The One About Me

I wrote this as if I were going to post it on my public blog.  Who knows, maybe some day.

I’ve been meaning to write this one for a while now.  A long while.  Part of me wanted to wait until I found out where I was going to land, but I’m starting to realize that the only time you land is when you stop growing.  So I might as well write it now.

I am not a Christian.

Unfortunately even that needs to be clarified, lest you think I mean it in a quasi-spiritual Carl Medearis sort of way.  It’s not that I don’t identify as a Christian or that I’m embarrassed by Christian culture or that I want to distance myself from the not-nearly-as-awesome-as-me-Christians.  I am not a Christian by anyone’s definition.

The hows and whys and whens and whats are subtle and complicated and I’d love to talk about them, if anyone wants.  If you know me you know how much I love talking about the big things.  I’m open and approachable.  I expect a lot of emails from this confession and I look forward to them.  The best way to make progress in understanding the universe is to talk with others who are also trying to understand it.

This is a pretty big deal, I know.  I’ve been a preacher since I was sixteen.  I spent almost four years at an evangelical Bible college.  I’ve handed out gospel tracts downtown, preached on the street corners, went to ________ to tell the Muslims about Jesus, spoken at missionary gatherings.  I know exactly how big this deal is.  It’s so big it terrifies me.  But I had to remember an awesome conversation I had with a Christian friend back at _______.

We were talking about competing religions and, in a moment of surprising clarity, we started asking ourselves, “If Islam were somehow proven absolutely true, would we be willing to uproot ourselves and convert?”  Neither of us were thinking that Islam was true, of course; moving from Christianity to Islam seems like a step in the wrong direction.  But the heart of the question was profound.  If I were firmly convinced that the system I have known and embraced all my life was wrong, would I have the courage and the consistent commitment to truth to walk out?  It turns out, I do.

There are a few things that I’d like to clarify.  Assumptions you might have that I’d like to engage.

First, my descent (ascent? /snarkyvoice) towards unbelief has nothing to do with my past interest in a more ecumenical Christianity.  A few years ago I had some heated public and private discussions about the emergent church, red-letter Christianity and stuff like that.  Tony Campolo and Brian McLaren had no influence on my loss of faith.  If anything did, it was the anger I noticed against them from the evangelical community.  And even that probably didn’t influence me much.  Trust me, I was there.

Second, my beliefs about science and evolution have not pulled me from Christianity.  I was an evolutionist before I became a Christian.  I threw it away when the church told me I couldn’t keep it and Jesus.  That has always been a difficult thing for me.  If anything, again, it was not evolution but the church’s anger towards it that influenced me.  And, again, even that probably didn’t influence me much.  Trust me, I was there.

Third, my wife is still a Christian.  Don’t worry about her.  I’m not trying to covert her and she’s not trying to convert me.  And (here’s the most important part) we are in no conflict over this issue whatsoever.  Don’t assume I’m leading her astray or that she feels trapped and isolated.  Drop her a line if you’re concerned and find out for yourself.

Fourth, I love you.  I always did and I always will.  In fact, my love is stronger now than it has even been.  I don’t claim that my love is stronger because I’ve left Christianity.  But it definitely is stronger.  I have no desire at all to ruin relationships over my de-conversion.

Fifth, my kids are fine.  When they ask my wife questions about God, I don’t butt in and my wife doesn’t indoctrinate them.  Despite being the kids of an unbeliever, they pray more than I did at that age!

Sixth, I am not betraying anyone.  A person can only do what their mind deems right.  For all the talk about relying on God instead of on yourself, it’s your own mind that always has the final say.  Even if your mind has decided not to trust itself, that’s still your mind’s decision.  And as sad as this news will probably make many of you, I don’t owe anyone anything.  Unless God is actually real.  Then I’m kinda screwed.

Seventh, despite that last joke, I do understand how serious this is.  Better than most, really.  Because I was one of those rare people gripped with a realization of the gravity of damnation and salvation.  I literally crossed over land and sea to save souls from hell.  I risked my freedom to preach the gospel in a country where proselytizing is illegal.  I know the seriousness.  In the conversations I bet we’ll be having, I ask you to forgive my jokes and quips.  I use them because I’ve always used them.

Eighth, please do not deduce what has brought me here and spread it around as a warning to others on a slippery slope.  Unless you start a conversation with me first and I actually tell you.  The things that have been going on in my head these last five years are not always reflected in the things I’ve talked and posted about.

Ninth, I am grateful for my time in evangelicalism.  I learned a lot.  I learned how important the big questions are.  I learned to read things thoughtfully and critically.  I learned to speak well in public.  I learned the joys of working with others against great odds for a common, awesome goal.  I learned all those things from the Church.  Thanks, Church.

Tenth, I am grateful to Jesus.  Jesus taught me what real love is.  Others have shown me great insights into love and awesome living, but Jesus taught me first and, still, I think he taught me best.  Because he said things like ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ and ‘turn the other cheek.’  Sure, I had beef with teachers who took those awesomely simple words and turned them into something else, but the core message of Jesus is just about as awesome as you can get.  And to top it all off, he died proving it.  No greater love.  No greater love.

Finally, I am sorry that you’re finding out like this.  I am in the fortunate position of having lots and lots of close friends who deserve a visit or a phone call or at least an email notification about this instead of an impersonal blog post.  This is how I had to do it, though.  Because I’m weak and scared.

I’m out of Christianity, but that does not mean I want to say good-bye.  The friendships I’ve created at church, at _______, at Bible Camp, those are real.  The love I have for all you, my beautiful friends, is stronger than the binds of religion.  And I mean that for all of you.  Even if we haven’t been in contact for years.  You know me.  You know how much I love people.  If you feel the need to pull away from me over this, I understand and I don’t hold it against you at all.  But I won’t pull away from you.

