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How Do You Tell Evangelical Relatives You No Longer Believe in God?

leaving christianity

Guest post by Gary. You can read Gary’s blog here.

Yesterday, I and my family spent the afternoon with some of my evangelical Christian relatives from a distant city whom we had not seen for quite some time. The last we had spoken I was a “gung-ho” evangelist for conservative Lutheranism, attempting to convert them to the “correct” version of Christianity. So if the subject of religion/faith came up, how was I going to tell them that I was no longer a conservative Lutheran; a conservative Christian; a Christian…period?

It would be awkward.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you might be surprised to learn that I had no interest in bringing up my deconversion from Christianity with these relatives. I usually love a good debate (argument) over religion or politics, but not with these people. Not on this subject. I knew it would hurt them. I knew that they genuinely care about me and the knowledge that I have “rejected Jesus” would be shocking and painful for them to hear.

Our visit remained off the topic of religion for several hours, but after a pause in the conversation, my cousin asked, “So how are things with your (Lutheran) church?”

There was silence. I could feel the tension in the air as both my father and my wife cringed and both thought to themselves, “Oh boy, here it comes!”

My father tried to play defense for me and said, “Gary isn’t going to church right now.”

There was an uncomfortable silence.

“It’s probably best we don’t talk about it,” I said.

But that answer left too much hanging in the air. They needed an explanation.

So I said, “I’m now an agnostic.”

There was an uncomfortable pause.

“On what basis have you made that decision?”, they politely asked with obvious disappointment in their eyes.

And from there I tried to explain why after over forty years of being a Christian I had “abandoned” Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior. I explained why I had found their evangelicalism, the religion of my childhood, so frustrating and disappointing. “It is based so much on what one feels,” I said. “In evangelical churches I was repeatedly told that if I was a true believer I would feel Jesus “move” me, “lead” me, “guide” me. I would hear an inner voice speak to me. But I never had the emotional highs that everyone else around me seemed to always be having. I never heard a voice. I became tired of the emotional roller-coaster of attempting to feel the presence of Jesus to confirm my eternal security, my salvation, and left evangelicalism.”

“That is why I loved conservative Lutheranism!” I explained. “My assurance of salvation was no longer dependent on how I felt but upon the objective act of God: his seal of salvation at my Baptism. Like Luther, I could look to my baptism as absolute proof of my salvation, not look to how I felt about my faith at the moment!

I was very happy and content as a confessional (conservative) Lutheran.

But then one day in early 2014, while surfing the internet, I came across the blog of an ex-fundamentalist Baptist pastor who had become an atheist [Bruce Gerencser]. I decided that all this man needed was to be pointed to the “correct” version of Christianity (conservative Lutheranism) and then he would abandon atheism and come back to Jesus Christ. I decided I would bring this “lost sheep” back to Jesus.

Four months later…I was an agnostic.”

“But why?” they said. “What did this man say that changed your mind?”

I then explained that this atheist ex-preacher had pointed me to the books of NT scholar Bart Ehrman. “You’ve heard of Bart Ehrman, haven’t you?” I asked.

No. They had never heard of him. (Evidence to me that they had never seriously questioned or examined the veracity of their belief system.)

“Well, Bart Ehrman is a former evangelical turned agnostic NT scholar who has written several books on the New Testament. For instance, in reading his books, I found out that the existing manuscripts of the Bible contain many scribal alterations and additions. We as evangelicals have been taught that God preserved his Word. How is it then possible that God allowed his Word, the Bible which we have on our night stands, to contain passages that the original authors never wrote?”

“That is not true! You need to read _________ and __________ (evangelical) NT scholars and they will give you the correct information!” they said. “You shouldn’t just accept the word of a few skeptical scholars.”

“But I have read the books of Christian scholars. I read the entire 800 plus page book of NT Wright on the Resurrection. I have read both sides and bottom line the evidence for the pivotal claims of evangelical and conservative Christianity, the inerrancy of the Bible and the historicity of the Resurrection, are based on false assumptions and little if any real evidence.”

“I think the problem is that Lutheranism didn’t teach you correctly about salvation…” interrupted my cousin.

“But I became a Christian when I was still a Baptist/evangelical. I believed in Jesus as my Lord and Savior and asked him to be the Lord of my life prior to being baptized. I was born again. But, now I no longer believe.”

“Then you never truly believed,” responded another cousin. “It is impossible to be saved and then not believe. You were either never saved to begin with or one day before you die, you will return to the Faith.”

“But I really did, sincerely and with all my heart, believe in Jesus as my Lord and Savior, repented of all my sins, and called on Him to be the Lord of my life!” I protested.

“No. You obviously didn’t really believe,” they agreed.

How do you prove to someone else that you really believed something? It’s impossible. (I was back to my original issue with evangelicalism: The act of salvation is internal and subjective.)

And how could I present to them all the evidence against the veracity of the supernatural claims of Christianity that I had learned over the last two years in one brief conversation? I couldn’t. So we agreed to not talk about it further. We agreed to go back to “pleasantries”. But the mood had changed. They told me that they loved me and that they would be praying for me. I told them that I loved them and that I very much appreciated their concerns.

Shortly thereafter, we said our goodbyes and parted ways.

Originally posted on Escaping Christian Fundamentalism

9 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Becky Wiren

    Great post. I think I remember when you first came to Bruce’s blog. You know, I’m not really an agnostic, and I still pray. But I’m trying to live my life based on fact and reason.

