6/30/2006                                                                                       View Comments

Mice more Compassionate than Christians

By Lorena

“Mice appear to empathize with pain in other critters they're familiar with, a capacity previously thought to exist only in higher primates.

When mice saw others they knew showing pain, they responded with signs of empathy, such as staying close by, according to a new study (http://www.cbc.ca/story/science/national/2006/06/29/mice-empathy.html).”

This proves it: mice are more compassionate than Christians.

When you are a Christian and you experience pain, the “holy” people tell you to shove it. If someone you love dies, instead of hugging you and saying, “Sorry for your loss,” they say, “He is in a better place.” The last time I heard a church person say this one, I responded, “When somebody I love dies, I am going to cry until I have no tears left, because they may be at a better place, but I am going to miss them.”

It doesn’t matter what sort of emotional pain is expressed, Christians always respond with a quick cliché and make no effort to reach out to the person with love and compassion. But the worst one, most rude, and least compassionate response I’ve received is the one from an ANONYMOUS visitor to my blog (I deleted all the insulting posts).

She said that I didn’t receive emotional healing during my 18 years of Christianity because I did not let “the lord” heal me. She said that I’ve walked away from the only one that can actually help me. She said I was bitter.

And he calls himself a loving Christian. He said he meant no offence. Geezz! Whether it is true or not, calling someone bitter is offensive anytime of day. Saying that to a person who is, admittedly, emotionally hurt is even crueler.

What’s interesting about this christian’s opinion is that it is exactly the same crap I heard for 18 years from church people. Instead of empathizing and giving the sufferer a shoulder to cry on, they blame the victim for feeling hurt.

Emotional hurts are real, as real as physical hurts. That Christians don’t understand this just shows how ignorant and brainwashed they are. They should also walk around telling the blind and the wheel-chair bound that “The lord hasn’t healed them because they didn’t let him.” It wouldn’t take long before somebody put a bullet in their stupid heads.

My ANONYMOUS visitor also said that she has a friend who was gang raped, and that she is OK. The friend is not in any emotional pain. She recovered from her pain and moved on with her life—yeah, right is what I say to that.

Another patronizing, minimizing comment I heard in church a lot. These comments were not always addressed at me. I just heard them from the pulpit, at bible studies, and, in general, around churches.

What’s so outrageous about that comment? Well, don’t Christians say all the time that god made everyone unique, that he made each person different and special, and that he understands us?

Well, we are all different, alright. Even medical treatments are customized because not everybody heals at the same rate. What works for one person does not work for another. Otherwise, why do we have doctors? They should just post general treatments at the drugstore and we could all just buy the medication there.

The cookie-cutter approach of Christianity is what makes it so nauseating. That primitive mentality that says we should all think the same and feel the same. Hey, are we humans or robots? No wonder they have such difficulty expressing love. The religion has turned them into robots.

Why would I want to be involved in a religion that completely denies my individuality and forces me to deny my hurts and fake happiness? No. I am not interested, thanks. I would rather be caged with a bunch of mice.

One Way

This post is excerpted from The Dark Side: How Evangelical Teachings Corrupt Love and Truth

There is one Way, and only one,
Out of our gloom, and sin, and care,
To that far land where shines no sun
Because the face of God is there.
—Cecil F. Alexander


“I AM TOO A CHRISTIAN,” MY HUSBAND, BRIAN, ARGUED WHEN I FIRST MET him. “I come from a Christian family. I sang in the choir as a kid. I was raised Presbyterian.” “You are not a Christian,” I repeated in a withering tone. “You’re a bleedin’ agnostic. You don’t even know what ‘being a Christian’ means.” He was wounded. I was astounded. The word “Christian” means a lot of different things to different people.

Several years ago, I traveled in Malaysia. In Malaysia, you’re either Muslim or you’re not, and the laws that apply to you are different depending on which camp you fall in. This is not a matter of personal belief; it’s about how you were raised. It’s about birth and ethnicity. More than anything it’s about culture. This is the sense in which Brian was Christian. His parents were born Christian. He was raised on Christmas carols and Easter eggs and some nominal participation in a Christian community. Therefore, he was a Christian.

“Everyone has to have a religion,” I was told by an educated tour guide in Sri Lanka one summer. “Otherwise what would they do for your funeral?” In his classification system, Brian and I were both Christian. We weren’t Buddhist or Muslim or Hindu. We fit, instead, in the box with the Sri Lankan Catholics whose families had converted under the Portuguese colonists and with the Baptist and Mormon missionaries who were actively building churches and pursuing converts as we spoke. Our personal beliefs were largely irrelevant—interesting, perhaps, but if our minivan had gone off the road and they couldn’t ship our bodies home, we would have received a Christian burial.

In Evangelicalism, this kind of Christianity doesn’t count. Being a Christian means something quite explicit. Evangelicals don’t typically think of themselves as Evangelicals the way that Catholics think of themselves as Catholics; they think of themselves as Christians. And, they think of those other folks: Catholics, Seventh Day Adventists, Quakers, twice-a-year churchgoers like Brian, and even many devout Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians and members of older Christian lineages as not-Christians.

What Do Evangelicals Believe?

To be a Christian in the eyes of an Evangelical, you must take the Bible literally, accept a set of doctrines that derive from this biblical literalism, and have a born-again salvation experience. Though even Evangelicals have their minor theological differences, Evangelical Christianity demands allegiance to a very specific set of beliefs.

1. There is one God who is immutable, supreme, eternal, and perfect. Moreover, this God, the one and only God, is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, and Good. That means he is everywhere, knows everything, is all powerful, and essentially defines the concept of goodness.
God is perfectly merciful, just, and loving. He is unchanging, the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He is the God of Truth, opposite in this regard to Satan, the devil, the Father of Lies. Evil is external to the Christian God, alien, outside of him. Sometimes, in fact, that is how evil is defined: anything alien to the nature of God. God is not capable of evil.

2. This one God consists of three “persons.” At some level not quite comprehensible to us, God has three parts, called the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son (Jesus), and God the Holy Spirit. This is considered to be one of the glorious mysteries of the Christian faith. God the Father is localized in heaven, his dwelling place, but can also be thought of as existing throughout the universe. On Earth, he is present in all of nature, which he created, and we may see his power, goodness, and glory in the wonders of the natural world. In the Old Testament, he occasionally spoke audibly to selected humans or took on human form to converse with them. Jesus, the second part of the trinity, was a historical human being who was also fully God. The third part of the trinity, the Holy Spirit, does not have a human form. The Holy Spirit is a power or a presence which participated in creation and dwells in believers, enlightening and guiding them. These three persons constitute God.

3. Humans are made in the image of God but are inherently evil. All humans commit acts of evil or sin. Even if they didn’t, they would still be sinful because Adam and Eve, ancestors of all humans, broke God’s law in the Garden of Eden. They were told not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, but they did. This is how sin and suffering entered the world. Prior to this, the world was perfect. All humans have inherited the guilt of this sin simply by being born. This is called original sin. Humans are born sinful. In addition, all humans break God’s laws of their own volition. This can be called universal sin.

4. Each human has an eternal soul that remains conscious individually in the afterlife. The biblical descriptions of heaven and hell are woven into the very fabric of our culture. Who has not heard of the streets of gold and the fiery pit? Many take these descriptions literally; some do not. At minimum though, believers seem to agree that heaven constitutes some eternal state of bliss and union both with God and with other believers, while hell is some state of anguished separation from God and goodness.

5. Because of sin, both original sin and universal sin, the eternal soul of each human is alienated from God for eternity. For the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). All humans deserve and are condemned to an eternity of torment, which they have brought upon themselves by their sin.

6. The perfect blood sacrifice could restore the relationship between God and humans, but only Jesus Christ (God incarnate) is/was perfect enough to become this sacrifice, which he did. This is called “substitutionary blood atonement.” We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isa. 53:6). Jesus was perfect enough to do this because he did not have a human father and thus had no original sin, which is passed on to children through their fathers.* Mary, the mother of Jesus, was impregnated by the spirit of God. This is called the virgin birth.

7. The sacrifice of the human-God Jesus restores a pure relation between God and humans only if humans believe in and accept this sacrifice. This theme repeats throughout the New Testament. Acts 16:31 *Prescientific Jews and Christians believed that the child grew from a seed provided by the father. The mother’s womb was simply fertile ground in which this seed could grow. After it became accepted that a child grows from both mother and father, the Catholic Church had a theological dilemma. Theologians decided that through a miracle, Mary was born without sin. This is called the Immaculate Conception. Evangelicals do not believe in the Immaculate Conception, but offer no clear alternative.

Acts 16:31 says, And they [meaning the Apostle Paul and Silas, the first Christian missionaries] said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household.” Conversely, those who are not saved by Christ’s sacrificial death are doomed. In the words of the gospel writer: “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned” (Mark 16:16). Anyone who does not believe in redemption through blood sacrifice is not a real Christian.

8. Jesus will return to earth in immortal but human form and will take all real Christians to live with him eternally. The world as we know it will end. Jesus will appear in the clouds and those believers still remaining alive will rise up to be with him. Then, in a tempest of plagues, famine and bloodshed, nonbelievers and this earth will be destroyed, and the “God of This World,” Satan, will be cast into a fiery pit for eternity along with demons and anyone who is not a real Christian.

9. God cares about individual humans and intervenes in the course of nature in response to the prayers of Christians. Each individual is precious to God and is a part of his awareness. “His eye is on the sparrow,” we are told. The relationship between the believer and God is a personal one. Christians are commanded to pray, to talk to God as a form of worship and confession. Prayer, in the Bible, is described as an attitude of spiritual communion, as in pray without ceasing (1Thess. 5:17), but Christians are urged also to make specific requests of God. Prayer is an opportunity to ask for what you want. “For what man is there among you when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he shall ask for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” (Matt. 7:9–11). God answers prayer by giving people what they ask for.

