A post starting a discussion on how to engage someone in a faith crisis. Journaling about my mindset, the influences I was under, and how I thought. The first part which I believe is key is learning to develop thick skin.
“Having a thick skin doesn’t mean you’re hard or harsh. I was lucky because I was born with a thick skin. That doesn’t mean that things don’t bother me, but you have to keep it in perspective.”
West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito
Okay, so the past few Fridays I’ve wanted to show how a faith crisis in me developed. I laid out the struggle I had with doubt and an outline for this series. I also explained what it felt like to go through a profound faith crisis. Then I explained in great detail all the doubts and issues I had point by point, While I had many, many doubts that overwhelmed me the biggest one that crushed me was the problem of evil. That was the tipping point for me to reject Christianity for years. So now that I explained what happened and set this up…it begs the question what do you do? If you have someone you know or love how do you respond. What actions should you take or not take? Should you pursue the person of leave them in peace? Can you help them or will your actions hurt them. What is an appropriate response? Starting today and for the next several Fridays I want to pursue these issues in great detail.
- The importance of growing thick skin.
- The importance of unconditional love.
- Preparing for the long haul.
- The importance of prayer.
- Being open about your doubts.
- Why its going to be uncomfortable.
- When you feel like your effort is in vain.
- Being careful not to feed the faith crisis in the person you care about.
- What its like for an atheist/skeptic to go to an evangelical church. Many evangelicals don’t have any idea as to what its like.
- Finding a common denominator to relate and walk with someone.
- How to establish and build trust.
- What Andrew White should have done in my faith crisis
- What James Crestwood, Scott Van Sweringen, Danny Risch, and My East Coast Mom did right in my faith crisis
When I was in my faith crisis I had a million different emotions. I felt betrayed by the faith I had. I felt sick at the thought of God. I couldn’t deal with the doubts that I had which crushed me. I was in emotional pain and confused…yet my thinking was clear. I thought of issues and things that I never thought of before. When I raged about Christianity being a cancer it was because of past experiences which led me to that point. I honestly believed that my life during my faith crisis would ever go back to faith. I just didn’t foresee it. Now I want to note that abuse is not to be tolerated and I didn’t go out wanting to abuse people. I was turned off by the Christianity that I had seen in the United States. So please don’t interpret this as me saying that one has a license to be verbally abusive, etc… But I also believe that many Christians should be able to respond in love and endure much more than others. Many Christians need to think of this beyond their own personal perspective. One thing to remember the atheist is proving himself by his intellect, in response the Christian needs to respond with love. I want to explore this more next week. Plus in the future I also want to write about what I appreciate from atheism, and why I think many evangelicals will be unable to reach atheists or those on the outside. This was all stuff I learned in my faith meltdown.
But these are some of the things I used to do in my faith crisis which in some ways I did strategically.
- There were times I wanted to bait Christians and people I knew who went to church. What did they believe? How did they believe it? Could they deal with difficult questions? Could they deal with someone in a differing frame of mind? Could they deal with someone who thought differently? Could they handle a strong argument coming in response to where they could articulate themselves? Would they respond in love or would they be cheap and flippant in response? I baited people at times because in all honesty it was also brought me great pleasure. I went on a rampage and knew how to push people’s buttons and did so because I wanted to see if they were sincere and the real deal. This is why I was impressed with Scott Van Sweringen, and James Crestfield who stuck it out until the end. This is why Andrew White was close before he quit. If Andrew would have held off a couple of weeks there could have been a much different story
- Other times I clashed. I did so because as I moved more into the evangelical atheist perspective I adopted their line of thinking. Christopher Hitchens called for clashing, being argumentative and treating religion and faith with ridicule. You can see that reflected in this tribute clip to Christopher Hitchens below from The Thinking Atheist. Listen to what Hitch says, and what he wrote. This was one of the reasons why I clashed and sought out arguments.
- I’m going to get vulnerable here and say that privately….I needed help. Privately I was hoping that things would somehow, someday work out. And that was why I threw a lifeline I think (subconsciously) to individuals like Andrew White and Scott Van Sweringen. However due ot my state of mind I couldn’t come out and just say it. I say this with the hope that some Christians will understand that some atheists and people outside the faith are trying to think things through and figure things out. This is why I have some hope for many atheists and those on the outside. If some people didn’t care they would drop it and let it be. Others can’t drop it and still pursue it and I think some are doing this subconsciously. I think that’s why in some Christian blogs and forums you will see some atheists or agnostics pop up from time to time. Now I also want to be careful…am I generalizing and saying all? No..some atheists are vocal I would suggest because they have been hurt by Christianity or religion and that pain compels them to be vocal about the harm religion does. In other cases they are very intellectual nr since evangelicalism struggles with issues like science or is anti-intellectual it causes some to leave. So I want to be clear I am talking about a few but I am not generalizing to say all…I hope that is clear.
Growing Thick Skin…Is Where to Start
Okay…so I hope the above helps you understand my frame of mind. If you are going to choose to engage someone outside the faith or someone in a faith crisis I would do the following, and suggest that this is a start.
I would grow thick skin and learn to be firm, and position yourself to take difficult words or questions. If Christians are going to have any effect I would suggest they should start by developing thick skin. What does mean?
- You don’t get angry when you church is criticized.
- You don’t blow when he says something tat triggers you.
- When the person is in the faith crisis states that your church is a cult, you don’t take it personally.
- You don’t get frustrated by the inability of where the discussions are going.
Its hard because people are emotional beings. But in the weeks to come I want to discuss ways to show grace, respond with love, and engage in different ways than many evangelicals know or are currently aware. I think one of the reasons why Dee Parsons was so successful in engaging me because she spent years reading ExChristians.net. And when I popped up she read, and studied enough to know what not to say and what to say. But more importantly she had incredibly thick skin. It puzzled me at times as to how much this former Sunday School teacher from Providence Baptist knew how to engage. When I pushed back or was rough she didn’t take it personally. But its important to have this skillset because really if Christians don’t have it, how are they ever going to be able to reach out and engage. I think part of the reason why this is an issue is that many Christians live in the confines of their bubble and feel threatened by differing points of view or when that point of view is challenged.
Growing thick skin is necessary. Its needed and in the process it can speak volumes about your faith. If you can absorb blows or difficult questions while responding with unconditional love like I will discuss next Friday than that is a major step forward. But its important to also look at things in stride and consider the big picture not just the moment. Perspective is key when it comes to not taking things personally. Its part of the process and its needed for you to be able to engage.