I used to preach that Jesus was hope for the hopeless and rest for weary. Unfortunately, for many people, Jesus, or I should say the Evangelical/fundamentalist church, made them weary and hopeless.
What should have been a source of hope and rest turned into something destructive – so destructive that some people have thoughts of ending their life.
It shouldn’t be this way. I am convinced that Jesus, real or not, is not the problem. I find nothing in the words of Jesus that would cause me to lose hope or have thoughts of suicide.
No, it is what the Church has done with Jesus over the past 2,000 years that is the problem. God, Jesus, and the Bible have become tools of manipulation, control, and destruction.
I wish I could share with you the emails I get from people who are former, or trying to be former, Evangelicals. I can’t share them because I respect the privacy of those who email me. For some, my email inbox has become their confessional. I can tell you this: there are a lot people who are hopeless and weary as a result of their immersion in the Evangelical Christian religion.
They often have no place to turn. In many instances, their families or spouses are still in the church. They desperately need someone to talk to, but they have no one to turn to. They can’t go to their pastor — he wouldn’t understand. If they live in a small town, they can’t even seek out a local counselor because everyone will be sure to know (you would have to live in a small town to understand this).
So they suffer silently. In the night they toss and turn and wonder what has gone wrong. Where is God? There is no God. Where is the God of hope? There is no hope. Where is the God who gives rest? There seems to be no rest.
Their thoughts turn to suicide. No, I can’t do that, I’ll go to hell. Wait, there is no God, who gives a shit?
I want you to know I give a shit. I have been where you are and some days I am still where you are. There are a lot of readers of this blog who know your story. They have lived it. They are still living it. They know the struggle you are going through — the struggle of a life of faith that has turned into faithlessness, a life of believing that has turned into unbelief. Maybe you are like the man in the Bible who cried “Lord I believe. Help my unbelief.”
I am not out to convert you to my cause or change you. It does not matter whom you worship, where you worship, what you believe, or what label you give yourself.
My desire for you is hope and rest.
For many of us, the Evangelical Christian faith has damaged us mentally and emotionally. The wounds and scars run deep. All the attempts in the world to marginalize our feelings will come to naught. We know what we know…
I can hear the clock ticking.
Another night with no sleep.
I hear my lover snoring.
I think of our life together.
So much time wasted.
So much work invested in things that do not matter.
Years have passed us by.
God we served you.
God we loved you.
God we worshiped you.
God we left all to follow you.
Careers, ambitions, wealth, family…
All forsaken to follow you.
Only to find out it was all a dream, and a bad dream at that.
And so, in the still of the night, I reflect on the heap of my life.
What am I to make of all this?
Can I go on?
Will I go on?
I must go on.
God or not, there is a life to be lived.
God or not, I still must live as if I am dying.
Because I AM dying.
So much life yet to live.
So much life yet to experience and enjoy.
God is back on the shelf where he belongs.
Maybe I’ll dust him off again on my final day.
Until then, I will live morally and ethically.
Until then, I will love and hate.
Until then, I will walk the path called life the best I know how.
Without God, without the Bible, and most certainly without the church.
I still have hope.
My hope is no longer built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness.
My hope is built on the love and goodness of humankind.
These days the only gods I see are my family, friends, and fellow humans.
I devote myself to these gods.
I worship them.
That’s enough for me.
I will leave eternity to another day.
From your earliest recollection you remember the church.
You remember the preacher, the piano player, the deacons, and your Sunday School teacher.
You remember the youth group and all the fun activities.
You remember getting saved and baptized.
You remember being in church every time the doors were open.
You remember everything in your life revolving around the church.
You remember praying and reading your Bible.
You remember the missionaries and the stories they told about heathens on the other side of the world.
You remember revival meetings and getting right with God.
Most of all you remember the people.
These were the people who loved you. You thought to yourself, my church family loves me almost as much as God does.
You remember hearing sermons about God’s love and the love Christians were supposed to have for one another.
Church family, like blood family, loves you no matter what.
But then IT happened.
You know, IT.
You got older. You grew up. With adult eyes, you began to see the church, God, Jesus, and the Bible differently.
You had questions, questions that no one had answers for.
Perhaps you began to see that your church family wasn’t perfect.
Perhaps the things that Mom and Dad whispered about in the bedroom became known to you.
Perhaps you found out that things were not as they seemed.
Uncertainty and doubt crept in.
Perhaps you decided to try the world for a while. Lots of church kids did, you told yourself.
Perhaps you came to the place where you no longer believed what you had believed your entire life.
And so you left.
You had an IT moment — that moment in time when things changed forever.
You thought, surely, Mom and Dad will still love me.
You thought, surely, Sissy and Bubby and Granny will still love me.
And above all, you thought your church family would love you no matter what.
But they didn’t.
For all their talk of love, their love was conditioned on you being one of them, believing the right things.
