'You will not turn me into a liberal!' This was my exclamation to my tutor when I was training to become a minister.
Indeed, liberal theology didn't kill my evangelicalism – evangelicalism did that all on its own.
I realise now that what I was grappling with was the slow death of clear-cut, easy-answer, nicely packaged Christianity that I had learnt as a teenager. We had just come out of a teaching session on sacramentalism with a bigwig in my denomination, who was trying to persuade us that there is a difference in a person's very being after ordination – something I still disagree with. That session, however, felt like the culmination of a slow hammering of my faith, as I understood it, which I was not going to allow to come tumbling down.
I stormed into my tutor's office to exclaim to him that it wouldn't work. 'Sit down Andy, let's have a chat..'We are not here to turn you into a liberal, just a nuanced evangelical.' Nuance being the unofficial motto of my college.
This week, on Tuesday December 12, there was a vote for the US Senate. Not something to write home about, you would think. This vote however was incredibly symbolic. There was a choice between two white men, aged over 60. One was a judge who has been accused of sexually abusing young teenage girls. The other is a lawyer who helped to imprison members of the KKK who burnt down black churches. The answer is fairly clear cut, isn't it?
Of course, you vote for the one accused of sexual abuse because he is anti-abortion.
NO. No, you don't. But 80 per cent of white evangelical Christians did. People who profess to worship a bearded, homeless, Palestinian refugee, born to an unwed teenage mother...I don't get it either.
This group, who read the same Bible as me, sing the same songs as me, go to churches that look like mine, decided that they would rather vote for someone accused of one of the most heinous crimes because he had 'good Christian morals'. Apparently being inclusive of LGBT+ people, imprisoning white men who burn down black churches, standing up for minorities and the marginalised simply isn't displaying Christian values.
Here lies my problem. I cannot claim to have the same Christianity as that. I cannot claim to be an evangelical when that is what it looks like. I don't really think I am a very good liberal either. This I do know, however: I don't get to decide who is in and who is out – God does. And I don't get to decide who is theologically right and who isn't, God does (although I don't think God cares about doctrine half as much as we do).
My evangelicalism died when I realised it was us who were setting the boundaries of salvation. When evangelicals got so caught up in issues-based faith that Jesus got lost. The Jesus we read about in scripture is the homeless man who hung around with prostitutes, fraudsters, terrorists and the marginalised. He was the Jesus who only ever, as we have it recorded, got angry at the religious people for setting the boundaries of salvation, 'You white washed tombs, you sons of hell.'
Do I agree with my liberal friends on everything? No, of course not. But do I see them being more like Jesus than those claiming to be evangelicals? Absolutely I do.
Evangelicalism has lost its soul and it has sold it for black and white, easily repeatable religion.
'Who are you to say you're right?' I hear you say. Well, not me, that's for sure. I'm just a bloke muddling his way through this thing called faith who has experienced the best, and the worst, of church.
The best currently that I see are my friends reaching out to the those on the edge of church who are told their identity or their theology or their *insert word as you see fit* means that they are not welcome.
The worst I currently see are those who claim to love but in reality only love as far as their understanding of theology allows them too, which in most cases stops at white, middle class, straight, married couples with nice children.
Did liberal theology kill my evangelicalism? No. Evangelicalism did that all by itself.
Rev Andy Fitchet is a Baptist minister.