These were the words I heard from my soon-to-be manager at a popular fast food restaurant. I was sixteen years old and the proud owner of a brand new car payment, thus the need for more than a dollar an hour to watch kids on Friday and Saturday nights.
Every time I clocked-in at my new job, I hoped my manager would put me on the cash register, where the playful banter of my fellow teenage workers made time pass quickly. Every time, he put me on the salad bar instead. I hated that salad bar. Not only did I have to keep the ice and kale garnish looking perfect, but also, all the toppings had to be full and fresh at all times. So many little crocks of food, and so many people messing it up. When the crocks got low, It was my job to take them to the back, get new clean crocks, fill them three quarters full with fresh food, and put the remnants from the old crocks on top.
I soon discovered, however, that if I just put new fresh food on top of the old, no one would notice—at least until they got home, or the next day. What could go wrong? My time-saving system seemed to work fine for the carrots and onions, but the ham cubes and hardboiled eggs? Not so much. When I actually cleaned out the old crocks, which was hardly ever, I saw some nasty, slimy stuff. Denial is a powerful force when you don’t care about the wellbeing of others. In my mind, the appearance of fresh food was just as good as fresh food.
The last time I was in my hometown, I drove by that restaurant and chuckled to myself. I hadn’t thought about that place in a long time. Funny, they don’t have a salad bar there anymore. I wonder if it’s because other sixteen-year-olds with car payments and cash-register dreams took the same shortcuts that I did back in the day.
The thought of that salad bar started morphing into a metaphor of my years in the evangelical church. I thought about all that rot under the appearance of goodness. What if we avoid acknowledging all the crap we’ve been teaching people, and cover over it with new and better teaching? Can we slowly and subtly stop putting people under law, and start teaching gospel freedom instead? Maybe we could ignore the things we got wrong, and correct our error by covering over it with a fresh word of grace? What could go wrong?
At the restaurant, a few finicky people stirred up the food in the salad bar crocks, causing my cover-up efforts to seep to the surface. One or two of them complained to my manager who then called me to his office to reprimand me. He warned me of the implications to the company if someone got sick, and suddenly my job was on the line. I was so annoyed with those people who tattled. What an inconvenience it was to have to do my job right.
The thing about rot is that it festers, spreads, and becomes a toxic, uncoverable problem. You can keep it buried for a while, but it permeates and eventually infects everything around it. If evangelicals put new and better gospel teaching on top of the unenlightened legalism, racism, misogyny, and abuse that has festered in our midst for years, it won’t purify the rot. It will pollute the gospel.
All these years later, I get it. Now I’m the finicky person digging deeper and discovering that something is not right here. Someone is not doing their job right and people are getting sick. If those of us who have been injured by the dark underbelly of evangelicalism don’t say something, more people will get sick.
If evangelicals won’t bring their rot into the light and acknowledge it themselves—it will come into the light some other way
I’ve witnessed many trends, movements, conferences and celebrity pastors. I’ve bought into many of them. It seems like every couple of years someone comes along and sprinkles some new teaching on top of the old. They say: “Now this is what Christians do,” and then everyone does it. Never mind that the last trend has run its course and left a bunch of victims in its wake. The gospel isn’t about doing anyway. It is about receiving. But we don’t talk about that. We just stuff down our messes and tell ourselves that the next thing we are told to do will bring fulfillment, formulas to live by, and guaranteed blessing.
If we refuse to say something, the implications are much more serious than lost jobs, books sales, platforms and warm bodies in pews (which is what many Christian leaders seem to be most concerned about). We lose credibility, and the good news we have to share will turn into another empty religion, void of love and grace. It will have the appearance of life and health, with putrefied decay just beneath the surface.
If evangelicals won’t bring their rot into the light and acknowledge it themselves—it will come into the light some other way. Say something evangelicals. We’re giving up on you.
John 3:19-21 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
Find more from Marci Preheim here.