10. God performs miracles. This means he makes exceptions to the laws of nature to show his power and to assist his faithful. A miracle can be in response to prayer, as when a prayed-for healing occurs, or it can be a spontaneous act of God, as when he strikes unbelievers with plagues or drought. It can be a simple sign of God’s existence, as when the face of Jesus appears in a puddle of paint or it can result in the annihilation of an entire people. Protestants tend to emphasize small miracles, events that could occur within the bounds of nature but wouldn’t have without God’s intervention—in other words, God tweaking the system. Catholics are more open to unexpected signs and wonders. Both believe that Jesus performed a wide range of miracles during his time on earth.

11. The natural world and the Bible are God’s revelations of himself to humankind. God not only created the natural order but actively sustains it. As a work of art reflects the artist, so nature reflects the character of her designer. By experiencing nature and by using reason to study natural processes, we can learn about God who created those processes. This is called natural revelation.

But nature reveals only part of what God wants us to know about himself. The rest is known through special revelation. This can include miracles, visions, spiritual intuitions, or the spirit of God speaking through church leaders, but by far the most important special revelation is the Bible and the life of Jesus as documented there.

Orthodox Christians believe the Bible, in its entirety, was uniquely inspired by God. Most Evangelicals take this a step further and argue that the writings in the Bible are “inerrant,” meaning perfect and without errors. No other writings, visions, or sermons have been inspired in this way, nor will they be. Since 400 CE, no new texts have been admitted into the Bible. God is done revealing himself in this way; it is up to us to accept what has been offered us.

Where Did These Doctrines Come From?

These doctrines were inherited, largely in their current form, from Protestant orthodoxy, and before that, from Roman Catholic orthodoxy. Evangelicalism is the child of Protestantism, which is the child of Roman Catholicism. These three make up a family; a rather conflicted, dysfunctional one perhaps, but a family nonetheless. Evangelicals often deny this heritage and pretend they are only distant relatives. But don’t be deceived. After all, children rarely like to acknowledge how much they are like their parents.

The family that includes Evangelicals, traditional Protestants, and traditional Roman Catholics can be called Western orthodoxy. Orthodoxy means a specific set of beliefs are agreed upon by a church hierarchy and are non-negotiable. They are right, and alternatives are wrong. Western orthodoxy distinguishes this family from the Eastern Orthodox family of religions and several ancient Middle Eastern lineages that predate the Roman Catholic Church.

Evangelicalism began as a movement to reform Protestantism, which began as a movement to reform Catholicism. As a consequence, Evangelical reform elements can be found within major Protestant denominations and within the Catholic Church. But many Evangelicals have split off from the mainstream denominations and have established independent “nondenominational” churches. They reject the authority of any ecclesiastical hierarchy and, in particular, scorn the Pope and institutions of Roman Catholicism.

Despite the similarities, Evangelicals differ from other orthodox Christians in important ways.
• More literal interpretation of the Bible.
• More emphasis on a specific single point of conversion— the born-again experience.
• An image of God that is more human-like and personal.
• A priority on individual righteousness over societal goodness.
• Concern about a literal Satan who works to undermine believers.
• Wariness of church establishments, authorities or hierarchy.
• Belief in a specific set of end-times prophecies.
• A central emphasis on proselytizing or winning converts.

Although these differences seem subtle and mostly matters of priority or degree, in actual practice they can put Evangelicals at odds with other Christians. An Anglican theologian may see God as a goodness and power beyond human comprehension, while an Evangelical may see him as a friend who can be asked for favors. A Quaker may be willing to die in the service of peace, while an Evangelical may approve preemptive war and manifest destiny. A Mennonite may pour her efforts into missions of mercy, and lobby for resources to tend the poor, while an Evangelical preaches individual redemption and, at a societal level, individual consequences for individual behavior. A United Church of Christ member may insist that Christ’s model demands loving acceptance of homosexuals, while an Evangelical ministry tells gay teens that they are condemned unless they go straight. A Presbyterian may be horrified by the thought of a mid-eastern bloodbath, while an Evangelical may welcome it as a sign that Christ’s return is imminent.

If Evangelicals deny their family ties and doctrinal heritage, Catholics and mainstream Protestants often underestimate the differences. They may see themselves as part of a brotherhood of faith, failing to recognize that some Evangelicals share their core doctrines without sharing their moral and spiritual priorities. Consequently, they tend to be uncomfortable speaking out even when Evangelicals violate these priorities. It’s all in the family, right? Imagine their surprise when they find themselves targeted by Evangelical missionaries who see them as either heathen or fallen from grace.

The very real overlap and equally real differences between Evangelicals and other orthodox Christians make it hard to talk about Evangelical beliefs and practices without drawing in other kinds of Christian orthodoxy. Some topics in this book apply only to Evangelicals. Other parts apply more broadly to the Western orthodox family. When Evangelicalism shares the beliefs and practices of her parent religions, I cannot address one without the other. Also, because Evangelicalism builds on her ancestor faiths, the history of Evangelicalism is the history of the Western Church, which becomes a part of my discussion.

Here is one additional and important point of clarity: no book can address the entire spectrum of Christian belief.

Historically, Many Kinds of Christianity Never Fit the Orthodox Family

“Behold,” says the psalmist. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1 KJV). I wonder what he would have thought of Christendom.

In the two thousand years since its birth, Christianity has encompassed an enormous range of theism centered on the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The boundaries of Christianity include many who have believed in the deity of Jesus and many who have not. Some have held that the Judeo- Christian God was just one of many supernatural beings; some have been monotheists to the point of rejecting the doctrine of the trinity: one God consisting of three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Some have insisted that heaven is rewarded to those who believe, while others have retorted that heaven is for those who emulate the compassion of Jesus.
Some have held that without the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, humans would be doomed to eternal anguish; others have argued that this notion of human sacrifice is a perversion, introduced into Christian thinking by surrounding pagan beliefs. Some have studied the sacred feminine, pointing out that God must encompass all virtues, male and female; others have insisted that God is a father and that the gender of Jesus reflects the nature of divinity. It is virtually impossible to address the range of Christian beliefs without resorting to a general discussion of monotheism.

Today, Many Christians Have Left Orthodoxy Behind

In the twentieth century, faced with findings in the fields of anthropology, archeology, physics, geology, biology, neurology, and psychiatry, as well as linguistic and historical analysis of the Bible itself, many Roman Catholics and Protestants adopted a symbolic interpretation of the Bible and Christian doctrine. These Christians are called modernist or liberal, which, according to my dictionary means favorable to progress or reform. Liberal Christians may think of the stories of the Bible as sacred metaphors. They may believe that the scriptures imperfectly reflect the struggle of imperfect humans to conceive of a Power and Goodness beyond imagining. They may be more inspired by the life of Jesus than by his death. Many of these Christians would find the issues discussed here largely irrelevant to their faith, my book examines beliefs they simply do not hold.

I should note that, although such Christians are called “modernist,” their lyrical worship is ancient. So is their struggle to see beyond sacred writings and rituals to incomprehensible truths. The profound spiritual experience of mystics, the cloistered contemplation of monks and nuns, and the simple routines of ascetics all share core elements with modernist worship. In each of these, the Bible and Christian creeds are experienced not as scientific or historical records but as finite, imperfect tools that open paths to transcendence, to deep communion with God and creation. Modernist Christians believe that this type of worship is closer to that of the Christian fathers than is the literalism of today’s Evangelicals. In fact, they may see the biblical literalism of their orthodox brethren as a kind of idol worship: as taking something made by humans and elevating it to a status that rightfully belongs to God alone.

The Evangelical view that the Bible is perfect and that each verse is an intentional message from God cannot be overemphasized. Orthodox Catholics believe that God guided the composition of the Bible, lending perfect judgment to the church authorities about which of the many available writings to include and which to reject. Other orthodox believers tend to agree with them. Most Evangelicals take this a step farther and insist that the Bible is inerrant, meaning without error, and that each word of the original was essentially dictated by God to the authors. The Bible can make no mistake. Where it appears to be mistaken or contradictory, this is simply a result of our human limitations. The only errors are errors in translation or transcription, of which there are very few and none that would change our understanding of major doctrines.

Many of the differences between Evangelicalism and other forms of Western Christianity derive from the extraordinary status given to the Bible by Evangelicals. Taken out of historical context, freed from its ancestor documents, writers, compilers, and translators, the Bible becomes a timeless direct communication from God to the believer—or to the believer’s pastor who acts as God’s translator.

Virtually all of the dark side of Evangelicalism stems from this one aspect of the faith. This context-free literalism ties Evangelicals to the traditional doctrines listed above, preventing the theological growth that might otherwise accompany our growing understanding of ourselves and the world around us. It allows Evangelicals to disown the ugliness of Christian history, to deny that it is the history of their own faith, and, consequently, to deny their own potential pitfalls. Worse, it binds Evangelicals to a series of ancient concepts ranging from the inferiority of women to blood sacrifice to holy war, concepts that threaten the fabric of our pluralistic society and ultimately the viability of human life on earth.

To Consider

The issues explored in this book would be irrelevant to Christians were it not for two key claims made by virtually all forms of Christian faith.

First, any form of Christianity stakes its legitimacy as a moral and spiritual practice on the nature of God himself. Christians claim to worship the God of Love and Truth, the God of Goodness, Mercy, Justice, Joy, and Peace—the only possible kind of God worthy of worship. To the extent that the beliefs and practices of any Christian religion violate these Divine attributes, that religion violates its own God and claim to legitimacy.

