Evangelicalism. It’s so complex. So broken. So well intentioned but…
It has taken me a while to figure out what bothered me about the evangelical church. I’m not an expert. I’m not a trained doctrinal or theological person. I just grew up in and then worked for evangelical churches. In fact, I worked with my husband in youth ministry for twenty years. Now that I’ve been “out” for a few years, it’s getting easier to put my finger on what I was always uncomfortable with. So here’s a few terms and what is behind them.
SALVATION: I understand the Bible teaches we need to believe that God loves us and He came to Earth to show us how to live. But where does it say we need to frighten small children into thinking they might end up in hell? Where does it say we need to say a prayer to ask Jesus into your heart to be saved? And there are a lot of churches that throw on all kinds of extra conditions. Like – you have to admit you’re a sinner and confess that to God, or be baptized. But if later you seem to be hanging on to your “sinful” ways – you might need to re-do the prayer …
Justification / sanctification: First of all, why the big words? When all they really mean is you are forgiven and you are growing toward being a better person. But how that’s taught to all ages at many churches looks a lot like manipulation of behavior. If God is working in your life to sanctify you, there will be signs of that. Like less sin. Sin being obvious wrong doings. Most of these are not to do with character but more behavior. You will dress modestly and not drink and not swear and you will volunteer (“serve”) in the church. Will you give to the poor? Maybe – but that’s a personal choice. Will you give to the church? Oh yes. If not, you don’t understand what it means to be a part of the church. Even children are taught to be careful what they do because God sees all. Not unlike the elf on the shelf, the promise of God’s presence is more terrifying than comforting. After all, they are told stories from the Bible that seem to show God gets very angry when you disobey. To be blessed (happy) you need to be nice and polite and never lie or get angry. You need to sing songs about God and answer questions about bible stories on queue.
PRAYER: It seems that prayer in most churches is really just a holy version of gossip. People share “requests” (problems) and it is passed around so everyone can “pray” (know & judge). Sometimes people have “unspoken” requests. They want people to pray but they don’t want to share the problem. Most requests seem to be for healing of some kind. Then there’s the thankful prayers. Usually these are publicly prayed and sound a bit like bragging. Somehow God has blessed some people with a lot more than others. They feel less guilty about it if they call it a blessing from God rather than hoarding or greed. And besides they always give a large check to “God’s work” being the church. It’s as if they hope by being grateful and sharing a portion of that they have, God won’t let anything bad happen to them. I actually heard someone say once that the reason they attend / are involved / give $ to their church is because God has been so good to them. Thinking God can be somehow paid off to keep blessing us is horrifying. Thinking God’s blessings are based on our behavior is called karma. That’s not from the Bible.
THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN : This was a pet peeve of mine once I started teaching through the life of Jesus. Most evangelicals would tell you this refers to where you go when you die – if you said the correct prayer in the right way. Some churches talk about building the kingdom like it’s about the number of people we can get signed up. Most would say that we won’t actually see or experience anything about the kingdom until we die. When I read what Jesus taught that’s not what I see at all. I see the kingdom as a utopia where everyone loves each other perfectly and though we won’t totally achieve that until the return of Jesus we should do all we can with the assistance of God’s spirit to bring that into reality. Like … NOW. To teach it as a tool to get people to invest more in a church is sickening.
Witnessing / evangelizing: Somehow when Jesus told his disciples to go into the world and spread his message of love – what the church hears is “make more Christians who will drink the kool-aid and donate their time and money to the church and make them feel horribly guilty if they don’t.” “Sharing your faith” is a huge mandate – in fact possibly the most important- especially in a lot of youth ministries. The threat of all your friends ending up in hell and blaming you for it at the end of time is almost as bad as being alienated for constantly trying to get your friends to come to church and be saved.
HUMANITARIANISM. This is strangely extremely controversial in the evangelical church. They believe they should help people but they don’t want to encourage or condone or otherwise give tacit approval to the lifestyle that may or may not have led these people to need help. There always seems to be a reason not to help. Unless it’s an anti-abortion women’s center or a sister evangelical organization like a camp or radio station.
NATIONALISM: for reasons I’ve never understood, an evangelical’s love for God & others is somehow tied to their love of country. From pledging our allegiance to the flag to assuming America is somehow God’s chosen people, it’s very important to love America and hang onto the idea that this country was founded on Christian principles and that God has & will continue to “bless” the country if only it “follows” him.
WOMEN: You can be a great asset to the church so long as you know your rightful place. No leadership roles allowed if it involves any authority over men. Work in the children’s ministry or be on a committee or teach a women’s study but don’t try to discuss church politics. In fact, don’t discuss anything with men. Just talk to the other women about parenting and maybe Pinterest and leave it at that. It’s very vague how to garner respect as a woman. It usually has to do with how respected her husband is, as well as how well behaved her children are.
