I criticize Evangelical Christianity a lot in this blog. One of the reasons is that writers are told to “write what you know” and my life is steeped in Evangelical Christian culture. From third grade on, I quite literally spent more waking hours in my church/school building than at home. I arrived weekdays at 7:30 am and often wouldn’t leave until the last activity or basketball game at 9:00. There was church on Sunday morning and night, youth groups, small groups, work groups, and volunteering. To this day, I still attend an Evangelical church.
The other reason I criticize is because I want Evangelical Christianity to change for the better. I believe it has a huge amount of strength and potential. I currently attend an Evangelical church that I think brings out the very best in what Evangelicalism can be. It is part of a denomination that affirms women pastors, has strict background checks for those working with youth, and a firm abuse reporting policy. I have never heard my pastor bash gays or lesbians. I have not heard political sermons. I have not heard a person’s worth tied to their virginity.
I have heard the importance of love, forgiveness, diversity and caring for our environment preached. I am continually challenged by the sermons to lead a more honest and loving life in practical ways but not burdened with crippling guilt. It’s not perfect because real people attend, volunteer and lead and real people are messy. I believe it’s churches like these that I can see Evangelicalism truly working.
When I criticize Evangelicalism, I worry that it will appear that I am criticizing the way I was raised. After all, my parents chose to attend the church and enroll me in the school that they did and they were a large part of the leadership. There were really good things about the church and the school I attended, but there were things that the church taught that I firmly disagree with now. When I read other’s stories about coming out of strict conservative evangelical environments, I realized that I was spared a lot of the deep emotional scars from teaching such as those of the purity culture due to my parent’s role in my life. They influenced me positively in so many ways but here is a few.
- My mother taught me to read. I was homeschooled until halfway through my third grade year, which means my mother taught me to read. I don’t remember learning, but I do remember reading voraciously my entire childhood. My mom brought me to the library and I would pick out books on the biographies of famous women like Clara Barton, Florence Nightingale or Harriet Tubman. I read all the Ann of Green Gables series about a smart female protagonist and as I got older, I read Christy by Catherine Marshall which gave me the inspiration for my career. Reading has opened up the world to me.
- My father taught me to think. My dad was raised until he was 13 in the Netherlands. This gave him a unique perspective on the world and we were brought up culturally a bit different than my peers. My dad would often challenge us to a discussion at the dinner table, first bringing up one side, then halfway through playing devil’s advocate. There were many times I didn’t know what he truly thought. He also showed me that you can change your opinion. After a lifetime of being pro-capital punishment, my father changed his mind in his fifties. That always impressed me because it challenged me to continue to have new ideas, think, change, and grow as a person.
- They taught me to question gender roles. My dad was an elder at our church and he considered my mother as a partner with him, even though the church didn’t recognize her as such. They didn’t fit into gender stereotypes very well. My mom didn’t really like shopping for clothes or jewelry and my dad liked to chat and worked with children. My mom and dad would not go to separate women’s groups or men’s groups. My dad often said that he wouldn’t want to go without his best friend. My mom didn’t like the small talk or the games. Instead, they were a united front and a partnership.
- They taught me to question church leaders. My mom and dad were raised Calvinist and we went to a non-denominational church. The pastor was Arminian. There were several people in church leadership that were Mennonites. Needless to say, no one agreed on everything. However, my parents modeled respectful disagreement. They stated what the disagreed on, often times bluntly, however they remained close friends with people with whom they had very different theological ideas. When I read horror stories of pastors that ruled every detail of their parishioners’ lives, I realize that was never a danger for me due to my parent’s were willing to question.
Due to the way that my parents raised me, I escaped much of the negativity of what I believe is the worst of the teachings. It was my birthday this week and who better to thank than my parents for giving me life, raising me, educating me, teaching me to think, and introducing me to Jesus. I am so grateful for you guys!