Once you left, the love stopped.
Now, they are praying for you.
Now, they plead with you to return to Jesus.
Now, they question if you really ever got saved.
They say they still love you, but deep down you know they don’t.
You know their love for you requires you to be like them.
You can’t be like them any more…
Time marches on.
The church is still where it has always been.
The same families are there, loving Jesus and speaking of their great love for others.
But, you are forgotten.
A sheep gone astray.
Every once in a while someone asks your Mom and Dad how you are doing,
They sigh, perhaps tears well up in their eyes…
Oh how they wish you would come home.
To be a family sitting together in the church again.
You can’t go back.
You no longer believe.
All that you really want now is their love.
You want them to love you just as you are.
Can they do this?
Will they do this?
Or is Jesus more important than you?
Does the church come first?
Is chapter and verse more important than flesh and blood?
You want to be told they love you.
You want to be held and told it is going to be all right.
But, here you sit tonight…
Typical Evangelical/Baptist church. Go for a blessing and get barbecued.
I was an Independent, Fundamentalist, Sin-Hating, Devil-Chasing, Pulpit-Pounding, King-James-Waving, Baptist preacher. I prided myself on HARD preaching, just like old-time Baptist preachers.
If people were happy with my preaching it meant I wasn’t preaching hard enough.
Cecil Hodges, an old preacher from Georgia said one time:
We hit our people over the head with the sin stick so often that they duck when we begin to preach.
I was one of those kind of preachers.
Preach long. Preach loud.
No subject was spared.
Preaching the whole counsel of God required preaching about EVERY sin, even the unpopular ones (such as chewing gum during church, writing notes in church, and using the bathroom during the sermon).
One young preacher I heard about was upset over people getting up to use the bathroom during his sermon. He sternly told his flock:
I don’t want anyone using the bathroom while I am preaching. If you need to use the bathroom, pee in your shoes. You can wring out your socks after the service.
He was fired several weeks later.
In Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches the pastor is god. He’s the law. What he says goes. The Church CAN fire him, but it is often very hard to do. After all, in many cases, the pastor started the church. He often has a following no matter what he says or does.
When the pastor stands up and preaches, whatever he says is taken to be the gospel. A good IFB church member hates what the pastor hates and loves what the pastor loves. To go against the pastor usually meant you were looking for another church to attend.
Two incidents stand out for me that I think would be illustrative of how I preached.
There were two school teachers who attended the church I pastored. They were husband and wife — good people. They had joined our church after the church they attended had a split (a very common occurrence in IFB churches). I will call them The Smiths.
The Smiths taught high school. Mr. Smith was a girls’ high school basketball coach and taught English. Mrs. Smith taught business classes. Both of them were members of the Teacher’s Union.
One week, the Teacher’s Union took a policy position that was contrary to what I thought the Bible taught. I concluded that a Christian who was right with God could NOT be a member of the Teacher’s Union.
Sunday came and I entered the pulpit ready to do battle with the sin of being part of the Teacher’s Union. I preached long and hard. I exposed the sin of belonging to the Teacher’s Union. I called on all teachers in the church (all two of them) to leave the Teacher’s Union.
They left all right.
Early in my ministry I became convinced that the Masonic Lodge was a Satanic, evil organization. The local Masons had come to me and asked to use our church bus to attend a Masonic function in a nearby city. I told them absolutely not, and then proceeded to let them know how Satanic the Masonic Lodge was.
On the following Sunday I entered the pulpit ready to do battle with the sin of being a member of the Masonic Lodge. I made it very clear that a person could not be a Christian and a Mason, and no one who was a member of the Masonic Lodge could be a member of our church.
There were several members of the Masonic Lodge visiting our church.
They got the message.
We never saw them again.
I am sure some of my more liberal Christian readers are saying WOW about now. You should be.
I was taught in Bible college that God often builds a church by subtraction. Losing people could be a good thing. After all, fellowship is a bunch of fellows in a ship all rowing in the same direction.
When people left it was never my fault.
After all the Bible says:
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us. 1 John 2:19
I saw leavers as carnal, soft, weak people who had no stomach for real, hard Bible preaching.
I was wrong.
I do not have enough life left to repent of all the foolishness I did in God’s name. I ran off a lot of good people — people who had the misfortune of thinking differently from me.
I was not an oddity within the Baptist church. In Independent and Southern Baptist churches I would have been considered typical, especially in the 1970s and 1980s. As many of the readers of this blog can testify, preachers such as I was are quite common. Legalism and cultic control of people (now called spiritual abuse) is far too common, not just in Baptist churches, but in every branch of the Evangelical church.
I should note that I did not remain the preacher described in this post. Over time, I came to realize how abusive it was. In the late 1980s I learned to preach expositionally and doing so helped to get me away from the type of preaching with which I started my ministry. Towards the end of my ministry, I was considered a liberal by many of my Baptist preacher friends. They thought I had gone soft (and from their perspective I had).
