Why I am No Longer an Evangelical
I know. I hestiated for several days before writing this. Because really, who cares? What can I hope to accomplish with such a disavowal? There’s no membership card to tear up, no one checking a register. I’ve never even been polled about my religious affiliation (unless Facebook profiles count).
And this has to be the ten-thousandth “I’m leaving the evangelical church” post written by some millenial, which ten people will like and maybe a few people will make snarky comments on, and then the world will move on, exactly the same as before. I mean, I don’t even have to change churches I attend or anything. So what can I mean by writing this?
It may not matter to anyone else. But this is why it matters to me.
I grew up in the evangelical church. Despite knowing I was gay by the time I was in high school, I’ve tried to stay put, aside from a few brief flirtations with the Catholic Church and the Episcopals. (You get me, Book of Common Prayer.) One of the reasons for staying I’ve stated again and again is, if all the people who want change leave, what will happen? How will the evangelical church grow in the ways I think it must if we just divide?
And let’s be honest, it has not been easy staying put. I worked for 13 years at a Baptist church, have attended an evangelical seminary, and in the middle of all that navigated my way with fear and trembling to an affirming theological view on same-sex relationships. I did resign from my church at that point, but I held firm to an evangelical identity, although being gay and evangelical is not a really fun party to attend (on either side of that divide).
Why? Because, to me, “evangelical” meant identifying oneself as commited to the “evangel”, the good news. And while my understanding of that good news deepened over the years, from a simple “belive in Jesus and go to heaven” to “Jesus opens the kingdom of God to all people”, central to this identity has always been the person of Jesus. Following Jesus is crucial to me, because I have found in him an unending source of challenge, hope, inspiriation and restoration. The vision of Jesus is unparalleled, as far as I have experienced, and to this day I want more and more to live in his way.
But this, sadly, is not what evangelical has come to mean. When four out of five white evangelicals voted for Trump this past Tuesday, I realized that I do not recognize this group that I have been a part of for so long.
The way of Jesus makes forgiveness and the blessing of enemies central. Donald Trump has boasted of retaliating against enemies and blatantly refused to ask forgiveness. The way of Jesus mandates serving the marginalized, alienated and despised. Trump has repeatedly declared his opposition to immigrants, Muslims, boated of molesting women, and spoken offensively about people of color. The way of Jesus declares we must be humble, not boastful, and serve others rather than ourselves. Trump could not be more obviously opposed to this ethic.
Now, do I expect Trump to behave differently? Of course not. Donald Trump has never claimed to be a disciple of Jesus.
But evangelicals do.
What I now realize is that to use the word “evangelical” with my neighbors who are minorities and marginalized — whether by race, gender, sexual orientation or identity, or legal status — will communicate, not good news, but very bad news. “Evangelical” now primarily refers to a voting block of people who have aligned themselves with a leader who, from all appearances, wants these people gone.
Again, do I expect a presidential candidate to be a shining example of a Jesus-follower? Not really. But do I expect those who identify with Jesus to think carefully about how their Lord and Savior would relate to the people Trump disparages? Absolutely. Do I expect followers of Jesus to protest and make clear their disapproval of anyone who encourages racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia? You better believe it.
Of course “evangelical” is a broad term, and there are many evangelicals who didn’t vote for Trump and who oppose the things he stands for. And many, like I did for so long, will want to stay to work for change from within the movement. But for me, the costs of identifyign with evangelicalism are greater than I’m willing to pay. Because, as I see it, the cost is my ability to represent Jesus faithfully to the marginalized of our culture.
So, for any person who finds themselves afraid now, a target of hatred or vulnerable to legislation against them, for the marginalized and the queer and the unwanted, I am stepping away from evangelicalism. I need to be clear, for myself and others, that this movement is in need of serious prophetic critique and does not well represent its Lord.
I suspect that, in the years to come, Christians are going to need to take some pages out of Bonhoeffer’s book and find an alternative voice and to make Jesus’ way and call clear once again. But insofar as evangelicalism parts from Jesus in pursuit of political control and power, I for my part have to remain with Jesus — and Jesus, my friends, is over with the outsiders and the marginalized.