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Tamice Spencer-Helms joins Jared in this episode of Faith for Normal People for a conversation about the integration of faith and identity. Tamice shares their journey of navigating life as a queer and Black Christian, emphasizing the power of authenticity and agency in leaving toxic theologies behind. Join them as they explore the following questions:

  • What has Tamice’s faith journey been like?
  • When did the thread start to unravel for Tamice in terms of realizing that their theology couldn’t hold up the reality of racial injustice?
  • Whose voices inspired Tamice to integrate their faith and race?
  • Why does Tamice talk about whiteness as being like leaven?
  • How might we learn how to practice faith out of an experience of Blackness or queerness?
  • How did living at intersections change Tamice’s faith experience?
  • What is Tamice’s response to people who assert that you can’t be queer and Christian at the same time?
  • How can we gain confidence to acknowledge our own experiences, to be grounded and confident in those? 
  • What practical advice does Tamice have for those who have been told to abdicate their agency in order to be Christian?


Pithy, shareable, sometimes-less-than-280-character statements from the episode you can share.

  • What I’d been given in terms of a worldview and a way to cope was not working because it doesn’t speak to this reality of being Black in this society.  — @TamiceNamae @theb4np
  • I went on a journey of leaving white evangelicalism and hearing from voices that loved God and did God talk with their Blackness in tow. And I was given some beautiful pictures and ways to think about God after that. — @TamiceNamae @theb4np
  • A lot of my friends who started to wake up to this around the time of George Floyd started to realize that there was a corpus of work of people who were bringing their lived experience to the faith and really wrestling with God in that place. — @TamiceNamae @theb4np
  • It requires a relative amount of humility to say, I never knew about this theology. I never knew that you could think about or talk about God or relate to God this way. — @TamiceNamae @theb4np
  • There’s been a relative amount of figuring out how to be authentic in my queerness and in my love for the divine, and in the ways that I try to live out what I think that means and should look like. — @TamiceNamae @theb4np
  • If we don’t tell stories and hear about God and learn about God from the margins, then our ability to navigate and be resilient in the world is going to be really small. — @TamiceNamae @theb4np
  • No matter how arbitrary race is, I still experience the world as a Black person. And so there needs to be a perspective of God from that place for me.  — @TamiceNamae @theb4np
  • Where I see goodness and where I see light and where I see ethical spirituality, I grab a hold of it. I say yes to it. I celebrate it. — @TamiceNamae @theb4np
  • I’m very thankful for my tradition because it grounds me in these stories about Jesus that I’ve always loved, and where I came to really love God and develop a relationship with the divine through these stories about Jesus. — @TamiceNamae @theb4np
  • I think of it like a twin sheet on a king-sized mattress. The pursuit of God in this frame was not big enough to contain life in reality. I could pretend that the bed is not king-sized, or I could just try to figure something else out. — @TamiceNamae @theb4np
  • We cannot abdicate our agency. We cannot outsource intuition anymore. God gave it to us. God gave it to us for a reason. — @TamiceNamae @theb4np
  • At the end of the day, I get to do this faith. It needs to involve me, all of me, and who I actually truly am. Otherwise, what are we doing? — @TamiceNamae @theb4np

Mentioned in This Episode

Read the transcript

Jared: You’re listening to Faith for Normal People, the only other God ordained podcast on the internet. 

Pete: I’m Pete Enns. 

Jared: And I’m Jared Byas.

[Intro music plays]

It’s time to tell you about our May class, which is the last installment of our three part spring semester in the Old Testament. This one is called The Bible and Multivocality: Respecting and Embracing the Many Voices Within the Bible. Not only will you learn how to use the word multivocality in context, but it might be one of the key concepts for you to learn about the Bible.

It can be hard to take the Bible seriously if you start to recognize that it says different things in different parts. It’s varied, it’s distinct, and even contradictory voices all within the one book. In this class, our very own Pete Enns argues that multivocality, which is to say many voices, is actually a central component of the biblical text. Not something to be embarrassed about, but something to embrace. 

If you’ve been wanting to know why the Bible has multiple voices and how these voices shape our understanding of the text, this class is for you. What’s exciting is that as part of our spring semester in the Old Testament, the class is actually pre recorded and comes with a study guide, meaning you can purchase it and watch it on the same day regardless of your schedule.

Plus, there’s going to be a live Q&A with Pete in May to talk about all three of our Old Testament classes. So if you’ve watched any of them and have a question, you’ll be able to ask it to Pete personally. If you’re a member of our online community, the Society of Normal People, you’ll get automatic access to the class and the study guide on May 1st. Plus for our SONP members only, there’s a bonus roundtable video featuring our amazing nerds in residence. But again, that’s for our SONP members only. For more information and to sign up for the class, head to

Jared: Hey everyone! We’re creating an illustrated storybook Bible for children — and their adults! — called God’s Stories as told by God’s Children. It’s a Bible that takes its scholarship as seriously as its storytelling.

Pete: That’s right folks, we’re bringing the best in biblical scholarship to everyday kids. 

Jared: To get it started we’ve launched a Kickstarter, and the Kickstarter has been supported by a lot of people so far. We’re actually quite surprised—well, we shouldn’t be.

