In mid-November I payed a visit to an Evangelical Bible College with my friend, Jason Pitzl-Waters. Jason had been invited to speak to the World Religions class about Paganism, and he thought that bringing me there to talk about my journey through Paganism and back to Christianity would be useful to them. His logic was pretty simple: conversion narratives can be messy, and it’s important that we try not to over-simplify them to suit our own biases.
I would be lying to say that I wasn’t going into that classroom with some biases of my own. There have been very few occasions when I felt like I had anything in common with Evangelicals. They have always seemed to be the kind of Christians I was not.
They were the stand up and wave your hands Christians; I was the sit down and become still Christian.
They were the talk about God like you really know Him Christians, because of course you do if you’ve read the Bible; I was the talking about God in genderless terms Christian, because making God into a dude seems political (and probably incorrect), and I didn’t presume to know or understand God — Bible or not.
They were “inerrant” and “infallible” Christians; I was an “inspired” and “open to interpretation” Christian.
And, for the most part, these things still hold true.
I also felt pretty othered by Evangelicals for being gay, especially when I lived in Nashville. There was no place for me at their table. Some said so in no uncertain terms. My gayness was just the Devil trying to take a hold of my life, a college friend told me after I came out to her.
We didn’t stay friends for very long.
In all fairness I’ve probably done some othering, too. I’ve probably made assumptions that weren’t accurate, or labeled Evangelicals as “the crazy ones.” In fact, I know I have. I’ve never really understood the way they talked about God, or Jesus, or their faith. It was like we were talking about different Gods, or different Jesuses, or different Christianities altogether.
But when I started talking to the class about my recent experiences, and the way that reaching out to those in need was the primary catalyst for my return to the Christian faith and practice, I saw an intimate recognition in their eyes. They understood my experience in a way that I hadn’t expected them to.
They got me.
I was speaking a language that the Evangelicals understood. I was talking Evangelical-talk. The encounter which led me back to the Church, which continues to lead me to explore the meaning of discipleship, and which causes me to say things like, “I feel as though God is calling me to serve others somehow,” is the kind of encounter that led some of these adults to an Evangelical Bible Seminary.
I don’t know that recognizing a commonality with Evangelicals means that I’m supposed to become one, or that I even could if I wanted to. Our differences are still pronounced. I am still gay. I still approach scripture as an inspired work. The ethos of Episcopalianism still makes a lot more sense to me.
But I know something about Evangelicals now that I didn’t before. Many of them have had an experience which they identify as God interjecting, intervening, or altogether breaking open their lives.
I can relate.
While we may be different in a lot of ways — a lot of important ways — I am not unlike an Evangelical.