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Coming Out of the Evangelical Closet

I’m sorry; I just forget.

I run with a lot of free thinkers and I forget what a lot of you are going through in your churches. But the recent, ridiculous Gungor flap has brought it all back home to me.

For those who don’t know, Dove-award winning Christian artists Michael and Lisa Gungor made the mistake of sharing their inability to take all the Bible’s stories literally—and they’re paying the price. The instant backlash has been deafening and vehement; venues and promoters have been dropping their concerts like they’ve converted to Islam.

I forgot about the high cost associated with transparency and honesty—even though I just wrote about this issue less than eight months ago in a post titled Christianity and the Spiral of Silence.

The evangelical closet is enormous, deep, and full of people struggling with biblical inerrancy and various doctrinal issues—but a lot of them are afraid to say anything. Too often there is a litmus test that isn’t about loving God or loving others, but it’s about views on creation, gay marriage, how literally you take the story of Noah’s Ark, etc. Because honesty often equals isolation, these closeted individuals are afraid to be open about their struggles.

What’s incredibly heartbreaking is that they have no idea that they’re not alone. This dark closet is packed with family and friends who feel the same way.

I just wanted to write a message to those who struggle and to the fundamentalists.

To the fundamentalist

I have no desire to argue with you about what is or is not true. I love you and spent many years, just like you, believing and encouraging others to believe that the Bible was 100% literally true. I’ve been where you are, and I get it.

So this isn’t about changing your beliefs. I don’t know any struggling with biblical inerrancy who are trying to convert others. They’re too busy sorting out what they believe.

Please make community a safe place for people to work through what they believe. And I don’t mean to just back off and give them a certain amount of time come around and tow the party line. I mean support them, even when you don’t understand them.

I talk to the people in your churches all the time, and trust me . . . you have no idea how many people are struggling. They won’t tell you because they don’t trust you.

Think about it like this: A husband may be able to intimidate his wife into agreeing with him, but he hasn’t won her heart. Unbeknownst to him, she has developed a secret internal life that he knows nothing about—and she resents him. He may win the battle by forcing her to tacitly and quietly agree, but he is losing the war, and quite possible her.

Because you draw a straight line from believing in a six-day creation to believing the Bible at all, you are forcing an all-or-nothing, zero-sum game. Do you understand what I’m saying?

It’s your rigidity that’s costing people their faith because you have created a game of biblical Jenga where the whole of a person’s faith hinges on the correct placement of every piece.

This doesn’t have to be a slippery slope argument. I understand that it may be for you, but you don’t have to project that upon others.

Please, I beg you, please lighten up. It’s pretty likely that someone can believe in, be redeemed by, and follow Jesus without believing in the Tower of Babel.

To those who struggle

I know it’s hard. I remember sharing with my wife that I just couldn’t believe certain things anymore, and it was incredibly difficult. At the time, she saw it as a betrayal of my marriage vows.

But this could be your spouse, kids, co-workers, pastor, people in your small group . . . admitting that your system of belief is evolving is hard and it can feel like you’re taking a beating every time you share your deepest feelings with others.

I have seen Christians cut off friends and family for the most benign admission of doubt.

Whatever you do, don’t go along to get along. I know it’s hard, but don’t fake it to fit. Life’s too short to walk around feeling like a phony. And I know to many people who have started down that road and walked away from the church entirely because it gets too hard to fake.

The other people in the closet need your courage. They need to see that there is transcendent life on the other side of their disbelief. Model transparency at all costs.

You’ll be surprised how many will understand where you’re coming from. And I can promise you, there is a more exciting and fulfilling experience of Christ when you entertain your doubts and give them a voice.

For the sake of those who have struggled like you do, please leave a comment and share some encouragement!

Cheers

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40 Comments Post a comment
  1. I struggle and I have loads of questions. I was basically told that I am not a Christian because of them. That is one of the main reasons that i cancelled Facebook. I got tired of people making accusations like that. The worst part, in my opinion, is that they get so angry and seem so convicted in their argument that it can make me feel like I might be way out of line for even asking a question. I can totally see why people walk away from the church as a result.

