The Evangelical Hangover

“People are watching you. They know how Christians should act.”
– The 4 different drunk middle-aged men & women
who have confronted me at different times about being a pastor in a bar
when I have visited my family in TX.

The more I write this blog* and the more experience I have living in different communities that are in different parts of the country (18 years in small town Texas, 7 years in Philadelphia, and 2 years in Phoenix) the more I observe what I call the “Evangelical Hangover” in certain communities.

What I mean by that term is this: in some communities (largely in the Bible Belt & Midwest, though that’s overgeneralizing) there seems to be an inherent cultural peer pressure to be a “good Christian.” In many of these communities, if you are going to hide something, it’s going to be your disbelief in Evangelical dogma, not your belief in it.

But in other communities (see the blue states for a broad geography) this peer pressure is absent. If anything, if you are going to hide something, it’s going to be your belief in Evangelical dogma, not your disbelief.

My point is that to we have to understand the difference and how it affects our representation of God in our communities.

In most communities in the South, “being a Christian” comes with a complex of concepts like: “doesn’t drink, “doesn’t smoke,” “doesn’t cuss,” “doesn’t watch Rated R movies,” etc. Or, to repeat the cute sing-song I learned in my hometown: “Don’t smoke, don’t chew, don’t go with girls who do.” In other words, to be a Christian means to be a “good person” or to “behave properly.” So, if you are drinking, smoking, or cussing, you aren’t “being a good witness for Jesus.”

But when I lived in Philadelphia, “being a Christian” comes with an entirely different complex of concepts, as evidenced by books like unChristian & They Like Jesus but not the Church. Things like “judgmental,” “conservative,” “hypocritical,” and “homophobic.” That’s what being a Christian means to a lot of folks in a lot of communities. In other words, being a Christian has nothing to do with Christ. And, to be honest, my not cussing, smoking, or drinking, would’ve contributed more to this negative view than my drinking and cussing. Luckily, I do both.

Well, which set of behaviors is right? If we agree that Christianity isn’t about rules, then I think that’s the wrong question. It’s more important to me that I ask “how can I represent Christ here”? And often, that involves clearing away any roadblock people might have between themselves and God. And as Evangelicals, boy have we created a lot of roadblocks. If you’re going to be a Christian we have a list of about 35 beliefs and behaviors you’d better come to real quick or else we’ll passively aggressively tell you things like “God accepts you where you are but he doesn’t intend to keep you there” (hint, hint, wink, wink) or “Christianity isn’t about works, it’s about grace. But that grace should create change in your life” (subtext: but based on your behavior, it’s not).

So, I spend a lot more time telling people what they don’t have to believe and what behaviors they don’t have to give up to be in Christ.

I guess my long-winded point is this: to my bothers and sisters, if your conviction is to keep not drinking and cussing for the cause of Christ, may you be blessed. But as for me, I’ll keep hanging out at bars, drinking my beer, for the same cause. And may Christ be lifted up in both.

*For example, in my post last year “Saying Shit for Jesus,” the negative/positive feedback was largely split based on geography. Those in less churched areas understood my point, those in the Bible Belt, largely didn’t.

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3 responses to “The Evangelical Hangover

  1. Having now moved to the South (though, truly, can I call this the South?!?) I am trying to deal with the complex of concepts you mention, especially in dealing with a few Christians I work with and a handful that I’ve met through a Bible study. It has been a struggle. But a few weeks ago, I finally decided that (1) I’m clearly a different kind of Christian and (2) that’s ok. It’s more important to me to love on people (whatever that looks like in a given situation) than follow rules created by others on how that should look.

  2. I, too, have to spend a lot of time explaining to high school and college-age students what they don’t have to believe or give up to be a Christian. This is what Paul described as not putting a “stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited.” Evangelicals sure have made an art of creating stumbling blocks.

    I bet my more “conservative” evangelical acquaintances would poop their pants if they heard what I’d be willing to say is consistent with being a Christian.

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