Those months after I left the church, I felt unanchored; adrift. Growing up in the Evangelical Christian tradition, I heard criticism of the Jews (“They were too attached to their religious structure so they missed out on Jesus”) and the Catholics (“They think they need a priest to gain access to God; we have direct access to him”). What I realized after I stepped away from my structure, however, was that we’re just the same.
Once I left the church, I realized that not only had I been looking to it to provide me with the avenues through which I would experience God but also what an experience with God should look like. I get it; it’s human nature to crave belonging and it feels so good to have a place that’s yours. For me, however, it came to a point where, if I was going to be true to my experience, I had to stand up and say, “HEY! These people don’t speak for me.”
The people who would drop their sponsorship of needy children because of a disagreement with a theological issue affecting the HR policies of a company. The people who marginalize their black brothers and sisters by declaring that true Christians can only vote one way. The people who are so attached to their structure and so fearful of its dismantling that they’re willing to throw their weight behind a political candidate who truly does not stand for anything that they believe in.
They’re not me. They don’t speak for me.
It’s extremely reductionist to say that every single person in every single church is like that, and it’s not what I’m saying. I think that’s why it’s hard to tell stories like this. My objection is to the big structure, the machine, the voting bloc that the Evangelical Church has become. It’s a cultural institution that’s largely known for what it’s against instead of what it’s for. Individual people may be different, but if you ask people on the street what they think of when you say “Christians,” how do you think they would answer?
I understand that there is more than one way to affect change to a structure. Some people are able to do that from the inside. Some people leave one church and go to one that feels more like it fits their vibe. For me, I needed to step totally outside of that specific expression of church in order to examine it fully and find my place within the global church.
It’s not necessarily comfortable outside of the structure. There’s a certain amount of grief that comes with this decision. I never wanted to stop believing in Jesus or to feel pushed out of the structure that was safe for me. I find myself searching for people who make me feel like I’m not crazy. I have found some, and that brings me solace, but I’m being careful not to just jump from one “club” to another simply to feel safe.
I haven’t lost my faith. I have so much hope for the future of the American church and my place in it. I’m working my faith out authentically in the company of a solid community of trusted friends and mentors. I’m finally ready to stop looking backward at how the church failed me and forward to what God has for me. A bigger movement is forming in our culture—one that is working hard to honor God in their own way. It’s the same as it has always been: small steps with faith. Mostly, I’m just desperate to tell my generation this:
If you want in, you’re in.
Despite your doubts or fuzzy theological beliefs, if you still love Jesus and feel compelled by his story, there’s space for you in his church. We still belong in the church. They need us even if it feels like they don’t want us.