Drop me a line.  I’d love to talk.  And if you’re ever in ________ and want to have a really awesome conversation, I’m always available.  There’s nothing I love more than people.

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Coming out of the Closet

One day I’m going to have to let everyone know I’m not a Christian anymore.  it’s not healthy to go through life lying to people who care.  So I drafted a letter than might show up on my real blog someday.  I’ll post it here first, maybe some of you have some feedback or will at least find it interesting:

Journey

For most of my life I have been keenly interested in matters of the spirit.  I’ve often told people that I can understand someone not believing in God, but I can’t understand someone who doesn’t care.  I was raised evangelical, strayed from it for a brief time, then returned with a passion.  I went to an evangelical Bible College—which I still consider one of the greatest experiences of my life.  I was a preacher.  I was a street evangelist.  I was a missionary to Pakistan.  I made a bit of a name for myself in my own little circles.

Today, I am not a Christian.

I do not believe in heaven or hell.  I do not believe in a cosmic lawgiver who sends people to either one.  I do not believe the Bible is a revelation from God any more than any other book is.

I do not believe in a personal God.

I don’t know if this will come as a shock or not.  A year or two ago many of my friends started emailing me with concerns about some of the things I had been saying online.  I had been encouraging Christians to social action and quoting Christian leaders who, I didn’t realize at first, were the wrong kind of Christian leaders.  I was still an evangelical back then.

The online push back was so strong that I decided it was best to keep my journey to myself.  So while I stopped trying to stir things up on Facebook, I still searched and grew, and eventually I found myself in a place where I had to admit there was nothing left to allow to keep the name Christian.  So while this all may seem sudden, it’s really not.  I haven’t been a Christian for a long time.

Most of my friends will be concerned about this.  Five years ago I would have been more than concerned if any of my friends posted something like this.  And I’m not going to try to talk you out of your concern.  Of course you would be concerned.  From an evangelical point of view, I am straying from the right path.  From that point of view I am denying the Lord who bought be and am now either a backsliding Christian or someone who was never truly part of the faith to begin with, depending on how you view the Gospel.

But I do want to give out something as a reassurance.  And this is not an attack.  It’s just my story.

I’m happy.  All the time.  Oh God, I’m so incredibly happy.  I would describe it as having rivers of living water flowing from within me.  Ever since I started stepping away.

Since leaving Christianity my heart has exploded with free, unconditional love to everyone I met.  I rejoice during good times and bad.  I have the thing that I used to tell others they would get if they became Christian.  That thing I had preached about, but never experienced myself.  That thing I had worked so hard and prayed so long and abided in Christ so much for.  So please don’t think I’m in a difficult crisis or I’m trying to ‘figure things out.’  I love the road I’m on.

I know I’ll get lots of responses from this.  And I won’t try to convince anyone not to question me.  I’d love dialogue, in fact.  I just ask that you all remember where I have come from.  I have watched others slip away from the faith and I remember what I used to say about them.  The Bible verse I used to quote about them.  Lean not on your own understanding.  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no god.’  And I know how horrible it sounds to hear me say that I have chosen to rely on myself rather than God.  I understand that point of view completely because it was my point of view.  And I held more passionately than most.

I hope that you can understand me, too.  And if you cannot, please drop me a line.  I still hold to what I used to say: I can understand a person who believes or doesn’t believe in a God.  But I can’t understand someone who doesn’t care.  I still care about spiritual things more than I care about anything else.  That part of me will probably never change.  I look forward to a lot of great conversations about this.

To everyone who is working through doubt, I have a few things to say, too.

First, don’t worry.  Truth is more important than whatever social pressures you have.  Be free to trust your reason and your spirit.  Be wary of anyone who tells you not to trust your reason.  Remember, if the things you were taught are true, there will be good reasons to believe them.  If there are no good reasons to believe in a thing, you can either use some arbitrary faith to believe it anyway, or you can let it go and search.

Second, don’t judge people who push back against you.  It’s not persecution to face opposition.  Hopefully anyone who is trying to keep you on the orthodox path is doing it because they care about you.  Don’t fight them.  Don’t hate them.  But don’t submit to them if your conscience and reason won’t let you.

Third, remember the world is huge.  The things you grew up with are not the only ideas out there.  The universe is so huge and complex that there are countless metaphor to describe it.  Yours isn’t that special, really.  Oh, they’re all special.  They all have wonderful ideas.  The self-giving sacrifice and undeserved grace in Christianity.  The complex and infinite godhead of Hinduism.  The subtle mind-science of Buddhism.  They are all unique.  They all have value. Staying in the one you were raised is not a bad thing.  Neither is leaving it.  Whatever serves your mind and soul best.

Fourth, remember it’s all a journey.  I’m in a certain place right now—a place I can’t even define because by the time I get the guts to post this, I may be somewhere else.  Your mind will change as you grow.  If it doesn’t, you should worry.  Because there is something terrifyingly and blindly arrogant about being young and already understanding the cosmos.

Fifth, you are not a coward.  I was reading a book by a famous evangelical pastor about issues of hell and the emergent church.  He suggested that Christians who believe there is no hell are cowards and spineless (his words).  Frankly, that’s a dishonest attempt to scare people into orthodoxy.  There is nothing cowardly about leaving the system you were raised in.  It’s terrifying.  I should now.  It took me six months to post this stupid letter.

Well, that’s it.  That’s what I wanted to say—what I’ve wanted to say for a long time.  I desperately hope I don’t lose friends over it, and deep down I’m confident that the true friendships I’ve made with so many awesome evangelicals will hold without being shaken.  Because real love and friendship is stronger than confessions.

I look forward to hearing from you.