A Reluctant Prophet
I was hesitant to start this blog, yet my soul compels me to tell my story. I feel I cannot be silent any longer. Several of my closest evangelical friends admonished me over the years not to share the details of the good, the bad, and the ugly of being an evangelical pastor. Some of these precious friends mean well, but they feel I am exposing my faith family; because they believe my honest stories will only hurt and expose the evangelical community. I have no desire to hurt a community that I was a part of for 45 years.
In fact, I have worked for the past 16 years as a peacebuilder between the Muslim and Christian communities. During those years, I worked with various evangelical organizations. I have been with my current organization for 14 years! So you can see there is no gain for me to hurt my beloved evangelical friends intentionally; Many of whom love God and want to make the world a better place.
However, it has been my observation and experience that many evangelical churches and leaders are fundamentalists and, unfortunately, call evangelicals like myself members of the Evangelical Left. Why? Because we take the Golden Rule, The Sermon on the Mount, and The Great Commandments as the foundation of our faith and practice. We challenge racism, injustice in all its forms. We call the church back to repent of partisan politics and a theological system of exclusion with nothing to do with Jesus.
A Big Disclaimer
When I share my story in writing or through Youtube and interviews, I give a big disclaimer on my intentions. I try to ease their anxieties and reassure them I have no desire to hurt the faith community that impacted my life for the good in so many ways. Even with clear disclaimers, some people will hear only what they want to hear. (Here is an interview I did on evangelicalism on Paths To Understanding with Terry Kyllo. In this video, I express many of the positive qualities of evangelicalism and how they impacted my life. You can fast forward the video to 3:38 to hear my comments — https://youtu.be/6QV3s_2XZEY )
My Goal: A Better Way of Believing
So in one way, I am damned if I share my story, and my conscience damns me if I don’t. The truth can be a painful thing to hear, especially if people are not ready for it or fear they might have to face the darkness within or the sins of their communities where they receive identity, purpose, and a sense of family. So like I said, it is not my intention to stereotype, scapegoat, or condemn evangelicals. As I said previously, I am on staff with an evangelical organization as a peacemaker.
But it is a deep conviction that I need to tell my stories to complete my healing journey. And to help others on similar journies to find better ways to believe in the faith once delivered to them when they first believed.
So to that end, I want to share with you in this entry three confessions as to why I am finally telling my story as a recovering ex-evangelical pastor at 58 years of age.
Confession 1: I Signed Up For Jesus, Not Religion
Undoubtedly, some of you who read my blog will be able to identify and empathize with the path I have walked for so many years.
Perhaps you are a disillusioned pastor who is holding on to his/her faith by a thread. The old answers to theology, faith, and practice no longer work for you. And you have no one safe to process the issues that are eating you alive.
On the other hand, you might be a volunteer church leader, young person, or faithful congregant active in your church and faith community. But as you watch the news, you are disturbed by the distorted civil/religious synthesis in politics. You find it hard to enjoy gathering with your faith community; Why? Because you hear messages preached in church that seem to be opposed to the Gospel. You feel confused and say in the deepest recesses of your heart and mind, “I don’t believe this crap. What does loyalty to a political party or promoting exclusion and endless war have to do with following the Way of Jesus? I DID NOT SIGN UP FOR THIS!”
You suffer inwardly because you do not know what to say or how to respond. You want to disappear and get away from this hypocrisy, this distortion of the Gospel, and madness quietly.
I Know How It Feels To Walk This Path.
During my 18 years as a senior pastor, I confronted the injustice and hypocrisy of racism, sexism, exclusion of the “Other,” and white privilege in two Southern Baptist Fundamentalist churches in which I served. There were times I feared for the lives of my family as I learned that some of the key church leaders I worked with were former members of the KKK. These men made my life miserable at the time.
Some of these men warned on several occasions not to invite black people into our church. The stress got so bad I eventually had a nervous breakdown and went into a deep depression for a season. I was so disillusioned. This was not what I signed up for. I wanted Jesus and the Kingdom of God and not this distorted religion corrupted by culture and strange values that had nothing to do with the Gospel.
