Pay Attention To Your Red Flags

Pay Attention To Your Red Flags December 11, 2023

IMAGE: Keith Giles [MidJourney]
In a conversation with my friend, Jeremy Wood, the other day, he said something that really resonated with me: “If you’ve been in church for any length of time you’ve had more than your share of red flags. Pay attention to them.”

That really got me thinking. What were some of the biggest red flags I encountered prior to deconstructing my faith? Why did I ignore them? And, what would have happened if I didn’t?

The thing about red flags is that they are an internal warning that goes off whenever we experience something that we feel isn’t right but we dismiss it because our theology or doctrine or Evangelical culture tells us it’s okay. Our inner “knower” can tell something is off, but our religious programming overrides that internal alarm and resets the circuit breakers so we go along with things that – deep down inside – we know we really shouldn’t.

With this in mind, here are a few of the most common red flags I think people encounter in their Evangelical upbringing that they, unfortunately, tend to just ignore:

Treating women as inferior: Growing up in the Southern Baptist Church as a young man, women were never allowed to preach or to teach anything beyond Jr. High Sunday School classes. They were also not allowed to make decisions for themselves without their husband’s approval, and if they weren’t married they weren’t treated like full grown adults.

Treating the LGBTQI+ community as sub-humans: Private conversations often painted anyone who wasn’t straight as a sexual deviant who was either depraved and driven by their lusts, or they were assumed to have been sexually molested as a child and therefore “bent” in the wrong direction through some early childhood trauma. The idea that someone could be “normal” and in their right mind, and a faithful follower of Jesus was at best an oxymoron and at work an abomination to God. The verse about God’s command to “take them out and stone them to death” was quoted more often than you would believe, and not spoken with any hint of irony or remorse.

Ignoring internal moral failures: Church leaders and pastors were may more critical of the immorality “out there in the world” than they were of the immorality right inside the doors of their own congregation. I saw pastors committing adultery with their younger secretaries, youth pastors “dating” their teenage students, church leaders abusing their own family members and much more. But when it came to calling those out or exposing those sins everyone was pretty quiet about it and did all they could to keep those things covered up and their leaders protected.

Believing our church/denomination was more “special” (or correct) than the rest: When I was a Southern Baptist we loved to make fun of Charismatics and Pentecostals for their emotional and hyper-spiritual excesses. When I was a Vineyard pastor and church-planter we would shake our heads and feel sorry for all those other churches who didn’t have the same intimate access to God that we did. We also could never imagine that other denominations might have something to teach us or that they might have a point of view that was worth consideration.

Shunning those who disagree with our doctrines: There was no room for disagreement. Anyone who challenged the pastor, or disagreed with the statement of faith was invited to leave, or treated like an outcast until they got the hint and left on their own.

The Bible is 100 percent accurate with no mistakes or contradictions: This one works as long as you don’t look too closely at the Bible. For those who read and study the Bible, the fact that everything doesn’t always line up is beyond obvious. The contradictions are too numerous to count and if there weren’t so many inconsistencies in the Scripture we wouldn’t need so many books and courses to answer those Bible difficulties that are right in front of our noses.

Double-standards for men and women: Men who cheated on their wives were immediately embraced and forgiven for their momentary weakness while women were shamed and condemned for their predatory behavior and selfishness. I saw men welcomed back to teach and preach after a very brief season of discipline, but women were kept perpetually at arms length and never given a second chance after a perceived moral failure.

Equating political affiliation with eternal salvation: This was a big one for me as I was raised a Conservative Republican who listened to Rush Limbaugh and was a member of the NRA. The idea that someone could be a Christian and vote Democrat was beyond me.

Blaming the sick for failure to be healed: This isn’t something I personally participated in, but I did see this sort of thinking repeated quite often when I was part of the Vineyard movement. If people got sick and received prayer for healing, the lack of the miracle was almost always attributed to some “secret sin” in that person’s life and/or a lack of faith to be healed. I watched so many people lose their faith over these sorts of “all or nothing” attitudes about sickness and miraculous healing.

These are just a few of the red flags I have encountered along the way as an Evangelical Christian and pastor. What are the red flags you remember ignoring? Are you ignoring any red flags in your new faith experience? How can you protect yourself from falling for the same old song and dance over and over again?

That’s a topic for another blog post.


Keith Giles is the best-selling author of the Jesus Un series. He has appeared on CNN, USA Today, BuzzFeed, and John Fugelsang’s “Tell Me Everything.” He hosts the Second Cup with Keith podcast, and co-hosts the Apostates Anonymous podcast, and the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast.

His latest book, Second Cup with Keith is available now on Amazon HERE>

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