Aside from holiday visits to my grandmother’s church as a kid, I didn’t grow up in a religious household, but my wife did, and after getting married we did some dabbling here and there before eventually going pretty all-in during the late ’00s with a local branch in the ICOC movement.
Despite my ongoing scrupulosity issues and some eyebrow-raising moments here and there (which I now deeply regret staying silent about), things were generally fine, and we built up a number of great relationships and legitimately good memories.
Then came Trump and all that Trumpism exposed and encouraged.
I’ve written extensively about how the events of 2015-today fully shattered my previous relationship with the church, so I won’t rehash everything here, but someone I really respect recently asked me what it is I do believe these days, so I thought I’d outline where I stand as of January 2023.
First things first, I can’t say that I’m an “exvangelical” (in the sense of having walked away entirely from organized religion). This isn’t the case, and in fact my wife and I are still attending a different ICOC-affiliated church, albeit a bit more of a “misfit toys” branch. That being said, I find myself infinitely more sympathetic to exvangelicals and those undertaking the painful process of deconstruction than those that remain terminally incurious and dangerously legalistic.
Here’s where I’ve landed:
- Social justice conversations are essential and should be ongoing and prominent, not “toe in the water” topics revisited every few years just to appease the more progressive members of your congregation. Continually avoiding discomfort simply means that you either a) don’t care enough about those affected to prioritize ongoing action or b) are afraid to lose tithes from bigots.
- Purity culture has been an absolute disaster on all fronts (in terms of sexism, mental health and more). Burn it to the ground. Perhaps doing this might transform small group discussions from endless “oops, I masturbated!” sessions to difficult “hmm, maybe this toxic nonsense is causing desperately horny young people to rush into marriage far too soon” conversations.
- The fact that Complementarianism vs. Egalitarianism discussions are still happening (or in some cases not even happening, having landed on the former) in 2023 is flat-out insane. There should be absolutely no role restrictions for women in the church or in life. Those saying otherwise are simply doing so to preserve their power, or are afraid (probably for good reason) that their mediocrity will be exposed.
- Ditto for LGBTQ+ membership, personal relationships and leadership roles. Not only are Bible verses that set restrictive policies around these poor people cherry-picked and interpreted out of context by those that feel threatened, they also err on the side of closing the tent vs. opening our arms, which leads me to perhaps my most controversial stance…
- Love and radical inclusion (the examples set by Jesus himself) are infinitely more important than legalistically citing and interpreting verses of the Bible, and when confronted with a murky topic (or one that now exists in a context unimaginable at the time), policies of love and radical inclusion should prevail over snippets of text.
Jesus was a wrecking ball when it came to a lot of church doctrine and hesitance from religious leaders of the time, and yet here many of us are 2,000 years later, slaves to written accounts of his exploits bundled together with followups and interpretations from others.
Do I think that if Jesus came back right now that he’d want to break up a loving gay family since some claim that the Bible says it’s sinful? I do not, and in fact I think he’d be exasperated by many of the hateful rules we’ve built up after his last appearance.
Many modern churches will publicly crow about their amazing diversity and acts of service around the world, then quickly clam up or opt to chat “just among members” when asked about these types of topics.
Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and public Sunday services are the time to put your cards on the table. Would doing that make you feel uncomfortable? Maybe ask yourself why that might be.
When I look to open-hearted exvangelicals and so many marginalized voices sharing their struggles loudly and publicly, I see honesty, open hearts and often very sincere despair over how they were treated and/or excluded.
When I look at a lot of “disciples” I shared services with over many years, I see smiling faces concealing bigotry, stubbornness, complacency, a healthy dose of Christian Nationalism and a focus on using the Internet as a glorified “reach out to hear from our sales reps!” billboard rather than a legitimate place to have hard, ongoing conversations right out in the open.
I’ve spent a long time regaining my spiritual footing in recent years, but having looked at the fruit produced by many different parties, it’s pretty clear to me where the spirit of Christ lies.
As the great David Lynch said: