In-laws can be an ongoing source of tension in extended families that haven’t established or don’t respect appropriate boundaries. The good news is that this doesn’t have to be the case. With a few adjustments religious differences do not have to be the focal point of your get-togethers.
Make Sure You’re on the Same Page as Your Spouse.
Each spouse should be responsible for communicating potentially tricky messages to their own family of origin so that the person who married into the family isn’t seen as an interloper. You two are a team and nothing should separate you under these circumstances.
Also consider picking code words or non-verbal signals ahead of time that will let your spouse know that:
– You’re ready to leave.
– You’re ok.
– They need to step in.
Visit on Neutral Territory.
By that I mean spend time at a park or restaurant instead of at your extended family member’s house whenever possible. It helps to eliminate the this is my home and you’ll do things my way syndrome. Plus, spending time in public spaces reduces the likelihood that they will push the conversation into religious topics.
Keep Visits Short and Sweet.
My Fundamentalist extended family members are usually ok for a couple of hours. Any longer than that and they tend to slip back into bad habits.When in doubt it’s better to leave a little prematurely than stay too long and risk ending the visit on a sour note. You can always come back later.
Have an Itinerary.
Pose for professional family photos. Go for a walk in the park. Play a game. Show them that cute thing your kid or pet learned how to do. Eat out. Do anything other than sit quietly and stare at one another.
Visit Less Often Than They’d Like.
People who miss you are less likely to bring up potentially divisive topics (especially if they know that you’re only visiting for a few hours today and that they won’t see you again for X number of weeks/months/years).
Make a List of “Safe” Topics
…and stick to them.
I imagine that I’m actually speaking to, say, a stranger I just met on public transportation. In those cases am I going to talk about God, politics, or my sex life? Hell no!
I’m going to talk about neutral stuff like the weather or ridiculously cute animal videos on YouTube.
Choose Your Battles.
Sometimes sticking to neutral topics doesn’t work, though.
“The Bible says…”
“Come to church with me this weekend.”
“I want to teach your kids about God.”
“You’re going to hell!”
There’s nothing wrong with ignoring statements like these if your in-laws do bring them up. Not every thread in a conversation needs to be tugged on.
Remember the acronym J.A.D.E. If you don’t want to talk about something, never Justify, Argue, Defend or Explain yourself. Someone who refuses to let a topic die will never be satisfied by any reason you give for not wanting to do, say, or believe X.
It’s also a good idea to decide ahead of time what your hill to die on is and how you will respond if the in-laws go there.
Topics I haven’t covered because I don’t have kids and don’t like to debate :
How do you argue politely with Fundamentalist in-laws?
How do you raise non-religious kids when their grandparents want to convert all of you?
I want to thank Dave for sharing the letter he sent to a Christian friend. Please share your thoughts in the comment section.
You know about my dismissal from the church staff five years ago due to my “independence”. And you know that my daughters and their husbands shunned us after that happened cut us off completely. And you know that those relationships continue to be painfully torn apart. And you know that I haven’t been to church in a couple of years. Well, here’s what you may not know. Here’s the rest of the story.
The end before the beginning: I have lost my faith. I have left the faith. I no longer believe in God as embraced within Biblical Christianity. However you define it. I’m done. I have left the building.
How did I get here? Is this just my response of anger and hurt to my perceived injustice of people behaving wrongly in the name of God? Are these just my own personal offenses? No. You are free to think that if you choose, but that is not what this is. This is no knee-jerk reaction. And I did not arrive at this conclusion quickly. It was a long, arduous, painful process.
From a recent article I read:
“A common personality type is a person who is deeply emotional and thoughtful and who tends to throw themselves wholeheartedly into their endeavors. “True believers” who then lose their faith feel more anger and depression and grief than those who simply went to church on Sunday”.
Aren’t these just people who would be depressed, anxious, or obsessive anyways:
Winell: Not at all. If my observation is correct, these are people who are intense and involved and caring. They hang on to the religion longer than those who simply “walk away” because they try to make it work even when they have doubts. Sometime this is out of fear, but often it is out of devotion. These are people for whom ethics, integrity and compassion matter a great deal. I find that when they get better and rebuild their lives, they are wonderfully creative and energetic about new things.
That’s another paragraph that seems to describe my experience.
I was “all in”. I was never a pew-sitter. From my earliest beginnings in the winter of 1973/1974, I was all about serving Jesus with everything I had. I was 18.
I decided to forego college because I believed the return of Jesus was imminent and my time could be better served elsewhere. Besides, college was all about getting a job and making money and I was so not into that. So I ran coffee houses and street ministries. I spent my time trying to convert wino’s and street people instead of building a 401K. I worked at youth camps, went on mission trips. I handed out Bibles in Moscow’s Red Square and preached at public schools in Russia; helped build an orphanage in Belize.
I led worship and small groups. I served on staff at churches and preached sermons. I taught classes and Bible studies. I led prayer groups, like organizing a 24-7 prayer vigil for a deacon in our church. For three months after he was burned in an industrial accident, we believed and cried out for his healing. He left behind two young boys and a wife who herself died of cancer a few short years later. (but I digress)
I studied the Bible. For hours and hours and hours….and for years. I know it inside out. I studied Greek and Hebrew lexicons, concordances, study guides, all of it. It was the Word of God to me. It was the source of life. Even when I didn’t live up to it; still it remained true. I prayed. For people; for healing; for life. Many hours spent in prayer over 38 years. I tithed. I gave my time and money and energy and the absolute best years of my life. And I gave my children. To the Lord. Willingly. And he took them.
Now none of this is meant as a diatribe against God, the old, “look what I have done/sacrificed for you, and what have you done for me”. No. That’s not what I’m saying. All this is meant to say: This was NOT a casual thing for me. It was everything. I was always passionate about what I did and I was always all in.
So when you get knocked down what do you do? You get back up and dust off and trudge forward. Except this time, after a couple of years of trudging on, I began to ask why. Why am I trudging forward? To what? For whom? As I contemplated these questions I realized something: I had never truly examined this faith that had been everything to me for my complete adult life. I had jumped in as a slightly disoriented young man lacking direction and motivation and found a cause to attach myself to. But I had never critically examined the claims that Christianity is built upon. I just accepted them. I was told the Bible was divinely inspired and is the authoritative Word of God and is complete and total in its instructions as to how to live and for whom to live and what life is all about. I bought it. I never, not once, compared Christianity to the myriad other religions that make similar claims to exclusive authority.
I found in Christianity a place to belong and something to give myself to. That was enough for me. And, oh yeah, I got to go to heaven when I died; so there was that as well. It had everything. And I gave it everything. Until I didn’t. Until I finally laid it all out on the table and examined it. I quit making excuses for the parts of the Bible that had always troubled me. I quit looking the other way. I decided if the Bible couldn’t stand on its own under the glaring light, then I was no longer going to minimize its inconsistencies and contradictions.