Pete: It’s just amazing the response we’ve gotten.

Jared: Right, and we’re so grateful for everyone who has supported it so far. 

Pete: So folks, to secure your copy before even bookstores do, and to help us meet our stretch goals to unlock even more exciting projects like an e-book version, an adult’s version, and maybe even if we reach that last goal, an audiobook version, head over to 

Jared: We would be so honored to have you join our mission to bring the best in biblical scholarship to the next generation. One children’s Bible won’t change the world, but the children who read it just might. So head over to to help support the project.

Jared: Today on Faith for Normal People, it’s just me, Jared, and I’m talking about grounding our faith in our own experiences with Tamice Spencer-Helms.

Tamice is a fellow podcast host of Life After Leaven and the author of Faith Unleavened: The Wilderness Between Trayvon Martin and George Floyd. Tamice is also the founder of Subculture Incorporated, a nonprofit dedicated to providing holistic support and crisis relief for Black college students. Don’t forget to stay tuned at the end of the episode for quiet time when Pete and I reflect on the episode and our own experiences related to this conversation about experiences. All right, folks, hope you enjoy this conversation with Tamice. 

[Thoughtful music plays under clip of Tamice speaking]

Tamice Spencer-Helms: “I found God in me and I loved her fiercely. That’s kind of the way that I feel like faith is showing up for me. God is non-binary and so am I. And so my faith is kind of an expression of that, that where I see goodness and where I see light and where I see ethical spirituality, I grab a hold of it. I say yes to it. I celebrate it. But I’m also very thankful for my tradition because it grounds me in these stories about Jesus that I’ve always loved.”

[Ad break]

Jared: Well, welcome Tamice to the podcast. It’s wonderful. It’s an honor to have you. 

Tamice Spencer-Helms: Thank you. It’s really, really good to be here, Jared. 

Jared: I want to start with just your story. That’s important to me because I think for a lot of people we’re starting to learn more and more about how our lived experience isn’t something to be set aside, but something that’s very important to how we experience our Christian faith and that that matters.

It’s not something to get rid of—that maturity in Christian faith isn’t learning to get rid of these parts of ourselves, but to actually bring them in, to be aware of them, to understand them and let them be a major part of how we express ourselves. Not cutting ourselves off but actually integrating who we are into our faith. So can you just say more about your faith story, some of the major twists and turns of your background?

Tamice Spencer-Helms: Yeah, sure. So I, I mean, I came to become a Christian, I guess you would say when I was 17. I went to a play, one of those kind of hell house type of plays. And that’s where, you know, I would say I became a Christian or at least the version of Christianity that I was given and kind of followed for the last 20 or so years.

Jared: So the hell house worked is what you’re saying. 

Tamice Spencer-Helms: It did. It scared the hell out of me. [Both laughing] It really did. And, you know, so, you know how those things go, like afterwards you go down the Romans Road and they kind of tell you what it means now to have sort of accepted Christ. And I’d had sort of spiritual experiences before that, but I didn’t have so much language and sort of theoretical framework for that. And then when I went through these hell houses, it was kind of like, this is who you are, this is who God is, and this is what you have to do. So the simplicity of it was really enticing. I got involved pretty much in like college ministry type stuff and did that for a little while.

And in the midst of that sort of being taught about Jesus and growing in my faith in that context, my skin color and the ways that I experienced the world as a queer person, all of those things became at odds with my faithfulness with God. And so they just stopped being a question, and I stopped sort of thinking about them until 2012, when in February of that year, Trayvon Martin was killed. And it kind of woke me up to a little bit of things. I think there were some issues going on around the Obama election that just, they were creating some cognitive dissonance for me. But I wasn’t telling anyone about that or talking to anyone about that.

I was sort of afraid that I would be seen as wayward. But when Trayvon Martin was killed, something happened because of the way that it hit me in my family. He was the same height as my brother, sort of looked like my brother. And the response of the people around me started to wake me up to the fact that, yeah, my identity as a Black person has not been a part of this conversation. I’ve been made to believe that it shouldn’t be a part of the conversation, but right now what I’ve been given in terms of a worldview and a way to cope is not working because it doesn’t speak to this reality of being Black in this society. 

And so it kind of began to unravel from there, to be honest with you. I started to think about why don’t we bring those things into our understanding of God? And I went on a journey of leaving white evangelicalism and hearing from voices that loved God and did God talk with their Blackness in tow, right? And I was really given some beautiful pictures and ways to sort of think about God after that. 

Jared: Can you say more about learning from those people who brought their Blackness into into their faith? What does that look like? Like who were those people and what did that look like for them? And what does it look like for you? 

Tamice Spencer-Helms: Yeah, I would say one of the first people I read was Katie Cannon who was a womanist theologian who talked about the work of theology being something that—work that we do because our soul must have hope, right? So we do the theological work that our soul must have. And that was the first time anyone really spoke about the fact that like, the ways that we conceptualize and even the things that lead us to worship God are born out of our lived experience, the ways that we experience empire and the world, the ways that we kind of name God or think about God.

