Social Issues, Theology

When we are the reason they left

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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.

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5 thoughts on “When we are the reason they left”

  1. Much of this resonates with me, I have had faith in God for most of my life. My faith in God, in Christ is solid…my faith in the church, particularly the western church..not so much. Within the last 5 years, no one I have met is interested in church. They are very interested in talking about God, we can have deep conversations about scripture and biblical history, but exactly no one wants to go to church. I had a friend tell me she would love to become a Christian but she won’t because she’d never step foot in a church that wasn’t LGBT affirming. When I ask why people don’t want to go, they don’t want to be judged, they see religious leaders backing and making excuses to allow current day atrocities, decades of sex scandals, LGBT exclusion and blatant misogyny. They are having exactly none of it and I have grown embarrassed of trying to convince people of why church is good and they should go. We literally eat our own (if Marty Sampson hadn’t made up his mind yet, I’m sure the churches response will seal the deal) and blame the world for not accepting us. I feel like current Evangelical Christianity needs a time out for bad behavior and a reset to remember Who we are supposed to be representing and how He treated the lost, broken, poor, marginalized and hurting.

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    1. I hear you. I have felt the same. We need a fresh way of doing things And dealing with people. Our mindsets are skewed somehow. I think that’s why so many people are looking back to the early church gospel message and the church fathers, to see where we may have gotten off track, not in our bedrock faith but in our focus. I am asking God to bless the search and the transition. I keep saying we can do better. We need to do better.

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  2. Christian Apologetics reserve a special vitriol, and place in their delusional Hell for Atheists, but for every one of them, there are more ‘Good Christians’ who don’t believe their definition and description of God, than there are Atheists. 😯

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  3. I hear of people leaving the Christian faith for the kinds of reasons listed here, and I feel the need to acknowledge the “you’re either for or against” toxic connection that Christianity has right now with politics. Control and fear have played a major part in forging this connection and I hate the damage being done. I’m a nurse, and I have cared for so many diverse people. I listened to and cared for them and became their advocate without regard to their religion, race, or sexuality. If I decide to speak up for their hearts and needs, to reach out or to give ear to the same people in my non-nursing life, or, heaven forbid… on the Internet…, I am almost sure to be labeled and accused. The vitriol from the religious is incredible. We used to be able to have an understanding conversation with each other. Now everyone seems to be either taking sides, or looking for people to throw out of their ‘side’. So the empathetic, conscientious Christian who wants to push a pause button on the rhetoric and the politics and find ways to reach out often gets thrown under the bus by their own. Castigated for trying to find a bridge to the exact people that Christ so valiantly and boldly advocated for. Given enough time under the bus, I guess I can see why people might leave Christianity. Maybe some people are waking up to the vitriol in themselves, perhaps God is dealing with them on their hypocrisy, and they want to walk away from their own judgment, their own gatekeeping, and seek God, an din their hour of need, the church tosses them rather than reaches out in support, patience, and grace. My fervent hope is that as these people seek refuge away from the vitriol, they do not shut their ears to God, that God meets them in their pain and they find the truth of living in Christ, maybe for the first time ever. I hope we can learn to sit with each other first, listen, leave the judgments to God and just listen to each other again. Fear and control are ugly masters. It’s time to say no them and seek each other again.

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  4. People do sometimes leave religion because of the people, but it’s more often that they find they have no evidence for what they believe in and find it no more believable than one of the other religions they were sure was wrong when they were a Christian. I was a presbyterian and now am an atheist. My deconversion was from reading the entire bible, and then finding out that there wasn’t any evidence for the claims in it. Quite a few of us former Christians found out that the bible wasn’t what we were told.

    Another reason people do leave is that they can see that Christianity isn’t what is claimed when Christians happily attack each other over who is the TrueChristians and who aren’t. That shows quite clearly that claims of truth are to be doubted when you can’t convince each other.

    I also have cats, 8 since i just rescued a momma cat and her kittens plus two from earlier, and muck around on etsy with my alcohol ink paintings.

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