When I left my life in Nebraska behind me, I left my life as an Evangelical Christian behind me. I’ve written about it a lot and I’ve tried to be kind in doing so. Today it is on my mind again after reading an article by Frank Schaeffer, the son of a former Evangelical hero of mine, Francis Schaeffer. You can read it here if you so desire. http://www.redletterchristians.org/open-letter-evangelical-establishment/
My journey into the faith of an Evangelical was one of discovering a love from God that I had never known before. It was one of discovering a people who were simple in their faith and who supported reading the Bible for one’s own self. I literally found a place where I felt at home. Over the years I attempted to “grow in Christ” as the dear people around me encouraged me to do. I attended Bible Studies, participated in Christian events of many kinds and even planned to make a career out of it. I really, truly believed that I had found the best possible way to live my life. I met my fantastic husband there and we set out to make our way in the faith together intending to go to somewhere overseas as missionaries.
Evangelical in its simplest terms means that one must choose to accept Jesus Christ as the one and only Son of God and the one and only way of salvation (from an eternal hell). One does this accepting by praying a prayer asking Christ to come into his/her heart. Once that prayer is prayed, eternity in heaven is obtained. You become one of those “in” the faith and everyone else who hasn’t prayed a similar prayer is one of those “out” of it. Simple, right? Well, not so much.
As time went on I began to discover that this Evangelical faith included varied forms, doctrinal beliefs, and multiple ways of expression. The one constant in all of my Evangelical experiences however, was this: CONFLICT. Constant conflict and continual in-fighting as person after person studied the Bible, interpreted it and created a church around it. Throughout all of my Evangelical life from 1977-2005, someone in whatever church I was going to was arguing about something with the goal to do the exact right thing for that particular church. Inevitably as soon as one decision was made, a group would pick themselves up and leave because they disagreed. New churches were started over and over and over. It was exhausting.
What led me out of the faith in the end though was not the conflict. I had somehow learned to endure that. The final straw was the church’s insistence upon rejecting good science, specifically the science of psychology. My daughter began to struggle with biologically based severe clinical depression as puberty started. In our carefully crafted Evangelical world everything had to have a spiritual root and her depression was no exception. Many people were kind and understanding but so very many were quick to judge her as a sinner in need of repentance, a spoiled child, and most disappointing of all as someone inhabited by a demon. We found no solace until a brilliant psychiatrist diagnosed her accurately and with great compassion. It was the end of our Evangelical journey and one I’m still coming to terms with because I still find my own faith in Christ real and personal and I have yet to find a way to express it in a way that Americans, especially those in the Midwest, understand. I’m very thankful that my Spiritual journey is no where near over.
“And that’s all I have to say about that.” Forrest Gump