    August 20, 2014
  2. Becky #

    Excellent. Let’s get this post to go viral. Thank you, Jayson.

    August 20, 2014
  3. I work at a Christian organization, and there’s a fairly wide range of beliefs among my coworkers. Last week I suffered through a devotional on “if you can’t accept Noah’s ark as true, how can you accept the stories about Jesus?” Ugh.

    I just don’t get the unbending emphasis on literalism. I’ve learned that deep truths are often expressed in allegory and metaphor – heck, that’s how Jesus taught! There may not have been a literal ark with literally two of every animal on it, but that doesn’t make the story false. It teaches us something important about man’s relationship to God, which, last I checked, is the entire purpose of the Bible.

    August 20, 2014
  4. This is good stuff. It is so healthy and helpful to have real conversations about the Bible, scriptural Truths, etc, and to realize that people can disagree on the manner in which the Truths are delivered and still come to the same conclusion that Jesus is Lord.

    August 20, 2014
  5. Lord have mercy on me! And he did. With you.
    How come I haven’t stumbled and fumbled across you in this here closet before?
    Fake to fit.
    I love that truth.
    And ain’t it the truth.
    I myself can’t even get to all the good parts to even wonder if they’re literal or symbolic.
    I’m too busy worrying about whether sweet tea’s a sin.
    Or shorts are heathen.
    Or red lipstick’s from Rahab.
    You know, all those really important everyday things that have sent so many straight to hell.
    I’m so glad that God with his incredible eyesight which can see the speck in my retina …
    is looking at my heart.
    It’s all the other Christian folk who are lookin at the speck.
    Even if they have to put on speckticles. 🙂

    August 20, 2014
  6. And Jesus said to His disciples, “I teach in parables because, let’s face it, they’re going to believe every word out of My mouth is as literal as the dirt we stand on anyway.”

    Ok, so that’s a rough paraphrase of Matthew 13:10-17. but I hope my point’s clear enough. Anyway, great post! Very insightful!

    August 20, 2014
  7. I literally read the Bible literarily. Or at least I do my best to do so.

    Good post. A friend recently made a huge choice that I personally don’t agree was the right thing to do. And I love her and support her. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe she’s wrong, maybe there are a whole lot of shades of grey. And maybe we can each do things that are dead wrong, and Jesus still doesn’t cut us off and send us to hell. I was one of the only people she opened up to before, during, and after she made her decision. She still talks to me; I still listen. Some of the other reactions by people in our church — hmm, she’s not feeling the love there!

    August 20, 2014
  8. Great thoughts, Jayson. Part of why I haven’t been back to church in nearly a year has been because I’m not sure I’d be welcomed if everyone knew what I really believed. I got tired of faking it, so I left. In many ways my seminary has been my church, so that’s been quite wonderful. But I know that I won’t be in seminary forever. So in a way, I’m not really excited about graduating in two years.

    August 20, 2014
    • Thanks for your comment, Jeremy. It’s strange to me that the church-at-large and academic Christianity are in such a weird dance.

      Most academic Christian colleges (except ones that are denominationally based) don’t believe the crap that a lot of people in, what I like to call, street-level Christianity believe.

      They tend to eschew the rapture, question many OT stories, and are willing to discuss some hard issues. But that never seems to make it’s way down to the street.

      So it’s like there’s two different Christianities. The street-level churches love PhDs as long as they come from approved institutions, but they show scorn for other kinds of higher learning if it strays from the party line.

      It’s a no-win situation. If I disagree with you, I have been educated into liberalism. You literally never have to question anything because any answer that strays from the script is demonically inspired.

      So many of the academics write for other academics. . . but even then they lose when the theological gatekeepers get to them: people like Pete Enns or Greg Boyd.

      It’s a seriously messed up situation.

      August 21, 2014
      • Pete Enns has been a huge favorite of mine, especially about faith in the academic realm. But you’re exactly right; there is no winning for many academic Christians who push the limits of theology. I’ve actually already been ridiculed for the specific seminary I’m attending because there are others in the area that are more street-level acceptable (I dig the terminology, by the way) and I’m “walking a slippery slope” by not attending them. It’s just a bit too crazy.

