Did I Give Up on My Faith? by RevOxley

Every reader is welcome here regardless of religious preferences or beliefs. As you know, we represent a group (primarily) made up of former Christian ministers, but many of us have walked away from some of our former beliefs. Some of us are not Christians. Some of us are still Christians, but disillusioned. Some are not religious at all. Through some of my friends on Twitter, I found @RevOxley through a blogroll (perhaps on www.godlessgirl.com ?). I found his bio intriguing: Atheist Ex-Christian blogging about my life: http://ragingrev.com and checked it out.

There, I found the post I’m about to share with you. It hit home for me. Most of what he writes about is similar to what I’ve gone through. He tells about a pastor using him in a sermon (been there, done that) and his response to that pastor (which is incredibly well-written and thoughtful). The post I’m going to share with you (with his permission) can be found in full at Did I Give Up on My Faith and has been slightly edited for this audience.

Now, for a proper introduction to @RevOxley:

I am a 24 year old ex-christian that once had a major vision for a life in the ministry.  I am a former fundamentalist, charismatic, Christian apologist and minister that is fortunate to have escaped the world of faith before I was too much older. I enjoy religious, philosophical, and scientific discussion with people from all backgrounds and applying critical thinking to areas devoid of it.

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Did I Give Up on My Faith? by RevOxley

I found out yesterday that a local pastor used me in an illustration recently in one of his sermons. This was brought about because the pastor had seen a conversation or two that I had been in with a friend of mine that attends his church – now, the pastor did keep me personally anonymous but I wanted to hear this for myself.

When I listened to this I expected to become angry and to write a letter or  blog calling this guy out, this didn’t actually happen though. What I felt, as I heard my story story simplified and the death of my god minimized into a decision to “Just give up” a flood of memories hit me as I remembered the great pain I felt for those years as my faith slowly died. All day I sat there reliving much of that pain – as if this wound from over 4 years ago now had been reopened. Just as one might still feel the sting of losing a parent or loved one years after the fact, there are times that are increasingly rare that I remember this long struggle.

Please understand that I don’t share this in order to cause havoc in this man’s life. He meant no harm and we have emailed each other now a few times and I found him to be both gracious and very apologetic….I think he understands my point of view at this time. I would like to share with you both his sermon and my response to him because I feel that it illustrates quite well that for an ex-christian this is rarely something taken lightly and one should never assume that this is the case.

The portion of his sermon where he talks about me starts at around the 20 minute mark – the full MP3 audio can be downloaded Here.

Below is my response.
Dr. D,

“Johnny” (name changed by MCL) provided me with the sermon from August 8th that you gave regarding a Warrior Mentality and Persevering Till The End – in it, at around the 21 minute mark you made a mention of Johnny’s atheist friend – that friend being me.

I don’t know precisely what conversation it was that you followed that helped you come to some of the conclusions that you did…but as I listened to this sermon a flood of memories engulfed me as I pondered the most difficult time of my life.

Words often fail to express what those two years were like, when god was fading away – when I was losing my grasp of a worldview that I was absolutely sure of. I’m going to do my best to explain it though. I’m going to try to avoid tears the best I can in doing so.

Part of your premise was that for many believers turned otherwise the point in which they “quit” is a result of bad life circumstances, or an idea that when the going gets tough we simply bail out. This premise seems unreal to me, as I observe this country and this community I see people clinging to their faith or searching harder to find one during times such as these – the worst that have occurred according to quite a few generations. Tough times, it seems, is a catalyst for people to become MORE devoted to their faith – I don’t know that I was any different than the majority of believers in that way. My trials put me on my face, bowing before what I knew to be the almighty – weeping for his guidance.

No, tough times had little to do with the final destruction of my deep faith. Mine was ultimately rent asunder by nothing more than a desire to know god better, to feel closer to him, and a willingness to accept whatever purging was necessary to get there. If you will, imagine Isaiah 6 and desiring nothing greater than to be within the perfect and whole will of god. My every thought and action was intended to be a devotion to him…I just wanted to be in the Throne Room. – I’d bet that you can’t name one person in your congregation more willing to die to self than I was.

It was that greatest desire to know god intimately that allowed me to doubt the beliefs I had previously established. From that point on those glorious yet painful doubts were able to redefine everything about my world.

For two years I wished I had left well enough alone and been satisfied with the faith I had. For two years I felt the agony of darkness and emptiness fight with the god I once knew. For two years my heart was crushed by the weight of the burden of watching the only Father I had ever known die excruciatingly by my own hand. For two years I grasped at the remnants of my faith with no idea that I could ever live a life without my god. I don’t like to claim that I’ve felt a pain that is particularly worse than anyone else ever has, but I find it hard to imagine any pain greater than that which I felt during these long two years.

