I don’t always see eye-to-eye with my evangelical brothers and sisters when it comes to politics, theology and gender, but there are many reasons I’m glad I was raised in the evangelical tradition. For those of us who wrestle at times with the religious traditions with which we were raised, I think it’s important to remember from time to time the gifts those traditions gave us. These are just a few that come to my mind:
1. I know and love the Bible.
Whether I was slaying the competition in a sword drill or racking up crowns and badges in AWANA, I grew up knowing my way around a Bible. The images, stories, and words of Scripture so permeated my life that they gave meaning and direction to my own story and helped me make sense of things. My evangelical upbringing taught me to love Scripture, to consult it, and to believe it. And to this day, nothing sparks my creative energy more than a difficult passage, a stack of commentaries, and a few hours to dig in. The Bible just keeps on giving; it never disappoints. While I certainly wrestle with the Bible more than I once did, it is the love of Scripture my evangelical upbringing instilled in me that keeps me wrestling, that keeps me from giving up. I am profoundly grateful for this.
2. I have fond memories of being a teenager, primarily because of youth group.
Anyone who grew up in youth group will know exactly why I’ve titled the chapter about it in my next book, “Chubby Bunny.” I was fortunate to have had an amazing youth pastor—Brian Ward—who to this day remains one of my most important mentors, champions, and friends. (And who actually kinda hated Chubby Bunny.) High school can be a disorienting, angsty time, but because of youth group I made lifelong friends, I got to travel, I deepened my faith, I had opportunities to teach and lead and use my gifts, I learned to not take myself so seriously, and I learned exactly how many marshmallows I could cram into my mouth without chocking to death. I am glad so much of my identity was forged in the context of church and in the company of people who really loved me. Not everyone’s memories of youth group or of high school are as happy as mine, so I never want to take that (mostly) wonderful experience for granted.
3. I've always had a deeply personal faith.
It’s often said that evangelicalism is characterized by a personal commitment to faith, and this was certainly true of my experience. The activism, the testimonies, the active prayer life, the hours spent reading the Bible—these things emerged from a deeply experiential and powerful relationship with Jesus and the church that until my young adulthood went almost totally unquestioned. (Check out Evolving in Monkey Town for the story of how things started to unravel.) I know not everyone who was raised evangelical felt that same connection to God growing up, so there may be a personality component involved, but I’ve never been afraid to “approach the throne of grace with confidence” because I’ve spent quite a lot of time talking to Jesus already. And I think it was because my faith was so personal, so deeply important to me, that I couldn't just let it go the moment I started having questions and doubts.
Evangelicalism introduced me to deviled eggs, macaroni-and-cheese casserole, chili cook-offs, and lemon squares…and to hospitality, and fellowship, and the value of just showing up with a chicken casserole in hand when your neighbor is sick or grieving or lonely. The healing power of a chicken casserole should never be underestimated.
5. Grace at home.
I didn’t always experience grace in the church. I saw my fair share of legalism, division, and exclusion there, and, like most people, I’ve been hurt by other Christians. But there was always grace at home. Always. My parents—committed evangelicals—taught me, by example, to be compassionate, empathetic, patient, forgiving, open, inclusive, curious, and kind. They taught me to focus on the most important thing—Jesus—and to hold the rest of my theological and political beliefs with an open hand. They gave me the space I needed to become my own person with my own faith, and they were never afraid to say, “I don’t know” when that was the truth. No parents are perfect, but mine have been pretty great. And so when I’m at a progressive/liberal Christian conference and people start bashing evangelicals as closed-minded and exclusive, I pipe up and say, “Hey, that’s my mom and dad you’re talking about.” They totally ruined my ability to paint all evangelicals with a broad a brush, and I’m glad.
Of course, this is not to say these experiences are unique to an evangelical upbringing. Certainly you can find a love for Scripture, personal faith, deviled eggs and Chubby Bunny in other Christian traditions as well.
So I’d like to open the floor to all—those raised evangelical, those raised Catholic, those raised Presbyterian, those raised Mormon or Jewish or even as secular humanists….
What are you thankful for about the faith with which you were raised? What positive effects did that tradition have on your life?