After Evangelicalism

Recently, Ed Stetzer tweeted the following:

My initial reaction to this tweet was a mixture of emotions, but it all culminated in a deep sadness, a sense of lament.  

As many of my followers well know, I began this blog as an ardently progressive Evangelical.  However, as time progressed, it became clear to me and my family that Evangelicalism was no longer a home for us.  As such we chose to move into mainline Protestantism, and now attend a local, small PC(USA) congregation.

Even as I read Stetzer’s tweet, I had already begun to attempt a post reflecting on my exit from the Evangelical faith.  That post largely floundered in production, as so many of my posts seem to be doing lately.  But, as that post lay dormant, Stetzer’s tweet raised up something in me, something I felt the need to write on.

A fair warning, this is a departure from my more cerebral work.  This is something more visceral, something that, to be honest, makes me deeply uncomfortable.  It is in many ways very personal, borne of personal experience and pain.  

I don’t like writing about myself, it so often feels selfish somehow.  I fear this will read as little more than the disgruntled ramblings of a discontent.  I worry that it will be heard as little more than misplaced anger.  Will I simply sound arrogant, like I’ve somehow arrived, aloof and egotistical? 

And yet I am hopeful, hopeful that it resonates somewhere, that others can see themselves within and find some hint of solidarity.

In the end, this is me in all my flawed humanity.  And in a way, I suppose, this is just me.

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Lament
The reasons I lament my exit from Evangelicalism are myriad.  At the core of it all is the reality that I was raised the son of a fundamentalist pastor.  I was converted into conservative Evangelicalism in my late teens.  For the better part of 29 years, conservative Christianity was a significant part of my life – though to be honest I rarely lived as if it were.For this reason, the death of my Evangelical faith at first felt almost like the death of a close friend.  Sadly, as time passed and I looked back, I realized it had never truly been a friend.  It had instead been my abuser, a system of oppressive theology designed to stifle my theological imagination and arrest my spiritual maturity in a state of codependent infancy.

Now, to be clear, I fully recognize this will not be the experience of everyone.  I know many good, Christian people who have found freedom and liberation within the Evangelical faith.  I cannot speak to their experiences, and I would never dare to illegitimate their faith.  

As such, when I speak of Evangelicalism, I speak not of people, but of an industrial complex which feeds upon the suffering and brokenness of its constituents, seeking to produce mindless automatons built only to further the influence of the top level elites who design and maintain the system.

Having come to these realizations, it occurs to me that I am inspired to lament my former Evangelicalism not because I have left it, but because I can still recognize the dangerous fruits of its theology in my life.

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Fear and Guilt

Even now, several months removed from Evangelicalism and over a year into my blog, I am regularly racked by fear and guilt. When I wrote my post exposing the hypocrisies of New Calvinism, a voice in my head resounded, “The good outweighs the bad.  Why be so negative.”

When I wrote my four part critique of Emerson Eggerichs best-selling book Love and Respect, I had to constantly fight the programming of guilt which called to me from each page, telling me I’m not the man God wants me to be.  I had to overcome the instinct to abandon the project because “His ministry has helped so many, maybe I’m just offended because I don’t trust God enough.”  

Every time I write a post, I worry whether I will lose followers, I worry I’m going to offend people, worry that talking about these things will “damage the Church.”  I am terrified that honesty about my beliefs will cost me close friends, because my journey through Evangelicalism has been marked by such moments.

As such, when I encounter the abused, I am tempted to minimize their suffering.  I sometimes feel compelled to ignore the abuse, to dismiss the cries for justice, to recite the mantra, “Souls not circumstances.” When I hear a story of abuse, some part of me is still tempted to wonder “Did she provoke him somehow?”

All of these things represent the programming of Evangelical theology in my life.  They are rooted in the words of pastors who I’ve heard preach, “God didn’t call you to abandon difficult relationships, you must always seek reconciliation.”  They are the result of internalized insults, of those who tell me I am a “false teacher,” “deceived,” and “anti-Christ.”

 But now I realize, these are not the voices of friends and leaders trying to protect me, they are the conditioning of an abusive system.  One which wishes to colonize the suffering of others, to reduce people to objects, cogs in a machine.  I am conditioned to support the overinflated egos of men who measure the success of their ministry by dollars in the coffers and butts in the pews.  I am conditioned to trust blindly, even as I see the hurt and pain caused by tyrants selling shackles and calling them liberation.

