Here’s what happened when I questioned the strict gospel beliefs I grew up with

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On a recent Sunday my husband Brandon and I were walking out of church and I asked him, “Is it too early to go to a restaurant in Sydney?” I’m not really asking. Just tell me what I want to hear.

Our daughter is in her second year at the University of Texas at Austin where we have lived for 20 years. She was recently hired at an iconic downtown restaurant and worked two full shifts. Am I to understand that she might not want her parents to show up unexpectedly on her third day of work? I do. I understand that. Did that prevent me from going there? No, reader, it is not.

So we walked in super casual seeing our child in an adult workplace. She was adorable, charming and in a hurry and so – grown up. How dare she. She’s just a baby. She was just in kindergarten. Why is this happening? What have I done wrong that my children have the daring to grow? How is it possible that they get college degrees and file taxes and on Tinder? This thing of growing up sucks sometimes and I don’t like it and I love it and these kids freak me out and also dazzle me beyond words. I signed up for babies, then they got fat against my will.

People are growing up. This is how everything is supposed to be. It’s normal and good and I hope we expect it. But it didn’t take long for me to realize that some type of spiritual growth was unwelcome in many faith communities. Many churches offer a sanctioned development path and any trajectory outside of it is immediately suspect. We have an endgame in mind, and it sounds like how we understand a life of faith (like ours), and when people show spiritual curiosity or a theological evolution or grow in a different direction, we often have resort to gaslighting, rejection and shame. . It is as disappointing as it is predictable.

In my next book Fierce, free and full of fire, I discuss my personal experience growing up in evangelical circles with a spiritual curiosity that has ultimately led me from the safe confines of steeples to the wilderness of the desert. The following is an excerpt from the book.

My journey on this growth path started with people, as it always does with me. I can now identify spiritual pain points from my own experience, but as a person reluctant to self-assess, I first saw it in others. If faith is supposed to bring new life, healing, great connection, fulfillment, which I believe – I have built all my life on it – I have seen the opposite inside the structures.

I noticed a lot of shame pulled by the lever of fear. The rules were rigid and the consequences punitive. Gossip abounded, surrounded by “requests for prayer,” a thinly veiled way of talking about other people’s failures or choices, another clear signal to the group that missteps are being cataloged and that quick disapproval will take its turn.

I have seen the obviously gay children laugh way too loudly at the anti-gay jokes of the youth pastor. I saw blood flow from the girls’ faces as the True Love Waits teacher tore the petals from a rose and held out a dead stick: “This is what you give your husband when you give your petals to your friends. little friends. “

With horror, I remember the night in the youth group room where we listed the “worst kids” in our high schools on a whiteboard under the title Bring them back alive, drove to their homes, and kidnapped back to church so they can meet Jesus: “Please don’t get distracted by all your names on the board. We publicly list your sins. Would you like to pray the sinner’s prayer? “

Then, oddly enough, many of my peers left the evangelical church never to return. For something marked as abundant life, my version had low resistance, very little abundance in all respects. The threats of destruction of the world have turned out to be false. The warnings of secular doom and empty marriages ruined by heavy caresses were empty. After all that, our new classmates and co-workers didn’t invite us to swingers parties or sell heroin in the bathroom. The “world” we were taught to avoid (except during sanctioned times of systematic evangelism) was filled with ordinary people who could be good and kind and wanted the same fulfilling life we ​​thought we had cornered the market on. .

As a thinking adult empowered to question systems, I finally asked the questions I found unwelcome in this environment: where are the women? What about people of color? Tell me again why only men are in charge? Wait, then Catholics “are not Christians”, because why again? Why have so many leaders who focused on our teenage virginity found themselves in business, in sex abuse scandals, covering each other up? Can anyone explain all these victims, besides blaming their “obvious promiscuity” and expelling them from their churches? Why are Democrats ruining the country? Explain how science is wrong and the Bible is real? Why is Oprah still a wolf in sheep’s clothing? Why can’t we watch Scooby doo? So the Southern Baptist Convention did not issue a formal apology for its support for slavery and segregation until 1995? After 150 years of theological training around protecting white supremacy, are there other interpretations to reconsider? Or was it just this one?

As a result of all my questions, some of the beliefs that I had simply accepted for so long were called into question because, on more critical appraisal, they were the by-product of an obviously corrupt system, which has historically been the last at the confession and repentance table. Some of my beliefs were called into question because the same people were still in charge and we happily hung pictures of White Jesus in our Sunday school rooms. Some of my beliefs were called into question because, while promising an abundant life, they instead broke the hearts and trust of many outliers with a clear conscience.

Some of my beliefs were called into question because if I stood by them as dictated, I would have no ministry, no authority, no power over my own God-given gifts. Some of my beliefs were called into question because the missionary culture I grew up in often turned out to be a form of colonization. Some of my beliefs were challenged because they shamed girls and victims, but protected men and abusers. Some of my beliefs have been called into question because they have too often failed to care for LGBTQ people and instead have led to traumatic conversion therapy, forced celibacy, public humiliation and ultimately, for too many people. , to suicide. Some of my beliefs were called into question because they did not produce many disciples, most of them just keepers and defectors. Some of them felt bad in my soul, harmful in my practices, harmful to my brothers and sisters, a betrayal of the Spirit of God. (Fierce, free and full of fire, pages 150-152).

My hope for this generation is that we embrace spiritual curiosity, examine oppressive systems and doctrines, and see that it may not have been God who was wrong, but us. I’m no longer interested in questions like: What are the rules? What’s the line? Who is inside and who is outside? Who is right and who is wrong? How do we maintain what is?

I am much more captivated by those of you who ask: where is the life? What does a vibrant religious system look like? What sounds like good news? Where is there more joy and less fear? What is nice? What is generous? How does Jesus feel? Where do people come to life, come back to God?

It’s a good job, my friends. I honor your commitment to the best questions. May you courageously ask them, diligently seek the answers, and then help build the church we want to pass on to our children. A thriving world awaits you. May it dazzle us all.

Jen Hatmaker is an author, speaker, podcast host, star of the HGTV My Big Family Renovation series on HGTV, and founder of the nonprofit Legacy Collective. His new book, Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire, will be released on April 21. She wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.

Hatmaker will be speaking at the 5th Annual Interfaith Family Services Auxiliary Luncheon at Belo Mansion on Friday. For tickets, contact Jessica Rood, Director of Development, at 469-828-1833.


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