I won’t go into it here about what I found. It’s too much. It’s too ugly.
Once the Bible became a common collection of letters and books (written by ordinary men) to me, the rest of the dominoes fell rather quickly. And after all those years and all that effort and all that devotion and all that worship, I was done. It was over.
I invite you to pause a moment and watch this video; or at least just listen to the song. I heard it recently. I stopped. I paused it and played it back over and over. I wept. And I wept and I wept. It captured perfectly my experience of losing my faith.
“Say something, I’m giving up on You”. That’s how I heard it. You. Jesus.
“I’ll be the one if You want me to; anywhere, I would have followed You”.
That was my cry to the Lord when I was sifting through all of this.
He didn’t. He wouldn’t. And I came to the painful conclusion…he can’t.
“I will swallow my pride; You’re the One that I love, and I’m saying goodbye”.
I’m not sure if many people understand how hard that is. To look up and say, I was wrong. For almost 40 years, for my whole adult life…I was wrong.
You might not understand, and you might not agree. I get that. But it is what it is. And no, it’s not something that will change. I’m not going to suddenly (or even gradually) believe in Jesus again. If you once believed in Santa as a child and no longer do, wouldn’t it take some remarkable evidences to cause you to believe again? You can’t make yourself believe something again just because you want to.
Trust me, after what it has cost me, if I could snap my fingers and make it happen, I would.
You may be disgusted or disappointed at my personal loss of faith. That’s OK, I understand how that may affect you. You may want to talk to me about it. I’d be glad to. You may grieve with me at my loss. I appreciate that. But please, don’t do this: don’t say something like, well it’s religion that has done this to you, and I hate religion too; I just love Jesus. No. Please no.
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.
And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.
He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
If Jesus indeed said that, we should want nothing to do with Him. Those verses sound pious and holy and simply dripping with devotion, but they are deadly in their application. (by the way, if he didn’t say those words, what are you doing? What is the Bible then, really?) Those verses sound very spiritual in terms of one’s relationship with Jesus, but until you have seen those words play out in your own family, you don’t really know what they mean. (by the way, this scripture was being quoted pertaining to me while I was still VERY much in the faith).
You can’t imagine-and I hope you never experience, the damage that this kind of thinking can cause. I have seen my family totally devastated. And I have settled into a life that is marked by a dull ache. Every now and then when I see pictures on FB, or get Christmas cards with grandchildren’s pictures, there is a sharp stab of a pain of a different kind. But mostly, it’s like a cloudy, cold day that settles on you like a wet blanket. I guess it will always be.
So no, I’m not angry at God. You can’t be upset with someone if you don’t think they exist. I’ve heard it said I am bitter. Maybe a bit toward certain people; but certainly not toward God. (again, he’s not there) I have regrets. Many regrets. I will live with them.
One last thing. This has not changed who I am at my core, I still love people and cry when I see them suffer; or when I see them treat each other with kindness; or pretty much any time. I am moved by loss and pain and grief. I enjoy life, the bits I can snag that are good. I value humanity more than I ever have. In fact, I have a heightened sense of the value of every person and no longer view them in terms of what side of the “aisle” they are on. I see folks as all the same and seek to do good as opportunity presents itself to show kindness or generosity or love. I am no less moral than I ever was.
Anyway, that’s the gist of it, If you’re getting this, I figured I owed it to you. Because you are or have been, a dear friend.
Many of the people who read this blog are survivors of the worst that the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement had to offer. (if you don’t know what an IFB church is, please read What is an IFB Church) From mental, emotional, and spiritual abuse, to being physically and sexually abused at IFB group homes, many of you know first hand how toxic and murderous the IFB church movement is.
Bob Gray Sr. is the retired pastor of Longview Baptist Temple in Longview, Texas. Gray’s son, Gray Jr. now sits on the throne of family empire. Gray Sr. is what I call a consummate bean counter. He knows right down to the soul how many people he has won to Jesus. Years ago, I calculated, based on the salvation numbers touted by Gray Sr, that every person in Longview, Texas should now be a Christian. Gray Sr. is a devoted follower of the late Jack Hyles, the adulterous pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana. Last year, the Longview Baptist Temple gave a warm welcome to David Hyles, the son of Jack Hyles, a man known for being a serial adulterer.
Gray Sr. is proud to be a general in the IFB army. He is proud of his blind allegiance to Jack Hyles. Several years ago, Gray Sr. let it be known that he was proud to be a topical preacher. Topical preaching is the style of preaching where the preacher chooses a topic to preach on and then finds Bible verses to support his chosen topic. It is proof-texting at its best and it is a style of preaching that is quite common in the IFB church.
Many IFB preachers have about 4 sermons. They have four thousand titles for those four sermons, but they only have four sermons. When a preacher preaches topically, it becomes quite easy for him to make the Bible say anything he wants it to say. As my friend Steve said, who was once a member of Longview Baptist Temple, Gray Sr’s sermons all sound the same. Sadly, this is a common problem in the IFB church movement. They have the same set of sins they preach against over, and over, and over. I am beginning to think that the people who attend IFB churches must be the worst sinners in the world. Why must their pastors spend so much time telling them what vile, wicked, sinners they are? Aren’t they getting the message? Isn’t the Holy Spirit communicating with them, reminding them of their duty to obey God? Besides, since IFB church members are expected to be at church every time the doors are open, when do they find time to sin?
Take Gray Sr’s March 2014 blog sermon. It is what I call a double barrel shotgun blast sermon. Gray hits almost every IFB hobby horse. To sum up Gray’s sermon, whatever it is, he’s against it. See for yourself:
…A pastor who was upset with my preaching said to me, “I don’t have to preach like that because what we believe can be found in our constitution and not in our church pulpit.” Well what I believe can be found in the pulpit as well as on paper. Those types of preachers are basically cowards. They are what I call silent disciples!…
…Get this! Satan has not changed one bit. There are still Pharaoh’s in this day and time that we live in! The cry still is, “Let my people go!” Satan still says to God’s people, “Worship God, but do it in Egypt! Stay in the world and worship God! Be spiritually minded on the inside and don’t worry about the outside! Live in the world, dress like the world, talk like the world, and sing like the world but don’t give the outward appearance of being fanatical. This is post-modernism, emerging church, or cultural acclimatization…
…In America today you have giant charismatic churches, emerging churches, and Rick Warren wannabes where the choir has become a “worship team” looking like the heathen world. They act like it and sing like it. The bands on their platforms are just like the world’s bands. The women wear their pants, their shorts, and their mini-skirts while the men wear earrings, necklaces and all together praise God. This world has dictated their lifestyle and not Heaven! This cultural war has invaded the local church. First with a “Contemporary” hour tacked on later is a “Traditional Service.”…
…The pharaoh’s of this world say, “Use Egypt! Avoid dogmatism, avoid division, avoid separation from the world, use Egypt’s music, have contemporary worship services, have worldly bands, and please most of all have unity.” Today’s pharaoh’s say, “It’s ok to drink in moderation.” If your talking about coca-cola that is ok! Today’s pharaoh’s say, “You’ll not have an appeal to this world if you don’t use the world to appeal to the world. Stay in Egypt while you worship God! Mark my word it will not be long until four letter vulgar words will appear in the music on church platforms….