Second, virtually all Christians believe that their faith is reasonable. God makes his truth recognizable to us humans through our minds as well as our emotions. Without this assumption, the whole field of theology would disappear. Two thousand years of theologians and evangelists, from the Apostle Paul to Thomas Aquinas to Martin Luther to Pat Robertson have spent their lives propagating their beliefs by appealing to reason and real world evidence. Defenders of the faith argue that belief is rational: although faith may be beyond reason, it is not counter to reason. Again, to the extent that any Christian religion clearly violates reason, it violates its own reason for being.

In coming pages, I will show that Evangelical teachings counter both reason and morality. If, as Christianity claims, we were created by a God whose defining attributes are Goodness and Truth and whose greatest commandment is Love, then Evangelical doctrines and practices violate this God. And to the extent that any of us care deeply about honoring truth and goodness in our personal lives and in our society, we should care deeply about the growing power of Evangelicalism to distort both.

If you like this excerpt, the book can be found at www.lulu.com/tarico. Previous chapters and further musings by Valerie Tarico available at www.spaces.msn.com/awaypoint.



<-- Chapter 1

6/27/2006                                                                                       View Comments

Clergy Misconduct: Not Only a Catholic Problem

by Jeff the Ubergeek

In recent years there has been a tremendous rise in public awareness of clergy misconduct, primarily sexual. The scandals involving the Catholic clergy are perhaps the best known because of the media exposure. Indeed, with the media focusing almost exclusively the aforementioned scandals to the point of nausea, an obvious question comes to mind; does this problem affect any Protestant denominations?

To many readers the answer is fairly obvious. Since the webmaster focuses almost exclusively on Protestant faiths when posting news items, we might conclude that problems involving clergy misconduct occur quite as often among Protestants – perhaps more so – than among Catholics. But apparently, some True Christian™ readers object believing the problem as solely belonging to “those Catholic fruitcakes,” while others question whether posting these news items serves any purpose.

In order to better inform readers and address these objections, this article is submitted for review and discussion. Due to the number of possible cases and a lack of information in some areas this article will be limited to a very general survey of sexual misconduct by Protestant clergy.

It is important to note that there is no evidence that believers, including clergy, are any more likely to engage in this type of behavior than non-believers. As with last year's controversial study discussing religion and society by Gregory S. Paul, correlation does not imply causation. Therefore, no attempt is made to link religiosity to sexual behavior.

Objection #1: This is a Catholic problem.

Very little actual research exists concerning clergy sexual misconduct. While there have been studies conducted, much work remains to be done. Partly this is because much of the so-called research is relatively informal and non-scientific. Internal surveys, unpublished doctoral theses, polls, and anecdotal evidence is common.

Further complicating matters is that the existing research suffers from several problems. Among the problems research in this area suffers from is the difficulty inherent in studying sexual misconduct in general. Acts of this kind are by their very nature hidden, and the fact that victims don’t always report it complicates matters. This is true whether studying the clergy or the general populace. Other problems include potential underreporting, self-reporting, lack of coherent (or even faulty) methodology, and not surprisingly bias among other issues.

Some relevant research and findings include:

1. The Nature and Scope of the Problem of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests and Deacons in the United States, conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. This study found that roughly 4% of Catholic priests from 1950 – 2002 were sexual abusers.

2. Pedophiles and Priests : Anatomy of a Contemporary Crisis by Dr. Philip Jenkins. Dr. Jenkins estimates that approximately 2% of priests are sexually abusive. Also addresses the problem in other denominations.

3. Sex, Priests, and Power: Anatomy of a Crisis by A.W. Richard Sipe. Mr. Sipes focuses on the controversy from the aspect of the Catholic doctrine of celibacy and how it affects men in the priesthood. He estimates that up to 50% of allegedly celibate priests are sexually active, and 8% to 10% of priests may well be an accurate count of those who are sexually abusive.

4. Clergy Misconduct: Sexual Abuse in the Ministerial Relationship, 1991 by a group from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA. Only available offline as part of a collection located in the Flora Lamson Hewlett Library. This survey of primarily Protestant ministers found that 10% of them had been sexually active with a parishioner (as cited here).

5. How Common is Pastoral Indiscretion? In 1988, the research department of Christianity Today, Inc. conducted a poll of nearly 1000 pastors, 30% of whom responded. In response to the question, ‘Since you've been in local church ministry, have you ever done anything with someone (not your spouse) that you feel was sexually inappropriate’ 23% of pastors answered affirmatively. In response to the question, ‘Have you ever had sexual intercourse with someone other than your spouse since you've been in local church ministry’ 12% of pastors answered affirmatively.

6. Research published in a winter 1993 edition of the Journal of Pastoral Care found that 6.1% of Southern Baptist pastors admitted to having sexual contact with current or former congregants. In addition, 70% of respondents claimed to know other pastors who had engaged in similar activities with congregants (as cited here).

7. Nearly 42% of respondents to a 1990 study conducted by the United Methodist Church reported unwanted sexual behavior by a colleague or pastor, while 17% reported having been harassed by their own pastor (as cited here).

8. In 1999, researchers Professor Nancy Ammerman and the Rev. Dr. Terry Schmitt from the Hartford Institute for Religion Research and funded by the Lilly Endowment, Inc. gathered information from 11 focus groups in 4 cities on the topic of clergy abuse of trust. They found that the majority of incidents were non-sexual (149 non-sex-related vs. 122 sex related). However, with regard to sex-related incidents ‘Episcopalians and Southern Baptists are as likely to have had a sexual breach of trust as are Methodists and Catholics.’ Citing sample size and non-randomness as inhibitors, they indicated that there is ‘…no way to know how often pedophilia also occurs among Protestants – there is every reason to believe, however, that it does.’

The scandals of a couple years ago prompted a large number of articles to be written and research unearthed (much of it suffers similar problems as above) to determine the extent of the problem in the Protestant church. For more information, see the additional references below.

Just with the material above, we can conclude that the problem of clergy sexual misconduct is not confined to the Catholic faith. Abuse of trust by ministers is a problem that knows no denominational boundaries. The majority of resources consulted for this article agree with this idea. Furthermore, based on items #4 - #7 alone, we find that an average of just over 20% of Protestant pastors may be involved in some sort of sexually inappropriate behavior.

Could it be that Protestants are actually more likely to engage in this type of activity?

The reality is that we really don't know. Is it reasonable to assume that Protestant clergy are just as likely to engage in sexually inappropriate behavior as Catholics? The information we have, even with its weaknesses, seems to answer that question - yes.

But this is not the end of the questioning. In reading about this subject, I came across several articles that also raised several questions. For example, how does sexual misconduct by clergy compare with that of the laity or even the general population? This wasn't explored since it seemed beyond the necessary scope of this article. Another missing component is, how does the clergy stack up against other professions? Unfortunately, no relevant data exists to do the comparison. Finally, I did not explore the power dynamic between priest and parishioner and how that might influence sexual relationships within the church.

In the end the latter factor is possibly most important. As Rose Marie Berger astutely observed in her article (link below), "...the true scandal is not about priests. It's about manipulation of power to abuse the weak."

Objection #2: Posting articles about misconduct serves no purpose.

Many of our True Christian™ visitors affirm the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. While there are many ways to respond, these articles serve to illustrate that this alleged transformation does not happen to all believers, or if it does it is not proof against temptation. A Christian may respond to this by saying that this transformation does not subvert free will; this argument does not address the weakness of the transformation itself. If the alleged transformation results in no substantial change in behavior, it has no value.

The Christian doctrine of the atonement and salvation by faith not by works may also influence the clergy in a way that enables their misconduct. It seems there are always Christians willing to stand up and defend these fallen ministers. Comments such as "who are we to judge," or "he did so many good things" are quite common in the threads. Christians seem to be quite willing to overlook these crimes or even blame the victim for leading him or her astray. Such moral lassitude cannot go unanswered.

A related argument sometimes put forth is that ‘Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.’ By that logic, each of those pastors featured in the posted news items have no accountability before their God. Jesus has paid the price for their sin. It is doubtful that even our True Christian™ visitors would find this prospect very palatable. It is an inherently unjust proposition and flies in the face of the notion of a just God.

Some worry about the possibility of stigmatizing or stereotyping ministers. It’s true that the majority of clergy do not abuse their congregants. However, most Christians look to their ministers as righteous servants of God. Furthermore, clergy are in the Top 10 professions rated for honesty and ethics (see here). If there is a stereotype, it is that the clergy is trustworthy.

The mainstream media seems content with sticking to the ongoing Catholic scandals. Exposing this problem here as it relates to Protestants is not likely to create a new stereotype or stigmatize the profession. People will continue to trust those in ministry, and we will continue to see articles posted here detailing how some were deceived or injured by a clergy member.

In summary, I feel that posting these items helps promote critical discussion of the problems of organized Christianity and the church in general. It also promotes the notion that faith changes nothing, or perhaps even enables misconduct. Finally, it destroys the stereotype of the righteous servant of God. To me, this is an important public service.



Additional References (apologies if some were already linked):

1. Sexual Abuse by Protestant Ministers

2. Soul Betrayal (1996) by Anne A. Simpkinson.

3. A Quick Question: How Common is Clergy Sexual Misconduct? (2002) from the Hartford Institute for Religion Research.

4. A Wider Circle of Clergy Abuse (2002) by Jane Lampman.

5. Commentary: Catholic Scandal, Ecumenical Solution (2002) by Rose Marie Berger.

6. Clergy Sexual Abuse (1996) by Frances Park.

7. Misconduct of Spiritual Leaders (2003) by Google Answers

8. How the Clergy Sexual Abuse Scandal Affects Evangelical Churches (2002) by Ted Olsen and Todd Hertz

9. Sexual Abuse in Social Context: Catholic Clergy and Other Professionals (2004) by the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. (NOTE: Contains some info on other denominations.)

10. Clergy Abuse Problem Plaguing Many Denominations (2002) by Kelley Quinn

11. The Forbidden Zone: The Nature and Prevalence of Clergy Sexual Abuse (2000) Unknown Author.

6/21/2006                                                                                       View Comments

Homeless or Jesus?

