A guest blog by Sara Sullins - “For the first time in my life, it was time to stop building. It was time to start something altogether new to me: purposefully demolishing. “Read More
In Episode 41 of the #AskSteveAustin Podcast, Steve Austin talks with David P. Gushee, author of the brand-new book, Still Christian: Following Jesus Out of American Evangelicalism. Tony Campolo says, “Still Christian takes us on the journey of a Christian leader who endeavors to maintain his integrity while navigating his way from a rigid fundamentalism with its right-wing political agenda into a progressive worldview.” Listen now at AskSteveAustin.com or on your favorite podcasting app!
A piece of my journal from March of 2016 says this:
I’m too liberal for the Republicans and too conservative for the Democrats. I’m a 30-something Southerner, born and raised in the buckle of the Bible Belt. I was dunked by the Baptists, spoke in tongues in the Assemblies of God, went to a Church of God college, returned to my Baptist roots as a youth pastor, became a Methodist, and now agree with about 80 percent of the Catholic Church’s teachings. I attended George W. Bush’s first inauguration as a senior in high school but have voted Democrat in the last election. I study the King James Bible with a concordance but I read The Message on my iPhone for enjoyment, while having a glass of wine and smoking a cigar.
I’m a walking contradiction.
Maybe there was once room for people like me. Maybe everyone is like me, if we’re all honest with each other. But our culture no longer allows contradictions. I run from discussions with other Christians because it almost always ends poorly. A loss of friendship, a loss of faith, a loss of fervor. I’m tired of being burned.
When many people of faith force it to be an either/or battle of choosing sides, how do you find your voice without losing your soul? This is what today’s episode with David Gushee, author of Still Christian, is all about.
Some questions from today’s conversation:
- What’s it like to become a born-again Christian in 1978, during the Presidency of Jimmy Carter and the formation of the Religious Right?
- How has stepping away from American Evangelicalism impacted the way you pastor and parent?
- What is life like for you, as a pastor or Christian leader, when church life in America seems to be on the decline?
- Do you have any advice for folks like me, who are in the midst of a personal deconstruction of faith…on how to hold onto their faith, while not abandoning their intellect or ignoring the questions?
- Is the Bible literally true?
- How similar were the religious wars of the 1980’s to whatever we’re experiencing today with the marriage of President Trump and the Religious Right?
- If we look at life through the lens of American Christianity, politics, and culture in 2017 – when do we compromise, and when we do we stand our ground?
- Do you have any advice for Evangelical Christian pastors who feel stuck, Sunday after Sunday, with the obligation to support their family pressing right up against their secret affirmation of the LGBT community, or their support of women, or their disdain of the President?
- You have been described as “every liberal’s favorite evangelical” and you have also been described as “every liberal’s least-favorite evangelical”. Which one would you rather be, and why?
- You are an anti-torture, pro-environment, LGBTQ-affirming, academic…and yet you seem to still consider yourself a Baptist? If so, how and why?
- After all that you’ve been through, how is this not just a book about a disillusioned ex-Christian?
Favorite quote? “I’m disillusioned. But I’m not an ex-Christian.”
You can also listen on iTunes.
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I’ve been thinking a lot about deconstruction: the changing of our beliefs, the loss of faith, the shift in our religious habits and behaviors, and the transformation of our inner and social selves. This is what I help people do. I’ve been doing it for many years.
Deconstruct Your Faith
One of the things I have come to realize is that while we deconstruct, for many of us, something else has to be happening at the same time. That is - the reconstruction of our self-esteem and confidence.
For many of us, we’ve been exposed to a religion that is anti-human. Inhuman. It is often to worm theology - you know - that we’re wretched and no better than a worm. Many beliefs ingrain into our minds that we are worthless sinners, broken, and bad. The only thing that can save us is the blood of a lamb that covers the sin but doesn’t remove it. We live the rest of our days in a state of shame, guilt, fear, and lowliness. We despise even ourselves.
This is reinforced by our families, friends, churches, and even our God.
But what happens when we start to question, challenge and even reject beliefs that teach us this about ourselves?Where do we go from here?
Deconstruct, Don't Self-Destruct
This is what I’ve come to realize: we need to edify ourselves. We need to start a new program of reprogramming our minds. We need to rewire our brains - and some claim this is physically as well - and train it to think positive thoughts about ourselves. We need to reconstruct (and for many of us it is constructed for the very first time) a self-image that is positive rather than negative.
