[This is a letter I just sent to the New York Times magazine editor. They won’t print it, so I am posting it here.]
I was not surprised to read about Bart Campolo’s move to secular humanism, nor that the evangelical community “has barely noticed.” American evangelicalism has always been less about what you believe and more about how you believe. Evangelical theology functions more as a shibboleth than an orthodoxy.
Bart’s father knew this. I will always remember hearing Tony preach 25 years ago in my midwestern college chapel service. In the heat of his sermon he would say the word “shit” and observe immediately that we were more disturbed by hearing that word than by the poverty and hopelessness he was describing. Words signify which camp we belong to as much as anything.
Those of us who leave the religious traditions of our childhoods don’t so easily leave the psychological patterns those traditions imprint. The toilet paper sticks to your shoe even after the bathroom door swings shut. Noticing that about yourself, and freeing yourself from the endless repetition, is a lifetime’s work. I’m glad if Bart has found a certain relief in his new belief system. He still smells like an evangelical to me.