Stop Calling Yourself an “Exvangelical”

So the term “exvangelical” is a thing now. It’s an earnest hashtag on Twitter. It’s also the name of a podcast1 with over seventy episodes. The Guardian even used the term for evangelicals who dropped the label after the 2016 election.

You can guess who exvangelicals are: folks who were raised in conservative evangelical homes, have now become progressives, and who keep enumerating the ways their childhood injured them. You can also guess that I reeeeaaaaaally don’t like the term. And yes, I have bullet-pointed reasons for it.

Here’s why you shouldn’t call yourself an “exvangelical,” even if you were raised by Jerry Falwell but now blog for Huff Po’s Religion section:

  • You’re going too think much about evangelicals. If you call yourself “exvangelical,” then evangelicalism still plays an active role in shaping your identity. You’re therefore more likely to think and talk about it. Maybe because it’s cathartic. Maybe because you’re trying to prove your old friends and family wrong. Maybe because you need to keep justifying yourself. The result is the same: more thinking and talking about evangelicalism.
  • You’re going to be unfair to evangelicals. It’s inevitable. If you’re a human being, then you’re harshest toward the groups that you’ve left. That’s probably a reason why the term “exvangelical” irks me so much–it’s a viewpoint that I used to hold. Because exvangelicals are primed to be too harsh to evangelicalism, using the label will only make the problem worse. Rather than keep spiraling, it’s better to give yourself a clean break.
  • It encourages pride. Just below the exvangelical surface is an undercurrent of pride. You are the one who looked around your evangelical culture and saw through the deceptions. You are the one with the courage to leave that toxic world. And now, you are the one wise enough to find fault in every thing evangelicals do, and to speak prophetically into each situation with a combination of snark and condescension. I know this because I’ve been there.
  • It neglects what you are now. I used to read a theology blog by an Eastern Orthodox guy who converted to Anglicanism. A lot of the content was good, but I eventually got tired of his habit of constantly listing reasons he left the Orthodox Church. I didn’t want to keep hearing about his old grievances—he’s an Anglican now. I wanted to hear about Anglicanism. It’s the same thing with exvangelicals. Sure they used to be evangelicals, but they’re something else now. Talk about that instead.

Now of course, there are proper times and places for critiquing evangelicalism (see, e.g., this blog hopefully). But there’s also a time and place to leave the past and focus on what you are now. That’s why John Mark Reynolds of the Saint Constantine School recommended all “post-evangelicals” find a new angle by age forty.

So that gives me nine more years….

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1  I want to make it clear that this post is about the phenomenon of exvangelicals in general, and not this one podcast in particular. Because I haven’t listened to any of the episodes, I’m in no position to form any opinion on it.

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Photo by David Clow

Why Couldn’t 90’s Kids Watch Cool TV?

If you were raised evangelical in the 90’s, there were lots of tv shows you weren’t allowed to watch for hilarious reasons.1 If you don’t believe me, watch this John Crist video right now.

While it’s fun to laugh at our parents for what my dad calls “Christian political correctness,” we should sympathize with them. They were trying to protect their kids from a multi-headed hydra of influences they knew almost nothing about. Also, there’s a distinct possibility that we’ll do the same thing with our kids.

Maybe.

This may be wishful thinking, but I’m about to argue that my generation won’t do the same thing with our kids. And yes, I do have reasons why parenting in the 90’s was particularly tough:

  • Culture had just shifted. Have you noticed that prior generations don’t have stories about all the 60’s and 70’s shows they weren’t allowed to watch? Back in the day, the entertainment industry still held enough civil Christianity (or at least a venir of it) to not raise any flags.  But by the 90’s the illusion was shattered, and entertainment stopped nodding to “traditional values.” After their heads stopped spinning, evangelicals closed ranks against this new threat: Christianity is under attack! The enemy has breached the gate! All of a sudden, evangelicals were primed to find danger everywhere.
  • Information was limited. Today, I’m a google search away from all the information I need to determine if a show is appropriate. But back in olden times (the 90’s), this was much harder to come by. Other than watching every show yourself, the only information source was rumors from church ladies and grumpy deacons. And they have a tendency to . . . exaggerate.
  • The pendulum hadn’t swung. In the 90’s, the general evangelical opinion was that we had fallen asleep at the wheel, and let the secularists swoop in and steal the culture. They responded by charging into the culture war on all fronts—even the Saturday morning cartoon front.  Twenty years later, the pendulum has swung the other way. Today’s parents are the ones raised on that overreaction. That means they’re primed to react in the opposite direction.