And thus I am afraid because fear is a method of control, the only way a naked emperor can parade through the streets unquestioned.  I feel guilty because part of me still wants to believe the facade of the Church is more important that the people within it.

But something strange happens when one finds freedom in Christ.  I read of Christ clearing the temple, and realize exposing injustice is at the heart of the Gospel.  I read about the cross and realize that condemnation and guilt are not the Gospel, they are the emptiness of law which can never save me.  They are a tyrannical ravings of a king I no longer serve.

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Anti-Intellectualism
I value intellectual pursuit highly.  I read academic books – books many would consider only as textbooks – for fun.  I study science and history, theology and hermeneutics, and I find my life and my ability to understand and relate to others profoundly improved by doing so.

Yet I am plagued by worry that I am over-intellectualizing my faith.  As I write an in depth historical analysis of Romans 1, I am reminded that “God doesn’t communicate in riddles, he communicates with clarity and absolute truth.” Never mind I have yet to meet an Evangelical who can make heads or tails of Revelation, I always feel a slight twinge whenever I dare to color outside the lines.  

In these moments I recall words I once heard in a sermon, “We don’t need more Bible Scholars and Theologians, we need more lay people who simply trust the Bible and obey it.”  Or the time he told our church, “Don’t interpret the Bible for your kids, it is true and that truth will be apparent to them if you just read it to them.”

And yet, here I am talking about the cult of Cybel and the centrality of sex acts to ancient fertility cults.  It was instilled in me for so long that I am not to question the Bible, but to simply do as it says.  Yet every time I read it, I cannot but hear the voice of the Spirit drawing me deeper, challenging me to think past the narrow strictures and flimsy boxes of the theology Evangelicalism has sought to instill in me.

What has become readily apparent to me is that so much of Evangelicalism is predicated on conformity.  They want Bible scholars to smooth out the rough passages that cut a little too deep or provoke too much difficult thought.  What they do not want is for people to practice any theological imagination which would undermine the cut-and-dry categories that keep their ministries successful.

They don’t want people to question when their men’s curriculum glorifies violence and shames men into hyper-macho caricatures.  They want you to simply accept that Jesus was a “manly man” and that Christianity is a “masculine” religion.  In this mindset, it is okay to use words like “faggot” and “pussy” to describe non-conforming “secular” men, because Masculinity is a high calling.  But don’t you dare suggest that feminine metaphors for God, for Jesus himself, abound in Scripture.

The reality is, when you begin to question these things, the entire foundation starts to crumble.  Suddenly their multi-million dollar national men’s conferences seem absurd.  Their books on “biblical masculinity” look like little more than a croc of chauvinist bullshit.  And their theology is quickly exposed as little more than thinly veiled patriarchy.

This is why academic study must be controlled, why clear lines must be drawn.  Doubt is denigrated, blind faith codified, and questions demonized because power and control are the bedrock of the system.  The pastors are demagogues, rulers of their kingdom, unquestionable and all knowing.  Their humility is found not in admitting what they do not know, but in deigning themselves to spend time with meer lay persons, to bestow their knowledge upon us.

These pastors maintain the system by tone policing our concerns, discouraging us from forming independent “conclusions,” and constantly insisting that things like calling women “incubators” or telling “flirt to convert” jokes aren’t really objectifying women,* after all Jesus wasn’t “politically correct.”

Such environments do not cultivate mature theologies, they stifle them.  We cannot find freedom in Christ under the ever watchful eyes of big brother, “leaders” who seek to preserve the oligarchy by making themselves the gatekeepers of all truth. We cannot know what we believe when they prohibit us from asking difficult questions or entertaining alternative views.

And again I am reminded, that this is an environment of abuse.  Abusers thrive on ignorance and control.  They thrive on power, on public image, on being right all the time.  And they lash out with shaming tactics and demeaning rhetoric when anyone dares to breath too close to their house or cards

And when one realizes their entire faith rests upon someone else’s flimsy constructs, there comes a time to just knock the whole damned thing down and start over with better materials.

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Antagonism
It now occurs to me that the entirety of the theology I was taught was rooted in antagonism.  In order to demonstrate myself as righteous, I need a sinner to point out to everyone.  In order to establish how much I love and forgive, I need to first find someone I consider unloveable to patronize with empty platitudes.

