I called a Pastor an asshole last year. I said it quietly, and only my husband heard me, but it still happened. I lost my temper and said that word, about a pastor, in a church…at a Christmas service.
In my defense, he was a horrible human being.
He spent the first part of his sermon warming up the crowd by making mocking a man who said “Happy Holidays” to him instead of “Merry Christmas.” The crowd roared with laughter when he made fun of this man, calling him a broke loser who works in a grocery store. They laughed even harder when the Pastor fantasized about punching the guy in the face for being godless. Then, he went on to make fun of some silly liberals who rewrote the lyrics of a popular “Christmas” song about a guy who pressures a girl into having sex with him. The silly liberals rewrote the lyrics to end instead with the young man honoring her wish to go home unmolested. I listened to the church member behind me huff and puff about how disgusting and ridiculous liberals are, and I stared at my fellow Christians in horror as they responded like delighted robots to the hate dripping from every word of the pastor’s mouth. The pastor eventually went on to preach some kind of sermon about the wise men and comets, and then invited the members of the audience to the altar to “give their lives to Christ.” The worship band began to play, their eyes screwed shut, their faces titled upward. I noticed that the lead guitarist’s mint green sweater matched his mint green guitar. The audience raised their hands in the air. I watched a group of teenagers walk to the front with tears in my eyes, my hands shaking with anger.
There but for the grace of God go I, I thought.
I began my journey into deconstruction in an attempt to understand if it is possible to be a Christian without believing that I’m a second-class citizen in the kingdom of God because I’m female, and if it’s possible to be loved by God without following a rigid code of rules and regulations. I hated the church, but I loved Jesus. Every ex-evangelical who has walked this path beside me knows how terrifying it is to try to remove yourself from the brainwashing of fundamentalism. It is a long, slow, and uneasy process. My intense emotional reaction to this church was also a reminder that it can also full of terrible pain and rage as well.
My spirituality is a constantly evolving thing. In the meantime, this is what I’ve come up with, as far as a tentative statement of faith and identity goes:
- I consider myself a Christian for cultural as well as spiritual reasons. My entire conceptual framework for life – my worldview – is shaped by the Christian faith. I never fit in with the altar call kids…but I always still liked Jesus. The deconstruction of my faith and worldview has been more of a process of sinking slowly into mystery rather than full and immediate immersion. If we’re going with labels though, here are a few I would identify with: ex-Evangelical, occasional Episcopalian, red(ish) letter Christian, and heretic.
- My conversion story is a typically boring one for the child of Baptist missionaries. I was “born-again” about four years after my actual birth. I don’t remember the experience, but my mom tells me that I was less naughty afterwards. I’ve been backsliding ever since.
- I don’t know how to pray. I never have. I talk to God, but I’m pretty sure that I must pick the wrong moments, because God doesn’t talk back. This doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in prayer, or that no one up there is paying attention to me; it just means that prayer for me is a very solitary experience. Even so, I still say “please” on a regular basis. I still say “thank you.” I daydream about the Lord’s Prayer.
- I grew up with the Bible, but I still find that I have moments that astonish me, and make me feel as if I have never read it before. For example, I came across a book recently called Wearing God, by Lauren Winner. In this book, Winner writes about all the different ways that God is described in the Bible. God is a lactating mother. God is a pregnant rock (I still haven’t found that part—but she claims it’s in there). God is a strange man who wanders around gardens talking to himself. Alright– she doesn’t say that, but it’s really hard not to notice that God comes across as a bit unbalanced if you read Genesis. Winner points out in her book that when you limit yourself to God the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, and the Good Shepherd, you limit your understanding of who and what God is. God is like dew. God is a mother hen. We can wear God. We can sing in the shadow of God’s wings.
- I don’t believe in hell. It terrifies me as a good (ex) evangelical to even say that. But you know…I just don’t. I was raised with the idea of a loving God who sends people to hell if they reject Him. I hated that idea, and so I created a theory that yes—there is hell—but God doesn’t send us there; if we go, we chose it for ourselves (think—The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis). I also decided that if people had never heard of Jesus than they wouldn’t go to hell because that wouldn’t be fair. Same with little kids. Little kids can’t go to hell. I really tried to figure out a way of staying within the boundaries of what I understood as the Christian position on hell, as I was a bit nervous about ending up there myself (which I might if I decided I didn’t believe in it—because that’s how it works you know). Many people are all for the sort of God of sends people to hell, and can’t stand the thought of people getting away with their crimes. If there is no justice in life, surely there must be justice in death, right? How can the man who killed my loved one NOT go to hell? How can the genocidal politician escape it? How can I not go? I know the darkness in my own heart. I am not a saint. Hell isn’t even a uniquely Christian concept. Islam has hell. Ancient Greek and Roman mythology describe all of death as a sort of hell. However, the Bible tells us that God loves us with an unending love, and that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God, not life, or death, powers, or principalities (whatever those are). If God loves us with that level of ferocity, how can that kind of love end with death? Am I just too soft? Am I missing something? Some people use these contradictions as justification for their rejection of religion—on account of it being full of contradictions and abuse. I can’t really argue with them, especially as my ideas about hell put me firmly in Christian heretic territory. However, I kind of feel that since none of us living folk are able to confirm any of our theories, perhaps we should just shrug our shoulders, cross our fingers, and hope that if God exists, and that Jesus wasn’t joking about all that love stuff. (Note: If you are wondering why I’ve spent so much time talking about hell, it is because #YouDontKnowEvangelicals.)
- I don’t understand anything. I don’t understand why I’m still on the planet and why people I love aren’t on it any longer. I don’t understand what or who God is—or why love exists—or the problem of laughter—or why people eat Vegemite. I am so grateful for my confusion however, because it allows me to live my life in a constant sense of wonder and openness.
- I love you all. (Unless you make me sit through long boring meetings.)
- Finally—what do I mean when I say God? I don’t know exactly, (refer to #6 for explanation). For me, God is like the ocean. The water surrounds me if I swim in it, full of danger and beauty, but I can’t clutch it with my hands. I can’t stand on it. I can’t see to the bottom of it. I can’t push it away. I definitely can’t control it. But it brings me unending joy.