I have always felt that the action most worth watching is not at the center of things but where edges meet. I like shorelines, weather fronts, international borders. There are interesting frictions and incongruities in these places, and often, if you stand at the point of tangency, you can see both sides better than if you were in the middle of either one. -Anne Fadiman
This passage, from the preface of Fadiman’s beautiful book, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, rang in my head yesterday as I navigated, poorly, between two worlds: the world of my Evangelical upbringing and the one in which I now reside, albeit still as something of an outsider.
I stood at the shoreline, seeing both sides, fully connected to neither and pulled toward both. In a moment of thoughtlessness, I wounded people on one side, and in my desperate attempt to repair the damage, I wounded people on the other.
I have dwelt in the middle of Evangelical Christianity. I lived the first forty years of my life steeped in its doctrine. I know first-hand the certainty of a single truth, the conviction that those without it are lost, and the call to resist a culture straying from God. I know the sense of injustice at being called hateful when you know, deeply, that you are seeking to protect what God has created and ordained. I know the voices reminding you that the insults, the hits you are taking were prophesied; they confirm that your path is God’s path. I know the urge to cry out that you don’t hate people; you hate sin. You love humanity because God loves humanity and you yearn for their salvation. You know that, in the end, it’s all that matters, and you will fight for it whatever the cost.
But now I am standing outside, at the edge. And I see it differently, if not better. I see it from the standpoint of those who feel hated. I see inconsistencies and disconnects that I never saw before. I see, from the shoreline, that the greatest dangers the world faces are not the ones at which the Evangelical community is swinging its sword. I see the strongest voices in the Church driving people further away, reaffirming their belief that if there is a loving God, this is not where He is to be found. I see the horrific damage being done in the name of Christian values, the very real pain people feel. I see, from the border, that even if Evangelicals are right, they are wrong. People are wounded, threatened. They are not turning to Christ. They are turning from you. However certain you are that you are acting in obedience to God, the consequences of your actions are devastating. From the shoreline, it’s ugly.
And I see this other world too, where I don’t quite belong either. It looks less like Sodom and Gomorrah that I expected and more like the community I’ve often heard described from the pulpit. People fight less for valued norms than for each other. They stand up for the marginalized and they challenge structures of power that keep some voices silent. I came to this community believing I had a higher moral calling, but from the shoreline, morality is less clear-cut. I don’t feel “right” asserting my Evangelical beliefs in this world. I don’t even feel Godly. I feel ashamed. Because where the edges meet, the values we have come to associate with Christian faith look nothing like the character of Christ.
Yesterday, I reacted with anger and cynicism to what I see as destructive behavior on the part of Evangelicals. My post was sarcastic and mean, and in that sense just as destructive as the behavior I condemned. But when I removed it and apologized, I betrayed the values, and the people, I’d sought to defend. A friend sent me a message last night that said, “I agreed with your post, and with your decision to remove it.” I felt the same way, and the opposite. I simultaneously stand by and regret both choices.
The shoreline is a fascinating place to be and a painful place to be. I am learning and growing by leaps and bounds and crashing to the ground with nearly every leap.
But for all that I don’t know, I do know this: Evangelicals, the message you believe you are sending is not the message being received. You are obscuring rather than illuminating Jesus. Your reasons don’t matter. Your justifications don’t matter. Your convictions don’t matter. You are not advancing the Gospel. If that is somehow okay with you, then you have lost sight of the mission.
Do with that what you will. But I’m standing where the edges meet, and I love you enough to tell you what I see. Over and over. Until you hear. Because it matters. The Gospel matters. People matter.