The Jesus Dynasty : The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity

Based on a careful analysis of the earliest Christian documents and recent archaeological discoveries, The Jesus Dynasty offers a bold new interpretation of the life of Jesus and the origins of Christianity. The story is surprising, controversial, and exciting as only a long-lost history can be when it is at last recovered.

In The Jesus Dynasty, biblical scholar James Tabor brings us closer than ever to the historical Jesus. Jesus, as we know, was the son of Mary, a young woman who became pregnant before her marriage to a man named Joseph. The gospels tell us that Jesus had four brothers and two sisters, all of whom probably had a different father than his. He joined a messianic movement begun by his relative John the Baptizer, whom he regarded as his teacher and a great prophet. John and Jesus together filled the roles of the Two Messiahs who were expected at the time: John, as a priestly descendant of Aaron, and Jesus, as a royal descendant of David. Together they preached the coming of the Kingdom of God. Theirs was an apocalyptic movement that expected God to establish his kingdom on earth, as described by the Prophets. The Two Messiahs lived in a time of turmoil as the historical land of Israel was dominated by the powerful Roman Empire. Fierce Jewish rebellions against Rome occurred during Jesus' lifetime.

John and Jesus preached adherence to the Torah, or the Jewish Law. But their mission was changed dramatically when John was arrested and then killed. After a period of uncertainty, Jesus began preaching anew in Galilee and challenged the Roman authorities and their Jewish collaborators in Jerusalem. He appointed a Council of Twelve to rule over the twelve tribes of Israel, and among the Twelve he included his four brothers. After Jesus was crucified by the Romans, his brother James -- the "Beloved Disciple" -- took over leadership of the Jesus dynasty.

James, like John and Jesus before him, saw himself as a faithful Jew. None of them believed that their movement was a new religion. It was Paul who transformed Jesus and his message through his ministry to the Gentiles. Breaking with James and the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem, Paul preached a message based on his own revelations, which would become Christianity. Jesus became a figure whose humanity was obscured; John became merely a forerunner of Jesus; and James and the others were all but forgotten.

James Tabor has studied the earliest surviving documents of Christianity for more than thirty years and has participated in important archaeological excavations in Israel. Drawing on this background, Tabor reconstructs for us the movement that sought the spiritual, social, and political redemption of the Jews, a movement led by one family. The Jesus Dynasty offers an alternative version of Christian origins, one that takes us closer than ever to Jesus and his family and followers.

This is a book that will change our understanding of one of the most crucial moments in history.

"Many scholars have undertaken studies of Jesus and his legacy; none has dared advance the boldly provocative theses of The Jesus Dynasty. For sheer breadth of vision and imaginative reconstruction, rooted deeply in the historical sciences, this promises to be a book unlike any the public has ever seen."

-- Professor Bart Ehrman, Author of Misquoting Jesus and Chair, Department of Religious Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

"James Tabor presents what may be the boldest reconstruction yet of the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth. Working with the surviving evidence like a CSI detective -- especially the testimonies concerning Jesus' family and the Jerusalem Nazarenes -- Tabor succeeds in reinscribing what has been lost (and in some cases erased) from the historical record. At once scholarly and accessible, Tabor's book may very well inaugurate a new phase in the quest for the historical Jesus."

-- Professor Arthur J. Droge, Professor of New Testament and Early Christian Literature and Director, Program in Religious Studies, University of California at San Diego

"James Tabor stands out among his generation of biblical scholars for his thorough familiarity with the full range of textual evidence from the first centuries, his extensive experience with archaeological excavations, and his imagination and creativity. Tabor has a remarkable ability to discern the contours of vital religious movements from the scattered bits and pieces of evidence that survive from antiquity. Anyone who takes the career of Jesus seriously will have to reckon with his bold, new synthesis."

-- Professor Eugene V. Gallagher, Rosemary Park Professor of Religious Studies, Connecticut College

Hardback | Digital | Audio CD

6/16/2006                                                                                       View Comments

It's like Cancer

Sent in by Ian

"…It's too bad that you're going to Hell…"

"…Hope you enjoy your special place in HELL…"

"…Hope you have an asbestos suit, cause you're going to HELL…"


It's 2:40 in the morning on June 16th, 2006. I'm sitting in front of my computer, my eyes weary, my legs sweaty, and my heart and mind heavy with anger.

What a lousy way to end your first day of being twenty years old.

Why am I here? It's because of this cancer that I have, buried deep within me. It's not cancer in a medical sense. You cannot see it with a microscope, you cannot cut it away with a laser. Yet it's there, buried deep within me.

It's the cancer of fear.

Only now, two years after leaving Christianity for good, do its effects finally start appearing. It's ironic in a way. Fear was the first thing that brought me into Christianity, and it's the last thing that clings to me after I left it. It was the threat of hell that brought me into it, and it's the threat of hell that hangs over my head.

Two years. In two years one would think that I'd have this licked by now. I've read and researched. I've learned about how Christianity is just another religion that borrows elements from other religions such as the dying and resurrecting Godman, the concept of hell from some religion from the east (is it Zaoitrism?). I've read hundreds of near death experiences and hundreds of accounts of a loving God who loves us all unconditionally, who doesn't judge us and who just loves us.

Yet…that damn cancer is still here. It's still festering within me. No matter what I do, no matter how hard I try, I just can't get rid of it. If I had a knife I'd cut it out of me. Slice open the skin and dig this little fucker out of me. Take it and crush it in my hand. Watch as it writhes in pain, watch as it's blood seeps through my fingers and drips onto the ground. Watch as this little sonofabitch dies a painful death.

I'd make it feel the fear, the worry, the depression, the horrible feelings I got from it. How it snaked out after me to try and scare me. How it's kept me awake at night worrying, how it's followed me through the day. God how I hate it. I hate this cancer. I'd exchange a physical cancer if it meant that this horrible cancer of fear was gone forever, never to return.

But I can't do that. And even now, as I type these words in the darkness of the morning, I can still feel it within me. The doubt, the worry, all of it just simmering below the surface.

***

Why is it that fear is used so much these days? Why is it that Christianity, a religion that is supposed to be about love and peace, instead uses fear? Why is it that Christians oftentimes feel the need to say things like…

"You have chosen to be blind to the TRUTH!"

"You have obviously been deceived by the devil."

Or these…

"It's too bad that you're going to Hell."

"Hope you enjoy your special place in HELL."

"Hope you have an asbestos suit, cause you're going to HELL."

Hey, lay off with the threats already. Your stupid little beliefs that turn God into a monster are a mockery of whoever God is. I've been there. Threats are not the way to go with people.

Oh yes, I've heard your tricks before. You claim that you're our friends, trying to save us. I've heard your victims say that "if a friend were driving to a foreign country, wouldn't you want to give him a map?" Save it. I've heard it all before. You manifest yourself in many ways, some nice looking, some evil looking.

Take chick publications. A little comic book company that happens to make little comics that spell out how you're a doomed sinner who's going to hell unless you accept the lord Jesus into your heart. Let me tell you something you horrible thing: Chick publications is evil. Their little comic books are evil. Within these pages fear drips and oozes on every page, dripping down onto you. And when these drops of fear meet with bare skin, they dig down. They burrow. They head deep and stay deep, eagerly planting themselves with no intention of moving.

Some see these comics of people being judged by a faceless God to be amusing and funny. Some see them as hysterical even.

How many of these people are ex-christians? I'm one, and I don’t see them to be funny at all. When I even get a tiny glimpse of them, the fear that long ago buried itself within me springs forth and goes into action. No matter how my rational mind works, no matter how much I know, Christianity and its fear appeal to the emotions of a person. It appeals to fear, to uncertainty, to doubt.

No matter how strong I may be, no matter how much I know, the emotions of this cancer can easily overwhelm me.

"…It's too bad that you're going to Hell…"

No matter how hard I try, no matter how often my friends encourage me, no matter what happens…

I…

just…

can't…

do it…

I can't beat it. This cancer within me is strong and bides it's time. It often vanishes, up to months at a time. Yet at the slightest opportunity it springs forth and leaps with joy at the opportunity to seize me within its talons.

I just can't get rid of it.

I can't.

The scars are too deep. The cancer is buried too deep. I just can't get rid of it.

I can't, can't you see?

No matter how hard I try, no matter how much I learn or know, no matter what I do, this fear, this horrible cancer remains inside me. It may be cut and it may be gashed, and it may even be grievously injured, but a part of it always survives. A part of it always retreats to regroup and prepare to come forth again.

"…Hope you enjoy your special place in HELL…"

God how I hate it. God how I hate this horrible cancer that has been unleashed upon this earth. The fear of hell has no doubt been a powerful motivator for people for centuries. I'm just another one of its victims. Just one out of millions through the years.

The others, they don't really understand. They can say that I'm being too serious, they can say that I refuse to let go, they can say not to look at the stuff, they can say whatever they want to say. But they just don't understand it.

This is cancer. It takes its roots early and digs deep. To my young mind, it found a fertile ground with rich soil. To someone who was worried and scared, evil and harmful doctrines found a home.

It became a part of me. For four long years. And I didn't even realize what was going on.

IT threatened me. IT continues to threaten me today. And I am fucking sick of IT. I am so fucking tired of IT.

I try to get away from IT.

I try. But then a book comes along. And my near fatal flaw of curiosity gets the better of me and I start reading. It only takes a paragraph to trigger it. Sometimes, just a sentence. No matter. The damage is done.

Worry begins to creep into my mind once more. I might be going to hell because I haven't accepted Jesus. God might judge me one day and throw me into hell because I wasn't a Christian. I might burn forever in a lake of fire…

A year ago, when I was fresh out of my old faith, such things would have me worried, would have me begging God to help me.

But now, it's different. When the fear comes, so does something else. Rage. Anger. Hatred.

