In recent weeks, I have had to grapple yet again with a myriad of thoughts and feelings when someone has announced publicly that they are no longer a Christian.
The other day I became aware of a post on Instagram from Jon Steingard, lead singer of Hawk Nelson. In that post, he said, “After growing up in a Christian home, being a pastor’s kid, playing and singing in a Christian band, and having the word ‘Christian’ in front of most of the things in my life – I am now finding that I no longer believe in God.”
A few years ago I attended a Tenth Avenue North concert with my bestie. Hawk Nelson was one of the openers. Drops in the Ocean. Live Like You’re Loved. Man, those songs are incredible! I have greatly appreciated those songs many times over the years. And now Jon states that he “can no longer stand on stage and in good conscience sing songs like ‘Drops in the Ocean.'”
The comments and various discussions on Facebook have been interesting. Jon is far from the first to walk away from an evangelical Christian background. No matter who it is, there will always be the classic comments….
“Well, he must not have really been saved in the first place.”
“Well, he must just be trying to get attention. Why else would he say this publicly?”
“Well, he must not have read the Bible, because the Bible clearly says x, y, and z.”
Jon did receive many many kind and loving comments as well. To be honest, he received a lot more gracious comments than I would have expected, given the extreme backlash of others who have posted similarly. I commend people like Mike Donehey from Tenth Avenue North, who said, “Man I love that you shared this. You know I’m always around to talk about our belief in God or lack thereof. Love you and always will.”
I am impressed by Jon. So much of his posts resonated with me. So many of the questions he said he has wrestled with are questions I have wrestled with too. Big questions. Questions that are scary. In short, questions that freak out the church. The openness, honesty, and humility that it takes to publicly admit something like that is huge. He lived a Christian life publicly from stage, so after agonizing over the decision (his words), he publicly shared where he is now. That is huge. That takes a tremendous amount of courage, and I cannot help but applaud that.
In his initial post as well as in follow-up posts from today, Jon mentions how he has “spoken with so many people who feel the same things as me, but are terrified to speak up about it. Unspoken doubts and feelings like this are poisonous and corrosive to our hearts – and I hope this encourages people who are working up the courage to be more open and transparent about both their faith and their doubts.”
Why is it that church is a place where it is not safe to ask questions? Or have doubts? I hear the outcry, “Oh yes, church is a safe space! Ask anything!” But really…if certain questions are asked, pearls are clutched. “Well, now, that’s a slippery slope.” “The Bible clearly says…” “I’ll pray for you.” “If you really cared about the truth of Scripture, you would understand xyz.” And so the gatekeepers are out in full force. And people are forced to either stay quiet, or be put outside the camp because “the Christians” think that you don’t care about God. I wish I was exaggerating. This has happened to me and it has happened to many others.
Why is it that Jon (as he noted in one of his posts) and myself were bracing ourselves for such a strong backlash from Christians in his comments? Why is it that Christians, the ones who claim to follow Christ in love, are the first to condemn and speak harshly instead of giving love, grace, and support? Why is it that Christians think that a comment like “How dare you?” would possibly incline someone to reconsider their position and turn to God? (Thinking specifically about many of the comments given to Josh Harris after he posted in a similar vein as Jon.)
Why can we not applaud someone’s honesty and vulnerability? “Oh, but we can’t applaud someone who is giving up on God.” Would you rather he lie? Shove it under the rug? Why can we not embrace people, as image bearers of God, and come along side them for the journey and show the love of God who leaves the 99 to go after the 1?
It is emotional to read posts like his. Of course there are so many emotions. Sadness, grief, understanding, empathy, fear. But at the end of the day, I choose to stand alongside Jon. And Josh. And all the other people who are being real about their faith and their doubts.