How do we do this? For example, how do we start feeling proud of ourselves when we’ve been taught to be ashamed of ourselves our whole lives? More than that, how do we feel proud of ourselves when we’ve been taught that this is the worst sin of all, initiated by Satan just before he was kicked out of Heaven for his rebellion and sent plummeting into Hell?
Well, I know for one that it’s going to feel weird. It’s going to feel foreign. It’s going to feel wrong! But I’m here to tell you that you must do it.
Here’s where we can start: We can reverse the flow. Negativity is reinforced by ourselves, our families, our friends, our churches, and our God. Instead, we need to start by positively reinforcing ourselves.
There might not be much we can do about our family, our friends, our church, and our God. Or is there? Yes! As we boost our inner confidence, we can silence the negativity of those around us. Our inner voice can drown out theirs. We can distance ourselves from negativity if and when we can. We can surround ourselves with positive voices if and when we can.
Finally, as our new philosophy about life and ourselves is reconstructed, everything else will eventually fall into place. It doesn’t matter what kind of negative voices are around us, we’ve built ourselves up to the point where it doesn’t affect us like it used to.
So, as you deconstruct, find ways to construct or reconstruct your positive inner voice and build yourself up. Strengthen your inner being, fortify your self-esteem and confidence. Again, it might feel weird and even cheesy, but it works! I can testify to that.
You’re awesome, and you’re worth it. I mean it.
Listen to Steve's powerful, honest conversation with David Hayward right now on the #AskSteveAustin Podcast. Check out Episode 26 on iTunes or at AskSteveAustin.com today!
David Hayward has a Masters in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, as well as a Diploma in Religious Studies and Ministry from McGill University in Montreal. He left the professional paid clergy in 2010, after almost 30 years of ministry. David helps people deconstruct without self-destructing. David lives with his wife Lisa on the beautiful Kennebecasis River near Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada. They have three grown children. And a dog, Sophie. Got questions? Email David today!
When most people find out that I’m a former pastor, they wrongly assume I have walked away from the faith. I chuckle to myself each time I politely explain that “former pastor” doesn’t always equate to “former Christian”. The truth is, while I am no longer on the payroll at a local church, I feel more in-tune with the teachings and example of Jesus than ever before. Sure, stepping away from employment with the Institutional Church ignited an enormous shift in my personal theology. But it hasn’t driven me from Christ, it’s actually caused me to sift through the excesses of man-made religious constructs and find what parts of the faith truly matter to me.
If you’re a Millennial like me, chances are pretty good that you’re doing some shifting and sifting of your own.
The Truth about Millennials and Church
My friend Andreas says it like this:
Spiritual belonging is finding people who welcome you for who you are and encourage you to own your own spiritual journey, wherever it might take you. Finding people that appreciate being real and honest about life in general. I would encourage everyone to trust themselves and trust their heart.
My dear friend and fellow blogger, Sarah Robinson, added her own spin:
I've experienced both...the loneliness of being in either a really shiny and slick church, where it feels like people don't let down their guard, and a church that lacks a theology of suffering, where there isn't room for honest expressions of pain and doubt. The environments look really different, but the end result is the same - isolation and fear of honesty.
These days, I feel more consumed by the Love of God than ever. And while I’m truly not bitter at the church, I am setting boundaries with toxic people and theology. When it comes to Millennials and Church, many of us have accepted the invitation of people like Ed Bacon, Rachel Held Evans, and Brian McLaren, to stand up for a new kind of Christianity. I am turning my back on the House of Fear, and bursting through the doors of the House of Love with joy and gladness. No turning back, no turning back.
The relationship with Millennials and Church is often a strained one. To read more about the kind of church I need, click here to join me at The Neighborhood Liturgies.
This is the final installment in the #ConfessYourChurchMess series. Follow the conversation on Twitter, and catch up on the other posts by clicking here.
Forgiving Spiritual Abuse
We’ve all seen the headlines. We’ve heard the horrible things done to people in the name of God. Some of you have lived those very ugly experiences. How could I possibly say the church deserves forgiveness? To be honest, I considered emailing the folks at Rethink Church three different times to say, “Maybe I’m not the right person for this blog post.”
The church and I have a...strained relationship. For the first 28 years of my life, I was bent on following the rules and doing my very best to live up to the sometimes unrealistic expectations of some church people. But inside, I was dying, and I felt as if I couldn’t reveal my pain.
