A guest post by an atheist, a former covenant member from The Village Church in Dallas that reflects on Christian friendship. It looks at how Christians act and asks some good questions. I also write about some of the issues I ran into in my faith crisis and how some of the Christian friends I knew responded.
“A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still allows you to gently grow.”
“Be slow to fall into friendship, but when you are in, continue firm and constant.”
“Friendship isn’t about whom you have known the longest… It’s about who came, and never left your side…”
A neat perspective on friendship
Today’s post is a re-run of some articulate thoughts by a former covenant member of Matt Chandler’s The Village Church. Today she is an atheist and as you read her words you can see some very legitimate questions that she is asking. The name of this post is called “Ghosts of friends past.” When I had my faith crisis and rejected Christianity for years I had run into similar issues. This post grabbed my attention and I asked her husband Charlie for permission to re-run it and she concurred. But before I get into her post let me explain a few situations that happened in my life.
In 2008 or so I was in a men’s Bible study at National Community Church here in Washington, D.C. In 2008 my faith crisis started to form. I recall being in Bible study and asking questions that were very penetrating about the topic being taught.
“Dave you’re confused” or “Dave you just need to think of it like this…” When my penetrating questioning revealed that I didn’t believe the party line I recall people sitting across from me and staring at me, not knowing what to say. Their silence spoke volumes and revealed that they couldn’t deal with my questions.
Fast forward a couple of years into the early stages of my faith crisis and you have another situation that is very telling. I was driving home from work and I pulled into a Chic Fil A in Fairfax, Virginia to grab dinner. I was maybe a year and a half into my faith crisis. Remember my faith crisis lasted for at least 5 years. So I was sitting in the Chic Fil A eating when someone from McLean Bible pops in. I froze…he was someone who led a small group and I interacted with him from time to time when I attended McLean Bible in the past. I didn’t know what would be said. I was afraid he would spot me and was nervous. Would he be prepared to hear about my unbelief? How I no longer considered myself Christian? Or allow me to ask him point blank what type of God allowed a child to be raped, a gunman to walk into an elementary school and commit a massacre, or a 767 to fly into a skyscraper on a beautiful Tuesday morning in New York City?
Ben saw me and waved, got his food came over to where I was sitting and I saw the conversation that was coming.
“Dave I have not seen you in church in a long time. What happened? How are you?”
Eventually I told him that I no longer believed in God. How I considered myself an agnostic, and just couldn’t believe in the Christian faith anymore. Ben was taken back a little bit and one of the things he said is, “It must be freeing to not be confined by rules.” Intellectually it was freeing, it was very freeing. The conversation was just getting going when Ben stopped, looked at his watch, and said:
“Dave I have to go, I’m leading small group tonight and I need to run. I don’t want to be late.”
He said he would pray for me, ended the conversation and walked out. The terse way in which it ended really didn’t surprise me. I have watched and saw how other people dealt with my new system of unbelief. But what puzzled me as a skeptic who was once a Christian was sitting in a booth at a Chic Fil A and reflecting on the parable of the Good Samaritan and seeing that play out in person in a restaurant. So Ben sees someone he hadn’t seen in years, he learns they rejected the Christian faith and he pushes back from the conversation and gives the standard, “I’ll pray for you.” Then he walks out so he can led Bible study. Watching this as a skeptic spoke volumes about his faith, and Christian culture. The questions going through my mind were the following. Why didn’t he stay and engage? Or why didn’t he call his group and say, ‘Something came up can you guys carry on without me?’ After all if I was a Christian I would have thought he would have canceled things, hung out for a while and then followed up and say, “let’s talk….and let’s chill.” It was one of the many examples I saw of Christian hypocrisy. So many Christians are loud about what they believe but when you talk to them, manner scatter.
Then there was another situation that was quite shocking and revealing. There was a co-worker who was trying to get me involved in Redeemer Arlington which was a former Sovereign Grace Ministries church plant in the Washington, D.C. area. In a severe medical crisis, Andrew visited me in the hospital and claimed he loved and cared for me. We clashed and fought over Sovereign Grace and I hounded him on issues and problems with reformed theology. The situation changed abruptly when shortly after asking me to stay at his house, walked me through his wedding album, and asked me to change the password on his computer; Andrew gave birth to an extremely serious false accusation that took aim at my name, job, reputation and more. Given the way he was acting beforehand, as a skeptic I was starting to respect Andrew for how he pursued an agnostic or militant atheist. That was in spite of what he said about Sovereign Grace which was deeply corrupt. He went far in pursuing me and I noticed that..however in the end he walked away. Why the false accusation? Here’s my theory in the end Andrew was deeply insecure in his faith and theology. My questions were a threat to him so he took aim at my name and reputation in desperation. You know what would stun me is if Andrew contacted me and showed initiative and wanted to own his mess. However I don’t see that happening because Andrew like many other Christians are shallow and skin deep. Their faith doesn’t permeate deep inside. I believe this is why much of the world laughs, dismisses and blows off Christians. There is little to take seriously about many. A while back I wrote what Andrew should have done in my faith crisis in this post here.