        August 21, 2014
        • Right. How weird that we would create a culture that sanctifies intentional, willful ignorance.

          August 21, 2014
  9. carolb12 #

    Jayson, this is a great article! I am a little afraid to respond because you are all so much better at putting your thoughts into words than I am, but here goes: I am 56 y/o and grew up in the SBC. We raised our three children in that denomination, my husband served as a Deacon, and I was a very active teacher in the Youth Dept. In other words, my life was steeped there. When our son “came out” to us at 25 y/o, God began doing the mightiest work in my life thus far. Many of our “Christian” friends have left us because of our beliefs concerning the LGBT+ community, but God has walked with us every step of the way. My theology began to slowly loosen its grip, and a definite unraveling has been taking place in our lives. If the church could be so wrong about the treatment of LGBT people, what else is it wrong about? The past three years, I have been reaching out to this community and try to be “family” to those who have been kicked out of their homes and abandoned. I have met some of the MOST WONDERFUL people and would not “go back” to who I was BEFORE our son “came out” for anything in this world. I just LOVE better!! When I minister to people who are marginalized, it truly feels like Jesus. Letting some of “the stuff” go has been the BEST thing that ever happened to me. I don’t find myself “judging” others as I use to, and truly realize now, everybody has a story, and I want to meet them where they are—My constant prayer is, God, I no longer believe I have all of the answers, but I love you fiercely. Help me each day to explemplify Jesus, and forgive me when I don’t. Then I head out into the world and try my best to bring light to the dark places—- I actually believe we are MEANT to question–much like a child does with a parent. It makes our relationship to God so much more intimate. In 56 yrs I have cried out from the depths of my soul in anger, brokeness and hurt, but I always find God waiting for me on the other side. It doesn’t matter that some people don’t understand this, it is MY journey.

    August 21, 2014
    • You said that I put my thoughts into writing better than you do . . . turns out you were lying.

      That was beautiful, thank you for sharing it.

      August 21, 2014
    • Carol, thank you for that. I am encouraged by your story. Isn’t it amazing that the holy elite can and do commit incredible flagrant sin and still be forgiven and left with the purse strings and podiums? Yet, those without choice are exiled and condemned.

      August 21, 2014
    • Carol, I loved what you said: “I have met some of the MOST WONDERFUL people and would not “go back” to who I was BEFORE our son “came out” for anything in this world. I just LOVE better!!” A dear friend of ours came out a couple years ago and we went through that period of having to decide what was more important, too — loving or leaving, so to speak. And I am right there with you. I’m so much happier with myself in Jesus as I am now. I wouldn’t change the questioning and struggles we went through for anything in the world. They taught our family how to be more accepting and loving.

      August 21, 2014
      • Carol, I want to thank you too for telling your story. I am sure many people have been blessed by you through your comment and through your life. May God continue to bless you and your family.
        Thanks, Jayson, for the post. Amen and amen!

        August 21, 2014
    • Touching words Carol. Thank you for sharing!

      August 22, 2014
      • carolb12 #

        Tyou so much everybody!! We have been so devastated by the actions and words of so many, your words are like the Balm of Gilead for my soul. I pray God leads us to a church home soon—a place for all people who are searching and seeking.

        August 22, 2014
  10. Tim #

    I have noticed in my own heart the temptation to camp out on certain answers, even after deviating from the norm. For instance, when I began to study the “Rapture” and found very little telling me that it was immanent, I began staunchly standing on the fact that there was no rapture. When others would come along with yet another opposing view, I would distance myself from them.

    Our hearts are too quick to tidy up our faith and it’s answers into static, unchanging monoliths.

    Your resolution at the start of 2014: “#10 I will not get embroiled in arguments that reduce complexities into simple black and white issues.” Spot on.

    Thanks for informing me and keeping my mind limber.

    August 21, 2014
  11. Wonder

    August 21, 2014
  12. Thank you for this post. I can relate to both fundamentalists, and the doubters. For many years, I was a member at a large and well-respected church. I reached a point in my life where I felt like I was faking much of my faith (becomes all too easy when you have grown up in the church). I made the decision to quit faking everything, and to be totally honest with those around me so that I could get the help and understanding I desperately needed. Sadly, most of what I got was the “you just need to read your Bible and pray” response, and I felt like a total alien at church from that moment forward. Long story short, my experience there caused me to leave the church and Christianity for 4 years.

