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Why I Left Evangelicalism: "The Next Thing to Hate"

Why I Left Evangelicalism: "The Next Thing to Hate" April 1, 2014

“After the first night of legal Gay marriage ceremonies in England and Wales, Christians are today desperately leafing through the Bible to identify another basic human right to rail against.”

This quote came from a spoof site, but the spoof says too much about the long-held tendency of people who call themselves part of the kingdom of heaven to find something to hate.

A number of years ago, I began, but never finished, a book I tentatively called,  The Making and Unmaking of an Evangelical Woman. It was the story of my spiritual life, how I went 100% into fundamentalism/evangelicalism. But years of intense biblical study, including gaining fluency in both biblical Greek and Hebrew, finally convinced me that Evangelicals were living and telling lies. I felt as though I were drowning as my entire, carefully built, inerrancy-tested, male-dominated world simply fell apart.

The dikes of my tight theological categories broke, and I went under in despair.

I came within inches of suicide, and I now freely admit that. I knew that once I began speaking truth about myself, the state of my marriage, and what I had come to believe, that I would be expelled.

I thought I would lose my salvation.

And I was right. When I began speaking those truths, I was expelled.

I went into the darkness, and there discovered that where I was sure God was not, God was. And waiting patiently for me.

In time, I found The United Methodist Church and my spiritual home. I was eventually ordained as an Elder in the North Texas Annual Conference and served as a pastor with great joy and deep gratefulness for the privilege until my retirement, Dec. 31, 2013.

And what I see now is that some highly vocal members and clergy of the UMC are turning toward those same great Evangelical Lies.

What are those lies?  Here are two:

  • First, that the Bible was written with 21st century Americans in mind and anyone can understand it perfectly. The facts? The Bible is a collection of writings written over a several thousand year period, in cultures radically different from ours, in languages that are no longer extant, with errors in transmission and with multiple interpretations of just about every single Bible verse that can be supported by scholarship and/or opinion. We all carry interpretive grids around with us–but rarely do Evangelicals acknowledge them and how they color their theological decisions.
  • Second, that the purpose of the Bible is to exclude people from the Kingdom of Heaven, rather than to break wide the doors to that Holy Grace.

The battle now, of course, is over the celebration of marriages and the possibility of ordination for those who agree to follow the same sexual standards as the hetero population but who are gay/lesbian in orientation: celibacy in singleness and faithfulness in marriage.

Yes, I am familiar with the words in the Book of Discipline that call homosexual practice incompatible with Christian teaching. I also believe that it was a mistake when those words were inserted–and I’m sure a mistake made with the best of intentions. But the Book of Discipline is neither inerrant nor infallible. It has so many modifications and is full of so much confusion that it takes a nine-member Judicial Council to make final pronouncements on what it really means–and they don’t always agree.

The Book of Discipline is modified every four years. It’s time for yet one more. Let us just affirm high sexual and moral standards for everyone–or let’s stop being hypocrites and start examining a lot more carefully the sexual lives and genital practices of our hetero members.

But some UMC Evangelicals are screaming, “Over my dead body will Gays and Lesbians be fully affirmed in the UMC and anyone who thinks this should be the case just needs to leave.”

Yep, they’ve learned to hate.

Years ago, as I was emerging from my Evangelical-induced nightmares, I came across some scholarly work on the nature of gender identity. I learned about people who are born “intersexed” or with ambiguous genitalia. In other words, there is no way to easily pronounce “it’s a boy” or “it’s a girl” upon birth (or upon sonogram).

Here is a well-made documentary about such situations and worth the viewing.

Me, My Sex and I

Researchers know that there is not a rigid line between male and female, no matter how much we want to affirm that “Adam and Eve” are the scientific standard for male/femaleness.  There are many who live on both sides of the gender equation.

At this point many Evangelicals want to call those people either “mistakes” or “sinners who need to repent.”

I think such statements violate everything good about the Gospel and about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

When World Vision caved, first affirming gay and lesbian marriages and then, under intense pressure from Evangelicals who called loudly to stop taking care of the world’s most impoverished children in order to affirm their exclusivist stances, I wept.

Rachel Held Evans said it well in her excellent blog post : “There is a disproportionate focus on homosexuality that consistently dehumanizes, stigmatizes and marginalizes gay and lesbian people and, at least in this case, prioritizes the culture war against them over and against the important work of caring for the poor.”

It’s time for this to stop, both within and without the UMC. We can disagree on this (remember our interpretative grids?) and still stay in covenant and connection. But calls to “Just go ahead and leave” to the emergent/progressives gives the worst possible message to the world outside Christianity.

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