A survey of atheists and agnostics will certainly show that a large number of them were raised in legalistic, rigid Christian environments. Fundamentalism extracts a huge price from everyone it touches.
Were you raised in a church that prided itself on hard preaching? How did this kind of preaching affect you mentally and emotionally? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section.
Most all Evangelical church members believe that the Bible that they carry to church on Sunday is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. If you ask them if the Bible has any errors, mistakes, or contradictions, they will likely says, absolutely not! While they know that their Bible is a translation of ancient Hebrew and Greek manuscripts, they assume there is a perfect word line from God, to the writers of the manuscripts, to the translation they use.
Ask college/seminary-trained Evangelical pastors if the Bible has any errors, mistakes, or contradictions, and they will likely not say anything at first and then will say, well, you need to understand _________________________________ (insert long explanation). They will likely tell you that modern translations are faithful or reliable or that there are no errors, mistakes, or contradictions on any matter that is important to salvation. If you press them hard enough they will tell you that no translation is perfect. (Remember, inerrancy demands perfection.) At about this point in the discussion, the Evangelical pastor will say, I DO believe the original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts are inerrant (perfect, without error, mistake, or contradiction).
The next obvious question is, so where are the original manuscripts? Well, uh, l-o-n-g pause, the original manuscripts don’t exist, the Evangelical pastor says. That’s right, the original manuscripts don’t exist. No one has ever seen or read the “original” manuscripts of the Bible. In fact, most of the extant manuscripts are dated hundreds and thousands of years after the events they record. According to Wikipedia, the oldest Old Testament manuscript (a fragment) dates back to the 2nd century BCE and the rest of the Old Testament manuscripts are dated from the 3rd century CE to the 11th century CE. Most of these manuscripts are NOT written in Hebrew.
But what about the Dead Sea Scrolls? Uneducated Evangelical church members erroneously think the Dead Sea Scrolls “prove” the Bible is the Word of God. Here is what Wikipedia says:
The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of 972 texts discovered between 1946 and 1956 at Khirbet Qumran in the West Bank. They were found in caves about a mile inland from the northwest shore of the Dead Sea, from which they derive their name. The texts are of great historical, religious, and linguistic significance because they include the earliest known surviving manuscripts of works later included in the Hebrew Bible canon, along with extra-biblical manuscripts which preserve evidence of the diversity of religious thought in late Second Temple Judaism.
The texts are written in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Nabataean, mostly on parchment but with some written on papyrus and bronze. The manuscripts have been dated to various ranges between 408 BCE and 318 CE…
Due to the poor condition of some of the Scrolls, not all of them have been identified. Those that have been identified can be divided into three general groups: (1) some 40% of them are copies of texts from the Hebrew Bible, (2) approximately another 30% of them are texts from the Second Temple Period and which ultimately were not canonized in the Hebrew Bible, like the Book of Enoch, Jubilees, the Book of Tobit, the Wisdom of Sirach, Psalms 152–155, etc., and (3) the remaining roughly 30% of them are sectarian manuscripts of previously unknown documents that shed light on the rules and beliefs of a particular group or groups within greater Judaism, like the Community Rule, the War Scroll, the Pesher on Habakkuk and The Rule of the Blessing.
The oldest New Testament manuscripts date back to the 2nd century CE. Most of the extant manuscripts are dated from 9th century CE forward. Here is what Wikipedia says about the New Testament manuscripts:
Parts of the New Testament have been preserved in more manuscripts than any other ancient work, having over 5,800 complete or fragmented Greek manuscripts, 10,000 Latin manuscripts and 9,300 manuscripts in various other ancient languages including Syriac, Slavic, Gothic, Ethiopic, Coptic and Armenian. The dates of these manuscripts range from 125 CE (the John Rylands manuscript, P52; oldest copy of John fragments) to the introduction of printing in Germany in the 15th century. The vast majority of these manuscripts date after the 10th century. Although there are more manuscripts that preserve the New Testament than there are for any other ancient writing, the exact form of the text preserved in these later, numerous manuscripts may not be identical to the form of the text as it existed in antiquity. Textual scholar Bart Ehrman writes: “It is true, of course, that the New Testament is abundantly attested in the manuscripts produced through the ages, but most of these manuscripts are many centuries removed from the originals, and none of them perfectly accurate. They all contain mistakes – altogether many thousands of mistakes. It is not an easy task to reconstruct the original words of the New Testament….”
As you can see, there are no originals. Any talk of inerrant originals is just a smoke screen that hides the fact the extant manuscripts and EVERY Bible translation is errant. Any Evangelical who says that the Bible is inerrant in the originals is making a statement that cannot be proved. Every college/seminary trained-Evangelical pastor knows this, but few of them are willing to tell their congregation this. Why? They fear that their congregation will lose “faith” in the Bible and that the Bible will lose its authority if they tell them the truth. They would rather lie — and they ARE lying if they don’t tell their congregation the facts about the origin, translation, and text of the Bible — than have people doubt the Bible or God.
