A couple of years ago, I wrote here about how many watertight, insular beliefs in evangelicalism actually serve as identity markers. Last night, Bill Nye and Ken Ham debated about evolutionary theory and creationism, which was a great example of how literal six-day creationism often serves as an identity marker for many white North American evangelicals.
In the context of Michael Pearl, whom I used as an example in my prior blog post, Pearl sets up "biblical chastisement," or physical punishment of children, as an ironclad "biblical" belief: "The people who condemn biblical chastisement do not believe the Bible." He equates his system of discipline with Scripture, so anyone who disagrees with Pearl's practices disagrees with the Bible.
Throwing down the gauntlet in this way is hostile to disagreement. Using the "biblical" label, Pearl and his followers equate his teachings to the very Word of God, so it becomes difficult for other professed Bible-believers to oppose him.
Diverging from your church's core beliefs is often a scary, emotional experience. I have genuinely wondered if I'm going to hell, and whether my disagreement simply means I've been duped by the secular, sinful "culture at large."
[The thought of leaving my evangelical home] terrified me. I still wanted to belong. No matter what I thought about charismatics and conservatives now, I still couldn’t bring myself to break away. I had always been one. They were my friends, my family. Where else was there?
Once Bowen accepted he no longer belonged in evangelicalism, he realized his disagreements were often not theological, but a matter of personal identity. He became ensnared in a "fight between my desire to belong and my inability to belong."
Many white North American evangelicals (often unintentionally) view disagreement with evangelical beliefs as tantamount to heresy, because evangelicalism's identity has been grounded in unwavering "biblical" interpretations of Scripture and portraying dissenters as sneering liberals.
Although the past decade has shown much promise, there's still little wiggle room for us questioners, even for those like Bowen who have no theological qualms. I like Rattigan's approach in his FAQ section. He's not abandoning truth claims, but rather acknowledging that many beliefs "are open to being thrashed out, tested, verified, debated and evaluated." When Rattigan makes theological claims, he's honest about their "tentative, provisional and subjective nature." He doesn't insist others accept his interpretation, "or that there will be divine consequences (i.e. punishment)" for those who disagree.
That evangelicalism's anti-evolution stance is actually an identity marker--rather than a high-stakes "must" that can't be separated from the gospel--is a freeing, healthy realization. There are no divine consequences if I don't toe the line.
So, if you are a young evangelical who listened to the debate last night and want to look in to Nye's claims, I encourage you to do so. If anyone questions your fidelity to Scripture or your faith commitment, I encourage you to consider a belief in a literal six-day creation as an identity marker of your particular faith community, rather than as an ironclad biblical truth from which you cannot waver. Feel free to flesh out, test, verify, debate, and evaluate both Nye and Ham's claims. All truth is God's truth, friend.