Evangelical bashing by calling out spiritual abuse, purity culture, legalism, hypocrisy, and my all time favorite, lack of depth will help you build an audience. Then, to bury the nutty evangelicals, be sure to tie them in with Trump, call it Christian Nationalism, and then, TA-DA- call them fundamentalists. This will build an audience as you are a tour de force agains the senseless patriarchy that is evangelicalism. The underpinnings of all this existed in the 90’s. Things are not as new or advanced as we think.
Bashing evangelicals is easy points
Growing up in evangelicalism, seeing fundamentalism, but also seeing those outside those circles made me realize that evangelicalism may not be the problem. There are two factors to this. First, we live in a victim culture, so points are needed. Second, the Bible says that those who desire to live a godly life will be persecuted. The first defines the battle and what you define you struggle with because we are fallible. The second means trouble will hit, but that is not an excuse for problems. I stayed in church because the problems are more culture/people than features of evangelicals.
Hell is spiritual abuse, but a reality Jesus talked about
A peer remarked how the church we grew up in was spiritually abusive. Having helped people coming from spiritually abusive churches, the accusation seemed absurd. The issue mentioned, Hell is a doctrine created for control and the church was legalistic and judgmental for pointing out sin. In other words, to the person, following what the Bible says equated to spiritual abuse. This thread was common amongst many de-churched I interacted with. The paradox of wanting to focus on Jesus, yet ignore what He taught on. These underpinnings started in the 90’s. So which is it?
Your truth that you can fly hits hard when reality is you can’t
The battle in the 90’s was the push on relativism. Things were pushed to belief, but what is the truth? Yes, people can hold varying opinions, but in the end what is true remains. What happened for many was their viewpoint carried greater weight than truth, even when truth said otherwise. One teacher said you can believe what you want and must stray true to yourself regardless what others say. My response is the heading of this paragraph. Though in the 90’s it was belief. Today belief is now articulated as your truth, as if truth suddenly became non-binary.
We are control freaks and hate submission
In the 90’s a shift happened. We moved from a focus on becoming to focusing on who am I. From responsibility to feelings. From reality is truth to perception is truth. Karma ran over dogma. In the church things moved from standing for truth and loving neighbor to being liked. Application being more important than theology hardened. Rather than fix biblical literacy being low, pragmatism was held strongly to. Rather than apathy being seen as the vice, tradition was. And while people left christianity because they didn’t want people to tell them what to do and “though shalt not judge,” there was no problem with telling people what to do and judging them. In the 90’s it was called politically correct. Today, being woke. Reality is, we want to be in control and do not want to submit to anything.
I hate conservatives, but they eat better
That statement came form a book I read by leading liberal pundit in the 90’s. He was making a point that his team was miserable and their gatherings joyless. Studying up on brain science, liberals tended to be “right brained” and conservatives “left brained.” And, oddly enough, optimism is more left brained. (I’m referencing science as understand then, as brain science has moved away from left vs right brained thinking at this time.) Seeing enough hardship in life, abandoning joy didn’t seem attractive. And even those on the other side had a bitter, angry bent to them that was distasteful. Even the music in the 90’s had a dark bent. Life was truly going down the road with one headlight.
Leaving doesn’t end the problems, but it does end hope
In the 90’s one thing stood out, those who walked away were still miserable and their issues still existed. For 22 years of ministry, the trend continues. This is not to say evangelicalism isn’t without issues, many of which I’ve written about. But, leaving doesn’t end the problems, because the true issue is your mirror. You are the hardest person you will ever lead, and if life is about you and your truth, misery will ensue, and the problems will be perpetuated. Why? Because we are not in control. We can only control how we respond to situations. We choose our attitudes and actions. In other words, without taking on personal responsibility for this, hope gets lost. As the Bible says, it is better to give than to receive. So, It is better to live for something bigger than yourself, than to navel gaze at your most authentic self.
And so I stayed…
Having read broadly in history, politics, and religion. Having seen people see victory from challenges, as well as defeats by them. Having seen church splits, but also plants, of quarrels, but also glimmers of hope, I stayed. I stayed because the problems remain though I go, because the problems are truly us. We the people, we the problem. What I was left with, and truly all of us are, is what then is the best solution?
The Gospel is simply, primarily, and only where hope is found, assured, and happening. That in a moment of history God revealed Himself, in person, in Jesus. Who was without sin, yet died in our place and for us, once for all sin. That this Gospel was not just so we can get to heaven, but to submit everything to Him. Apart from the truth, historicity, and modeling of Jesus, there is no hope. While it would be easier to run, repentance is the best answer. So I stayed in church, because of Jesus. And evangelicalism, given all its problems, still stands as the best expression of Jesus’ church…