We hear much these days about “deconversion,” Christians who are leaving not only the church but their faith.
It’s unfortunate that so many of these folks equate their church with God.
For seven years, John Marriot, coordinator of Biola University’s Center for Christian Thought, has been researching deconversion by interviewing former Christians and analyzing deconversion stories. And in spite of the very real personal, social and existential impact that leaving Christianity had on their lives, “deconverts overwhelmingly testify that leaving the faith was well worth it because of the freedom and happiness it produced,” he writes in Christian Scholars’ Review.
“How, you might wonder, could the religion of the One who said that His burden was easy and that His yoke was light, become a millstone around the neck, rather than a rest for the soul?” Marriot asks.
After reading plenty of deconversion stories, the answer to that question was blatantly obvious: “Many former Christians describe a burdensome religious system they identified with something they call ‘biblical’ Christianity that required them to affirm a host of nonnegotiable teachings in order to be a genuine Christian.”
He says the core of the problem is the “all-or-nothing” approach to faith. Each church or denomination has its own package of beliefs that have to be accepted without exception.
For instance, what does Jesus’ commandment, “To love your neighbor as yourself,” have to do with belief in a 6,000-year-old universe? Or the Golden Rule with what color car you drive?
Start questioning that narrative and you may as well have a scarlett A branded into your forehead.
“Belief in Jesus, in forgiveness, or in faith, hope and love, really does come to seem contingent and dependent upon all those other beliefs in inerrancy, literalism, creationism, and whichever weird American variant of eschatology your particular sub-group of fundies subscribes to,” writes Fred Clark, former Prism magazine editor, in “The All or Nothing Lie.” “And that means, for those shaped by fundamentalism, that belief in Jesus, faith, hope and love are all constantly imperiled by even fleeting glimpses of reality.”
This is why, in some of my former churches, we were admonished to evangelize people in mainline Christianity, “dead churches,” such as Lutherans, Catholics and Episcopalians. Until they agreed to sign on the dotted line, so to speak, they were doomed to burn in hell … forever.
And when, within any particular church, there was a disagreement about a particular belief, the church split over particulars. For instance, there have been splits over the technical aspects of baptism: Dunking versus sprinkling. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit or Jesus only? To dunk one time back or three times forward?
“Burdening individuals with a requirement that in order to be a Christian they must believe all of the various doctrines of one particular church is to place on them a weight too heavy to bear and one that will in all likelihood set them up for a crisis of faith,” Marriot writes.
Of course, there are those who never question anything. For these folks, Christian life is tedious, joyless and judgmental. And since the standards are so unattainably high, it forces them into being hypocrites, secretly “sinning,” burdened with guilt, running every Sunday to the altar to beg for forgiveness.
Jesus himself said his requirements were “easy” and “light.” When churches claim to represent God and members equate their faith in Christ with strict adherence to their church’s particular set of beliefs, when it all becomes too heavy, they abandon their faith.
I do not claim to speak for God, but this breaks my heart.