And so I felt like what they were doing was looking at God’s truth and God’s faithfulness and God’s wisdom and even God’s expectations through the lens of their lived experience with Blackness in this country. And what it did for me was it kind of gave me the permission to begin to ask questions I was told I wasn’t allowed to ask. And to begin to kind of name dissonance that I was told shouldn’t have been dissonant. 

And so for them, the ways that they grounded their theological work or their way of connecting with God and making sense of God, they grounded that in terms of how much they could survive and thrive as a Black person and whatever was sort of leading them to survival or thriving or resourcing for hope, those things were seen through the lens of Blackness, like almost their Blackness was the test of whether or not this was true. 

And then, you know, I got into more of the theological stuff with James Cone, who was really thinking about liberation and looking at Jesus from this lens of his ontological experience or the essence of Jesus’s experience, the dynamics of his experience on the earth and in his death were very, very similar to the experiences of Black men and Black people in our country, even to the point of, you know, the cross. And James Cone did this beautiful job of tying a correlation between, you know, the lynching tree and the cross. And it was so powerful for me because for the first time, it felt like my Blackness needs to be a part of the way I think about God. It makes it more robust and it makes it kind of more palpable for me to kind of live and move every day. It kind of could get me out of bed in the morning when white evangelicalism stopped having the ability to do that for me after a while.

Jared: Well, and for a lot of people, there was the theology without an adjective, right? So it’s like, “well, no, we’re just, you just do theology and this is what it looks like and now you’re over here wanting to bring your Blackness into it. Why bring, why bring race or why bring culture into it? It feels like we’re just trying to do it objectively and then you’re going to bring Blackness into it.”

Can you speak to that? Because I think for a lot of people, there’s not an awareness that probably what you learned in seminary, and I think if there’s, you know, a few things Pete and I have learned in doing Bible for Normal People and now Faith for Normal People, it’s like, yikes! We didn’t realize that all theology has an adjective. What we called theology was just white theology. 

Tamice Spencer-Helms: Yeah, I mean, I think, you know, I have the tongue in cheek thing about white Jesus in the book, but I really do think that part of the unfortunate nature of whiteness is that it functions like leaven, it means it’s invisible, it just gives rise, right? It’s an invisible agent, and one of the ways that that shows up is kind of in what you just said about, you know, theology that doesn’t have adjectives. Because the assumption is that objectivity and purity are number one, a thing—that you can actually have that—but objectivity and purity are always going to be perspective. They will always, in some ways, be subjective. Someone’s deciding, someone is measuring, someone is creating a standard by which we decide what is and is not objective, what is and is not pure. 

And what happens when you don’t examine whiteness or understand the ways that colonialism embeds itself, is that you operate under this invisible assumption that white perspectives, white ways of doing and being, ways of thinking, ways of working, ways of teaching and speaking and reading, all of those things are the normal, those are the standard ways.

And so, and everything else has an adjective to it. And so it’s just, it takes a lot of work, I think, to really own that and wrestle with it. And it’s a hard pill to swallow because it means in some ways you have to kind of catch up, right? That there’s been this whole other way of knowing and doing godliness or doing theology that have been a little bit more resilient and robust.

And I think that that’s something that a lot of my friends who started to wake up to this around the time of George Floyd and things like that started to realize that there was, just a corpus of work of people who were bringing their lived experience to the faith and really sort of wrestling with God in that place. And I think one of my main sort of, uh, soapboxes is for white progressives to learn from people of color because of that fact, because of the resilience and the robustness of the theology, and the wrestling that produced it could be helpful, even though it requires, you know, a relative amount of humility to say, I never knew about this theology. I never knew that you could think about or talk about God or relate to God this way. 

Jared: With that, that’s also a perfect segue, because what I was thinking of is asking the question, you know, how might we learn how to practice faith out of an experience of Blackness or queerness? Because I just think over the last five or ten years it came from my experience of how can I help marginalized communities to really figuring out there’s actually a lot I can learn from marginalized communities. And there are so many things especially from my queer friends that I was like, oh my gosh, their experience of the world was so different than mine and it led to different strengths, different ways of seeing the world, different perspectives, different things that I never had to do, but by them going through it, they see the world in a particularly helpful way.

So are there things that, you know, you mentioned the resiliency, but are there other things that a perspective may be helpful for others to hear and to learn from? 

Tamice Spencer-Helms: Yeah. I mean, I think the first thing I wanted to talk about was the idea of other communities that are marginalized. And I think the queer community, it just so happens, you know, that I live at an intersection between Blackness and queerness. And so they inform one another, those two identities were both not allowed. Right? So in my white evangelical experience, it was my Black identity that was not allowed to come to the table. And in my Black church experience, my queer identity was not allowed to come to the table. So there’s been a relative amount of figuring out how to be authentic in my queerness and in my love for the divine and in the ways that I try to live out what I think that means and should look like.

So I do think that there are other perspectives, like queer perspectives, perspectives of folks who live on other types of margins, because they do, they can bring to us a way of understanding God that can fill in gaps so that when we face an obstacle or we face a challenge that feels insurmountable, there are other voices that can fill those gaps in. And I think that’s the beauty of storytelling and bringing our full selves to the table, because I think our stories kind of fill in gaps for one another. When you don’t have anything to grab a hold of, you can grab a hold of God, the story of God in someone else’s life, right, to hold on to while you’re kind of unable to locate it in your own.

