Life After Evangelicalism

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

This is for everyone who stayed home from church yesterday—for every mom of a special needs kid, every survivor of sexual assault, every black or brown body in a predominantly white community, every son or daughter of an immigrant, every defender of the marginalized who just couldn’t bring yourself to stand and sing “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” alongside the people you feel sold you out this week, the Christians who supported Donald Trump. 

Please hear me: 

You are not alone. 

You are not alone in your grief. 

You are not alone in your anger. 

You are not alone in your doubt, frustration, and fear. 

The community that introduced you to Jesus—that baptized you and named you a beloved child of God—has aligned itself with values you don’t recognize, powers that oppress. 

It’s an enormous blow, and it’ll knock the wind right out of you. 

Your disillusionment with the Church may seem like a petty wound to nurse right now, with Latino children getting taunted by their classmates, Muslim communities facing religious persecution, and black families grappling with a world in which white nationalism has been validated and emboldened, but grief is grief. 

And your grief is real and justified.  

The stark reality is that most white Christians, including more than 80 percent of white evangelical Christians, supported Donald Trump for president, despite his evident immorality, bigotry, and disregard for the dignity of women, (not to mention complete lack of qualification or competency). We’re about to witness firsthand what happens when the established Church compromises its moral authority for the promise of power, and it won’t be pretty. I predict millennials in particular will continue to drop out of religious life, and the ethnic divides within American Christianity, which many sought to heal with a quick-fix approach to "racial reconciliation" that bypassed repentance and justice, will only widen. 

There’s an op-ed out every minute urging the bewildered to get out of their bubbles and get to know some Trump supporters, but you don’t need to do that, do you? 

These are the people you worship with each week, the people whose kids hang out with your kids, the people who brought you a chicken casserole when you had surgery, the people you call with good news, the people you’re now wishing you’d spoken with more bluntly, more honestly. 

They aren’t strangers to you, are they? But suddenly, you are a stranger among them.  

And that’s a lonely place to be. 

I know because I’ve been there. I’ve stood in a sanctuary singing songs I didn’t feel like singing, pretending to agree with a political ideology I no longer agreed with, praying to a God I wasn’t sure I believed in anymore. It whittles down your spirit, a little at a time, until one day you realize it’s not you going to church anymore, but some ghost of you, some cardboard cutout you send out to maintain the status quo, to keep up appearances. The sense of isolation is profound, palpable. 

You have some decisions up ahead, the most pressing of which is to stay or to go. 

I'm not going to tell you what to do about that. 

When writing about her troubled marriage, author Glennon Melton wisely avoids telling other women what to do, and instead puts the choice this way: 

“Does a Love Warrior Go? YES. If that’s what her deepest wisdom tells her to do. Does a Love Warrior Stay? YES. If that’s what her deepest wisdom tells her to do. Both roads are hard. And both roads can lead to redemption.” 

The same is true for church. There is no single road to redemption.  And there is certainly not a straight one. As novelist Marilynne Robinson has said, “grace is not so poor a thing that it cannot present itself in any number of ways.” 

Perhaps you will stay and work for reform. Perhaps you will leave to join a new community, another tradition. Perhaps you won’t know for a while. 

But I think we both know something has to change. 

I eventually left evangelicalism when it became clear that the fight was wearing me down, with little promise of change, especially as it concerned my LGBT friends and neighbors. After a few years of wilderness wandering (you should expect that, by the way---look for the manna; look for the water from rock), I found myself in the Episcopal Church, which is no less riddled with conflict and shortcomings than any other Christian tradition, but which introduced me to the sacraments that have managed to sustain my ever-complicated, ever-faltering faith. 

I’m telling you this because I want you to know there is life after evangelicalism. 

Perhaps you’ve been told for as long as you can remember that the rest of the world is dark and evil, and that progressive Christianity is full of faithless, lukewarm liberals. But that’s not true. Not by a long shot. 

You see those churches on TV getting defaced by swastikas and racial slurs? Why do you think they’ve been targeted? 

Because those churches are inclusive and diverse. Because the love inside is so magnetic, so real, so threatening to powers and principalities, even the Devil knows it.

The Church universal is so much bigger than white American evangelicalism, and that’s going to become ever more apparent in the months and years to come. 

The good news is that Jesus is already on the margins. Jesus is already present among the very people and places our president-elect despises as weak. When we stand in solidarity with the despised and the suffering, Jesus stands with us.  We don't have to abandon Jesus to abandon the unholy marriage between Donald Trump and the white American Church. In these troubled times, a prophetic resistance will certainly emerge, made up of clergy, activists, artists, humorists, liturgists, parents, teachers, and volunteers committed to partnering with and defending "the least of these." I found my faith again in the margins—through the Gay Christian Network, for example, and among fellow doubters and dreamers who limp from their wrestling with God—and I’ll be amplifying and supporting these efforts even more as they face potential new threats under this administration. I hope you will join us. 

But you should know that as you take those first shaky steps toward something new, grief will stalk along, catching you by surprise. 

Losing your first faith is like losing a dear family member or friend, and as with any other death, you sense its absence most profoundly in those everyday moments when it used to be present—in a beloved hymn, in a Bible verse or prayer, in a strained relationship that used to be so easy. 

Certainly many are suffering right now, and your crisis of faith may pale in comparison. There are a lot of other things I want to write about and advocate for now, but I wanted to say this first: 

You are not alone. 

There is life after this. There is faith after this. 

Hold on. 

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