…Born again people drinking cocktails, wearing shorts, listening to ungodly music, using religious rock, and inviting the world into church is worshipping God in Egypt. Born again people going to Hollywood movies where nudity, cursing, humans acting like animals, and the merciless senseless violence is worshipping God in Egypt. Born again people lying on the beach in the summertime in their underwear is worshipping God in Egypt…
…There was a time in our nation when your child could play little league, or soccer, or football, or basketball in the public schools, but not anymore. The cursing and the bad examples will completely engulf and create a worldly mindset that you will regret when your children become adults. Stay away from the influence that breeds compromise. We are not to get our pleasure from this world.
Your local church, your pastor, your Sunday school, your youth programs, your fellowships, your music, and your activities must remind people of Heaven not Egypt. If you don’t believe what I am writing then just look at those who attempted to be a Christian while staying in Egypt. Check out those who turned on their pastor and left the man of God’s influence. Oh, the stories of tragedies in just my 42 years of ministry. It really is sad!
Satan says to a pastor, “Ok have your beliefs just don’t go very far from the world. You don’t want to be called a fanatic. Have the old hymns and add new choruses led by a worship leader. Use some contemporary religious rock music. Keep your beliefs just don’t go very far from the world Have your traditional services, but also provide at a different time a contemporary service.” The sad truth is that those contemporary services are nothing more than a second-class amateur hour for rock music in Jesus’ name. It has turned into an American Idol contest…
…A rebel teen said to me one time in anger, “You’ve become an old man that’s out of date.” I replied, “Yes, and I’m going to continue to stay further out of date.” If being in date means using false Bibles, drinking, going to filthy movies, and acting like barn yard animals then I would just as soon stay out of date. If being in date means denying the inspiration of the old King James Bible I will stay out of date.
The same Christianity of the Bible ought to be the Christianity of every generation. Haircuts on the males are not out of date! Long hair on the females is not out of date! Dresses worn by ladies is not out of date. No dresses on the males is not out of date. God said to man of God, “Go tell Pharaoh to let my people go…
…It’s time student’s respected old age, teachers, and staff. It’s time for the godly adults to be the heroes of young people. It’s time for Lee Roberson to be more popular than Tiger Woods.
Egypt’s music is rotten. We are facing a rotten Hollywood, rotten TV programs, rotten magazines, and rotten stars have produced ruined young people. Why, they are staying in Egypt or hanging around Egypt.
These young Gadarene demoniac stars have captivated the young people especially our young ladies. Young ladies have become young females with their provocative dress or lack there of in public. It is shocking how unashamed young females are in public. Their hairstyles, music, morals, and lack of respect for themselves, let alone for any one else is destroying not only them but our nation also.
How about trading the Rolling Stones for the stone that was rolled away. Let us trade the world’s rock for God’s rock. Let us trade the singer called The Prince for Jesus the Prince of Peace. Let’s trade Elizabeth Taylor for Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist. Let’s trade Michael Jordan for Michael the archangel. Let’s trade Playboy for praying men. Let’s trade the new morality for the old morality Let’s trade the NIV for the KJB. Let’s trade situation ethics for Bible ethics. Let’s trade homosexual marriages for heterosexual marriages. Let’s trade living together before marriage for living together after marriage. Let’s trade visitation for soul winning. Let’s trade king Elvis for King Jesus..
…A world of rap and hip-hop music with filthy four letter words being sung at OUR WHITE HOUSE. We as God’s children ought to refuse to stay in Egypt, hang around Egypt, or leave our children in Egypt and refuse to leave our possessions in Egypt. Every dime you spend for ungodly movies and ungodly magazines or any other ungodly activity is in essence leaving your possessions in Egypt. I have said for years that there will be more people in Hell because of a lack of cash than for any other combination of reasons…
Aren’t you glad that ran from this kind of mind numbing, soul deadening insanity? Gray speaks of leaving Egypt. Little does he know that, for many of us, leaving Egypt meant running from the emotional, mental, and spiritual abuse that IFB preachers like Gray pass off as good, hard preaching. Gray calls it stepping on toes, I call it stepping on the self-worth and spirit of a person and grinding them into the ground.
Backsliding is very much a part of the fabric of Evangelicalism. Every Evangelical church has three types of people:
The sold out, on-fire Christian
The backslidden Christian
Most Evangelical churches have a small percentage of sold out, on-fire Christians and a smattering of unsaved people. Most Evangelicals, including pastors, are backslidden to some degree or the other.
What is a backslidden Christian? A backslidden Christian is a person who has spiritually slid backwards from where they once were in their Christian life. They have left their first love and have become a lukewarm Christian. While they might attend church on Sunday, their day-to-day life reflects that they are not as good of a Christian as they once were. Since most Evangelicals believe that once a person is saved they can never lose their salvation, they must come up with a word that describes the majority of Evangelical church members; hence the word backslider.
Every year, churches hold special meetings or revivals meant to get church members all jacked up on Mountain Dew. (Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby reference for those culturally unaware) A special meetings or a revival is called for when the church is in need of spiritual “reviving.” In come special speakers and evangelists, specialists in breathing life into backslidden church members. These specialists preach sermons meant to convict backsliders of their backsliddeness and sure enough the backsliders realize the error of their way and stream down to the altar and get right with God or make some other sort of confession that they have been a real bad boy and they promise to never, ever be bad again.
In Baptist churches, revivals are often scheduled events. Every spring and/or fall, the church holds a revival hoping that it will light a spiritual fire under those who are not a sold out, on-fire Christian. Church members dutifully attend each night of the revival and one or more times during the week will likely make some sort of commitment to be a better Christian. The backslider confesses all the things that keep them from being a sold out, on-fire Christian. Many of them have been doing this for years. Revivals are like taking a bath once or twice a year. The backslider gets all cleaned up, only to get dirty again a few days, weeks, or months later. Over the course of 50 years in the Evangelical church, I saw scores of backsliders get right with God. I saw smokers confess the sin of smoking, only to backslide again before they got out of the church parking lot. I’ve seen uncounted Christian weep, wail, and sling snot over their backslidden condition, only to go home and resume their “sinning”.
