When you are in the midst of evangelicalism it all makes sense. We believe this. And if we believe this and do these things we are guaranteed this. Both here in this life and in the life to come. On the other hand if we don’t believe this or we don’t do these things, then bad things will happen both here and now and in the life to come.
When there are occasional anomalies (a kid gets sick, someone really righteous dies too young, we lose all our money) they are explained away with a dismissive wave and a “God’s ways are higher than our ways.”
The system works because it’s a closed system. You only allow voices to matter that match what you already believe. You stay away from too much education. You aren’t allowed to ask questions.
And besides all of your friends are evangelicals and everyone you meet is someone you can possibly save and if you can’t save them, well they are outside of the system and you don’t have to listen to them.
But once you step out of the system you realize that it doesn’t actually work. It’s only consistent if you’re in the system. But from outside of it you realize that it doesn’t make intellectual, emotional, or psychological sense (unless you’re talking about psychological sense from the point of view of being controlled by a closed system). It doesn’t even make Scriptural sense unless you read the Bible only the way evangelicals read it and don’t read any scholars.
So when someone inside the evangelical system steps slightly outside of it they are immediately and violently smacked down (sometimes literally). And they are forced to decide, then, do I leave the system (and thereby risk losing all of my friends, my family, and face Hell) or do I get in line and be a good evangelical again? It’s no surprise that lots and lots of people choose to stay. Especially if they are straight and cisgender because they can stay and be relatively safe.
For the people who choose to leave they are left to undo years of trauma and of psychological torture. Seem too strong? Well what do we say about a parent that places all sorts of rules on a kid and then beats the crap out of them if they even step a toe out of line? We call that abuse. Add on to that constantly telling a child that they are nothing. They are a terrible human. They are sick and you don’t even want to look at them because they screw up so often. You’d call that torture right? Well that’s what evangelicals tell you that God thinks of you. OH! But! If you believe that God tortured His only Son in YOUR PLACE because God definitely needed blood in order to forgive the disgusting slime that you are then God will deign to forgive you and let you into Heaven. But if somehow you don’t think you’re all that bad or that God torturing His only son is maybe NOT an act of love then you get to burn in eternal torment and Hell forever. Yeah, good luck working that out in therapy.
Not to mention they lose their church which, if they were good evangelicals, is their entire social life. They have a community there. Probably a small group of people who they have invested time and energy into and been vulnerable with. All of their kids’ friends are there. They don’t have any close friends outside of the system because anyone outside of the system could lead them astray.
So now they have to deal with no friends, no community, no spiritual grounding, and undoing years of trauma with no roadmap. It’s terrifying. And it’s heartbreaking. And it’s a ton of work.
Which is why the closed system works. And it’s why it’s toxic and needs to be burnt to the ground. Even if evangelicalism suddenly starts making room for women pastors and LGBTQ folks (which some churches have done) the system itself still remains closed and toxic. It’s deeply and wildly unhealthy. It heaps emotional and psychological trauma on its members. It creates unhealthy sexuality. It’s just a mess. And while I have sympathy for the people who are stuck in it who don’t know they can get out (or who literally can’t get out because they are underage and forced to stay by parents or by an abusive spouse), I also know that many choose to stay and that I can no longer forgive or tolerate. Because you all know better. And this system is killing queer and trans kids. It’s killing women. It’s killing everyone (just some people more quickly than others). And you choose to stay because it’s comfortable and safe.
You choose your closed system because you don’t want to work through the discomfort of leaving. You choose to push aside your queer friends, your own desires. You cut people out of your life. You stay. You sense the cracks in the system but you refuse to deal with them.
There are other ways to follow Jesus. But you’re choosing the one that is the most shallow and that requires the least of you. Because it’s a lot easier to pray a prayer and believe you’re going to Heaven forever than it is to work for the Kingdom of God here and now.
Your desire for a get out of hell free card is literally creating hell on earth because you are propping up a system that is built on coercion and fear and power.