Building Bridges after Deconstructing Faith

Building Bridges after Deconstructing Faith June 9, 2016

Editor’s Note: It’s quite common – and quite understandable – for people who have left religion to be angry. But then what? How do we make peace and make good use of the one life we know we have? This ex-minister provides examples from his own life, one of which involves speaking in a church that is receptive to hearing about his changed beliefs. And he’s got the video to prove it!


By Dave Warnock

Losing faith typically comes in increments- and so it was with me. Like many people I know, I quit going to church long before I actually lost my faith and left the ministry.

Having known most of the pastors (or known of them) in the county south of Nashville where I had pastored, I kept up with what was going on in their churches. About two years into my gradual de-conversion, I began hearing rumblings about controversial activities at GracePointe Church, which Stan Mitchell had started in 2003, after breaking off from a large Pentecostal church in Nashville. GracePointe had been getting more and more progressive – or so I had heard – and many pastors in the area had written its members off as heretics.

I was intrigued.

I got in touch with its pastor through a mutual friend and we began to meet regularly. I told him my story – all of it. He was intrigued. We had really good conversations about faith and Evangelical Christianity in particular. Pastor Stan had become more and more accepting of the LGBTQ community and had finally made an announcement that he would provide full membership privileges in his church to all people irrespective of sexual orientation. LGBTQ people could even get married in the church.

It created uproar in this conservative area- indeed in the country. Stan and the church were featured in the national news. Here is a quote from Time magazine, taken from a statement Stan made in church:

“Our position that these siblings of ours, other than heterosexual, our position that these our siblings cannot have the full privileges of membership, but only partial membership, has changed,” he said, as many in the congregation stood to their feet in applause, and others sat in silence. “Full privileges are extended now to you with the same expectations of faithfulness, sobriety, holiness, wholeness, fidelity, godliness, skill, and willingness. That is expected of all. Full membership means being able to serve in leadership and give all of your gifts and to receive all the sacraments; not only communion and baptism, but child dedication and marriage.”

Other pastors in the community spoke out against him. The kind of inclusion GracePointe was offering was a line that many of the congregants, friends, and even family could not cross. People left the congregation in droves.

Some time in the past year or so I began to go to his church on an occasional Sunday and just sit outside drinking coffee on the patio or wander in for a bit of the message or a few songs. Mostly I just enjoyed watching the people. I loved seeing the ones who had been told they didn’t belong and weren’t accepted find a home. I also just wanted to support my friend.

A few weeks ago, I was there after one of my trips to Nicaragua and told Stan that I had some good news. He knew I had been struggling with how to move forward as an agnostic and to not just live a life that was identified by what I did not believe. I had been attempting to add some value to my days on earth by getting involved in mission work in Central America. What we were doing there was truly life-changing for the people living there and was very gratifying to me personally.

He was in the middle of a teaching series called “Reframe” in which he explained what it meant to deconstruct one’s faith and then reconstruct it in a way that looked totally different from the one you had known. He leaned over as he walked by and said,

“What if I brought you up to the platform to talk about your journey?”

I told him that would be fine with me. He knew I was an agnostic, and he wasn’t afraid to let me speak from his pulpit. He wanted me to talk about what I had found that had replaced the faith I once knew. He wanted me to talk about what an agnostic or an atheist can do that has value and meaning.  So I did. The video below shows an edited 12 minute version of that conversation.

Stan set up my brief talk and gave it context so that it would not simply be about my de-conversion, but about what to do with de-constructed faith and how to move forward in a positive way.

I think this is an important conversation for people in the secular community who are looking for ways to do more than focus on what we don’t believe, what we hate about religion or how misguided Christians are. I did all those things for a while and got tired of it.

We in the secular community share the notion that this life is all we have. It’s my contention that we have to make the most of it, and I’m finding ways to do it.

**Editor’s Question** What are you doing (or thinking about doing) to make the most of your secular life?


Dave WarnockBio: Dave Warnock was a Christian for 30 plus years in the Evangelical/Charismatic movement, in active pastoral ministry most of that time. He left the faith about four years ago after gradually realizing he had run out of reasons to believe. He is 60 years old and lives near Nashville, TN, where he works in the insurance business.

