…And What Does That Mean for Those of Us Who Rage Against it?
Let’s be real.
The American Evangelical church — as we know it — is on the verge of extinction.
Okay…maybe some remnants will hang around. But for the most part? I don’t think so.
I’ve still got LOTS of deconstructing and healing to do from my time in conservative Evangelical circles, and maybe that’s why I’ve always wanted to write on the subject. That, and speaking my mind about that world feels super freeing.
I’m not the most theologically knowledgeable person, and this is despite having a dad with a Masters in Divinity, and having been raised in schools that taught theology and apologetics as school subjects. The details went in one ear and out the other.
I’ve written and given testimonies (an accounting of personal conversion and spiritual journey), and I can rattle off the most commonly used Bible verses and flip to any verse within seconds. I’ve been on international mission trips and attended mission conferences and taught in a Classical Christian School.
Despite this lack of historical and hermeneutical knowledge of my faith, I get these people. I don’t know how else to say it.
I’ve noticed a movement of #exvangelicals publicly deconstructing. Women who have found liberation from purity culture are arming themselves against the obviously sexist and repressive ideas of sexuality that they grew up with. They’re reaching out their hands to women and girls like me who often feel lost in their own bodies. There are former sequestered homeschoolers mourning the loss of opportunities and missed knowledge, many times having trailed behind their peers.
I find these stories both heartbreaking and cathartic. When I first felt that inkling to write about my experiences in closed-off missionary and church communities, I wondered why I hadn’t yet seen communities like these popping up.
But, they have. I just hadn’t seen them.
The American Evangelical church is dying, and not just because some people are wisening up and leaving.
They’re dying because they’re wrong.
They’re on the wrong side of history.
The American Evangelical church is an antiquated fad.
When I was in college (2006–2010), my now-husband followed a blog called The Internet Monk religiously. Michael Spencer was a pastor and a member of the Southern Baptist Church, but he was also known for making a splash. In fact, he was featured in Time Magazine for his blogging on Joel Osteen in 2006 and was cited in places like CNN and Christianity Today. He died in 2010 of cancer.
I recently read an article entitled “The Heart of the Evangelical Crisis” in Christianity Today, written by its former editor, Mark Galli, in which he cites Michael Spencer’s prediction for Evangelicalism. (Galli, by the way, believes that “contemporary evangelicalism is in serious trouble.”)
Check out what Spencer had to say in early 2009:
I believe that we are on the verge- within 10 years- of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity; a collapse that will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and that will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West. I believe this evangelical collapse will happen with astonishing statistical speed; that within two generations of where we are now evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its current occupants, leaving in its wake nothing that can revitalize evangelicals to their former “glory.”
The party is almost over for Evangelicals…
When I reread this article a couple days ago, I was feeling angry. I came to it feeling this intense anger for what the literal-Bible thumping church had done to me, for the ideas it gave me about myself, about others who didn’t believe the same as me.
More personally, I was grieving what its ideas had done to my family. Without going into much detail, I’m currently wading through personal drama, drama which I see as exacerbated by much of the conservative Evangelical ideals that my immediate family adheres too.
Michael Spencer points to a wave of people leaving the church as it falls behind the times. Just check out this passage:
The response of evangelicals to this new environment will be a revisiting of the same rhetoric and reactions we’ve seen since the beginnings of the current culture war in the 1980s. The difference will be that millions of evangelicals will quit: quit their churches, quit their adherence to evangelical distinctives and quit resisting the rising tide of the culture.
Many who will leave evangelicalism will leave for no religious affiliation at all. Others will leave for an atheistic or agnostic secularism, with a strong personal rejection of Christian belief and Christian influence. Many of our children and grandchildren are going to abandon ship, and many will do so saying “good riddance.”
When I read this passage, which mentions the wave of people leaving the church, particularly our children and grandchildren, I thought again of the people I’m witnessing who are speaking out, writing books, like Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free by Linda Kay Klein. And Shameless: A Case for Not Feeling Bad About Feeling Good (About Sex) by Nadia Bolz-Weber, and the statistics regarding U.S. Support for Gay Marriage, which indicate a growing acceptance and support for LGBTQ+ rights.
In the ‘80s, American Evangelicals joined the culture wars, which was, according to Spencer, one of its biggest mistakes.
They are not only going to suffer in losing causes, they will be blamed as the primary movers of those causes. Evangelicals will become synonymous with those who oppose the direction of the culture in the next several decades. That opposition will be increasingly viewed as a threat, and there will be increasing pressure to consider evangelicals bad for America, bad for education, bad for children and bad for society.
Can I just say, Spencer, you’ve read my mind?!
Spencer also points to mega-churches which are consumer driven.
Let’s call American Evangelicalism the LuLaRoe of religion.
Here where I live, in North Carolina, there’s a megachurch called The Summit Church, whose pastor J.D. Greer currently sits as president of the Southern Baptist Convention. His church currently has 11 campuses, with thousands of weekly attenders, including many people I know.
What will become of The Summit Church and churches like it? Churches which have grown to extraordinary numbers with fast-growing enthusiasm, based around the face of one man?
I call fad on that B.S.
So, let’s raise our anti and ex-Evangelical voices. Let’s speak out about evangelicalism’s antiquated sexist ideas and its race problem. Let’s point out the idiocies of its treatment of science, its Noah’s Ark, its Hell, its fear and rejection of those outside its belief system.
However, let’s also remember, when we talk about it, that American Evangelicalism has already heard its death knell. Their voices are loud but increasingly few.
How can those of us who rage with the remnants of Evangelical hurt balance calling out injustice and moving into a new, post-Evangelical place?
There are many people, like progressive Christian writer Brian McLaren, who know much more theology than I and are exploring what it means to be a Christian in a post-Evangelical world. He says in his book Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World,
I have no doubt that Jesus would actually practice the neighborliness he preached rather than following our example of religious supremacy, hostility, fear, isolation, misinformation, exclusion, or demonization.
His ideas don’t help someone, however, who won’t touch Christianity, whether they have in the past or not.
My real suggestion, given what I’ve experienced and what I’ve witnessed, is — to use the Christianized phrase — to anchor in hope.
When you speak against fundamentalist, Evangelical Christianity, know that you’re speaking of something which is quickly being erased.
It changes the tone, doesn’t it?
It shifts the eyes forward.