Do you remember what your life was like before you realized that evangelicalism is broken? Do you recall what it was like before you dealt with spiritual abuse or authoritarianism? In what seems like an eternity many people do. In the classic work Ragtime by E.L. Doctrow in a time of change and upheaval it was also realized that you can’t go back to how life was before. When you come out of the dark side of evangelicalism the only way ahead is to go forward. You may crave or desire to go back for a number of personal reasons. But there is no turning back. These journeys are for the brave.
“Behind innocence there gathers a clotted mass of superstition, of twisted and misdirected impulse; clandestine flirtation, fads, and ragtime fill the unventilated mind.”
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
2 Peter 3:9 NIV
That is me after I was baptized at Fresno Evangelical Free in April of 2000. I was such a different person then, so much so that I don’t recognize myself. So much change has taken place.
American literature is very rich with writers and novelists. I want to lean upon a classic work in this post as I continue to discuss the problems and issues with American evangelicalism.
E.L. Doctrow’s Literary Classic Ragtime
In 1975 E.L. Doctrow published a book which would become an American masterpiece. Ragtime was selected by Modern Library as one of the 100 best important novels of all time. The work that E.L Doctrow created showcased how vibrant writing can be done. This genre that Doctrow really supported is called historical fiction. Ragtime looks at a dark time in American history. It takes place in the New York City area and starts in 1902 and goes to 1912 but even mentions the United States entering World War I. Ragtime explores a changing culture and time. Some of the issues that Ragtime looks at are immigration, racial strife, industrialization, radical anarchism, politics, and the changing role of women. Into all these issues as a historical fiction novel you have characters such as Henry Ford, Evelyn Nesbit, Matthew Perry, Emma Goldman, Harry Houdini, J.P. Morgan, and Booker T. Washington woven into the plot of a fictional family. Ragtime is the story of Mother, Father, Younger Brother, and Grandfather. Each of those characters deals with different issues. Younger brother who sees injustice and organized labor becomes influenced by Emma Goldman and becomes a revolutionary. Father is an old school individual who is very conservative and Victorian who goes on journeys. Mother was the dotting wife who found an abandoned black child in her garden. She becomes more concerned with racism and brings a young African-American women into the house and helps her. Mother also realizes the limits of Victorian culture. Then you have Coalhouse Walker Jr who is a talented Ragtime musician who is the father of the young black child and attached to the young female. Coalhouse has a run in with a white racist fire chief who destroys his car and has him arrested. Coalhouse runs into issues when he pursues justice. In the process of trying to find justice the person he cares about is killed. After losing everything he becomes a radical who demands justice and engages in domestic terrorism as he see systematic racism as a part of American culture. In this novel you read about the influence in American culture of Henry Ford and the invention of the assembly line or of scandal with the trial of Evelyn Nesbit and how that influences American culture. Ragtime was turned into a movie in 1981 and a Broadway musical in 1998.
Do You Remember What Evangelicalism Was Like Before You Discovered the Systemic Issues?
Can you recall what it was like before you realized evangelicalism is broken? Can you remember your life before you experienced the dark side of evangelicalism and abuse, authoritarianism, control, corruption and more?
Or do you remember attending your first evangelical service? Or sitting through your first Bile study? How many remember when you looked forward to Sunday morning so you could attend church and see friends? Remember when you went to church and you met the pastor and respected him? Do you recall what it was like to give , money to a church because you believed in supporting the effort or reaching the lost? Do you remember picking up Christian material at book shops? How many recall going to your first Christian contemporary music concert? What about your first Christian music festival? Do you recall building friendships with people who you thought would be friends for life? Do you remember when you were scared about dating because of sexual purity? Worried and in knots about each movie or form of entertainment sexually tempting you? Remember how you did accountability through your church or ministry? How many recall your experiences in organizations like Campus Crusade for Christ, Inter-varsity Christian Fellowship or the Navigators? Do you recall when you looked at all churches as being healthy? And when you accept people talking about how solid the non-denominational model is? How about when you respected the Southern Baptists, Assembly of God, Evangelical Free Church of America, and so many other denominations? Do you recall when you used to trust your children to pastors or ministries? If you remember the concept of sex abuse was so foreign it just didn’t seem possible. Do you recall when you dated on the basis of faith, married, had kids, took jobs, and lived thinking you were doing the will of God?
Do you remember all this? It seems like almost a century ago. In a different time and in a different era. That time in your life is now a distant fog that seems blurry. When I was in that world I drank the Kool Aid. I was naive and a complete fool. I was brainwashed and tried to honor the Lord as it was defined. Its been a long time but it was a different time. You look at pictures like the one I have posted above and you see the Kool Aid on your face. The glossed over eyes? Do you remember all of that?
Do you remember how your life was before you realized that evangelicalism is broken and can not be repaired? That is failures are cultural and systemic.
Just Like Mother in Ragtime We Can’t Go Back to How it Was Before. The Future is About Moving Forward and its Only For the Brave
I wrote about Ragtime because there is a theme in the book that I think plays itself well in this post. In the book, movie and the musical one of the issues deals with the changes that Mother goes through. Mother is a product of the Victorian era. She lets her husband make her decisions for her. Women can’t vote and she believes her place is at home and to submit to her husband. As her life unfolds in Ragtime she slowly realizes there are problems and that the world she is a part of is not so straight and narrow as she once thought. She realizes that she wants to be free from control and live her life in a way that gives her more. In her journey she comes to a crossroads and makes a decision that life can’t go back to the way it was before. Her previous life was not as healthy or solid as she thought it was. In the musical Mother sings a song called “Back to Before” which I will have below. In it she states that life is more complicated and that its time to go forward and how we can’t go back to life like it was before.
When you leave something it takes courage. You have to keep moving forward. Some people are tempted to go back to the ministries or organizations that they have left. When I was talking with some of the people from Harvest Bible Chapel I learned of how some people who decided to return to Harvest after all that happened. I am not going to name the ministry or church but not long ago I spoke to another person who was embroiled in a church scandal. It was high profile and difficult. In the end I learned that one person decided to go back to what they left and turned their back on friends who stood by this person. It left her friends disappointed. I have pushed back from evangelicalism and I have been moving forward. Step by step its been a hard and difficult walk. These kinds of journeys are not for the faint of heart. Instead they are for the brave and the courageous. Why? Because sometimes you know that leaving can mean losing friends or family. But you also need to be honest and true to yourself. When its 5:45 in the morning and you get out of bed and are staring at yourself in the mirror you need to be honest and true. Lying to yourself can be some of the most troubling aspects to these situations that this blog writes about. But remember no matter how you are tempted, or how hard it is one has to keep moving forward. The days of evangelicalism for people like myself and others are over. You can’t go back to how life was before.