Of course, I could be wrong about everything. Twenty years from now, my kids could be laughing about all my crazy rationales for banning shows. And they’ll rub this post in my face.

*Stares toward the horizon*

Blogs are dangerous things . . .

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1  For the record, the shows I wasn’t allowed to watch were Captain Planet (environmentalism), and Pokémon (psychic). I also wasn’t allowed to read Harry Potter (witchcraft).

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Photo by Gustavo Devito

 

How Civility Is Like Torture

Civility is a hot topic lately. Based on the smoke from my Twitter feed, here’s where we stand:

  • The Left has just abandoned civility because Trump is causing an EXISTENTIAL CRISIS!
  • The Right abandoned civility the moment they made Trump their presidential nominee/warlord. Despite this, they are currently complaining about the Left’s lack of civility.

For all the wailing and posturing to the contrary, both sides have the same view of civility: it’s fine under normal circumstances, but dangerous in EMERGENCIES(!).

This thinking is wrong for the same reason that torture is wrong. I should probably explain.

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In Praise of Strategic Ignorance

Jordan Peterson is a terrible person. Or maybe he isn’t; I’m not really sure.

To be honest, I barely know anything about Jordan Peterson. And that’s on purpose. Today, I’d like to introduce you to something I call “Strategic Ignorance.”

The concept is simple: going out of your way to avoid learning about a silly hot button topic. That what I’ve been doing with Jordan Peterson. Any time I see an article or tweet about him–pro or con–I ignore it.

As such, my knowledge of Peterson is delightfully slight. He’s a psychiatrist, I think? Or maybe something like evolutionary psychologist. But anyway, he has incendiary opinions on . . . gender? Morality? And his growing influence is either an existential threat to society or its last great hope. I have no idea. For all I know, he could be the lost heir to the throne of Bohemia.

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Before You Congratulate Yourself on Your “Prophetic Witness”… Another Thought Experiment

In my last post, I tried using the Trolley Problem to show the moral consequences of evangelicals who support Trump. Today, I want to tease out more ethical consequences with another hypothetical. Because I was pretty rough on Trump-voting evangelicals last time, I thought I’d frame this one in terms more applicable to my brand of evangelical. Here it goes:

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Evangelicals Have a Trolley Problem

Evangelical support for Donald Trump has made me think about the Trolley Problem. You haven’t heard of the trolley problem? No worries–you were just too busy with your social life to pay attention to your Philosophy 101 course in college. The Trolley Problem is a popular ethics hypothetical. It’s ridiculously easy to find background info about it. Here it is in brief:

A runaway trolley is careening down a track toward five innocent workers. You’re standing to the side and unable to warn the workers. But you’re next to a switch that will divert the trolley onto another track. But this track has one innocent worker on it. Is it more ethical to (1) pull the switch and divert the trolley, thereby killing the one worker, or (2) do nothing, and allow the trolley to kill the five workers?

The Trolley Problem is interesting because your answer reveals your deeper assumptions. Is your driving consideration the consequence of your choice? Then you likely said you’d kill the one person to save the five. But if your driving consideration is the process of your choice, you’d likely refuse to kill a person by pulling the switch.

Things get even more interesting when we tinker with the factors.1 Let’s say you said you would pull the switch to divert the trolley:

What if the one person on the other track was a close family member? Would you change your answer? Why?

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Why Yes I Do Have Thoughts on Miss America

I’m about to say something that might surprise you: Whenever I go camping, I do a special call to attract Bigfoot. Oh, that didn’t surprise you? Then how about this:

I know a lot about the Miss America pageant.

Let me explain. My wife’s family is filled with people who’ve been involved in Miss America pageants through the years. Her family still has connections with state organizations, and knows several winners each year.

