Progressive & Ex-Evangelicals, It’s Time to Cut the Umbilical Cord
“Ex-evangelicals,” “post-evangelicals,” “progressive evangelicals” — all have either stepped to the left of, or just beyond, the evangelical dividing line (which, to be clear, is LGBTQ+ marriage and ordination). But not all have cut their ties with oppressive organizations. You know, because of money, branding, and influence — the usual toxic blend of rationale.
It’s time to cut the umbilical cord.
I grew up evangelical and was nurtured in that faith. But after I was publicly outted as gay, I was fired. (I now co-pastor Blue Ocean Faith Church with Ken Wilson — a2blue.org — and we co-wrote Solus Jesus: A Theology of Resistance.) In fact, I was the first gay pastor fired from a good-sized evangelical denomination. I know and understand the priviledge lost when you’re shown the door and locked out. Yet some straight progressives, or self-proclaimed “ex-evangelicals,” continue taking money from that stream even while critiquing it. They can’t seem to let go of the advantages they receive as straight people in order to display the utter lack of space for intersectional justice in evangelicalism.
And that’s what I think this era calls for: a mass exodus of progressives from those spaces in order to show that the evangelical container can not hold, understand, or enact real justice.
Now, I can understand the need for way-stations — for conferences and books and groups that help evangelicals looking for tools to make their way out of a toxic system. Those are needed and important. If every leader completely shut down conversation with evangelicals, a lot of vulnerable people would have a harder time healing and finding lifelines. To be clear: most of that is ally work, with a spattering — and I mean a very small spattering — of oppressed people specifically called and peculiarly gifted for that task.
But those doing so should vow to do it without the money or influence and branding of evangelical institutions. That means not publishing with publishing branches that refuse to hire LGBTQ+ people (or deny same-sex partner medical benefits); that means not allowing companies and nonprofits who refuse to hire LGBTQ+ to sponsor your “progressive” conferences; that means not allowing conservative leaders to serve on the boards of “justice” organizations; that means using Sojourners magazine to line your cat litter box.
Because Sojourners is among the worst. This is an old fight, but still resonant for many of us on the queer end. In 2011, Sojourners refused to allow Believe Out Loud, a Christian organization that fights for LGBTQ+ inclusion in the church, to advertise with them. And, at the time, they released an incredibly patronizing statement regarding their decision. The same old tropes: there’s disagreement among staff, we should “welcome” everyone (see this article by my colleague Ken Wilson for more on the “false welcome” of these spaces), the unity of church is as stake, we have bigger fish to fry … like war and poverty. For a more recent piece of wishy-washy dribble regarding the place of LGBTQ+ people in the church, see this statement.
Sojourners gives the evangelical Christian world the illusion that they can be both evangelical and justice-oriented. That they can be progressive while denying queer people the right to full human dignity. The thing is, especially post-Trump presidency, evangelicalism has shown that it can not hold intersectional justice. There is no room for it. Evangelicalism is far too steeped in racism, xenophobia, patriarchy, and homophobia for it to make meaningful progress on justice for any of it. And, as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
What better way to prophetically show the utter inadequacies and toxicities of evangelicalism than to jump ship?
So cut the cord that nourished you. You’ll feel like a newborn baby, in all of the best and most vulnerable ways. You might lose readers. You might miss out on a big book deal. You might have to sacrifice the legitimacy you gain by being published by the likes of Zondervan, InterVarsity Press, or Thomas Nelson. You might have to forgo conference sponsorship money and downsize (or cancel) your event. You might have to reimagine how to network and connect. You might have to suffer more than you already do. But come, I bid you hang out with those of us who can not publish with big Christian publishing houses; who flinch when they see conservative companies sponsoring conferences (they won’t hire me, but they’re willing to take my money … like every conservative church, ever); who avoid reading lukewarm rags like Sojourners; and who are forging new streams. Take your other foot out of the boat and walk on water with us. This is where miracles abound.