Missions work is thus rooted in a deeply paternalistic savior complex.  I am witnessing to people because I have what they need, I am the good person and they are the bad.  People become objects, notches in our belts to display proudly in Bible studies.

These “secular” persons are objects to be assimilated into our own narrative.  When floods strike New Orleans, this is God’s judgment for their “sin.” When kindergarteners are gunned down, this is God’s anger against gay marriage.  When gay people are gunned down, it is because we are too tolerant of the Muslim faith.  The suffering of others becomes a way to prove our own love, to enforce our theological superiority, and to show that we are the chosen and blessed of God.

Further, Evangelicalism is rooted in an ethnocentric arrogance. One need only memorize enough Scripture, and holiness will abound.  Never mind that there are nations where Christians can be imprisoned for simply owning a Bible. 

Suffering is God’s punishment for our sins, never mind that millions of Christians are refugees of war, innocent families displaced by the arrogance of tyrants.  

America is a Christian nation, founded in Christian ideology. Never mind that we still work to suppress minority voting, what matters is that our privileges are legislated and normativized.  Forget that Western Imperialism fuels the labor trafficking of children in sweatshops across the world, these children are acceptable casualties in our search for the best deal possible.

All Lives Matter more than Black Lives Matter because the majority narrative of white privilege maintains the polite sensibilities of suburban, conservative white Christians.  Blue Lives Matter, because we are okay if “they” want us to preach the Gospel to them, but heaven forbid “they” leave their neighborhoods to shop at the same stores as us.  If a black man is killed by police, then he should have just complied.  But don’t dare mention that a white person in the same circumstances would still be alive, and likely would never see jail time.  

When all is said and done, there is apparently no conflict between “saving souls” and imprisoning, oppressing, and lynching actual bodies.

This is because Evangelical theology is so often predicated on the notion that, to worship the Way, the Truth, and the Life, one must first become the way, truth, and life themselves.  That the goal of theology is not to grow and learn, but to conquer the text and arrive at absolute and unquestionable propositions.

And invariably these propositions are wielded as weapons.  You have to give this much money, you have to align with this political party.  Your marriage must fit within specific parameters, the man must rule the woman submit.  And in every case, these theological “rules” enforce the privilege and power of those in charge, those representing the “moral majority.”

Thus, God is not loving, he does not pursue our enemies or forgive those who have wronged us.  He is our God, he is bound by our interpretation of the text.  Those who buck the system, who ask too many questions, are driven out.  Because in the end, God is our puppet, a tool of our own imperialist agenda.  In order to colonize others, we must first embrace tribalism, create a God in the image of our own imperialist ambitions.

The abuse continues to shine through.  Pastors assert their authority by controlling access to “the Truth.” They create straw men to fight, keeping people trapped, tilting at windmills so they ignore the dangers within.  They addict their followers to anger and hatred, then sell it for a profit at national speaking events and Christian bookstores.

But there comes a time in one’s faith when it becomes painstakingly evident that certainty is the opponent of faith.  That antagonism and a love rooted in the cross of Christ are wholly incompatible.  When it becomes clear that I am serving someone else’s agenda at the expense of the kingdom of God.  When I realize, it is okay to walk away; there is no shame in leaving one’s abuser.  Church should be a source of refreshment and safety, not oppression, shame, and exhaustion.

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After Evangelicalism

It is for these reasons, and so many more, that I lament Stetzer’s tweet.  I lament all the ways in which that Tweet reminds me of my own past.  I lament because I feel the sting of rejection his words embody, and realize all the ways in which I have also injured others.  I lament because some part of me so deeply desires to fit in again.

But I am also reminded of the hurting people I talk to on a near daily basis.  I am reminded of the abuse (physical, spiritual, emotional, and sexual) I have seen play out again and again within Evangelicalism.  I remember that so many of us have been rejected not for our sins, but for our willingness to heed the call of God in our lives – for finding a God we can neither control nor box.  A God that pushes the limits of our conprehension, destroys our every notion of deity, a God who is known not by a thundering voice from a distant mountain but through a crucified man named Immanuel.

And in these moments, I am reminded that I am not here because I abandoned my faith, but because I have dared to pursue maturity in it.  I have not left Evangelicalism because I ignore the work of the Spirit, but because I recognize her guidance in my own life.  I am where God has called me to be, and that is to faith after Evangelicalism.
**Featured image from https://wisewomenbuilding.files.wordpress.com/2015/09/caged-bird-flies.jpg**

*No joke, here is an email exchange between my wife and an executive pastor at the largest church in Wisconsin.

