For my entire life, I’ve been connected to some kind of evangelical Christian context. What I’m going to say here is not new—many have experienced this before. But it’s new for me at least in certain regards.
Recently I’ve had a couple of streams come together in my life. First, I’ve encountered some significant questions as I considered my theology. This led me to doing further study which led to even greater questions about where reality and Christianity intersect. This combined with how I’m not particularly fond of much of Christian culture has brought me to a place where all of the “Christianese” I hear rings hollow.
Many people will recognize there is a lot of baggage in Christian church culture which doesn’t come from Jesus or the Bible. I’ve been apathetic toward these things at best; some I down right dislike. But beyond this, I’ve come to recognize more and more aspects of especially evangelical Christianity which are not healthy. One of my main purposes in writing in general is to point these out so that these maladies won’t be perpetuated.
This past Sunday was Easter. Many friends posted, “He is risen!” or something similar. I was alone most of the day. But I felt more isolated because I had more doubt than excitement. Most of the friends I have are Christian. This is partially a result of my evangelical upbringing which suggested that anyone who isn’t a Christian is scary and is probably going to pull you down into debauchery. But also, Christians seem to have more contexts for connecting than there are outside of church.
Evangelicalism, even in its very name, holds a foundational belief that the whole world should be Christian. My experience has been that anything which makes one more confident in Christianity is seen as good while anything which makes one doubt Christianity is bad. Evangelicals divide people into in and out. Those who are out need to be brought in. Anyone who has significant doubts might be said to be “backsliding”. (This term more often refers to a person “sinning” over some period of time, but it can also refer to someone who isn’t holding fast to traditional evangelical beliefs.)
The church I’m a part of is better than most I think. Yet even still, when there’s such a focus on promoting Jesus, I wonder if there is any room to express doubts. (This could be an area where what leaders say and want to be true doesn’t match the reality of the situation.) When we speak of people with such terms as “backsliding”, there’s a clear designation that they’re some how not good. One of the big problems with evangelism is that people can be seen as projects rather than as people. The same is true for Christians who have doubts.
If I express my doubts, how will my Christian friends react? Will they feel trepidation? How will people in the church react? Will I be seen as a problem which needs to be fixed? Will I be seen as a threat which needs to be isolated and silenced until which point that I espouse evangelical fundamentals again? Will I simply become isolated because I don’t relate as I once did?
I know first hand the myriad of ways the church (evangelical culture at large) pressures for conformity and tries to dismiss and condemn those who aren’t towing the party line so to speak. (This is part of my disagreement with John Cooper’s response to Josh Harris and Marty Sampson.) It wasn’t too many years ago that I was the subject of an inquiry as to if my beliefs were orthodox enough to continue in a leadership position. While that turned out okay, it’s not particularly inviting to think that anytime I might say something which someone judges as not “kosher”, I could be sanctioned and/or shunned in some significant way.
I don’t believe questions are bad nor something to fear. Asking questions can lead us to research and explore which can lead to greater understanding. But is there space for doubt in Christianity, specifically evangelical Christianity? Is it possible to promote a belief system and simultaneously have a truly safe space for doubt and disagreement?