This is the second post in an ongoing series about faith identities. The first post can be found here.
Today’s post is written by Rachael. She’s my partner and spouse, and we’ve been muddling through this whole faith thing together for over ten years.
This is not a deconversion story. It does not end with me renouncing my faith. It is not a story of loss, or hate, or a fall from grace.
This is a redemption story, although it’s not a very original one. It tells of how I was rescued from my ignorance and misguided intentions by the kindness and patience of friends and strangers. It is a story of fundamentalism overcome by knowledge, of authoritarianism overcome by freedom, and prejudice overcome by love.
This is not a deconversion story, but it may be a difficult read for some. We often speak of politics and faith as topics unfit for polite company, because the truth is these are painful subjects, closely tied to personal identity and cultural membership, and while I’m liable to explore these things in my fiction, I generally avoid getting into them when I blog.
But the fact is this: while I was raised as a conservative evangelical Christian, for many years now this particular branch of Christianity no longer characterizes my faith.
“Conservative evangelical Christian” is a lot of identity markers strung together, and not very self-explanatory for those with no interest in the American Protestant denomination wars. So let’s break it down a bit.
When I say “Christian”, I mean anyone who affirms the Nicene Creed of AD 325. This isn’t the only way to define such a huge, heterogeneous religious group–it’s not even the only famous creed–but it’s very old and historical, widely used and respected, and thus as decent a starting point as any.
By “evangelical”, I mean any Christian person who additionally uses the Bebbington Quadrilateral as part of their belief system. The four beliefs that typify an evangelical Christian, to quote Wikipedia, are:
- biblicism, a particular regard for the Bible (e.g. all essential spiritual truth is to be found in its pages)
- crucicentrism, a focus on the atoning work of Christ on the cross
- conversionism, the belief that human beings need to be converted
- activism, the belief that the gospel needs to be expressed in effort
By “conservative” I mean characterized by the American Conservative political movement. This includes various political markers such as opposition to legal abortion, opposition to same-sex rights and marriage equality, anti-intellectualism (often characterized by denial of evolution and climate change, and general distrust of science and higher education), and aggressive nationalism. (I’ll note once again, politically and religiously conservative people are a heterogeneous group, and may not share all these beliefs and values.)
I no longer identify with the label “conservative” or “evangelical”, although I still affirm the Nicene Creed and identify as a Christian. It’s taken many years of thought, consideration, and challenges to my faith to come to that conclusion, and I’m extremely happy to leave these things behind me.
There are many reasons why I’ve left these things behind, but like I said, my story isn’t very original, especially not for my generation. Many of us raised in the American conservative evangelical subculture walked away by the very act of growing up, even while we walked into new ways to engage with our faith. We got older, saw the world, and realized so many of the things we’d been taught to fear and hate weren’t so scary after all. Some of us got tired of the political and capitalist agenda that tried to make us spackle over our full range of human emotions with a plastic Jesus-cheerleader smile. Some of us got tired of injustice, and the way our churches perpetuated this injustice. Some of us were saved by listening to other people’s stories, and the humanizing effect of empathy. Some of us fell in love, and could not go back into hiding. We learned about proof-texting, and that not all branches of Christianity used it, and that it has its roots in the American pro-slavery movement of the 1800’s. That contrary to so-called belief in Biblical “literalism”, conservative evangelicals changed the words of their Bibles to better support American Conservative politics.
Mostly it was friendship that saved us. More than anything else, this is what saved our faith from the discouragement and hurt that followed all those revelations. The LGBTQ folks reached out to us. So did the atheists, agnostics, Jews, Hindus, and Muslims. They genuinely loved us. They stuck with us even when we floundered through our Bebbington Quadrilateral, tried to use our friendships to make those awkward Sales Pitches for Jesus. They were there for us. They loved us better than we loved ourselves (and we were so, so hard on ourselves, recording our sins in little notebooks from the time we could write, pairing up to confess them to each other, inventing new faults when we could detect no others, because we always had to dwell on the horrors of Jesus’s tortured body and count the ways of our own complicity).
So this is a redemption story. It tells of how I was saved from the fear of hell. How I stopped believing I had to market my faith to everyone, or else be responsible for their damnation. That healing is in and of itself the work of God. That racism and sexism are much nastier sins of pride, and more rewarding to weed from myself than all the little things I used to punish myself for. That justice is what love looks like in public.
I learned to listen. I am learning to listen. Let’s talk.