The Great Divorce: Evangelicalism And Jesus

The Great Divorce: Evangelicalism And Jesus April 17, 2018

My own great divorce from Evangelism came years ago and as accompanied by much grief. I left because . . . well, I was kicked out. Too mouthy, inadequately submissive to male authority, and, finally, I committed the ultimate, and the unforgivable sin: I got a divorce. A real one. I crossed the invisible line and paid the price.

C. S. Lewis’ profound book, The Great Divorce, sprang to mind when I read an opinion piece in the Dallas Morning News by religion journalist Peggy Wehmeyer about her growing need to divorce from her longtime love: the Evangelical church.

Every word has an impact and I hope you will take the time to read the entire piece. She writes especially of the reasons her now adult daughters, steeped in the words of Jesus, can no longer tolerate the ongoing love affair of the Evangelical world with our current President.

At the dinner table with my adult daughters, I tried to explain that in the 2016 vote, evangelicals believed they had found a defender, albeit a mean-spirited bully, who would restore their rights to practice their faith freely.

But even as I said it, I wondered: At what cost? I had assumed the evangelical leaders who supported Trump’s policies would frown on his lack of character and sexual promiscuity.

Instead I watched them wink at behavior the Old Testament prophets would have shouted down.

When Lewis wrote The Great Divorce, he told a story of a man, wandering around a dirty little town on a damp, miserable early evening, who, for lack of anything better to do, boards a bus which ultimately takes him and his fellow passengers on a journey to what would turn out to be the outer edges of heaven.  To make the journey further, each needed to decide to look into their souls and repent of the sin that keeps them from fully entering into the heart of God and the place of penetrating light. Or,  . . . they could return to the dark, dank place to indulge in the things that give a semblance of power and achievement but ultimately destroy.

Lewis sums it up by quoting John Milton’s Paradise Lost, “The choice of every lost soul can be expressed in the words ‘Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.'”

How well Lewis–and Milton–nailed the human spirit and the current condition of much of Christian thought.

Balquhidder Church, A thin place, a place to heal the Great DivorceOver the last few months, I have started reading history, especially religious history, as I seek to make sense of the embrace of the profane and immoral Donald Trump as God’s chosen prophet. My soul aches with every further endorsement of him by those who see themselves as spiritual leaders and have much influence over the spiritual lives and development of their followers.

To some degree, I’ve found comfort in recognizing that the current situation is nothing new. All three of the Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Islam, Christianity, have turned to political power to ensure their religious power. In not one single case has it turned out well. Nonetheless, that well-known fact of history has never stopped people from trying.

Again, to quote Lewis (I think everyone should read The Great Divorce, but a list of the more famous lines in it can be found here):

There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.

Right now, I find it easy to point the finger at a religious movement that looks to me to be saying, “My will is God’s will.” I’m aware that I have suggested that their souls will pay a terrible price for that stand.

However, I know when I point that finger, I, myself, have made my will God’s will. For I have taken on the role of God in being the one who condemns. I must not assume that power.

My own great divorce from Evangelism came years ago and was accompanied by much grief. Many of my readers know that I spent most many years steeped in Evangelicalism. I know it inside and out. I know the strengths there and Wehmeyer’s article beautifully illustrates many of them.

I left because . . . well, I was kicked out. Too mouthy, inadequately submissive to male authority, and, finally, I committed the ultimate, and the unforgivable sin: I got a divorce. A real one. I had crossed the line.

I choose to speak no further of that marriage. I say only that I was finally faced with this choice: get out by either killing myself or by finding a legal means. I very nearly chose the former. I genuinely loved God and, again since divorce was simply unforgivable, and since I could not maintain any sense of soul integrity by staying in, it seemed the most reasonable solution.

I ended up choosing life, knowing that I caused probably more chaos by that choice than by choosing death. I also discovered, and should hardly have been surprised, that I moved from being a second-class citizen in the church–my femaleness landed me there–to third class by carrying the stain of divorce.

In other words, I was an embarrassment to the theological structure. A giant red “D” implanted itself on my chest. I would be forever marked, a contemporary Hester Prynne.

I suspect my experience stands as one reason I found Wehmeyer’s article, and perhaps Lewis’ book, so compelling. Divorce changes everything. Nothing ever looks the same again.

