Dusk. The red and yellow stripes of a big top clash gloriously with the golden pink sunset that stretches over the now empty camp. Music resounds through the darkening fields, barely contained by flapping, plastic walls. Inside, disco lights are waving to and fro across a thousand worshippers with eyes closed and hands raised. Some are dancing or swaying; others are on their knees in the aisles. The amps are turned up, so high in fact that parents have put ear defenders on their children. This is clearly a holy moment. “Our God is greater”, they sing in unison, “Our God is stronger. God you are higher than any other…”
‘Evangelicalism’ is a movement within Christianity that is characterised by its emphasis on faith as a ‘personal relationship with God’, and as such, services in evangelical churches often come with the expectation of a religious experience, such as ‘becoming aware of the presence of God’ or ‘hearing God speak’. It is a term that refers to a way of practising faith, rather than a set of doctrines, and therefore spans different denominations, both Protestant and Catholic. In the summer camp scene above, familiar to all evangelical Christians, worshippers will be both singing to God and listening to what God might be ‘saying’. To the outsider, this may sound bizarre, but to me, it is the culture I grew up in, and its language of being ‘saved’ and ‘forgiven’ and all the assumptions that come with that have been as homely to me as hot buttered toast in the morning.
Over the last two years, however, I’ve found myself gradually moving away from evangelicalism, and this year I finally left an evangelical network of churches for good, to join something more traditional. And yet this leaving is not to be interpreted as a simple rejection of the movement. Evangelical churches provide a good opening for those exploring faith for the first time: they give a simple message with clear guidance about how to live; they touch emotion as well as intellect and action; and they give those who join both a sense of meaning and a loving community. My friendships from these churches are lifelong, with kind, thoughtful people, and my leaving is by no means a criticism of those that I hold dear. Nevertheless, I have found that an over-stay in the evangelical sub-culture can lead to a limitation of one’s emotional growth, inhibiting life choices and reducing social circles to small, like-minded, evangelical Christian cliques.
Leaving the movement is difficult because inherent in belonging to it is the belief in the rightness of that community over and above other Christian communities. In this blog, I will discuss the reasons for my leaving, addressing one topic a week. I have identified eight areas in which I have sought to go beyond evangelicalism to find a bigger, broader and more loving view of God, leading to a more peaceful, more joyful, more loving way of life:
1) Beyond certainty … towards faith and doubt
2) Beyond grace … towards love
3) Beyond control … towards trust
4) Beyond patriarchy … towards equality
5) Beyond an empty vessel … towards a whole person
6) Beyond the individual … towards the collective
7) Beyond us & them … towards all people
8) Beyond people … towards all creation
I will not be quoting from the Bible here, despite my love for it. Too often have passages been taken out of context to back up the differing opinions of Christians, and I will not contribute to this melee. The Bible is not a weapon. It is a sacred text; the ‘inspired Word of God’; a whole library of books that tell of history, legend, poetry and letters. It can be read on many levels, but must be taken on its own terms and not contorted into the small spaces of those who want authority to validate their own claims. Although the Bible has a lot to say about the topics, and incidentally I do believe that my opinions are in line with Biblical perspectives, what follows are my thoughts, experiences and opinions, without apology (of either kind). They have no other authority than what the reader attributes to them.