Transitioning from the beliefs I was raised with to the beliefs I now hold has taken me more than a decade. You don’t go from being a conservative evangelical to a progressive person of faith overnight.
I used to be the poster child for evangelical Christianity. My father was (is) an executive at Focus on the Family, I was home-schooled K-12, I went on missions trips, I signed the purity vow and wore the purity ring, I did a year-long prayer internship after college called The Furnace (no, really!). Evangelicalism was my life.
Had I not realized that I was gay in my early 20s, I likely still would identify as evangelical, still be holding conservative beliefs and still be the submissive woman (likely a pastor’s wife) that I was expected to be.
But instead, you could say I had a crisis of faith. I was forced to recalibrate my beliefs because I was gay. Not all of us are presented with such an opportunity. Often, unless something spurs you to have a crisis of faith (the death of a loved one, a health diagnosis, a coming-out experience) you have no reason to re-evaluate your beliefs. You remain comfortable and unquestioning because nothing has forced you to the contrary.
However, with all that is happening in our world — the global pandemic, the racial injustice, the fires engulfing the West, the struggling economy, the critical upcoming election, and the children separated from their parents at the border — I hope something has made you uncomfortable enough to re-evaluate where you stand, what you believe and what you are going to vote for this November.
I’ve changed the way I believe about many things, but several of them feel quite critical during this season of our lives.
Former belief: We can fit God in a box. Growing up, I was taught to believe that evangelical Christianity was the only way to heaven and that biblical study and church attendance were the only way to experience God. All other religions, beliefs and practices were either pagan, new age or a cult. We claimed our God was omnipotent and omnipresent, but in reality, we didn’t actually believe it. In hindsight, I found that the God of evangelicalism is very limited and very small.
“In hindsight, I found that the God of evangelicalism is very limited and very small.”
Corrected belief: God is beyond boundaries or limits. I have come to discover a God much bigger than my box. I’ve discovered a God not limited by race, gender, class, ability, sexual orientation, geographical region or man-made belief systems. Often, what we believe about God is dependent on cultural, societal and geographical factors. This does not make them less valuable or valid. I have met people who have discovered God in a multitude of ways, including in mosques, in churches, in nature, in people, in written texts, in small groups, in music, in rituals of all kinds. Looking for God outside my set belief system was scary at first but with time has become one of the most enriching and liberating experiences of my life. It allowed me to realize that God is everywhere.
Former belief: Life is binary. As evangelicals, we were taught to believe that life lives in binaries. Something is either right or it is wrong, it is black or it is white, you are male or you are female. If you’re struggling, you need more faith. If you’re unsure about something you just need to pray more. It is simple, it is clear, it is uncomplicated — until it’s not.
Corrected belief: Life is full of nuance. I have come to learn that life is all about the grey. It is full of nuance, layers and complexities that are unique to each person and their set of lived (and unlived) experiences. Our role is to keep an open heart and mind and be willing to learn from those experiences. If we’re open to it, I believe we will also encounter the divine in these moments.
Former belief: Christians should be color-blind and treat everyone the same. Evangelicalism trains us that we are all the same in God’s eyes. From infancy we are taught, “Red and yellow, black and white, we are precious in his sight; Jesus loves the little children of the world.” Yet somehow, we’ve become experts at proclaiming love with our mouths while still refusing equality with our actions. Lip service doesn’t translate into equity, and feeding the poor in Africa means little if you’re not willing to stand with the Black community who are being murdered right here in our own country.
“We’ve become experts at proclaiming love with our mouths while still refusing equality with our actions.”
Corrected belief: Color matters. Racism is alive and well. It always has been alive and well in America. Our country was founded on the backs of Black slaves, and ending the Civil War did not eradicate racism. The difference now is that technology is making this impossible to ignore. Until we truly see people of color for who they are, we will never be able to call ourselves allies, nor help stop the injustices being done to them. We must value our differences, our diversity and that which makes each of us unique. We must stand in solidarity with the Black community and commit to fostering a country that honors the dignity of Black people, dismantles systemic racism and creates a world where all marginalized people can live free from fear.
The bottom line: Jesus always was found on the side of the marginalized and oppressed. If we truly want to model our lives after Jesus, we must look outside ourselves and think about the people around us — and see God in them. I believe if Jesus were physically present among us today, he would be marching in the streets protesting against police brutality and the murder of innocent Black people; he would be properly wearing a mask to keep businesses open and those around him safe; he would be begging us to care for the earth as fires take over the West ; he would be voting as if his life depended on it — because the lives of so many people do.
If you want to be like Jesus:
- Speak out against injustice.
- Stand with the marginalized and oppressed.
This is who Jesus always was and is. It is who we are called to be.
Amber Cantorna grew up in the deeply conservative evangelical culture of Focus on the Family and now lives in the Denver area with her wife, Clara. She is the author of Refocusing My Family and Unashamed: A Coming Out Guide for LGBTQ Christians. She is a musician, writer and speaker.