Evangelical drama needs Mainline experience

high-schoolThese days, Evangelicalism makes me feel old. And tired.

The week that Phil Robertson was suspended, I was preparing for the funeral of a 16-month old girl killed in a car crash. The week he was re-instated, I was preparing for a funeral of man who took his own life, leaving 3 young children behind.

Throughout the last few months as a famous pastor was accused of plagiarism, as the Pope was called a marxist, as the issue of the role of women in Evangelicalism continued to rage, as the war on Christmas rolled into full force, it just made me tired.

I watched as progressive Evangelicals bemoaned the state of their tribe. As some called for schism, as others resolved to quit fighting about it, even others thought about leaving altogether,  and still others spoke thoughtfully into the cacophony that is Christian twitter, blogs, and media.

All Christians in North America, if they are paying attention, are forced to watch the Evangelical tribe as it rumbles and quakes about whatever is the issue of the day is. And I cannot help but see it all as some grandiose high school drama.


There is the usual cast of characters:

The Football Team (Mark Driscoll, John Piper, John Eldredge). The crowds love them, but most cannot see that they are also the bullies. They are pretty sure the football is only for boys, and the only sport for girls is cheerleading.

The Rich Kids (Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer). They are generally oblivious to the fact that there are other students at the high school. No one really likes them, but many want to be like them.

The Valedictorian (Rachel Held Evans). She is bright and well-liked, but constantly at odds with the football team for pointing out girls can play sports and the football team is getting too much money.

The Hipster School Newspaper Reporter (Micah J. Murray). He is interested in the truth and real stories. The football team can’t stand that he keeps writing about girls and the glee club.

The Debate Team (Zach Hoag, Tony Jones, Fred Clark, Benjamin Corey and others). They are passionate and articulate, and even agree about almost everything. But they often sound like they are fighting.

The Misunderstood Artist (David Hayward/Naked Pastor). Everyone loves his work, even if they don’t quite get it.

The Foreign Exchange Student (Sarah Bessey). Many love her, but the football team is suspicious because she has introduced this thing called “Jesus Feminism.” This new idea is causing quite the stir.

The Activist Club (The Junia Project). They are a group of passionate students, working to get their message out, and the football team is ignoring it at all costs.

(There are certainly more characters and roles than I have named here).

And there are us non-students. Those of us who are part of the story, non-Evangelical Christians, but not central figures.

There is Grandma (Roman Catholicism) and she has long been loved by the football team. Grandma used to knit scarves as Christmas presents for the team, but this year she decided that instead she was going to give goats and wells to poor people in their name and they didn’t like that at all. But the valedictorian, newspaper, activist club and debate team loved it.

And there is the star Substitute Teacher (Nadia Bolz-Weber), and the students think she is cool and hip, even members of the football team think she is badass. The students hear what she has to say as if it is fresh and new, but the same stuff the rest of the teachers have been saying for years.

(Again there are more characters than I can name.)


So yes, I watch this drama and it is tiring, but there is no choice. As a young Lutheran pastor and a Mainline Christian, I know that many in my tribe feel the same, Evangelicals tire us out. They tire us out because we are the frazzled teachers and haggard parents to these high schoolers. We brought them into the world, and so we bear some responsibility for their drama. Yes, we can seem remarkably like their Grandma, but she and us had a big fight long before the high school students can remember, and we haven’t totally got past it yet. But as their parents and teachers, most of them find us uncool, irrelevant, wishy washy, out of fashion, and boring. There are a few who are starting to find us interesting and worth hearing out.

Still, Evangelicals need us. They need our experience, our wisdom, our calmness. They need our depth, our ability to see the grey areas of faith, our comfort with the tensions. They need us because we have been where they are going as they grow up. After our big fight with Grandma, we started fighting with each other, armies got involved, and people died. We have had our drama too.

And we need Evangelicals. We need their drama. We need their drama to remind us of how important this faith business, how important Jesus, is. Their drama reminds us of the passion we once had 500 years ago, of our own willingness to fight for every inch of the gospel. The high school might rumble and quake, and we will get tired of how loudly each mole hill gets argued over. But they keep us from getting apathetic, from getting too comfortable, and too familiar.

Hopefully, they will eventually come to see how they need us. Maybe they can stop looking for our flash when we offer rootedness. Maybe they will stop hoping for our strong declarations when we offer complex responses. Maybe they will stop seeking our innovation when we offer submission to the traditions of the faith community over time. Maybe they can stop wishing for big personalities from our pastors, when we offer professionalism and education.

Evangelicals, with their drama AND passion, need the Mainline.