    I now live in a different state away from that church, and have come crawling back to God. But, churches has never felt that great ever since. Christianity seems so shallow in the church these days, and most people have their walls up and masks on. Being tagged as a doubter or one who really struggles with the faith is seen as a negative thing, when it should be seen as reality, and we should all rally together to recognize that and encourage one another where we are weak.

    I hope we can all recognize the things that are absolutely core/dogmatic to the faith, and be patient and understanding when we all don’t see eye to eye on specific doctrines/opinions. The church will never all agree on everything in this life – why can’t we recognize that and see that that is ok on many levels?

    August 21, 2014
    • What’s interesting, Josh, is that the primary mission of The Church is Jesus’ Great Commission: to take the Gospel to all the peoples of the world teaching everyone to obey all His commands. So obviously people who haven’t heard the gospel, or don’t believe the gospel, aren’t going to be in agreement with those bringing the gospel. Paul through the NT contends for the gospel by reasoning with people. Our primary mission as The Church is to discuss and reason with non-believers. If we can’t even reason with each other, can’t even reason with those willing to be in our churches and be honest about their struggles and doubts, how can we possibly reason with people who don’t yet know of the gospel?

      I’m obviously not as familiar with this phenomenon as others commenting on this post, but the pecking to death of the weak chick in the henhouse is diametrically opposed to Jesus’ command that we love one another and that others will see we are His followers when we do so. To truly and fully love one another should be the first commandment of Jesus that we are teaching others. It’s what mothers attempt to teach their children. Perhaps that’s why we need both men and women in church leadership. To keep each other from killing off the weakest believers of our own sex.

      August 21, 2014
  13. webmike #

    Did Jesus die for the sins of the world or the sins of just the fundamentalist? I always get disgusted when I read about another church denying a person funeral rights because they are found out to be gay. Then all you read in the comments, people spitting fire theology and telling them that they are on there way to hell. I don’t think any Christian in there right mind would or should ever become judge, jury and executioner. You can see the hate in there posts, not love. What about all the thieves, politicians, rapist or murders we allow to have their dignity in death. I think you article hits the nail on the head. I think about how bad we must turn people off when they see all the hocus pocus in church. Are we in la la land or is my belief in God grounded in reality? What people forget is that God works in the timing and situations to build your faith in him one miracle at a time. I was brought up in a church who cast out demons and spoke in tongues. I felt like all that hocus pocus drove me and many people away from accepting the reality that is God. Love covers a multitude of sin and if that be the case maybe, just maybe we can love the people we consider enemies. Sometimes I feel like the church is the number one reason people don’t believe and have no faith ina real God who is alive. Did the Jews want to except the gentile, no. That is why Jesus came to give the whole world the good news not just fundamentalist.

    August 21, 2014
  14. C. #

    Either it is true or not. Either you believe it or not. You cannot be sort-of pregnant. Either you have been born again or you have not decided. You cannot say you are a Christian if you are still on the fence. Be honest. The bible says there are people who sang songs and hymns and spiritual songs who will never go to heaven. If you are luke warm God will spit you out. Period. You have the bible right in front of you… will all interpretations be the same, ever ?? No but if you don’t believe in it is inerrant, then you don’t believe in its truth or in God.

    August 21, 2014
    • This is the mentality that pushes people right out the door. The problem with your argument is that it is framed entirely a 21st century perspective. “Inerrancy” or “inerrant” in relation to the biblical text has only been around for the last forty years; I hardly believe God will spit me out for not believing it.

      Your argument is way too simplified for such a major claim (that God cares whether or not we believe in inerrancy). You have no basis to tell anyone who does not believe inerrancy that they don’t believe in the God of the Bible because guess what: Jesus didn’t. The New Testament didn’t exist. You accuse people of not believing the Bible as you see it, then you accuse Jesus and Paul and Peter and anyone who lived prior to the canonization of the New Testament.