And sometimes, it is necessary for life. So Weymeyer is sadly discovering. I hurt for her.

I left, obviously, not because I wanted to, but because I chose to offer myself more self-respect. I left behind Evangelicalism and embraced the wider world of Methodism. Getting out, gaining some distance from the tradition that had shaped my thinking for so long, brought me face to face with the very thing Evangelicalism tolerates poorly: a world where we see few unequivocal answers to big and little questions of life.

As I often do, I spent an hour yesterday morning reading the newspapers, praying through the world. It was particularly hard. Many stories put the broken world on full, graphic display.

I also became even more aware of my own privilege. My whiteness, my education, my adequate financial comfort and most of all, my time. I have time to think, time to pray, time to indulge in gardening, reading, family, seeing the world beyond my own. And I have time to go into these moments of despair over what it means to live with Christian intention, to be one who offers good.

Sadness surrounds me in these morning musings, and now dogs me much of the day as I, with Weymeyer, agonize even more fully over the state of Christianity that takes the headlines.

I also know that many are doing much to keep the United Methodist Church from the disintegration that threatens. We face a likely split over what is a truly minor issue: who gets to show affection for whom and have that affection legally recognized. I groan in despair when I think of it.

But in a couple of days, my husband and I depart for a few days in Ireland, that land of Celtic mystery, the land that may have saved civilization. I go with the hope of rekindling my own mystic tendencies, of stumbling across a “thin place,” that place where the usually impenetrable barrier between heaven and hell thins out and Holy Mystery becomes a bit more accessible.

I head out with gratefulness that, while I must do my part to be a healer of the world, I am also not the world’s Savior. But it surely does need one.

Photo Credits:
Divorce Certificate: Pixabay, Creative CommonsBalquhidder Church By Alistair Reid (website) – Uploaded as en:Image:100 1410.JPG on March 22 2006, Public Domain, Link
Hester Prynne, By Mary Hallock Foote – The Scarlet Letter – edition: James R. Osgood & Co, Public Domain, Link

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  • james warren

    I see evangelicals as a group which would rather worship Christ than follow Jesus.

    To me, Jesus is the “norm” of my Bible. And I study the New Testament to learn more about the character and the passion of the God of Jesus.

  • Wise Crackuh

    I must say that I’ve gone through a box of hankies in reading your self-pity epistle, but, in fact, I just wondered why I waste my time. Guess I just get amused at liberal musings… But, I submit that maybe your estrangement from your Evangelism career stemmed more from your being consistently wrong than from being a girl…
    Your statement, “We face a likely split over what is a truly minor issue: who gets to show affection for whom and have that affection legally recognized.” Maybe it is a minor issue to progressives, but then, so is abortion, isn’t it? However, most cultures, and their religions, around the world have condemned homosexuality since forever. Some even murder those who are caught at it. But you call it a “truly minor issue”? It is tearing our church apart. Progressives believe that traditionalists should just forget ions of history and what we read as unambiguous rules of our religion and our church, while we traditionalists wonder why the progressives don’t just switch to the Episcopal Church – if they can find one still open – as that denomination fully caved to progressive demands.
    Your statement, “as I seek to make sense of the embrace of the profane and immoral Donald Trump as God’s chosen prophet” is most disingenuous. Nobody preaches that. We voted against the Clinton Crime family, a candidate who showed no respect for the secrets or security of our country, who was the epitome of liberalism, who promised to continue the socialist march of her predecessor. Lack of morality among the powerful is an old story of which we recently learned from Kennedy revelations and certainly from the poster child for womanizing, Slick Willie. Trump was never considered moral or a “prophet”, but his poll numbers keep rising because more of us are making a “profit”! Profit is good for morale. Morale trumps moral in our secular lives – where the bills come due. Our Christian lives remain at a higher level.
    Finally, your coming trip to “Ireland… that land of Celtic mystery, the land that may have saved civilization.” Really? I would think our Constitution would deserve some credit for that, not to mention the blood and treasure we Americans have spent in defeating fascism, communism, as well as, all we do in hand-outs. But, I too love Ireland: Golf, Guinness and Great times abound. I share with you the opening lines from a poem I wrote long ago celebrating a week’s golf in Ireland: “A fine golf course is like a beautiful woman – no matter how badly she treats you when you are together, you dream of her when you are apart…” (Ireland’s courses grip my heart!)