    You know, I posted something about the Bible not being inerrant on a FB blog (HuffPost I think). Well…Facebook featured that post and my comment, and my aunt, a lovely conservative Christian, read it and grew quite alarmed. I imagine she’s still praying for me. I would never have wanted her to see that. So I get a little how you feel.

  2. Avatar
    Geoff

    This old and recurring chestnut about if you were ‘truly’ saved than you couldn’t now be an agnostic/atheist needs addressing. Bruce often tells of evangelicals saying he never was really a believer, because he couldn’t now be an atheist.

    We here, mainly atheists, agnostics, and reasonable believers, understand that this is the nature of life, the way it really works. We can believe something firmly at one time, and then just as firmly, possibly more so, come to realise that the opposite is true. I did it with conspiracy theories. When I was young I came to believe every conspiracy theory there was. Then, as I became older and wiser, I learnt that any secret involving more than two people remains a secret only for a short time. So why can’t one change one’s mind about religious belief?

    The trouble is that those who claim this about never truly being saved haven’t yet realised that their beliefs may not be true, and perhaps they never will. Bruce, in his day, probably said it of those who left the fold ‘they never truly believed’. There are those who are saying it now, perhaps even Gary’s relations, who will one day renounce their faith and then, themselves, be labelled as never having truly believed. Yet at the time their commitment seems just as real as any believer, anywhere, ever.

    I suppose it’s a sort of defence mechanism, a denial of the possibility that what they believe might be untrue. If someone they know and respect, and who has always been a firm believer, suddenly ceases to believe, then it’s easier to label them as ‘never having truly been saved’, than to allow even the slightest doubt to enter their own lives.

  3. Avatar
    Zoe

    I remember Gary. 🙂 I’ve had similar conversations and you’re correct, it’s impossible. Even when we say we’ve studied extensively people will say you studied the wrong stuff. After being told I should read this and that book I respond, “I did.” It’s difficult to tell people that before you left the belief you tried to keep it and one of the ways was to read a kazillion books hoping to hold on. You gave them much food for thought but that mood change will probably be permanent. Life is just never the same again when we change our minds. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Avatar
    Gary

    Hi Everyone!

    FYI for those who don’t remember me: The “former fundamentalist Baptist preacher turned atheist” in my post was none other than Bruce Gerencser.

    It’s funny. My evangelical family blames my deconversion on Lutheranism. My Lutheran friends and former pastor blame it on evangelicalism/fundamentalism. Catholics I’ve talked to online blame it on Protestantism and “sola scriptura”. No one ever wants to admit that it is CHRISTIANITY itself that was the cause of my deconversion.

    After looking at my belief system with an open mind, I realized that Christianity itself is a fairy tale. Fairy tales are not real. Virgins are never impregnated by ghosts, even if they are “holy” ghosts. Beings do not walk on water. Three day brain-dead beings do not walk out of their graves, eat broiled fish sandwiches, and later fly off into outer space.

    THAT is why I abandoned my faith.

  5. Avatar
    B

    People in the throes of nearly orgasmic love of Jeesus do not want to entertain a blip of thought that what they have been told is an utter fabrication. They put the burden of proof on the non-believer, never on themselves, their church leaders, or their deity.

  6. Avatar
    Randy

    Hey Gary, I’m sorry for your experience. “We’ll pray for you,” is a passive-aggressive Christian way of saying, “Screw you, we’re right, you’re wrong and you’re going to burn in hell forever while we are chilling in heaven.” I know because I’m still in the believer camp (Geoff used the term “reasonable believer” above which seems to fit). I love Ehrman’s books. I’ve read most of them with my favorite probably being Misquoting Jesus or Forged. I’m not going to claim to completely agree with all that Ehrman has written but he has taught me to look at Scripture differently and helped me become a better critical thinker – a skill decidedly lacking in Evangelicalism.

    Most Christians have never read anything outside the sphere of Christian authors on the subject of the Bible. That creates an extremely skewed view of their faith. The best apologetic most can offer up for the veracity of Scripture is “it’s true because it says it’s true.” However the same believers will reject the same circular logic from other religions.

    Some of the things that have caused me to ask the most questions are seminary classes where I see poor arguments for many pillars of Christian theology. I’ve come to a place where I am comfortable and at peace with my faith despite some questions, but I’ve vowed to never again be a self-righteous zealot that looks down my nose at people who believe differently than me.

    • Avatar
      Gary

      I like your attitude.

      Yes, my evangelical relatives vehemently shook their heads when I raised any doubts as to the claims of Christianity. It is amazing how they, like many Christians I encounter on the internet, are so certain of the veracity of Christianity but have never critically evaluated its claims. I would encourage all Christians to evaluate these issues:

      1. What evidence is there that the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses?
      2. What evidence is there that any of the original disciples were martyred for refusing to recant seeing the resurrected body of Jesus?
      3. What evidence is there that any book in the New Testament is the “Word of God”?
      4. Why doesn’t Paul ever mention Arimathea’s empty rock tomb? Is it possible that the author of Mark, the first gospel written, made up this detail?
      5. How can we trust our Bibles as the Word of God when the Bible contains so many scribe alterations and additions?

      And that is just to start.

      By the way, I have no issue with liberal Christianity. But “liberal Christianity” to me is universalist.

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