About Evangelical Orphan

I’m an orphan. Well, I was raised by orphans. You see, the family I was born into had become disassociated from their family tree, and spent considerable time and energy making sure I knew that “those people” from my heritage are not to be trusted.

Cork 9 3 Ocean 2

Bill Hartley

But, like many orphans, a day came when I really wanted to know what my “real family” is like. I decided to be a bit rebellious to my adoptive parents, and go off on a journey to meet my family. So, for the past 35 years, I’ve been digging into my past…meeting long lost aunts and uncles, making and repairing connections, and trying to make sense of this dysfunctional family that, love it or hate it, gave me my name.

What have I found? That’s why I launched The Evangelical Orphan.

My adoptive family is the modern, fundamentalism-infused, Evangelical, American church. I was spiritually born in this church, and have lived out my spiritual life primarily within their communities and structures. I love my family, and, for the most part, they have been very good to me. That’s why I’ve never chosen to abandon them wholesale.

But, I have come to understand that my tradition is broken in so many ways … I don’t know how it can possibly be fixed. Reformation is needed. But reformation is hard – and very hard to lead. My attempts, especially in the churches, have born meager fruit. But the ideas remain. My prayer is that some of these thoughts will encourage others – those far more capable than I in the art of bringing about change in people’s hearts and churches’ programs – to help bring about the needed remedies for my family’s beleaguered condition.

1127581In the posts to come, it will be part historical introductions, part contemporary analysis. Like the weeds in my front lawn, which I’m tempted to simply mow over rather than pull up from the roots, many of our contemporary issues need to be dealt with at their deepest levels of germination. I look forward to sharing those “aha!” moments when we find out why we’re the way we are, which can help us better determine how we can change…if led of the Lord to do so.

CAVING5I like to call this “spiritual spelunking.” Grab a rope and flashlight (and a helmet – you’ll need a helmet!), and let’s repel down into the caverns of our family’s past. It’s dangerous, but not as dangerous as you may have heard. And there is some fascinating stuff down there that will change the way you think about life in the daylight of the here and now.

Bill Hartley

(One part of our DNA is that we honor those who are institutionally credentialed and successful. Well, for what it’s worth, I’ve been a career pastor. I cut my historical/theological teeth working with the likes of Robert Webber, Mark Noll and Abraham Friesen. I teach history at Phoenix Seminary and a few other colleges. I have also recently been ordained to the pastorate in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod [2018]. That may not be enough resume fodder to earn a read from most…I guess we’ll see.)


4 responses to “About Evangelical Orphan

  1. jaywreed

    February 25, 2016 at 11:06 pm

    As “one untimely born” (1 cor.15:8) I get the orphan bit. We’re all aliens and sojourners until The Day, anyways…

    You coming to try out worship at Elk Grove or what..?

  2. Bob Stake

    April 1, 2016 at 5:39 pm

    I just read this and am pained by it, particularly your first paragraphs. The family you were born into, from an observer’s point of view, was near idyllic. You had a respected high school principal for a father and a concert violinist for a mother. You lived in an upscale Santa Barbara neighborhood with a private swimming pool and tennis courts across the street. You got to play little league baseball, and participate in pretty much any other activity you wanted to. You played trumpet, and flugelhorn, receiving new expensive Benge instruments from supportive parents. You went to golf camp, and jazz camp, and who knows what else. You excelled academically, and held first chair in band and orchestra. You were granted leading roles in theatre and music. At 16, you had a nice car to drive. You had many so many gifts and opportunities others did not, all the product of your family. No family is perfect, but it seems disingenuous, or at least unfair, to characterize your origins as the orphan of a dysfunctional family. Are you not grateful for the blessings and opportunities with which you were presented in your youth?

    • Bill Hartley

      April 1, 2016 at 6:50 pm

      Thanks for reading, and for commenting Bob! (We’re still due for lunch sometime in Phoenix…)

      You described my genetic family background in quite detail! Yes, I was blessed to grow up in the Hartley household. We had our dysfunctions, yes, like any family.

      But, a little clarity here: My “orphan” status is a spiritual one, not a physical one. You, Bob, know the spiritual “family” which gave birth to me very well – that small, Restoration Movement Christian Church in SB where we used to watch drive-in movies together! That little church changed my life in so many ways … and yet, as I’ve grown old, I have found that that the tradition behind that little church was that of angry separatists. I was groomed during those early days to consider other members of the broader spiritual families (Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, and for sure Catholics) as less-than-holy, dangerous, and not to be trusted.

      My spiritual trek through these years has had me attempting to connect with this broader family. When I set out on my own to do so (for my seminal tradition was non-supportive of such a pilgrimage), I truly felt like an orphan, in search of the family that I had been missing. I’m happy to say that expressions of that greater family have been eager to invite me in, and call me brother.

      I hope that make helps clarify. And thanks for reminding me to be very thankful for the way I was raised by Gene and Nancy. 🙂

      • Bob Stake

        April 2, 2016 at 10:51 pm

        You’re suggesting that the culture of Cathedral Oaks Christian Church came with undertones of an “us and them” philosophy, that their brand of Jesus’ message was somehow superior to other branches of the faith. I must respectfully disagree on that as well. That teachings from that church gave me a feeling of inclusion and respect for the entire Christian faith, not parsing one Christian over another. Even as I matured in my beliefs, I always maintained that the heart of that church was respect and caring for others. I clearly missed the angry separatist message. I had dinner with our mutual friend Mark again last fall. I have great respect for the way he quietly wears his faith. I don’t have to agree with him spiritually, but to him that is of no matter. Be well, Bill. I hope you find your peace, and dispatch the sense of being an orphan.


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