      Please practice meeting people at their level before you say God spits them out.

      August 21, 2014
  15. My son pointed me to your blog. How wonderfully refreshing. I decided a while ago that I’m coming out of the closet. The move from a Calvinist church to a more liberal Methodist church was a very helpful baby step. I now consider myself Emergent! Keep up the good work!

    August 21, 2014
  16. “They won’t tell you because they don’t trust you.”

    Terrifying and true.

    The church is constantly declaring to the public that it is not a safe place for all your human intricacies and difficulties. The church says, come, be a part of us, we’re right and you need to be saved…but leave your humanity outside. And then can’t figure out why the church isn’t relevant in society.

    August 21, 2014
  17. “How weird that we would create a culture that sanctifies intentional, willful ignorance.” You kinda said it all here. Bible inerrancy is great, but it’s important to understand that there are genres in the Bible. Poetry, parables and apocalyptic literature are not intended to be factual. They are written as lessons. We have to educate ourselves about the Scripture we read before we fly off the handle about discerning fact from intentional fiction.

    Our churches today are a far cry from the churches of Jesus’ time. Then, people were welcomed. The intention was to build the kingdom, spread the Good News. Today, the gospel is treated as barrier to the kingdom, with qualifiers and hoops to jump through. I’m certain that was never what it was meant to be. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have been called “Good” news.

    August 21, 2014
  18. First of all, let me say that I try very hard to encourage people in their walk with God, to come along side them and to be an example of what it means to be sold out to Jesus. I live my life as transparent as possible, my strengths and my weaknesses. While I agree with you that we need to make community a safe place the problem I have is giving people a black marker and letting them pick and choose what parts of the Bible matter and are true and what parts God has changed His mind on.

    If I am going to believe in a God who is over all, the most powerful, the Savior of mankind and every where at once, then I believe that He is more than capable of seeing to it that the Book we refer to as His love letter to us is accurate. If He can’t do that then my view of Him is too big. While in reality, my view of Him is still too small. I still find that I try to put God in a box I understand. Yet, if I could truly understand all the ways of God then He wouldn’t be the God I know Him to be — which is far more greater than me, His ways are not my ways, and His thoughts are way higher than mine. We come to God in faith because that is the way He set it up. If He wanted us to come to Him by reason, He would have set it up differently.

    I rarely get in to discussions on whether the Tower of Babel happened or gay marriage or even abortion, not because I do not have my views on it and what I believe the Bible to say but because my calling is to encourage people to draw closer to Jesus. No matter where we are what really matters is — to grow in our love for Him, our service to Him, and our love for others. It is the Holy Spirit’s job to lead us into truth (John 14:17 and John 16:13) and He does.

    August 21, 2014
    • Everyone picks and chooses; we just choose to call our beliefs by different names. Your phrasing of the Bible as God’s “love letter” is picking and choosing a particular way of viewing the Biblical text. Certainly one could go overboard with what one chooses to believe in (Thomas Jefferson comes to mind as a potential example), but this is why we reason through things and have discussions and dialogue about the difficult passages.

      By no means will this process always be comfortable. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve wrestled with the biblical text because it felt as though I was questioning God’s very existence. But every time I feel that way, I remember that no matter what, God is bigger than the Bible. Not saying we shouldn’t use it as the authority for our lives, but I am saying that it was inspired by God, so it cannot be God completely, only a part. Even if every word of it were completely true, the Bible is still not God. I would say that compelling people to believe in the Bible with the “pick and choose” argument is using a fear tactic. Should that be a way to encourage people to walk with God? With as personal as we claim God to be, I don’t think this is the case.

      August 21, 2014
  19. At the end of the day, is it not our duty to question, even reconsider? One can do that while maintaining unerring faith, but at the same time a steady temperature (re)taking to confirm one’s alignment with our Lord, no?

    And in that constant re-taking are we not in the end asserting our faith? That the light in our lives doesn’t come from words on a page, but from our Spirit-filled existence?

    For any number of us questioning (reconsidering) is what brought us to the Lord. I’d argue further that to not question is more from fear than belief in that one fear’s their belief wouldn’t stand up to their own analysis.

