7 Reasons I Left Evangelicalism and Became an Episcopalian
by Randy Fairfield (5/10/15)
For the past eighteen months or so, my family and I have only been going to church very sporadically. With my wife and I both teaching full-time and with three kids aged seven and younger, it would be easy to say that we've simply been too busy. While their age and our schedule has been a significant factor, the truth is that there is really more to it than just that. The reality is that my wife and I have both grown increasingly uncomfortable with the fundamentalist wing of the Evangelical movement.
Please do not misunderstand me: I have much to owe to the tradition I was raised in. I am truly and eternally grateful for finding Christ and for being on the receiving end of countless expressions of Christian love. For that very reason it has been difficult for me to leave; in fact, part of me wishes I could continue to be the change I wished to see within the tradition I was raised in. The deciding factor, however, was that I felt I really had to consider what kind of church I wanted to raise my children in.
After doing a great deal of research, my wife and I decided to attend an Episcopal church. Almost immediately, for reasons explained below, I knew that All Saints' in Richland was a place that I wanted to continue coming back to. Here's seven reasons why:
1. Unity over Doctrinal Purity
With 1.2 billion Catholics and 800 million Protestants around the world, I appreciate the fact that any baptized Christian is welcome to receive Communion in the Anglican tradition, which the Episcopal Church falls under. Within the tradition I was raised, it was not uncommon for other denominations and religions to be disparaged from the pulpit. I have yet to hear the sort of in-group / out-group tribalism from within the Episcopal Church that I often heard expressed by some Evangelicals. I have come to appreciate the term via media, which is often used to describe the Anglican position of "the middle way" between Catholicism and Protestantism.
2. Tolerance over Bigotry
I am still stunned by the level of Evangelical support I saw for Arlene's Flowers here in Richland, Washington and for Memories Pizza in Indiana. In these instances, the owners of these establishments flatly denied service to gay patrons on account of their being gay. Instead of standing up to these clear acts of bigotry, I saw most Evangelicals either silent or in support of these acts by pledging hundreds of thousands of dollars, making bigoted comments in droves in the comments section of various news websites, and passing religious freedom laws that would legalize these reprehensible acts. I simply did not feel like I could continue going to church with people that felt this way all the while singing, "They Will Know We are Christians by Our Love."
In unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity," David Kinnaman writes, "One of the surprising insights from our research is that the growing hostility toward Christians is very much a reflection of what outsiders feel they receive from believers.... One outsider put it this way: "Most people I meet assume that Christian means very conservative, entrenched in their thinking, antigay, antichoice, angry, violent, illogical, empire builders; they want to convert everyone, and they generally cannot live peacefully with anyone who doesn't believe what they believe" (26). Unfortunately, my experience within the church and within my own family has often mirrored those perceptions. While this characterization is certainly not true of all or even most Evangelicals, I think these characteristics are often what comes from having a fundamentalist mindset.
I find it extremely saddening that an issue as debatable as same-sex relations is currently dividing churches across the nation. There are clearly solid theological reasons for sides of this argument. All Saints' takes the following position, which I wholeheartedly agree with: "The congregation is adaptable in making adjustments to life in a changing world. All Saintsí is considered theologically progressive. The recent turmoil in some Episcopal churches over sexuality has not caused great turmoil or created discontented factions at All Saintsí. This does not mean that everyone at All Saintsí supports all of the policies of the National church. However, we are willing to break bread together and discuss problems in order to understand where God is leading us."
3. Uncertainty over Certitude
While many Evangelicals I know see things in black and white, the Episcopalians I've talked with seem a little more comfortable with living on the edge of uncertainty. As my rector stated during the inquisitor's class I'm currently taking at All Saints': "The opposite of faith isn't disbelief; the opposite of faith is certainty." This statement reminded me of Kierkegaard when he stated the following in The Sickness unto Death: "If I am capable of grasping God objectively, I do not believe, but precisely because I cannot do this I must believe. If I wish to preserve myself in faith I must constantly be intent upon holding fast the objective uncertainty so as to remain out upon the deep, over seventy thousand fathoms of water, still preserving my faith." The idea that faith is a day-by-day, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute undertaking which we should constantly be grappling with is one that I readily accept.
4. Participation over Inactivity
One of the things I've really come to appreciate about the Episcopal Church is that I get to participate during the service. I find it refreshing and strengthening to my faith when we all recite the Nicene Creed every Sunday. It gives me goosebumps to hear my children say those words as they read alongside me. I also love how the participatory nature of an Episcopal service reinforces the unity of the congregation.
5. Connection to History
Speaking of reciting the Nicene Creed, I really love the connection I feel to history while we recite it and while we sing songs and read readings from both past and present. Alongside these songs and readings are explanations of when and where they come from. This connection I feel to history is a great reminder that "we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses" (Hebrews 12:1).
While I grew up in an Assembly of God church my entire life, I was neither aware of the East-West Schism of 1054 or of the Protestant Reformation until I went to college. I'd heard a little bit about a revival on Azusa Street, but I wasn't really taught much about it. Such history has been discussed at length during the inquirer's class I'm currently taking at All Saints'. This connection to history is another aspect of the Episcopal Church that really helps me affirm my faith.
6. Tradition over Modernity
There are some people that can read an incredible piece of literature and say, "Meh, that was a decent story." I guess that's how I feel most Evangelicals typically represent the practices of high church traditions. During the inquirer's class I'm taking, I've really enjoyed learning a great deal about the symbols and traditions of the Episcopal Church. During this time, my rector has continually emphasized the importance of being mindful of the reasons that underlie the practices. The outward expressions of inward beliefs are visible reminders that add to my appreciation of the Christian faith.
One of the things that's surprised me is how relaxed it has been at All Saints'. I was always under the impression that practicing tradition was a stodgy, stuffy, and lifeless affair. While the tradition itself is taken seriously, it's been refreshing to see that the congregation doesn't take itself too seriously. There have been plenty of moments of laughter within the congregation.
7. An Appeal to my Introverted and Introspective Nature
Admittedly, I probably spend more time thinking about the life Iíve lived than actually living it. Case in point: this reflective blog post. All throughout an Episcopal service the opportunities are rich for me to dwell on the richness of the words found in the Scriptures that are read, in the recited prayers, and in lyrics of the songs we sing. My orientation towards contemplation and a reverent response towards God is better suited for an Episcopal service than most Evangelical services.