Goodbye, So Long, Farewell?
As it happens, I am not planning to go anywhere so unless they come to take me away that might not be the correct title. Or it might be correct because there are times when I begin to wonder if they actually might come to take me away or, at the very least, kick me out of the exclusive club called evangelicalism. Let me explain.
In just the past few weeks I read three blog posts by three young Christian bloggers on the same theme. They were triggered by the recent dust-up over World Vision but that is almost beside the point. The theme they shared was leaving evangelicalism; not the Christian faith but just that brand of Christianity called American evangelicalism.
I’ve admired, if not always agreed with, these three young people for some time. (OK, I am not sure that any of them want to be considered “young” but to me they are and it is not a pejorative.) They are articulate and passionate about their faith. More than that, you can see that their faith matters to them and they each put their considerable intellects and talents to work in living that faith. That they would, at the same time, come to the same conclusion is significant.
One extended a gracious and caring invitation to join her outside evangelicalism. It is significant that she addresses the issue of fear that some might have in such a decision. I have some thoughts as to why that is needed but will save them for a bit.
The second uses a more analytical approach in concluding that evangelicalism as it has become pretty much needs to be dumped altogether. It is significant that this article is not a “rant.” I don’t see anger in his words, just concern that the evangelical house is past saving.
The last, and most heartbreaking, is something of a surrender. She announces that she is done fighting to have issues that she sees as important (as do I) taken seriously by evangelical powers that be. She is not giving up her faith, she is giving up on us as people that can be reasoned with.
OK, so three people are done with us. What does it matter? The title of this message is an adaptation of a twitter comment by a leading evangelical; essentially saying “don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” Setting aside the lack of grace in that type of response, there is a lack of wisdom too. Does it really seem wise to show articulate and passionate people; people with thousands of followers (including me), the door?
It seems to me that, more and more, evangelicalism has become an exclusive, and ever narrower, club. Contending for the faith has always been a reality but it seems that lately the most contentious issues are not central to the faith at all. Take the wrong stance on reformed theology, women in the church, same sex marriage, sign gifts, even politics, and you will find “gate-keepers”, the vigilant guardians of who is, and who is not, an evangelical are ready to dismiss you as a club member.
These three, and others like them, are not being challenged by crank fringe elements; they are being treated with a dismissive condescension by key evangelical leaders. In this connected world that condescension opens the door to free the attack dogs and they have each been savaged by scathing comments from other evangelicals. Just when did tossing out suspected dissenters on non-salvation issues become a hallmark of our faith? When did deciding who is not really a Christian become a bigger issue that inviting others in?
How many others, mostly young but some older folks like me, agree with these people? This is why the appeal to not be afraid is significant. The blogger rightly identifies that fear of stepping out of line, fear of being cut off, has become a key concern for many. I sometimes wonder, as an evangelical for 40+ years, if my next comment of post will have me shown to the door. Fear of reprisal seems an odd tool to keep people faithful.
Perhaps the faith needs gatekeepers, people we trust to guard the boundaries of Christianity. But there are two concerns I have. The first is that the circle seems to be getting smaller. “Right” answers on more and more issues are now deemed to be essential to be allowed to carry your evangelical membership card.
The second concern is more profound. I have news for the gatekeepers. There are no gates any more. These people outside the club are just as easily listened to; just as able to speak to the people you are trying to keep in the club. As recently as my early adult lifetime ordinary Christians had little or no access to other ideas and views other than those of their senior pastor and the people he chose to expose them to. There were a few mega-church pastors, authors and speakers but that was it.
Those days are gone. Information flies in every direction and attempts to channel, control or limit it makes it flow faster. Isn’t it time that we decide that evangelicalism means telling the world about Jesus; who he is and what he has done? Period. How many more will flee our camp before we realize that the only common denominator in all the departures is us?