Evangelical pastors spend a good bit of their time trying to get church members to live the Christian life. They challenge people to come to church every time the doors are open, to study the Bible every day, to pray without ceasing, to tithe, and to witness to the lost. Little do church members realize that their pastor is not spiritually any better off than they are. He puts on a good show in the pulpit, but behind closed doors he struggles with many of the same things church members do.
Why are there so many backslidden people in Evangelical churches? (I’m sure this is a problem in other sects, but my experience is with the Evangelical church) Is it because most of them aren’t “really” a Christian? Is it because they really don’t want to give up the pleasures of the world? At one time I thought so. I have now come to see that the difference between the sold out, on-fire Christian and the backslidden Christian is a matter of personality or a matter of how much time a Christian has to devote to the things that would make them a poster child for a sold out, on-fire Christian.
My wife was mother/teacher to six-children, keeper of the home, and on-call gopher for her God-called preacher husband. Like her husband, she was busy all the time. Polly always had good intentions. She intended to read the Bible more, pray more, and witness more, but she never really got around to it. There was a time I feared for her soul. I wondered, doesn’t she love God’s word? Doesn’t she want to be in constant communion with God? I now see that it wasn’t that she wasn’t willing as much as it was there was only so many hours in the day. After feeding six children and educating them and doing any number of tasks for her preacher husband, there was no time for God. Polly spent years feeling guilty over not doing enough for Jesus or following her husband’s call to be a sold out, on-fire Christian.
I could read the Bible any time I wanted and pray without ceasing because I had the leisure time to do so. I was being paid to be a good Christian. Many of the people I pastored worked 8-12 hours a day, along with taking care of their families, and they didn’t have the leisure time that I had to devote to God. It took me many years to figure this out. Until I did, I would beat people over the head with the sin stick trying to shame them into being a sold out, on-fire Christian. And it worked, for a time. People would get right with God and for a time be a sold out, on-fire Christian. But, as the grind of day-to-day life wore them down, it was not long until they returned to their backslidden ways.
It should come as no surprise that many Evangelicals are quite depressed over the state of their Christian life. The cycle of getting right with God, backsliding, getting right with God, over and over and over keeps the person from finding a resting place in their life. And just when they think they might have found a resting place the preacher reminds them of how much Jesus did for them and how little they really do for Jesus.
Is this some aberration, a corruption of Christianity? Of course not. Jesus said, let a man deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. Jesus expected his followers to abandon their nets, family, and worldly cares, and follow him. You’ll search in vain to find a passage of Scripture that says being a lukewarm, backslidden Christian is in any way acceptable. Of the lukewarm Christian, the Bible says:
So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.
Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write…Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.
Songs like Set My Soul Afire, Lord, remind the Christian of what it is that God expects of them:
Set my soul afire Lord, for Thy Holy Word, Burn it deep within me, let Thy voice be heard Millions grope in darkness in this day and hour, I will be a witness, fill me with Thy pow’r
Refrain: Set my soul afire Lord, set my soul afire. Make my life a witness of Thy saving pow’r. Millions grope in darkness, waiting for Thy Word. Set my soul afire, Lord, set my soul afire!
Set my soul afire, Lord, for the lost in sin, Give to me a passion as I seek to win; Help me not to falter never let me fail, Fill me with Thy Spirit, let Thy will prevail. (Refrain)
Set my soul afire, Lord, in my daily life. Far too long I’ve wandered in this day of strife; Nothing else will matter but to live for Thee, I will be a witness for Christ lives in me. (Refrain)
I Surrender All is another old standard that reminds every Christian of the devotion God expects from them:
All to Jesus I surrender; all to him I freely give; I will ever love and trust him, in his presence daily live.
Refrain: I surrender all, I surrender all, all to thee, my blessed Savior, I surrender all.
All to Jesus I surrender; humbly at his feet I bow, worldly pleasures all forsaken; take me, Jesus, take me now. (Refrain)
All to Jesus I surrender; make me, Savior, wholly thine; fill me with thy love and power; truly know that thou art mine. (Refrain)
All to Jesus I surrender; Lord, I give myself to thee; fill me with thy love and power; let thy blessing fall on me. (Refrain)
All to Jesus I surrender; now I feel the sacred flame. O the joy of full salvation! Glory, glory, to his name! (Refrain)
Despite the preaching, the revival meetings, and the soul-stirring songs, most church members can’t sustain a life as a sold out, on-fire Christian. Too bad none of us sold out, on-fire Christians told them the truth…
Well meaning people have all kinds of expectations and desires for me. Their expectations and desires for me often reveal how they view my life and me as a person. Often, they view me as hurt, broken, damaged, angry, bitter, disillusioned, unhappy, pessimistic, or jaded. Instead of allowing me to define who and what I am, they use their own version of who and what I am and then come to certain conclusions about me. It’s like me saying I am a cat and someone saying no you are a dog and then all their subsequent judgments about me are based on their belief that I am a dog. No matter how loud I meow, they still think I am a dog.
These kind of people think there is something wrong with me. Take my friend Bill. Here is what he said in a blog comment:
But in my not very humble opinion as a person who has known your thinking for more than 20 years (?), the topic of “god” is disturbing your mind to no good end.
Now, on one hand, Bill has known me for a long time. He lives thousands of miles away from me and we have met face-to-face one time in the late 1990’s. Years ago, I sponsored the CHARIS discussion list and Bill was a regular participant. He has, on and off, read my writing for almost 20 years. He has followed my evolution from a Calvinistic pastor to an atheist. Surely, he should “know” me, right?
While I consider Bill a friend, I would never say that Bill “knows” me. In fact, the number of people who really know me can be counted on one hand. And even then, can someone ever really completely “know” me? During the course of our friendship, Bill has mentally developed his own version of Bruce Gerencser. While this Bruce bears some resemblance to the real Bruce, it is not the real Bruce and if Bill doesn’t understand this he will likely, like in his comment above, come to a wrong conclusion about me.
I think Dale summed up things quite well when he said to Bill:
What Bruce is doing is therapeutic for him and for many of us.
Dale precisely summed up why I write. I am not sitting here raging at God. I am not, on most days, hurt, broken, damaged, angry, bitter, disillusioned, unhappy, pessimistic, or jaded. Outside of the constant pain I live with, I am quite happy. I have a wonderful marriage and family and I love interacting with my internet friends through this blog. Yes, I can go through bouts of deep depression, but people like Bill wrongly assume that my depression is driven by my questions about god and religion. It’s not. My health problems are what drive my depression. Feel better=less depression. Lots of pain=more depression.
