The Types of Christians You'll Meet Along the Way and Why it Matters
I failed my followers this week.
Perhaps my goal was too lofty.
Perhaps it’s impossible to hit this moving target.
Perhaps the teaching moment for me is to understand that Christianity’s 30,000+ worldwide denominations make it impossible to label.
What is the moving target? The types of Christians you’ll meet. It turns out that even within Christianity you will find disagreement on how to define it. Plenty of Christians will offer their interpretation, primarily based on their beliefs that they alone are keepers of the absolute truth. The rest of us are heretics. That type of literalist sees their faith as a club with strict membership rules.
The literalist Christian can still be broken down into three categories: evangelical, conservative and fundamentalist [ECF] -- or combinations of all three.
That is the biggest challenge for this week, because the ECF is indeed a moving target. It would be a mistake to assume that they are all pro-life, pro-Trump, anti-immigration, anti-masker, and the “I have the right to carry my gun anywhere I want, even to church” Christian -- aka pro-gun.
They simply aren’t. And many of them who oppose this version of radicalized Christianity -- which was largely represented front-and-center at the January 6th insurrection -- are finally speaking out against this dangerous cult.
Because they all saw it in 2015 and 2016 and said and did nothing. They knew that a large swath of American Christianity had become so entrenched with politics and toxic ideology that a day of reckoning was imminent. They understood that hiding right in the pews were people who identified more closely with a white supremacist than the Jesus of their faith. They sat through sermons and heard the propaganda from the pulpit that reinforced the ECF’s hatred of equity and social justice, calling it the fall of our American democracy into socialism.
It’s all religious rhetoric designed to keep the masses firmly entrenched in the hate-laden fear of their creation instead of the healing balm of love that was the precepts of Jesus’ ministry.
Nevertheless, the ECF Christian cannot be presumed to be:
-climate change, virus or round earth deniers (sadly many are, and they made a video to prove it. To counter this non-sensical belief, scientists responded with their own video here.)
- judgmental (some are even affirming of LGBTQIA+ humans)
-a bad tipper (Really. This is a problem)
-pro-life (which is really just pro-birth), pro-wall, or pro-immigrant ban.
-anti-social justice and equity.
As they say, the devil is in the details, and to attempt to pinpoint precise differences between the evangelical, conservative, fundamentalist, and a category of Christian we’ll discuss later -- the progressive -- would cause us to lose focus on why all of this matters. Before we get to the “why,” let us scratch the surface of these dileniations so we can better understand the major factions. It bears repeating that these descriptions do not 100% accurately define all Christians that may fall into one or more of these categories.
The evangelical believes that the Bible is the highest authority for one’s life. Have a problem about your career, finances, relationships or health? Go to scripture first. I’ve experienced this sitting in company with those who used no other source of discernment than the Bible to grapple with hard, life-changing decisions. Evangelicals also believe that the only way to heaven is belief in Jesus Christ. This requires some outward pronouncement of faith and in some denominations, baptism. They are hyper-focused on the salvation of others, thus their name -- signalling their call to evangelize to others that Jesus died for their sins and they must repent and turn to Him in order to be saved from hell. They tend to be less openly judgmental (but they still are). More often than not, an evangelical church will appear welcoming, inviting LGBTQ+ people to worship and of course contribute to the church, but they will never be invited into leadership, sing in the choir or church band, be baptized nor will the pastors perform same sex marriages.
The fundamentalist Christians are all things evangelical, but will be more open with their judgment and condemnation of people who do not believe like they do. These are the ones with the most radical teachings who believe that war for the sake of Christ’s message is not only expected but imminent. They have no desire to be in company with people who they conclude live a life in sin and will actively distance themselves. You will not see a “welcome all'' sign outside of their church, indicating their anti-LGBTQ+ beliefs and the rejection of their presence inside their church. Whenever you see a caustic and vitriolic comment in response to a post or video in which they do not agree, the writer is more than likely a fundamentalist. They do not care how they are perceived in the world. Their reward is in heaven, so they pay little attention to the call to care for the earth or harmony with people outside their faith.
A conservative Christian may not be as vocal or judgmental as an evangelical or a fundamentalist, but nevertheless, they believe in the basic theology as do the other two categories. Conservatives are often aligned politically, although a significant number of ECF’s are primarily Republican. They are often more covert and involved in politics to influence policy toward the interests and beliefs of Christianity -- ECF Christianity that is.