I hate to see IT manifest itself in so many ways. The arrogance, the pride, the self-inflated egos of those who say "I'm saved and you're not." I hate to see IT spreading. Whenever I see Billy Graham, I cringe. I see an angry man preaching a fear based message to people who need help. In his messages I find threats and absolutes. I am so fucking sick of seeing "The bible says…"

Mr. Graham is an agent of IT. I wonder if he knows that?

Whenever I see someone saying, "The bible says that…" I clench my fingers and squeeze hard. The bible is an agent of IT. It contains hate, fear, threats and warnings. Even though there are messages of hope and love and all that is actually good in this world, the threats and warnings are just as numerous.

For christ's sake, can't I just go through my life trying to be nice to other people? Can't I just go through life without being warned and threatened that I'm going to hell because I'm not a Christian?

I want to stop IT. I want to see IT lying on the ground, bleeding and dying a painful death for all the misery it has caused. IT deserves nothing less. If there is a hell, then IT should be the only permanent resident. Fear has no place in heaven.

"…Hope you have an asbestos suit, cause you're going to HELL…"

SHUT UP! FOR GOD'S SAKE, SHUT UP!

I grab IT by the neck and I squeeze. I squeeze hard. IT gasps and grabs at IT's throat, IT's copy of the bible falling into the mud.

I squeeze, pushing IT towards the mud.

"DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT YOU'VE DONE?!" I roar. "DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW MUCH I HATE YOU?!"

IT changes form. IT's face shifts rapidly. A fundamentalist, hell fire and brimstone preacher, who's kind rants and raves about the torments of hell upon the unbelievers.

I squeeze harder.

IT's face shifts again. It becomes one of my friends, who is a Christian. Then it shifts into his mother. She struggles against my grasp, wheezing for air. Yet I do not let up. She was under the control of IT. She told me, mockingly, that because I was damned to hell anyway for not accepting Jesus, I could go ahead and save all the babies I wanted from death (she believed that God chooses when babies die and we have no right to save them).

Her face is turning purple. She mocked me. She told me how I was damned, and how she was saved and looking forward to death so she could be with God.

Do you know how you made me feel with your pompous ass egotistical statements? Do you know how miserable and depressed you made me feel?

Before I can finish, IT shifts again. It becomes one of the scouts from my Boy Scout troop, a young man who I'm good friends with. He once told me, sadly, that our deeds mean nothing to God because no imperfections can be allowed in heaven, and because we make mistakes and are not perfect, we cannot enter heaven without accepting Jesus.

And then IT shifts again…to an assistant scoutmaster from my troop. I rode with him once to camp. Little did I know that he was an evangelical Christian. The talk we had drained me so quickly of enthusiasm and happiness that it was as if he was an emotional vampire.

I glare into his eyes and ram him into the ground. "Do you know how depressed and upset you made me?" I hiss into his face. "Do you know how you shattered everything I believed in?! DO YOU?!?!?!" He tries to answer, but my grip is now like a vice. Slow, uncompromising and absolute.

He had countered everything I said with a quote from the bible. He dashed off all the historical evidence that was in favor of Christianity. He poked fun at my belief that Love is the way, the truth, and the life, saying that he could easily say that baseball is the way, the truth and the life, but that doesn't make it true.
I commented that according to his beliefs, I was damned. He had paused for a moment, then said yes, I was.

God, how can people believe this?

Before I can finish the squeeze, IT's form shifts again. This time, it's Billy Graham.

"Mr. Graham." I hiss. "I've been wanting to do this for a very long time." I pick him off the ground and hurl him into a wall. His bible falls from his shirt pocket. I grab it and rip it to shreds. "Where's your precious bible quotes now Mr. Graham?!" I shout, grabbing him by the collar and slamming him back into the wall.

"Tell me Mr. Graham." I hiss to his face. "How do you feel telling well-meaning people that they are doomed to hellfire because they haven't accepted Jesus? How often do you stand up on that dinky little podium of yours and tell the audience that we're all sinners? How often do you tell people that they're damned, damnit?! You my friend, spread fear. You spread the caner. I hope you like that!"

Grabbing his throat, my fingers digging into his skin, I hurl him over my head and face first into a wall. He falls, neck broken. But it's not finished.

Above me, the cloudy sky pours rain as I walk over to Mr. Graham's lifeless corpse. Then IT changes again, this time to the authors of all the fear based bible books and material I've ever seen. IT stands up and looks at me, glaring.

"…It's too bad that you're going to Hell…"

I scream and jump on IT, sending us both into the mud. I grab IT and punch, claw and tear at the faces, the ones who told me that they were my friend, trying to save me. The ones who say that Jesus is the only savior, the ones who frightened me with their work.

I scream and tear at them all, ripping their faces to bloody shreds. All the anger, all the hatred has boiled to the surface, and there is no stopping it. All the mental anguish and all the fear will be dealt with.

With a final slash I send the broken, bashed in face of Greg Laurie sliding through the mud into a rock. I stand, and I stare at the ruined, bloody face of IT. And I turn, facing away. All the pain, all the hatred at these people who threaten me, even if they aren't aware of it. I hate them all. I hate them.

But IT is a cancer. And it does not die easily, for I hear it getting off the ground and coming up behind me.

With a yell I spin, grab IT and jump on top of IT, pinning it into the mud. I raise my fist, ready to bash IT's face in again…

…and I stare into the face of Jesus Christ.

I pause. My clenched fist, so eager to pulverize, hesitates. From the mud, Jesus looks up at me, his face unreadable. No anger, no hate, no love, nothing. He just looks at me, as if letting me know that I can bash his face in if I want.

I look at him.

"Why?" I ask, tears coming from my eyes. "Why?"

He looks at me.

"Do you have any idea, any idea at all, about all the pain your sayings would cause? Do you have any idea at all how much I hate what you say? Do you have any idea whatsoever how much I hate the religion that follows you? Do you have any idea how much I hate its doctrines, its exclusiveness, its fear?! Do you?! DO YOU?!"

He doesn't answer.

"WHY?!" I scream. "WHY, WHY, WHY?!?!?!" Over and over and over I keep screaming it, screaming at a man who supposedly said he was the son of God, at the man that millions adore and worship.

And yet…he does not answer me.

"I HATE YOU!" I scream. "I HATE YOU!"

And then IT changes one more time. The face and body of Jesus vanish, replaced with an unexpected form.

Mine.

I stare at myself, standing there. My own face is angry. My own face is full of rage. IT glares back at me with the same anger I have.

My God…why? I'm becoming just like IT.

Maybe it's not the people I hate. It’s the fear that they spread that I hate. It's the darkness that they spread that I despise, that I detest. It's the ideas that drive people apart, that cripple people's lives, that plunges them into the depths of despair and fear.

That's what I hate. I don't hate these people. I hate the darkness within them…and me.

For fear is like cancer. It takes hold and it doesn't let go.

***

Before I wrote this, I spent the better part of half an hour lying in my bed, trying to sleep but unable to. I lay there, my mind racing over those horrible little comics that I had stupidly read earlier. The horrible, evil messages of a judgmental God, of the infallibility of the bible and how Jesus is the only way…

God I hate those cartoons. I want to take them all and burn them. I want to destroy the company so that no one has to go through what I'm going through. These horrible little comics are evil. And the thought that these might find their way into the hands of kids…

One thought I've had is a horrible one. What if they are right? What if this Christian afterlife description turns out to be true? What if Mr. Graham, Mr. Laurie, the evangelical assistant scoutmaster, the mocking mother and all those others who give messages of fear go to heaven, and those non-christians like myself who try to be good go to hell?

Oh God I want to destroy those things. I hate them so fucking much.

I prayed to God while I was in bed. No, more like, pleaded and cried. I ranted at God how I hated Christianity, how I hate its doctrines, its exclusiveness, and how it uses fear. I ranted at God at how much I hated it, how I thought it was a cancer upon the earth that needed to be wiped out.

There's a stuffed alligator in my bed, along with a stuffed toy shark. I held them tightly and squeezed them. They didn't judge me. They didn't demand that I worship them. They simply went along with what happened. Granted, they are only stuffed fabric shaped and colored like animals, but it felt good squeezing them.

Sometimes, when things just get too overwhelming, it feels good to hug and squeeze things. Why can't it be that way all the time? Why can't we just stop with the fucking threats of hell and just hug each other? Why for God's sake do we threaten each other with hell?

I am a victim of emotional cancer. For all my knowing and wisdom, I suffer from a lack of confidence and an emotional weakness to fear. If I'm exposed to it, I break down and fall apart.

This cancer is a leftover of my experience with threats of hell. Like all diseases, it takes time to cure it. I may never cure it. It may be with me for the rest of my life. Or it could go away within a few years, never to return.





I've never talked about myself this much before, about what I feel about fear. I've never talked about how I sometimes want to strangle the people who make me afraid, who scare me. I've never talked about how much I hate them at times, and how much I hate what I'm carrying with me.

Who are you? I don't know. You, as an observer, may say "get over it" or "Why don't you just walk away". You may mean well, but you just don't know. This cancer rooted itself deeply within me six years ago. It was only in the last two that I was aware it existed. Six years to take root and hang on tight. Dislodging such a thing takes time.

Thank you. Thank you, whoever you are. Writing this over the past two hours has been an incredibly therapeutic experience. I feel…drained, but in a good, healing way. I've never written such violent material before with regards to religion…yet it felt good. It's as if these horrible thoughts and things I've kept stored away for a long time have finally come out and left me.

Thank you for reading. I don't care if you're a Christian or an atheist, Buddhist or agnostic. Just thank you for reading it, for listening. I may know you, or I may never meet you, but knowing that at least someone out there read this thing that I've typed out during a long, sleepless night somehow makes me feel better.

