Making Post-Evangelical Amends
“It’s funny how humans can wrap their mind around things and fit them into their version of reality.”
― Rick Riordan, The Lightning Thief
This flag hangs on the wall above my desk. Every day, while I’m posting payments and reconciling invoices, I see it. It reminds me to be humble, to approach others with grace, and to be willing to stand my ground against bigotry.
It also piles tons of guilt on my head. Guilt that I’m trying to let go of, but it clings to me like peanut butter on a dog’s tongue.
Being raised evangelical, I was taught that the only thing worse than not being saved was being gay. Or, as my teachers and preachers liked to say, “choosing to live a homosexual lifestyle”. They taught that LGBTQIA+ individuals had chosen sin over God, and in return, God had turned them over to a reprobate mind. Basically, God washed his hands of the whole lot.
This gave the church a free pass to discriminate against, yell at, spit on, and preach whole sermons about how “the gays” would wind up cast into the lake of fire.
Not very friendly or appropriate material for my young brain, but I heard it from the time I could write my own name. I also grew up in the 80’s, smack dab in the middle of the satanic panic, so it didn’t take long for my church leaders to intertwine the two. To be gay was to be a follower of Satan himself.
Thing is, the rational human brain can see through this garbage like looking through glass. Believing that some horned devil is working through humans to destroy, well, humanity is asinine. But when your whole life and thought process is ruled by belief in the evangelical version of things, it’s easy to see how panic is par for the course.
It still mystifies me how a denomination as large as the evangelical church puts so much power in the hands of Satan. They fear him more than they believe God is all powerful. They spend countless hours worrying about and begging God to protect them from Satan’s influence. I think part of this constant worry is the fact that as a Christian you are taught that you are worthless apart from God. When all of your power is stripped away and left to the mercy of a being you can’t see, it’s easy to feel helpless.
So, week in and week out, from Sunday School lessons to sermons, Bible studies to youth group, I heard about the evils of homosexuality. As I grew, I wrestled with the concept that God would have such a hatred for a group of people who did nothing wrong other than not conform to societal norms. I raised my kids to believe that being gay was a sin, even though it never felt right. How could a God who loved humanity so much that he sent his son to die for it completely disavow a whole section of his creation?
The all-out war that evangelicals have waged against the LGBTQIA+ community is astounding, and can lead to deadly consequences. Much like the way the Southern Baptist denomination began as a white supremacist group determined to defend slavery, the evangelical movement as a whole will go down in history as the group who promoted every phobia in the book, and used their Bible to justify it.
Now to the reason I am writing this specific article.
I have to try to make right everything I did so very wrong.
Here’s the thing. I never attended an anti-LGBTQIA+ rally. I never told a gay person they were going to hell. I never did any of those things. I have tried very hard throughout my life to be kind to everyone, no matter who they are.
But that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how superficially nice I have been to people. What matters is that every time I put money in the church collection plate, every time I sat through a bigotry-filled sermon, and every time I could have voiced opposition to friends or family members about their homophobic stances, I remained silent.
As time went on, I realized the injustice of it all. I disagreed with them, but I kept my mouth shut. Sure, I was afraid of backlash. I didn’t want to deal with the drama that would ensue if I spoke out against the hatred I heard every Sunday, but truth is, I was comfortable.
I was comfortable with the motions of church. I was comfortable with the pot lucks, the attention I received when I sang a solo with the choir, the claps on the back that came from being a Sunday School teacher and deacon’s wife.
I was comfortable hiding behind the security that comes from acceptance, even if I knew it was wrong.
And that makes me complicit, no matter how much good I may have done.
Making amends is hard, folks. It takes time, it takes a ton of humility, and if you’re anything like me, you screw up. A lot.
At first, I thought social media was the way to go. I unfollowed people from my former church, I posted pro-LGBTQIA+ content, and I shared posts from churches and other Christian groups that were affirming.
Yay for me.
It was great to no longer be affiliated with a group hellbent on destroying queer and trans people.
But I soon realized that this was simply a first step in changing my life’s trajectory.
Tons of people claim to be LGBTQIA+ affirming, while still voting for the very party who wants to strip them of every single right they have.
They claim to be affirming, while sitting in pews, listening to pastors erroneously quote the Bible to prove homophobia is Devine.
They may even fly a tiny pride flag on their front porch during pride month.
The dangerous rhetoric of the modern evangelical church takes much more than surface level support.
It requires us to be anti-bigot.
We have to stop funding the very institutions that are promoting hatred, and even violence, against marginalized groups. We have to recognize the evangelical movement is rotten at it’s core. An apple tree that is hollow on the inside can continue to produce a few apples, but eventually that rot will spread. It needs to be cut down so healthy plants can grow.
So now I use my big mouth for good. I defend where I need to, but I also support. I lift up. I encourage. But most of all, I love.
Funny how much easier it is to love my fellow humans now that I’ve left the faith. All my life, I had shoved into my brain that it’s impossible to love anyone apart from Christ.
I think I’m doing a damn good job at it.
My attitude shift is far from perfect. I struggle with understanding sometimes. I’m a straight white woman who is married to a straight man. We live our lives in a pretty traditionally American way. I do all the cooking and the majority of the cleaning, not because my husband believes it’s my job as a woman, but because I’m very particular about how things are done in my home. I still make my husband kill all the bugs. That’s a man’s job and I’m not ashamed to say it. (Tongue in cheek, of course. I don’t let him kill them. I make him take them outside to live their little buggy lives.)
And because of the way I live my life, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that each human on this planet deserves to live their lives exactly the way they choose. It’s none of my business what color anyone chooses to dye their hair, the clothes they put on each morning, or the car they drive to work. And it’s for damn sure none of my business who someone loves. Love is love, it is beautiful, and it makes the world better. If you believe differently, you are wrong. You can choose to have opinions on lots of things in this world, but supporting a religion that believes in denying a group of people basic human dignity and the rights the rest of us enjoy is not one of those things. Human rights are not up for debate, and they do not exist based on your interpretation of an ancient text that you believe is inspired by a creator.
Changing my mind and my course in life isn’t easy. In fact, it’s the hardest thing I have ever done. It would have been much easier to stay in my comfort zone, coasting through life, flying under the radar. But eventually, I found that I just couldn’t do it any longer. The mental stress I put myself through to keep up the charade wasn’t worth it. Throwing off the chains of a bad theology and learning to embrace those who are different than me gave me a freedom I had never experienced before. It opened me up to amazing possibilities, and it opened my eyes to the horrors that my former faith placed on the queer community.
So, to members of the LQBTQIA+ community, I love you. I am sorry that I failed you for so long. I will use my voice, my words, and every platform I have to support, defend, laugh and cry with you, and call out those who wish you harm. If I mess up, call me out.
Don’t go easy on me.