I came across a Twitter thread the other day by Beth Moore. For those who don’t know of her, Beth is a Southern Baptist Bible teacher of some renown, who has published dozens of books and Bible studies, several of which I did/read in my evangelical days. Her work is geared toward women, because in the SBC, women are only allowed to teach other women and children (no further comment at this juncture, this isn’t my point today). But because she’s a very talented speaker/teacher, she’s been invited to address mixed gatherings, which has increasingly become controversial in SBC circles. In addition, she’s been very vocally anti-Trump. As a result, she’s been the target of vicious attacks and labeled a heretic by many, even though her beliefs about Jesus and the Bible have not changed since the days when SBC women, and many men, lapped up everything she had to say.
The thread I saw concluded with these words: “Some of y’all are hateful for the Lord. I’m just gonna tell ya, that ain’t gonna fly. He’s looking straight at your heart. He’s not one whit distracted by your piety or your credentials. If you don’t have love, your theology stinks.”
My first reaction when I saw this, especially knowing the context surrounding her, was, Right on, you tell those terrible evangelical Trumpers!!! Then, moving beyond the specific issues at hand, I thought about the actual hate — not just the stating of belief — I have heard and witnessed in evangelical circles directed toward LGBTQ people, the subtle (and sometimes overt) racism I have observed, the actual misogyny I have experienced, the condemnation confidently slapped on. Again, not just, I disagree with your beliefs, but you aren’t a real Christian, you are on a path to hell, you are a stumbling block, you are evil.
As usual, I felt pretty good about myself and how right I am about everything.
But then. BUT THEN.
It dawned on me, as it often does, that Beth could have been talking about me, too. I, too, can be “hateful for the the Lord” in my criticism of my evangelical brothers and sisters. An evangelical friend — with whom I disagree about many things, but who is consistently loving and kind in her statements of belief — wrote a comment on the post that further underlined this for me (I have a feeling she was indeed thinking about me when she wrote it) to this effect.
I can cross a line, too, when belief and opinion become condemnation and judgment. That can be a very fine line when you’re talking about matters of religion and conscience, about which many of us feel strongly. Whether you come from the left or right side of things, it’s all too easy to question the motivation and faith of those with whom you disagree.
So why say anything at all? Why do I feel a need to write about my opinions or otherwise speak out? Maybe the right thing to do is just to go on with my Christian walk and let others go on with theirs.
Some of my motivations are certainly questionable if understandable. I carry with me personal pain, disappointment, and anger with American evangelicalism. I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong to express that or name it. It’s personally healing, and I know for a fact that telling my story has encouraged others who have or are experiencing similar things. In fact, people speaking out about how they have been hurt has actually brought positive change to many evangelical communities. For example, on the mission field, where I grew up, there is a much greater awareness now of the toll the experience takes on mental health, particularly of the children of missionaries, and many more resources available. Wrongs aren’t righted, leaders and systems aren’t reformed, and damage isn’t fixed when silence is mandated.
But I also think it’s important to try and separate out my experience with that of others, many of whom find great joy and meaning in evangelical Christianity. I need to acknowledge and remember that. Just because that particularly form of Christianity didn’t work for me doesn’t mean it doesn’t for everyone. I want others to believe my experience, so I should extend them the same courtesy.
Relatedly, I don’t think it should be my intent to try to change anyone’s beliefs, as long as they aren’t harmful, just because I disagree. I am certainly no theologian, and who am I to say that someone’s biblical interpretation is wrong and mine is right, or their position on a particular opinion is wrong or right? My respect for evangelical belief and experience is what ultimately caused me to leave my last evangelical church. It’s not my aim to disrupt anyone’s genuine faith, if it is something that is beneficial to them and those around them.
I think it’s absolutely possible to be an evangelical Christian and a loving, Christ-like person. I know many such people, and I need to be careful not to judge their hearts based on differences with their beliefs and approach or my overall assessment of evangelical culture. I think it’s possible to be against gay marriage and not be a homophobe. I think it’s possible to believe women should not be ordained pastors and not be misogynistic. I think it’s possible to be pro-life and not anti-feminist. It’s possible to share the gospel with others out of a real fear they will spend eternity in hell and a genuine love and concern for their souls.
But here’s when I can’t stay quiet when it comes to evangelical Christianity, or any Christianity for that matter —
When belief crosses into bigotry
When the ends justify the means
When the faith of other Christians is negated
When fear replaces love
When lies replace truth
When facts don’t matter
When scientific discovery is deemed threatening
When democracy is rejected
When hypocrisy becomes as effortless as breathing
When others’ experiences are denied
When political and cultural assumptions are confused with Christian belief and practice
When evangelical culture as a societal and political force — not necessarily the personal faith of individuals within it — becomes destructive to the democratic system we all inhabit, poisonous to the country we all live in, and degrading to the Jesus we all say we follow.
At that point, yes, I do think it’s incumbent upon all of us who love our church (writ large) and our country to say clearly and unapologetically, Something is very wrong here. Something has gone awry. Something is very anti-Christ. To the extent we understand the whats, whys, and hows, we need to name them.
So I will keep saying it. And I will keep pointing out tendencies, phenomena, practices and beliefs in the evangelical church that in my view — informed by many years on the inside and now a view from the outside — are dangerous not only to others and to society writ large, but to the very cause of Christ and evangelicals’ own stated goals on a number of fronts.
But whatever I do, I must proceed with love, not fear. I must not be hateful for the Lord. I must not become what I rail against.