>>>>>>> video editing by Adam Mann

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  • carolyntclark

    It’s been many years since the “AHA” moment which occurred while being a Catholic nun. That recognition brought an almost tangible, refreshing sense of clarity.
    Since then I’ve continued to live the same moral life, unencumbered by time spent in prayer, discerning God’s will and puzzling about his negligence of those in need.
    The Golden Rule is the pinnacle of morality.
    Down times of crisis require my best constructive efforts at problem solving without the futility of pleading for Divine intervention. Without the silly fantasy of a hereafter, comes greater appreciation of my one life.
    I’m more in awe of the natural universe. Science is more amazing than the easy act of a supernatural magician.
    I’m happy to connect with other likeminded people. I don’t proselytize, but given the opportunity, I’m comfortable defining myself as an atheist (although I’m still searching for a less provocative word.)

  • carolyntclark

    Thought provoking interview, Dave. Thank you.
    It seems that your experience in Nicaragua has had a deep effect on you.
    You were able to reach out in a meaningful human way without the burden of strings attached to a religious message.

  • Linda_LaScola

    I was wondering about that too

  • Alexis

    I love this! Thanks for sharing, Dave!

  • Elizabeth.


  • davewarnock

    Thanks, Carolyn. That has become a passion of mine. I’m actually looking for ways to connect with a secular humanitarian group (or form one) to do these kinds of things in developing nations- without the “strings”. I want to be part of a group that does good things for people, simply because it’s the right thing to do- to help them in the hear and now. I have also seen the subtle damage a message of the “hereafter” does for the people in these nations. We may not work as hard to improve this life now (and for future generations) if we’re going to heaven soon anyway.

  • DoctorDJ

    But “around the tomb of Jesus” is code that I don’t understand. And I’m not sure why Stan thinks we are on some sort of “spiritual journey.”

    Those phrases are lost on this atheist.

  • Linda_LaScola

    Something else I wondered about. Dave — can you help us on this?

  • Elizabeth.

    Dave, are you familiar with PRMI in Nicaragua? If yes, I am wondering what your take is on their effect (Presbyterian Reformed Ministries Inc) ….I know your own effect is tremendous… thank you for the inspiration here, in addition to the lifesaving hands-on there!!

  • davewarnock

    The reference Stan was making would be better understood if you had the context of the whole message (which you could hear on the website-

    He is saying that people came to the tomb because the life they thought they were building with Jesus was gone now that he was dead. They didn’t know what to do next. So they (the women) went to the tomb to tend to his body- in essence, to tend to the faith they had that was now dead.

    Those of us who had a faith that was precious to them, and lost that- often don’t know what to replace it with. So for many of us, our atheism simply becomes about what we “don’t believe”, instead of finding something meaningful to replace it with. That was the point of the conversation- and what I hoped to communicate, that my humanitarian (mission) work was a replacement for that service that I enjoyed as a minister.

    I have come to the place in my de-conversion that I don’t want the balance of my “spiritual” journey to be only about what I don’t believe, but about what I am doing now to make like meaningful. Spiritual is just a word that captures that- and has nothing to do with anything supernatural.

    I hope that helps.

  • davewarnock

    see my comment to DoctorDJ

  • davewarnock

    no I’m not. I’d like to know more. I am looking for someone that is doing work there (or somewhere) that is not Christian. I want to be doing stuff that is not connected to the notion of a supernatural god that is involved with us- as I see no evidence that he/she is.

  • DoctorDJ

    Thank you.

  • Elizabeth.

    Thanks, Dave! PRMI includes some great people and has had some very helpful influence on interpersonal relationships. From my point of view, their conservative view in glbtq issues is destructive, and the training in “spiritual warfare” disturbing (creepy), though I think there are professional psychologists involved. I’ve heard their work in Nicaragua is thriving and I have wondered whether it’s a net plus there…. [site — google ]

    I’m sure you’ve thought of Peace Corps… don’t know if Nicaragua needs English teachers. I always loved how Jimmy Carter’s mother headed out at 68!
    You’re a youngster : )

    I know you’ll find something great!! This interview is very moving… thank you.

  • davewarnock

    I’m sure it’s a net plus when you’re working in these places- the need is so great. I can’t stomach working with anyone that is discriminatory against LGBT, or practices spiritual warfare (as you said- creepy; though I used to believe it).

    I am indeed thankful for any groups working to improve lives in third world countries, but I really want to find one that I can be in sync with ideologically. I know I will…or just start one.

  • Linda_LaScola

    The more people say “atheist” – the less provocative it becomes.

    I think I know what you mean, though, the word comes more naturally to some than to others. I’m finally getting used to it myself.

  • Elizabeth.

    “start one” — neat idea!! keep us posted!!

  • mason

    “What are you doing (or thinking about doing) to make the most of your secular life?”