    August 22, 2014
  20. You have some interesting thoughts and legitimate points. The entire idea of inerrancy is preposterous to start with. Having said that though I want to be clear that the Bible Manuscripts are the most well documented document from history. There are more manuscripts than any other ancient writings in existence. Between these manuscripts the differences over thousands of years are minuscule and account for no doctrinal difference in faith and practice. I am a biblical linguist. Manuscripts were copied by hand and as a result there are several things that happen, none of which are intentional, such as accidentally skipping a line or copying a word twice. But by comparing manuscripts it isn’t that difficult to see what happened. The whole idea of inerrancy is that there are NO errors in the text. The problem with this view is that there are errors of copying in the manuscripts. Because there are so many manuscripts it is easy determine what these errors are, but they are there. When faced with the idea of inerrancy the question becomes, “Which manuscript is inerrant?” This gives rise to ridiculous cults like the KJV only groups who believe somehow that their 1611 English “translation” is superior to all other texts, including the Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic originals. This concept is preposterous.
    Now let’s consider the alternative, infallibility. God’s word does not fail to accomplish what He purposed for it to, Primarily to point us to Him, to His Standards, to His Ways, and to a personal relationship with Him. By nature of communication translation is necessary to communicate the good news of the gospel to the world.
    But a side note. Given all this I don’t doubt even a little that everything in the Bible happened or is true. Creation happened in six days, but we aren’t told how long days are. And aren’t we at the height of being prideful to claim we could as created beings understand how the creator fashioned the entire world and upholds and sustains it with just one hand. Instead of being thankful that He created us we bicker about how. So prideful. God, because He is all powerful could have, and can still create anything as He sees fit. It can and will appear to us as He decides that we should see it. That the world was flooded is both attested in the Bible and other ancient writings as well.
    What believers are called to do is witness. Not convince. They are called to follow in Christ’s example and two things should happen. They should love God and even their enemies. They should also naturally turn away from sinful lifestyle habits and practices and not make justifications for why they are ok. Jesus showed compassion and forgiveness to sinners but he also never approved of their sin and admonished them to “go and sin no more.” That we are going to sin and fall on our faces is just a fact of life, but when we start saying that God approves of them we reveal that we are no longer serving God, but ourselves and have made ourselves God.

    August 22, 2014
  21. Love this, Jason. Spent entirely too many years in the Evangelical closet myself; nearly 9 years thinking I was alone in our church before discovering those who felt similarly were about half my age. My whole blog http://nailtothedoor.com is my coming out.

    August 23, 2014
  22. I, too, love this. I recently returned to a relationship with Jesus or to be most accurate, began a “real” relationship in the last couple of years. It’s been interesting to see how the more I grow in Him the less it looks like the pre-packaged Christianity of Baptist-ish upbringing in Texas. Instead, It’s messy and beautiful. Just like the gospel!

    I’ve been struggling and hurting from all the confusion and division and downright pure hatred that is going on in the so-called body of Christ. Reading Greg Boyd’s Benefit of the Doubt challenged me and helped me unpack lots of junk. I’m now reading Boyd’s Repenting of Religion which lines up pretty well with some of the teaching I’m blessed to receive at my own church. Yet, I’m still closeted about some stuff with certain people in my circle (mostly older and extended family members). I pray my life exudes the love and freedom in Jesus and not doctrine, as I creep my way out of the closet.

    August 23, 2014
    • I’ll add my endorsement to “Benefit of the Doubt,” Raquel. When you’re ready to take on some more challenges, read Boyd’s “The Myth of a Christian Nation” and “God of the Possible.” Fundamentalists love to hate him, but Boyd’s got some great stuff to offer.

      August 23, 2014
  23. Thanks Dan, “The Myth of a Christian Nation” is definitely on my list after listening to Boyd’s sermon series where half his church left! I hadn’t come across “God of the Possible” yet. But I will check it out. At first it was hard to read his work and listen to his sermons but after awhile I realized these were all things I truly felt in my heart but couldn’t make fit in that “box” of American Christianity. Thankfully I kept reading and and stretching myself.

    August 23, 2014

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