Beware of Overcorrecting

June 20th, 2011

Have you ever met someone who really hated Catholicism?—you know, a guy who will listen to any perspective but a Catholic perspective, join any group but a Catholic group, read any book but a Catholic book, and worship in any church but a Catholic Church? 

There are many possible explanations for why such a person would hate Catholics, but one of the most plausible is that he used to be one. 

Recently I’ve noticed that the religious traditions we tend to fight against the most are often the ones from which we came.  I’ve seen this in my own life as my frustrations with the conservative evangelical culture in which I grew up cause me to dismiss its proponents with more anger and disdain than those of any other faith.  I’ll listen intently to the perspective of a Catholic or a Greek Orthodox or a Buddhist or even an atheist, but the moment I hear James Dobson’s voice on the radio, I start yelling over it. It’s those conservative evangelicals that we’ve really got to watch out for, I tell myself. They’re the ones mixing the gospel with politics and reducing faith to an endless list of doctrinal statements. 

Part of my reaction reflects a desire to reform my own tradition. I am more invested in evangelicalism than any other branch of Christianity, and so I am more emotionally attached to its successes and failures. 

But my reaction also reflects a tendency to overcorrect. 

Here’s what I mean: The worst grade I ever got in high school was in driver’s ed. (Let me assure you that this says more about my overachieving tendencies than my driving skills.) When I received my grade…and promptly burst into a fit of sobs…my instructor informed me that I had a bad habit of overcorrecting when I made a mistake. When told I was going too fast, I would slam on the breaks. When told I was veering to close to the center line, I’d nearly swerve off the road. When told I wasn’t checking the rearview mirror enough, I would take my eyes completely off the road.  

“You have more time than you think to correct mistakes,” he offered gently. “Not everything’s an emergency.”

Those of us whose faith journeys have taken us from one tradition to another often struggle with overcorrecting. We can get so focused on what we don’t want to be that we lose track of who we do want to be. We rebel like angsty teenagers against anything that resembles our parents, our background or, worst of all, our old selves.  And if we’re not careful, we’ll throw the best of these traditions out with the worst.  

In fact, one could argue that some of the Church’s most notable movements and schisms have been triggered by overcorrections that take centuries to balance back out. 

Maybe something shifted when I turned 30, but these days I’m a lot more interested in who I’m becoming than who I used to be. This means bringing the best of my conservative evangelical past into my future and remaining open to what my more conservative brothers and sisters still have to teach me.  It means appreciating the sense of activism and commitment evangelicalism taught me, and nurturing that hunger for Scripture instilled in me at a young age. It means being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. It means taking this journey one day at a time. 

I have more time than I think to correct my mistakes. 

Not everything’s an emergency. 


Do you find yourself overcorrecting when it comes to the faith tradition with which you grew up? What valuable truths might you be leaving behind?

About the Author

Rachel Held Evans

Rachel is a writer, skeptic, and Christ-follower from Dayton, Tennessee—home of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial of read more…
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