Deconversion And Grace

My blog has been quiet. My deep thoughts have been all up in my head.

It’s been a crisis of sorts; in some respects, quite mild. All internal. Yet the implications of movement hint at some life-altering changes.

There’s this new word floating around: deconversion.

It’s kind of all the rage now, in some camps. It’s almost trendy, I’d say; people are coming out of the closet, confessing honestly about who they really are and where they really stand on matters of faith and Christianity and God.

We’re in an era of soul-baring; current culture teems with individual declarations revealing hidden things. The Truth. The Real Me. Everybody’s asking for acceptance. Everybody stands on equal ground.

Which is a good, good thing, in so many respects. Secrets bind anxiety. I can’t imagine the pain of living a lie – no, wait. I can. Been there, done that.

But my tenure in that world was of my own making, and the lines remained clear about right and wrong, whether civil or faith-based. I knew where I stood, and it wasn’t on the good side. Coming clean for me meant staying in the light of truth.

So, I confess to some button-pushing when processing the unveiling of newfound authentic lives that include rejection of God. It’s scary. It’s hard to be objective.

I have friends and acquaintances who do not believe in God – they never have. They’re not religious. They are decent people, civic-minded and kind. They do not worship Satan; they just don’t worship God. I know people who believe in God but not in Jesus; they are also good, decent people of different faiths.

I’ve never had issue with these folks whose faith is nonexistent or different than mine. Respect is a virtue, and I strive to give it.

But this new thing (which certainly isn’t new, really; now it just has a name and a tribe or two and some broadly open arms), this deconversion; this is different. It’s saying, “Once I believed that and now I don’t”, and the rules and regulations of a commitment to God don’t allow for much rejection. And I’ll just say it: It’s hard to accept. And not in the “Oh my God, what do you mean you no longer believe in Jesus you’re going to hell for committing the unpardonable sin?!?!?!!?!?”

It’s hard because….well, I don’t know. So many reasons.

It’s personal. Whether these are blogging friends, favorite authors or personal friends, it’s hard to remove the personal impact. Part of the power of Christian faith – in my experience, and in it’s history – is the communal connection. Whether it’s been good or bad – and it’s both; I can’t even list how many people I’ve hurt, unintentionally, by not being a good friend/Christian/pastor – there is a connection that’s both intrinsic and acknowledged. When the faith aspect is removed, the person is still there. They hold the same personality traits, the same sense of humor, the same skills and talents – but something foundational in the communal connection changes. My more hardline friends would articulate for a loss of the Holy Spirit, a removal from fellowship, a lack of unity when one denies deity. I struggle with this; I have long believed that those things – the Holy Spirit, the fellowship, the unity – solidified into a connection that was, in a word, supernatural. I give credit to the God in whom I believe. I’ve experienced these things over and over and over.

I believe them.

I’ve shared them.

So what happens when someone takes a deep breath and says, “Not me. Don’t believe it anymore. Not real.” Not just, “I’m not into church.” More than, “I don’t think Jesus is the only way.” 

“God is not real.”

What’s left?

It’s personal, and – I’ll be honest – it’s threatening, because if someone I respect can choose to simply not believe anymore, it comes awfully close to home. Like, there’s this little voice in my head that says, “You know, you get to choose, too…..you could look this way, at the inconsistencies and the lack of evidence and the science and all the awful things done in the name of God and you could add it all up the same way. You could change your mind….”

And that’s it, I think; that’s the thing. People I know and love and respect are changing their minds about this one thing that has, foundationally, been my truth. This thing that has bound us together. They examine whatever evidence is at hand, search their hearts and decide to walk away. And that’s scary.

There’s an intellectual implication, and I want to be counted among the smart ones in the room, so there’s that. If the smart people are all deconverting, it makes me nervous. I’m sorry to admit it, but it’s the truth, because I’m supposed to be one of the smart ones.

It implies that there is a right and a wrong, and no matter how you slice it, there’s one of us on each side. A favorite blogger wrote something like, “I don’t judge you for your beliefs; it’s fine that you still believe. I’m not going to try to deconvert you.” But it’s not so fine, really; rejection and deconversion are a pretty powerful declaration that this thing you believe, that I used to believe, is not true. And the thing about God – at least in my Christian paradigm – is that He is for everyone. He loves everyone, offers salvation for all. That’s where I get hung up, I think; how can someone turn away from their faith and say, “It’s okay for you – just not right for me. I’m the same person! No, really!” and not have that choice reflect a judgement call on God for all?

Sigh. It’s hard, and it’s complicated. It’s forced me, in these last months, to examine the evidence at hand, search my own heart and decide.

I’m not walking away. I have been stumbling, and crawling and crying. I’ve been stuck.

