The answers to evangelical questions of identity, orthodoxy and politics have already been given by those on the margins, by those on the outside and those who maintain solidarity with them. It’s an open question whether or not the evangelicals who remain in their churches will listen to the prophets of the past or the present, who have challenged them on questions of theology, biblical interpretation, church relations, race, gender, sexuality, politics and more — and done so while standing on sound theological ground. But all signs indicate that evangelicalism will harden its heart once again.
A prime example of this is Christanity Today’s March 2022 cover story, which aims to make caricatures of those deconstructing because it is “trendy on Instagram” and both vilifies and baits those struggling with the consequences of evangelical politics, church practice and beliefs. It neglects to quote a single prominent public critic of evangelicalism — whether they use contemporary in-vogue terms like exvangelical and deconstruction or not — and again cuts itself off from dialogue. As a Midwesterner and an erstwhile evangelical, I understand the chip-on-one’s shoulder impulse to snub such things out of a sense of pride.
But evangelicalism cannot afford to be so myopic and self-serving any longer. Recently, through the Trump administration, evangelicals wrought long-term damage to the republic and to their own reputation; through their own reticence to change within their local churches, they stifle themselves and those under their care.
Wendell Berry once wrote that “there is an enormous number of people, and I am one of them, whose native religion, for better or worse, is Christianity. We were born to it; we began to learn about it before we became conscious; it is, whatever we think of it, an intimate belonging of our being; it informs our consciousness, our language, and our dreams. We can turn away from it or against it, but that will only bind us tightly to a reduced version of it. A better possibility is that this, our native religion, should survive and renew itself, so that it may become as largely and truly instructive as we need it to be.”
Those words were published in 1994, and little has changed. People who have tried to reform this thing they loved called “evangelicalism” were spurned and evangelicalism has shown that it does not want to be reformed. Yet in the nearly 30 years since Berry wrote those words, it has gotten “easier” to question and to leave our so-called native religion. We have the guiding lights of those who left before us, who asked hard questions of evangelical doctrine and evangelical leaders (and received harder answers) and blazed myriad trails for us to walk.
I do not hold out hope that evangelical elites will make the right choice and begin talking with instead of preaching to (or against, as John Cooper of Skillet recently did by declaring war on deconstruction) those who have left. The church will survive, but evangelical hegemony may not. It must not.
— Blake Chastain, The Post-Evangelical Post, White Evangelicals Must Stop Consulting Themselves, February 17, 2022
Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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