If there are no inerrant manuscripts, then there can be no inspiration. Most Evangelicals believe that God inspired (breathed out) the Bible. If you ask Evangelical church members exactly WHAT God inspired, they will likely point to their Bible. Ask an Evangelical pastor the same question and he will likely start praying for the rapture to happen immediately. Why? Because the Evangelical doctrine of inspiration is based on the notion that the Bible is inerrant in the original manuscripts. Since there are no original manuscripts and there are thousands of variations in the extant manuscripts and translations, then there is no such thing as an inspired Bible. At best, all that Evangelicals have is a flawed, errant translation of old, flawed, errant manuscripts. Inerrancy and inspiration, as defined by Evangelicals, are myths, lacking any proof whatsoever.
This does not mean that the Bible has no value, but understanding that the Bible is not an inspired, inerrant text keeps a person from giving the Bible supernatural, God-like power. It is a good book, a useful book, an inspirational book, but it is not a book that is straight from the mouth of God to our ears.
Our culture is awash with men and women who say they speak for the Christian God. What is the one belief that these speakers for God have in common? That the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God. Every Sunday, Evangelical Joel Osteen, pastor of the largest church in America, leads his congregation in:
The culture wars that continue to rage in the United States are based on the belief that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God. When Evangelical culture warriors quote a proof-text from the Bible, they believe they are speaking the very words of God — in English of course. What they are really speaking are the words of an errant, fallible text that may or may not be the words of God. Since the original manuscripts no longer exist, it is impossible to know if the words of the Bible are God’s words. And even if the original manuscripts did exist, how could anyone prove that they were the words of God? Would there be an endorsement statement on the last page that said, This is God and I approve of these words? Of course not.
The Evangelical Christian says, the pastor says, the denomination says, the Bible says, but there is no way of knowing what God said. And this is why the foundation of Christianity is not the Bible but faith.
Let me close this post by illustrating how pervasive the belief that the Bible is inerrant/inspired is. The following Gallop Poll charts tell a depressing story about how Americans view the Bible:
The percentage of Americans taking a literal view of the Bible has declined over time, from an average of 38% from 1976-1984 to an average of 31% since. However, highly religious Americans — particularly those of Protestant faiths — still commonly believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible.
In general, the dominant view of Americans is that the Bible is the word of God, be it inspired or actual, as opposed to a collection of stories recorded by man. That is consistent with the findings that the United States is a predominantly Christian nation and that Americans overwhelmingly believe in God.
Perhaps it is time for Christian churches to stop studying the Bible for a year so they can focus on reading and studying a few of Bart Ehrman’s books. Of course, if pastors did this they might risk being fired because their congregations would know that they’ve been lying to the them about the Bible (and it IS a lie to omit facts about the origin, nature, and history of the Biblical text).
Until Evangelicals are disabused of their errant beliefs about the Bible, they will continue to arrogantly think that they have THE truth, that their God is the one, true, living God, and that the words of the Bible are God directly speaking to them. Until they understand that the Bible is not what they claim it is, there is no hope of a rational discussion. The Evangelical position can be summed up like this: God said it, end of discussion.
Some groups take inspiration and inerrancy a step farther and say that the King James Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God. The followers of Peter Ruckman even believe the italicized words added by translators to improve the reading and understanding of the King James translation, are inerrant and inspired. Ruckmanites believe the italicized words are an advanced revelation given to the translators by God.
Some Evangelicals believe that God has preserved his Words down through history. These Evangelicals admit that the original manuscripts do not exist, but they believe God, down through the centuries, has preserved (kept perfect) his Word, and the King James Bible is the preserved Word of God for English-speaking people.
If you want a complete, detailed understanding of what most Evangelicals believe about the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible, read the 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Here is a Who’s Who list of Evangelical scholars who signed the Chicago Statement.
Old Testament Manuscripts
New Testament Manuscripts
Evangelicals love the Bible. They rarely read it or practice its teachings, but they do love it. They call themselves people of the book. Baptist churches use the line The Blood, The Book, The Blessed Hope to describe their beliefs.
Evangelicals believe the Bible is an inerrant, infallible book inspired (and preserved) supernaturally by God. Many Evangelicals think the Bible is also a science, archeology, and history textbook. Other Evangelicals think it is a sex manual, the blueprint for life, the keys to successful living. In their mind, the Bible is the end all. It contains everything a person needs to know about life.
The Bible is a #1 bestseller that most everyone in America owns but hasn’t read. Countless Evangelical Bibles gather dust on the coffee table, only to be brushed off come Sunday. Some Evangelicals store their Bible in the back window of their car, in the trunk, or under the front seat. This way they will know where it is when they pull into the church parking lot on Sunday.
