In some ways, I wish I could say that Trump was the final straw or Evangelicals’ embrace of his presidency. I wish I could say it was the abysmal COVID response, the relentless drive to pack the courts and subjugate women. I wish I’d seen the racism, the bigotry, and the hatred for anyone other than white men sooner.
It’s not that those things didn’t factor in but I didn’t recognize them earlier on and get out sooner. But life’s changes are rarely decided by large external factors. It’s small, insignificant moments that often drive us to set new courses.
In my case, those insignificant moments were conversations with people close to me or who attended my church. They were people I respected or at least didn’t expect to hold some awful views. The conversations led me to conclude that the Church (collectively) in America is sick and I can’t continue wasting energy attempting to fix it from within.
In my last post, I mentioned two of the pastors who led the Methodist church we attended. A woman whom we found much respect for, followed by a more genteel grandfather-like figure. About a year before COVID, he was reassigned and our church received a younger, more fiery man, brought in to appeal to families.
The schism over the ordination of LGBTQ+ clergy in the United Methodist church was coming to a head. Apparently, a member wrote him an anonymous note decrying his more traditionalist views of marriage and urging him to rethink his positions. The amusing part of this is that I don’t think his views were widely known before this. At the very least I hadn’t personally heard him take a position but at some point, he must have to some people.
Unfortunately, he didn’t handle it well and led off his sermon with a tirade. “It was small of this person to write me a note. If anyone wishes to discuss things with me then they should discuss it in the open and not hide behind anonymity” he said.
He went on to say that, “... he would not accept marriage as anything other than one man and one woman.” and “Our church will not ordain or follow anything other than the traditional view.”
And he wondered why no one wished to have a debate. There was no discussion and no compromise. The same evangelical attitudes we had left the SBC over, permeated his theology. I think that conversation alone may have done it but I put it out of my mind when COVID hit two weeks later.
The second was a conversation with a pastor friend who was with a Baptist church. Someone that I really do respect. After the vaccines and boosters came out we had some limited contact with friends and family and this pastor was one of them. The conspiracy theories around vaccines were rampant and our pastor friend was asked why he didn’t speak out against the disinformation.
The answer is disheartening. Too many people in his congregation believe in those conspiracy theories. To speak out against it would risk being forced out, threatening his livelihood. Thus he didn’t speak about it, preferring instead to stick to noncontroversial topics.
That one contradiction, especially how it relates to marginalized people, means that progress can’t be made. Churches are held hostage by their own membership. One might say that “my church doesn’t hate anyone” and that may be true, but your church is not a reflection of some universal, capital “T”, Truth. It’s a reflection of your members and a reflection of your community. Even if your church believes all the right things, how is it better if the pastor still can’t preach from the heart?
Besides, “the right things”, loving people because they’re humans, treating each other with kindness, and lending a hand to those in need– don’t require higher power, despite many evangelicals’ insistence to the contrary.
The good has long stopped outweighing the bad and I can no longer support a system that, at best, ignores its abuses, and at worst actively participates in them. It took nearly 40 years, but I am out.
One more post in the series to discuss where I go from here. Thanks for reading. If you aren’t subscribed, I encourage you to do so. It’s free, and I’m not selling anything. Once there are enough members there will be some perks coming!