I am a Scandal in the Evangelical Conscience

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This post, and maybe one follow up, is inspired by the familiar writings of growing up evangelical on Addie Zierman’s blog. It was also inspired by Rachel Held Evans’ latest: The Scandal of the Evangelical Heart

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There I am, alone in my study, with a shoe box of days gone by. In my hands I hold that old Polaroid picture. Its faded and still tinted with orange. Me in my cut off jeans and Jesus Freak tee. My arms around friends, with WWJD dangling and bouncing off our wrists. I was brace-faced and brave, standing before a crowd of freaks like me. This was my pilgrimage to my Mecca- this was… the Sonshine Music festival.

Keeping eye contact with that thirteen year old kid, I bring it close to my face and softly whisper, “Oh buddy… so much I have to tell you, so much to… warn you, but yet… (sigh) I cannot.” The picture slips through my fingertips, cleansing my hands and conscience as it floats down to its shoe box burial. And back into the blanket I fall, shamelessly sipping from a glass of Cabernet. The dimly lit room by the fire, making this my oasis and refuge. Oh, the memoirs of a Billy Graham groupie.

~~~

When I take trips down memory lane, I don’t stop and linger here. I tend to cover my eyes and pretend I don’t hear myself reciting old clichés. Those mementos along the trail from where we were to where we are today are both comical and wretched. Like your naked baby albums and your mom’s pride and your brand new friends over.

We can all look back now and mock our tween selves with our Jesus Freak cut offs and our wrist acronyms. We can blush and snicker and say, wow! Weren’t we brave? And split-our-sides when we remember the excitement of a celeb wearing a cross. When Heaven became so Hip and we’d think, You and me, Kirk Cameron… we… we are going to be best friends after this apocalypse thing is over with. (which we always thought was one bad president away).

I was the quintessential evangelical boy.

On the frontlines of faith, I was your sword-wielding soldier. I was the saint leading your prayer circle on See You At The Pole Day. I was that witness with flyers for your next Young Life gathering. I was the small forward for your Church Basketball team. I was your Republican. I was your Wednesday night regular. I was in two Bible studies at once. I was there every Sunday.

And I was a fraud

and I was afraid.

But I tried to be brave, because If God is for me, who can be against me?

I regretfully reply to that boy in the Polaroid,

“Honestly, a lot.”

The term “evangelical” is rooted in the word “gospel” which means “good news”, but this “good news” had bad news for me. I wasn’t invited. I was an interloper. A refugee behind enemy lines. A wannabe. Too much of a freak for the Jesus Freaks. I was a lackey and they were sons and daughters. I was gay and I was Christian and they said it wasn’t possible, because Christ didn’t die for people like that.

But I tried to convince Him anyway.

With every bracelet, baptism, church revival, witness, and prayer… I wished to crawl under their rope lines unseen. I just thought, if I looked the part, if I stood at the very front of the altar calls, sang loud enough at Sonshine and spread the good news to as many as would hear, maybe the gospel would make an exception for an outcast like me. Maybe I could earn it. Maybe this God graded more on effort.

But as the chorus of my peers grew louder against gays, my courage crashed and burned. Bravery bent before such steep odds. Somewhere between James Dobson radio and Youth Pastor bullying- It became crystal clear that God wanted nothing to do with me. Message Received.

And after a lot of years of being brave.

Courage didn’t cut it anymore…

For me, being an evangelical meant masking. Impressing. Playing dress up. Putting on a show. Showing up on Sunday. It felt sharp. I was Hiding. Hurting all over. Ashamed. Paranoid. Hating myself for a choice I must’ve made, but for the life of me couldn’t remember. It was a social step ladder that was actually a treadmill. It was a promise of rewards for good deeds always dangling in front of me. It was a guarantee that I would be a “new creation” and my life would be better and I would be accepted. It was James Dobson in my ear and Youth Pastors in my face, and the smile and nod I had to force all the time.

Evangelicalism was exhausting.

That’s why I ran.

I ran away from the waiting room and the stage. I hopped fences and broke through borders to find a place where I could just catch my breath. I outran their politics and prejudices. I ran until my feet felt grass and not gravel. I ran until I was safe from the saints.

I ran until I was finished.

And He met me there. It took an escape from the city walls and the stained glass God to touch the beating heart of a Christ in love. The one that wrapped me in His arms and hushed my cries, all while whispering,

“I’m not like them, I’m not like them, I’m not like them.”