The Evangelical theme song is:
Yes, that’s the book for me
I stand alone on the Word of God
BIBLE (Shouted real loud so God hears them)
Evangelicals, with their devotion, love, and worship of the Bible, assume that everyone else has the same devotion, love, and worship of the Bible. They also assume that everyone accepts their presuppositions about the Bible; that the Bible is an inerrant, infallible book inspired supernaturally by God. They cannot fathom anyone viewing the Bible any other way. Sin, unbelief, liberalism, or apostasy are the causes for not believing as they do, or so say the Evangelicals.
One tactic Evangelicals use with non-believers, atheists and agnostics, is quoting the Bible. Since they believe the Bible has magical power, they think if they quote the Bible that it will have a powerful effect on the person they are quoting it to. A recent post by Ken Ham, CEO of Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum, illustrates this kind of thinking:
A new atheist billboard now appears along the interstate in Riverside, California. These billboards feature a beautiful sunrise over a mountain scene and say, “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone,” and then give a web address. This board is just one version of many similar boards from other atheist organizations in different parts of the country. Rather than comment on these boards, I thought I would just let Scripture do the talking.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. (Romans 1:18–23)
The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psalm 14:1)
This is the message that these atheists need to hear and believe!
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:16–18)
Ham has a Bible message for people like me:
- I am a fool
- I am ungodly
- I am unrighteous
- I suppress the truth
- I am unthankful
- I have a darkened heart
Ham’s solution for such a debauched life is for me to believe these words are true and repent of my sins and trust Jesus as my Lord and Savior. He thinks if he writes or says the magic words that somehow, some way, they will transform my life.
Here’s what Ham doesn’t understand. I don’t accept his presuppositions about the Bible. It is just a book, no different from any other book sitting on my bookshelves. It has no magical power. In fact, when I hear or read Evangelicals quoting the Bible, my ears often go deaf and eyes go dark. If anything, it cause medical problems.
If Evangelicals want to challenge my worldview and beliefs, they are going to have to come up with something better than the Bible. Saying “God says,” “thus saith the Lord,” “in Genesis 1:1 the Bible says,” etc., have no power over me. Such quoting is little more than a parlor trick used to amaze the ignorant and I am too old for such childish tricks.
I am not saying the Bible has NO value. It does, and many people find the Bible to be a book of wisdom and spirituality. Such people are light years away from Evangelicals.
What follows is a brief excerpt of a story about Jonathan Nichols. Jonathan grew up in the Newark Baptist Temple, the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church (IFB) pastored, until recently, by my wife’s uncle, James Dennis. The Pastor (Jamie) Overton in this story is married to my wife’s cousin. He and his family are now missionaries. Polly’s parents have attended this church since the late 1970s. The Christian school in this story is the Licking County Christian Academy in Heath, Ohio. It is owned and operated by the Newark Baptist Temple.
My story is going to be slightly different than the others featured on this blog because I actually never attended Bob Jones University. However, before you stop reading, you should know that I would be finishing up my freshman year at BJU had I not been outed in high school, expelled, and ultimately forced to leave home. My parents are both BJU alumni, and the principal of my Christian school in Ohio was a BJU-pusher. In fact, while I was growing up, BJU was presented as the only viable choice of college by my family and a few teachers. Because of that, my story isn’t too different from the others here, I just went through the same things earlier, before I actually went to college.
I grew up in Newark, Ohio and attended an independent fundamental Baptist church since I was born. That church was more conservative than Bob Jones, and my parents were more conservative than the church. My mom, the church pianist and school music teacher, was forever busy taking the “sensual” triplets out of songs like “Some Trust in Chariots” and campaigning against songs like “As The Deer” and “Bow the Knee.” As you can probably deduce from that, practically no modern music was allowed in our household either. I grew up on classical music and only classical music and quickly learned that there was no such thing as likes and dislikes when it came to music. There was just good and bad. You are to listen to good music and not to listen to bad music. What music you “like” has nothing to do with anything.
That mentality was carried into every area of life.
I suppose being the music teacher’s son allowed me to be a little gay boy without thinking anything of it or being called out about it. I was totally into music and art and pretty things, and nothing was weird. I would play with scarves without feeling odd. Well, without feeling too odd. I knew that none of the other guys my age were playing with scarves. Fortunately, I didn’t think about it too much.
Ok, so I can’t really credit my discretion for keeping me in the closet for eighteen years… Like I said, I played with scarves and wasn’t careful about making it known that I was a musician and not like those “other” guys. The atmosphere was so anti-gay that no one even bothered to think that there could be a gay kid growing up there, regardless of how obvious I made it. Besides, I was still a kid. I didn’t even know what it meant to be gay. Heck, I didn’t even know that it meant anything besides “happy.” So in the minds of the church and my parents, there was no way I could have chosen to be gay yet. And since being gay is a choice, that meant that I was a good, straight little boy. Just like God intended. Right? Totally….
