Ten years ago, in one of the earliest viral Youtube videos, comedian and vlogger Chris Crocker told the world to “leave Britney Spears alone!” I wish Chris Crocker would make another video for Jen Hatmaker, the target of choice for neo-Calvinist think-pieces. In the latest version, the Gospel Coalition deconstructs what it calls Jen Hatmaker’s “Deconversion Story” (you can google it since I’m not going to give them free clicks).
Now I imagine the guy who wrote it is not trying to be an internet bully per se. He was probably just trying to score a viral hit off Jen Hatmaker’s name the way I might have done with Mark Driscoll 4 years ago (and he’s getting a lot more views than I ever got). The basic gist of the argument he’s trying to make is that Jen Hatmaker is unfair to evangelicals (who have attacked her savagely since she went public with LBGTQ affirmation) in how she tells her story.
What’s interesting about the deconversion story that he attributes to Hatmaker is how remarkably analogous it is to the evangelical conversion story. (It’s almost like he’s projecting his own storytelling sensibilities onto Jen Hatmaker.) Those of us who grow up evangelical are trained to narrate our lives as exhibiting a dramatically stark contrast before and after we got saved. Before we’re saved, we’re part of “the world,” an undifferentiated mass of people who are irredeemably wicked and lost because they haven’t accepted Jesus as their personal Lord and savior yet. There is no nuance in total depravity. Everyone who hasn’t accepted Jesus as their personal Lord and savior deserves to be tortured forever in hell, which has to be accounted for in your conversion story.
Not only do evangelicals define themselves against “the world,” but they are equally concerned with defining themselves against “nominal Christians” who think that “rituals will save them.” I’ll never forget visiting my first United Methodist church with my friend Joey in high school. I don’t think anyone ever told me overtly that they weren’t really Christian, but that was the primary thought in my head as I sat in the pew with him and played along with this strange church service where people methodically read prayers out of their bulletins instead of speaking to God from their hearts like evangelicals did. To be evangelical is to believe that what everyone else is doing is “religion,” but what we’re doing is real Christianity. Viral neo-Calvinist spoken word artist Jefferson Bethke captured this ethos perfectly.So independent of whatever is actually valid about how Jen Hatmaker tells her story, it would make sense that someone who was raised evangelical would narrate being saved from evangelicalism the way she is accused of doing. It would simply be an application of the evangelical mindset to a different set of circumstances. When you come to the understanding that white evangelicalism is the form that Christian theology takes when worldly wealth and privilege need to be justified by sexual puritanism, then “the world” you’ve always been taught to demonize becomes the evangelical church itself.
I’m not saying that’s what Jen Hatmaker is actually doing. But I do recognize that tendency in myself. It seems to me like a a natural part of the process of wriggling your way out of an authoritarian world in which outsiders are not just wrong but damned to eternal torture. As long as I am defending myself against accusations of apostasy, I am only going to be able to see poison in the world of my accusers. The smarmy neo-Calvinists on the Internet almost make me forget the beautiful evangelicals I’ve known like my gentle, kind youth pastor John, half a dozen mentors throughout my life who were as kind as they were conservative, and the sassy, authentic women in my process group in the Missouri Synod school where I’m currently getting my counseling degree.
People are definitely more complicated than any of our life narratives can do justice. But as long as neo-Calvinists refer to disagreeing with them about LGBTQ inclusion as “deconversion” from Christianity, I’m not going to have much sympathy for their complaints about being caricatured. Anyone who makes being anti-gay the litmus test of Christian orthodoxy is toxic, no matter how polite and sweet they are. I can share a church with people who have different views than I do; I cannot share a church with people who have made Christianity into a single-issue religion. I suspect that most evangelicals are not toxic; it’s just the ones who have control of their most prominent platforms on the Internet like Christianity Today, Desiring God, and the Gospel Coalition.
Check out my book How Jesus Saves the World From Us: 12 Antidotes to Toxic Christianity!