I’m reaching a part of this story that’s very difficult to write about. In my last post, I mentioned that my doubts about my faith had reached a point that I knew I needed to talk to my parents and my wife’s parents about it. But why? Why not just stay silent about it? If we had belonged to a more casual group of Christians, that might have been possible. We probably could have dropped our attendance off to just a trickle and not commented on religious issues. But that’s not the style of Christianity to which we belonged.
My wife and I (and our families) went to church services twice on Sunday and once on Wednesday. If we ever had special events, like a week-long gospel meeting, we went to those as well. When we went out of town on vacation, we found out where the local congregations were so we would have a place to worship on Sundays and Wednesdays. The congregation we belonged to was small — we had about 50, maybe 60 people there on Sunday mornings — so my wife and I were both very active. We both regularly taught Bible classes, I frequently led the song service, I led prayers, officiated at Communion, and even preached occasionally. I assigned and managed the teachers’ schedule, helped formulate our Bible class curriculum, and facilitated a bi-monthly meeting with the men of the congregation to discuss any spiritual issues we were facing. In short, we were very involved.
My doubts and unease had reached a point that I felt I would soon need to step away from most of the duties I performed there. But of course, there was no way to do that without raising a lot of questions. Also, I was scared and nervous about my growing doubts, but I wasn’t ashamed of them. I believed that I had stumbled across some very important information that many of my fellow Christians would want to know about. So for those two reasons, I began talking to my family about the inconsistencies I was seeing in the Bible.
I knew speaking to them about it would be difficult. I’ve already written about the doctrine of withdrawal here and here, so to keep it brief, I’ll just say it’s a lot like the Amish practice of shunning. So we knew that if we left the church of Christ version of Christianity, our families would cut us off and not have anything to do with us socially. So you can imagine that this was a very tense time. By this time — and this was around April of 2010 — my doubts were becoming quite solid, but I didn’t want to present it that way to our families. This wasn’t in an effort to deceive them — I just didn’t want them to immediately start thinking about withdrawal. In fact, I didn’t really want them to focus on me or my wife at all; I hoped they would instead focus on the problems. I hoped they would either be able to help us find resolution to the issues that were bothering me, or they would also see them as problems and we could all move forward together.
In re-reading this, I’m not sure that my points are coming through as clearly as I would like. So let me reiterate that I needed to talk to my family about my doubts for two reasons. First, I could no longer continue a leadership role in the congregation in all good conscience. Second, I have always wanted to know/do what’s right. When I was a Christian and tried to convert others to my beliefs, I always told them that I was just interested in truth. If we could talk together and determine that my arguments were more in accordance with the Bible’s teachings, then great. But if we found that the other person’s beliefs were more accurate, then that would be fine too. I would change my beliefs, because I only wanted to do what was right. So by the same token, when I began to see problems with the beliefs I’d always held, I just wanted to know more so I could get closer to the truth. I assumed my family would feel the same way. That may have been naive. Please don’t think I’m trying to insult them — I think they do want to do what’s right. But I was naive to think they would be able to critically examine their beliefs so easily.
Over the years I’ve learned that it’s very difficult to question the things that are instilled in us when we’re young. There’s a video floating around YouTube somewhere that shows a little Iranian girl being interviewed by one of their state-run news channels. The little girl is very cute — she’s no more than 4 years old, she has a sweet, tiny voice, and she’s wearing a hijab. In the video, she talks about how much she hates the Jews. It’s so sad to watch this sweet little girl go on about something so hateful, especially when she couldn’t possibly understand what she’s saying. But she will probably believe the Jews are evil her entire life. It takes a very strong will to question something that’s ingrained in you so deeply. We all have prejudices like these, even if we try to guard against them. If you take time to think about it, I’m sure you can identify some of your own prejudices, whether they revolve around religion, race, class, politics, etc.
I know it was very difficult for me to question my religious beliefs. Why did I have those beliefs? Where was the dividing line between what the Bible actually taught and what I believed the Bible taught? It’s not simple if you think about it. Does the Bible teach baptism is necessary for salvation? Regardless of your answer, is that really what the Bible teaches, or what you think it teaches? Is Hell a real place of unending torment? Is that what the Bible teaches, or what you think it teaches? Is it okay for a Christian to drink a little alcohol, or is all of it wrong? Is that what the Bible teaches, or what you think it teaches?
It’s not always easy to see these kinds of things clearly, and I don’t think I appreciated that enough when I first began talking to my family about my doubts. I was expecting them to be just as shocked by these things as I was, and that probably wasn’t fair. In the next post, I’ll go into a little more detail about what happened when I began talking to them about it.