An Open Letter to the American Evangelical Church

Dear Evangelical Church,

It’s been three years since we stopped dating.  As you know, when we said our goodbyes, I had these hopes that we could still be friends.  I thought if we saw each other out and about it wouldn’t have to be that awkward.  Maybe we would exchange Christmas cards, or ‘like’ each other’s posts on social media.  I had this hope we could have mutual friends, after the break up, and they wouldn’t have to pick sides.  

Perhaps I am more disappointed than you to announce that this simply won’t work out after all.  I really wanted it to. It is out of a deep fondness for what we had, out of a deep respect for you, that I want to be upfront with you.

The problem is your hypocrisy.   

I don’t use that word lightly.  Nor do I mean it to suggest that this is just about us having our disagreements.  You know we never did see eye to eye, and that was ok. To be honest, I kind-of enjoyed being the token liberal in our little community.  Back when I fell in love with you, evangelical church, you actually made me feel like these differences didn’t matter! I hope you can pat yourself on the back a little bit, about that.  The whole “There is no jew or gentile” thing… You made it happen.

Back then,  when I watched you criticize Presidents Clinton and Obama, I was able to respect you.  I often thought you were wrong. But I could believe that you were coming from a place of good intentions.  When you made room in your congregations for people who were divorced, I knew you had to do some struggling with that.  After all, Jesus did have some tough words about divorce, and you always did your best to take his words seriously. I hope you won’t find it condescending if I tell you that I was proud how you looked at a wider context, you saw the big picture on this issue.

It was difficult to watch you fail to offer that kind of loving support to people who were gay, transgender, or queer.   And it became increasingly challenging to accept your views on things like heaven and hell because they were so incredibly selective on what parts of the bible they depended on.  I did love you once, though, and in the name of that love, I was able to put my discomfort away. For a while.

It became time for us to see other people.  But even as recently as the inauguration of Donald Trump I was still attempting to keep you in my life; a casual acquaintance who I had shared some good times with.  It didn’t bother me that you thought trickle down economics works. I could accept your idea America needed to be made great again. I tried to give you the benefit of the doubt on the militarism, and the flag waving.

It is when it came to his personal behavior that there was simply no way to write off your support as anything but knowingly, willfully hypocritical.   This man’s actions seem so much more egregious than Clintons. But suppose they aren’t. Suppose they are only half as immoral. I have not heard you once call out his behavior at all.  Activities which had been justification for removing his predecessor were suddenly not even worth talking about. Your sudden unwillingness to even consider personal morality relevant exposed the whole thing for a self-serving charade.  

This was the point I decided I did not want to be seen in public with you.  This was the time I began to think I would not be coming back to visit your highly polished, highly stylized, highly formulaic “worship experiences.”

For these last several months I had been quiet about this decision.  For a while, I did not even admit my feelings to myself.

When the #metoo movement began to gain momentum in the secular world, you, evangelical church were awfully quiet.  When your own idols began to fall, when your leader’s secrets were suddenlly, publicly disclosed, your layers of archaic rules, guidelines, and gender segregation looked awfully pointless.  

When the pastor I want to respect chimed in on facebook, defending the failures of the church…  this is the moment when I realized I could not sit by silently.

Because sitting by silently: that was exactly what the problem has been with the whole situation.

I believe that huge numbers of evangelicals do not support Trump.  They believe that morality matters. They worry about the widows, orphans, and foreigners who are among us.  They see sexual harassment and assault as the blights which they are.

But where are they?  So near as I can tell, the are like that pastor.  Too silent for to long. Neglecting the biblical tradition of the prophet, ignoring the idea that we ought to be looking within our communities and making sure they are rightous.  

The whole idea that we would call out someone for their sexual sin but not their greed is precisely the selective bible reading that is at the heart of this problem.

 

This is why I had to break up with you, evangelical church.  I am ashamed of what you have become. If you had stumbled into my life now, I don’t think I would even be attracted to you.  

I don’t get any joy out of telling you this.  Though I don’t think we will ever resume our old romantic relationship, I do know that there is some good in there.  Sometimes, though, it can be hard to see it.

Hoping that some day you can become what you once were,

Jeff

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Jeff

The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

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