These days, the only time I think about God and religion is when I am writing. There are no unanswered questions for me when it comes to God. I don’t think there is a God, so this pretty well answers all the “God” questions for me. My interest in religion has more to do with sociology, philosophy, and politics, than it does anything else.
I frequently get emails, blog comments, and comments on other blogs that start with, I hope you _____________________. These people have read something I have written and have made a judgment about me. They think I am lacking in some way, and if I would just have what they are hoping I will have, then all would be well for me. They hope I find peace, deliverance, salvation, or faith. They are internet psychiatrists who think they can discern who I really am and what my life consists of by reading a few blog posts.
I know that this is the nature of the internet. People make snap judgments about a person based on the scantiest of information. They think they “know” you after they have read 1,500 words, and they are then ready to pass judgment on what you need. Everyone who writes in the public space faces this problem, but it doesn’t mean we have to like it.
This is me saying, I don’t like it. I am not a problem in need of solving. I am not a broken toy that needs fixed. I don’t need what my critics are hoping for me. I am quite happy with who and what I am. It is atheism that has allowed me the freedom to be who I am. I realize this presents a real problem for Evangelicals because they believe that a person can not be happy, satisfied, or at peace without Jesus. But, here I am.
One commenter stated:
Dear Bruce, I hope you are delivered from your delusions of a happy, satisfied, peaceful life. You are living in denial of how things REALLY are for you.
All I can say to this is that I am enjoying every delusional moment of this life and I suspect many of my fellow atheists are doing the same.
Let me open by giving readers the definition for domestic violence. The National Domestic Violence Hotline defines domestic violence as follows:
Domestic violence can be defined as a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner.
Abuse is physical, sexual, emotional, economic or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that frighten, intimidate, terrorize, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, injure or wound someone.
Domestic violence can happen to anyone of any race, age, sexual orientation, religion or gender. It can happen to couples who are married, living together or who are dating. Domestic violence affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels.
Does the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement have a domestic abuse problem? The short answer is Yes!
The IFB church movement is built on a foundation of emotional and mental manipulation and abuse. This is seen in how parents discipline their children and how husbands lord over and control their wives. These behaviors are often modeled by IFB pastors, deacons, and church leaders as they manipulate, control, and dominate church members.
I know IFB readers of this blog are howling over what I have written here. How dare I suggest that the IFB church movement has an abuse problem. How dare I suggest IFB pastors and church leaders emotionally and mentally manipulate and control people. Child abuse? Domestic violence? Where do such things happen? says the IFB church member. I have never seen it.
And therein lies the problem. The abuse and violence are institutionalized to such a degree that it is considered normal. People are so used to seeing it that they never consider whether such behavior is appropriate. IFB church members are familiar with having their “toes stepped on.” They are accustomed to fire and brimstone, naming names, calling sin “sin,” sermons. They are used to aggressive behavior from their pastors. It seems quite normal to them. Those of us who were raised in the IFB church movement understand this. It took us getting away from it to see how manipulative and abusive it is. The waiting rooms of mental health professionals are crowded with people whose mental wellness and self-esteem were ruined by Fundamentalist religion.
For those of us who spent decades in the IFB church, we know that the deep mental and emotional scars left by our time in the IFB church never go away. We learn to come to terms with our past and try to do the best we can going forward. We are marred, even broken, yet somehow, we find a way to pick up and move forward.
This is why some of us speak so openly about the IFB church movement and its manipulative and abusive tendencies. We don’t want ANYONE to experience what we experienced. When we see someone gravitating towards Fundamentalism we try to warn them as we would warn a person who is driving towards a cliff. Stop! Turn around! Sadly, many people ignore these warnings and often pay a heavy price, emotionally, mentally, and sometimes physically, as a result.
Domestic violence in the IFB church movement is widespread. Unfortunately, it is often not seen as domestic violence by those who are devoted IFB church members. Instead, the use of domestic violence is often seen as being “true to the Bible” or being “a faithful follower of Jesus.” To understand this domestic violence, we must first understand the theological underpinnings of such violence. Domestic violence often happens because husbands (it is almost always husbands who perpetrate the domestic violence in the IFB church) want to be obedient to the Bible, Jesus, and the pastors’ dictates. Remember, in the IFB church, the voice of God sounds an awful lot like the voice of the Pastor.
Here is what many IFB pastors preach to their church members:
Christ is the head of the church and the pastor is God’s man in the church.
The Bible is an inerrant, inspired text that should be literally interpreted and explicitly obeyed.
The husband is the head of home.
The wife is to submit to her husband.
The highest calling for a woman is to bear children and to be a keeper of the home. Many IFB pastors discourage women from working outside the home and from getting a college education (unless they go to college to get an MRS degree).
The husband is the authority, the disciplinarian, and the king of the home. God holds him, like he did Adam, responsible for everything that goes on in the home.
The Bible sanctions using violence when children disobey. If a parent does not spank or whip children, it means the parent is not willing to obey the teachings of the Pastor and the Bible. The rod of correction is meant to be used to drive wickedness out of a child’s heart.
Now, none of these things, in and of itself, necessarily lead to domestic abuse. However, add to this the IFB church preoccupation with sin and the portrayal of God as a violent deity who will whip them if they disobey, and you have a recipe for not only domestic abuse but also child abuse. I have watched more than a few IFB church members and pastors beat the hell out their children with a belt, switch, or paddle. I remember hearing of one parent who picked up a 2×4 and beat his two teenage girls with it. Why? The teen deliberately disobeyed him by riding the church bus home instead of going home with him.
I have admitted my own violent, abusive methods of correcting my three oldest children. Fortunately, I abandoned these practices with my three youngest children. My oldest sons routinely got thrashed for disobeying their parents. I corrected them this way because I thought that is what God wanted me to do. The books I read said this was the proper way to discipline children, and every big-name preacher I heard preach said I was doing right by my kids when I whipped them. Is it any surprise then, with Bible-sanctioned brutality against children and a violent God who uses violence to chastise disobedient IFB church members, that violent behavior spills over into the relationship between the husband and his submissive wife?
I can’t say that I know of many instances where a husband physically beat his wife. It happened, but not very often, to my knowledge. I know of a few pastors’ wives who were physically abused by their pastor husbands. The pastors were men of God in the pulpit, but at home they were violent disciplinarians who ruled over their wives and children with a rod of iron. Most of the abuse I saw was more of the mental and emotional type. If the woman wasn’t submissive enough or didn’t put out sexually, she would pay for it. If she dared to have ambition, want to work outside the home, or go to college, she would be put in her place and reminded of God’s divine order for the home.