One day I hope I can walk around with no fear in regards to spirituality, to religion, to Christianity or to faith. It is my great hope that one day I will be able to look at fear based tracts, comics, or books, and make them quiver under my gaze. It's not easy, healing this pain and fear that has clung to me. Earlier I wrote that it was still with me. Now it's not. It's gone.

It may be regrouping, or it may be packing up and leaving. I don't know. I don't know what the future holds for me, for this cancer, for this horrible cycle that I've gone through over and over again (Curiosity, doubt, worry, fear, then terror, then anger and rage, then quiet, then all over again) is one that I feel lost in. It's been repeating itself for two years now, ever since I left Christianity.

Hopefully, one day it will stop and cease to be. And then the cancer will be no more.

I look forward to that day.

6/12/2006                                                                                       View Comments

Chapter 1: Leaving Home

Excerpt from The Dark Side: How Evangelical Teachings Corrupt Love and Truth. Excerpts from this book will be published here every week throughout 2006.

Faith of our fathers, holy faith! We will be true to thee till death.
—Frederick Faber

WHEN I FIRST STARTED HAVING MISGIVINGS ABOUT MY FAITH, I DID WHAT ANY GOOD Evangelical would: I prayed. I was fifteen at the time, earnest and devout; an eldest daughter with a caretaker’s heart and responsibilities; a good student surrounded by a good family, good friends, and a good church community. Even so, the cognitive changes that beset teenagers: increased ability to introspect, to think critically, and to envision the possible, were giving me trouble.

As they do to most teens, these changes chewed at my self image. The world became one gigantic mirror, and I noticed for the first time that I had been born ugly. By extension, they chewed at my image of my parents, who became more and more annoying and less and less smart. But they also chewed at my Answers, at the carefully constructed world view that I had built during years of listening to my elders and thinking and reading. (Yes, children and teens can and do think deeply about spiritual matters.) It was a world view with clean lines and clean answers, not always simple, but solid. Now parts seemed a little fuzzy, dubious. I didn’t like the feeling.

Fortunately, I had learned my lessons well. I knew what to do. I prayed and read my Bible at night before I went to bed. My home church, a nondenominational congregation called Scottsdale Bible, offered lots of opportunities to reinforce faith, and I took advantage of them. I attended Pioneer Girls, like Evangelical Girl Scouts, on Wednesday nights. Mom shuttled me to Bible study on Thursdays, and, of course, I was there with the family for Sunday morning worship.

In the summer, I volunteered as a counselor at a Child Evangelism camp, working to win inner city children to Jesus. I led my little troop of dark-eyed campers through prayers at breakfast and bedtime and many times in between. During the school year, I attended Young Life meetings.

Young Life provided after-school fellowship and wilderness adventures for teens like me, combining music and Bible study with a sense of belonging to something exciting and fun. For my high school biology class, I wrote a scathing paper attacking the theory of evolution with information I got from the Creation Research Society. I was thrilled that neither my biology teacher nor her young assistant knew how to rebut my arguments.

In the early seventies, The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey made the rounds in my church community. It has since sold over fifteen million copies. Intended to fuel anxiety about godlessness, this book depicts our age as the “End Times,” culminating in a world ruled by a brutal Antichrist before God’s final judgment. It is based loosely on the apocalyptic visions in the book of Revelation and on a scheme of theology called dispensationalism that emerged during the 19th Century. In recent years, Evangelical author, Tim LaHaye, has written the bestselling Left Behind series on the same topic. You can find them in any airport bookstore; fear sells.

It worked on me! I redoubled my efforts to live a Christ-centered life. I even participated in the “I Found It” campaign. After billboards that said “I Found It” appeared all over the country, Evangelical Christians fanned out, telling the world what they had found: Jesus Christ. I, who hated selling even candy bars for marching band, sat at a phone bank and talked strangers through the Four Spiritual Laws and the prayer they needed to be saved.

Late in high school, I joined thousands of others in the Phoenix Coliseum for the Bill Gothard Seminar, a modern equivalent of the old tent revival, which was touring the country at the time. The focus wasn’t on hellfire and brimstone, but it was on repentance. With notebooks in our laps and pencils in hands we talked through rituals of renewal: setting right our relationships with others by confessing to them any ill will and making amends, then returning to devoted Christian living, giving, and worship. I painstakingly and often tearfully completed the steps at home.

Does this sound like insider talk: jargon and buzz phrases and name dropping? It is. I was an insider. And I was trying very hard to keep it that way. My faith had been the center of my life since I was small. In the fifth grade, my best friend, Jeanine, and I used to sit in a corner of our public school playground during recess and complete Bible study workbooks. Not, mind you, that there was much else to do. We were both outsiders, new to the school, and we shared bookish tendencies as well as our faith. But this episode illustrates an important point. Evangelical Christianity was what I fell back on when I felt lost. It was my home.

If I said the doubts made me uneasy, I lied by omission. In actuality they terrified me at times. I remember kneeling one night on the floor of my bedroom, crying, pleading for God to take them away, and then crawling into bed with some sense of relief. I read, desperately, whatever I could get my hands on that might solve this problem. Your God is Too Small, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, The Problem of Pain. Often this worked. I would find myself comfortable again, at least temporarily, and could divert my attention to the playful fellowship of my church youth group: water skiing trips with small fireside chats, backpack trips during which we meditated and sang God’s praises in lush alpine meadows, a kiss after Wednesday night Bible study for my sixteenth birthday.

When I left for college, I headed, by my choice, to Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, where the graduate school, called the Billy Graham Center, houses a museum of American Evangelicalism with a focus on Graham’s fearsome crusades. Wheaton is the elder statesman in a group of Evangelical colleges that have grown in recent decades to include Bob Jones University and Jerry Falwell’s Liberty Baptist College. Since 1860, Wheaton has been a bulwark of conservative Christian education. Thanks in part to the college, the town of Wheaton is dry to this day, and church attendance is stellar, even for the Midwest.

Wheaton made national news in November of 2003 by allowing its first on-campus dance. In my day, students signed what we called “The Pledge,” promising, as I later joked, not to drink, dance, swear, or sleep with anyone who did. Actually, the promise was not to sleep with anyone at all. I presume married students got an exception. For twenty years I have thought that the Wheaton motto was “All Truth is God’s Truth,” meaning that since God is the source of all that is true (by contrast with Satan, the Father of Lies), there can be no evil in the honest pursuit of truth. I’m not sure where I got that impression. The actual motto is “For Christ and his Kingdom,” which, in reality, fits much better.

By the time I arrived at Wheaton, my Evangelical faith had become somewhat convoluted and confusing, not in the basics, that Christ had died to save me and that I otherwise, thanks to original sin and my own behavior, was doomed to an eternity of anguished separation from God and goodness. That part seemed clear. But the rest was muddier. I was struggling, trying to hold together what seemed, to my finite mind, to be a complex lot of logical and moral inconsistencies. What does it mean when the Bible says ask and you shall receive? Why is our youth minister, Bob, so full of himself when he is supposedly full of God’s spirit? How could God torture my Mormon friend, Kay, for all of eternity when she is the nicest person I know?

By then I also had a frightening eating disorder, which I now look back on as the end result of several factors: unresolved family conflict, a genetic inclination toward anxiety and depression, and a societal context that looks down on short, sturdy physiques like the one I inherited from my Italian grandmother. My symptoms didn’t go away in response to determination, tearful confessions, spiritual devotion, or bedside pleas, and I fell into a suicidal depression.

While in high school, I had once confessed my humiliating symptoms to a youth minister who seemed particularly wise. “Pray,” he advised. He gave me a penetrating look. “Remember, if we ask anything in prayer believing, truly believing, it shall be done unto us. ‘If you have faith as a mustard seed you shall say to this mountain “move from here to there,” and it shall move’ (Matt 17:20). You need to align your will with the will of God.” He took my hands and we knelt and bowed our heads together.

I went home, hopeful.

But my will, it appears, had not been aligned with that of God, or my faith lacked strength, sincerity, or resolve. My symptoms gradually got worse, until, in the fall of my sophomore year at Wheaton, they overwhelmed me. I promised the one person in the know that I wouldn’t try to take my life, and then broke that promise. Even if doctors or counselors could make me better, what was the point? I was a failure in the eyes of God, a moral and spiritual failure, and I couldn’t stand living day to day knowing that. I plunged into absolute despair and self-loathing.
Alone, one wretched evening, I swallowed a bottle of pills. They didn’t bring the relief I wanted, just hours of vomiting and, when I failed to convince my parents and school authorities that the whole incident wasn’t a big deal, a month-long hospitalization. I was provided with excellent Christian counselors who sidestepped the question of why my faith had been inadequate to heal my bulimia and dealt instead with my family dynamics, my griefs, and my misconceptions about myself. The symptoms subsided.

As I had so many times before, I found a way to interpret my experience within the structure of my Evangelical beliefs. I left aside questioning why I hadn’t been able to come up with faith the size of a mustard seed and decided that if God gives us tools, whether they be table saws, surgeons, or psychologists, he expects us to use them rather than trying to build our houses, fix our broken bones, or heal our psyches by prayer alone. Moving mountains by prayer must mean something else. I returned to my studies.

Wheaton, as an Evangelical college, embodied a dynamic tension: the mission as an institution of higher learning to foster inquiry, and the mission as an Evangelical institution to maintain boundaries around the nature and shape of that inquiry. Some answers were Given and thus were off limits.

Take biology for example. It was fine to contemplate the mechanisms of microevolution as long as we didn’t extrapolate too far. Fortunately for the professor, who needed to teach within the boundaries of her mission, few of us did. We didn’t know that Christians in other traditions and places had accommodated their faith quite comfortably to the evidence that species emerge by natural selection. Even if we did, it might not have mattered. Our kind of Christianity was the most real kind, and our kind had pegged itself firmly to belief in a literal six-day creation.

