Four Reasons I'm Grateful I Shift'd Away from Conservative Christianity
My Shift toward progressive Christianity has brought many gifts to my life. Here are just a few of them.
To be fair (and honest) there was much I loved about my life in and around the evangelical world. I know I can come down pretty hard on some evangelical doctrines and leaders, but it truly does come from a place of, “we can do better! You don’t have to live like this.”
It wouldn’t be an unreasonable conclusion for someone to draw if, after reading some of my work, they assume I’m just anti-evangelical up and down the ticket. However, that’s not how I see myself (okay, maybe some days it is... for instance, just thinking about Mark Driscoll, or reading of the recent SBC doubling-down on the subjugation of women, or learning about the strong correlation between “evangelicals” and “Covid 19 vaccination hesitancy”... in those moments I’m just like, nah, get behind thee satan.)
But in my more open, charitable moments, I look back with fondness about my years of doing Bible studies, and worship nights, and baptisms. I miss the pageantry of the holidays, the conferences with the fancy music and the brilliant authors, and the camaraderie of networking with fellow pastors in your area.
Anyway, as I celebrate the one year anniversary of The SHIFT, and give a bit of a re-launch (because it came out at a really bad time last year), and as I’ve been reflecting on the journey of Shift’ing toward a more progressive expression of Christianity (as I’ve done here and here), I wanted to take some time to think about what I’m grateful for now as a result of my having Shift’d.
Truth is, the list is long. I’m immensely grateful for so many things now that my life is characterized
more by compassion than it is judgment,
more by inclusion than gate-keeping, an
more gracious than arrogant.
Still, I respect your time too much, so I’ll just name four.
I’m Grateful for Less Fear
The most often repeated command in the bible is, “be not afraid.”
And yet, when I contrast my life of faith now (post-Shift) with back in the day (firmly in conservative/evangelical Christianity), it’s shocking to me how much less day to day fear and anxiety I live with.
When you believe that God, like Santa, is always watching you, judging you, and moving you back and forth across the spectrum of Naughty or Nice (or, in Christianese we might say, “Worthy of being Blessed by God and having your prayers answered,” or, “You can probably expect some bad things to come your way”), that inherently provides reason for fear.
Such ideas of God are physiologically very unsettling.
I know that in most Christian circles it’s popular to say we should “Fear” the Lord, but I just can’t get behind the idea that that means we should, like, actually be afraid of God.
Don’t get me wrong, I find unconditional love terrifying. It leaves me feeling naked, vulnerable. But that’s not quite the same thing as being legit afraid of some Cosmic Entity that might send humans to burn forever just because they didn’t pass some arbitrary belief test.
So yeah, nowadays when I think about God, I just sorta rest in the fact that I am loved. That I am seen and accepted as I am.
When I mess up and cause harm to others or myself, that sucks, and I feel conviction, and on my best days I try to set things right. But gone are the days where I add another layer of, “and now God is pisssed off at me and probably won’t answer my prayers anytime soon.”
That feels nice.
I’m Grateful for Deeper Relationships
I should start this section by admitting that relationships are hard for me.
I don’t think I’m particularly all that great at friendships. It’s not that I don’t try (I think), it’s just, I don’t know, they make me nervous. As I said a few paragraphs back, unconditional love unsettles me. Earning your respect, or performing in a way that causes you to admire me, these are roles I’m much better suited for.
But simply accepting that you might like me for just me? I find that sus.
Nonetheless, even though that part of me hasn’t gone away fully, what I have noticed is that the relationships I’ve built on the other side of my Shift have more depth to them, and far more potential for genuine human connection.
When I was an evangelical I was so wrapped around the “behave like a good boy” axle that I don’t think I was ever a very good hang. People felt judged by me constantly... which is fair, because I was judging them constantly.
Nowadays I think I judge people far less (I mean, I judge myself far less, so that’s gotta bode well for how much I judge others), which means I think I’m easier to be around, which means I think people feel more comfortable with me and open up more around me.
All of this is the makings for deeper relationships.
I’ve felt it. I feel it. And I’m grateful.
I’m Grateful for More Intellectual Curiosity, Alignment, Fulfillment, and Depth
Evangelicals like myself were really, really smart... about the Bible.
Actually, to be more clear, we were really smart about reading and interpreting the Bible within the very particular framework of our religious tradition (which is only one way of reading and understanding the Bible, btw, a fact which was conveniently kept from me for years).
I embodied not just a smug arrogance about my Bible knowledge, but it had the added side effect of making think I was smart overall.
But I wasn’t.
Just because I knew how to conjugate Greek verbs or date the composition of the Torah did not mean I knew anything about, well, anything else.
Shift’ing away from the world of evangelicalism has given me permission to get more curious about other subject matters because when you realize that just studying and teaching the Bible is no longer the most important thing ever you have more space for other interests.
Shift’ing away from evangelicalism allowed me to see how other branches of knowledge (biology, psychology, geology) have a heck of lot to teach us, and such insights into Truth is a good thing.
Shift’ing gave me more intellectual fulfillment, because now I don’t have to fight so hard to protect obscure ideas in the Bible from the scary world of science. Putting your head in the sand of fundamental religion might keep your head safe and warm, but after a while you discover you’re suffocating and birds are pecking your feet.
Finally, Shift’ing has added immense depth to my intellectual world as--ironically, perhaps--not only do I know now even more about the Bible, but I have a greater appreciation for how the Bible can sit within a larger pantheon of sources of wisdom about what it means to be alive.
I’m so, so grateful for these years of learning about other disciplines that have enhanced my spiritual life.