And he wasn’t like them- he wasn’t anything like I thought he was. He was kind and his hands were warm. He didn’t ask anything of me but my love. He told me to keep running, but to let him come with. Toward things I didn’t know I wanted, but someday I would.

Leaving evangelicalism led me to Love. I spent so much time trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, so much time trying to be instead of just being. And I never found him there because I couldn’t see past the pain. I couldn’t see past the wrath and the madness. I couldn’t see past my pastor or past James Dobson. There was too much shadow. But maybe that’s why I see him so clearly now.

Like going from darkness to brilliant sunlight, I had to see all the bad and the wrong and the cracks before I was could fully receive the earth shattering news that I was made on purpose and loved to no end. Eyes are still adjusting and I’m still learning, but my heart beats with a new pulse of promise.

A new kind of Bravery.

And I’m running with it,

RR

  • Aibird

    So incredibly beautiful. Thank you for this gorgeous reminder of God’s Love.

    • http://registeredrunaways.wordpress.com registeredrunaway

      Thank you for reading Aibird. I am happy this hit home for you.

      Love,
      RR

  • http://twitter.com/InciteFaith Julie (@InciteFaith)

    RR,

    Another beautiful post. Your words always take my breath away.

    Love you!

  • http://unchainedfaith.com Amy

    I meant to comment on this the other day. Very powerful words. I wonder how many young people feel that way–that they are faking their way through their Christian youth culture because they have to hide some part of themselves. The few people I knew who dared bravely assert themselves were often belittled or ostracized in the church where I spent my teen years. I know it’s not the same, and I don’t want to make comparisons to your situation, but I suspect pretending is very common due to the almost universal evangelical culture of viewing God as Cosmic Thought Police and having a looooong list of All the Things Good Little Evangelicals Never, Ever Do (all in the name of being “in the world and not of the world”).

  • http://tellmewhytheworldisweird.blogspot.com/ perfectnumber628

    This is beautiful.

  • http://hannadevries.wordpress.com hannadevries

    beautiful. thank you.

  • http://twitter.com/emelina Emily Maynard (@emelina)

    I love this. Thank you for writing so clearly and bravely.

    • registeredrunaway

      Thanks for reading Emily!

  • Molly

    Oh my goodness. This is ME (or was me). Except, I didn’t feel like I was pretending as much as I was trying desperately to shave off the corners of my square peg to fit the
    predetermined shape of anything-but-square. I was saved at 5, filled with the
    holy spirit at 6, was a Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night regular,
    was identified and groomed as a leader in youth group, worked with praise and
    worship, was on the intersession prayer team and participated in and led
    countless bible studies. I was considered one-to-call if someone needed prayer
    or a fresh word of encouragement.

    

It’s funny how things change when people find out you’re gay. As if I had transpired overnight, had a new revelation or decision and suddenly, my prayers were blasphemy and my very presence was an attack on the church. What’s even funnier is that I knew I was
    gay (or at least different) at the age of 10, but I didn’t have courage enough
    to breath of word of it until my mid 20′s. No, I was not sleeping around or
    even dating anyone. In all accounts, I was still celibate. So, basically, the
    only thing that changed is that other people knew that one small piece of me.
    The facts hadn’t changed. I hadn’t changed. I was the same person Monday
    morning as I had been Sunday night and every previous Sunday.

 I still loved
    Jesus to my core. That didn’t seem to matter.

    Two friends of mine were talking about training for a 5k and someone said, “the only way I would run is if someone was chasing me… with a gun.” Unfortunately, while not
    literally, the concept absolutely applied to me, and I ran and moved far away.

    Ironically, on my run I found a whole group of evangelical refugees who desperately seek Jesus but who are not finding Him in the Christian community because they are not welcome. They are beat up, bruised, bleeding, dying and the last people on earth that would help them seem to be the evangelical fan base.

    My heart broke – again.



    The fields ARE ripe with harvest, but few are willing to do the work. The work, by the way, is being a conduit of LOVE then getting out of the way so that God can be God. We could
    not possibly understand the hearts of people to judge or critique them. Only God knows the hearts, talents, gifts and nuances of the people He created. But that’s another topic.

    The point is, there are MANY of us. Gay Christians are EVERYWHERE. Most are still in the closet because human transparency is severely frowned upon and leads to rejection in most religious circles. Ironic isn’t it, considering transparency, grace and love were kind of Jesus’ jam?

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