  • Linda Coleman Allen

    Christy, you have my utmost respect. I, too, had to abandon the evangelical church. While I did turn to the Methodist church as my home church, most of my time was spent in solitude with my Bible. I feel that through that study and through prayer, I grew as a person and became much closer to God and Jesus. And the Holy Spirit is a wonderful companion.

  • I grew up in Evangelical Christianity in the 70s and 80s. I watched my grandma become a political activist as Focus on the Family or Moral Majority or some other evangelical group encouraged followers to boycott this or that. I heard evangelicals in the 90s calling for Clinton’s impeachment for sexual indiscretion. I left evangelicalism in the 90s for a kinder, gentler representation of Jesus one focused on feeding the poor and promoting kindness toward fellow humans instead of worrying about whether all people should be able to love and marry. Sorry, but especially with evangelicals’ seeming obsequeousness towards Trump, they come across as nasty, mean people who seek to impose their control and views on others and will give up all semblance of decency to achieve their agenda. They do not appear to emulate Jesus.

  • lagibby

    Enjoy your trip to Ireland! And thank you for this thoughtful piece. I, too, felt leaving my denomination was like a divorce. In fact, divorcing my first husband was not nearly as painful as leaving my denomination. But in both cases, I am happier and closer to God now than I was before leaving.

  • YellowBird

    i hope you will find a Thin Place… your spirit will know it if you do. and my spirit hopes to hear the story of it when you return to your blog!
    may you have Blessed Travels

  • jekylldoc

    Ouch! I believe divorce ought to be a difficult option, but nowhere near that difficult! Glad you chose joy. Somehow I think Lewis was right, that people who seek joy will find it, but it is sad to think the church so often stands in the way rather than pointing to the God of love.

  • Ulf Turkewitsch

    This problem brings up a broader question. That of law, I mean the Law of Moses.. Protestants generally believe that they are not bound by the Law of Moses. However they should follow Ten Commandments. Many denominations also have restrictions and laws. Then if one breaks one of these one may be ostracized. Even evangelical denominations do this , and that is very sad and causes a lot of pain. Also it drives people out of that church.
    Martin Luther coined the term, “Antinomianism” for the doctrine of non compliance with Mosaic Law. Check it out for yourself.
    My take on this doctrine is that, as Paul mentioned repeatedly in Romans, chapters 5 to 8 , we cannot obey the Law perfectly anyway. So Gods forgiveness covers believers. As, when we are believers and saved, we are forgiven of ALL our sins, not just some. So why would we condemn other believers ,, since GOD has forgiven them. Yet many people and churches do. This is not Biblical. Ostracism also is not Biblical, except if it is applied only for a short time. So I sympathize with you in your dilemma and your pain. However what a church does to us can ,in NO way remove us from the family of God, the true church. Because the true church is not a human organization. It is initiated, and protected by Christ, who is its head , not any man

  • Chuck Johnson

    The world of evangelical Christianity holds blind obedience to authority to be the greatest human virtue.
    This is the source of their addiction to Donald Trump.

    • Wise Crackuh

      Actually, our addiction to money and safety and freedom is at the heart of our support. My investments have risen enough to buy a new home, if I wanted to trade, and the new pipelines will bring more fuel to heat and cool it, and for re-opening local factories that employ people. Our borders are a little safer and will be much safer soon. Our police are celebrated and supported and the socialist medicine debacle is being dismantled. These are a few of my favorite things. Where some say “false prophet” I applaud real PROFIT.

    • Ulf Turkewitsch

      Good point Chuck. If you can’t think for yourself you are a poor excuse for a human. It took me many years to throw off the shackles of “church” thinking . And denominational thinking. However that is not the only issue with their support of emperor trump. It was also the desire to have a defender for evangelicalism at the highest level of government . BIG MISTAKE. This has happened before in the history of Christianity. Namely during the catholic era.

    • Ulf Turkewitsch

      One other point that is relevant to this discussion . That is ; that the union of religion with politics is shown best in the world of Islam. This system does not seperate religion, “Mohammedism,” from their political system. Far from producing a unified, stable, humanitarian , peaceful, and prosperous ideology, it has spawned tremendous suffering and war in its own countries.
      That is just one example of this error.