Which brings us to the final category -- the progressive Chistian. The progressive believes in the teachings of Jesus but also leaves room at the table for other wisdom teachers found in world religions. The most loving aspect of progressive Christianity is its belief in social justice and equity. This is where you will find the sacred activist, aligning with national movements to bring awareness to serious issues, such as systemic racism and white supremacy. Progressive Christianity is also a true affirming theology, meaning that they accept everyone just as they are, regardless of where they were born, the color of their skin, who they love, what they believe and their political ideologies. This expansive view of God’s grace with no exceptions is often the source of ire for anyone who follows ECF theology, prompting the ECF to accuse progressives of heresy and not being “true Christians” -- as if it is their place to do so.
It is not.
To no one’s surprise, progressive Christian theology is the one that resonates with my soul. I have many progressive clergy friends and allies who support my ministry to help guide the unchurched on their spiritual journey and help people recover from religious trauma.
It has however, been interesting to see some progressive Christians criticize my approach. Interesting -- but not surprising. Because religion, regardless how liberal and expansive in its thought is just that -- religion. It can often breed pompous egotism that leads people to believe they are its keeper. Recently, a self-proclaimed progressive declared that I was “hurting our cause.” By “cause,” I’m assuming they meant progressive Christianity, neither of which -- this individual or their theological mandate -- has oversight over me or my calling.
This exchange affirmed my decision to stay grounded on this unchurched, spiritual but not religious path. This is foundational to me and the work I do, whether it is one-on-one spiritual care, or getting out of my comfort zone in a TikTok video.
It’s all sacred and Holy and with all due respect, it is irrelevant how others who are called to ministry view it. Just as I have no authority over their respective beliefs and theologies, other Christians hold none over mine. That is why I will continue to share my own experiences of healing from religious trauma and tell my story of what led me to this path.
My story is what informs my view on ECF’s and because of recent encounters, some progressive Christians as well. Why? Because more people are leaving church every day, opting for a spiritual wilderness they do not completely understand. They, like me, know their souls are at risk if they return to a religious belief system that didn’t nurture their expanding spirituality.
There will always be resistance to this growing ministry, because we are seen as a threat to the perpetuation of an institution that is fueled on growing congregations and increasing tithes. It’s easy to point to me and say “she’s the problem,” when in reality the real problem is within religion and the church itself. That’s why people are leaving.
Now, we arrive at why this information matters.
The first reason this discussion is important is religious trauma. It is real and the first step to recovery is recognizing that you have it. For some, it may be so severe that it impacts their everyday life. It may require therapy and loving and gentle guidance from someone who is experienced in spiritual care and counseling as they deconstruct from toxic beliefs. If they have not addressed your religious trauma, any encounter with an ECF may cause them to give up hope that spirituality outside of religion is possible.
Believe me, Beloved. It is not only possible, it is beautiful and sacred.
The second reason is this: when you understand the fear that breeds the hatred, condemnation and judgment behind theology like of ECF’s, you are less likely to be lured into non-productive and distracting arguments. The vengeful God of fear-based theology is angry at sinful humans and endorses the harnessing of that anger for use against anyone outside the ECF belief system. When you recognize the root of their hatred, they lose any influence over you.
You no longer belong to that belief system, Beloved.
It is time to let go and heal.
Their words have no power over you.
Out here in the vast sacredness of spirituality, God is seen as universal, compassionate, expansive, and genderless.
There is no justification for a belief system that wields Biblical authority over others.
Stop and re-read that sentence.
Read it again and again until you understand that it doesn’t matter in what theology, denomination, or category Christianity resides. No one has control over your spirituality any more.
If engaging them in social media impedes your spiritual growth, stop engaging them.
If ECF’s or progressives are questioning your spiritual journey, you are not obligated to answer to them.
If their judgment is triggering and reignites trauma, block them.
Beloved, you are worthy and your path is sacred right where you are. The time has come for you to find your voice and take that first step toward healing. There are many of us on this journey with you.
This spirituality that sits outside of Christianity is just as meaningful. Step fully away from that which no longer serves your highest good.
That’s where you’ll find the Holy, not where others say you will.
Let’s meet one another there. The table is long Beloved, and waiting for you.