    I’ve just been very busy enjoying the vast freedom of breaking free of the mental shackles of Christian fundamentalism 45 years ago, and living like a bird who figured out how to fly, or a dolphin that became untangled from a fishing net. Without the myths and lies, it’s been a bright new world of discovery and adventure, and continues to be so… and I have Sundays free! 🙂

    While I’m anti-fundamentalist consider theism an insult to human intelligence, I’ve always been much more focused on what I do believe in like sciences, love, art, family, adventure, travel, ethics, literature, sport etc.

  • mason

    Couple of thoughts: 1. “around the tomb of Jesus” … people believe myths so long, especially when indoctrinated as ignorant/credulous children, that even when they quit believing, they still think the myth actually happened. I’ve come across some people who are about half-deprogrammed and need to complete peeling off the onion layers of dogma they’ve been living in; it takes courage and work.

    2. “don’t know what to replace it (myth) with”… Have they been a rut so long they just can’t make the effort to get out? Has their natural sense of curiosity been so stunted and crippled they can’t exit the mental prison and explore, even though the door is unlocked and open? It’s probably lots of things, but theism, like polio, can sure take its ugly toll on people.

  • Linda_LaScola

    My answer to my own editor’s question: I worked on an academic study about non-believing clergy, co-founded an organization for them and edit a blog with posts written by them. I can assure you that I never dreamed I’d be doing any of this when I changed my beliefs about 10 years ago.

  • Linda_LaScola

    Instead of using the language of “loss” of belief, I talk in terms of “changing” beliefs. In the interviewing I’ve done, I ask things like “when did your beliefs start to change?” Obviously, it’s the neutral way to approach the subject.

  • carolyntclark

    “Changed belief”….factual and perfect, Thank you.

  • carolyntclark

    and what a good thing you did with your new secular life.
    You’ve made a difference for so many. Thank you.

  • mason

    I really like the changing approach.

  • mason

    Yes, bravo and thanks to you Linda!

    I know there are hundreds of TCP members who wish they could thank you personally and give you a hug. I get comments regularly from new members who are so thrilled to learn about TCP and then join. They owe their ride on the Underground Railroad in large part to you Linda.

    Here’s a comment I just received from a new member today. “Appreciated your ”Welcome” message. Read your profile and delight to discover, I, too, am not as unique now that I’ve joined this incredible group!”

    So here’s a big group hug and thank you, by proxy, from all the TCP members. X <3 X <3

  • ravitchn

    The most useful and valid feelings after giving up Christianity should be relief and sadness: relief that finally you are willing to admit the utter falseness of this religion; sadness at how long it has lasted and how many people it has misled.

  • The Eh’theist

    I’ve got to say, I’m really conflicted about this. I like what you’ve been saying lately. What you are doing in Nicaragua sounds awesome, My job is focused on helping others, and lately I’ve found myself adding to that by helping a couple of local LGBTQ groups with some communications work they’re trying to do, and a settlement agency with some strategic planning. It’s been good, and I understand your point about wanting to focus on that rather than being against everything.

    Watching that video felt like watching an old POW propaganda video. It felt like dog whistles (“the Jesus Dave followed” =not the *real* Jesus that we have that we wouldn’t leave, and who’s gonna get Dave too), forcing your experience into his framework “hanging around the tomb of Jesus”, telling everyone about your tears and pressuring you to take communion.

    Maybe I’m wrong, I don’t know the guy, I could be reading it 100% backward. But I have a hunch that if that 30% he mentioned suddenly started piping up and saying “We like what Dave has. Let’s leave Jesus in the tomb, and concentrate on each other. More communication and less communion,” that he’d blow a fuse.

    But I consider you to be sensible and a good judge of things, so I really don’t know what to think. Sorry I’m flip-flopping more than Romney. 🙂

  • Elizabeth.

    [ & hangers-around : ) ]

  • davewarnock

    Thank you, Linda for all you do. You’re awesome!

  • davewarnock

    lol- I hear what you’re saying- I really do. And I know this can be a bit confusing and maybe controversial. If you knew Stan like I do, you’d understand. We’ve had long and many conversations over the course of two years. Actually if that 30% flipped, he’d be fine- I know he would. He is trying to lead a group of people out of trying to have a relationship with an imaginary god and into real community and serving. He doesn’t believe any more of the Bible (as the Word of God) than I do- about the only thing he is hanging onto is the notion that there is some kind of god/energy/force out there/in here somewhere…

    As far as communion, that was truly meant to show our solidarity as two men coming from different spectrums of faith and having a desire to help people in common. There was nothing spiritual about that cup and cracker and he knew it. It was like a handshake between brothers.

