Post-Evangelical Life

Back in December, I wrote here and at Patheos about how I was having a hard time attending my evangelical church after the election. That piece struck a nerve. To date it has almost 7,500 Facebook shares, making it the most read post that I have ever written, by far. This tells me that lots of other people are feeling the same way and struggling with the same things that I was in the wake of November 8th.

I wanted to tell the rest of the story – what happened after we left that evangelical church and started going to a “mainline” one. It’s not the story of theologically weak/watered down preaching that I thought it would be. For my fellow dissatisfied evangelicals who aren’t sure about leaving: there is light at the end of the tunnel.

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image via Pixabay.com
My family is now attending a Presbyterian church (USA) about five minutes from our house. I had always thought of the PCUSAs as the “liberal” Presbyterians, and they are, in a sense. This is the first mainline church that I have personally ever attended, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was probably not alone in having a mental picture of mainline churches as being kind of like this: wishy-washy, unfamiliar, lukewarm.

But…surprise: that’s not what I found at all. Our new church feels surprisingly similar to the traditional Baptist church of my early childhood: pews, hymnals, a full choir. All the children coming to the front for a children’s message.

There are some welcome differences, however – the associate pastor, music minister and youth minister are all women, in addition to other roles that are traditionally filled by women in evangelical churches, such as the children’s minister.

The church is unapologetically formal – hymns only, from an actual hymnal, no projection screen. A pipe organ. People up on stage wearing robes. This formality has taken a little getting used to, as I have attended contemporary churches since I was eight years old. It’s growing on me. I appreciate that they don’t try to thread the needle between traditional and contemporary, as many churches do, with the awful “praise team” approach that no one ends up actually liking. While I miss singing my favorite praise choruses I’m gaining an appreciation for the deep theology in the lyrics to the old hymns.

The main thing I was worried about was that a mainline church wouldn’t actually preach the Bible. I have found this not to be true at all. The sermons are very similar to the sermons at the evangelical churches I have attended all my life.

What makes our church special is that even though my family is new, and the church is large, the pastoral staff went out of their way to make us feel welcome immediately. I mean, really: Jonah and I went to one service in early December and talked to staff members briefly on the way out the door. The following week, I got a card in the mail from the pastor, Jonah got a postcard from the children’s minister, and the pastor added me as a friend on Facebook and Instagram. On our next visit, staff members somehow remembered my name, and Jonah’s name. That’s the way it’s done, folks. I have never felt as welcome anywhere.

By way of comparison, at the last church we were visiting, the pastoral staff and their families had a special section to sit in during the service. (Maybe it’s not nice to link and put them on blast – but I think they should know how they came across, amirite?) Unless someone outside of the section went up to them, I never saw them interact with anyone besides other staff members. No staff member other than the children’s minister ever even looked at me, let alone spoke to me. Not once, over the course of three months.

Regular readers will recall that I was looking for a church that wasn’t filled with Trump voters and that would speak against him. The first Sunday we visited our new church happened to be the first Sunday of advent. The pastor spoke about the difference between happiness and joy, and mentioned that attendees might not be feeling very happy this Christmas season. Though he wasn’t explicit, I took this to be a tacit reference to the election. I’ll never forget it. I knew I was home.

Everything has not been perfect on this point. This previous Sunday I just felt sure that the pastor would mention the Muslim/refugee ban from the pulpit. When he didn’t, I was pretty disappointed. There was talk about divisions in the country and reaching out and spending time with someone whose life is radically different than yours, and a prayer for justice and against oppression, but nothing explicit.

But here’s what’s different from the past: even though I’m not a member and haven’t been there long, I felt comfortable enough to message the pastor and ask him about it. So I did. He was very thoughtful and transparent in a way that I am not used to ministers being, saying that he is attempting to minister to a diverse group of people, and while most members feel like he and I do, not everyone does. I’m going to quote him directly, as I appreciated his thoughtful response, and because this is anonymous:

“I probably missed an opportunity yesterday and I’ve struggled with that. I’m still processing the faithful response, in our community, to these days of chaos and outright hatred. I won’t always get it right, so I’m grateful for the gifts of grace and of community. I need voices like yours to speak your truth in love and challenge me to deeper faithfulness.”

I’ll take it. If things go the way they may with human rights abuses and outright evil from the Trump administration, however, I’m going to need a stronger response. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

How are you feeling about church these days?

(By the way, if any Atlantans are looking for a new church, please feel free to contact me, as I would love to share my church’s name so you can visit!)

P.S.: Please check out Dee’s comment below. She provides some excellent context about the obstacles facing pastors talking politics in a PCUSA church.

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Dear Trump Enablers: This Is Your Fault

Dear Mike Pence, Congressional Republicans, Trump Aides, Evangelical Christian Leaders, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner,

I am writing to tell you that you are all spineless fools.

All of this is your fault.

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image via Pixabay.com

I am angry at you most of all because I don’t believe any of you are true believers.

You know better. You are smart. You are educated. You are well-read. Many of you claim to be people of great moral character. You are not suspected of having a personality disorder. Most of the time, you demonstrate that you know the difference between a fact and a falsehood. Several of you are such “devout Christians”  and supporters of “family values.” You allowed this to happen anyway.

You allowed Donald Trump, a man manifestly unfit for the presidency in terms of intellect, temperament, education and character, to become the leader of the free world. You knew he was unfit, but you supported him publicly. You encouraged others to vote for him.

While you publicly denounced each racist, vulgar statement, you still fell in line behind him. Even though you knew what was true, you refused to dispute his outright lies during the campaign, and you’re not disputing them now.

You have supported the orange goon, and are continuing to back him, out of absolutely shameless self-interest. You make me sick.

You’re continuing to fall in line because you’re enthralled with the power he has given to you.

You’re backing Trump’s signature proposals (even ones you had previously denounced) — the wall, the Muslim ban, the refugee ban, the deportation force. They are no longer just talk – they have been put in motion this week with your support.

You’re twisting Scripture to support his most egregious policies.

You’re even backing Trump about stupid things that everyone knows are lies, like his inauguration crowd. You’re letting Steve Bannon run things, for crying out loud. And you appear to be fine with it.

What happens next will be on you.

You enablers will not be the ones who suffer for this. No, that will be refugees, poor people, sick people, immigrants and the environment.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Donald Trump is a terrible person and absolutely one of the worst things that could happen to America. But I truly believe that he has a personality disorder, some type of dementia, or both. I think he is unwell.

But, enablers – you are not. Mentally you appear to be doing just fine, though I hope you are having trouble sleeping at night. You deserve it.

Rest assured, I will not forget, and I suspect many others won’t either.

Ivanka, I won’t buy your clothes or read your book. I won’t look at pictures or watch videos of your family. You, your husband and your dad use the kids as props, anyway.

Evangelical leaders, I am no longer going to an evangelical church partly because of my disgust with you.

Congressional Republicans, I promise to work every day between now and 2018/2020 to get your opponents elected.

I will resist the Trump regime every day of the next four years.

Last thing: History will not judge you kindly. Remember that.

Sincerely,

Holly Love

(Left-of-center, white, middle-class Christian public school teacher from Georgia who is mad as hell)