As a teenager in the evangelical church, I heard staggering statistics about young adults leaving the church. I will admit, at the time, I was extremely judgemental. I believed those who left the Church were living in secret sin or they had rejected the only form of salvation and true life by leaving the faith. Now, as a young adult who has indeed left the Evangelical church, I get it. Part of the reason I left, even after trying to find different churches and denominations to find a home in, was because I needed space away from the institutions and structures that had hurt me, so I can heal from the damage done to my spirit.
For many exvangelical young adults, it is the same reason they left before me. After we begin deconstructing our faiths, many of us feel as though we are alone in the world, not at home in religious settings, nor in the secular world. This in-between feeling is based on a theology we were fed, but were not given space to question. For many in the exvangelical community, this limbo can trigger deep-seated bitterness and anger, which in turn hinders the ability to focus on growing into their true purpose. This can be incredibly frustrating, especially if you want to step into a spiritual path. Here at Indigo Magic, my goal is to help you on your path of healing spiritually, and that can include introducing some uncomfortable ideas. But, I believe one of the most natural forms of healing is through talk and discussion, and I bring up uncomfortable topics such as pain from the Evangelical church as a way to engage in healing conversation so we can process what about that community is so painful for so many.
However, many people still within evangelical circles quickly become defensive when confronted with the need for healing from evangelical or religious experiences. They often ask what could possibly be so painful or upsetting, citing seemingly positive ideals that more often than not are nothing more than a cover for emotional manipulation techniques. Exvangelicals have a difficult time being taken seriously by both evangelicals and atheists alike. Evangelicals call those who have left "overly sensitive" or "snowflakes" and the doubts of other's are pushed to the wayside; atheists or non-Christians mock Exvangelicals for trying to keep a faith that has historically been a dangerous and harmful energy. The question that comes from both sides is, "What is so painful about Evangelicalism?" While the answers to that question is nuance, and different for everyone, here are two things that I find to come up for most people I have had the privilege to talk to.
Evangelicalism's Emphasis on Sin and Evil
With Evangelicalism, the theology of human nature is cut and dry. Everyone is inherently evil, even the child being born at this very moment, who hasn't even taken their first breath. Everyone who has walked the face of the planet has an inherent sin nature, and there is nothing you can do to change that. The only way to get rid of your humanly, sinful predilections is to have faith in the only person who ever walked the planet that did not have those same predilections. Only if you have faith in Jesus and accept His gift of salvation will you be cleansed of your dirtiness. Of course, different denominations have different rules of how to accept salvation, and also what your life should look like after you do so. If you don't get saved and let Jesus into your life, then you can do as many "good" things as possible, but you will still go to hell to be tortured for eternity.
I think this is one of the earliest things people start to question when they grow up in church but interact with non-Christians on a regular basis. The kindest people can be non-Christians who have never even stepped into a church service and those with the ugliest heart can be devout Christians who are at every church event every time the doors are open. So how can it be said that the person who radiates divine goodness, but doesn't believe in the American Christian's version of the Bible , will be banned from eternal peace and joy?
The theology of what is and is not considered sin differs on both minor and major levels between nearly every denomination, which can lead many Evangelicals to go so far as to call other churchgoers not Christian! Suddenly, all the threads that are holding together the theology of what is sin and what is good starts to unravel. In a religion that claims to be united as the body of Christ, there doesn't actually seem to be that much unity.
If you - like me and many others - also happen to be a part of what could be considered "fringe" society, you also probably internalized a lot of the rhetoric around sin, and came to believe that you are inherently sinful for those parts of you that don't fit into the mold of a "good Christian." If you asked questions about these teachings, then you didn't have enough faith, and then surely you were not be truly saved...and that line of thinking could spiral on and on. If that was the case, then was there a way for you to ever know if you were truly saved? Or was your inherent existence too sinful to be saved from damnation? Often, the answers to these questions were "no," or "not unless you deny a fundamental part of who you are." This led exvangelicals to feel as though the love of the Divine is conditional, even though it is clear that is not the case,
Evangelicalism's Black and White Worldview
As the wonderful Brenda Davies from the God is Grey YouTube channel puts it, God Themselves is not grey, but human beings are inherently so! However, many evangelical churches often take on and teach a worldview that does not make room for those grey areas. Those of us who have left the Church feel as though those grey areas are integral to a well-rounded, soul-centered belief system.
Looking at the early church, there was nuance, discussion, and a back and forth on how to exist and move through the world. Nowadays, that back and forth has been all but lost, and now consists of one pastor or denomination saying, "This is how I understand the world, here are the Bible verses to back me up, if you interpret those verses differently or use the Bible to prove me wrong, you are mistaken and are therefore not a real Christian." In most fundamentalist Evangelical circles, there is no room for true attentive listening to questions and struggles, whether in Sunday Schools, Bible Studies or even in one-on-one conversations with church leaders. As a teenager, I remember asking hard questions that came up about the nature of God and his behavior, especially in the Old Testament, and the answers I received in Sunday School and Bible Study were, "This is what the Bible says. Believe it."
This trend of taking the Bible at face value has been growing steadily since the Reformation, when Sola Scriptura was first introduced as a core belief to the new Protestant faith. It has only been in the past twenty to thirty years that questioning the validity of the Bible (at least, the English translations), has been brought to the table in Christian circles, although the concept has existed on the fringes of spirituality since the rise of Christianity. A lack of nuance, of questioning things and teachings that feel uncomfortable or confusing, has led to a lack of mysticism, plain and simple! There are not spaces in Evangelical circles for Divine Contemplation, or even for a true and literal transubstantiation. While I agree that over-excessive imagery and metaphor can lead to a lack of substance like literalism can, mysticism, imagery, allegory, and metaphor are all necessary for us as human beings. Statements like, "God is God, his Word is inerrant, and no one can say otherwise lest they question his authority," strip away the childlike wonder that fuels mysticism and a continuous desire to learn.
As children, teenagers, and young adults growing up in church, being forced to squash or remove your natural inquisitiveness feels like being asked to kill that part of you that makes the world exciting. On top of that, asking you to also kill those things about you that make you "worldly" or "dirty" leads to feeling as though someone is always judging you, even in the privacy of your own mind. It can cause you to so deeply-embody the idea of sin nature, that you feel as thought you can never be good enough to truly be allowed to accept salvation.
But we know that this is not what the Divine sees in us. For we all have that of God within us, and it makes a way for us to commune with the Divine on a deeply personal, yet mysterious level. Exvangelicals who still hold on to some belief in Christ most likely do not do so because they believe God is the only way to salvation, but because by following God, and maybe even more specifically Jesus' teachings, that they are open to bringing back mystery and joy into the world, and they are honoring more fully that of God in everyone else.
See, the Kingdom of Heaven is already at hand, and we are working to help it heal and grow into it's full glory.