Friday, June 24, 2016

Untangling Emotions After Evangelicalism

Don't complain, someone has it worse than you. 

God is still doing good things with this situation, so just trust that he's sovereign. 

Don't rock the boat, Jesus submitted to the cross. 

You're a sinner who deserves hell, so anything better than that you should be thankful for. 

The heart is deceitful above all things, so you can't trust your emotions or conscience. 

We're all sinners, so you can't be furious with someone who has committed a heinous crime. 

Don't speak about it publicly, we don't want to scandalize anyone and make the church look bad. 

Anything above burning in hell is a privilege. 

Christians should be the happiest people in the world. 

Those are direct quotes.Variations of each one said to me and the friends I polled repeatedly since childhood. Numerous friends from various types of evangelical backgrounds heard this theme repeated over and over again: don't express your feelings, you don't have the right to do so. So if someone is inclined to say, "Not all evangelicals," hold your breath. It's certainly prevalent enough for it to be a pattern. 

I'm not writing to unpack theological reasons for why that's wrong. If you're at all familiar with the Bible, you can tell that Jesus felt: wept, raged, feared. Job wailed. David poured out every vengeful, every sorrowful, every guilt-ridden thought into verse. Paul never minced words. If you can honestly read the Bible and say to someone expressing a real, human emotion that that's some type of error according to Christianity, there's nothing I can say to convince you otherwise. But the point of my post is what one does after they've left evangelicalism behind. 

I had to be gentle, quiet. I had to trust my leaders knew what they were doing. This thought process extended from a fundamentalist Baptist church, to a conservative inter-evangelical college, to a conservative Anglican church. It was present in varying extremes in each place, but still present all the same. 

God put them in authority, and anyway we're all sinners so we can't be mad when they make mistakes

Mistakes is the key word there. People at the mercy of authorities are sinners, but those in authority are only making mistakes. The flock was entirely made of evildoers deserving of never-ending torture who had no right to complain, but the flock's leaders shouldn't be held accountable for mistakes.

Of course, yes, according to Very Right Doctrine (TM), these leaders are also deserving of eternal torment just like anyone else, but when it comes to the day to day working out of submission and authority, those who were to submit weren't allowed to be the ones reminding authority figures of how they deserved hell. 

The mistake of Baptist leaders for teaching me that the physical world was evil, to revile my body and to not care for the natural world, and to denigrate my womanhood as worth less than manhood.

The mistake of college administrators for creating a 10 year long pattern of poor financial and management decisions that led to misplacement of funds and firing of friends and beloved staff and then finally faculty, all the while telling unmarried students not to kiss because we shouldn't scandalize anyone away from the Gospel, year after year after year.

The mistake of Anglican leaders for not informing every single parent in the congregation when a man involved in the youth, children's and nursery ministry was charged with molestation of a minor or that a convicted sex offender was attending every Sunday (supervised by others, but parents not informed you know, in case they ran into the man outside of church walls).

It is horribly manipulative to remind those under authority of their status as sinners while those in power get to excuse themselves for their mistakes. I was implicitly and overtly reminded of my sinfulness while simultaneously reminded of how those in authority over me deserved my grace.

Evangelicals can't have it both ways.

The work of untangling my emotions about these issues starts with me crying loudly, "BULLSHIT." 

I had learned how to camouflage my emotions so well after years of this conditioning that when a friend of mine saw me say in an online message that I was angry, and then saw me in person, he could not believe I was angry. I suppressed my rage under smiles and obsequiousness, believing that to do otherwise would result in disapproval of a God who gave everything to me.

The real result was that my emotions come out sideways, in horrible, unmanageable ways. Freakouts, meltdowns, breakdowns, irritability at those who didn't deserve, over-reactions to relatively minor issues.
Because I had taught myself how to stuff down how I was really feeling so that I could be a good Christ-follower, so that I wouldn't be met with the criticism of those in authority that I respected.

Now, as an adult, I am learning how to listen to my emotions and intuition and to regulate them in a healthy way. I am learning to honor them when they alert me to red flags in ideologies, knowing that whatever formed me from the stuff of stars gave me my emotions not as a burden to beaten down, but as an integral part of navigating the physical, spiritual, and intellectual life.

When Jesus is asked who sinned, the blind man or his parents, it would have been the perfect opportunity for him to say that because of original sin, all of humanity deserves every ounce of suffering they receive and they should just take it without complaint, because God is merciful enough to keep us from the worst that we deserve.

Jesus doesn't say this.

Jesus never said that.

Jesus cared about injustice, and he said so. He was crucified for it, which I think stands as a sign to the rest of us rankled and torn apart and tossed aside by a church that blows out smoldering wicks: we, yes, even pagan me, may be far more like him than those trying to maintain the status quo of institutional Christianity by suppressing doubt, emotion, and questions.