Original Email

Pastoral Response
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28 thoughts on “After Evangelicalism

  1. Nate – your reply bears almost no relation to what I actually said. I don’t think I am that bad at communicating.

    I’m sorry if I have trodden on your toes, and spoken when I should have kept quiet. Do you think it would be best for all concerned if you simply deleted the whole exchange, including this post? I’d really like it if you would.

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    1. The comments will remain. They serve as a good object lesson for precisely what paternalism in Christianity looks like.

      I didn’t say you were bad at communicating. You’ve said exactly what you intended.

      Its notable you ignore anything that doesn’t fit your agenda, and try to shift the blame when your words are actually repeated back to you. This isn’t my first rodeo, and I know these games when I see people playing them.

      Also, here is an article for you. This is why I point out the arrogance of your comments. People are actually attacked regularly in UK for being LGBT, but you dismiss anything that doesn’t fit your experience. That is privilege, and you “fire and frying pan” comment was offensively arrogant.

      http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/figures-reveal-a-shocking-rise-in-homophobic-hate-crimes-a6692991.html

      I don’t need you to tell me how to think. I don’t need you to tell me what is and is not true, and I especially am not interested in being told why the experiences of myself and other people are only valid in as much as you judge them to actually exist.

      Feel free to avoid commenting further.

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      1. Nate, my suggestion you delete the comments was more for your benefit than mine.

        Evangelicals who may read you will see someone who can criticise the faults of evangelicals all day, but can’t take criticism of himself – and in my case, I wasn’t even trying to be critical. Becoming the mirror image of what you are criticising, and you are not the first. Someone who is unteachable, and whose critique can therefore safely be ignored.

        I did actually apologise if I had unnecessarily trodden on your toes during a difficult time. You ignored this and went into meltdown. Who are you writing for? Is it about exposing the evils that can go on under the label ‘evangelical’, or is it about Nate Sparks, yet another blog drifting into self-love and self-esteem? I hope not.

        I know you won’t publish this, and that is fine by me, but despite everything, we are still expected to try to walk in the light and maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

        Don’t worry, I will feel free to avoid commenting further.

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        1. Ken,

          I’m quite capable of reading your words.

          You told me I was playing the victim.

          You said I shouldn’t leave evangelicalism because I would be jumping out of the frying pan and into the fryer.

          You asked for the comments to be removed only after I pushed back, and even now you take the paternalistic stance of “I’m just trying to help you.” But your motives are so transparent it’s laughable.

          You are not my teacher, you are one of the people this post criticized and now, even weeks later, your goal is still to make sure I know my place.

          The irony of course being that I have a lot of evangelical followers who read the post and said “me too.” I also have friends/followers in the UK who said their experiences are identical. But I’m supposed to take your word that I’m way off base because you are somehow some moral authority – who just happens to be trading in falsehoods at every corner?

          And, of course, when I clearly highlight why your posts are problematic, you chastise me for my ego?

          Here’s the thing, I’m comfortable with my post. And rather hilariously, editing my comment section to make sure I don’t look bad would be a rather egotistical thing to do – but of course, my ego apparently also leads me to leave them up, so I guess I’m just stuck.

          Thanks for refraining from further comment. It is appreciated.

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  2. What you are describing as ‘evangelicalism’ seems to me to be a caricature. I’m from the UK, where fundamentalism doesn’t exist, but I’ve read enough American evangelical blogs to see in some cases there is a very real hardness of heart there. The letter kills.

    The UK problem is lukewarmness and compromise. You might wonder which is worse! Many parts of the institutional church are worse than useless in the face of the gradual abandonment of Christianity in the UK for about 100 years now.

    Are all evangelical churches so bad? Or have you started to get a warped view because you have discussed or focussed on so much that really is wrong amongst evangelicals? I’ve made that mistake myself. There comes a point where you have to let go of it.

    There also comes a point where you have to decide where you stand, I would still use the label evangelical knowing full well the less savoury parts within evangelicalism; in other words accept it, warts and all. I’ve been charismatic, disillusioned with evangelicalism, and vice versa. Theological liberalism, in which kind of I started, has never had any attraction, it focusses on what it doesn’t believe – unbelief made intellectually respectable. Do a bit at university and you will see what I mean!