It was fortunate also, for the biology professor that the students in my class accepted that human life becomes uniquely valuable at conception, not before, not after. (Except for one, who kept her questions to herself.) They remained in agreement even after we contemplated the writings of Malcolm Muggeridge, a Catholic who argued that God knows/envisions/ loves a human soul well before conception and that even family planning is a violation of God’s law. Muggeridge obviously was wrong, as wrong as the folks who argued that life becomes valuable gradually during gestation. Consensus kept our class discussions tame. Mostly, we stayed far away from such complexities and focused instead on mitochondria and mitosis.

Here is another example of the tension between Wheaton’s two missions. Generally at Wheaton, compassion was considered a good thing. After all, Jesus lived his ministry among the downtrodden. In keeping with his life model, the college had a program called Human Needs and Global Resources, known by the acronym HNGR (to sound like hunger), that placed students in downtrodden communities overseas. The goal of the program was to help students follow the path of Jesus, leaving home and caring for the needs of those he called “the least of these.” But the head of the program started showing excessive sympathy for the collective uprising of the downtrodden in Nicaragua and was heard spouting a little too much liberation theology, and he had to find a new job. Compassion too, had its limits.

Yet even within the walls defined by the Given, there was plenty at Wheaton to broaden as well as to prolong my faith. The theological differences of opinion that were debated in the Wheaton community might sound trivial to an outsider, but to me they would prove vital. For example, my New Testament class included both pre- and postmillennialists. Let me explain.

Evangelicals believe in something called “the Rapture,” a miraculous event in which all the living Christians (of our type) will be taken up to heaven. At Wheaton, I learned that some Evangelical theologians think this would happen before the thousand-year reign of Christ on Earth, while some think it will happen after. My upbringing had tolerated no such diversity: we were in the pre- camp. Also, there were scattered Lutherans and Presbyterians on campus, even the occasional Catholic. I discovered that my favorite writer, C.S. Lewis, was Anglican. Yet, oddly, they all seemed to be real Christians, even the ones who believed in infant baptism, an abomination to my spiritual guides, who held that baptism must be a mature and voluntary decision.

In these small ways, the sheltering walls of faith at Wheaton College were farther apart than those I had grown up in. They were less confining, and yet, at the same time, they were close and familiar enough to be secure. It was this combination, I think, that ultimately encouraged my path of inquiry. Thanks to my professors and classmates and many hours of animated discussion, I came to accept that some differences in doctrine or interpretation of the Bible were reasonable, in spite of what I had been taught. I felt safe acknowledging these differences because they occurred within a community of devoted believers, between people whose faith I could not deny. I discovered, in the process of wrestling with these small differences, how good it can feel to ask and resolve questions rather than struggling to suppress them.

And so, resting in the confidence that all truth is God’s truth, I kept asking. Not that I always got the answers I was looking for, nor answers that were acceptable to my peers, or even many satisfying answers at all. Instead of getting smaller, my list of tough questions seemed to grow:

If God is good, and he made nature, why does nature so often reward strength rather than goodness?
Why do so many people, including children, suffer excruciating pain, even pain unto death?
Does it really make sense to say that Adam and Eve brought death into the world?
Why do so many scientists think the world wasn’t made six to ten thousand years ago like my biblical genealogies suggest?
Why does the violence in the Bible still bother me, after I’ve had it explained so many times?
How does blood atonement (salvation through the death of Jesus) work?
All of those Buddhists and Hindus on the other side of the world who are going to suffer eternally: if God decided they would be born there, how is their damnation fair?
How can heaven be perfectly joyous if it co-exists with hell?
If each Christian has the spirit of God dwelling in him or her, how come Christians are wrong so often?
Are Christians really better than other people?
Would the world truly fall into violent anarchy if the Christians weren’t here as “a light shining in the darkness?”
How did we come to believe all that we do, anyway? Where did the Bible come from?
Who decided what got included, and why?
Why do I feel like I’m lying to myself when I try to make all the pieces fit together?


After Wheaton, I moved on to graduate school in Iowa to study counseling psychology. There I lived in an ecumenical Christian community run by Lutheran Campus Ministries, and the space within the walls of faith grew larger still. I hoped that I had found my spiritual resting place.

Indeed, worship as a part of that community felt deep and beautiful, full of humble gratitude for the gifts of life and eternal life, rooted in the compassion and love of Jesus and steeped in divine mystery. And yet, sometimes I couldn’t help applying the methods of inquiry I was being taught: logic, analysis, and empirical research, to questions that threatened the delicate balance of that beauty. Even as I sang praises to the creator, I was learning that creation science was neither science nor faith, but rather a peculiar amalgam that relied on one set of rules at one time and another set when those became impossible. Even as I turned to the Bible for moral guidance, I was discovering that some forms of moral, or immoral, behavior are caused by biochemistry or neurological damage rather than free will.

The process didn’t stop when I finally left Iowa for Washington, where I would continue my clinical and research training. Attending church became difficult. I found many details of Evangelical theology increasingly difficult to justify, and I struggled to sit through sermons, frustrated by faulty logic and simplistic answers. For a while, I dealt with this by avoiding dogma. I turned to older traditions, Catholic and Anglican, in which the Sunday focus is not on teaching but on worship, expressed through ancient music and ritual. In this way, I was able, for a time, to split off my critical rational training from the part of me that yearned for a spiritual center. I built my own walls around my faith. But walls hadn’t worked when other people built them, and they didn’t work when I built them either. In spite of myself, I kept tunneling under and out, carrying secret, scary, confusing discoveries back in with me until, finally, I got to a place where I stood and looked back, and the walls looked to me like a prison instead of a sanctuary.

I had come to the place where I now live. It is a place of freedom, the freedom to accept the evidence of my senses and my mind. It is difficult to describe the peace that comes with giving yourself permission to know what you know: to have hard, complicated realities staring at you and to be able to raise your head and look back at them with a steady gaze, scared maybe, grieved perhaps, but straight on and unwavering.

I spent years contorting myself as an advocate for my beliefs, finding complex arguments to explain away the fossil record, the suffering of innocents, the capricious favoritism of my God, the logical inconsistencies of scripture, and the aberrant behavior of my fellow believers. And, rather like your average conspiracy theorist, when I went into my mental exercises with an a priori conclusion, I could make the pieces fit.

But when, finally, exhausted from the strain, I untangled myself, sat back and looked at those pieces all together, there weren’t many conclusions that made much sense. I no longer had clean answers about what was true, but my old ones clearly contradicted both morality and reason. The only hope I had of pursuing goodness and truth was to let those answers go.

At times, when you look at an entire body of evidence, when you look at it all together, some possibilities are pretty easy to rule out. You may not know exactly what is real, but you can be confident that some things are not. So it is with Evangelical teachings. When one examines the evidence related to Evangelical beliefs—the content and history of the Bible, the structure of nature’s design, the character of the Evangelical God, the implications of prayer and miracles, the concepts original and universal sin, the mechanism of salvation by blood atonement, the idea of eternal reward and punishment, the behavior of believers—when one examines all of these together through a lens of empiricism and logic, the composite suggests some kind of reality that is very different from the ideas that dominated my thinking for so long.

Many books depict the Evangelical experience as a spiritual journey, a journey from darkness to the light of salvation. But few describe a path that leads people out of traditional faith to another place and another source of light. When ex-believers write, they usually write about the things that do make sense to them, not about the contradictions they have left behind. Rare exceptions include: Losing Faith in Faith by Daniel Barker and Annie L. Gaylor, Farewell to God by Charles Templeton, and The Event Horizon Rider by Brian Elroy McKinley. Edward Babinski’s book, Leaving the Fold, contains testimonials by ex-fundamentalists who have found their way to other forms of thinking.

Equally rare are Christian scholars like Don Cupitt and John Shelby Spong, who, from within the faith, unflinchingly examine every dogma as a possible source of idolatry, expose each to the light of reason and compassion, and then ask what core of transcendence remains. To these voices in the wilderness, I add my own, not as an ex-minister or scholar, but as an ordinary ex-Evangelical who thought too much about questions that wouldn’t go away.

Is it possible to make a case for traditional creeds in general or Evangelical orthodoxy in particular? Can someone embedded in such a perspective justify the contradictions inherent in his or her faith? The answer to these questions is an unqualified yes. But they are not the right questions to ask, if what we’re after is truth.

Instead, we must ask this: when no sacred assumption is untouchable, when we cherish honest inquiry more than any set of handed-down answers, when we follow the questions where they may lead, what looks to be real? What are the most likely conclusions, based on the whole stack of messy evidence? What are our best, wisest, most honest judgments, knowing they will never be beyond a shadow of a doubt, if we trust that all truth really is God’s truth?


Like this chapter? The book is available at www.Lulu.com/content/220355 ; or more musings on life, society, and Christianity at www.spaces.msn.com/awaypoint/.

* Unless otherwise specified, all biblical quotes in this book are from the New International Version. Occasionally a verse is quoted from the King James Version for the sake of familiarity or poetic flow. In such cases, the letters KJV follow the reference.
*Liberation theology is a movement that arose in Latin America in the mid twentieth century. Members of the clergy came to believe that it was blasphemous and contrary to the ministry of Jesus to focus on men’s souls without focusing as well on their hunger, illness and need. This movement aligned the clergy with the politics of social reform.

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6/04/2006                                                                                       View Comments

A Nation Under God

Excerpt from The Dark Side: How Evangelical Teachings Corrupt Love and Truth (Each week during the summer and fall of 2006, one chapter from this book will be posted on exChristian.net.)

