How my Parents broke the mold

Quick, think of a stereotypical Evangelical.  What attributes come to mind?

Here are some that you might have come up with.

  • Anti-Union
  • No Movies (for some)
  • Lack of concern for the environment
  • Driven by consumerism
  • Homogeneous
  • Complimentarian
  • King James Version only (for some)
  • Dispensational
  • Young Earthers
  • No Alcohol

Jim and Ruth Bell - Engaged!

I used the word stereotypical, because, for many Evangelicals this list is not true at all. It is certainly not true of my parents. I put the list above in the order that I did, because it reflects a sequence of events in my parents life through which I learned that as an Evangelical there were alternatives to these beliefs. This weekend we are celebrating my Parents fifty years of life together. As I have reflected upon my life with them, I have been amazed at how much I have learned from them as they have broken through so many of the Evanglical stereotypes.

My great-grandfather on my father’s side of the family died when my grandfather was a young boy.  As a result my grandfather and great-aunt had to work in a linen mill. My grandfather was twelve at the time, and his sister was eight. She was so small that she had to stand on a box in order to reach the work table. This family history certainly had an impact on my father, and many years later, when I was criticizing a particular union action, my Dad reminded me that, “If it wasn’t for unions, we would still have kids working in the factories.”

In order to escape that life my great-grandmother started to manage a movie theatre, for which she was condemned by the church. As the church did not offer any alternatives she persisted with her new position. It is not surprising then that my parents did not take the hard stand against movies that some evangelicals did.

Our family has had a sense of Adventure.  My grandfather on my dad’s side of the family traveled the world with the Royal Navy.  While born in Northern Ireland, he met his wife in Barbados, before they moved to South Africa, Zambia, England and finally Canada.  On my mother’s side my grandfather trekked great distances across Africa on bicycle.  After marrying my grandmother they lived for a number of years in a very remote corner of Zambia.  While Evangelicals have never been known as being great stewards of the Environment, my parents experiences in Africa helped to install a love for the great outdoors in me from a very early age. They had both lived in fairly wild areas of Africa, and appreciated the great areas of wilderness in Canada that was so close to our home. My first wilderness canoe trip was at age three, and I have so many good memories of time spent together canoeing, camping, swimming, hiking, or picnicking in some of Canada’s open spaces. Forty-five years later I still enjoy taking my kids up to the area, and passing the teaching on to them.

When I was eleven my parents moved from Canada back to Africa where we lived for a number of years. We didn’t have a lot of money, and never bought into consumerism that is so so prevalent in North America.  My parents felt that giving their children different cultural experiences was more important that have nice things.  While they might be considered conservatives in Canada, in Africa they were definitely considered liberal both politically and theologically. Their willingness to cross racial barriers created a basis for me to do so even more so as I entered adulthood.

Four years later we moved back to Canada, and my mother returned to the part time job that she had held four years before. After a period of being assigned lousy shifts, and facing the prospects of even worse shifts, she decided to return to school, taking Business and Computers. After graduation, my parents broke the mold yet again when they moved to another community where my mother had been offered a good job. Again the tongues were wagging, as moving because of the “wife’s job” was unheard of in our church community. Decisions like that made it much easier for me to be egalitarian in my own marriage relationship.

Jim and Ruth Bell - 50th Anniversary

My grandfather on my mother’s side of the family finished his career as a Bible translator.  He typed through the Bible seven times on a manual typewriter, while translating it into Chibemba, one of the main languages of Zambia. His favourite English version was the Revised Standard Version. As I was growing up my parents always had a variety of translations at home, and never bought into the King James only idea.

Our church however was not only very conservative with a strong emphasis on the King James Version, but is was also very dispensational, with what seemed to be an obsession with the idea of a pre-tribulation rapture. My parents did not hold these views and they took a lot of flack for having a contrary position. At another church it was a similar conflict, but this time over young earth creationism.  I learned from them the value of independent thought, that scriptural interpretation wasn’t always black and white, and that I shouldn’t be afraid to challenge what I was taught.

When it came to some of the “vices” which were on the evangelical watch list, my parents were moderate conservatives. As mentioned above, we enjoyed a lot of different movies, and my parents had a very occasional glass of wine. I asked them why they drank so little, and remember my mom responding, “We have never really found any wine that we really like. We do like the taste of communion wine, but the Elders wouldn’t tell us what type it is!” .

Having been involved with Internet Monk for several years, I have come to realize that my parents have experienced what this site calls a post-evangelical wilderness. They are evangelical at heart, but don’t fit the evangelical mold.  Finding a church in which they feel at home has been difficult.  I find it interesting, but not surprising, that they are currently worshiping in a church that is similar to my own, somewhere in the nether world between the evangelical and mainline traditions.

Mum and Dad, congratulations on reaching your 50th anniversary.  I have learned so much from you from the nearly fifty years I have spent with you, and will continue to look to you for wisdom and guidance in the years to come.

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4 Responses to How my Parents broke the mold

  1. Rick Hawkes says:

    Nice article Mike, and hearty congratulations to your parents for reaching this milestone. They sound like very cool people and you are fortunate to have such a great lot of ancestors.

  2. Thank you for your post. I really enjoyed it. How brave of your parents to hold on to what they believed when it was contrary to the mainstream way of doing and thinking. I’m not a parent yet, but this article inspires me as to how I would raise my children.

  3. Katherine says:

    Great post! I found your article when Googling “don’t fit the evangelical mold”. My husband and I are what I call “orthodox post-modern”. While we hold to the confessions of historical Christianity, as “historic premillenial”, “gap theory” old-earthers among other things that don’t make us fit the evangelical box, we struggle when we sense spiritual judgement calls being made because of our break from the status quo. I have checked out the Internet Monk website before and enjoyed reading the posts. I’ll go back and search for “evangelical wilderness”. Its nice to know there are those of us who love Jesus and confess him as Savior, but want the freedom to think and grapple. Happy anniversary to your parents.

  4. I’m not sure how I went directly to this post rather than the latest one, but congratulations to your parents. Judy and I celebrated our 50th last January 14. Our kids celebrated with us then and also last summer for a larger gathering. They are all believers, thank God.
    Fr. Bruce Kirkpatrick, MSJ (Anglican)

    Not sure how I accidently wrote a similar post on a different blog.


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