    As you get older, it gets more and more tempting to get more tolerant of others, which becomes a bad thing if you compromise the faith once and for all delivered, or start tolerating sinful behaviour.

    I’ve spent too much time tying my brain up in knots over reformed theology.

    I know abuse occurs in churches, and not from reading the internet. But I’ve also come to realise that much of the complaining and moaning is probably grossly exaggerated, or church bust-ups were a bit more of six of one and half a dozen of the other; not just one side is wrong. I hadn’t seen the effect of spending too much time in this ‘sector’ until someone else pointed it out. I was then convicted of the damage this can do, but it can be difficult to get free from this overnight. I eventually realised the absence of evidence of the grace of God in the lives of so many, leading them into freedom from past hurts, and took this as a warning to head for something more positive. Beware fo those for whom an ~ism has become their religion and their God.

    If there was one warning light that went on, apart from using the pronoun ‘she’, you seem to be expecting the Spirit’s guidance apart from the word. The Spirit will not lead you into anything that contradicts the word he inspired, and if you have any charismatic experience, you will in all likelihood have seen believers be led astray this way.

    Just a few rambling thoughts, and I hope you won’t take any of them as personal criticism, that’s not the intention.

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    1. First of all, I’m glad you haven’t experienced fundamentalism, but so literally just read an article in UK fundamentalist Christians.

      http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-27681560

      Second, I have attended multiple fundamentalist and evangelical churches. My experience have been the same in each.

      Also, a quick perusal of the comment thread will show that this experience is quite common. It is ironic to note I write about the underbelly of Evangelicalism then minimize it by saying I’ve let it jade me. Especially since I specifically stated what I mean by Evangelicalism, and that I was speaking from lived experience and that my experiences do not negate church’s that do it right.

      Third, a friend of mine in UK just wrote a sister piece to this on her own experience of Evangelicalism across the pond. As I read it, everything she said about UK Evangelicalism were precisely the same circumstances that led to me writing this post.

      Fourth, I outlined my experience in a framework of Spiritual Abuse. I carry a lot of baggage from that experience. So when someone tells me to “keep the name” of the abuser, when I have a choice to walk away and pursue safety, that is problematic for me. This wasn’t a matter of just theological disagreement. The environment itself became toxic and unsafe.

      So I’ll be honest, it’s hard to see your words as criticism when they read as tone policing and silencing. I have attempted to be gracious, and I hope I have done so, but your words are deeply rooted in privilege and self-normative assumptions.

      Lastly, before correcting someone for using feminine pronouns for God, you should probably do the homework of studying the Bible in original languages.

      YHWH, the God of the OT who is Trinity, is also called by the name El in the OT. Many times El is followed by a feminine name. So, for instance, El Shaddai refers to a woman with many breasts sustaining and caring for her children. There are also metaphors for YHWH as a protective and nurturing mother throughout the wisdom and prophetic literature of the OT.

      Further in the sapiential traditions of Judaism, wisdom is personified as a woman, Sophia. In the NT, Sophia traditions are reworked into the story of Christ. Christ also refers to himself as a mother hen gathering and protecting her chicks.

      Lastly, the Spirit in the OT is the word ruach. It is a feminine noun. The word Pneuma, used in the NT is actually a genderless noun.

      So there is absolutely nothing unbiblical about using feminine pronouns or metaphors for any person within the Trinity.

      Peace to you.

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      1. My apologies, NS, if I have made a bad situation worse. I didn’t intend to. I wonder if you have misunderstood me.

        When I said ‘What you are describing as ‘evangelicalism’ seems to me to be a caricature’ I didn’t mean you were painting a false picture, rather this kind of evangelicalism is itself a caricature of what it should be.

        I’m nor sure what you mean by I am speaking from a position of privilege, I’ve been there with this one, leaving churches, more than once. The left boot of fellowship. I know about rejection. Though as you get older, you realise it wasn’t always just the church that was the problem!

        Believe me, the BBC doesn’t have a clue when it comes to fundamentalism, it is deeply cynical when it comes to religion in the UK. They lump it in with Islam and Westborough Baptist as though anyone who takes the bible seriously is a nutter and fanatic.

