the Church.
I continue to meet people who identify as Evangelical who I believe have the most beautiful hearts on the planet. These are tender-hearted and warm people who see Christ in everyone. These are men and women who have a fierce love for Jesus, truth, and people. They mean the world to me.
Even if I cannot personally be a part of the Evangelical movement, it doesn’t mean that I can give up on it.
I believe the Evangelical community can be better and do better.
I pray for reformation for the movement as a whole. I pray for revival. I pray for a move of the Holy Spirit so powerful that the sleeping will awake to the collective and generational sins of Evangelicalism and that true change and healing can finally begin.
I believe in a God who changes hearts. Because of that, I cannot let go of my prayer for real change.
Maybe one person will listen to my story or the stories that I share which belong to others who have been impacted by the choices of Evangelical churches. Maybe that one person will be the difference between real heart change in their local community or continued sin against the members of their own congregation and the larger community around it.
And so I speak up.
As I said above, this list is not exhaustive. But I do hope that it helps to dispel the myth that when a person speaks up with a hard truth, it does not have to mean condemnation. It doesn’t have to mean anger or bitterness. It doesn’t have to mean that this person is drawing an “Us v. Them” line to create division and hurt others.
The reasons why a person, such as myself, may choose to speak up are many and they are nuanced.
What we need in return are people who are willing to sit with the discomfort of hard truth and listen to what is being said.