Writings by Cole Huffman

Evangelicalville: An Inside the Loop Satire

Rachel was weeping for one of her children. She refused to be comforted, for he was a citizen of Evangelicalville no more. Dave sat beside her on the couch remembering what he’d learned from the men’s conference about Level 4 Communication—or did he learn it from Hootie and the Blowfish’s Cracked Rear View album? Let her cry. What godly men do “when your wife gets upset like that” is try not to fix it.

Did she really hear their sixteen-year-old son say “I feel like I’m agnostic”? He was driving his mom’s car when he said it, on the way to school. It was a bright morning. Rachel was in the passenger seat checking her Instagram, asking her son if he knew whether Pastor Rick was speaking at his school’s chapel that semester. (Pastor Rick was in high demand for conferences but Rachel hoped he’d make time to speak at the school because the kids needed to hear his passion for God.)

Her boy never looked up from the road. He went all Esau on her and gave up his birthright. He said he was tired of chapels, tired of fake Christians at school, tired of Pastor Rick even, and tired of K-LOVE on the radio too. For emphasis he punched the power button, cutting off Kankelfritz’s word of encouragement midsentence.

The “Family-Centered” guy (the how-to-disciple-your-kids guru in his 30s) whose book Rachel read didn’t prepare her for this. She’d followed his guidance to a T during her son’s formative years, believing she was molding a godly man, a veritable modern-day knight for a world in desperate need of his influence. Dave too was a conscientious father, making sure he left a legacy of properly shepherding (and shielding) his kids’ hearts.

Their kids grew up knowing all the benefits of Evangelicalville but none of the pains. Rachel saw to that. The kids the adults in Evangelicalville idolize are, in Garrison Keillor’s description of Lake Wobegon, “all above average.” Rachel made sure her kids were on that track, that they knew how much she believed in them. She reminded them often what Jesus said: With God all things are possible.

Now her son had forgotten how God showed them He was real. Like that time the soccer coach left him off the travel team because he was mistaken about the boy’s work ethic. Rachel wrote a long email to the coach (and Cc’ed the principal) that her son was actually a really hard worker. Dave personally went to see the coach and the principal about it as well. Rachel prayed hard about it and on the third day the stone rolled away. The coach changed his mind. “Yes!” Rachel announced to her son with a smile and a wink, “I told you prayer changes things.” Her son scored three goals for the team that season, a fitting trinity of confirmation.

How could her son forget the power of God? He asked her not long ago why Ben’s mom had to die after “everyone” prayed for God to make her well. But the answer to that was obvious, wasn’t it? “It was just her time,” Rachel told him. “We have to accept God’s will about things we can’t change.” A little alarmed that he was thinking about death, she made a point to play more Christian music around the house, especially in the mornings, and made sure he went to the youth group Bible study on Sunday nights. They let him drive Dave’s convertible by himself if he’d go.

One Sunday night during his senior year the boy kept driving—past the church, past the school, out past the city limits sign where he wasn’t permitted to go. He dropped the top and floored the gas. Up into the night sky he let his doubts and disappointments with Evangelicalville fly out as if a whole stack of Pastor Rick’s year-end 1099s were on the back seat. It was the first time the boy ever really prayed in his life. He called on the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, embarrassed he was crying but shouting to make sure he got through. “Jesus!” he gripped the steering wheel tight. “I want to believe in you but without all the bull****!” His mother would have audibly gasped hearing that. It wasn’t language he’d heard at home.

But therein the problem in so many of Evangelicalville’s homes and schools and churches: Rachel and Dave were so determined to get their son saved they never let him get lost. Continual safety and fulfillment yields anemic faith.

Doubt in Evangelicalville is like beef at Chick-fil-A. It’s simply not on the menu. What then does Evangelicalville do with Rachel’s boy? They pray for him, of course, and he’s good to have around for practicing the apologetics they’ll otherwise never use. What he needs from the community is embrace and patient friendship. Evangelicalville is a law abiding town, though. There are consequences for jaywalking in Bible studies.

Evangelicalville will do better for Rachel than her son. She’s a land owner there after all, a tithe payer. Her boy is just a taker. So Rachel will receive the empathy of her community. She’ll feel the stabs of longing for what could have been—should have been—when the younger moms at church excitedly share creative ideas for discipling their five-year-olds. In Evangelicalville the ideal is an enchanting script. And she worked hard to achieve it—going to the conferences and listening to podcasts and reading the right books and joining the mom groups organized around every team, league, club, and organization her kids joined. Why then is she suffering disappointment?

Pastor Rick says we should be the change we want to see in others. She isn’t exactly sure what that means but he’s such a visionary and so persuasive, and his wife is so pretty, and he always backs up everything he says with Scripture. He must be speaking for God. So she’ll try all the harder to “be the change” and show her son the godly person she still hopes he’ll become.

For his part Rachel’s boy wants to see godliness—the kind that keeps loving even after it stops approving; the kind that knows how to give reasons for the hope we have, not turns the positive and encouraging music up louder; the kind that resiliently loves God for God and not because He nicely accessorizes the good life. It’s just when her son doesn’t reward her moralistic therapeutic faith that Rachel is finally given the opportunity to become what the indwelling Spirit of God wants her to become: a gospel floodlight rather than one more scented candle of pop piety.
Posted by Cole Huffman at 3:57 PM
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