        I would be very careful mixing up grammatical gender with actual gender. For example, the German word for girl, Mädchen, is neuter! If God has revealed himself in terms of masculine pronouns, I would now be too scared to even think of changing this. This is quite apart from a tendency to drift towards worshipping a goddess as some do. I really would encourage you to be wary of drifting into deception on this.

        I have come to realise recently that the central theme of the bible and its God is not love, but righteousness. This is what the gospel reveals, and it is righteousness that will dwell in the new heavens and the new earth. It does change the way you view things. It presents a much less comfortable God. There is a sector within evangelicalism that misses this in exchange for a God who is too ‘nice’, and I have stopped wanting this, and would rather be less comfortable if I am being told the truth rather than what I would prefer to hear. This is not, however, the hard, ungracious fundamentalist God you seem to have had to put up with.

        If there is one thing the British need to hear about, it is not the love of God (which they despise) but rather the righteousness of God. They presume on the richess of his kindness. That’s my background, which may well be different from yours, and lead to talking at cross-purposes.

        It is none of my business what kind of church you attend, nor anyone else’s. But I think if you go for one that emphasises love rather than righteousness/being in right standing with God, you will have trouble in your Christian walk. I’ve done this myself, and it is one reason why I have returned to evangelicalism, warts and all. I would certainly not go to an abusive church just because it claimed to be evangelical, better to find a good one than a bad one! But liberalism, with its tendency to want to accept everyone regardless of whether their lives are righteous or not (‘God’s love is unconditional’ is not in the bible) , doesn’t really have a gospel, meaning good news, at all. This was my experience. It also had no standard, no canon, to guard itself against going into deception, and I would hate for you to experience that yourself.

        All that to say I know evangelicalism can be bad, but beware of the alternatives that seem better!

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        1. I have no doubt you may mean well. But meaning well doesn’t necessarily mean you are speaking well or that your words are rooted in truth.

          I know plenty of people within UK who talk about fundamentalism. And I read the BBC article, what they describe sounds precisely like fundamentalism here in the US.

          As far as the divine feminine goes, you should actually read historic Christian literature on this. God is not gendered, and he does not only reveal himself in masculine gendered names. As I said before, and you entirely ignored, there are names for God on Scripture that invoke the image of a nursing mother. God calls himself a mother on more than one occasion in prophetic literature.

          And again, the Jews had a category for the divine feminine in Sophia, a tradition absorbed into Jesus own narrative, as he calls himself the embodiment of Sophia in Scripture.

          I say you speak from privilege because you assume to speak for the religious experience of others (no fundie in UK) and because you assume that because you only know if masculine names, anything else is moving away from the Bible.

          The way you speak about religion and theology tends to assume your own normativity. It is paternalistic and dismissive, entirely ignoring the fact that Biblical Studies and Theology are my area of study.

          Funny you talk about not creating a comfortable God. Maybe you should read more of my work first. Even in this post I note that the God I write about is hardly a God I’m entirely at ease with. Overcoming my upbringing to learn to study Scripture as an academic enterprise wasn’t easy.

          Also, it seems my work on the divine feminine has made you a bit uncomfortable.

          Lastly, I’m quite capable of deciding the safety of a church for myself. Again your closing advice is very paternalistic, assuming you have any concept of what’s best for a person you have never met in a country you don’t live in. That is the textbook definition of privilege.

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          1. I think we are talking past each other.

            I think you would have to give me some credit for knowing about the religious scene in the UK – I was brought up there and experienced a variety of churches and flavours of Christianty.

            I can say I have never heard of abuse towards LGBT there in my time, and I am profoundly sceptical of claims that this was ever so. (The boot is now on the other foot.) Perhaps it is different in the States. I have looked at some of your other work, and this in particular doesn’t ring true from my experience. I’ve carefully considered the revised interpretations on this particular theme, and found them wanting.

            Nate, I’m jaded. I’ve been reading too much American blogdom. I do understand the gracelessness of some of it, doctrinaire and over-confident in its own certainly. I’ve also see the reaction to this in disilllusioned and embittered believers succumbing to eternal victim status. Not a very healthy environment.

            Perhaps I should have kept quiet in the first place, but you struck me as yet another one in danger of jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.

            I’m not going to pester you any more on this, and credit to you for engaging civily, when I suspect you were tempted not to!

            I’m about to enjoy a break from the Internet, religious or otherwise, and hope for a season of refreshing. I call it holiday, you call it vacation! Badly needed.