Now all this stood in firm contrast with how Danny Risch, James Crestwood, Scott VanSweringen, and Dee Parsons engaged me. Danny was unconditional in his love. So was Scott, actually Scott found ways to associate and engage me outside the faith issue and that was how a friendship between a skeptic and an Christian was forged. James refused to walk away from me even when I tried to drive him away. He stood firm and pursued me deeply, even going so far as to attend an atheist event with me. Dee Parsons asked if she could speak with me and we spent hours and hours on the phone discussing issues like the problem of evil. I wrote an overview of this in more detail in this post here. In the way Danny, James, Scott, and Dee engaged I could see there was more to who they were in how they reacted.
Of course there is this other problem that I don’t hear people mentioning today and its this…the celebrity pastor situation exacerbates many problems in Christianity. Why? You have all these people running around quoting Matt Chandler, John Piper, Mark Dever and others who just regurgitate what others believe. However, they have never wrestled with the hard questions themselves. Its for this reason alone that I look at my faith crisis from 2009 until 2013, and my loss of faith for a few years to be an absolute gift. And for that crisis today I am thankful. One of the reasons why I oppose the celebrity pastor enterprise is because it cripples people in the long run. What to hurt someone long term? Have them read Matt Chandler. What to cripple a person’s faith? Have them consume John Piper. The celebrity pastor model is destructive and damning for Christianity. Its why I hold no reserve in tearing it apart. In the end it stunts people and when a person is having a faith crisis they learn that the material they know doesn’t help.
But many Christians do not know how to deal with doubt. They do not know how to engage the doubter. They do not know what to say, what to think or feel. Most people are afraid and their reaction shows why many evangelicals are deeply insecure. Of all the posts I get to write here at The Wondering Eagle the ones that I enjoy the most are the atheist posts. This is one of my favorite posts where I re-wrote about grieving the loss of my faith as featured on Godless in Dixie. That said, atheist posts are the least popular in my stats as many Christians don’t like to read them. But I enjoy them…and I enjoy thinking outside the norm. Its like atheists themselves…I find them to be often sincere, honest, beautiful, and amazing in who they are. Here’s an old post on what this Christian appreciates from atheists. I like the fact that they are honest to say they don’t believe in God is refreshing. I will disagree but I love their honesty. Its an incredible trait to have in this modern world. I also like that they are open about their questioning and that they are think so intellectually. Its amazing…I enjoy engaging with many of the atheists here at this blog. Behind the scenes I get to engage a few. I was sitting in church a month or so ago and I was getting texts from one in the middle of the service. I laughed and engaged with joy. I spent nearly an hour speaking by phone with Karen’s husband Charlie and I enjoyed it. I have no problem listening, or hearing them out. I wish that the evangelical Christian church would engage and listen to them, as atheists and skeptics have a lot to say. Its with that said that I would like to turn this over to Karen and thank her for her words. She has a lot of good things to say. Let me know what you think as always I love you guys!
Ghosts of Friend’s Past
For those of you who used to be Christians, do you remember when you got converted (I hate using that word in this context)? Do you remember leaving relationships because of your new beliefs?
I mean, it makes sense, you stopped doing the things you used to do. In my case, I stopped being a party girl. I stopped drinking in considerably large amounts, stopped hanging out with the “bad influences,” and started staying in every weekend. You change your lifestyle when you change your beliefs.
But what about the people that you thought were committed to walk with you? When we left Christianity we pretty much lost everyone. There were so many women in my home group that told me so many times they wanted to “do life” with me. They said god was doing awesome things in my life and they didn’t want to miss that. They said they would help me through my doubts. Sadly, it didn’t take much for my Christian friends to stop talking to me. In fact, they don’t even know I’ve become an atheist. When we decided to leave that particular church to work and wrestle through some of the questions/doubts we were having, one of my closest friends (and mentor) sent me a goodbye text saying “I will see you in eternity.” I was just finding a different church not dying. And when I met up at a coffee shop with my best friend to tell her more in detail the doubts I was having, well you can imagine where this is going: I never heard from her again.
What’s worse is that according to their Bible they’re the ones that are supposed to reach out and help you through your doubts, help you through your struggles and be there for you, sharing the love of Christ. But do they do that? No. To me, that’s proof of how little they really believe in their religion. The hypocrisy.
At the end of the day I’m actually thankful they stopped talking to me. I don’t want to have a friendship with someone like that but if I’m being honest, it hurts. It hurts to see how easy it is to get rid of those who don’t agree with you. It hurts less now, but I know it’s still there. It feels as though I had just left an old job, the type of job in which while you were there everyone liked you and wanted to hang out with you, but once you left it’s like you never existed.
I guess I shouldn’t expect more from a belief system that is built on lies.