….wanted so much to be able to be honest with someone that I was actually in contact with. I hinted to my closest friend that my friendship with Ryan wasn’t just a friendship. She was, naturally for someone in our atmosphere, worried for me. So, despite her promises that she would trust me to do what I felt was right, she went to my youth pastor for help. He promptly told the senior pastor, who is superintendent of the school. The next day, I was called into Pastor Dennis’s office for questioning. Pastor Overton was also in the room, sitting to my left with a legal pad and a pen, taking notes. Dennis tried to start off nice enough, but it was obvious that they found out. I decided that a clean breast of the issue would be best, and went into my research on the matter, hoping at least to get an opposing rebuttal and at best to convince them. How naive I was. . . I don’t remember much of that conversation, but one thing rings vividly in my mind. I mentioned that the Greek word malakoi in I Cor. 6:9 was never elsewhere, in the whole of Greek literary writings, translated “effeminate.” It carried a whole different connotation. His response? He turned around, pulled his Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance off the shelf, looked up the word, and pointed to the definition. He never for one second imagined that Dr. James Strong was not infallible and that his concordance was not holy writ. In those several hours, my pastor beat me down. Hard. I was totally conquered, save in one regard. I would not tell him who I was “dating.” I did not see that it was my place to get someone else, especially someone I loved, in trouble like this. Dennis found out anyways. He had me break up with Ryan. I cried all night…
You are an Evangelical Christian.
You put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ.
You’ve been baptized and you are a member in good standing of a Christian church.
For years, everything was fine between you and God.
But now, suddenly, you have questions and doubts.
Maybe something happened in your life to cause you to question your faith.
Maybe you’re having trouble accepting some of the teachings of the Bible.
Maybe you’ve come to see that Christianity is not all it is cracked up to be.
Maybe you have read a book by an author such as Bart Ehrman and now you have questions.
So, now what?
Going to your pastor or a fellow church member won’t help you. They will tell you to pray, trust God, or resist the temptation of Satan. I suspect you have tried all these things and yet you still have doubts.
Christians are taught not to doubt. Just believe. Just have faith. Only in Evangelical Christianity is the natural human experience of doubt considered a bad thing.
Doubt means you have questions. Doubt means something doesn’t make sense to you. Doubt means that the answers of the past no longer answer the questions of the present.
First, it is OK to doubt. Anyone who tells you otherwise has something to hide or has an agenda. Your pastor wants to keep you as a church member and he knows that the exit door of the church swings out on the hinges of doubt. This is why he tells you to trust God, pray, read your Bible, attend church more, and confess any sin in your life. You know these “solutions” will do nothing to assuage your doubt. Why can’t your pastor see this?
Second, the only way to find answers for your doubts is to be willing to read and study. You must be willing to work hard. If you really want to know, the answers can be found.
Third, be honest. I mean completely honest. Don’t lie to yourself. Be willing to meet the truth in the middle of the road. Engage every bit of new information and weigh it carefully. Don’t move forward until you really understand the new information.
Fourth, you must be willing to follow the path wherever it leads. Are you willing to lose your faith if that is where the path leads? Are you willing to leave the church you are a part of if that is where the path leads?
Fifth, the only person you have to answer to is yourself. This journey of yours is singular. It is a lonely walk that you must take by yourself. No one can guide you, direct you, or tell you which way to go. You alone must chart your course. Remember, the journey is more important than the destination.
Sixth, don’t be in a hurry. Take your time. You have your whole life ahead of you.
Seventh, be careful whom you share your doubts with. Evangelical Christians are known to turn on those who don’t think like they do. They think their God demands conformity and obedience, and as a doubter they will have “doubts” about you.
It doesn’t matter where your journey takes you. Maybe you will stay right where you are, but I doubt it. It is likely that your doubts are telling you something about where you are now. Staying where you are is not an option IF you are really serious about finding answers to your doubts.
Not all people can embrace their doubts. They fear losing their faith. They fear the judgment of God. They fear hell. They fear disappointing their family and friends. Ask yourself: should fear be a motivator for doing anything?
Here is what I know from my own experience; you will always have doubts. Having questions is how we mature and grow. As we seek answers to the doubts we have, we develop a better understanding of self and the world we live in. Pity the person who never doubts, who never seeks answers to questions. Ignorance is not bliss, and understanding self and the world we live in is key to living a happy, productive life.
I am here to help you, no strings attached, I don’t want your money, life, or soul. I have no desire to convert you to atheism. In fact, I am quite certain that most people will not end up where I am. It is not about you being like anyone else. It is your life, your journey, and I hope you will walk on in openness and honesty.
