Have you seen the movie “Saved!”? It’s one of my absolute favorites. It so perfectly describes the world in which I grew up. As my friend Rachelle says, “It’s my high school experience…with better hair.” There are so many scenes that are just spot on.
In one the Christian kids are sitting around a table in the mall food court. They are talking about people at school and they see one of their classmates, one that isn’t a Christian but that they want to convert. Hillary Faye (played both hysterically and heartbreakingly by Mandy Moore) acts as the ringleader of the group. She spots their classmate and says, “Laugh, everyone laugh! Right now! Show her how fun it is to be a Christian!”
I remember this pressure well; to show people how fun it was to be a Christian. It’s fun to save yourself for marriage! It’s fun to do a quiet time every day! It’s fun to not swear or wear revealing clothing! It’s fun to try to convert strangers! Fun! Fun! Fun! It was all about showing how different we were from the world around us. And how it could be really fun to live that way.
I do believe that following Jesus means that you will be different from the world around you. And I absolutely believe that it can be a fun way to live your life. But what I think is really interesting is how many people were not having fun in my evangelical church. They were not having fun trying to live up to the rules and restrictions that were placed on them.
Here are some verses from the Scripture:
Jesus said, I have come that you might have life, and abundantly. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, and self control. They will know you are Christians by your love. Whoever knows God knows love because there is no fear in God because perfect love casts out fear.
When I was an evangelical I did not have an abundant life. I did not have a life filled with love, with joy, with peace. I did not have a life that was without fear. Because everything I was being taught was the exact opposite.
I feared that God would strike me dead and send me to Hell. I feared that God would send people I loved to Hell. I feared that God would send strangers to Hell and it would be my fault for not converting them in the five minute conversation we had in the check out line.
I felt so much shame around my body and my identity, even though I hadn’t even had sex yet. I felt a sense of deep self-loathing just because I was different.
I wasn’t at peace. I was afraid all of the time. I didn’t love. I couldn’t love because I was too busy being taught that everyone who didn’t believe exactly as I did was going to Hell. And more than that that every time someone sinned God hated that (and maybe them, too? Unclear).
My life was a constant striving to win God’s approval. To get God, and by extension my parents and my pastors and my church, to love me. I had to work for that life and any time I stepped a toe out of line I was at risk of losing that love.
Here is how I know that my faith is true, that my interpretations of Scripture are correct, that the ways that I am currently trying to follow Jesus are rooted in Gospel: Because my life is abundant now. Because I feel peace and joy. Because I know love. Love for myself, love for God, and most importantly love for others.
Brian always says that you will know a theology by its fruit: The fruit of unaffirming theology is families broken apart, it’s discord, it’s hatred. I see people who are still in that world struggling mightily. They are struggling because they know that their churches condemnation of their gay friends, siblings, and neighbors isn’t of God. They know that having to do mental gymnastics to make their theology fit with science isn’t helpful. The women who are called to preach and teach and lead (and who know they are called to those things) push themselves into little boxes that they no longer fit into and hide away their immense gifts. They know that the feelings of angst and fear and self-loathing they have are not from God. And yet they have no idea how to escape because they have been told that there is only one way to believe. So they struggle and lash out and are miserable. That’s the fruit of unaffirming theology.
And the fruit of affirming theology is acceptance and love and joy and gentleness. It’s being able to love, unconditionally love, the people in their lives who are queer. It’s being able to hold on to both God and science. It’s being able to be smart! and intelligent! and not a threat to anyone. It’s being able to share all of the gifts that you have to offer. You know, the things the Bible says are of the Spirit.
I don’t have to pretend to laugh anymore. I don’t have to pretend to be joyful about the way that I am living, both because I am actually happy but also because when I am not happy I don’t have to lie about it. I am allowed to feel all of my feelings. I don’t have to pretend at all. And neither do you. Not if you do the work to leave behind harmful theology and church teachings.
Where the Spirit of Christ is, there is freedom.
It’s time to get free.