And that to me feels like why if we don’t tell stories and hear about God and learn about God from the margins, then our ability to navigate and be resilient in the world is going to be really small. I mean, we’re not going to have any ability for that. And I don’t get a picture of that, you know, regardless of what you think about whether what happened in the Bible is true. The stories give me an indication that we need something to get us through stuff. All the stories and all the sort of religions, we need hope that has teeth, something to really get us through. And so there’s a way in which me living at intersections really can connect me to the fact that in some ways all of this is arbitrary and we don’t need to be so caught up in naming and identifying and qualifying. 

And on the other end, I live as a Black person. So there is really actual experience of Blackness. No matter how arbitrary race is, I still experience the world as a Black person. And so there needs to be a perspective of God from that place for me. Whether it’s arbitrary or not, and whether people agree with it or not, or have a “higher level of thinking” about it or not, the reality is that I live and move as a Black person in America, and I need hope, and I need a God that can resource me in that place.

And I think that if we can listen to people who are on the margins, we might find ourselves having more resources, which I think is, would help with some of the disparity that is happening today.

[Ad break]

Jared: You may have touched on this, but maybe you can say more about how your faith has changed. So you brought us up in your story up to a certain point, but maybe you can dig in there at the end a little bit as you’ve come to know yourself and get more comfortable acknowledging the intersections and maybe even adding Christianity as part of that intersection.

This is all kind of colliding and now you have a faith that’s expressing through this filter, through these lived experiences, through these parts of yourself. How did that change your faith particularly? 

Tamice Spencer-Helms: Yeah, that’s a great question. It just makes me feel like I can, like two things can be true. And I think owning my own non-binary identity helped me to realize that like two things can be true and I don’t have to solve every problem or figure out every puzzle, that I can kind of live in a space of in betweenness, of just kind of wanting to learn as much as I can and at the same time being okay that I have limitations. And I think that my faith has become so much more integrated because of this, with a sort of the integrating of my identities and coming to a sort of a conclusion, which feels like an arrival that I’m non-binary, which feels like not an arrival at all. It’s just, it’s not a binary. 

So I feel like my faith has kind of taken on that shape. And I don’t even know if that’s making sense. It makes sense in my head. But I just feel very restful in faith these days. I’m not necessarily chasing God. I feel like—there’s a quote, “I found God in me and I loved her fiercely.” You know, that’s kind of the way that I feel like faith is showing up for me, that like, God is non-binary and so am I. And so my faith is kind of an expression of that, that where I see goodness and where I see light and where I see ethical spirituality, I grab a hold of it. I say yes to it. I celebrate it, but I’m also very thankful for my tradition because it grounds me in these stories about Jesus that I’ve always loved and where I came to really love God and develop a relationship with the divine through these stories about Jesus.

So that will always be a part of my story. I think it will always be my tradition to say that like, this is the way I came to God. It was through this way called Jesus, and I feel really grateful for that and it feels really special to me. 

Jared: What I heard you say is that being non-binary allows you to sit in the polarities of life. You know, that life isn’t a puzzle that needs to be put together, and that’s okay. That can become a way of life, rather than just this problem that has to be overcome or squashed or solved. Is that kind of what you were saying? 

Tamice Spencer-Helms: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I do think, honestly, it’s a whole nother tangent, but I do think, you know, binaries are kind of what’s wrong with things right now, right? The polarization that’s happening culturally. I’m out here talking about how fundamentalists and liberals can kind of be the same person if they don’t allow for nuance. If they don’t allow for middle space, they’re doing the same things with different talking points.

And so this ability to come to the middle is really important to me. I think that that’s where God is. I think God is in these in-between spaces where things are complicated and nuanced and that’s okay, because I feel like the binaries are what is causing the polarization and I don’t know how much further we’ll get.

Again, you know, connecting it back to our need for one another’s stories so we can be resourced, you know, so the more that we’re polarized, the less resourced we all are. We need each other’s stories. I mean, we need perspective. We need to learn from folks that are not like us and don’t look like us. So I think that God is that God meeting me in my own non binary identity and then kind of showing me that that’s where everything kind of lives.

And that’s why I was able to meet God personally in that space, my faith being kind of recapitulated in a place where I can name it and not feel the need to name it at the same time feels very much like it’s all centered around that. 

Jared: Mmmm. There’s a little bit of, it’s a statement of it’s either this or that. And what I’ve seen is things collect, right? So you’re either Republican or a Democrat, and if you’re Republican, then…And we just start gathering up stuff. Well, Republicans only do this. Well, Democrats look like this. And then everything about your personality and how you behave in the world and how you identify has to be wrapped up into one of these two choices.

Tamice Spencer-Helms: Absolutely. It’s the same thing of like, you are saved or not. You are in or out. You are us or them. You are male or female. Because again, someone’s judging, right? So bringing us back to that conversation we were having earlier about the objectivity and the purity. When you are one thing or another, that’s very colonial. Right? It is all this or that. So for people who are not willing to say, Hey, there has to be nuance here. We have to come to this middle. They’re missing out on resources and perspectives that could help them have resilience. And that’s why I think these conversations are super important, that binary is what is—it’s the binary that’s the problem, I believe. I think we all need to come back towards the middle a little bit. 

