I wasn’t able to make it, but I’ve been trying to follow the Emergence Christianity conference that is going on in Memphis via Twitter and various blogs. Last night, Mike Morrell posted a quote from Jay Bakker that I for some reason woke up this morning thinking about:
I’ve met so many people who have left the faith. And it breaks my heart. – Jay Bakker on Dark (K)nights of the Soul
Jeff Straka responded to the quote with: “EC can be community for us faitheists.”
This is something that I’ve thought about for awhile, and I think can become a very important part of the Emergent/Emergence movement. Doug Pagitt has recently done some interesting interviews with atheists on his radio show, and has proposed a new sort of “emergent atheism.”
This is very exciting to me.
I want to write more about this possibility soon, but for now I just wanted to respond to (my own interpretation of*) the Jay Bakker quote. As a disclaimer, I’ve been following Jay’s life and ministry for at least ten years, when a few of us brought him out to speak in Oklahoma City after the release of his first book. I think he’s been a great champion of equality, and, more recently, skeptics like myself. I’m a fan.
I also don’t know the context of Jay’s statement. So, my interpretation may be completely off (for which I am completely open to correction*). But, I think it does communicate a sentiment that seems to be pretty common:
When someone “leaves the faith” it is a negative thing, worthy of pity or sadness.
As an evangelical, this way of thinking totally made sense to me. If God’s primary mission was to save people from hell and a shitty life without him, then any time a person “walked away,” I was disappointed. I didn’t want them to live a less than “abundant life” in the here and now, or eternally.
And, for many people, leaving the faith is a traumatic experience. I, personally, had to go through months of intensive therapy to work through it, and I know I am not alone in this. Sadly, many people don’t have others in their lives who can help them through that process. Tragically, many Christians actually turn their backs on those who walk away. In this sense, then, I don’t know if it’s better for some people to figure out how to cope inside the church rather than leave. This is where I fully support those who are trying to change the church culture from within to be more open to doubts and questions, and open to those who need to leave.
But, from what I perceive to be an emergent perspective, someone leaving the faith, walking away from the church, should not be seen as inherently a negative thing. I’ve argued before that I don’t think the church is necessary, though it may be beneficial to some. For others, it may do more harm than good. For me and many others, leaving the church was absolutely necessary, and resulted in a much healthier perspective on life – and even on religion in general. In order for some people to fully renounce their idols of church, “worship,” theology, or even Jesus and God, they need to walk away – if not permanently, at least temporarily.
Some of the worst things for me to hear after I left the church were that someone was sad for me, or pitied me, or was worrying about me, or, especially, that they were “praying for me” (despite all the good intentions I know were coming from the people who said these things). Again, I get it. I used to be a pastor. I know what it means to hurt for people. But, maybe some of our seemingly empathic hurt is actually condescending and presumptuous. Maybe what the “apostate” needs most is not anyone’s judgment or assessment of their current spiritual state, but maybe what he or she needs most is a friend, a listening ear, an open arm.
People change. One day, we’re completely committed to some idea or movement, and the next we’re not. This is what it means to be human. If we’re never as black and white as we project, why should we assume that because someone says or does something one day, the same will be true tomorrow?
Maybe Christians should actually rejoice over the one who doubts, who questions, who rejects, who provokes, who walks away. For most of “us” that I know, there is a period of darkness that results in new life. And, that newness would not be possible without the departure.
People are leaving the church, or “the faith,” every day. The church either needs to learn how to accept this, and embrace the one who leaves, or it will become increasingly disconnected from reality. I think emergent has a great opportunity to fill this gap. To learn how to love those who may have nowhere else to turn. To let them walk away, and offer them the red carpet out of the door.
Maybe some of us will return. Maybe we won’t. We can’t control what others decide to do. What we can control is how we relate to each other through all of our various transitions.
Will emergent accept this challenge?
*I’ve tried to clearly state that I might be misinterpreting the statement by Jay. If anyone was there and wants to clarify, please let me know. Thanks!