The mission of the church is to create more space at the table for God’s children, not make them feel like unwelcome party crashers. We should do our part, in love, to help the church understand that hurting people aren’t looking for a particular style of worship or a spate of programs and classes. They are just looking for a place where their shame and pain can be accepted, and their lives restored to wholeness, through the light and unconditional love of Jesus as shown by a community of Jesus followers.
I have decided to work toward forgiving spiritual abuse. And can I tell you something? Forgiveness isn’t easy. And it doesn’t happen overnight. Forgiveness is a marathon, not a sprint. We take it one day, one act of love at a time. If we believe that there is value in joining with a community of like-minded people, on a journey towards Jesus, then we must choose love over bitterness.
To read this rest of this brand-new story on forgiving spiritual abuse, join me at Rethink Church. Just click here.
Steve Austin believes that everyone is recovering from something. His goal as a life coach, speaker, and best-selling author is to help others create a lifestyle of focused emotional health and clarity. Sign up for Steve's weekly newsletter by clicking right here.
Growing up in the Bible Belt, life seemed fairly simple - you were either “sinner” or “saint”, Alabama or Auburn, Republican or Democrat - Christian or not. But these days, I'm not so sure. Nothing is certain. And that isn’t just the biggest part of my church struggle, it’s the biggest part of my faith struggle. My walking-away-from-everything-I-was-raised-on-into-the-vast-unknown struggle. At the moment, my biggest frustration is that when it comes to Christianity: my 'but' always gets in the way.
Christians are constantly tripping over my but.
I love Jesus, but I’m not a big fan of the church. I love the Gospels, but I could do without the rest of the Bible. I love America, but I can’t stand the asshole in the White House. I like watching football with friends, but it’s not about sports. I love Alabama, but I’d kill to get out of here. I want to raise my children to be whole, healthy, happy, well-adjusted, positive adults, but I’m not sure I can do that in the evangelical church. My but always gets in the way.
The truth is: I don’t know how this ends. And yet, I’m not giving up. I’m not walking away. I’m not foreclosing on my faith. Somehow, I still have the tiniest glimmer of hope that this digging, this wrestling, this pulling-my-hair-out-and-screaming-at-the-sky piece of the journey is taking me deeper into faith and closer to God.
Here’s what I know today:
The most important thing in the world - more important than football, politics, or dogma - is people. And many of the people I know are scared. Scared of church and scared of church people. And the only antidote to fear is love. Love always wins. And in the beginning, love looks a lot like kindness.
[clickToTweet tweet="#MessyGraceMeans the most important thing in the world is people." quote="The most important thing in the world is people." theme="style3"]
I have more questions than answers, so what do I do?
As a Christian writer, the list blogs with “21 Secrets to a Powerful Christian Life” do much better than articles titled, “My Name is Steve and I Don’t Know What I Believe”. People like answers. Certainty. Black and white. Darkness or Light. Angels or Demons. Alabama or Auburn. People want Christian authors to have faith that comes with a plan of action, not to be barely holding onto Jesus by a thread.
But I don’t have that luxury. I have tough questions. And in the midst of the struggle, I find comfort in Hebrews 11:1:
"Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see."
So I have to be honest when I say what my faith has become. It has become this knowing that everything is going to be alright in the end. It is this confident hope that Love is the Source of everything, but not being able to intellectually prove, explain, or even understand it. Hebrews 11:1 makes more sense to me now than ever before. Because it gives me permission to let my mind and heart marry, even if they don't always get along.
As thankful as I am for my personal faithful journey, I still get tired of constantly being asked where I’m going to church. I have to rend my garments and go into this long, drawn out soliloquy on why this church didn’t work, or that one. I’m worn out from explaining that I’m too liberal in theology for some, too left in my politics for others, and too uncertain for most.
I believe people matter more than dogma. My friends and I don’t always fit neatly into the American Christian box, and I want to sit with my friends at the table. If there isn’t room for all of us, there isn’t room for me.
So what do I do when people I love have been told they aren’t welcome, and yet I somehow still long to be a part of a faith community?
“Let it not be said of us that we closed the table to keep the establishment happy. That is not a legacy worthy of Jesus who bid us all come.” -Jen Hatmaker
Thankfully, I have kindhearted friends across the globe who have just as many questions as I do. Because of the internet, I’m connecting with others who also love the teachings of Jesus, but still have doubts. It’s so nice to know I’m not the only one, but I’m not willing to give up searching just yet.
When we find ourselves at a crossroads with someone on matters of dogma, politics, or any of the other things we’ve been told really matter, it’s time to step back and remember the one thing that unites us all is our shared humanity.
