Because of Fundamentalism do Evangelicals Struggle with Social Skills?

An older atheist post from 2012 about fundamentalists  struggling with social skills inspires this post for today. This is looking at that issue in the context of evangelical Christians and sex, healthy boundaries and friendship. This is another post that I have been meaning to clean out of my draft box.

“Boundaries aren’t all bad. That’s why there are walls around mental institutions.”

Peggy Noonan

“You need boundaries… Even in our material creations, boundaries mark the most beautiful of places, between the ocean and the shore, between the mountains and the plains, where the canyon meets the river.”

William Paul Young

As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. And Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul.

1 Samuel 18:1-3 ESV  

 

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Waiting at a stoplight near the Washington Monument this past summer

This is another post that I have been meaning to sit down and actually write and finish. This post came from me going through some of the atheist blogs at Patheos a while back. Johnny Scaramanga is a former Christian who writes a blog in the United Kingdom called “Leaving Fundamentalism.” In 2012 he wrote a post called “Why Fundamentalists Have No Social Skills,” and I wanted to write about some of the thoughts that came to my mind as I contemplated this issue. This post is both a reflection on what I have seen, heard and read in evangelicalism over the years and my concerns about parts of the movement today. For Johnny what triggered the post is the difficulty that former Christians are having in relating to people. So with that let me commence on some thoughts about differing angles of this topic.

 

Evangelicals and Sex

Of all the topics that I think which exhibit problems in the evangelical community one of the greatest I would say is sex. The messages that evangelical Christianity sends to guys and girls about sex are painful, difficult and harsh. For years I felt guilty just for being a guy based off the programs and churches I was involved.  After all, all guys were addicted to pornography and guys were hounded about accountability programs constantly. Often I would say that many evangelicals felt uncomfortable about dating, relationships and more because of evangelical culture. Personally I wondered how many guys struggled to date because of how the culture could be, and if some guys avoided dating out of a desire to be pure and missed opportunities to be in relationships. I also have personally wondered if the quest for sexual purity in evangelicalism also drove guys toward pornography as guys were told about sexuality in the guilty way and in a desire to be “pure” if some have found themselves caught up in pornography. 

When it comes to dating there are two ramifications I would propose about evangelicals and sex. One is that it made people to live in a constant state of guilt and worry about sexuality. When people finally engaged in sexual activity they often resulted in being overwhelmed by guilt. In this case people were warned about what not to do and then they did exactly that at some point along the way. How many Christians do you think committed spiritual suicide and walked away from the faith because they felt like they could not recover? Worse,  how many people do you think maybe had un-intended consequences like an unplanned pregnancy and suffered in silence because they had no one to talk to or confide or ask for help? The flip side to that is that the culture forced some Christians to be deceptive. It forced some people to talk the line and project a certain image to be accepted and then live very differently. It made some evangelicals dishonest. Could one say that evangelical culture in this area almost flirts with Victorian era thinking and practice, of projecting the right thing but then acting differently? I do not know I am thinking this through as I type this out. The culture that evangelicals have toward sex however is very toxic and another component is this thought. Is this why people like Mark Driscoll become popular and embraced?  Someone like Mark Driscoll attracts people because he says things some people want to hear. In a very repressive culture he attracts people and they in turn fall for the likes of individuals like him. It becomes a cycle that feeds off each other.

Here’s my take on all this…I think evangelical Christianity forgets that people are human. They forget their human nature. We should exhibit and mirror grace in the area of sexuality. We should work to be the best we can be but we also need to remember that many people are going to fail. That is going to happen because people are human. Sexuality is healthy, and normal, and we need to remember that as well. Sexuality is not dirty. Sexuality is a part of our biology in many ways and we need to reflect on that as well. It doesn’t mean we are animals but it does remember our humanity and human nature. When people make a mistake the community should respond with love and grace and not with condemnation. Its long past time we have this discussion and remember our humanity as well.

