Not long after “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” author Joshua Harris announced he is no longer a Christian, Marty Sampson, a songwriter for the Christian band Hillsong, did the same thing. In my social media feeds, people have expressed fear that their favorite Christian artist, author, or speaker might be next. As if deconversion is a contagious epidemic.
I’ve seen many explanations offered up by people who need to armchair diagnose the reasons people leave the faith, perhaps as some kind of defense mechanism to keep it from happening in their own churches:
“He must not have been properly taught the gospel.”
“His upbringing was too legalistic.”
“His faith was in people, not God.”
It’s that last one that I want to discuss today — because that is why I nearly left my faith a few years ago.
Keep in mind that I’m not saying that’s the reason Marty or Joshua no longer believe — as far as I’m aware, neither one of them has offered an in-depth explanation, so don’t take this as yet another diagnosis of some kind. There could be many reasons that religion doesn’t work for them anymore.
Rather, I want to explore the nuances behind the idea that one’s faith is in “people, not God” because 1) it’s a very common assumption, and 2) I don’t think it’s fair to those who were negatively influenced or perhaps even traumatized by the Christians in their lives. If you’ve never experienced it for yourself, you have no idea just how deep that trauma goes.
If you see someone on Facebook selling some kind of MLM product (diet shakes, essential oils, makeup, etc), only to find out that they don’t actually use the product, wouldn’t that make you doubt the legitimacy of what they’re selling?
Not to reduce Christianity to a sales product (although many people do), but that’s basically what drove me away from church for a while. I was so tired of hearing Christians preach “You will know them by their fruit,” only to bend over backwards to excuse the lack of it from Donald Trump, an unrepentant racist, misogynist, and alleged rapist, who is on record saying he doesn’t need to repent of his own sins.
I was tired of hearing well-dressed, white, heterosexual preachers say from the pulpits of giant megachurches that Christians are an oppressed minority, but never utter a word about the victims of the shooting at a gay nightclub, the African Americans gunned down in their own church, or the scores of black men killed by police brutality.
I was tired of faith that was all talk but no action; of Christians who are so desperate to be martyrs that they ignore their own privilege and look the other way as people of color and the LGBT community continue to suffer.
While I was able to find God in the midst of all his terrible representatives, not everyone can. That breaks my heart, but shaming people for not trying harder isn’t likely to bring them back. It will only cement their reasons for leaving, and possibly worsen the trauma they experienced in the process.
When Christians say “Their faith was in people, not God” every time someone leaves the faith, they underestimate Jesus when he said “You will know them by their fruit.” If 81% of evangelicals make excuses for racism and misogyny, it makes Jesus look pretty terrible. Who can blame people for wanting nothing to do with it? I don’t want to follow a Jesus who will mold me into someone who is complicit in enabling white supremacy, either.
When prominent Christians announce they want nothing more to do with the church, maybe we should look at ourselves for an explanation.