Recently, I received a Facebook message from a Canadian seminary student by the name of Matt. I assume he is an Evangelical. Here’s some of what he had to say:
You don’t know me. I am a seminary student at a school in Canada. One of my professors passed around your article entitled “Know it all Evangelicals” and asked the class to post a response in the class forum.
As I considered my response, I felt that if I wanted to take the assignment seriously I should also post my response in the comments on your article…
…If you are not interested in this I completely understand and will bother you no more. I wish you all the best as you battle through your health issues. Thanks for considering my request.
Here’s the comment Matt posted to the class forum page:
Thanks for a thought provoking article. I’ll admit that my first reaction was indignation and the inner protest that while this may refer to most Christians, it certainly doesn’t refer to me, don’t lump me in with everyone else.
I suspect that just about any Christian reading the article would feel similarly at least initially. Perhaps others would jump on the bandwagon and say, “Yeah, that is the problem with the church, they are so arrogant and they know nothing.” as though they themselves are somehow apart from and therefore better than the church.
Then I tried to think more about what you are really saying. It seems that the main problem that you outline in the article is the arrogance Christians tend to have based on their knowledge which in reality often amounts mostly to ignorance. I wonder if I really can be lumped into that category.
Perhaps in your years as a pastor you had the experience of having kids from your church go off to Bible College and then come back after a year armed with a new knowledge and a great zeal to correct the areas where you were in error in your leadership. The reality is that I was one of those kids. I recall as a Bible School student zealously inserting myself into a church conflict in the church where I grew up.
I made sure to point out to the pastor the areas where he was wrong and clearly warned him of the dangers of his behaviour. He was a man who was struggling in life, he had a teenage daughter causing a great deal of grief in his home and a church in turmoil around him and I am sure that in my great wisdom and discernment I caused far more harm than good. I look back on that incident with no small regret and hope that I have learned something since then.
Now, years later I find myself with a role of leadership and influence within the church and your article is a challenge to me. I can ask myself, “How can I be an influence for good in the church? Can I challenge the young people around me to get into their Bible, to study the scriptures and to think about what they are reading?” I think I can. The reality is that if the scriptures are true (and I believe that they are) they are worth studying and knowing. If they are truly a way to know God then this is what I should devote my life to learning and I want to influence the next generation of the church to change the reputation that we have of being arrogant and ignorant.
Thanks for your challenge.
While I cannot find the post Matt references, I do remember what I wrote. I focused on the arrogance of many Evangelicals when it comes to them thinking they know everything. In truth, most Evangelicals know very little about theology, the Bible, the history of the Christian sect, and the transmission of the text they claim is divine. Even among preachers, the lack of knowledge is astounding.
I think Bart Ehrman’s books should be required reading in the Evangelical church (and even more so in Evangelical Bible colleges and seminaries). Evangelicals should know where their Bible and beliefs came from and how much these beliefs have changed over the centuries. They should know that many of the claims they make for the Bible are not only laughable but ignorant. If they are going to say that the Bible says ____________, then they should learn to defend and explain their assertions. In the process of learning how to defend themselves, they should expose themselves to authors and scholars outside of their sect, men such as Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, John Shelby Spong, NT Wright, and even secular, non-Christian writers of the ilk of Bart Ehrman and Robert M Price.
I take the Bible seriously and those who say they believe it should do the same. I hope, in the advice Matt gives to his future church people, that he will encourage them to read outside the rut of their peculiar sect. Any belief worth having will stand examination and critique. Now, if it is really all about faith, then future Evangelical preachers such as Matt need to make that clear. They need to state that their beliefs are faith-based and not evidence based. This we believe, then becomes an article of faith, a shared faith, that may have some facts attached to it, but such facts are not required.
I want to thank Matt for his comment. I always appreciate it when an Evangelical makes an attempt to engage me on a thoughtful, professional, and intellectual level. His kind message to me is a reminder that my writing is often discussed far beyond the pages of this blog.
I have had countless Evangelicals attempt to disparage and discredit Bart Ehrman. When I ask them which of his books they have read, they often state they have read NONE of them. As with the Bible and theology, their knowledge is based on what someone else has told them.
(I do make a few shekels if you buy these books through the links above)
Bethany (my 25-year-old daughter with Down Syndrome) and I religiously watch the hit TV show Grimm. Along with Captain America, Rascal Flatts, and Sleepy Hollow, Bethany loves Grimm. She is quite intense when she watches the show and can easily recite to anyone who asks (or doesn’t ask) the Grimm storyline, complete with character descriptions.
One of the problems Bethany has is that she has a hard time distinguishing between fact and fiction. As we were watching Grimm last week, Bethany asked, they are all real, right? I snickered a bit, and then told her, no, they are not real. They come from a storybook.
Later in the week, I was watching a crime procedural show and one of the characters explained how it is possible for a large number of people to testify to a certain event happening. The detective said:
People make things up and it is told over and over. Eventually it becomes common knowledge.
And then I thought to myself, just like the stories in the Bible.