Jared: What do you do? Can you maybe be practical? If you interact with somebody who let’s, I mean, maybe name it—who says, “Well, you can’t be queer and Christian. Those don’t go together, right? Whatever the binaries are, whatever these either or that we’ve put, one thing I know is that Christianity or being a Christian is on one side and being queer is on the other.” They don’t mix. How do you respond to that in the moment? 

Tamice Spencer-Helms: Sure. Yeah. I mean, I think in the moment I would say, well, here I am, what do you mean you can’t be queer and Christian? I’m right here. So again, now we’re talking about theologizing from lived experience. How are you, outside of my experience, going to tell me what’s possible? I’m doing it. I am doing it right now. And so what that presupposes when someone comes at you with a binary like that, they are presupposing that they have the power to decide what is true, what is right. And so now it’s a power dynamic conversation. And what I think about, you know, in terms of owning our identities is like, that’s where I think I love the tradition of Jesus because of the way that Jesus deals with power dynamics.

Especially like in the Sermon on the Mount and stuff. So I feel like for me, that would be the first response is like, well, here I am. So I don’t, what are you going to do with that? You’re either going to tell me that I, that I’m not right here or that I don’t exist, or that you know better than me and completely dismiss my experience. Those are the options here. And none of those options are my problem. And so I think that that’s where I would go with that. 

The more thought out version is—I kind of put this thing out the other day, I got some heat in my DMs about it. But I think that queerness and holiness are the same thing because of the fact that they are radically honest and they’re honest knowing the context in which they live. So there’s a choosing into the vulnerability of knowing not everyone is okay with honesty. Not everyone loves it. And I tied it to Cain and Abel, right? 

Like, you know, there’s a sense in which sin is mentioned in scripture at the time where Cain believes there’s this sort of contest, there’s a binary. And Abel shows up with Abel’s honesty and for some reason it throws Cain off and so Cain decides, I’m going to eliminate what I’m seeing as competition.

So for me, the way that I’m thinking about queerness is that queerness lives in this place of vulnerability and honesty. It’s not always safe to be vulnerable, but you choose it anyway because it’s true and it’s right. And to me, I don’t know what holiness is if it’s not honest. You know, so I think for me that would be like sort of the more thought out version is number one, of course you can be queer and Christian. It’s probably the holiest thing you can do, because it’s the most honest thing you could do. You’re telling the truth about who you are. 

Jared: Yeah, I mean, that’s one of those things that I think I’ve learned from my queer friends. That vulnerability and honesty in some ways, a lot of my queer friends ended up not having a choice. It was like forced vulnerability and honesty at kind of a young age. And so they got really good at it and they knew the other side of it, of what it means to hide deep parts of ourselves from the people that we love the most, that we want to be cared for by the most. And then to have that forced vulnerability and honesty and then to have to live a part of you that is vulnerable and is something that maybe you earlier in your life had wanted to hide, but now you can’t.

And there’s just such strength and honesty and vulnerability in that, that I find it inspiring and look up to and respect because there’s probably still parts of me that I am like, Oh, if that were to be revealed it would be devastating. And then it might be actually a really beautiful thing that I come to own and to kind of see that transformation in people. So I just, you saying those two words made me think going back to our previous conversation. Those are two things that I feel like I’ve learned that I wouldn’t have learned without these folks in my life.

Tamice Spencer-Helms: Absolutely. I’m serious. And I mean, we’re thinking about how Easter and Trans Visibility [Day] fell on the same day and how we could have gathered that from that coincidence. You know, the scars are actually beautiful. And they speak to life after death, you know, and I think queer people are such a beautiful picture of the things that we loved about our tradition in the first place.

[Ad break]

Jared: There’s those who are struggling to acknowledge their own experience. People who may not be queer, but a lot of our listeners have similar experiences of, well, you can’t believe in evolution and be a Christian. You can’t doubt the inerrancy of the Bible and be a Christian. And they have trouble doing what you said you would do in the short term, which is say, “I’m right here. What do you mean? Are you questioning my experience?” Yes, they are questioning our experience and we’ve been taught to buckle under the pressure of that and say, you know You must be right. I guess maybe my experience is wrong. I can’t trust my experience, my heart is desperately wicked above all things, right? 

So, for those who are struggling to acknowledge their own experience, to be grounded and confident in that, what’s helped you to be grounded, to be confident that you’re headed in the right direction? What’s helped you to say, I’m right here?

Tamice Spencer-Helms: Such a great question, Jared. You know, honestly, I think it is because I did white evangelicalism with all my heart, and I know that I did. I also know that I fell in love with God, and I know what it felt like, and I know what God’s voice sounded like. And so when the pursuit of God, I kind of think of it like a twin sheet on a king size mattress. The pursuit of God in this frame was not big enough to contain life in reality. And so either I could pretend that the bed is not king size, or I could just try to figure something else out. And I would say that to people. You have done this, right? And Jesus speaks to us in terms of fruit, because it’s the kindest way to give us our intuition back.