LGBT: For some reason this is a greater sin than any other. It’s supposedly because it’s a choice that is made over and over without admitting it’s wrongness. But who else do they preclude from being a part of the church? Surely there are other “sins” that people continually choose. And it’s rather unclear how this is a sin anyway. Verses surrounding its mention also list wearing cloth of more than one fabric and women refraining from wearing jewelry.
WEAKNESSES : It’s strange that while evangelicals say God is shown to be stronger when people are weak, it’s not obvious By their treatment of anyone who isn’t considered to be strong. Anyone who is an addict of any kind as well as anyone who has issues with mental health is labeled as weak spiritually. They somehow are not relying on the strength of God’s spirit so are choosing to be self-reliant and not trusting of God. Otherwise they would be “healed” of these afflictions. Pride, greed and other characteristics of a strong but unloving leader are completely overlooked and even admired and rewarded.
SIN: It’s probably the most mentioned word in evangelicalism (even though “love” should be). What defines sin? It’s anything that goes against God’s teachings. And what are those? Well Jesus who IS God stated it this way “all of the law and prophets rests on these two things” what two? Love God. Love others. So sin is anything that isn’t loving. Like say greed or selfishness or pride. But to listen to the way the word is used in churches you would think sin is this nasty evil thing that runs rampant out there in the world. Within the church walls there is some – but it’s mostly kept out. The sins inside are “the battle with the flesh” which always sounds disgusting to me but really just means the daily struggle against our “evil human nature” – as they get weary of “dying to ourselves” and “picking up our cross”. But still, at least they are not struggling with the bigger sins that are out there in the world, right? Things like …being a democrat, being a feminist, being an environmentalist…I’m not kidding. Those are some of the great evils of the world because they cause us to put trust in science or ourselves instead of God.
HUMAN NATURE: Supposedly when Adam & Eve chose to trust themselves instead if God, it ruined human nature. Now we are all selfish and self centered except through the constant dying of our nature to be replaced by God’s spirit that lives within us if we said the right prayer. The problem I have with this is that it’s very difficult to suppress your whole personhood. Are we all to be spirit of God robots? It doesn’t seem like what God would want. Do we drive hard toward goals or is our destiny already set by God? Is it wrong to think we are deserving of certain treatment from others? Are we not supposed to enjoy anything that makes us human? It’s probably why I hear god brought into any statement about enjoying something. “That sunset is so beautiful. It reminds me of what a wonderful creator we worship”.
PRO-LIFE: This seems like a very hypocritical term since being pro-life should mean anti killing of ANY kind. But evangelicals are only against killing babies. Especially, for some reason, before they are born. And while I’d really like to believe it’s because these babies are the most helpless of all creatures, I don’t see that as the reason it’s become so all important. If that were actually the reason, other vulnerable humans would receive this militant protection as well. Criminals don’t deserve any kind of life, and neither do animals. Refugees? Questionable and depending on age and religious status. Teenagers who are pregnant are forgiven for sexual indiscretions because at least they didn’t have an abortion. Their parents will be judged harshly, though. Not usually in any verbal way, but they will be scorned and disrespected because if you can’t keep control over your own children, you must be doing something wrong. At the heart of the abortion issue is a very strong suggestion that sex is only made for creating babies and women were put on this earth to have babies.
So why are they so judging of the outside world and each other? The only answer I have for that is they are trying to keep each other, and the outside world, in God’s good graces. If we all would just learn to behave then we would all be blessed. If they admit that bad things can happen to anyone regardless of their “relationship” with God – they would feel completely vulnerable and powerless. It’s necessary for their delusional sense of security to believe that God doles our blessings based on merit. Which brings me to my last word:
LUCK: Luck is completely non-existent in the evangelical world. “We aren’t lucky, we are blessed”. The idea is that God should be thanked for all we have and if we see it as a random event like luck we won’t give God credit. But once again – there’s an unspoken flip side to this. If all that’s good in my life is out there by God – he must think I deserve it. Since random good things are actually blessings from God – it stands to reason that random bad things aren’t actually random, either. Believing God chooses what comes into our life can be comforting, especially if life if going well. God is just choosing to bless you. What about people who have less luck – oops I mean less blessing? Well it must mean God doesn’t think they deserve it. And who am I to question God, right? It’s a convenient way to assuage any guilt over your life being better or easier than someone else. But it leads to an assumption that being “down on your luck” actually means you’re out of God’s good graces.
I really do care about all those evangelicals. But I’m tired of them holding the rights to what it means to follow the teachings of Jesus. I think they have it all wrong. Or at least mostly wrong. Maybe they didn’t at the beginning when they proudly tore away from fundamentalism. They used drums and they wore jeans. But in the end it has all become a formula for manipulating behavior especially in such a way as to perpetuate itself. It’s become an organizational institution that is fighting for its own existence. It spins and twists the truth so it can keep everyone addicted.
Imagine what this world could look like, though, if we were really interested in creating that loving utopia Jesus called the Kingdom instead of creating a comfortable place for us to be patted on the shoulder and have our guilt absolved every week.