I gave a brief overview of where I’m heading with the blog, and now in this opening series I want to preface all that with a little intro regarding my path into deconstruction. In this post I want to share a glimpse of my story, specifically as it relates to my intent for the blog.
I am writing about my experiences growing up in the Christian church, and more specifically about, I guess,
my falling out with the church, no, my hope to make sense of organized religion. What I mean by that is, while I’m confused by many of the church things I’ve experienced over the years – like why so much of the church is judgmental towards non-Christians – I’m less interested in critiquing the church for the purpose of doing church things better, and more so here to discern the underlying philosophies within that system so I might personally find healing towards the church. So this is more about me than you, especially if you’re still a fan of the church. However, it’d be great too if this led to discovering something more meaningful, church wise.
A quick telling of my story:
I am one of the countless people who have had a run-in with the Christian institution known as church. I was raised to follow the rules and believe whatever the pastor was selling, without question. And for a majority of my life that’s exactly what I did. It wouldn’t be until well into adulthood that I’d stop being afraid to question what I was told.
My family life had a lot to do with what kept me in that safe Christian bubble for so long. Being raised to follow the rules meant that…
Not only was I supposed to do as my parents said, but also that I was expected to be as my parents said. In other words, to believe what my parents believed.
It makes sense that those closest to us expect conformity, but it’s also a crock. As far as it concerns Christianity though, I’ve learned not to take it personally because maybe others are comfortable in that worldview and just don’t feel the need to question the system. Which makes sense when questioning the system means going to hell. No doubt the church has given us plenty to fear.
So it wasn’t until I broke out from under that influence that I began to recognize what was wrong with the system. I guess when you’re in the middle of it all, it’s hard to notice. That’s a thing, right? So I questioned, a lot. Like why did the church preach that all were welcome, but then have such rigid rules of actual acceptance? Why were so many people seemingly devoid of compassion, quick to cast judgment on others who were different? I mean, when you stop to think about it, the whole heaven/hell, us/them thing just doesn’t add up when you consider a person’s humanity. But this was the Christian culture I grew up in, and the longer I was there, the more I grew to resent it all.
After being raised in this system – which left me with more of a fear for going to hell than a confidence in the love of God – you’d think I would’ve had enough of church, but after high school I was just coasting through life. I struggled to figure out which career path to choose so I defaulted to the one thing I knew, church, and pursued a degree in youth ministry (I guess so I could get paid to go to church?!?!). At the time, I felt a ‘calling.’ Maybe it was, but I’m not sure now. If I go to church all my life could that ‘calling’ also be ‘influence?’
The turning point: Losing Church
It’s in working for the church where it all began to unravel. Maybe that’s too strong to say, but it’d at least point me in a different direction. I’d spend 15 years in and out of several churches trying to find my place and purpose only to be let go and let down. I literally, repeatedly, lost church. Fired.
Some people are kicked out of church for not believing the right things, I was kicked out for not being able to double the youth group attendance.
It’s always tough to lose a job, but this wasn’t just a job. It was a group of people that not only was I leading in matters of faith, but was also connected to like family. In losing church, I lost both my income and my community.
But here’s the real kick in the pants: If the church leadership decides they want to go in a different direction, I guess I have to own that, because it was a job. It’d be one thing if it was that simple, but of course it rarely is. I’ve learned that people get fired all the time for political reasons. It can be messy so an organization needs to protect itself, and to a lesser degree, maybe there’s an inkling of concern to protect the employee too. But the church takes this to another level: On top of the whole, “Dave, you’re not doing your job to our standards so unfortunately we’ve decided to ask for your resignation” gut punch, each and every pastor (aka boss) qualified it by saying that, “the Lord has led us to this decision.”
Let that sink in for a second.
So you’re telling me that God fired me?!?! The Lord must have something against youth directors because the Almighty apparently never felt that the pastor – you know the actual guy in charge – might have something to do with the shrinking church attendance.
I’m not sure if those pastors really believed God was leading them in a different direction or if it was just easier to justify firing me that way, but I’ve known people who believe some bizarre things so it wouldn’t surprise me if they really did think God was behind this all. It’s amazing how people for ages have been giving God the credit for their personal agendas.
I’ll share more later about what went down at each church, but for now just know that I’d had enough.
It hurt at the time, but later as I moved on from the church, I began to realize my problem wasn’t with any one specific person. Those guys who forced me to ‘resign’ were just trying to grow their business; can’t blame them for that. My parents, in expecting me to abide by the rules, were just trying to give me the best life they knew how; gotta love them for that. Instead, my problem was and is with how this system claims to know what God is thinking and uses it to justify their actions.
Maybe you don’t like that I just said that; you think I’m a heathen by suggesting we don’t know what God is up to. You might say, “Of course we do! We have the bible!” Honestly, I think we all could benefit from laying down our confidence, practicing a little humility, and listening to the experience of those different from us. On both sides of the story, we all need to chill. There needs to be a balance between setting aside our own perspective while also holding on to the good we bring.
For me, it was easy to be mad at the pastors who fired me, but it’d be better to lead the way with what could have been handled differently. For the church, there are certainly some truths they want to hold on to (and rightly so), but also some things that need to be let go; some wrongs to own.
We need an honest awareness for the hurt the system is inflicting because, I have to ask, is any of our passionate, righteous, anger – or whatever you want to call it – really helping? I think a lot of it just divides us further.
I need to admit that I’ll struggle to write with this balance in mind because I do think there are some outdated traditions, fears, and even an arrogance within Christianity that is preventing healthy reform. I want to show grace to those before me that have made mistakes, but I also want to call out where I think we can be doing better. And I think this is needed, even if it is a little rough.
I don’t think any of us should be let off the hook for misusing the bible. Anyone who uses God’s name for their own agenda absolutely cannot be trusted. And I’ve seen it happen too often. It is a power trip. It is oppression. In fact, it’s no different than any other shady authority figure, except it’s worse because they do it in the name of love/God. If you can’t see that Christianity is privilege/power then you’re reading the wrong books. This is the system that must be challenged, but I’ll admit, cautiously. So I’ll try my best.
But if I do get angry, just know that my whole life I’ve been losing church.