A southern evangelical in New York City

Elizabeth Passarella is a southerner who has lived in New York City for twenty-one years. I am eager to take a look at her new collection of essays, Good Apple: Tales of a Southern Evangelical in New York. On her website she has an interesting Q&A about the book. Here is a taste:

Q: I think of evangelicals as crazy, right-wing nuts. Are you a crazy, right-wing nut? 

A: I am not. In fact, after many years of voting Republican and one ill-advised summer internship with Ralph Reed—I tell a sort of embarrassing story about him, if it makes you feel better or more interested in buying the book—I am now a registered Democrat. I care about all kinds of liberal issues. I have lived in New York for 21 years and consider this city my spiritual home. I believe there are lots of evangelical Christians like me; you just never hear about us. Evangelical, in my opinion, is not a political term, even though it’s become one. It simply defines a set of theological beliefs. I cover this very early on, right in the introduction, and then I stop using the word for most of the book.

Read the rest here.

I discovered Passarella through her recent op-ed at the Daily News. Here is a taste of that piece:

Since Christianity is not the nucleus of everyday life in New York as it is in many communities in the country, separating it from politics is easy. Political identity stays in its rightful place, somewhere down the line behind Jesus, my family, my babysitters who allow me to get away from my family, and gin. I can have a foot in seemingly opposing worlds. I wish every Christian felt that freedom.

Why do I bother using the term evangelical if it’s so radioactive in this city? Well, I certainly don’t lead with it. None of my Christian friends in the city do. But evangelicalism is a belief that the Bible is true and Jesus is the son of God, raised from the dead, plus an understanding that one comes to belief through a life-changing encounter with that God. I still agree with all of that. Unlike many former evangelicals who have left the church or at least sought out more progressive congregations, I still cherish what I was taught as a child. I don’t need a specific word, however, to know that Jesus is who he says he is, that the message of the Bible should change how I treat people. I’m happy to give it a Viking funeral on the Hudson River if it gets in the way of my witness. In New York, that only happens because the word is currently in bed with the administration that just left office. So, fine, good riddance to both.

Read the rest here.

As someone who grew-up in the New York metropolitan area, and spent my last three or four years before leaving home as an evangelical (my family converted from Catholicism), I always felt like an outsider. I had to think and pray a lot about how to live as an evangelical Christian in such a pluralistic region. I grew up with Catholics, Jews, mainline Protestants, adherents to Orthodoxy, and people with no religious faith. The kind of cultural hegemony experienced by evangelical Baptists in the South or Dutch Reformed Christians in Grand Rapids, Michigan or Lutherans in the upper Midwest, or Mormons in the Utah was foreign to me. If there were other evangelical Christians in my New Jersey high school I did not know about them.

It thus took me a long time to adjust to school at a Christian college. I wasn’t used to being around so many evangelicals. I found that my Christian faith was much more vibrant in the secular setting of my north Jersey hometown. In some ways I don’t think I ever fully adjusted. I know this might seem surprising coming from someone who teaches at Messiah University, has three degrees from evangelical institutions, and continues to identify as an evangelical in an age when most cradle evangelicals are running away from the label, but it’s true.

I think I have strayed a bit from Passarella’s piece, but I am grateful that her op-ed triggered some of these thoughts.