 

Evangelicals and Boundaries

There is another topic that came to my mind when I read that article by Johnny Scaramanga. Many evangelicals struggle with boundaries and knowing with what healthy human contact is in many cases. I think it comes about due to many factors. One is aggressive and warped accountability which I think can be more cult like than anything else. Another one is by living in a bubble that is far removed from the world that inhibits and prevents the development of healthy social skills. Yet another one is how evangelicals can often view each other in a legalistic lens that gives them the right to penetrate and ask hard questions that are often inappropriate. Another is that many evangelicals struggle I believe with self worth and often share information with others that is out of line or too much. Let me break this down in the following paragraphs.

Why are evangelicals obsessed with accountability? Here is an example of that in this Brandon Smith article in the ERLC called, “Accountability in community is crucial to Christian living.” When accountability is stressed so much I like to ask the following question in return. When is C.J. Mahaney ever going to be subject to accountability? What about Mark Driscoll? Mars Hill Seattle was all about accountability when is Mark Driscoll ever going to face accountability?  I also wonder if accountability brings out the ugly side and warps people’s view of sin. For example lets stop and consider the mess I went through…I had an Air Force Captain who was so obsessed with accountability and fearful of pornography that he asked me to change his computer password. Shortly thereafter he gave birth to a false accusation which took aim at my name, reputation, employment and more. Now the pornography is the sin in his mindset, but the false accusation which could have destroyed my ability to earn income is not a sin. Go figure!  Also think of how selective evangelicals are about accountability? This is often just a recipe for disaster, its broken and flawed and some feel like it needs to be re-done harder, and with more effort, which crates more legalism. Its a never ending vicious cycle.

Many evangelicals have created a bubble and removed themselves from the world. In the process they disengage and become very irrelevant and removed from the people they claim to love. Its profoundly sad because in that bubble many people are prevented from developing proper social skills and learning how to engage others. For example, how do you engage people of the opposite sex? How do you engage Buddhists and Muslims? How do you engage atheists and skeptics? The culture in return prevents that from happening so as a by product they can not share the good news and love their community they live in because they become so insular. This is problematic and setting up people for a lifetime of heartache.  This is part of the reason why I am glad I was raised Catholic in many ways, because the Catholic community doesn’t struggle with this issue at all.

The last two points I would like to emphasize is how evangelicals engage each other. I have been guilty of this when I lived in Wisconsin and fresh in the D.C. area. Many evangelicals feel like they have a license to probe and look into areas of your life that are quite simply none of their business. Because of a lack of proper boundaries it leads to conversations that are inappropriate or out of line. The other side to this is that I have been in some uncomfortable situations where people unknowingly told me stuff or opened up about issues that I was not ready to hear. It was awkward and weird to have people out of the blue in casual conversations tell me about things that I believe should have been kept private,  or maybe told later down the line if its going to be said. Now I am not saying people should bottle up and not share, but lets remember that takes time. Sometimes it takes years of friendship before you feel strong enough to talk about something difficult in your life. But boundaries are a major problem in evangelicalism.

 

Evangelicals and Friendship

The last aspect I reflected on as I contemplated evangelical Christian culture is the issue of friendship. Its my contention that many evangelicals have a poor definition of friendship and quite often do not know what it is, or what it can become. The classic story of Jonathan and David sadly you can find mostly in the Bible but not in many evangelical churches. In my life there are a couple of exceptions to this rule, as there is James Crestwood, Danny Risch and Scott Van Sweringen, but let me explain what I have mostly encountered. Many evangelicals wrap their identity not in God but in their church or their celebrity pastor. You will learn this very quickly if you say something that is viewed as being out of line. Plus, tell someone whose life revolves around Matt Chandler or John Piper that they are not all that great and you will learn this very point.  Since many people wrap up their identity in a celebrity pastor they will cut ties and avoid people who disagree with that individual.

