When Ministers Get Honest About Doubt

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Following is excerpted from my larger weekly Bible Study, called Heretic’s Guide to the Bible. To read more, or to join the study, CLICK HERE or on the banners above or below the text.

A friend of mine was a pastor at a church where she admitted to me that her congregation had different ideas about what fate looked like than she does. For them, the mark of true faith was a steadfast certainty that did not change from day-to-day. For her, on the other hand the practice of faith was more like a journey to brilliant mountaintops, followed by journeys into deep, dark valleys of doubt.

One time, after she brought a prominent speaker who not only gave people permission to explore their doubt, but who affirmed it as a necessary part of the practice of faith, the leaders of the church sat her down.

“We need to know what you really believe about Jesus,” they said sternly. “Can you honestly tell us, here and now, that you believe that Jesus is the son of God?”

“I knew my answer was going to cost me my job,” she told me, “but I simply couldn’t look them in the eye and lie.” She told them that, although she desperately wanted to believe this every day of her life, there were days when she admittedly had her doubts about what this meant and whether she could claim such a faith with all of her heart.

Not long afterward, the church board convened and resolved to ask her to step down from her position as minister of the church. It was heartbreaking, but at the same time, she found some strange freedom in her own confession.

“I had a choice,” she said. “I could continue collecting a paycheck and doing ‘ministry’ to people who wanted me to pretend to be something I was not. Or I could free myself from that dishonesty to explore what it is that I really believe, why believe it, and where – if it all – I might find a place where I could serve others who were on a similar path.”

Does Jesus require certainty or mustard seeds? Is God enduring enough to withstand our doubts? Is there really no room in the Christian faith for questions, for hard days, for those moments when we feel so far from God that we wonder if we can really believe any of it?

At least we find honorable company in our struggles to remain faithful. It may not be as comforting as the illusion of certitude, but at least it’s more honest. And not nearly as lonely.

See related article: “Replacing Faith with Curiosity

Click to check out the full version of Heretic’s Guide to the Bible Blog HERE

About Christian Piatt

Christian Piatt is the creator and editor of BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

  • Tony

    I too have been honest about my faith in a similar manner (although not at as great a cost as your friend), and I too have found it to be completely liberating. If people want to call me an heretic, that’s up to them; I know, though that I am being honest before God, myself and my fellow humans. Surely, anything less than as much honesty as possible, falls short of God’s expectaions?

  • Tony

    …oh and btw this is one of your best posts ever ;)

  • Pat68

    Ha! So really, a lot churches are just paying for someone to agree with them in their certitudes and not explore areas of possible doubt even if it could lead to truth.

  • Amy

    This has been a very helpful verse for me in such instances:

    Mark 9:24

    Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

  • OntarioJohn

    Worse yet. I am an active member of a fairly conservative church. A few years ago I “came out” as being way past having any doubts; in fact having no belief in the supernatural of any kind. I expected to be either excommunicated or to become the subject of intense evangelism to reconvert me. The opposite was true, in over two years I have not been approached by an elder or a minister, I still get appointed to committees and although I have not been accepting communion in case I may offend someone who may not think I am worthy, I am actually told by elders to go ahead and partake in it. I love my church and my fellow congregation members, and have no plans to stop attending, but this situation does certainly make me feel awkward.

  • Andy

    I completely agree. This is an excellent post.

    About 10 years ago I experienced a crisis of faith that coincided with a mental health issue, and I was basically forced to reexamine my beliefs. I had to admit I was no longer 100% sure of that which I cannot sense empirically. While the intensity of my faith may waver at times, I think I have a more honest approach now, and I prefer that to an unquestioning acceptance.

  • Jordan M.

    Great post. It seems as though one of the necessary elements for thriving churches in the coming decades may be the openness to accept and explore doubt. It’s not surprising that many popular writers in the post-evangelical landscape are exploring these sorts of issues right now (Peter Rollins, Greg Boyd, Rachael Held Evans, Peter Enns, etc.) with great popularity. I suspect that’s because many people have secretly struggled with doubt for a very, very long time without any outlet for support or reflection.