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          2. Eternal victim status? Ken, now may be the time to stop.

            It is arrogant to insist that the experience of any other person is invalid because you haven’t seen it. Maybe talk to LGBT people about discrimination they have faced. Because it was not yet 70 years ago Alan Turing was tried and convicted of being gay. Attitudes may have changed, but systems prevail in many ways.

            Also, there is a profound irony to telling me to accept you as the only authority on the UK (I don’t know you, and only know what you tell me) when there is ample evidence to contradict you, only to critique my engagement with and description of American society.

            Again, your paternalism is unwelcome. I am fine with critique, but all you’ve done is presume a patronizing attitude while dismissing anything you don’t personally know or see as false. That, again, is the Very definition of privilege.

            We can call it a day, I have no obligation to continue to entertain any person who only wished to talk down to me. So far, your words have demonstrated to me that, if you represent UK Evangelicalism, then it is every bit the problem it is in America.

            With this, we part ways.

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  3. You articulate so much of what I have experienced personally, and so much of what many friends and acquaintences of mine have expressed as well!

    I am grateful for an age of blogs and social media, so that we don’t have to write or read whole books or be published in magazines in order to hear the experiences of others, and in order to hear the chorus echoing each one of us as we dare to say “The emperor is naked!” aloud.

    Keep sharing, and keep listening!

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  4. I’m saddened by Stetzer’s quote, most of all because of its blindness. It’s my experience that people who become progressive evangelicals indeed must eventually take that offramp– because to all intents and purposes, “progressive evangelicalism” does not exist. Evangelicals themselves– the gatekeepers, the preachers– have determined it so. Become a progressive evangelical, and you are immediately deemed by them to no longer be an evangelical. That is how narrowly they have constricted their tent. If progressive evangelical churches exist, I have never actually encountered one. As a Christian I had to make a choice whether to stay in an evangelical church that (though this one was kindly, gentle and basically loving) taught things about male headship, Creationism, etc., that had become abhorrent to me, and that had an us-them mentality that I simply could not agree with– or go to a mainline Protestant church, or stop going to church at all.

    It saddens me that Stetzer is so dismissive of mainline Protestantism as not truly Christian, but that is so reflective of the whole problem with Evangelicalism, and so much an indication of the very gate-keeping which forces out evangelicals who begin to think more progressively. It’s sad that the evangelical movement, which long ago arose out of the First and Second Great Awakenings and was filled with the Holy Spirit, has become as hierarchical, hide-bound and authoritarian as the churches it once rose out of– while those churches have in the meantime largely taken an about-face and are growing back into real Christian spirituality.

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  5. I relate so much to your journey, I hope you will keep sharing where it takes you, even if it continues to take you to the unexpected.

    I stuck with “church” until my body wouldn’t put up with it anymore, it was literally making me sick and I was forced to acknowledge the mess of cognitive dissonance I was trying to live with. I have had a few of those “last straw” experiences. I left and went into different iterations of the Christian church only to have the same thing happen after a few years. At this point, I’m done completely. I’ve grown old trying to make “church” work and don’t have the energy to invest anymore. I don’t have the energy to pour myself into friendships that won’t survive one moment after I step out of that little world. I’m tired. God is bigger than all of this. I’m saddened by it all but I feel free, and for the first time in so many years, free to think freely.

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    1. Thank you for sharing of your journey as well 🙂

      I am of the opinion that the sacred is not bound by the walls of the Church institution. In my book, being “done” is still a sacred expression of the Christian faith, the willingness to try to find God beyond all the hurt.

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  6. Thank you!!
    I am new-ish to your blog.
    I am 55, a recently retired licensed professional counselor who spent the last 15 years helping people recover from controlling relationships/abuse and finding Jesus despite the institutional church…
    THANK YOU for speaking truth of how institutional church frequently exists to keep itself going rather than being real and serving the Church = the people who live in the real world and know Jesus and desire to grow and learn.
    Carol

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I totally relate to finding Jesus in spite of the Church. As I look back on some of the pivotal moments in my faith, I wonder how I arrived there with what I was being taught. I can only be on this journey by the grace of God.