In evangelical Christian culture people are often disposable. You will learn this when you leave church A and move onto church B. Many people will cut you off and cease all contact, and good luck in trying to reach out to them, This has happened to me countless times. It stands in stark contrast to what I have observed in the secular world. Let me illustrate…I left my job in Milwaukee in 2005 and moved to Washington, D.C. Over that ten year period I have maintained some of those contacts and friendships through social media and still read, keep in touch and learn of developments in people’s lives. These relationships are mostly secular and yet there is a bond that is still maintained and kept. In contrast I contemplate the relationships that have been lost as I have moved from one church to the next. Earlier this year I had a former covenant member from Matt Chandler’s Village Church that wrote about some of these issues and how shallow many evangelical Christians can be. You can read that post which is called “Guest Atheist Post: Ghost of Friend’s Past a Reflection on Past Christian Friendships.”

However there are other consequences to evangelical theology which also reflect itself in the area of friendships. For example, today as I have often touched on, evangelical Christians do not repent and do not say they are sorry when they hurt people. As a result of misapplied theology evangelicals often miss out on what is one of the most beautiful aspects of repentance…healed friendships and deeper friendships than what existed earlier. That is what I had hoped Andrew White could learn from our fallout. Its what I learned in approaching so many people. Those relationships that did have that healing had a more beautiful friendship as a result. The sad aspect is that many evangelicals will not discover that at all. Here is another thought as well that I have been mulling on.  Have the culture wars that many evangelicals engaged in also had an unintended consequences as well? Let me explain…many Christians have deep struggles with like minded, or same sex friendships. For example trying to have a deep male friendship with another male can be challenging. I wonder if given the wars that some evangelicals have waged against gay marriage that if some evangelicals fear intimate friendships as a result?  Does that happen as a result of their fear of homosexuality or gay marriage?  These are questions that I am asking. As always I appreciate your thoughts, feel free to sound off below. As always I love you guys!

 

6 thoughts on “Because of Fundamentalism do Evangelicals Struggle with Social Skills?

  1. Eagle,

    While I believe that you’ve unfairly over-generalized in much of this missive, there are a few nuggets & buried treasure to found:

    “Many evangelicals wrap their identity not in God but in their church or their celebrity pastor. You will learn this very quickly if you say something that is viewed as being out of line.”

    That was the best part of this missive.
    I never thought of it quite that way, but there’s a lot truth there.
    It actually pains people when they hear that the pastor they look up to isn’t perfect; there’s that “cognitive dissonance” thing that happens. They can’t reconcile what they’ve been told, so they dismiss it as untrue, even when it is demonstrably true.

    “In evangelical Christian culture people are often disposable.”

    My experience is that I’ve maintained many great friendships after moving from one church to another. But as with any “group” situation, there are people one *shares* things with, and there are people one simply *does* things with. And when the “doing” part is over, the latter relationships necessarily end or are curtailed, whereas the former will thrive. That’s simply human nature. I don’t believe that it’s any more or less prevalent in Evangelical Christianity than any other walk of life. At least that is my experience; your mileage may vary. 😉

    My experience is also that the “disposable” aspect refers primarily to church leadership. I have found that once one leaves a church, the leadership of the former church often couldn’t care less. shrug.

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    • Ejj I thank you for speaking your mind. I love the way you think and the way you view things. More importantly I appreciate the way you challenge me when you feel I am wrong or off base. Thanks for speaking up!

      The part about being disposable I keep running into that. It puzzles me that it happens as often as it has. In contrast I still keep in touch with many people from prior jobs. I don’t understand why it has to be like that. Thanks for your thoughts!

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      • Eagle,

        I don’t necessarily think you’re “wrong”. You’re sharing your experience & that’s fine. But I do think there are some over-generalizations. It’s understandable; I’ve been guilty of making the same over-generalizations many times. It’s a very easy “trap” to fall into. 🙂

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