Growing up a well-trained evangelical, I knew my Bible. I knew Luther’s Small Catechism. And I knew all the words for most of the hymns in our hymnal. In short: I was a Good Christian. Want proof? I thought you’d never ask:
- I got an A in Religion class every semester from kindergarten through college graduation.
- I was top of my confirmation class.
- On those bulletin inserts with fill-in-the-blank sermon notes, I filled every blank, every week, with the correct word or phrase.
- And I always had a backup trove of biblical truth in the hymns I knew by heart.
A+ Christian “facts”
Years and years of being “graded” on Christianity taught me (and I don’t think I’m alone on this) that following Jesus is more a matter of being right than being good. Or more precisely, being right guarantees being good. For example:
- “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13) means abortion must be outlawed. Corollary: it is always wrong to vote for a Democrat. Period. (Read Pro-birth, Pro-life, Pro-choice, Part One.)
- “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination” (Leviticus 18:22) means any non-heteronormative attraction or activity is sinful. Corollary: it is always wrong to vote for a Democrat. (Read My U-turn from evangelical to LGBTQ+ affirming.)
- “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) means any Christian who is struggling financially has a weak faith.
- “All things work together for good to them who love God and are called according to his purposes” (Romans 8:28) means anything from a cancer diagnosis to a horrific car crash is somehow part of God’s plan.
- “I don’t do the good I want to do. Instead, I do the evil that I don’t want to do” (Romans 7:19) means every action is either good or evil (and as an A student, I have the inside scoop on which actions are which).
- “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed” (I Peter 3:14) means that if I’m criticized for any of my beliefs, I’m being persecuted, and God blesses me for that. It never means I need to examine my beliefs – because I already know I’m right.
And so on.
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Still Christian – without the A+
It’s possible that I never would have walked away from this absolutist ideology if I hadn’t been smacked in the face by blatant bigotry and hypocrisy, and plain old ugliness, in the evangelical Christian community to which I belonged.
It was painful at the time, totally disorienting, downright crushing.
Then it was infuriating. It was so obvious to me that these people (Christian leaders) had sinned. Why was it not obvious to them?
Answer: because they assume they are always right. They assume they have the mind of Christ. They assume that anyone who is not in full agreement with them is doing evil (see Romans 7:19). And they assume that they don’t need to examine any of their assumptions. (Read Do you know God’s will for you, or just assume you know?)
The knee-jerk response of outrage against LGBTQ+ rights, immigrant rights, abortion rights, the right to “take a knee” or buy a “gay cake” or protest against war goes unexamined. (It was unexamined for me too – until it wasn’t.)
When I get into a “discussion” with an evangelical, I can say, “do you need to reconsider your viewpoint?” and when they ask me the same question, I can truthfully say “I already have.”
I know all too well how rarely a really good opportunity for change comes along, so I don’t get into those conversations much anymore. It’s just a waste of time to try to reason with someone who is positive they’re right. I guess the thing to do is hope and pray they will hit a life crisis that causes them to look critically at everything.
It’s possible, maybe even preferable to do such soul-searching when life is calm. But do any of us have the guts?
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