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How I Became an Exvangelical

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Once upon a time, long ago, I went to church. My family went to church every week without fail and I liked church as a young child. I felt safe and close to holiness, even if I didn’t recognize that this is what I felt.

Because it was so long ago that this could happen in public school, one day my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Gerbrandt, talked about becoming a born-again Christian. I loved Mrs. Gerbrandt, I loved Jesus, and I was interested.

That afternoon, my mom tells me, she was ironing while I sat on the floor watching Yogi Bear. Suddenly I turned it off, turned around, and told her I wanted to invite Jesus into my heart. She was thrilled and helped me do just that.

Almost all of my elementary school friends went to church; it was easy to be a Christian in a small town with seven churches. And as I grew older, I became more and more involved in the church. I sang in the choir, in a worship team, performed solos, helped lead the girls choir, and taught Sunday school. I loved it all. The church was my second home.

In my mid-teens, I started considering baptism. I inquired about baptism in our church but didn’t like what I heard. In our church, baptism meant you became a member of the church—and that meant things like giving a certain amount of money to the church each year.

That bothered me. I had no problem with tithing or with charity, but to have to give a certain amount or be called out? I didn’t like that. I wanted to be baptized into God’s family, not the church family.

Soon after, I was informed that I could no longer teach Sunday School because I wasn’t a church member. I was devastated.

Not too long after that, I began to hear rumblings. Rumours. I wasn’t a member, so I couldn’t attend membership meetings, but my parents eventually told me that there was a schism of some sort. After a time, about half the church members left and my church was no longer the same.

The church had been so much of my life and I was lost.

I moved to the big city at age twenty and tried attending a few churches. None of them really stuck. In one, I had another bad situation happen.

I quit going to church around this time, but my faith in God remained strong. I worshipped by reading my Bible and devotional books, talking about religious matters with my family, and so much praying and singing.

I missed church, but I began to comprehend that church wasn’t a necessity for my faith.

In my mid-twenties, my lifelong depression had me down for the count. I took too many pills on purpose one time. Then, wracked with guilt, I called my friend Jo. Jo rushed me to the hospital, where I got treated. From the hospital I was sent to a crisis stabilization unit for three weeks, which helped me get past the worst of my pain, and I was then able to go home.

Back at my apartment, I was like a newborn—unable to care for myself. Jo would come over after work and literally help me shower and get dressed. Then she’d haul me over to the grocery store to get healthy food. In the kitchen afterward she’d stand me in front of the stove and instruct me to stir the sauce. She did the rest, bustling around, chatting, and reminding me what it felt like to be human.

She fixed me. And I will never stop being grateful.

Around that same time, I began hearing about Dr. James Dobson. I knew about him because it seemed that everybody had listened to Focus on the Family when I was growing up. His advice was revered!

But now he was telling parents of gay kids to cut them off. To not talk to them until they “changed their ways.” And much worse things too.

I was confused. Jo was gay. And Jo had saved my life.

Now, I knew of course that being a good person isn’t the same as being a Christian—but still, my church had taught me that homosexuality wasn’t just a sin, but one of the worst sins. I couldn’t quite reconcile that in my brain.

These thoughts stayed in my head and grew and evolved over the years. I wondered, were the things I had been taught to believe were sins really sins? Were our religious leaders accurately interpreting the Bible? How could I know the answers to these questions?

Like many of my fellow Christians, I winced when I watched the news and they showed the so-called “Christian perspective.” Why was it always some weirdo? Why did so many flat-earthers identify as Christians? Why were so many anti-vaxxers Christians? I struggled.

Despite my struggles, my faith in God did not fail me. It waxed and waned somewhat but mostly remained strong. God was good, but was the church?

Then came 2015, and Donald Trump announced a run for president of the United States. He boldly claimed his Christianity yet didn’t act very Christian. When asked to name his favourite Bible verse, he declined to answer. When his speech writers had him quote from 2 Corinthians, he called it “Two Corinthians.”

Puzzling.

It got so much worse. His hatred of… well, it seemed to be anyone who wasn’t a white, cisgender, wealthy man. He said vile things about women. He mocked the disabled. He mocked American soldiers. When white supremacists, many carrying swastika flags, marched in Charlottesville in 2017, he called them “very fine people.” The Nazis. He called the Nazis “very fine.”

Much to my astonishment, the evangelical Christian community flocked to support him. Many famous Christian leaders publicly endorsed him.

The strong connection between Trump, his policies, and evangelical voters was strong, and continues to be strong. In writing about the most recent U.S. presidential election, NPR remarked, “A notable fact in 2016 was that exit polls showed about 80 percent of white evangelical Christians supported Trump in spite of his unfamiliarity with the Bible, his divorces, his vulgar rhetoric and his association with porn stars. Trump’s reputation in moral terms hasn’t changed all that much during his time in office, but there is little evidence of slippage among these faith voters.”1

At this point, though, I began to notice that I wasn’t alone. A growing movement of “exvangelicals” came on the scene. Exvangelicals were, well, me! People of faith who grew up in the church, loved God, and loved the Bible… but didn’t love all the things they saw being done in the name of the church.

Every year, the news shows us far too many examples of pain, horror, war, and death done in the name of the church.

Just this summer, 1,300 bodies have been found—so far—on the sites of old residential schools. Who ran those schools? The church.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Springs Church, as well as other smaller churches in Manitoba, were charged with violating federal health orders more than once for refusing to abide by the law. Is that the Christian thing to do? Springs is pastored by a man who is worth $10 million dollars. Is that the Christian way to live?

While churches were closed during the pandemic, I heard some people saying, “How can you take away our right to worship?” But nobody did that. Nobody took away our right to worship, because the church is a building. Our faith should exist everywhere, not just in a building.

Now, please understand: I believe there are good churches. And I believe that church is great for some people. I also know that there are many truly faithful people in the church who try every day to follow Jesus’s teachings.

But there’s a reason why people—young people especially—are leaving in droves. It’s not because they’re bored, or busy, or tired. It’s because they don’t see Jesus’s values reflected in the church’s words and deeds.

I can’t figure out whom to credit for this quote, but it’s perfect: “If your experience with Christianity has left you with more guilt and less joy, then you have found religion, not Jesus.” The expression goes on to say, “Religion is about what you do for God. Jesus is about what God did for you.”

In 2017, the amazing Tony Campolo came up with the concept of a “red letter Christian,” which refers to people who attempt to follow the words of Jesus. If there’s a conflict between the words of Jesus and another biblical passage, red letter Christians tend to err on the side of Jesus.

Jesus’s words are, well, pretty great! He told us to love. Love him, love our neighbours, love everybody. That’s not what I’ve seen in many Christian communities. But love, Jesus’s love, has always resonated with me.

That’s where I stand now. I no longer call myself a Christian; I am a follower of Jesus.

Nadia Bolz-Weber—an author, minister, and theologian—said it best: “People don’t leave Christianity because they stop believing in the teachings of Jesus. People leave Christianity because they believe in the teachings of Jesus so much, they can’t stomach being part of an institution that claims to be about that and clearly isn’t.”

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