Preface: A Nation Under God

Our goal is a Christian nation.... We have a biblical duty; we are called by God to conquer this country. We don’t want equal time. We don’t want pluralism. We want theocracy.
Theocracy means God rules.—Randall Terry, Head of Operation Rescue, 1993


NOT LONG AGO, AN ASSOCIATED PRESS STORY CAUGHT MY EYE. TEXAS GOVERNOR Rick Perry signed two bills into law, one opposing gay marriage and the other restricting abortion. Rather than conducting the ceremonial signing in a state office, flanked by officials or staff, he stationed himself in the gymnasium of an Evangelical school, with Christian symbols in the background and an out-of-state evangelist at his side. Shouts of “amen” rose from the audience. Meanwhile, outside the school, protesters called for separation of church and state. For days after the signing, the internet crackled with similar “amen’s” and protests.

The afternoon after I read about Perry’s bold fusion of Christian symbols and governmental powers, I went to my hair dresser, let’s call her Ann. While Ann worked, she told me about an experience that had shaken her the night before. She had gone to a movie with an old friend. Afterward, over coffee, the friend expressed how worried she was about Ann going to hell. She explained that the only way out of this fate was to be saved by Jesus Christ. “I told her that I just couldn’t believe that stuff,” said Ann. “I tried to explain why, but I didn’t want to get in a fight. She wouldn’t stop. Finally I said that I had to leave because I needed to get up early. But I was so upset that I didn’t get much sleep afterwards. I can’t believe the same things she does, but I get scared that maybe something is wrong with me. I need to talk to her because I don’t want this to wreck our friendship. I don’t know what to say.” The questions examined in this book have never been more relevant.

When I was growing up in Arizona, most of my friends, neighbors, and role models shared my Evangelical beliefs, and when they did not, we didn’t talk about it. When I was in graduate school working on a degree in psychology most of my fellow students and professors shared my religious misgivings, but we didn’t talk much about that either. When I settled in the Northwest, I also settled into a posture of “don’t ask, don’t tell” with regard to spiritual questions. Religion had little place in conversations, whether among colleagues or friends.

In this, I was not alone. Except in churches and religious forums, the general consensus in our pluralistic society during the latter part of the twentieth century was to keep private faith out of social conversation and public debate. Since the year 2000, something has changed. Religious beliefs and moral values are now discussed in every form of mass media. They have become topics of conversation among even casual acquaintances. George Bush and the religious right, for better or for worse, have reopened a conversation in America, a conversation about the meaning of faith and morality and Christianity. This conversation has been driven by Evangelicals, and consequently, much of the debate has been about Evangelicalism itself.

Led by organizations that focus more on advocacy than theology and emboldened by increasing political clout, Evangelicals have come out of the closet. In November 2004, the religious right claimed credit for putting George Bush back in office and demanded payback in the form of laws that advanced a conservative social agenda: funding for faith-based social services, restrictions on reproductive education and contraception, bans on civil unions for gays, and changes in science curricula to make room for the biblical creation story. The media sat up and took notice. Articles began cropping up in the mainstream press about dominionism: the belief that Christians have a moral responsibility to run the country, and ultimately the world, according to biblically derived principles of governance. Conservationists bewailed “end-times” theology, which predicts the impending return of Jesus Christ, making climate change and species extinctions matters of indifference for some believers.

Recently I had lunch with a small group of people who are trying to build public policies that protect the poor, the ill, and children: those whom Jesus called “the least of these.” During the conversation, one person, a young attorney, announced that he was Evangelical, adding for emphasis that he prayed to Jesus every day. No one else had announced his or her spiritual beliefs, and yet nobody flinched at the proclamation or thought it off topic. The young Evangelical said that if the group wanted to succeed in helping vulnerable populations, they needed to engage others who shared his beliefs. All at the table agreed.

Why could the young attorney make his announcement, confident that it would be well received? For two reasons. First, although he may not have been among other Evangelicals, in virtually any gathering in the United States it is safe to assume that the majority of people present are people of faith. Second, thanks to the prominent role of Evangelicals in the press and in public life, non-Evangelicals are increasingly aware of the growth in Evangelical religion and are anxious to understand how this growth may affect their own communities, deeply held values, and spiritual priorities.

Newspaper headlines, evangelists, and astute politicians may talk about a secular assault on religion, but the truth is that the United States is more religious than any other developed nation. In a recent poll, ninetyeight percent of Americans said they believe in God (in contrast to about fifty percent of Germans). In U.S. census data, less than one half of one percent self identify as atheist, and another five percent or so call themselves agnostic. About eighty-five percent of Americans identify themselves as Christian and forty to fifty percent call themselves born again or Evangelical. A secular assault on religion? Politicians know better. They accuse their opponents of shunning faith and religious values precisely because potential constituents across the political spectrum are virtually all people of faith in one form or another.

The strong inclination of Americans toward religious belief is neither new nor news. Non-Christians have always been a small minority of the American population and non-theists an even smaller minority. The change that has occurred in recent decades has been primarily a shift within Christianity itself. For over thirty years, while enrollment in mainline Protestant churches has been declining, Evangelicalism has been quietly gaining ground, offering a very clear set of core beliefs and behavioral rules to those who otherwise might hold more convoluted or vague forms of faith. Utilizing good marketing practices and modern technologies, Evangelicals have built communications empires that broadcast their message around the globe. As traditional communities have fragmented, Evangelicals have built communities centered around churches that offer not only meaning but also friendship, counseling, legal advice, leisure activities, and mutual aid.

These benefits come with conditions attached. They are offered only to believers or prospective believers of a very specific sort. Some faith traditions provide social services to nonbelievers simply for the sake of promoting a more humane society. Catholic Community Services or Lutheran Family Services, for example, are open to all comers, with few strings attached. Evangelicals do things differently. Social services are offered to outsiders first and foremost as a means of winning converts. This means that testimonials, teaching, Bible studies and so forth are a part of the package. Evangelicals call this witnessing or sharing the faith.

Without this piece, which offers the hope of salvation through faith to those who are otherwise lost in sin, social services have little value. In fact contact with nonbelievers in general has little value, and when Evangelicalism is at its worst, the nonbelievers themselves have little value.
Evangelicals, as they like to say, prefer to be “in this world but not of this world.” They see themselves as a people apart. The most devout buy their books almost exclusively at Christian bookstores. A small but significant minority home-school their children if they can’t afford private Christian schools. Many socialize only with members of their own church communities or people they meet through related organizations. In spite of their growing influence, Evangelicals often see themselves as an embattled minority. And because many don’t believe that other Christians are Christians, they see Christianity per se as an embattled minority religion.

On a plane in India, I once sat in front of an American teenager who was part of a youth missions trip. He was talking earnestly to an adult companion about how hard it had been to approach young Indians, interrupting their conversations and activities to tell them the Good News: that they, too, could be saved by Jesus Christ. The young man speculated: “What if someone threatened me? What if they even threatened to kill me? Would I have the courage to face death in order to carry God’s message to the world?” I remembered, as an earnest Evangelical youth, asking myself these very same questions. The adult mentor might have reassured him: History suggests that Christianity has been lethal to missionaries far less often that it has been lethal to those on the receiving end of the message. Instead, the mentor responded as such mentors often do, with stories of martyrs and language of warfare that both affirmed the rightness of their mission and cultivated a sense of imminent threat.

Otherness and threat, political power and moral certainty. It is no surprise that this combination is generating anxiety among nonbelievers and non-Evangelical Christians. In the past, when political power has accrued to any Christian orthodoxy that demands exclusive allegiance, the result has often been dangerous for both outsiders to the faith and Christians who don’t hold the dominant view. Is such an environment in the making? At least among some Evangelicals such a possibility has become thinkable.

A recent book review in Christianity Today, a mainstream Evangelical publication, ends thus: “[Flannery] O’Connor once wrote that ‘more than ever now it seems that the kingdom of heaven has to be taken by violence, or not at all. You have to push as hard as the age that pushes against you.’…we mortals are playing in a world increasingly given to moral relativism. As the title of one of [O’Connor’s] best stories put it, ‘The life you save may be your own.’”

“What is Evangelicalism?” a bewildered friend asked recently. “How does Evangelicalism relate to fundamentalism?” These questions are not easy to answer. The term “Evangelical” has been around since the Reformation, and its meaning has varied. In modern terms, Evangelicalism is a kind of Christianity that structures itself around one particular, ahistorical interpretation of the Bible. From the Bible, which is taken literally and accorded absolute moral authority, Evangelicals justify a set of doctrines that govern day to day life in realms ranging from prayer and parenting to civic life. These doctrines are described in detail in Chapter 2, and their implications fill the remainder of this book.

Fundamentalism is a movement that arose within Protestant Christianity in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, largely in reaction to modernism. The name comes from a set of essays called The Fundamentals that were published between 1910 and 1915. These essays were intended to combat the ways that theology was changing in response to scholarship in archaeology, linguistics, anthropology, psychology and biology. They reaffirmed the traditional Christian doctrines that form the basis of modern Evangelicalism. Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism are closely related, and both are offspring of traditional Christian orthodoxy. However, the term fundamentalism is now used to embrace a variety of absolutist approaches to religious faith both inside and outside of Christianity. Few Christians call themselves fundamentalist. Many call themselves Evangelical.

Those who do, hope and pray that others will join them. In their eyes, there is no alternate path to God and, ultimately, no other form of goodness matters. This means that, as context and culture allow, Evangelicals will continue to speak out, both in the public sphere and over coffee.
What should you say when a dear friend or family member expresses concern for your soul and offers you a path to Salvation? How should you respond to Evangelical advocacy in your community, your workplace, your school, or your government? The answers depend in large part on your own values and spiritual identity. But in order to form those answers, it helps to have a clear understanding of the core teachings of the Evangelical movement and when these teachings pose threats to love and truth.

Chapter one: Leaving Home

If you are interested in reading further, The Dark Side: How Evangelical Teachings Corrupt Love and Truth, is available at www.lulu.com/content/220355; more musings by this author at www.spaces.msn.com/awaypoint