Why People Leave the Evangelical Tribe
(An excerpt from my unpublished memoir ““Beliefs that Hurt — Faith that Heals”)
Everywhere I look the Evangelical church leaves folks wounded and bleeding along the road of faith.
We all have the scars to prove it.
Some are head wounds.
Maybe like me you grew up in a cultural bubble where you were spoon-fed certain doctrines. But now those stories are difficult to swallow. You gag on Bible narratives like water being turned into wine that defy the laws of physics. It’s a stretch to think that vintage wine comes from the backyard faucet. But still because of your abiding respect for the sacred scriptures you delve between the lines for deeper levels of meaning.
Others leave with a broken heart.
Your family no longer talks to you because you left the fold. Or your terminally ill loved one is told that he is not healed because of his lack of faith. Or you have come out as gay and are now viewed as reprobate. Or like myself the words of the song “you know we are Christians by our love” seem far-fetched. Love evaporated into thin air when I questioned Tribal (Evangelical Christianity) beliefs. And pile on a heart-breaking divorce that led to my being stiff-armed by my church group.
People don’t leave their religious community in a snap.
Bruce the church bouncer did not evict me from my fellowship group. Instead, I slunk out of the back door with my tail between my legs. My reasons for leaving may not be yours. However there is more to a dash to the exit than meets the eye.
Sometimes a vision of what is on the other side of the exit beckons us to a new life. My “aha” experience started when I finally left my Evangelical church in the 1980’s, migrated to a Progressive Episcopal Church in Pasadena California and heard the words of welcome to the Eucharist that would make anyone stay in a church community
“Whoever you are and wherever you find yourself on the journey of faith, you are welcome here.”
I am gobsmacked when it dawns on me that this community of faith embraces black and white, gay and straight, and a person like myself who is attempting to shake of the vestiges of my Evangelical beliefs. Since childhood I had been taught that the Communion ceremony is restricted to the chosen few who had “given their lives to Jesus”. Surely other religions make it through the Pearly Gates?
In my South African Tribal background if you were discovered to be gay or divorced, or a person of color, you’d likely be met with raised eyebrows. If divorced, your chances of acceptance improved if your spouse had left you (especially for adultery) rather than the other way around. And if you were a person of color and you drifted into that group, someone would quietly encourage you to attend the church’s afternoon service in the local African language, Zulu. And if you were gay the Tribe’s political talking point would be that you are living in sin and needed “conversion” therapy.
By contrast, All Saints teaches that everyone had a tiny flame of universal reality in them. That makes everyone welcome at this family table. I always suspected that we ‘born again’ folks did not have a corner on the market of truth. Why then exclude anyone from the Eucharist? Such was the open heart of that community despite the fact that we were a rag-tag bunch of seekers with many more questions than answers.
I have not darkened the doorstep of a church in over 30 years. However, I left the church long before the Tribe became aligned with Right Wing Politics, conspiracy theories, and, as a minority, attempted to legislate against the ‘other’ side’.
That’s another story.
But why did you leave the Tribe?