I don’t know how this ends. But I do know that when I reach my final destination, I want to have treated everyone with loving kindness.
What about you? If you’re anything like me, you’re not ready to burn the church down just yet. Maybe you’re still clinging to this wild hope that, together, we can make our shared faith experience more beautiful.
If you're determined to make more space at the table, I’d love to connect!
Do you have a place for me to speak? A church, school, civic organization, or small group? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s get something on the calendar! I love talking to people who are ready for respectfully raw dialogue around the messiness of church and the wideness of grace.
This post is part of the #ConfessYourChurchMess series. Share your story on Twitter today, using the hashtag!
[clickToTweet tweet="Christians: Stop tripping over my 'but'! #ConfessYourChurchMess #MondayBlogs #graceismessy" quote="Christians: Stop tripping over my 'but'! " theme="style3"]
“Courage doesn’t happen when you have all the answers. It happens when you are ready to face the questions you have been avoiding your whole life.”― Shannon L. Alder
I'm a Christian, but I've had questions for God for many years. My wondering started way back in high school. The familiar questions and answers about faith and life and theology and church and all that just never really worked for me. I needed more.
It's only been in the past year that I have really started embracing the questions, and embracing myself. Not necessarily finding answers, but being okay with that, too.
Here's some questions for God:
- Just tell me am I in or out?
- Why did you make me bipolar?
- Why did he let my infant nephew die? Why someone so innocent with all the evil in the world?
- I guess I'd ask why He allows sometimes the unthinkable to happen?
- My wife was molested by her brother for the first 8 years of life. Why didn't God do something if he loves her?
- Why does God refuse to intervene in tragedy or suffering?
- Why, when I cried out hardest for God & begged & pleaded for Him, did He turn His back, abandon me, leave me to my own devices?
- Are you truly all-powerful?
- If you’re so Divine, why were we taught that we’re born broken?
What about you? Do you have #questionsforgod? If this episode goes over well, I'll likely host a follow-up. Leave your questions for God in the comments, if you dare. Yours might be featured in a upcoming episode of the #AskSteveAustin podcast.
I look forward to this dialogue!
“It isn’t necessary that we stay in church in order to remain in God’s presence. We can make our hearts personal chapels where we can enter anytime to talk to God privately. These conversations can be so loving and gentle, and anyone can have them”
You Don't Have to Go to Church
I suppose I had expectations when I joined Church. I came to Christ late in life in my mid-50s. I wanted to be mentored, discipled. I chose to be baptized in my first church, living in an unfamiliar town where I had taken a teaching job at a Catholic school. I was excited about the prospect of learning, of soaking up God the Father, Jesus and the Spirit. Six months after my restoration I was diagnosed with breast cancer. At my own Church, I found judgment and “don’ts.”
When our pastor confessed to a pornography addiction, I felt lost. I found no comfort at my Church for my feelings of loss or for my illness, but my school prayed for me weekly, and the parents gathered together and cooked for me during chemo treatments; the cleaning lady there came and cleaned my home. The teachers came to collect my laundry, and they held a fundraising dinner to cover my insurance deductibles.
That was church to me.
A year later, I was laid off. I moved back to familiar digs and got another teaching job where I was required to attend the Church that ran the school in which I taught. Three months after I started, they cut our salaries and health benefits; three months after that, the pastor shot himself because he was caught embezzling funds. Three months after that, I left due to severe health complications of my chemo treatments.
I did try church again, and thought, “Third time’s the charm.” I felt included and settled…for a while. I made friends and was even tapped by the women’s ministry director to lead small group Bible studies for about three years.
And then it happened.
I desperately needed help.
Finally, after praying for more than three years, I was accepted into affordable senior housing. I’m single and needed many hands to move into the apartment – the desired haven - I’d asked God for. Well, I received that help gratefully from this church. I was in my wonderful retreat that allowed me solitude and a place to quietly be with God every day.
and he brought them out from their distress;
made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea were hushed.
Then they were glad because they had quiet,
and he brought them to their desired haven.
(Psalm 107:28-30, NRSV)
Suddenly, I began to hear messages that my former “mentor,” this director of women’s ministry, was unhappy with me. She felt I wasn’t showing enough gratitude, I wasn’t paying back what was ‘owed.” I couldn’t believe my ears, so I had her over for lunch one day to discuss what must have been a mistake in communication. But sure enough, she spoke to me in exhortation, letting me know how much I was a disappointment.