I have often said, I don’t know how ANY woman stays in the IFB church. Well, I do know. Women are afraid. They fear disobeying God, their husbands, and their pastors. They fear God will chastise them if they dare step outside the role God has ordained for them. And so they stay and suffer the abuse.
Again, theology plays a big part in this. Many IFB pastors think that there are no grounds for divorce or that the only ground for divorce is adultery. Having a husband who is abusive, especially if it is emotional or mental abuse, is not grounds for divorce.
Let me give an illustration of how this is perpetuated from the pulpit:
Years ago the church I was pastoring joined together with other IFB churches to hold a joint revival meeting. The speaker was Bill Rice III. (I am almost certain it was Bill Rice but it could have been Pete Rice, both were associated with the Bill Rice Ranch.) One night, Bill Rice preached on the subject of marriage and divorce. Rice did not believe there were any grounds for divorce. He said that even if a husband was beating on his wife, the wife should stay in the marriage. Perhaps she would win her husband to Jesus by her willingness to stay in the marriage. Rice intimated that saved husbands don’t beat their wives.
By the time of this meeting my views had already begun to change and I pulled our church out of the meetings. I was incensed that Rice was advocating a woman endure beatings by her husband , the implication being that God wanted her to do so.
As my wife and I traveled beyond the IFB church movement, we had to relearn what it meant to have a healthy marital and family relationship. Ultimately, it took getting away from Christianity altogether for us to find wholeness.
I am not suggesting that every husband in the IFB church movement is abusive or that every father abuses his children when he disciplines them. I am suggesting that IFB theology encourages manipulation, violence and abuse, especially of the mental and emotional variety. Personally, I don’t think the IFB church movement is good for anyone. The extreme Fundamentalism found in the movement is emotionally and mentally harmful and people are better off finding other Christians sects to be a part of; sects that don’t view women as being inferior and don’t see children as chattel. I am of the opinion that the best thing that can happen to the IFB church movement is that it dies a quick death. It is dying, but it is dying slowly. I am all for smothering the movement in its bed.
Over the years, I have watched a number of women break free from domestic violence. They decided their own personal self-worth and happiness was more important than supposed obedience to God, the Bible, the pastor, and their husbands. Most often, gaining their freedom required them to divorce their husbands.
Let me head off those who might suggest that the reason there is domestic abuse and child abuse in the IFB church movement is because they misinterpret the Bible. I don’t think this is the case at all. I think abusers are being consistent with their beliefs and they accept the Bible as written. After all, the Bible does command a father to beat his children with a rod. The Bible does command the wife to be submissive to her husband and to be a keeper of the home. And let’s face it, the Bible is a written record of the violence God pours out and will yet pour out on all those who do not worship or obey him. The good news is that many Christians ignore or explain away vast parts of the Bible. They know beating children is wrong. They know demanding a wife submit to her husband is demeaning. They wisely reject such things.
Do you have a story to tell about domestic violence? What did you experience growing up in the IFB church? What went on in your IFB home when the doors were closed? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.
Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.
Every society in the world has found it necessary to produce a story to account for the fact that humanity is on earth. The Australian Aboriginals think that the first humans were regurgitated by a great rainbow serpent in the sky, the people in Thailand think the beginning of the world was a huge pool of milk and a snake was pulled by demons, and the milk coagulated and that formed human beings and there was a time, two and a half to three thousand years ago, when people on the east end of the Mediterranean thought woman was made from the rib of the first man.
If somebody says to me I believe every word of the Bible is true, you can’t argue against that degree of irrationality…there is actually a way of looking at the natural world and seeing the evidence and it’s all there. And what’s more it’s the same evidence whether it’s in Australia or Northern Europe or wherever. It’s all the same—it all produces the same answer and you can all see the evidence—if you reject that then there’s nothing I can say.
I grew up as a fundamentalist Christian. A church three times a week, the Bible is the inspired inerrant word of God, evolution is a lie type of Christian. I have since deconverted and consider myself an atheist (I prefer the term free-thinker). I plan to write a later post detailing my journey.
A few months ago I had a conversation with a family. The family member is a fundamentalist Christian. I had just revealed my loss of faith to her. Needless to say she was surprised. She seemed unable to fathom how anybody could deny the existence of God. So, the conversation turned to proof for God’s existence. Her reasons for believing were personal experience, scriptural authority, creation, and answered prayer. While the first three reasons played a part in her belief, answered prayer was the most convincing to her. She never said this directly, but it was the primary emphasis of the discussion. Her logic for answered prayer as proof of God is as follows:
She had a need or want for something.
She prayed to the Christian God for this something.
She received this something.
God is why she received it.
Therefore, God exists.
Answered prayer is a common “proof” by theists for the existence of God. Sometimes it can be difficult to convince believers that answered prayer may have a natural explanation or may be a coincidence.
Yet this logic is flawed. I witnessed this exact same logic unfold before my eyes except it was not to prove God’s existence. It was proof for Santa’s existence. (I know, I know! Atheists always equate belief in God with belief in Santa. Please keep reading as I am just using a personal example to demonstrate the flaw in the above-mentioned logic.)
I have three young children. The oldest two believe in Santa Claus. Starting in November, they began picking out toys they wanted for Christmas. They went to see Santa and asked him for those toys. On Christmas morning they awoke to these toys under the tree. Automatically they attributed this to Santa. To them it was “proof” for his existence. Their logic was as follows:
They had a want for something.
They requested (prayed) for Santa to receive this something.
They received this something.
Santa Claus is why they received it.
Therefore, Santa exists.
See any similarities to the answered prayer logic? It is exactly the same. Actually you could use this logic to prove almost any being’s existence.
This does not even take into consideration unanswered prayer. When this is brought up, many believers will say sometimes God says “No.” Basically it boils down to this:
If I pray to God for something there are two possible outcomes.
1. It will come to pass.
2. It will not.
How would this be different if there was no God? If you made it this far… Thanks for reading!
Like Hotel California, once you are in you can’t get out.
Once you are saved, you can never be lost.
Once God’s hound dog, the Holy Spirit, tracks you down you belong to God forever.
Or so says Charles Smith:
If you scour the world-wild-web for any amount of time using atheism as your search term, you will undoubtedly find pages and pages of sites laced with the famous proclamation, “I used to be a Christian.” While this may be intriguing to the seeker, desiring a glimpse at the testimony of a formerly professing believer turned cynic in hopes of discovering reasons to remain religiously repulsed by Christendom, or possibly the opposite – looking to see if their retroversion experience is sensible – one thing is certain…there’s no such thing as a former Christian.
