I just couldn’t do it. I could not sit there one more minute. As usual, Sunday morning found me trussed up, dressed up, coiffed up, made up, and mentally prepared to nod and smile for the better part of two hours. After all the hugs and handshakes, coffee and snacks, announcements and hymns, and bulletin news, the faithful settled in for the duration. With the dying notes of the last hymn hanging in the air, the preacher dismissed the kids to Sunday School.
Predictably, all the teens bolted from the pews, following my husband down the hall to yet more food and some youth-relevant conversation. The younger kids fell into line behind their teachers, and I brought up the rear, pretending this happened every week. In fact, I had just lost my mind. Grabbing my purse and my Bible, I waded through the preschoolers and caught up to Kevin.
“I’ll pick you up after the service.”
“Where are you going?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Are you okay?”
“I don’t know. I just can’t stay.”
With that I waved goodbye to him and his motley crew, walking out into the Colorado sunshine.
Just so you know how desperate this move was, the parking lot was in full view of the entire congregation. To the right of the pulpit, enormous picture windows showcased the rugged South San Juan Range of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. Keeping their eyes on the preacher was tough enough without one of their own going AWOL. In a church that small, everyone knew everything about everybody. And they all saw me.
Taking a deep breath, I inhaled some pure mountain air and exhaled the tension I’d been holding. I went home, peeled out of the dress, washed off the makeup, and changed into shorts and a T-shirt. I kept my eye on the clock so I didn’t leave my husband stranded and fielding inquiries as to where his wife had gone, and why. He had no idea.
Neither had I. Had I known I was going to make a very public break for it, I would have just stayed home, without the trappings and the strappings and makeup applied for the crowd.
That was over a year ago. Until recently, I had no clue why something in me snapped. Then a couple of months ago, I picked up Brian McLaren’s book Faith After Doubt. I had seen the hype and read a couple of reviews but didn’t think it would apply to me.
Why? Because I didn’t think I had any doubt.
Sure, I had raised rabble with the church leadership, questioning their support of all things Trump. I had asked some pointed questions, with solid backup arguments, about why the women in our church were limited to cooking food, cleaning, and teaching children. To me, my arguments made perfect sense. We all believed the same things, right? Couldn’t we gently coax the congregation into the twenty-first century?
Little did I realize my ‘doubt’ had begun in earnest on Tuesday, November 8, 2016: the day Evangelical Christians voted Donald Trump into office as President of the United States. A nuclear explosion couldn’t have rocked my world harder. I spent the next three years praying, assuming their eyes would be opened as they listened to his words and watched him in action. When my prayers failed, I launched a website for Ex-vangelicals, more an effort to find answers for myself than provide explanations to others.
Still, I kept going to church. I met Jesus through an Evangelical Christian, and in the body of Christ, I found the love, acceptance, and healing I had always wanted and needed. I couldn’t imagine life without church for a number of reasons, and being new to our community, these were the only people I knew.
I don’t know what set me off the day I walked out of the building and into the light. But thanks to Brian McLaren, I now know why.
A war had been raging within me, of which I was completely oblivious. Within the first few pages of Faith After Doubt, I learned that my brain is actually composed of these three modules:
The part of me that longed for connection with others; to be part of a community. Most of the folks here had been super nice, and I felt loved and accepted. I was also deathly afraid of leaving a support system. This part of me struggled against leaving the church.
This is the part of me that screamed out against being part of a congregation that supported Donald Trump, whose policies and actions clearly violated the teachings of Jesus Christ. I tried to rationalize it in many ways- that they were nice, that I was open about my convictions, and was it really necessary to take a stand? Unbeknownst to me, my silence was costing me my sanity.
So, because of this, the gut took over. The instinctive brain, the first module that operates after birth, controls (among other things) a vast network of unconscious reflexes and responses. Anxiety, fear, and panic evoke a threat to survival. When the heart and the head are duking it out, the gut takes over and says, “Enough already!” And for me, that moment came on Sunday, May 31, 2020.
It was my gut that grabbed my purse, slung my Bible under my arm, and almost sent the four-year-olds flying in my haste to exit the building. It was my gut that gave me the courage to cross the parking lot in full view of the crowd, climb in my car, and drive away. And it was my gut that said, “I’m not going to let you sell your soul for the security of a congregation and your people-pleasing tendencies.”
McLaren’s Faith After Doubt is a monumental work of research, woven with threads of the author’s personal experience as a long-time pastor, writer, speaker, and follower of Jesus Christ. Before even reading the preface, I was pretty sure I didn’t need to deconstruct anything. After all, I was a mature Christian. The last thing I wanted to do was tear my belief system apart; I just wanted my family of faith to realize that Trump is pretty much the opposite of Jesus Christ. I wanted them to actually read Gospels and say, “Wow, maybe we were wrong about Donnie.”
Is that so much to ask?
It seemed to me that those who held the keys to the Kingdom had changed the locks. But Faith After Doubt gently reveals a structure of belief systems within church organizations and explains the reasoning each follows. What looked to me like narrow-mindedness could instead be a commitment to uphold the tenets and traditions of their faith. And moving on down the line, I learned that we all fall within a ‘stage’ of belief and development, none being ‘better or worse’ than the last. Moving forward is a challenging process. Until now, I didn’t realize I had even been doing it, and I daresay most of us don’t. And honestly, there are times it’s so confusing and discouraging I find myself wondering: Is it worth it?
Our new neighbors probably wonder the same thing. Kevin and I live in a rapidly expanding neighborhood where multiple homes are being built simultaneously. Just behind our back fence, a young couple is doing the vast majority of construction on their first house themselves. They work from before the sun comes up until it goes down, rarely taking a day off. At this rate, it’s going to take them quite some time. I’m certain there are days they just want to throw in the bandana and call it quits. But one day, they will have a home. And on that day, I imagine they will say, “It was worth it.”
That’s what Reconstruction will probably look like. McLaren doesn’t leave us hanging. Already, there are folks hard at work in this brave new world that I want to be a part of. Just like constructing a house, working through grief, getting in shape, raising children, building a marriage, or any other endeavor worth doing, there’s no road around it.
The only way is through.
In his ‘Afterward,’ Brian McLaren says this:
“I don’t want to be better than anyone. I don’t want to win in a way that makes others lose . . . Faith after Doubt is faith after supremacy. Instead of standing over others as judges or ruling over others as commanders, we want to join with one another in a circle dance of love and joy . . . instead of analyzing others, showing their logical inconsistencies and exposing their hidden agendas, we want to join with them as co-creators of a better world and a new day, as part of a community of all creation.”
Sounds like something worth working for.