By ESTER SALGUERO
Deborah Jian Lee has fashioned a sense of solidarity with subcultures across multiple campuses in calling herself a refugee of Evangelicalism. Despite growing up in a non-religious household, Lee found a Chinese community church while living in the suburbs of Chicago and joined its youth group. Later in her college career, she tried to continue following the same path but found that she increasingly disagreed with the foundational values of Evangelicalism.
Lee shared her struggles, in what felt like a forceful separation from an identity she assumed, at Combs Hall this Monday while introducing her new book “Rescuing Jesus.” At the lecture she discussed the generational changes and progressive movements that have been shifting foundational values in Evangelicalism which she witnessed at different Christian colleges.
“I was able to find these people who lived in this split world,” Lee said.
The room in Combs where the lecture took place was filled with students, faculty and even local community members. Everyone listened intently to hear about the experiences that Lee wrote about in her book and how she related to Evangelicals across campuses who wanted to move away from the conservative politics that have been carried through many generations until now.
Lee talked about her investigative process in interviewing leading progressive Evangelical front-runners like Rick Warren, an American Evangelical Christian pastor and author in California. She found that by talking to the leaders she was getting a regurgitation of the same story that didn’t speak to the trends she was witnessing on campus.
“I started interviewing these leading progressive evangelicals but I doubted their authenticity,” Lee said.
Lee said that many young evangelical members were leaving mega-churches that were holding onto old ideologies, and that in place of those students, people of color were filling their spots.
A junior political science major, Carmela Mitchell, commented on seeing similar patterns that Lee talked about.
“I have noticed a shift in the Evangelical community. I’ve seen more evangelical Hispanics and African Americans,” Mitchell said.
According to Lee, 60 million young evangelicals leave their community church after the age of 15 in this generation. It is also true according to Lee’s research and investigations that young white lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer identifying individuals that are also Evangelical are accepting of same sex marriage. This is a huge turn-around from just a few years ago.
The statistics that Lee presented spoke to the audience and impacted some students who came in with preconceived notions about people in the Evangelical community.
“Lee opened my eyes to a different part of Evangelicalism,” Mitchell said. “Before her speech, I believed that evangelicals were strict and did not tolerate others but Lee taught me that religion and toleration of others should not be mutually exclusive.”
Lee also talked about differing perspectives from new members that are beginning to change many foundational values which have been a part of Evangelicalism for a long time. For example, with a large number of people from the black community joining these communities, some groups are starting to focus on social justice issues.
With the increasingly Hispanic Evangelical membership Lee has found that churches are beginning to form immigration coalitions to support the population of undocumented people in America which she has connected to a result of personal ties within the community.
“Pastors are looking into their congregations and they see undocumented immigrants there and suddenly the immigration issue is no longer this abstract Republican versus Democrat thing,” Lee said. “It’s a real person in their pew that they love and they want to protect and that they include in their community.”
For Lee, writing her book and doing research on the issues within the Evangelical community drove her out of the Evangelical world but she has also been able to see the changes that people on the margins of this community are starting to take in moving towards a progressive direction.
“I was able to explore how people on the margins are really challenging that power [conservative views],” Lee said. “Before in the past, when progressive Evangelicals tried asserting themselves, they were just drowned out by the religious right but today because of demographic changes they have a voice.”
As of now Lee has a few things on the burner for upcoming projects that may be related to her new book but that is still a piece of work in the making.