I Was There When The Church and Religious Right Got Married
When I attended Liberty University in 1981, I became a card-carrying member of the Moral Majority. The Moral Majority was a revolution in the early ’80s with Dr. Jerry Falwell and Liberty University. As an 18-year-old young man, I lived in a dorm, and Jerry Falwell Jr. lived across the hall from me. Over the years, I got to know many famous Evangelical leaders. Some offered large churches and influence to be loyal to the movement and obey what they told me to do. I declined the opportunities. I pulled away because I could not follow 100% what fundamentalism told me to support and do.
Eventually, the movement kicked me out for my convictions. It was one of the proudest days of my life. I could no longer toe the line of racism, sexism, war, Islamophobia, and the LGBT issues that were staples of so many of the churches and leaders I met along my journey.
Confession 2: The Emperor Has No Clothes
Some of you, however, see the problems and issues. But you feel that confronting these issues head-on will be problematic; You’re concerned my posts will bring shame and hurt to the faith community. Also, you are lovingly anxious that the church will judge me. I empathize with your struggle. But I have some news for you; the world is already laughing at us and judging us for being irrelevant.
I recently heard an atheist on a talk show expressing his views about Christianity, particularly evangelical Christianity. And to be honest, I agree with most of what he said. Atheists and agnostics cannot believe in a God who is angry, violent, exclusive, sexist, discriminatory, and partisan. Neither can I, by the way. A God who seems to contradict the loving, reconciling teachings of Jesus. As author Keith Giles said, “Jesus came to change our minds about God.” So, to put it bluntly, God is like Jesus.
I Think Many People Are Looking For Such A Wonderful God.
The Atheist said, “I love Jesus as a righteous leader, reformer, and the greatest moral leader of all time, but I do not believe in God. I have read the Gospels many times, and what I see in Christianity in America does not line up with the message and mission of Jesus. My God, I wish Christians in America would follow Jesus!” I intend to address these groups of people I have described in this entry and those who have sadly walked away from the faith completely but still yearn and desire something they see in Jesus. And lastly, I write for myself.
It is time to lift our prophetic voices and say in one accord, “The Emperor has no clothes” instead of defending him. If we expose the “Emperor,” we must stop attempting to block and hinder the discussion. If we can face the prophetic truth, then there is hope for a change as I share my stories about the good, the bad, and the ugly of my evangelical journey. I will also add relevant entries about the evangelical church’s current state of affairs in the Age of Trump. Some of my posts will include discussions on other contemporary social, political, and theological issues that the church is wrestling with at this time. Also, I will share stories about how God delivered me from Islamophobic to become a peacemaker and friend of Muslims. Here is my story on YouTube: https://youtu.be/U9JK3DnT97E
Confession 3: Take This Whole World, But Give Me Jesus
Karl Barth, the great neo-orthodox theologian of the 20th century, was once asked the greatest lesson he had learned from the Bible. His response was humble, sincere, and one he had concluded after decades of theological reflection. He responded to the audience, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” I agree with Dr. Barth. I have completed over fifteen years of theological study. I still love Jesus and the Bible. But I believe I discovered better ways of believing about the Atonement, the end-times Apocalypse, and the Scriptures. These new perspectives are more in line with who I believe Jesus to be and the God he came to reveal to us 2000 years ago.
After all my experiences and theological reflection, I am convinced that the core message of Jesus is “To love God with all our being, love our neighbor as ourselves, treat other people the way we want to be treated and if we perceive someone to be our enemy we should do everything within our power to make them our friend.” If we focus on the Sermon on the Mount, The Great Commandment, and the Golden Rule people will call us “true Christians” and “Followers of the Way.”
I am happy you have decided to take this journey with me.
I Welcome Your Comments
Any thoughts on what it means to be a recovering evangelical? Why do you think so many people are leaving the evangelical church? Any thoughts on what needs to change? I’d love to hear your comments!
I am a full-time peacemaker in the way of Jesus. Also, I am a Life Coach, avid bodyboarder, oceanophile, and father of an amazing 14-year-old daughter. I love to write and try to make the world a better place. In addition, I am a Life Coach and YouTube Influencer.
As a peacemaker, I focus on peace and social justice activism and bridge-building between Muslims and Christians.
If you’d like to get to know me better, please follow me on social media.
My Blog: http://www.jeffburns.org
FaceBook (Peace Page): https://www.facebook.com/IFollowThePath
Until next time.