I’ve been examining not only my faith and my core beliefs and my worldview, but also my role in personal relationships – in or out of shared faith.

If anything, I’m more educated. I’ve studied more, I have wrestled more, I have asked more questions and I’ve lived in some dark moments. There have been moments, I’ll confess, in which I’ve felt that I had no choice. I mean, really; consider my position. I’m a pastor.

But here’s the deal: I do have a choice. And so do my friends and acquaintances and the far-off artists and writers and singers and bloggers who are choosing.

I get to choose, just like the rest of us. I chose to get on this road many years ago, and it has been littered with crap and filled with joy. I choose again, every morning when I awake.

And what follows will sound simplistic and trite and very much like Stuff Christians Say, but it’s the truth: I choose to follow Jesus. I have to choose.

I choose to invest my life in a church – a gathering of people doing the best they can with what they’ve got – that can strive to change perceptions, lean into authenticity and love instead of judge. Help to paint a clearer picture of a God of love and restoration.  If authenticity means saying, “I no longer believe in your God”, I get to choose what it looks like to be compassionate, to refrain from judgement or condemnation, to leave to God the things that only He can do.

I choose – though it is so difficult – to not allow the choices of others to devalue my own choice.

I choose, and then I drop the ball and screw it up and get all up in my head and I get to choose again. And again. And again. And I get more clarity.

One of my biggest inspirations lately has been a friend who has every reason to reject God – and especially to reject the church, whose people have judged and condemned her. Literally. She is a Christian. She loves another woman, and she has been honest and open about her choice. My statement here is not about whether homosexuality is right or wrong in God’s eyes; it is simply to say that I have watched her choose Jesus, time after time, even though it would be far easier and much less painful to abandon God and the church and walk – free of pain – in a community without strings attached, free of religious entanglements. She chooses to keep wrestling with God – for her own sake, not politics or hidden agendas. She simply believes in and loves God. And I watch and think, she has every reason to walk away from her faith…and she is stubbornly, passionately, determinedly clinging to God.

Say what you will. I’m inspired by her conviction.

I don’t know what to think about deconversion. I don’t like it. It makes me sad. I want to respect and love those who make that choice, but that’s complicated. I realize it must be difficult; I know it’s a decision that doesn’t come lightly.

It’s complicated, and – deep sigh – the older I get, the more I realize that most of life is just that: COMPLICATED. Wisdom and maturity doesn’t make it less so. You wade through the muck and mud and do the best you’ve got with the ones you love. You try to leave the world a little better than you found it. I believe there is a Creator, and that we can know him. Christianity makes sense out of the mess….in it’s purest form, it is the greatest hope the world has.

I’m choosing that.
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I ended this post, and I’m sitting here struggling with whether or not to hit that ‘publish’ button. It’s very raw, and it feels incredibly risky…mostly because I’m a pastor, and just yesterday I stood on a platform and sang, from the deepest part of my soul, “THERE IS POWER IN THE NAME OF JESUS”, and I know that I know that I know that I believe it, but somehow all these words that admit to my wrestling makes me worry that I might somehow invalidate the work that I do, the life that I live… But that’s ridiculous, because – like I mentioned earlier in this post – we’re in an era of authenticity, and, ironically enough, this is The Real Me. I do struggle and wrestle and wonder. And wander.

But I return. The grace, it is irresistible. The love, the story, the arc of truth, the beauty of a butterfly, the miracle of our bodies. There is nothing else that can tie together the cords of meaning. I return, though truthfully, I never go too far away. 

I believe. Thank God, I believe.

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6 Comments

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  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. As a very wise guitar player / music store entrepreneur once proclaimed so incredibly at a small group 7 or so years ago once said: “I don't think it is possible to separate the faith element as a real choice we have to make in this journey.” (possibly poorly remembered/paraphrased) That statement has stuck with me with astounding resonance throughout these years. When faced with all the reasons why the sky may actually be blue, I still choose to believe the possibility that it may be any number of colors and shades that i have not the ability to see with my own eyes. Faith is an active denial of reasonable evidence which humbles the soul and prepares the heart for good things. Great post mam.

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  3. Yea and amen to this entire piece. I, too, am a pastor. (retired now) and I, too, choose Jesus every day. None of this is straight ahead, none of it. There will always be questions, sadnesses, periods of flu-like agnosticism (as Madeleine L'Engle used to call it). I believe these are important and necessary. Choosing is what's it about. Is there a better way out there? I haven't found one. Even if there is nothing beyond this life, I still choose to put my feet into the prints left by that rabbi over two centuries ago. Thanks so much for your honesty here – very refreshing and really helpful.

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  4. I love you beth linking up to this …….. this………… is.awesome.

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