A long time ago a writer named Robin Gill (which was then echoed by Brian McClaren and others) talked about a concept, “Belonging takes us to Believing.” A story I remember in some publication being an example of this was a church that was having a time of prayer and fasting; a non-believer was invited to the church that week and decided it would be worthwhile to her to participate in the exercises. She fasted and prayed with the church as a non-believer; shortly thereafter she became a believer. The takeaway was that people find the God of a people by participating in the life of that people — that “belonging” leads to believing.

So what happens when you believe, but you stop belonging? In this season thousands upon thousands of evangelical Christians have found themselves at odds with their brothers and sisters in their cell groups, prayer groups, churches, even on their social media pages. They couldn’t stomach voting for Trump, they watched as they believed the church was conned by a man greedy for power at any expense, and they proceeded to wear masks, socially distance, and get vaccinated all while their friends and churchmates labelled them “sheep” and acted like no virus existed. Quite unwillingly, people who never planned to rock the boat have found themselves thrust into a giant disconnect with the groups and movements they quite recently called home.

I am one of these people. My disconnect began even before Trump, as earlier blog posts will testify to my pushing the evangelical envelope with embracing theistic evolution. My reward for that, plus my gradual and yet now resolute rejection of conservative right-wing politics has been that my conservative friends regard me as a bit too much of a hot potato, as something of a loose cannon, and as someone outside of any “solid teaching” they might trust. At 45, when I would wish to impart, to be asked to lead or teach somewhere like my other friends I grew alongside of, instead I am thrust to the sidelines, heck, I’m not sure “sidelines” is even a strong enough term. Never mind though, with the Delta variant showing signs of vaccine breakthrough, I am still preferring Zoom to real life gatherings.

So I write. Writing ends up being the only outlet for anything I think God has dropped in my soul to say to anyone. And I wrestle with — do I unfriend all those folks on Facebook I knew from earlier churches I was part of that seem to have blocked me from their feed anyway? Again, people I shared life with never drop a comment, never hit a like (or even a sad or angry button) on a thing I say — and haven’t for years — this is how in modern life, one knows they are marginalized by their group.

Meanwhile, I have collected myriad friends who are sympathetic to my “angry prophet rebuking the church on a hillside” vibe, but are appalled and ready to pounce me when they realize how much I really am still a charismatic evangelical at heart — that I’m not a universalist, that I believe in hearing the voice the Holy Spirit, that I speak in tongues, heck, I even believe in demons and deliverance, and I still think sex is for marriage, despite my overall critique of purity movement excesses. I am caught in the “in-between;” most of my current audience go to liturgical churches for which I bear no ill will, but I personally prefer to dance in when the church meets corporately, while at some point maybe I end up on my face with others as we are moved along in a corporate spontaneously written song.

And I (and my husband) still want to do missions, go to other countries with the gospel which my predominantly mainline friends likely will consider “white European colonialization” and be appalled at my goals to “share the gospel with the unreached.” I have known countless ministry leaders and missionaries who confide in me their misgivings about everything happening in the evangelical scene right now; and yet they lay low and keep their views to themselves to avoid losing position and supporters. I’m not wired that way; I can’t quite call it integrity but rather an inability to shut up that makes it really hard to attempt to be so “strategic.” I’m just a zealous idiot who figures the chips just have to fall where they may.

But all of this leaves me, and countless others, in a quandry. I sit and wonder, when will the new evangelical churches, made up of all these disenfranchised mask-wearing people like me, arrive on the scene?

Aside from an occasional outlying congregation, it doesn’t seem to be happening. I watch as people either find their place in migrating to a mainline denomination, try to do some sort of home church thing which doesn’t last long, or they drop from Christianity altogether.

So back to my original thought: Belonging takes us to believing. Sociology also teaches that those who don’t fit into a group are labeled deviants. And deviants seek out deviants. What is outside the groups of our evangelical faith?
A lot of disoriented people. I wish, over and over, that I could be content to just let my group identity shape me, that as so many of my friends are still comfortably enjoying all the fruits of never having rocked the boat of the ideologies of their groups, they continue to be invited to teach, to lead, to have play dates for their kids, to have friends come over and pray and worship, to be invited to things, to feel connected to things. If only I could close my eyes and just pretend everything is ok, and just fit in. But I can’t. And if you’ve read this far, there’s a good chance you resonate way too much with this too.

I think of this verse: “And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate, to sanctify the people by His own blood. Therefore let us go to Him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace He bore.” Hebrews 13.

I wish this verse brought some comfort. If anything it’s hard to know how it applies. It seems very self-congratulatory to quote it, when the last thing I really want to do or be is “outside the camp.” I want to sit at the table with my brothers and sisters, inside the camp. But I guess the promise is that Jesus is doing something outside of it, and I need to hope in that and keep my eyes open for that. I don’t really have much of a choice at this point in time. Maybe that will change sometime soon, or at least, some day.

~ Heather