Because when you bite a rotten piece of fruit, you know very quickly whether or not it is ripe or not. And when Jesus tells us how we should discern or gauge good and evil or light and darkness, what he uses is fruit. Because anybody—you could be two years old and 82 years old and know if an apple is rotten. And that is so kind of Jesus, because what it does is it gives you agency and it allows you to listen to your intuition when it comes to making decisions about God, about life, about right and wrong and about light and darkness and about good and evil.

And I think in that way, people should begin to think about, you know, the fact that Jesus gives you that permission is a gift. Because now I’m thinking about all these cult documentaries that are coming out and these sort of teen industry documentaries that are coming out and every single gimmick that has ever worked, worked because they convinced us that they had something we needed that we did not already possess, and that we could not trust ourselves. And if you can convince somebody of that, you can do anything. You can control them. And I think it’s time to really ask ourselves, what have we gained from this? And what does the fruit taste like? What does the fruit look like? 

Look at the landscape of the application of the ways you’ve been thinking about Jesus, or been taught to think about Jesus. Look at the fruit of these ways of theologizing. Just look around. And Jesus is saying, look at this fruit and you tell me if it’s ripe or rotten. And if you bite a rotten apple and you tell me it’s ripe, that says more about you than it does about me. Because it’s obvious. No one’s gonna fault you, it’s not a moral thing. It’s a ripeness thing. 

And I feel like that’s what people have to begin to think through. I mean, we just, we cannot abdicate our agency. We cannot outsource intuition anymore. God gave it to us. God gave it to us for a reason. And we mix that with our lived experience and we do it in community and we put ourselves in the position to be resourced by other people’s stories and perspectives. But at the end of the day, I get to do this faith. It needs to involve me, all of me, and who I actually truly am. Otherwise, you know, what are we doing? I don’t know what we’re doing at that point. And I get really passionate about it because it’s harmful. This type of thinking can be really harmful for people.

And I’m a parent, and I would never want to watch my kid experience life that way. And if we’re saying that God is a parent, if Jesus is saying that God is a parent, then we’ve got some questions we need to start asking, because we would never do that to our children. 

Jared: I mean, I think that’s very critical for people who have been taught to abdicate their agency, who—that’s been explicitly the theological framework that they have spent years and decades in. Abdicate your agency. “You are not your own. You were bought with a price.” It’s like baked into the phrases that we use and we sing that we hear from the pulpit. So I think it’s really, really helpful. So as we wrap up, is there anything else that you feel like would be helpful for people who are coming out of maybe a high control environment where they have abdicated their agency?

What would you say to those folks as we end our time here? 

Tamice Spencer-Helms: Sure. I was just thinking as you were talking, just thinking of how much free labor and trauma and pain has come from beliefs like this and the ripple effects of these types of beliefs. And we’ve got people leaving in droves and dealing with the impact of what these beliefs got them to do, and I just I’m holding those folks and asking for real time. I think these folks—you really need time to go deep in thinking about religious trauma, thinking about therapy, thinking about what it means to be in community with people who are doing embodied ways of thinking about God. Because there’s so much repair that has to take place.

I also kind of want to give like a shout out to people, because it’s hard to leave spaces like this. Because your identity is wrapped up in it, your paycheck is wrapped up in it, your social status, your social life, sometimes neighborhoods, even the city you might live in, it’s all wrapped up in this. It is a very difficult thing to walk away from. And I think people should feel a sense of, if nothing else, just give yourself that one pat on the back, right? Like you left, you got out, you finally said yes to your intuition. You finally let that thing that was like, this is something that’s just not right.

You finally listened to that thing. And it will come with the process. And a years long process of figuring out what to do now, but I do think, again, I’m so grateful for my tradition, I, I do think that it is possible to say that God is faithful on this side of it. I’ve experienced it. I know, I mean, I listened to this podcast. I mean, so many people have found resourcing from God after evangelicalism or toxic ways of thinking about God. They really have. 

Jared: Well, thank you so much for jumping on and having this conversation, for sharing your story and sharing your wisdom. Really appreciate it. 

Tamice Spencer-Helms: Yeah. Thank you for having me. 

[Music signals start of Quiet Time segment]

Jared: And now for Quiet Time…

Pete: …With Pete and Jared. All right, Jared, so Tamice talks about holding on to the story of God in someone else’s life, in terms of learning about God from the margins when we are navigating our own faith journeys. So, have you learned about this from anyone about being on the margins and things like this? How did you become aware of this? 

Jared: I mean, certainly in previous years, a long time ago, but I think that’s, a lot of that’s clouded by this podcast. I mean, we’ve been introduced to so many scholars and writers, you know, I’m thinking of a couple of folks early on, though, more from a scholarly standpoint. Two stuck out just immediately, which was Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, who’s a, you know, classical feminist scholar, and then Phyllis Trible as well, to bring up, you know, what it feels like to be feminine or a woman in these spaces. So that was, that was early on, kind of the OGs in, in my mind in a lot of ways. 

Pete: Yeah, how long ago was that? Seminary?

