The Evangelical Mess: Why American Evangelicalism Reminds Me Of My Kid’s Bedroom

The Evangelical Mess: Why American Evangelicalism Reminds Me Of My Kid’s Bedroom April 24, 2014

 My daughter is a completely normal child.

Which means, I’m not a major fan of how clean her bedroom is. The other day I took a picture of the mess and jokingly told her that if she didn’t clean it I’d post the picture on my blog. However, while we were kidding around about it, it struck me: the status of her bedroom right now sure does remind me a lot about the status of American Evangelicalism at the moment.

I am growing weary about all things Evangelical, just like at times I grow weary when I open that closet door in her room. So, here are 5 reasons why American Evangelicalism reminds me of my kid’s bedroom:


1. It frequently looks like a disaster area.

With kids, this is a normal part of life and you learn to cope with things being less than clean as you’d like them to be. With American Evangelicalism however, I’m finding it’s a bit more difficult for me to cope with. For the last however many months, it seems like there’s always something else happening that makes the landscape look like an F5 tornado just flew in. What I wish those fighting for control and power would realize, is that fighting for power is like playing with that paint set– it’s hard to do without creating a mess by the time you’re finished. As a result, the bird’s-eye-view of Evangelical culture makes one feel like officials surveying a declared disaster area.

2. When things look neat, peaceful, and calm, it usually lasts 24 hours or less.

At the moment, my daughter’s room is neat and clean but I’ve already accepted the fact that it won’t look that way tomorrow. Kids make messes- it’s what they do. Part of what has me so discouraged with American Evangelicalism at the moment is the realization that peace and calm seem to last but a fleeting moment before someone gets out another paint set and forgets to cover the table with old newspapers first. Sure, maybe things are cool today, but by this time tomorrow someone will probably invite Franklin Graham back on their show and we’ll all be right back in the throws of chaos. You have no idea what I’d give for a week without someone throwing a wrench into things.

3. People walk by and don’t feel invited in.

Every evening, we meet as a family in my daughter’s bedroom and pray together as a way to end our day. However, on the days when the room is a disaster area, I don’t exactly feel invited into the space. The same is true I believe with Evangelical culture right now, which is the sad irony of everything. If Evangelicalism is all about inviting people in (what by definition it’s supposed to be about) then it will need to come to terms with the fact that a culture dominated by a quest for power and control– and when leaders fight to be gatekeepers of who can be “evangelical” and who can’t–  it creates an environment where people don’t feel invited in. Just take a look at how key Evangelical leaders spent Easter Sunday– not worshiping with their congregations, but on national TV talking about the need for Evangelicals to have more political power in America.

Nothing about that feels inviting.

4. The people who say “maybe this should be cleaned up” are painted as the “mean” people.

Want to quickly be labeled a “meanie“? Just tell a child that they need to go pick up their room… or tell Evangelical leaders that they should probably change course. Either way, you’ll be taking some heat for saying it. A kid might call you a meanie… but with the latter, you’ll get called a lot of other names (you should see my in-box some days). Being the individual who points out a mess and that such a mess should be cleaned, will always place you in the unpopular position. Unfortunately in both cases, cleaning generally doesn’t happen unless someone becomes willing to be unpopular by demanding that cleaning take place.

5. The people who most want the mess picked up, are the people who didn’t even make the mess.

If I didn’t make my daughter periodically clean her room, she’d probably be content– as would Evangelical leaders. The current Evangelical mess has been at least 30 years in the making, long before many of the younger Evangelicals were born or had much of a voice. Yet, it’s the younger folks who believe there are better days for Evangelicalism, who believe there’s something in it worth salvaging, and who are so insistent on cleaning it up– even if they do it themselves. I’m impressed with the younger generation– without their voices, without their hope, and without their vision of the future, I’m not sure how motivated I’d be to hang on throughout this ride.

In the end, my daughter’s room is clean. All I have to do was withhold the remote control to the television for 30 minutes, and poof, the mess always magically disappears.

How I wish it were that easy to clean up the Evangelical mess.

Yet, I’m one of those who believe in better days in spite of everything. So you’ll keep finding me rolling up my sleeves, and doing whatever I can to help get the work done– even though the mess was made before I even got here.

We’ll need your help. Please keep believing. Keep hoping. Keep loving and keep serving– because those are the things that will turn this situation around.

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  • The hope for Evangelicalism is parallel to the hope I hold for my inheritance.

    Wait for the old people to die.

  • GaryBT

    The trouble is, you can’t take it with you and you don’t want the kids to get it so you spend everything on yourself before you die so there will be nothing left. The old folks of evangelism may spend it all and there will be nothing left to inherit (or to clean up for that matter).

  • Well, I can’t speak for evangelicalism, since I’m an atheist. But there’s no way my inheritance will be spent, considering it consists of approximately fourteen acres of rocks.

  • LilyDawn

    As a child I HATED to clean my room. It was such a bone of contention with my parents that years later I realized as a young woman that it really was a passive-agressive (read childish) form of rebellion. How much of the mess we see in the church is rebellion? Rebellion against change. Rebellion against extending the same grace we ourselves have received to the “others”. Others are no longer lepers or citizens of an obscure middle eastern village but the “other” political party, “other” gender, “other” economic standing and “other” sexuality.
    I would love to think I am grown up enough now, mature enough emotionally and spiritually to attempt prayer time and fellowship in an uninviting mess. What I am is intellectually honest enough to know that I can’t sit in the mess and help clean it up when I’ve been made to feel so unwelcome. Maybe some day soon I can attempt to sit on the bed and visit. Until then I am thankful for places like this blog and many other sites that reaffirm all OUR worth…..and keep my own room clean.

  • Beate

    Is it possible just to say «enough»? Not to your daughter, nor mine, or my own mess, but the “Christian” mess. WWJD? What did he do? Easter is behind us, Pentecostis coming. He did not even try to convince the religious of his time, did he? He just walked his own way and let people fallow in behind him, besides him,
    around the table with him. Maybe it is time to just let go. The theology is
    worked through now. It is good; enough theologians and lay people have found it
    to be so. The connection back in history is also clear. Why not just gather
    together and say that it is time to move forward together, and let everyone who
    wants fall inn. And just walk away from the debate, walk away from the mess,
    walk away from the conflicts. I think it is time.

  • HappyCat

    I would add not only to walk away from the mess, but walk to the great and amazing tasks that are set before us as people of faith- feeding the poor, visiting the sick and those in prison, clothing the naked, giving water to those who are thirsty. The yelling and screaming about this issue is just a distraction from what we have been commanded by Jesus to do.

  • Beate