Finding my way through deconstruction and back to reconstruction was hard. It wasn’t until I found the #Exvangelical community that I began to re-embrace my faith and figure out how to move forward in it.
Before I get into what it means to be part of that and the #EmptyThePews movement, I want to give a rundown of what it’s not.
Being an #Exvangelical does not mean:
– I hate the church
– I hate Evangelicals
– I think all Evangelicals are bad people
– I want nothing to do with Evangelicals
– I believe nothing good comes of Evangelicalism
#EmptyThePews does not mean:
– Get rid of all churches
– Churches are evil
– Christians are evil
– Only bad comes from the church
Now, since that’s out of the way, let’s start at the beginning.
Looking back, I think I’ve been deconstructing since the end of high school. I can trace it to the very moment it began. I found out a very, very good friend of mine was gay, but I didn’t find out from him. It turned out, he had been afraid to tell me because he was worried that due to my beliefs, I would look at him very, very differently. That my love for him and my opinion of him would change.
Everything was a slow trickle between then (2003) until 2013 when my deconstruction hit like a landslide. It was terrifying. I felt like the foundations of everything I believed crumbled out beneath me and I was plummeting to my doom. The questions running through my head literally reduced me to panic attacks, sometimes so bad I would end up on my knees shaking and sobbing.
Fast forward to December of 2016. I had just gone through one of the roughest years of my life. At this point, I had regained my faith in God, my faith in following Him as my guide and leader. But I still couldn’t connect how. I no longer believed much of what I was taught growing up and I couldn’t seem to reconcile how where I was at could fit with God.
I was figuratively stumbling through the darkness. Using a metaphor from something my sister would say, I couldn’t find the girl end and the boy end to connect the extension cord. It couldn’t plug together, and so the two parts of myself remained separate.
I realized I could no longer call myself an Evangelical, because not only did I not agree with the theology behind it, but I no longer believed the ‘fundamental’ truths of it either.
– I’m pro LGBTQ and support marriage equality.
– I’m pro-choice (though that doesn’t mean pro-abortion).
– I do not believe in Biblical inerrancy.
– I do not believe in eternal conscious torment (I believe Annihilationism is the most likely thing to occur, but I also consider myself a hopeful Universalist).
– I don’t believe in Penal Substitutionary Atonement (note, this does not mean I don’t believe Jesus died on the cross).
One of the hardest parts of this journey was not being able to meet with others to ask questions and discuss. It’s not that I believe I’ve grown ‘beyond’ Evangelicalism, but I have grown outside it. In doing so, in attempting to try and talk to others within it and be open, I discovered as much as I wanted to, I could no longer fit with it. I felt segregated from my church community because I knew these ideas and questions wouldn’t sit well. It would create an uncomfortable wall, and I didn’t want to put them through that.
I first found out about the #EmptyThePews movement and the #Exvangelical community when the BadChristian Podcast interviewed Chris Stroop about the community. Chris, for those of you who don’t know, comes from an Evangelical background, is insanely well-spoken, and dedicates himself to providing a community “for those harmed by and alienated from conservative religious communities.”
At first, I was skeptical. Upon my introduction into the Facebook group, I noticed a lot of anti-Church sentiment, so I disappeared into the background. I didn’t look deep enough. Then came the #ChurchToo movement, which introduced me to literally hundreds of people via Twitter who identified as exvangelicals — people who were part of the community, yet also retained their faith. They weren’t anti-church, but rather against the deep, dark underbelly of the evangelical movement.
These were also people who, like me, found they could no longer reconcile their beliefs with the fundamental beliefs of the Evangelical churches they once belonged to.
I began to dig deeper. I stayed out of the Facebook group for a while, but became an active participant in their Twitter community. For me, I was at a point where I had to decide between staying silent or actively speaking out against the literal abuse happening. It was happening to friends, to connections, to acquaintances. While I never personally suffered any major abuse at the hands of my current church, there were abuses I was unaware of from previous ones. Things that I didn’t understand until I looked beneath the surface.
Since diving into this community, my faith has been revolutionized. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Christian, a Jesus-Follower, a Buddhist, Pagan, Atheist, Muslim — wherever your beliefs fall, it’s a solid community filled with support and love.
We’re a group of people ranging from political, social, and other values all across the board. But we all have a few things in common. We’re all recovering from something that dragged us down in the church, and we’re all dedicated to opening people’s eyes to the abuse being buried by the church. (See this Facebook post I made earlier for more on that part).
Some people within the community are anti-church. Others, like me, who still believe in God and Jesus, have a deep love for the church. We have a deep love for Christians, and even for many Evangelicals. There have been positive, profound impacts on us by our Christian communities over our lives.
But, especially in America, there has been an ever-growing trend. Rapidly replacing Evangelicalism is nationalism and religiosity.
Those who lead the ‘church’ are untouchable. The president is untouchable, but only because he is considered ‘one of them’. Victims cause offense, yet the abusers, the rapists, the pedophiles are defended and rallied around.
So, why #Exvangelical and #EmptyThePews? Because the more I grow in my faith, the more I connect with Jesus, the more I believe it’s exactly where he wants me to be. We’re all called to different things. This is mine.