Therefore, I am duty-bound to watch the pageant every year with this family of experts.

Each year, we make official lists of who we predict will go to the next round throughout the night. I don’t mean to brag, but I may be the best in the family. My sister-in-law will say it’s her, but she’s lying.

Miss America, of course, has caused a recent internet stir. The pageant announced it was abandoning its swimsuit competition, and probably the evening gown competition too.

As an accidental pageant expert, I have lots of thoughts.

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Evangelical: Uppercase or Lowercase?

As a proud recipient of a bachelor’s degree in English *cough*, there are certain grammar opinions that I hold to strongly. I’m an Oxford comma partisan.1 I think the rule against ending a sentence with a preposition should be done away with.2

And I believe that evangelical should be lowercase.

I deal with this surprisingly often. When I was preparing my book proposal and writing the sample chapters,3 I went back and forth with friends and readers about whether I should capitalize evangelical. I changed it a couple of times, but ended up firmly in the lowercase camp.

Why? Well, it’s a combination of reasons: both serious and trivial.

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Stop Calling Kids Movies “Cute”

So last week I finally watched Paddington with my family. I loved it. It’s clever, whimsical, beautifully-shot, and explored serious themes in a sensitive way. In short, it’s a good movie.

You’ll notice one word I purposefully avoided: cute.

*Climbs onto soapbox*

We should stop calling art for children “cute.” Here’s why:

  • It sets a bad precedent. Let’s be honest. When most people describe a kids’ movie or book as “cute,” they don’t actually think it’s good. They usually mean it’s insipid or simplistic, but it’s just for kids so who cares. Talk about setting the bar low. Do you have any idea how easy it is to create something “cute”? Start with a talking baby animal, give it bright colors and a jazzy song, throw in a happy ending and message about believing in yourself, and you officially have a “cute” work of art.

This sets all the wrong incentives for creators. There’s no sense in putting all the time (and therefore money) needed to make a good work of art. As long as it’s “cute,” you’re set. So all the labor-intensive good art gets replaced by the mass-produced “cute” art. And we all suffer for it.

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“Evangelical Apocalypse:” Rejecting Both Naivete and Cynicism

This week, Ross Douthat had an article that hit close to home. In fact, he pretty much summed the purpose of this blog. You should read the whole thing: here it is.

For those of you who didn’t follow the link (for shame!) the article is about how Trump’s presidency has been an apocalypse for American evangelicalism. An “apocalypse” in the original Greek meaning is “an unveiling, an uncovering, an exposure of truths that had heretofore been hidden.”

Unless you’ve spent the past three years dwelling in the wilderness and surviving off honey and locusts, you know it’s been a particular apocalypse for evangelicals. It’s easy to assume that this apocalypse will reveal two sides–the good side and the bad side–and that the good side will win. As Douthat explains:

I’d like to tell a simple story that describes the Patterson scandal [link added by me] as an inflection point — after which Moore’s kind of Baptist will inevitably increase while Jeffress’s kind diminishes, as the “judgment” that Mohler describes leads to a general reckoning with the pull of sexism and racism within conservative-leaning churches.

But to assume that’s necessarily going to happen is to fall into the same inevitablist trap that ensnares both arc-of-history progressives and providentialist Trump supporters. Instead it’s wiser to regard an era of exposure like this one as a test, which can be passed but also failed.

I agree. We shouldn’t sit back in a triumphalist assumption that “those evangelicals” will inevitably lose and history will vindicate us.

But the opposite is also true. It’s easy to look at the struggles in the current apocalypse and get discouraged. It can even lead us to apathy and (wait for it) cynicism. But that shouldn’t be our response. As Douthat explained when he accidentally wrote the tagline for this blog:

So the question posed by this age of revelation is simple: Now that you know something new and troubling and even terrible about your leaders or your institutions, what will you do with this knowledge?

That’s what this blog is (hopefully) about. Finding a way to move forward from the disappointment and frustration. But doing so in a way that isn’t naive or cynical. Instead, it’s a way that is clear-eyed and gospel-centered.

The apocalypse should be a call to self-reflection and to prayer. And hopefully, it can lead to renewal.

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Photo by Formula None