Thursday, November 01, 2007

On having a family still involved in evangelicalism

Living in between worlds is a great way to talk about this strange place of deconstruction. It's not like everyone in our family had the same insights and changes in belief at the same time. Johannah, for instance, was deeply troubled when we left the church when she was 13 and 14. Noah, on the other hand, felt liberated to truly be himself. The younger ones were, well, younger. They didn't grasp why we stopped going to church and had church at home for two years (more on that in another post).

Still, as the years have gone forward, each family member has maintained some tie to our evangelical roots and relationships. How could we not? Those years and relationships are still vital and precious to us. Leaving beliefs behind doesn't mean jettisoning friends and family. The Baby and Bath Water cliche works well here. We have kept as many babies as will have us!

Most of my friends and online connections and most of Jon's business and local relationships come from our 25 years as evangelicals. My business is in the homeschooling world and my clients are mostly Christians of some variety. Jon's email publishing business is more than fifty percent related to our relationships and networks through missions and the Vineyard. Nearly all of our friends (college, early adulthood, 10 years in California, current 8 years in Ohio and online) as well as half of our families are practicing Christians. And these are just our relationships. We're also involved in Christian communities all over the place.

This week Jon is speaking at the Off the Map conference in Seattle. His good friend Jim Henderson originated Off the Map with Jon here in Cincinnati at the local Vineyard about 7 years ago. They've remained good friends. Jon, who is even more disaffected with evangelical doctrine than I am (that story still yet to be told on the blog), was invited to speak about social intelligence. Despite not going to church, despite the fact that he no longer shares the same doctrinal outlook as evangelicals, Jon still thinks church has the potential to be a socially powerful tool in local communities. So he said yes. Of course. No animosity, but also no hypocrisy. He'll share what's on his heart and listen to what they say back. And he's rubbing elbows with lots of our old friends at the same time.

The rest of the family is also still a part of Christian gatherings and groups. Caitrin spent last weekend at the fall retreat with the Vineyard junior high group. I'm at our old church every Sunday while she's in Sunday school. When they teach about Satan as though he's real, I get a little cross-eyed. But that doesn't keep me from supporting her in her choice to go. She's also involved in outreaches and learning about things like being kind to people she might otherwise overlook.

Johannah attends a college Bible study sponsored by the Vineyard in Columbus. Jacob met the Christians at his high school on "See You At the Pole" during the first week of school. They all prayed for the school year together. I teach at a Christian homeschool co-op every week and speak to the local Christian homeschooling support groups. Jon and I have been homeschool camp counselors for years. Even Noah took New Testament Greek a couple years ago. Liam might be the only one who isn't actively related to any form of the faith.

As you can see, our lives are inextricably bound with our evangelical loved ones and friends. Despite my criticisms of the doctrines and culture, I in no way want to imply that we have disdain for Christians or what they are doing well. We feel deeply connected to that world despite living a different worldview. Sometimes I think it's harder for others to know what to do with us than it is for us to know how to interact with them.

What I'd like to do on this blog is to use this space to examine how evangelical (conservative Christian, orthodox Christian) culture and beliefs need a make over and why I think so. The reevaluation process doesn't have to end in disdainful or hostile scientific atheism. It doesn't have to end in confession of the Nicean Creed either. I really do think there is another way.

Continuing this intimate relationship with evangelicalism combined with my graduate studies and seven year deconstruction process means I feel I have a valid role in the redefinition of what it ought to mean to be Christian, or at least, what it ought not to be.

I'll write the second installment on marriage and falling away next. I just felt that this little overview was important since it keeps coming up - why do I care when I've walked away? Uh, that's the trouble. I haven't really walked all that far. It's like I moved next door, not across the country. So we're still in the neighborhood, related to it, care about it. And so I write.


Ampersand said...

I find this post most fascinating.

Drew said...

I think that this reveals that perhaps the most fundamental issue in any religious connection is not with the dogma, but with the people. It shows that the social connectivity and immersion is as vital, and I would say more so, than the dogma that the community espouses.

In other words, the reason for being a part of the community may be more than the sum of the theological assumptions for which the community joins together and fins a source of its identity.

I think that a lack of deeper understanding of how culture, time, space, and social situations mediate doctrine and not to see the influence of this medium is to miss something of the stuff that makes doctrinal beliefs what they are.

I think my wife and I had the same disillusionment with our evangelical roots, but a bit earlier in our lifecycle. We just had our second boy, neither of our sons have been baptized. Church for us for five years after I graduated from seminary, and decided pastoral ministry was not the pint I wanted to drink out of for my life, was a 2 mile hike in the woods with the dogs, watching football, and falling asleep after another Steelers win (which was every Sunday in 2005 as you might wish to forget, sorry).

Steve said...

Honest. Wonderful. Illuminating. Helpful. Real.

I have been waiting for this series of posts for a while. Thanks for filling in many blanks for me, Julie.

julieunplugged said...

So true Drew. (Except for that horrible reminder of 2005.... arrrrrgh!)

Yes, earlier in the life cycle helps.

My 11 year old daughter saw baptism pictures of our older three and wonders why she hasn't been baptized and wishes now to be. Yet she is the first to criticize her church experience as "too Christian." So what does that mean?

It's a jumble.

What I do feel good about is that because of our early attachment to the church and our faith, followed by a dramatic, yet seriously considered change (including four years of devoted study of theology by me), they do feel free to ask questions, seek answers and form their own opinions.

I find their journeys really fascinating and individual... except for one unanimous shared passion: defending gay rights. :)

mariam said...

I just don't have that many Christian friends, and only one who is a evangelical (my gentle "godmother" neighbour). My son and husband are hard-line atheists ala Richard Dawkins. My daughter hasn't closed her mind to spirituality but if she does decide to open up to that it probably won't be Christianity. She is going out with an orthodox Jewish boy now, which is just exotic enough so that she doesn't feel threatened. My mother has become mildly Christian in this final chapter of her life and goes to a liberal Anglican church. My sister is seeking - we recently had a good discussion about how to explore Christianity without losing your mind - I recommended Borg's "The Heart of Christianity" to her. One brother is also a seeker and we have some good discussions. The other 2 aren't interested. So, I am coming from the other direction from you. Most of my friends and relations are atheists or agnostics and, in order to maintain those relationships peaceably I don't talk about my faith much - when I do they look a bit frightened and edge away from me. I want to say "there are other ways of being a CHristian, honest." Truthfully, the people I've had the best discussions with about faith issues (other than in a few blog circles like yours) are Jewish and Muslim friends. I've found we have more in common than not when it comes to what we believe is important, and sometimes they seem to have a better understanding of the breadth of Christian experiences than (because they generally hold liberal versions of their faiths) than my non-believing friends. So, like you I am not willing to throw out those babies by getting all dogmatic about my religious beliefs - not that I have that much dogma to get dogmatic about:) And like you I want to open up my hand and show a more interesting, gentle and loving version of Christianity than the one the media tends to fixate on.

carrie said...

I enjoyed reading about your family's varied (and ongoing) experiences with faith and worship. Thanks for the heads-up.

R. Michael said...

I had a feeling when you wrote the piece "Falling Away" that you had really not totally "fallen" as Christians would describe it...but rather moved. What is it that keeps us from believing in a totally godless world?..perhaps we still have remnants of faith, or struggle with our mortality or significance...but I think it is more than that. Think this should be explored.