Cultural Christianity is quite the phenomenon of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries…
After “leaving the faith,” these misguided, false-converts then find their voices in the blogosphere, social sites, chat rooms, discussion boards and every other form of digital media outlet known to man – exhaustively expatriating as many “cardboard Christians” as they can sink their flaw-full claws into. Ironically, if they would spend as much time truly investigating and begging with a contrite heart, “God, please show yourself to me!” they would discover that He is absolutely faithful to do so – and the door the Lord has once opened, can be closed by no man.
These poor misinformed “ex-Christians” were never truly reborn of the Holy Spirit of God. They followed the crowd in church, were dunked under water, consumed crackers and gulped grape juice, sang songs, talked the talk, looked the part, memorized verses and so many other religious acts, but never came to a saving faith found in a relationship with the only begotten Son of God. Like so many of their contemporaries who weren’t led to the foot of the blood-stained cross of Calvary, they never saw their sins in the mirror of the ten commandments and consequently, never realized the magnitude of their debt – owed to a God who, because of His perfect love and justice, must punish sin – and they never saw the spotless Lamb for who He was and is, the ransom payment – the sacrificial substitute – who carried their sins before the Father and said “I will take their punishment.” Their prideful hearts of stone never crumbled under the weight of such a love and therefore, they simply socialized and enjoyed the music and learned to get along. But, of course, anyone who goes through a “phase” knows, it wore off and they moved on and Jesus wept…
Let the reader understand, just as you can’t become unborn once you have evacuated the womb, you also cannot become un-born-again. It is impossible to un-ring a bell, un-cook an egg or un-kill the living. If you are a spiritual seeker, please know that there is no such thing as an ex-Christian and if you want the truth, please look in a good Bible teaching church for assistance. If after reading this you still claim to be a “former believer,” you just do not understand…
While Smith’s argument certainly might apply to cultural or nominal Christians, it falls flat on its face when it comes to people like me, those who were sincere, committed, devoted, sold-out, on fire, consecrated, dedicated, sanctified followers of Jesus. While it is quite easy to dismiss those who never really took Christianity seriously, what about those of us who did? Did I really spend most of my adult life deceived, never having come to faith in Jesus Christ? Only in the echo chamber of Smith’s mind is such a claim possible. The only way he can square his theology with the life of someone like me is to say I never was a Christian, and since theology always trumps reason, Bruce Gerencser never was a Christian.
Look, I understand. I really I do. Christians like Smith can not fathom anyone walking away from their Jesus. Why would anyone want to walk away from J-E-S-U-S, the most awesome God-man in the world, the biggest, baddest God is the entire universe. Why would anyone walk away from a golden ticket to God’s Motel 6? No more pain, no more suffering, no more death…who in their right mind would turn down such an offer?
But I did, others have, and more will continue to do so. Evidently God didn’t want us bad enough to keep us.
Several years ago, I received an email from a Christian man by the name of Mike Gallagher. Here’s what he had to say:
I’ve noticed in your articles that you have a bitterness toward so-called Baptists. (Hyles, Swaggart, etc.) I’ve never considered these men to actually be true men of God. ( “by their fruits, ye shall know them”). If I may, please allow me to state some observations; and I shall make them brief. I will not preach to you (tho preaching is a form of communication; and in my experience people are afraid to listen to preaching because they are not secure in their core beliefs.)
1. I perceive that what you had was religion. Sure, you knew about God and all the doctrines and teachings associated with it. (tho I can’t understand how a serious Bible student could get the doctrine of Calvinism out of it. Calvin wasn’t even a Baptist- yet he persecuted them) You knew about the Bible and studied it and crafted sermons from it. You looked up to and deified(?) men that you admired; even mentored a few. You were also strongly influenced by them, yea, molded by them. You had the mechanics of all what a Christian life should be – except for one thing..
2. Relationships. You know what they are. You’ve had one with your wife for 37 years. No doubt you’ve had strong friendships with others for years. You have a relationship with your children and grandchildren; each one individually (I hope).
Relationships consist of 3 essential elements – Trust, Honesty, Commitment. Long lasting relationships must consist of these. But the One whom you have not had a relationship is – God. Sure one can study all about Him, know about Him, what men say about Him – but to know Him, ahh is different. That’s why salvation always comes
First; it’s the actual meeting; the face to face (by faith) contact. From that point on you get to know Him more (just as the more time you spent with your wife, you got to know her better; and your friends; and your children; etc.). You’ve always known He was out there but always distant. You prayed but didn’t know if He answered or not until you saw results – disappointing or otherwise.
He’s a person. This is why prayer is a 2-way street; not one sided. He’s not there just to listen to you – He wants you to listen to Him.
3. God didn’t forsake you; you forsook Him. The Bible is not a law book – it’s a guide book. God isn’t the One who’s changed all these years (especially in our generation in America) We are the ones who have “gone astray”. Can you HONESTLY say we are better off as a society than we were 50 years ago?
Well, I said I would keep it brief. Hope we can become friends, Bruce. Some of the things you said about our flesh and humanity is true. The Apostle Paul had trouble with his; and David; and Peter; and Samson; and….. you get the idea. If I’m honest with myself, with others and most importantly, with God; then I feel secure in what I believe. I don’t think that you do. write soon, come on you know you can’t let this go without a response!
I will leave it to you to judge the merit of his letter. My response was short, sweet, and to the point:
You are kidding right? Be friends? Why would I want to be friends with someone who is a judgmental, arrogant ass that refuses to allow me to tell my own story on my own terms?
So no, I am not interested in being friends, hearing from you, or anything else. After hundreds of emails just like yours, I hope you will forgive me when I say to people like you, go to hell.
Email formatted to make it readable. No text was changed.
Suppose you were at a dinner party and the host puts you on the spot to pray for the meal in front of 10-20 guests. Do you be a good sport and make up a prayer or politely decline, creating an awkward situation.
This is a great question, one that can be answered several different ways. Since all of my family and friends know I am no longer a Christian, I doubt any of them would ask me to pray. I can’t think of any social setting where I would now be asked to pray. Everyone knows I am an atheist, so I doubt they would want a godless heathen blessing their food.
Each of us must determine how we would respond when asked to pray. If a person is an atheist or an unbeliever, but hasn’t come out yet, then it might be appropriate for them to pray if asked. No harm will be done since the God they are praying to is a fictional being. Their prayer, like every other prayer, will hit the ceiling and bounce right back. No harm, no foul.
A dinner party is not a good place to declare to the world that you are an atheist or that you are no longer a Christian. Such a pronouncement will surely dampen the spirit and you will be blamed for ruining the party. The best advice I can give is to size up who is there and act accordingly.
I started life as an atheist and was pursing a career in the sciences. During my first year of university, I had a personal crisis trying to find my direction and purpose in life. A friend witnessed to me and I attended church service a couple of times, but did not find anything to sway my atheistic view. However, it was a really emotional and stressful period in my life and I eventually decided to give god one more shot and attended what I thought would be my last day in church.