I began to reflect back on the Catholic school where I’d taught so many years before, and how the teachers and the mothers there expected nothing in return, how they reflected Jesus in their words and actions.
And I left this final Church for good.
Now, my church is the people in my community; it is my neighbors, and the people I meet online in my blog and in the uplifting blogs they write. It is the folks willing to open their hearts and minds who don’t judge or moralize, but show Christ's unconditional love and invitation in their talk and walk. My church is people I meet at the store or at my doctor appointments. And it is in my own home where I have a relationship with God, and I talk with him anytime I want.
Susan Irene Fox is a Jesus Follower, Peacemaker, and Unfinished Human. She says, "I call myself a follower of Jesus because Christian has too many negative connotations; I do my best to be a peacemaker as Jesus defined it in his Sermon on the Mount. I am unfinished until He completes me after I see Him face to face, and I look forward to that day." Connect on Twitter @susanirenefox
This post is part of the #ConfessYourChurchMess series. For more on this series, or to submit your own story, check out this post (just click here). You can also email your story to email@example.com today!
My name is Brian. I'm a recovering pastor. And this is my confession.
Yes, I’ve been a pastor before. I’ve even quit “for good” twice. I want to confess something to you that many “professional” clergy know, but hesitate to admit.
- Source: Pexels
Confession of a Recovering Pastor
Why do we not enjoy admitting this? Many individual reasons, I’m sure. But likely it has something to do with the reality that our livelihoods so often depend on not facing this truth.
And here is the confession: the system of religion we most often refer to as “church” doesn’t have much to do with following Jesus.
Check out this quick video in which I expand that statement a bit …
Maybe you’ve been told you need to show up to worship services at a particular building with some regularity in order to follow Jesus.
No, you don’t. (What if we gathered with other people trying to follow this Way, however poorly or regularly, because we actually wanted to?)
Maybe you’ve been told you need to give money and resources to support the institution of the church in order to follow Jesus.
No, you don’t. (What if we shared with each other because that’s how we thought our love could be put in action?)
Maybe you’ve been told you need to officially become a member of the system by putting your name on the dotted line in order to follow Jesus.
No, you don’t. (What if we considered ourselves part of humanity first, and then as members of each other?)
See, it’s difficult to call a system “unnecessary” when our paycheck comes from that system.
That was my concern for quite a while. By the second time I walked away from being a professional pastor, I had a family of five to support. We had to eat. We had bills. We needed health insurance. If I wasn’t pastoring, how could my family survive?
Actually, the deeper concern we clergy types might have is this: if we are honest about the system, the system may collapse. Then what the hell do we do?
Recovery that Leads to Resurrection
Here’s the thing: if we are honest with our words in confessing all that’s messed up about the system, the system won’t collapse. Instead, when more and more of us become courageous enough to be honest about the shortcomings of the church system, we might discover there is something beyond death.
It’s true, some parts of this whole church system thing we think we know may die. But the existential paradox of the Jesus story suggests that death is necessary for resurrection to happen.
Resurrection is powerful. Resurrection makes everything new. Resurrection takes what is and re-narrates, re-fashions, re-traditions it into something that hasn’t yet been. And that’s exciting.
Resurrection is why I’m recovering. Because the old in me is continually being made new.
The same thing is happening with the church system. We just need to be brave enough to admit it. When we do, I suspect we’ll discover that what hasn’t yet been is, in fact, just what we’ve always been looking for.
And it might look something like this:
- a system that serves and supports all the outsiders, instead of deferring to the powerful;
- a system that gives itself away in little acts of death so that something bigger than itself can be birthed through resurrection;
- an institution that sacrifices itself for the life of the world.
Here’s one more confession: I see this future already breaking into the present in small places all around the fringes of the system.
Brian Niece is a former pastor, who was a former actor, and now a storyteller + artistic theologian + creative philosopher communicating to, for, and about outsiders. He hosts the Reimagining Podcast about rethinking ourselves, our culture, our faith … maybe everything. Find out more at brianniece.com. You can also find him on Twitter and YouTube.
Hi, it's Lindsey! I'm over at Songbird and a Nerd today talking about the kind of Jesus I need. My kids were watching a happy little Christian t.v. show. You know, the kind from the 80’s that airs on some random public station, over the antenna. The one with the ultra cheesy choreography and bad music. My kids were watching that. It’s not what I would have chosen for them, but let’s be honest. Sometimes I just don’t care what they watch. I’m raising a toddler and a preschooler, and there are times that I’m simply thankful to have a moment to breathe.Read More