Last Wednesday, when I heard that World Vision had reversed its decision on gay employees, I was extremely angry for an hour.  After that, it felt more like someone had died.  I spent dinner feeling distracted and confused.  When Jeremiah went out to do school work at a coffee shop, I sat in our black leather recliner, ate gelato, mindlessly surfing the web and feeling simultaneously heartbroken and numb.  Finally, after the coffee shop closed, Jeremiah was back trying to do more work while I loaded the dishwasher.  As I finished up and thought I was on my way to bed, we returned to our piecemeal dinner conversation (the only sort of conversation you have with a toddler competing for your attention).  Soon what was supposed to be another fives minutes dissecting what had happened and feeling frustrated together turned into at least a half hour—I honestly lost track—of impassioned sharing and unavoidable tears.

There was something especially powerful about having shared something of my personal struggles with InterVarsity on our blog just a few days before.  I had only so recently gathered the courage to openly express some of the pain and confusion I already felt regarding my place in evangelicalism.  When World Vision first announced their new policy, it felt almost providential in timing.  I don’t really believe God influences the decisions of billion dollar charities so that they might coincide with my personal reflections, but that doesn’t change my perception of some special ray of hope meant for me.  As I told Jeremiah, I had been encouraged that “maybe the world isn’t such a terrible place after all.”  And since World Vision even took the specific position on homosexuality that I tried to take a little over a year ago—that ecumenical organizations should let this be something up churches and individuals to figure out for themselves—I felt like all of a sudden I had a friend on my team.

All of this personal significance did not vanish when their decision was reversed but merely took on new meaning.  I was right the first time.  I was alone in my crazy desire to be ecumenical, and the world—at least the evangelical world—was as shitty a place as it had been feeling recently.  Finally, after Jeremiah and I went back and forth, expressing our thoughts and feelings about the happenings of the last couple days, I felt safe enough to express what seemed like a rather scary thought: I didn’t think I could do “this” anymore.  I didn’t think I could hold out hope for evangelicalism any longer.  I thought I might be done.  The truth was, I told him, “Evangelicalism is killing my faith.”

I’ve never been a “good” evangelical.  I was not really exposed to evangelical culture until junior high when some family friends introduced us to the Newsboys, Point of Grace, Adventures in Oddessey, and Brio magazine.  At that point in my life, I had attended Catholic, public, and fundamentalist Baptist schools (as well as a year of homeschooling) and had spent most of my time in Missouri Synod Lutheran and PC(USA) churches.  The language of my KJV-only, skirt-wearing, alcohol-condemning middle school was foreign to me.  I hadn’t grown up in churches which emphasized conversion, I knew a different set of hymns, and I wasn’t used to all of this talk of “witnessing” or daily devotions.  However, my parents discovered theological disagreements with fellow Presbyterian congregants, and then we moved.  My adolescence ended up revolving around churches and schools somewhere in the middle between the PC(USA) and General Association of Regular Baptists.  I embraced that culture for about half of high school, and then I tired of it.

By the time I went to college, I had become an egalitarian, had grown impatient with the way rich people ran our non-denominational mega-church, and was sick  of evangelical anti-intellectualism.  I started calling myself an “evangelical who doesn’t like other evangelicals.”  I agreed with most major theological points, but I had a few significant disagreements on certain issues, as well as a lot of frustration with the subculture.  In college, I was not told I had to love cheesey Christian bookstores or give up my feminism, but I was strongly encouraged not to give up on evangelicalism, especially when I began to also explore other social justice issues and grew increasingly impatient with white evangelicals.   I set aside my differences and was incredibly involved with InterVarsity during college, where I met a few students with whom I shared much common ground but a lot more with whom I didn’t.  Still, I knew there were evangelicals who cared about the things I cared about—that’s why InterVarsity encouraged students to read and think, why we did urban ministry, why organizations like Christians for Biblical Equality and Evangelicals for Social Action existed.

When I went to Fuller Seminary, Richard Mouw (then President) encouraged students to see the word as redeemable, and at Fuller I saw what I still consider to be the best of evangelicalism.  It is ethnically diverse, fully supportive of women, ecumenical, and decidedly not inerrantist.  It is perhaps the best embodiment of the “postconservative” movement.  And like many postconservatives, it still identifies as evangelical.  So I could, too, right?  Maybe I was no longer a foundationalist or a Platonic dualist.  Maybe I was an annihilationist, an inclusivist, an evolutionist… but plenty of people were at Fuller, as were other postconservative evangelical scholars, so it would be premature and unnecessary to reject the evangelical label.

Several things have transpired since then which have caused me to wrestle with that label anyway, and I hope to explore several of them here during the coming days and weeks.

For now, it will suffice to say that I’m done.  I am fluctuating between feeling giddily free, in mourning, relieved, and scared, but I don’t think there is realistically any going back at this point.  I am done with calling myself an evangelical, not due to a single event or how anyone else is responding to it, but rather because I have finally been pushed over the edge.  This was not a sudden death.  Rather, I think my evangelical identity has been on life support for some time.  The World Vision fiasco finally made me brave enough to pull the plug and face this loss.

2 Responses

  1. Scott

    It seems like part of the issue here is in struggle to define “Evangelicalism” to begin with. It seems like there are two assumptions about this from your writing: Evangelicals have some sort of, albeit very broad, doctrinal understanding about the Bible and salvation. Secondly, that Evangelicals represent a political movement that you can’t support or identify with (as represented by the current gay marriage issue).

  2. Ashleigh Bailey

    I’m familiar with many definitions of evangelicalism–David Bebbington’s, the questions used in certain sociological studies, the media’s, the Evangelical Theological Society’s, the National Association of Evangelicals’, etc. They tend to be theological and possibly cultural, but not highly political. I realized evangelicalism has minorities, doctrinally, politically, etc. I’ve lived a good ten years as a political minority within evangelicalism and with many friends are who political minorities within evangelicalism. I have typically been one to criticize the overly politicized and narrow definition of evangelicalism promoted by the media, as well as the narrow theological definitions promoted by various “gatekeepers” (Mark Driscoll, John Piper, the Gospel Coalition, the SBC, etc.). At some point, though, the word become pointless. Yes, it could be used more broadly, but it is continually being used more narrowly. On top of that, I’m tired of guilt by association, and as I said, I am not a very good theological or cultural fit when you look at a whole host of issues. I’m sure I’ll be writing more about some of these specifics later.

    There is no one standard definition of evangelicalism, I know, but having explored many possible definitions, there are none that feel like they accurately describe me.

© Jeremiah and Ashleigh Bailey 2012