My recollections of that fateful day are very hazy. I was not even paying any attention to the service as my life was in turmoil and I was wrestling with my rational mind and my spirituality. Eventually, I decided to just do what I thought was right. Christianity was not for me and I was going to sever my ties. To this day I do not know what happened, but god must have heard my cries and I somehow ended up at the altar accepting Christ.
Needless to say, I had a lot to learn and had to make a lot of adjustments to follow this new direction in life. I had doubts about my sincerity. How can I reject god and still end up accepting him? I concluded that god had set me on this journey because I wanted to do the right thing. Therefore, I decided to cast away my doubts and do things his way and rely on faith.
To show my commitment, I decided to get baptized. Just before being submerged, I remember telling god that he alone knows my heart and that this was my way of showing that I was putting my trust in him. After my baptism, as I was changing in the backroom, I mysteriously broke down into uncontrollable crying. Several people knelt next to me and prayed for me but no one was able to stop my crying. One of the church officials stood fast and stayed by my side the whole time to comfort me. When exhaustion finally stopped my crying, he told me that I must really love god for him to touch me in such a way. When I left and checked the clock in my car, I realized that I had cried for well over an hour. I no longer had any doubts about my sincerity and knew I was doing what was right.
My life had changed completely. My ambition in life was simple. I wanted to do god’s will and to raise a family. Science was no longer compatible with my new-found spirituality and way of thinking. Therefore, I changed my studies at university to pursue a career in education to avoid conflict. Life was good and I had a purpose. I became even closer with the friend who had brought me to Christ and ended up marrying her. I found a job as a teacher where I lived at a time when it was virtually impossible to do so. At church, I had found my calling and was a Sunday school teacher.
The first major test of my faith was when my wife’s first pregnancy ended up in a miscarriage; in my fundamentalist belief, this is the same as the death of a baby. To add insult to injury, it happened on Christmas Day. If god had said that I was not to have children, I could have lived with that. However, it was more painful to have the seed planted and then have it taken away. I felt like Abraham sacrificing my child for god; only in my case, there was no reprieve. I did a lot of soul-searching and made sure my life was right with god and told him it was his will and not mine. I was totally devastated, but my faith was stronger than ever.
When my wife was pregnant the second time, I was sure that god would bless us as I had remained true to him. The unthinkable then happened. We had another miscarriage on Easter Sunday. The anguish was so severe I contemplated killing myself. The only thing that stopped me was the vision of my wife exhausted and asleep in the hospital bed. I remembered my vow of love to stay by her through thick and thin and knew that I had to endure. God was using adversity to send me a message. Many months of confusion, guilt and shame ensued as I tried to figure out what I was doing wrong in my life. What was god trying to tell me? Were my motives contrary to his will? Did I love my wife more than him? Was I really sincere in my walk with him? Was my ambition of wanting a family not in god’s plans? All I wanted was to do the right thing. I had been tested again, but I had promised to trust him and I again stood firm in my resolve.
However, there was a difference this time. I studied the bible more rigorously and reassessed my faith and started to touch the boundaries of the fundamentalist box I had put myself in. What if I was wrong? Fear kept me from exploring that question for a long time. I looked back and remember that I had asked the same question when I was an atheist. If I never confronted the question, I would not have found god. It was a question I must explore again if I wanted the truth and do what is right. I took tiny steps to remove my fundamentalist blinders and looked outside my box, and the world opened up in a totally different way.
For the first time in my Christian life I started to look outwards instead of inwards and saw the world and the people around me without my fundamentalist mentality. I finally saw people as people. We are all on our own personal journeys in life. God and spirituality meant different things to different people. The bible is not inerrant, it is a record of the search for god by people of the past. We all interpret our holy texts and ethics according to our own limited perspective and experiences. The Holy Spirit guides and moves us all in a different manner based on our own personal interpretations. We are all different and god did not intend us to be Christian zombies shambling mindlessly to convert others who were not like us. With this revelation, my whole perspective as a Christian shifted.
At this time, many other major events started to take their toll on me. I was no longer the fundamentalist I once was and felt trapped. My marriage started falling apart and I was secretly struggling with the beginning stages of depression from all the strain. I knew I had to leave the fundamentalist chains that bound me. Fear and uncertainty set in. Can I just walk away from almost ten years of my life? What will happen with my fundamentalist wife who I love so dearly? What about my friends at church? After a year of struggling, I was on the verge of a complete meltdown. My integrity did not allow me to maintain the charade of being a fundamentalist any longer. I again told god that I must do what I feel is right and I will trust him to lead me as he had done in the past. I had a long talk with my wife and we mutually agreed that the best course of action was to leave church temporarily to reassess our lives.
With that freedom, I was finally completely outside my box and began to explore. This was the days before the internet and finding information was no easy task. My first secular book was “Isaac Asimov’s Guide to the Bible”; don’t laugh as it was the only resource available at the local library at the time. In a few days, I learned more from that book than I ever did in church. There was no looking back for me. My thirst for knowledge increased and I even started exploring other religions. When my pastor checked up on me a few months later, it was obvious I had moved on. I have no hard feelings about my church. There were some good honest people including the pastor that I really respected and appreciated. My time was not completely wasted, and there are many good things that I will always take with me. However, there were also a lot of the crazy stuff and I had to leave the lunatics and the narrow mindset behind.
I left church almost 25 years ago now. I am still motivated by finding the truth and doing what is right. There is no need for me to go into details of my journey from this point since those of us who had similar experiences will know what will ultimately happen when one chooses to open one’s mind; I grew up and left god behind. Unless some real evidence shows up to the contrary, I personally believe that there is no god especially as put forth by the various religions. A person’s belief in or lack of belief in god is no longer a concern for me. What is important, is whether or not someone is a good person.
Although I am back to being an atheist again now, I have a new non-religious spirituality in me. I feel a closer spiritual connection with the world as a result of my experiences. As such, I actually prefer to label myself as an agnostic. My ambition in life still remains the same except I have taken the god part out and shortened it to raising a family. Yes, there is life outside of religion and my relationship with my wife did not collapse as I had feared; love, trust and respect are even more powerful without their religious trappings. I also have two wonderful children who are just about ready to leave the nest and choose whichever path their own life dictates. My advice to them will be “Keep both your heart and your mind open in order to do that which is right”. That is what I learned from my own journey there and back again.
“Colors of the Wind” … You think the only people who are people, Are people who look and think like you, But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger, You‘ll learn things you never knew, you never knew. … And we are all connected to each other, In a circle, in a hoop that never ends.