      Thanks for reading/commenting Carol 🙂

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  7. One of the last straws for me was when our senior pastor made a horrible joke. He said he was sitting at Starbucks praying that someone from his church wouldn’t recognize him and talk to him because he was too busy preparing a sermon. He didn’t want to waste his time listening to someone’s problems at length. “Ha ha ha, I shouldn’t be a pastor!!!” And everyone laughed. I was thinking, “Well no shit you shouldn’t be a pastor!!! Maybe someone who writes motivational speeches, but definitely not a pastor.”

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Sarah, most of the so-called “pastors” I’ve known, don’t have a pastoral bone in their bodies. It’s very misleading for someone to be called “pastor” when they are anything but. Another reason why using titles is such a bad idea. (But I think Jesus said something about that…)

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  8. Wow. For those of us in between, who haven’t left but don’t think they can stay, this post is painfully helpful. There is so much pain, guilt and loss that I can barely admit to carrying or accept as normal. When I read this, a light came on. Thank you.

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    1. Alexandria, I stayed far too long because I believed the lies. We ‘christians’ claim to have all the answers, and a better way of living, but we keep proving that we don’t. My family and I were put through hell – there were times I literally wished I was dead – and yet the only response I got was a demand to conform to the groupthink and submit to the abuse.

      It is not only healthy, but entirely ‘righteous’, to walk away from that sort of behaviour. We are not called to live in religious bondage – Jesus’s death set us free! I pray that you find the abundant life he offers us beyond the confines of the religious institution.

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    2. Nate, I want to say thank you for this post. I am experiencing some version of “leaving evangelicalism” for the mainline (Episcopal) and the real loss of so many things that entails. I and others really appreciate your candid writing on this topic and hope that you can find the freedom in Christ in “mainline” spaces, even as we find new challenges in mainline denominations.

      Alexandria and others, I just want to say keep seeking Christ. For someone who just in the last year left–and is still in the process of leaving–it is really painful to face how a once-life-giving space no longer feeds your soul. I nearly burst into tears to hear the sadness and guilt and loss you are experiencing and I do pray with hope that there IS a place to be fed, nourished, to both be welcomed for yourself and also be eventually be able to contribute with your gifts and talents. I hope the light leads you to the right place. While you’re still walking through the darkness of leaving, a few books I can recommend: Henri Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved, a small and readable book for anyone needing to hear God say “you are beloved.” and another one that might help is Barbara Brown Taylor’s Learning to Walk in the Dark–before I had a chance to read it all, I lent it to a friend who needed it more than me! Grace and peace.

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  9. I can relate to what you’ve written. That fear and guilt. No, not guilt. Shame. The pronouncement of guilt that only produces shame. For all the talk about “saved by grace though faith in Jesus Christ alone,” there is more often than not an underpinning of works-based righteousness so that you can never feel quite secure in that grace.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thanks for sharing from the heart Nate. I know it can feel risky and uncomfortable, but it is also empowering (both for ourselves and for others). When we share in such an intimate way, we strengthen and encourage each other 🙂

    When the emperor struts around butt naked, we need to tell the truth. When the church system is valued more than the people within it, we must speak up. When we see people being broken and damaged in the name of God, we cannot stay silent and protect the guilty.

    So I pray that you continue to have the courage to recognise the Spirit’s guidance and to follow – to be, as you say, where God has called you to be.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Great article Nate. The paragraph of yours I quoted below defines the senior pastor of United Christian Church of Dubai, perfectly. Over the nearly 8 years I have spent in Dubai there are literally thousands who have left this church, many of them deeply hurt and scores undoubtedly unwilling to ever attend another institutional church.

    “This is why academic study must be controlled, why clear lines must be drawn. Doubt is denigrated, blind faith codified, and questions demonized because power and control are the bedrock of the system. The pastors are demagogues, rulers of their kingdom, unquestionable and all knowing. Their humility is found not in admitting what they do not know, but in deigning themselves to spend time with mere lay persons, to bestow their knowledge upon us.”

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  12. Nate, thanks for your honesty and vulnerability. Stetzer’s Tweet made me sad as well. These words you wrote really resonated with me: “I am reminded that I am not here because I abandoned my faith, but because I have dared to pursue maturity in it. I have not left Evangelicalism because I ignore the work of the Spirit, but because I recognize her guidance in my own life. “

    Liked by 3 people

Thanks for taking the time to read and engage. I look forward to your feedback, I welcome any criticism. However, as my goal here is mutualy respectful, beneficial conversation, I only ask that we keep civility in mind with our words. Grace and Peace.

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