I can just imagine an Evangelical preacher reading this post and doing this while screaming:
THE BIBLE IS DIFFERENT!!! In what way is the Bible different? Think on this question before trying to defend the Bible as a historically accurate, factual book. Do we have any more evidence for the Jesus of the Bible than we do the fictional creatures in Grimm? While there may have been a man named Jesus that lived and died in Palestine during the period recorded in the gospels, is there any evidence for a Jesus that was the miracle-working, divine, son of God?
Just because people say something is so doesn’t mean it is factual or true. An Evangelical preacher is simply following the path described by the detective. He is repeating a story that has been told over, and over, and over again. And as with the telephone game, the Jesus story of the 21st century is wildly different from the Jesus story of the first, second, twelfth, or fifteenth century.
Evangelicals embarrass themselves when they assert without knowledge that what they believe is exactly the same as what the early New Testament church believed. What is their evidence for this claim? Why the passed-down story of Jesus, passed down from Christian to Christian, sect to sect.
I am an avid reader of Smithsonian Magazine. Every month I learn something I didn’t know before. In the January 2015 issue, I learned from an article about Martin Luther King, Jr. that “King and his demonstrators were driven out of Selma by the police on “Bloody Sunday.” I also learned that the Watt Riots took place in 1967.
Imagine for a moment that I am telling my children about my life growing up in the 1960’s. Imagine me saying to them, I remember seeing the Watts Riots on TV in 1967. My children would accept this as a fact because they know I was born in 1957, so I was alive during the race riots of the 1960s. Perhaps, they would pass this on to their children, a story of how life was when Gramps was a kid. Think on this for a moment.
The February 2015 edition of Smithsonian came a few days ago. In the Discussion section was a correction. King was not in Selma on Bloody Sunday. He arrive two days later. The Watts Riots? They took place in 1965, not 1967.
Now ponder how the stories of the Bible came into being and why people repeat them and believe them today.
This is the third installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please leave the name the song in the comment section or send me an email.
I know you smoke, I know you drink that brew
I just can’t abide a sinner like you
You know, God can’t either, that’s why I know it to be true
That Jesus loves me, but he can’t stand you
I’m goin’ straight to heaven, boys, when I die
‘Cause I’ve crossed every T and I’ve dotted every I
Why, my preacher tells me that I’m God’s kind of guy
That’s why Jesus loves me…..but you’re gonna fry
God loves all His children, by gum
That don’t mean He won’t incinerate some
Can’t you feel those hot flames lickin’ you?
I’m raisin’ my kids in a righteous way
So don’t you be bringin’ your kids over to my house to play
Why, yours will grow up stoned, left-leaning, and gay
I know – Jesus told me on the phone today
Jesus loves me, this I know
And he told me where you’re gonna go
There’s lots of room for your kind – down below
Jesus loves me, he loves me real good
I know he does because he called me up on the phone today and told me how much he loves me
He said, “Son, I loooooove you”
He speaks English pretty well, considering it’s a second language for him
You can talk to him too, you know, I’ve got a 900-number in Tulsa that you can call him at – I do it all the time
He’ll be glad to hear from you, I talk to him every day
Jesus loves me, but he can’t stand you!
Well intentioned Christians read this blog and come to the conclusion that what I lack is love from compassionate, caring Christians.
They assume that there is no love in fundamentalist Christianity. They assume fundamentalist Christianity is all hate and law, and no grace.
Their assumption is quite wrong. I met many loving people in the fundamentalist church. Their love may have been conditioned on my fidelity to their brand of truth, but they loved me nonetheless (and I loved them too).
My wife’s parents are fundamentalist Christians, yet they love me still.
So a lack love is not the problem.
I tend to distrust people who tell me upfront how loving they are. Such people are similar to a car dealer who tells you how honest he is or a doctor who tells you how proficient he is. Why do these people NEED to tell me this?
Often, those loving Christians prove to be anything but loving.
Many people think my defection from the Christian faith was an emotional decision. Certainly there was an emotional component, but my decision was primarily and ultimately an intellectual one.
The compassionate, caring Christians want me to try their flavor of ice cream. Their flavor is different. It’s not like all those other flavors.
After all, THEY are special and they want me to be special too.
So, let me ask the compassionate, caring Christian a few questions.
Can I deny the Bible is the Word of God and still be a part of your church?
Can I question if God even exists and still be a part of your church?
Can I deny the trinity and still be a part of your church?
Can I tell everyone at church that hell is a medieval fable and still be a part of your church?
Can I pass out books at church by Bart Ehrman and Richard Dawkins and still be a part of your church?
Can I espouse universalist beliefs and still be a part of your church?
Can I openly affirm pro-gay, pro-choice, pro-drug, pro-prostitution views and still be a part of your church?
The compassionate, caring Christians want to convince me that their church is different, that it is special.
But it isn’t.