Jared: Uh, for me, it would have been seminary, but they were writing in what, the 70s, early 80s. So there, I just, I kind of get a shout out to them doing this work for a really long time. But then, you know, I was thinking of, uh, Miguel de la Torres, you know, Angela Parker and her experiences, uh, and her writing. So that would be, that would be kind of the list for me. But I, again, if, if this is something you’re interested in learning as a listener, I think going back through and listening to some of the episodes and then following up on the writings of some of the folks we’ve had on the podcast. But what about you?

Pete: Yeah, for me, actually, uh, one thing I was gonna say was some of our guests is one of the things about doing this every week is there are very few people we’ve had on who are quite like us, you know what I mean? In terms of the background, everything. So in a way, we learned from everybody. But I’ve learned personally a lot from people here on the podcast who aren’t white. I mean, to be blunt, and aren’t men, you know, I just, you listen and you say, okay, I never thought of it that way before. And that’s tremendous. And for me, you know, it’s not so much, I mean, if I thought about it, you know, I would be able to pick on some authors or speakers or, or that sort of thing, but for me, it’s really been people that I’ve met. And starting in graduate school is when that really started, you know, I was not a majority person in my department and then teaching. And even, you know, I say even teaching at Westminster Seminary, for example, we had a lot of students from the two thirds world. We had students from South Korea and these were new cultures to me and it made me slowly, but surely, I began to see things that I was already learning in graduate school would come home to me.

It’s like, I really do have a limited gaze and just being open to that. And, and it took time. You know, and, and that really leads into another point here that we could talk about is, let me ask you this, like, what do you think helps people get beyond, you know, binary thinking? 

Jared: Well, and this is tied for you, I’m guessing the connection is that these people that you interacted with helped you also get past this binary thinking.

Pete: Yeah. 

Jared: These interactions with people. 

Pete: Or, I mean, even just, you know, maybe a bigger category than binary thinking is, you know, seeing almost, I hate to put it this way, but almost like, and I have to confess this, this is years ago, but thinking implicitly about like, almost like a tier, you know, it’s, it’s not binary so much. It’s, it’s whose voices are important. And I’ve told this story, I don’t know if I’ve told this story ever on the podcast, but at Westminster teaching, uh, after teaching something, I think it was about Abraham, students came up after class, and uh, some were from South Korea, some were from Africa. 

And they asked me, Kenya specifically, and they asked me, help us understand how the story of Abraham might help us understand and deal with things like ancestor worship. And my inner thought was, um, and I didn’t say this, but my inner thought was “keep those questions to yourself. This has nothing to do with the text.” Right? And you know, it was, it took, it took me quite a while to understand—Goodness gracious, we all come to the text with questions the text isn’t addressing. So why should I privilege my irrelevant questions, you know, over anybody else’s, you know? [Jared laughing] And, but then again, that then it makes it in a sense, all relevant. I mean, this is people of faith or approaching this text. 

So it was there too, it was experiences that I had, and that’s the best way to get through to me actually. It’s by meeting people. It’s not so much. This book changed me, although that has happened, but mainly it’s just, just being in contact with other human beings. 

Jared: And that ties to the, you know, the question, because Tamice and I spoke about kind of binary thinking and how do we move past this. And there’s something, too, about the safety and security of an either/or and a black & white. Because you can have control when there’s only two options. I can put my arms around two options. And those two options, one of which is right, and one of which is wrong. And so, to get comfortable with uncertainty and not knowing, I think is an important part of moving past binary thinking, because it’s so easy to feed the need of certainty, security.

Pete: But how do you move beyond that? 

Jared: Well, I think, first of all, this is a deep, a deep question because I’ve done a lot of thinking about it. And we’re not going to have time to dive into this, but I think it’s beyond cognition. I don’t think it’s theoretical. I think it’s emotional. I think it’s psychological. I think it’s spiritual. I think what we say when we talk about binary thinking, it’s too simplistic to say, well, if you just learned more about diversity, that “learn” word, like it’s, it’s all in your head. No, it’s an experiential understanding. Like for you, it is rubbing shoulders with, and being in relationship with a diverse group of people that opened your eyes to, it’s not either this or that.

There is a diversity here. And for other people, it may be going to therapy and realizing why you have this deep need for security and certainty and how it’s not serving you anymore. And you, you loosen your grip on life. And you’ve, you come to realize that the, that people can be trusted and that it’s not all about protecting myself.

And that could be opening your eyes to a different way than this binary thinking. So I think everybody comes at it from their own, their own angle. And so the remedy is also going to be diverse. But again, for me, diversity was a huge help in that, being able to value diversity for what it brings helped me to kind of loosen my grip on this “It has to be this way or that way.”

Pete: For some reason, what’s coming to mind here is that song from the musical, South Pacific. You have to be carefully taught, right? You have to be carefully taught how to hate people, right? You have to be cultivated from childhood because children don’t do this naturally, right? It’s what they’re taught. And it’s in a sense, a process of unlearning. And I mean, the collective wisdom is generally speaking, you hang out with people right and you start seeing them differently and and you know my life has had many experiences like that I’m sure yours has too. And and we could even think of examples in the Bible like the Israelites in Babylonian exile, they sort of liked it there. They got to know their neighbors and they didn’t come back. Only some people came back, you know, to repopulate Judea. 

