“Where there is no love, put love - and you will find love."
– St. John of the Cross
"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."
- Jesus, Matthew 11:28-30, The Message
Twenty minutes after World Vision announced that in response to financial pressure from evangelicals it would reverse its decision to employ Christians in same-sex relationships, I climbed into the giant SUV of a Baptist minister, where bags of Chick-fil-A were waiting to be consumed by a group of hungry college students, and cried.
I try so hard to be professional when I’m out on the road speaking, but this had been such a blow I was shaking with anger.
“I’m so sorry,” my host said when I told him what happened. “This was wrong. This was ugly and wrong.”
(It’s amazing how, in certain moments, a simple acknowledgement of pain can be such a gift of grace.)
“You know what?” I said after a few minutes of quiet. “I’m done. I’m done with this whole conversation. I’m starting a cereal blog. That’s always been my backup plan anyway.”
“You mean….like breakfast cereal?”
“Yeah, like breakfast cereal. I’m kind of an expert on it.”
“Oh…well that sounds fascinating!”
(Say what you will about Baptists, but they are consistently, sometimes inconceivably, nice.)
“I know, right? And the only controversy would be between Cinnamon Toast Crunch people and Gold Graham people. Maybe I could work on getting those two sides to talk to each other.”
“Well, with God all things are possible.”
Within minutes I was laughing and eating chicken nuggets with a bunch of bright, engaged Christian students (at Wingate University), remembering once again that the Church is bigger and more beautiful than its ugliest moments.
After what happened last week, I hear a lot of people asking, “What now? What do we do after this?”
The response to World Vision revealed some major fault lines in the Church, and many of us who grew up evangelical interpreted all the gleeful “farewelling” from evangelical leaders as our final kick out the door.
As I talked to the Baptist minister about this, he said, “Seems like you’ve been wanting to leave evangelicalism for a while but can’t quite let go.”
“Exactly,” I said. “When people at progressive conferences dis on evangelicalism, I’m the first to jump in and defend it. I identify myself as evangelical in interviews with the press because I want people to know that evangelicalism is a broad and diverse movement with a common spirit, but not necessarily uniform theological or political beliefs. And I speak up when a few vocal evangelical leaders say hateful things about LGBT people or encourage bullying or condone misogyny because I feel like I have this investment in the community and it’s important for those invested in the community to speak up when its leaders are hurting our witness to the world...But I’m not sure I can do that anymore. I’m not sure I can defend a label when the label has come to mean something in our culture that isn’t worth defending anymore and when it’s been made abundantly clear that I’m not welcome at the table anyway.”
“It seems to me,” he responded, “that for you, evangelicalism is like the ex you broke up with a while ago but still stalk a little bit on Facebook.”
(I’m telling you, the dude is like a prophet.)
“That’s exactly what it is!” I said.
“Maybe it’s time to pull the plug,” he said, “for you own health and happiness.”
“Maybe it is.”
Don’t worry. I’m not starting a cereal blog, nor am I pulling the plug.
But I’m done fighting for a seat at the evangelical table, done trying to force that culture to change.
For many years, I felt that part of my call as a writer and blogger of faith was to be a different sort of evangelical, to advocate for things like gender equality, respect for LGBT people, and acceptance of science and biblical scholarship within my community. But I think that perhaps I became more invested in trying to “fix” evangelicalism (to my standards! oh the hubris!) than in growing Kingdom. And as helpful as I know that work has been for so many of you, I think it’s time to take a slightly different approach.
So rather than wearing out my voice in calling for an end to evangelicalism’s culture wars, I think it’s time to focus on finding and creating church among its many refugees—women called to ministry, our LGBTQ brother and sisters, science-lovers, doubters, dreamers, misfits, abuse survivors, those who refuse to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith or their compassion and their religion, those who have, for whatever reason, been “farewelled.”
Instead of fighting for a seat at the evangelical table, I want to prepare tables in the wilderness, where everyone is welcome and where we can go on discussing (and debating!) the Bible, science, sexuality, gender, racial reconciliation, justice, church, and faith, but without labels, without wars.
I want this little online community to be like Kathy Escobar’s beautiful church in Denver, The Refuge, “where everyone is safe but no one is comfortable.” I want it to be a place where we can tell our stories, confess our sins, discuss Scripture, ask questions, disagree with grace, grieve, heal, create, follow Jesus, and rally together to do justice and love mercy—not just with our words, but with our actions. I want it to be a community that partners with people and organizations serving those on the margins. I want it to be a community led by people like Jeff Chu, Ben Moberg, and Christena Cleveland who exhibited more grace and patience last week than I knew was possible. I want it to feature and celebrate the voices of those speaking prophetically from the margins. I want us to continue to advocate for "the least of these."
I want this community to be a place where the churched and un-churched, Republicans and Democrats, American citizens and people from around the world, can come together to dream big dreams for the future. I want it to be a place where those who tired and worn out from religion can find rest…not more fighting, not more judgment…just rest and peace for weary souls. I want us to be a community where we "learn the unforced rhythms of grace" together.
Of course, each of us will respond to the events of last week differently. Sarah Bessey wrote two beautiful and instructive posts that I hope you will read after this:
I certainly hope we create a community here where everyone - those leaving evangelicalism, those staying, and those just trying to figure it out - is welcome to the table, so long as it is approached with peace.
Finally, you can take the girl out of evangelicalism, but you can never take evangelicalism out of the girl. And that’s fine by me.
I will forever be grateful for all the beautiful gifts evangelicalism gave me—a high esteem for and knowledge of Scripture, a heart for activism, and a deeply personal experience and expression of faith. It was, after all, evangelicals who baptized me, evangelicals who taught me to read and pray and cook. It was evangelicals who first called me a Christian, evangelicals who first told me I was beloved by God. And it was evangelicals (my parents) who let me sob in their arms yesterday, evangelicals who risked their reputations to reach out in peace last week.
Evangelicalism has been and always will be home. I suspect a part of me will always miss it.
But there’s something strangely liberating about standing in the middle of this scorched earth terrain with the resolution to stop fighting, the resolution to give up. I am reminded of the one thing all we Christians have in common, whether we’re Evangelical, Roman Catholic, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Greek Orthodox, Seventh-Day Adventist, Anabaptist, Quaker, or something in between: We are Resurrection people.
Our God is in the business of bringing dead things back to life, so if we want in on God’s business, we better prepare to follow God to all the rock-bottom, scorched-earth, dead-on-arrival corners of this world—including those in our own hearts— because that’s where God works, that’s where God gardens. There’s no ladder to holiness to climb, no self-improvement plan to follow. It’s just death and resurrection, over and over again, day after day, as God reaches down into our deepest graves and with the same power that raised Jesus from the dead wrests us from our pride, our apathy, our fear, our prejudice, our anger, our hurt, and our despair.
Most days I don’t know which is harder for me to believe: that God reanimated the brain functions of a man three days dead, or that God can bring back to life all the beautiful things we have killed. Both seem pretty unlikely to me.
This never-ending winter has felt like one long Easter Saturday.
But Sunday's coming....I can feel it.
So, how do we recover from the mess of last week? What do we do to grieve, to heal, to build bridges, to open up some tables, and to move on? What does it look like to find and create church among the culture war’s refugees?