What is an Evangelical? Mini-Essay III
I said in the previous mini-essay on this theme that I would discuss here how certain Evangelical beliefs stayed with me long after I gave up formal allegiance to the Evangelical God. In fact, after thinking about the subject for a few weeks, I have decided to write here on how certain Evangelical beliefs tended to undermine my personal and professional development for nearly 30 years. Only in the past six or seven months do I feel I have been able to loosen the grip of these beliefs. Then gain, I might be self-deceived. Three of these beliefs call for mention here.
First, my Evangelical beliefs produced in me a commitment to personal and institutional transformation that made me never take seriously any institution with which I was affiliated as a given with which I would have to deal. I would be hired by an institution (a college, a church, a law firm, etc.) and my immediate thought was how I might be an instrument in transformation of this institution. The roots of this manner of thinking were deeply imbedded in my Evangelical belief that when God is present at a place, everything becomes new. "Behold, I make all things new." "Behold, I am doing a new thing." "Be not conformed to the world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind."
So, because of my commitment to God being RIGHT THERE (and right there with ME), I was naturally committed to seeing the institution as something that was waiting to be, or ripe to be, transformed in some unspecified but necessary way through me and the God who was RIGHT THERE with me. As a result, I had little interest in understanding the institution (though an argument could be made that you had to understand something before you transformed it) or in engaging in light banter or less than fully-serious institutionally transformative conversations, or in trying to "fit in" to a place.
To put it slightly differently, I had little interest in trying to feel at home in any work situation; feeling at home might give the impression of comfort with the status quo, and I felt that comfort would undermine any attempt to effect transformation of the institution. If the question was ever put to me about why I was trying to transform things or what I was trying to do, I would have had answers: I wanted to expose or root out intellectual fallacies or simple-minded propositions on which institutions based their lives (i.e., we are searching for truth; the partners must not be questioned by associates about their handling of cases, etc.), and I would replace those fallacies with more balanced or accurate statements. In addition, I would replace some of the tired and humdrum attitudes toward time with a hyper sense of urgency and a high level of energy output so that every instant of every day around the institution would be permeated with electricity.
It was my commitment to personal transformation, coupled with the Evangelical view of time, that led me to think and even act this way. As could have been expected (from my perspective in 2004), it got me nowhere. All it earned for me were bewildered stares and occasional comments that I should "relax" or "be less rigid." I smiled inwardly to myself that people could give me this advice, since that advice flowed from people who themselves were captives to the deadening flow of institutional life. Why should I comport myself with their requests, or even listen to them, since they migh not be partners in the grand scheme of transformation?
It is really a rather crazy belief structure that I adopted for many years, even after I abandoned the belief in the Evangelical God. Transformation had to happen, and I was the instrument of that transformation, because transformation was the major thing that God wanted to do in the world.
Ah, I need another essay to explain the second and third ways that Evangelicalism hamstrung me.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long