    To me, this is all about trying to bridge a gap from the secular community to the progressive Christian community and find ways to work together. I celebrate the fact that they ‘do no harm’.

    Appreciate the comment.

  • The Eh’theist

    Fair enough. I don’t know him beyond what I’ve read about the blowback from his decision on LGBTQ church participation and what you’ve shared here, so I’m really not in a position to judge. (Boy I’m saying that a lot these days) It’s entirely possible that I’m tarring him with my previous experiences and it clouded how I saw the video.

    If he accepts people where they are, and is happy about the good they’re doing, whether they attribute it to Jesus or not, I can be happy about that. I hope it continues to go well.

  • James Christensen

    It makes me sad to think I have no future, that after I die, there is nothing.

    I know that doesn’t seem to bother some of you, but it does bother me. And that does not make you better than me, by the way.

  • davewarnock

    I’m not sure why you might think that someone who doesn’t long for an afterlife might think they are better than you. I sure don’t. I don’t seem to be bothered by the prospect that this life is all we have- in fact, it seems to have intensified my appreciation for this life.

  • mason

    So true Elizabeth, the positive effect radiates far beyond just TCP … thanks for making the point

  • Harry Amos

    I have nothing much to say that is profound or interesting – I just like this interview and post quite a lot. Thanks for doing the interview Dave and Stan. 🙂

  • That’s really the best any of us can hope for. I thought it was a very sweet presentation and I’d been bothered as well by some of the phrasing the pastor used. But I trust Dave. If he was okay with it, then that’s about all I can ask.

  • The Eh’theist

    I’ve given it some more thought, if I hadn’t been for some of the things Christians were saying when I wrote originally, I might have put a different frame around it, with the pastor ‘translating’ Dave’s experience so his members could get it. Or I might have thought the same thing, but been less bothered by it.

    I think it would be useful for the pastor to understand how that sort of language can produce a negative reaction in ‘nones,’ and I would have laughed myself silly if Dave had turned to him and said, “Actually Stan, it isn’t Jesus’ tomb, it’s Plato’s cave and I’m standing out here trying to get y’all to come see the sunshine.” 🙂

  • That’d be hilarious.

  • davewarnock

    None of it was scripted, and we were really just off the cuff. I really could have said anything- he gave me complete latitude. I wish I could have had the whole message time- to unpack my thoughts, but I knew my time was limited, so I chose to focus not on the reasons for my lack of belief anymore, but on what I wanted my life to look like going forward without Christianity- and the fact that we don’t need a risen Christ abiding in us in order to do good things in this world. Looking back, I realize I was speaking not only to those in the crowd that day, but to any and all who would see the video. It was hard for me to divorce myself from the reality that my grown daughters (who shun me due to my lack of belief), might very well see this. I found myself wanting to speak to them and say- “see, your dad is a good man”.

  • davewarnock

    see my response to Eh’theist 🙂

  • GregLogan25

    With respect, I don’t think that is fair to dis the entire religion.

    How about “relief that finally you are willing to admit the utter falseness of THE SPECIFIC THEISTIC/RELIGIOUS BELIEFS THAT YOU HAVE”?

    That seems much more meaningful and fair.

  • GregLogan25


    How about “evolving”? 🙂

    BTW – there are those of us who avidly follow Jesus Christ – but who have gone through a tremendous evolution.

  • GregLogan25

    Thanks for sharing the evolution of your thinking/sentiment. Being about the same age – and going through massive evolution since my semi-rabid Pentecostal Fundamentals 20’s – I appreciate and understand the transition. I gave a speech in Bible College entitled “Identity Crisis” in which I found myself in those seas of “faithlessness” – and now accept those spaces are a part of my own evolution all the while acknowledging the foundation of my faith that compels me.

    I have only one slight addition if I may. You made a statement about “loosing faith in Jesus as the God that you knew”. If I may add – there is very good reason to understand Jesus as NOT God – but as a genuine man – especially from the NT and even very early Christian writings, e.g. There is one God (the Father) and one Mediator, the MAN Christ Jesus (1Tim2:5). As a dedicated follower of Jesus Christ, I find the man Jesus of Nazareth, anointed by God, made Lord by God – MUCH more meaningful – and the God model of Jesus to be completely irrelevant.

    I add this bit to only provide an option in the process.

    I now focus on relating to human beings – not to ideology (I think that was what Jesus was all about…which is massively lost on the 80% of especially rabid Bircher-Dominionist evangelical leaders). Admittedly, I am not so kindly to the same religious leaders that Jesus was not so kindly to….