And many stayed back there because you know, the, the enemy wound up being maybe not so, maybe not so much. You know, and I’ve had that experience in graduate school where, I mean, I didn’t hate anybody, but it was like, I looked at people like, well, they don’t think quite the way I do. And I never did. This was never conscious. See, that’s the problem was never conscious. It was deep down. And I began noticing that I’m not the majority here, and these people, I should never expect them to think about things the way I do, you know, and, and these are people from many different walks of life, different nationalities, and—so for me, it takes stuff like that for me to really get it kick started.

Rarely does it happen by reading a book. Sometimes it does, but it always happens when I’m in contact with other people. 

Jared: Right. Okay, well that, you know, thinking of maybe unhelpful things that we inherited from our past as children. 

Pete: Yes, okay. [Chuckling]

Jared: You know, Tamice and I spoke about this idea of we cannot abdicate our agency. And Tamice was very passionate about this and it got me fired up as well. And I connected that with this idea of you can’t, you’re not your own. You were bought with a price, right? It’s a New Testament phrase. Did you grow up with this idea? Because it’s nice now, you know, as we know over the years, I was super evangelical. And you, not as much. Did you grow up in the broader Christian tradition with this idea that you can’t trust yourself, and how did you navigate that if you did? 

Pete: No, thankfully I didn’t have that as part of my youth. You know, I was Lutheran for a few years growing up, and they’re Lutherans, you know, they don’t do stuff like this. Um, at least I don’t think they do, at least these Lutherans didn’t, but that came more later on in my connection with more recognizable evangelical and fundamentalist communities where that’s—that became very, very clear to me. So I never really had to deal with that, but I will say that I think that message bore into my head, into my heart.

Jared: So it did impact you. 

Pete: It absolutely did impact me. And it’s sort of like that starting point for theological discussion. “It’s just the Bible and theology, but you can’t bring your own experiences or emotions into it.” And I reject that completely now, and I have for many years, because what are we if we’re not our experiences and our emotions and our thinking and everything else?

Yeah, so I, that “don’t trust yourself because, you know, you’re bought with a price and just, just be thankful and shut up.” And, yeah, but I have doubts. No, you don’t. You know, you don’t own, and to trust your own agency and—

Jared: Or no, the other way around. You do have doubts. That’s why you can’t trust yourself. You can’t trust that part of you. Just shut that down. Oh, you have doubts. Yeah, exactly. That’s what the flesh does. The flesh has doubts. That’s why you can’t live in the flesh. You got to live in the spirit. Well, what’s that? I don’t know. It’s this other thing that’s not you. 

Pete: And you better get it real fast, right? But Tamice used the word, you know, we can’t abdicate our agency. And for me, that means something probably different than it means for Tamice, right? Very differently for me, I look at that and I say, it was that word agency that a few years ago helped me understand why I was never comfortable going to church. And I shouldn’t have these problems, but I do. And the problem is I can’t be myself. I can’t actually say what I think, you know? And that’s not the case. It hasn’t been the case for several years because Episcopalians took me in and fed me and bathed me and all that kind of stuff. But, but as it’s nice, you know, but, but for Tamice, you know, the agency issue is of, these are voices that are silenced, right? Historically silenced, right? So, to tell someone like Tamice, you can’t exercise personal agency, that is a devastating thing to hear, more so than it might be for me. 

Jared: Well, and it is historically traumatic. 

Pete: Yes. Traumatizing, and it holds on for generations, too, right? So, um, I think it’s a dangerous thing to tell people who you are as a person is irrelevant to God.

It isn’t, it’s not irrelevant to other people. It’s ourselves. It’s our, it’s us, you know, so, and to, and to hear each other out and to, to love each other. And you know, not to silence them with pseudo theological nonsense about how you can’t—you’re a sinner, so your intuitions mean nothing. Except everybody else’s intuitions, I create these theological systems, and that’s the problem, right? All they’re doing is listening to the Bible. How do you know you’re sinful? How do you know you’re actually doing what the Bible says? How do you know that? 

Jared: Mm hmm. 

Pete: See, everybody else has the problem except for those people who run the show. Okay, I’m getting really angry right now. And that’s not the point.

I can see it. This is very unquiet, disquieted time today. That’s right. Disquiet time. 

Jared: That’s great, disquiet time. Yeah. Anyway.  Alright, excellent. 

[Outro music plays]

Jared: Well, thanks to everyone who supports the show. If you want to support what we do, there are three ways you can do it. One. If you just wanna give a little money, go to

Pete: And if you wanna support us and want a community, classes, and other great resources, go to

Jared: And lastly, it always goes a long way. If you just wanted to rate the podcast, leave a review, and tell others about our show. In addition, you can let us know what you thought about the episode by emailing us at

Outro: You’ve just made it through another episode of Faith for Normal People! Don’t forget you can catch our other show, The Bible for Normal People, in the same feed wherever you get your podcasts. This episode was brought to you by the Bible for Normal People team: Brittany Hodge, Stephen Henning, Wesley Duckworth, Savannah Locke, Tessa Stultz, Danny Wong, Natalie Weyand, Lauren O’Connell, Jessica Shao, and Naiomi Gonzalez.

Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.