By Lamar Rollins (pseudonym chosen by the author)
I grew up conservative Church of Christ. We went to church three times a week and I was very active in the youth group and in the church group of the college I went to. I did mission trips and even spent a summer in Mexico working with Mexican preachers. After college, I got very involved in the church of the city I moved to. I was a Bible class teacher and became a deacon, working my way up to head the mission program with a $200,000 a year budget.
The more I got involved in leadership, the more frustrated I became with the “ungodlike” behavior of the elders who oversaw the congregation. Everything was very political—these men were pushing their own agendas instead of what was best for the church. Yet you only knew this if you were actively involved. Otherwise, you were just a Sunday churchgoer who contributed to the collection plate every week.
Things finally came to a head and I decided to leave that church. I had been undermined by the more conservative elders over something I posted on Facebook about rethinking church doctrines and encouraging the church to work with other denominations. And my wife was told some information in private by an elder that she believed was divisive and inappropriate. After a meeting with all seventeen elders to discuss this, it was agreed that the elder was wrong in what he did. Yet nothing happened—he stayed in his position. And the elders he was close friends with began to hinder anything we tried to do.
So I began to journey in and out of the Church of Christ. I observed that all these other denominations that I had been taught were wrong were actually pretty much teaching the same thing as the church I had been a part of my whole life. Like a good Christian, I tried to get involved and to help out wherever I went. But I quickly began to see that no matter what church I went to, the preacher or pastor always had a tight grip on how things went. They really just wanted people to show up and give money and help out with things like babysitting, but not get in the way of their agenda. I became frustrated with the lukewarmness of the church members I came across. Everywhere I went there were just Sunday morning Christians. Why didn’t these people take it all more seriously, since their eternity was at stake? People just wanted to be served with good music and a message.
I joined small groups to try to form relationships. And while I met some great people, it was all very superficial. They didn’t really want you to share what was really going on in your life. It was about giving encouraging, biblically based answers and then going home—and doing it all over again the next week. I observed this happening in all the denominations I visited.
During this time I began listening to podcasts like crazy. At the beginning most of them were Christian-based, with an emphasis on apologetics. One of the podcasts I listened to featured a Christian and an atheist going at it about different topics each week. One week, they had Reza Aslan talking about his book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. He said some very interesting things that I normally would have written off as heresy. But I noticed that the Christian professor debating him never really addressed the substance of the book. Instead, he made personal attacks against Aslan. I checked Aslan’s book out from the library and found myself blown away by the things that he admitted were not even new to Christian scholarship. When I researched the validity of his claims, I found personal attacks against people like Aslan but very few engagements with the points he was making. This then led me to books by people like Bart Ehrman and podcasts like The Thinking Atheist. The more I tried to find answers on things from the Christian side, the more personal attacks I came across. I couldn’t help noticing a serious lack of engagement with the topics themselves.
During this process I saw how a lot of the things I had been told about atheism and evolution growing up were straw man arguments. One Sunday a pastor of a mega church I was trying out said there was still absolutely no evidence for evolution or transitional fossils. By this point I knew from my research that this was false. Yet nobody in this 2,000-plus member church, which surely had to have at least some biology teachers and the like, seemed to hold this type of rhetoric accountable. This kind of straw man talk angered me, of course, but it also gave me a sense of relief. Because it made all the turmoil I went through being a leader in the church make sense. If there really was a God, the reasons for my frustration with church would have not happened or would have had better outcomes. No wonder there are so many different sects and denominations! In addition, I realized that your average atheist was a former Christian who found themselves in the position they were in because they were searching for truth. They were not heathens only out for their own pleasure like I’d been told growing up.
During this time I lost contact with close family members because of my changing beliefs. I so badly wanted them to look at what I was learning. But they were threatened. And though that is a price that many of us pay, I can finally make sense of the world and feel confident in my search for the truth. I am much more at peace now than I ever was as a Christian. I am hoping that one day these close family members will come to realize that about me too.