At 52, I’m a little older than some of you. (Not saying wiser, just older.) I left evangelicalism in the late 1990s. there were many reasons for this, some of which I will articulate. As you will see, they are many of the same reasons you left as well.
So swing back with me about 20 years into the past, and remember that at the time, like many of you, I’m in my mid-to late 20s when this was happening. My church was of the charismatic evangelical vein. I loved my church. With abandon. I was “sold out” and solid. The church was doing really good things: doing the gospel by feeding the poor, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, battered women, etc. You know, doing many of the things the church is supposed to do.
I was in love with this woman at our church. Or maybe I was simply sexually attracted to her. She was to me too. Because of the purity culture nonsense, we didn’t do anything about it. We could have engaged in a normal sexual relationship. But noooooo.
Instead all we got was a good bout of guilt, anxiety, anguish. Oh, and a lot of masturbation when we got to our respective homes, which of course added to the feelings of guilt. If we had been smarter we should have just gone ahead and fucked each other’s brains out.
But we weren’t smart, we were living under the discourses of purity culture. Instead of being anything close to normal, it was an on-again-off-again nightmare of hormones and agitation.
I started to ask questions about the literal interpretation of the Bible. Asking things like, “If the Bible is literal, then why aren’t we reading the letters of the apostles, as if they were letters to distinct persons and churches at a distinct place and time in history?”
Or, “Why do we choose to take a piece of Daniel, and a piece of Revelation, and a piece of another scripture and sew them together to make sense of the end times?” Naturally these questions did not go over well.
When I finally read enough, I made the decision to reject dispensational eschatology, with its anti-Christ, false prophet, Gog and Magog, the tribulation, etc. I didn’t come out of the closet about this "heresy" while at the church.
And I tried really hard not to roll my eyes when people started to talk about the Rapture, etc. I knew that people outside of my particular church denomination didn’t believe in the rapture and all that end-times cripity-crap, so it wasn’t doctrine. Right? Wrong.
It was literally codified into the church’s statement of faith. Realizing this, I felt like a heretic in my own church. Still I stayed. It was the doing the good works stuff that made my differing theological understanding seem unimportant.
f people wanted to believe the rapture – even if I don’t – that’s fine. That’s not going to kill anyone. Then the church started getting political. I had voted for Clinton the first time around, before I left NYC, moved to Chattanooga, and joined this church.
(Yes, I was – and am – a carpetbagger.) We had a “prophet of God” say from the pulpit that “If Bill Clinton is re-elected that would be the end of the United States as we know it.” I knew that not only wasn’t that correct, but also saying that from the pulpit was likely illegal.
When I mentioned this to one of the church elders, he nonchalantly said, “It’s only illegal if he said to go vote for Bob Dole.” That elder would have made a great lawyer. Anyway, in order to be a good Christian soldier on election day I went to vote for Bob Dole.
It just so happened that someone had called in a bomb threat at my voting place, so I didn’t get to vote one way or the other. It was the only time I’ve not voted since 1984. I’m calling this a blessing. Ha!
So things were getting weird anyway, and then the biggest change happened. The church stopped looking outward and started looking inward. It became – God will bless us – God will bless me. It got infiltrated by the prosperity message. Our pastor started going to conferences. He was trying to make a name for himself, hanging around with the Copelands, Creflo Dollar, and the like. Jessie DePlantis even came to our church. The church lost its mission.
I know my story is pretty bland compared to some of yours. I’ve never had to deal with purity/rape culture like our sisters do. (I say purity/rape because they really are the two sides of the same coin.)
I’ve never had to deal with the shame and anguish of church condemnation like our LGBTQA brothers and sisters do. I’m a white cis-gendered middle-class male with a lot of privilege. This I know.
Last month it was 20 years since I left evangelicalism. I never did find another church that I wanted to go to. I looked. I tried. It was hard. I was lost. I stopped trying. I still believe in Christ and what he did and is doing.
I’m thinking about going to an Episcopal church starting in the Spring. What the hell, right? I don’t have many answers and in a way that’s good, because it allows mystery back in.
This is what I want to say: You will get better. You will heal. That doesn’t mean you forget. Or that you bury what you feel. Maybe you don’t believe. Maybe you do. Maybe you don’t know even know what the fuck you are supposed to even think about believing. That’s ok.
Your journey is your journey. Take it from someone who is you – twenty years in the future.