This week I read three articles which sparked a tangle of thoughts about both my faith and my relationship to the wider Christian culture. Though I do fit a standard definition of “evangelical” (at least by the National Association of Evangelicals definition), I never feel comfortable using the word to describe myself. My hesitance to use the term comes from the fact that I did not hear the word growing up and once I was truly aware of “evangelical culture” I not really interested in engaging it (more about that later). In this series of posts I want to unpack some of my own beliefs and how they intersect with the larger Christian culture, and since Evangelical culture is the largest subset of Christians in America [with the most power] I will focus on how I relate to that subset in particular. I also want to explain why I tend to call out more conservative Christian culture rather than more progressive Christians. In short, I intend this series to be a reflection on where I see myself within the American church and what are the joys and difficulties I face in relating to Christian culture.
I said I read three articles the first was about the Christian rapper Phanatik renouncing faith (or as it is popularly known “deconstructing”) [here]. The second was a Christian Post article about Lecrae (yeah I’m surprised they did a positive story on Lecrae too) who has actually and properly deconstructed his faith [here]. And the third was Relevant’s article on Vanity Fair’s interview with Jerry Falwell Jr where he said his is “not religious” (who saw that coming? ) ]here]. I am thankful for Jerry Falwell acknowledging what I and so many others have been saying for years, that he was using a cover of Christianity to make money. But Falwell’s admission is not the first and will not be the last to strike a power-broker in the evangelical world. Likewise, Phanatik’s deconstruction is just one of a number of high profile people to question the faith over the last few years. But as I reflect on Lecrae’s story I see hope that it is possible to question faith and come out stronger. I encountered each of these stories against the backdrop of Strange Rites: New Religions for a Godless World by Tara Isabella Burton, who has wonderful statistics about religion in the U.S.. She points out that 60% of “none’s” left their faith because of religious questions and 49% because of the way churches have engaged social issues (obviously this is overlap indicating individuals were allowed multiple responses).
My brain wove all of this into the conclusion that there are numerous people who are represented by Phanatik, who questioned faith without finding satisfactory answers. Further, that group within American Christianity that seems, in many ways, most poised to be the main representative of the faith in America (Evangelicalism) is plagued by scandal due to an inability to separate the teachings of Jesus from modern political rhetoric. All of this wraps into my head making me reflect on how I will continue to faithfully live out what I believe as a Christian in America. And I recognize that if I am asking these questions any number of people around me are also asking these questions, and what is worse is that the numbers seem to indicate [and my person experience confirms] people do not feel the church is a safe space to ask these questions or pursue answers. Why would people feel this way about the church I have thought of three potential answers.
- The church lacks the desire to answer people’s questions
- The church lacks the empathy necessary to listen to people and truly interact with their thoughts and feelings
- The church truly lacks answers to the questions being asked
I recognize that some of my more conservative readers will respond, “You forgot that sin plays a role and that as this country becomes more secular people don’t want to hear the truth.” On some level there may be truth in that statement, but the premise is egotistical and reactionary. Behind the statement is a mindset that “I am more enlightened” [because unlike this person I have found the truth] or “I cannot fight the secularizing forces because they are too seductive” [I cannot fight this battle]. Each of these mindsets represents one of the first two of my possible critiques (a lack of empathy or desire).
But I want to be a person who listens to honest questions and provides a place for questioning and growth. If 60% of those walking away from Christianity feel they have profound questions which are not being answered then I want to ask if I can provide a place for people to ask questions and find answers [even if I cannot provide those answers]. If 50% feel the church is somehow lacking on relating to the world in a positive way, maybe I can hear that and help re-imagine how Christians express themselves. And if all of this happens against a backdrop of scandals maybe I should reconsider how I relate to the church in America, how I judge it, how I defend it. I think the first thing I can do to help establish myself in this conversation is to lay out the issues I have with Christianity and how I am currently navigating them. This is what I consider a proper “deconstruction” of faith, and so I will pursue that in my next post.