Hopefully, we will accept that we need them. Maybe we can stop looking for their traditionalism, when they offer creativity. Maybe we can stop hoping for institutional cohesiveness for them, when they offer a grass roots touch. Maybe we can stop seeking them to honour what has “always been”, when they offer excitement for what is new. Maybe we can stop wishing their pastors will fit the mold, when they offer dynamic leadership. Mainliners, despite being tired AND experienced, need Evangelicalism.

In the meantime, despite myself, I will continue watching the high school, being exasperated by the drama and walking with my Evangelical brothers and sisters… because the Mainline needs them.

What do you think? Is Evangelicalism high school drama? Share in the comments or on twitter: @parkererik or on Facebook

Want more drama? Read: 12 Reasons Why Being a Male Pastor is Better


23 thoughts on “Evangelical drama needs Mainline experience”

  1. This is brilliant, Erik! As much as I try to, I can’t get away from calling myself Evangelical – but I follow in the footsteps of the likes of John Wesley rather than modern Evangelical leaders. I also live in New Zealand and look on at the drama of the Evangelical community in the US with wonder – though much of it has influence on the community here. This is a wonderful reflection as it demonstrates the need all parts of the body have for each other even though the way we act and the paths we follow may confuse the heck out of each other.


  2. Great post, Erik. Sorry we tire you out – it does get wearisome, to be sure. All of us at juniaproject.com appreciate your encouragement and support, and are thankful you haven’t given up on us 🙂 Blessings.


  3. So insightful Eric. Years ago I wrote about “The Adolescence of Pentecostalism.” We are the Jr. High kids with too much make up, too loud, self conscious and way over the top in drama. Taking heart in the statement made years ago that the “future of Christianity lies in a reformed Catholicism and a mature Pentecostalism.” Would add “Evangelicalism” to the latter and perhaps “Mainline” to the former.


  4. Reblogged this on The Junia Project and commented:
    We thoroughly enjoyed being mentioned in this article which gives a mainline perspective of evangelicalism and sets up the debate about women in ministry as a high school drama. Continue reading to see what part of the drama the author sees The Junia Project playing.


  5. And those of us who are Eastern Orthodox think that mainline churches need Eastern Orthodox experience. Because as you wisely end – we all need each other.


    1. Very true. I had been mulling a paragraph about Grandma and her sister getting into a fight even before the mainline, but didn’t want the post to get unnecessarily convoluted. Thanks for your thoughts!


      1. Loved the way you did the post, speaking truth with grace and humor that made it go down a little easier with those who may disagree. I hope to read more like this.


  6. Reblogged this on innerwoven and commented:
    Like, Rev. Parker, I too am weary of the constant “exchange” among Evangelicalism and the Mainline. Now, as a post-Evangelical-non-Evangelical, but still needing the voice it brings to my own experience, I can sit back with a bit more objectivity and…listen.


  7. You could add the “homeschoolers”, the “out of church” Christians. We really don’t need the high school at all, save for government requirements for “certified” teachers to legitimize us in their eyes. We are viewed as anti-social, backward, and not properly educated— in spite of excelling at state tests and standards over the mainstream. Which is to say, we’re Christians who don’t stay in a box, and who simply live our faith each day. While the denominations bleed members out the back door, some of us offer a new home– not just a house– to them.


  8. Yo, Erik,

    On behalf of the student body, we, like, would like to point out that maybe if the teachers, like, that’s you, or like, the parents, wow, this is getting confusing, like, that’s you too…. If you all like, are not happy with what the us kids are doing, then maybe you should, like, you know.

    You know what I am saying, right? If the teachers are giving up on everybody its totally not cool. Cause, you are supposed to be the ones who know what’s going on, and like, Mr. Casey, my math teacher is always saying to me, like you should concentrate more dude, don’t get distracted by what other dudes are doing, cause, its not your business. Even though Mr. Casey is a teacher he is awesome and he helps me get math, cause I don’t get math, its totally bogus.

    So…..maybe the dudes in charge need to get, like, some big security dudes with those totally wicked ear pieces and shades into the school so people aren’t being bullied or messed with or confused. People should not be hating on each other or making jokes about it cause its hard enough bein in high school without the teachers getting depressed and noodled writing really confusing stuff like that shakin stephens dude wrote, no, wait, shaker spears. You know metaphones. Teachers need to be wicked helpful like Mr. Casey. Maths is a bummer.

    that’s all dude. just sayin’

    Oh, and ps dude…. Can I get a pass for English next Tuesday, I have to go get my surfboard fixed


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