#StoriesFromTheDechurched is a series with no end date in mind collecting stories from those who have left the church, are considering leaving the church, or are staying in the church but have deep frustrations with their church. [If you or anyone else has a story you’d like to share feel free to email it over to me at email@example.com/blogs/andygill]
I grew up the son of a preacher in the Bible belt, which is known for its “beautiful places and smiling faces.” But my Southern heritage comes with the stigma of slowed progress, ugly racism, and fanatic fundamentalism. To make matters more interesting, I grew up Pentecostal. Yes, I was exposed to speaking in tongues, deliverance, healing, and “prophetic words” (everything short of handling snakes) on a weekly basis and thought it was completely normal. My Sundays were always an adventure and there was no limit to what could happen.
But as a child, I failed to connect with God. I failed to “get it.” I watched as everyone seemed to be so sure, but I was ashamed that I was not. As a result, I said the “Sinner’s Prayer” hundreds of times and remember sobbing at the altar on many occasions. Yet, nothing felt like what I was looking or searching for, leaving me unsatisfied. The past 15 years or so have been a slow unraveling of sorts.
First, I ran away from the Church. I reached a point where I hated what the Church stood for, who She was, and who it made me. But no matter how far I ran, it seemed I could not escape. I was wounded, and my wounds kept me close. So, I continue to fight. Currently, I work at an evangelical church in Charleston, SC, where I go through the ups-and-downs of ministry. I am growing, struggling, changing, and learning to love people that I don’t share the same ideas about life, God, or politics with at all. There is something beautiful about loving people on a basic level: as human beings.
Recently, my path has now led me to Chicago Theological Seminary (online), a place that is progressive, open, and welcoming to questions that shape personal faith. Every day, my certainty grows weaker and my criticism grows stronger; however, I am comfortable with the chaos. A faith with neat, black and white boxes is not for me. That type of religion failed me, leaving me with two choices: walk away or find another path.This is where I am now: living as a skeptic, an outsider on the inside.
Some days I am a skeptic. Faith is not the absence of tension; no, faith is the guarantee of it. Amidst this tension is a constant teetering between faith and doubt. Some days, doubt wins; some days, faith prevails. Someday, I hope to break through the compartments in my mind that keep everything evenly divided. This division another reminder: I am at odds with myself.
Faith. Things we see, things we cannot see. Moments of great clarity followed by moments of greater confusion. Days of undeniable joy followed by weeks of unrest. Seasons come and go; life may just pass me by if I do not take control. So I clinch my fists. But what happens when a faith-walk becomes a crawl? This is my reminder that I am not in control. My striving is short-lived and as the pendulum swings back, I see: there is no “fixing” this, only continuing to fight it. Like Jacob, who wrestled with God, I wrestle with my ideas of God. As a result, over the years, I walk with a limp, scarred and tattered from fighting myself. Still, something inside of me will not let me let go.
Doubt. What was I thinking? Is there anything left in me to see the unseen? Or at least look for it? Or will my dreams be only projections of my reality? My once-clinched fists now cover the shame of my face, exposing the shame of my faith. For the moment, I have lost it. In the battle for my mind, my enemy is not another, but myself. I look into a mirror and see the one I am fighting. Every day, I fight me. Upon the battleground of my mind, I face my fears. Faith and doubt are locked in a permanent game of tug of war.
Hope. Nevertheless, there is hope. On the days that my faith prevails, I am hopeful for a better tomorrow. I am hopeful that clarity and a sense of meaning are reachable. On that day, I live and act in perfect harmony with myself. As long as I am alive, I can hope and wish for a better world. There are still times of doubt, but they do not darken the light of faith and hope.
Faith is not the absence of tension; no, faith is the guarantee of it.
[If you’d like to share your story you can submit your post here]