I’m Grateful for the Increased Presence of Love
Often times, back in my evangelical days, loving took a lot of effort.
I’m not sure how to say that differently... it was just, work, hard work, to love.
Love myself. Love others. Love God.
But now, after my Shift, there seems to be a bit more grease on the wheels. Sure, properly showing love (by that I mean what bell hooks refers to as love in “All About Love,” where there are six key ingredients: care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect, and trust) that really is hard work, no doubt about it.
And yet, also, at the same time, there’s something about not being weighed down by conservative theology that makes the work of love lighter. More manageable. Even more natural.
For starters, there’s just more focus on love. Where you put your focus is where you aim, and where you aim is where you often end up. Therefore, out here in progressive Christianity land—where we talk about love ad nauseum—it should not be a shocker that there actually is, in fact, more love present.
Then, Shift’ing away from evangelicalclism actually can remove layers that make loving other people challenging. Particularly I’m thinking about how so much of relationship building as an evangelical is motivated by a desire to save their soul. You actively make friends with people so that you can invite them to church or lead them a prayer of salvation.
I’m not saying that genuine relationships don’t/can’t emerge out of such a dynamic, but I am saying that often times people see through Christians’ ulterior motives.
When you no longer feel like, “holy crap everyone in the world’s eternal salvation is dependent upon believing the right things AND I MUST GET THEM TO BELIEVE IT!”, well then you’re definitely freed up to just love people as they are, where they are, for who they are.
And then, consider how much of traditional Christianity is tied to a hatred of the self.
So much shame, shame, shame.
We heap it upon ourselves as the wretched sinners that we are. We are not worthy of God’s love, we are worthy of damnation. Why on earth would we consider loving ourselves? No, that is pride, and you must flee from it!
Yeah, it doesn’t take a rocket science to see how moving away from those sorts of ideas would open up all new possibilities for us learning to love ourselves.
What I’m saying is, there’s a lot more love in my heart these days. And since I’m particularly convinced that God is Love, I’d also wager to say there’s a lot more God in my life these days, too. Further, since I’m also convinced that Loving (God, self, others) was Jesus’ biggest focus in life, and the thing he was most insistent that we do, then yeah, I’m really freaking grateful for my Shift.
What Some of You Said
All month long I’ve invited you to share with me about your Faith Shift’ing experience. Such as, What was the hardest part? and, What was most surprising?
Here are what some of you shared regarding what you’re most grateful for.
“I am so grateful that my table got longer, louder, more colourful and more beautiful because of my shift. It's such a life affirming way to live!” -Tiffany
Amen to that! Tiffany also shared how she had a friend who recently came out as a trans woman, and since Tiffany had already shifted away from conserative/evangelical Christianity she “felt free to just hug her and hold space for hearing about her journey.” She talks about about how her faith is now an All-In faith, and I love that. “The relief to be able to not insult my own soul in the name of God has been so powerful.” I second that!
“I don't have to ignore the uncomfortable feeling I used to get when I felt like something was wrong... especially from the pulpit.” -Alex
I love this reflection. In fundamental churches you had to just suppress those feelings because “the Bible says it and that settles it.” I, too, am grateful for the permission (encouragement!) to listen to our gut, to trust our intuition, and to not see our feelings as wicked and deceitful.
“The thing I am most grateful for in my Shift... is the way it has opened up a more loving heart... to embrace differing views,” - Susan
Amen to that! Differing views used to be such a threat. Now? It’s like, unless your view actively contributes to harming others, if it’s different than mine, then.... 🤷🏻♂️ neat!
“Finding comfort in saying “I don’t know” -jharmonnn
This is massively freeing for me. So grateful.
“I can more easily meet people where they are and as who they are, without fear and defensiveness standing as a barrier.” -samanthamayw
I’ll be many of us are grateful for this posture in our lives, too!
And we shall end with,
“Not having my head up my ass anymore... aaaand not being a judgmental ass “for the Lord”” -whit.campbell
Amen and amen.
I’m so, so grateful there are less judgmental asses out there in the world.
Which is why I’m so passionate about helping people Shift away from the religion and worldview that creates them.
This Week’s Question: What do you Love about your new expression of faith? And/or, what do you miss about the old’n days?
I’d love to hear from you what are some things you love about your faith life these days. And/or, if you also want to share, is there something you miss about your previous life of faith?
Today on Perspective Shift LIVE
Lifestyle blogger, Brit Lively, is joining me today at 2pm PST to talk about her experience shifting away from conservative (and toward more progressive) Christianity.
I love Brit’s story and her approach to life, and if you don’t know her, then come hang out with us today at 2!
Thoughts on Where I Should Go Next?
In a couple weeks I’ll be done with this current series on The SHIFT.
What should I write about?
Any particular itch you think I might be able to help scratch?
Let me know in the comments!
What I absolutely LOVE: It's okay to not know something and/or not be sure about something and it DOESN'T UNDERMINE MY FAITH! My relationship to God is rock solid and I don't have to prove it to anyone. Nobody can judge me on this. And I kind of knew this already in my head, but it makes a huge difference to feel it like this in my heart. I don't need people's aproval stamp to love God and be loved by him.
What I miss: reassurance. I feel like it automatically follows from not needing others to agree with me - I'd still like them to. I still miss the validation that what I believe is shared by others. I sound really contrary by writing this, lol. But it's essentially both; what I love most and what I still miss: not depending on other people's opinion.
I feel the Lord is telling me to compliment you - that you do not claim to have all the answers; that you don't profess to know all there is to know about God; that your beliefs and doctrines are rock solid that no one can disagree with them; that you're not threatening scaring everybody that don't believe the way you do!