Monday, January 10, 2011

The Identity Crisis of a Former Evangelical

Maybe you read that headline and are nodding your head in agreement. Maybe you think I'm crazy. Who knows. But the more I wrestle though this experience, the more it truly feels like an identity crisis.

When you are in the midst of American Evangelical Culture, it has the potential to create an entire reality for you. They have their own music, their own movies, their own books, their own t-shirts, their own breath mints, etc. Everything is coated with spiritual language and you are continually told to focus on the most important spiritual issues. Your identity is a Christian. That is how you identify yourself. Based on that label, many other assumptions about you are made: your views on gender, how you vote, what social activities you engage in, and many other things. You spend so much time focusing on how to be a Christian that often other aspects of your identity aren't developed as thoroughly. This is not to say that there is any problem with primarily identifying as a Christian. The problem starts when you focus not only on being Christian, but on being what the culture around you tells you is Christian.

When you live for years in an environment like Conservative Christian College, although you recognize that you don't agree with everything around you, it's constant presence can begin to permeate your life. You can find yourself thinking things automatically that surprise you or second guessing yourself. I found this happening to me. But like many people would, I would just shrug it off and assume this would pass. But the biggest problem is that if you are involved in youth group culture all throughout high school followed by Christian college when you leave, that's the environment that you spend all your most formative years in. You are surrounded by constant messages of how you should live your life. I don't just mean general guidelines, but specific societal roles as well that may or may not have anything to do with biblical Christianity. If you choose to continue your life primarily within the confines of American Evangelical Culture, this probably wouldn't be a problem.

The struggle arises the moment you realize that you can't keep living within that culture. It comes when you hear how judgemental the constant evaluation of the habits of others can make a person. It comes when you realize that the constant proclamation of "love the sinner, hate the sin" is not resulting in any love at all. It comes when you realize that you feel somewhat emotionally manipulated by that constant shallow spiritual proclamations. It comes the moment you realize that the reason you feel so out of place is because all of the rules left you so busy trying to live up to what actions make a Christian that you forgot to actually just organically be a Christian. It comes when you realize that there actually is some redemptive value in certain "R" rated movies. It comes when you find yourself more spiritually inspired by transcendent themes in "secular" movies, music, books, and TV shows than the ones that present a heavy handed gospel message. It comes when you realize that you've spent nearly all your time investing in friends that know little about you outside of your faith and have even less in common with those aspects of who you are. It comes when you realize that those same "friends" actually disapprove of many other aspects of your interests and personality and will continually remind you of that. It comes at those times when you realize that when you read your Bible you not only have delve into what the text is actually saying, but also strip away the memories of hearing that text misused to promote various extra-biblical agendas. And it especially comes when you realize that an Evangelical friend who is reading this is likely still caught up in pondering how an "R" rated movie could have any redemptive value.

It's almost as if you've spent so much time being that Christian that you forgot how to be you, Christianity and all. It's hard to weed out the culture and keep the Christianity.


  1. It's hard, but I think lots of us have managed to do it successfully. It seems to have included a time of rebellion for most of us after Conservative Christian College. I stopped going to church for several months actually. It's hard separating the bubble, the culture, the rules away from daily life of being an adult Christian with a mind of their own. Every single one of my close friends that I went to Conservative Christian College with that I am STILL friends with went through this. The rest are missing out on true freedom, I think.

  2. I would agree with that. I think most people from that culture hit a point where there only options are either to dive into the culture head first or take a few steps back and sort it all out. I also stopped going to church for several months, taking some time to decide what I really thought church should be rather than just going because I'd feel guilty if i didn't.