Much like you might hurt when you lose a family member and you go through the stages of grief, so did I. I denied the reality of what I was experiencing, made excuses for it, called it a trial and convinced myself that I would come out of it eventually with the closeness that I had originally desired. I felt all the pain and guilt that comes with death and leaving behind a ministry and I blamed myself for everything that had occurred. In my anger I bargained for a change in this reality and although it did take two years I eventually worked through it, found peace outside of god, found happiness again.

I did not endure those years because I quit.

I endured them because I couldn’t let myself quit. Your sermon made it sound so simple, so easy, and I can’t dare sit back and let that idea be promoted. That simplification of what I experienced hurt me far more than I thought it would. I wouldn’t want anyone to be fooled into thinking that this road is either a choice or an easy one. This is the last thing I ever wanted – but now I can’t go back. I cannot believe. I don’t want to believe anymore but more than that I am simply unable to and when I wanted to I couldn’t. Please, don’t dare make it sound like I took the easy way out. The easy way out would have been a bullet through the temple…and I weighed that option more often than not.

You can’t know this unless you’ve been there, so I forgive you for your lack of understanding and for making this sound easy – trivial even. If you would like to use any portion of this message to make an illustration I ask that you do so with kindness, and if you have further questions about a falling away – especially my own, I ask that you ask me rather than make assumptions – I promise to be honest in my answers.

Thank you,

Matt Oxley

Any comments are appreciated.

Edit: After posting this the pastor asked that I post his response as well, so here it is:

Thank you for your note. I had no idea that “Johnny” had provided you with the message. And I apologize for any offense that this may have caused.

I assure you that I have studied this experience from many hours of my own personal pain…I was fired from my church in 2000. I had discovered that one of my leaders was having an affair. I went  thru the biblical procedure of dealing with this but in the end, the church asked me to leave and they kept him.  I had done the right thing and had used the right procedure. But I had gotten the shaft.

I thought that I would just put out the resumes and a church would pick me up.  It did not happen…No church called…In one week, I sent out 256 resumes and not one responded…I went 8 years with no income…I even went to Kroger and took a sign off of the window that was advertising for workers. I took the sign to the manager and asked for a job…he said that I had too much education.  I did get some parttime work at Lowe’s making minimum wage.

Matt, I have no desire to have a running battle with you. I apologize for using an illustration that I should have gotten your permission. Please accept my apology and I hope that some of my people have not been a problem to you. That will not happen again…and no one knows your name…at least not from me.

I don’t share these kind of sermons out of a heart that has never experienced pain.  This was an awful period in our life.  My guts were hanging out most of the time.  Everything I believed in and preached was challenged and shakened.  I considered suicide.  I considered walking away. I even told God the same thing that Jeremiah the prophet said, “I am not going to say one more thing about You.”  But in the end, I made a decision to hang with God and He brought me through.

I am not sure where your journey will take you.  It is certainly not my intention to create any more pain or discomfort for you.  I would love to one day sit and share war stories.  But I assure you there will be no more references to you even in an unnamed version.

Sincerely,

B.D. (name edited by MCL)

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Lisa Kerr

Lisa is a writer, editor and humorist who has been featured on the Huffington Post, Philly.com, New York magazine, and BreakThru Radio. Find more of her at: thelisakerr.com.

11 Comments

  1. Thank you for posting this…just rereading those first few lines has me all misty eyed again…jeesh.

    I’d like to add too, this pastor and I have had many lunches together now after this was posted and I count him as a friend. We have some very good conversations that often make me late for work!

    • That’s really awesome, Matt! I love that you two are going to lunch and have become friends. I’m most impressed with his genuine concern for your feelings and the fact that he said he wouldn’t be preaching about you anymore (with or without names!). That’s impressive. I’ve met a lot of people (including pastors) who would not be so concerned.

      Your experience becoming an ex-Christian is very moving for me as well. It’s so hard to articulate the pain of leaving the ministry and all the emotions you experience doing that. One of the most painful things I’ve experienced is seeing my former ministry friends “tell on me” to my former pastor and see my life become sermons. I’ve also seen my life become facebook posts, blog posts, etc. I was never able to articulate the pain I felt over that to those people, and honestly, they just wanted to see me exactly like my “old self” and in their group, or I was no good to them, so telling them wouldn’t have helped. The dialogue you wrote in your blog post, Did I Give Up on My Faith is genuinely therapeutic to me. Thanks for letting me post!
      Lisa

    • I count Matt as one of my good friends. However reading this blog (when he originally posted it) made me cry. How anyone can think that giving up on God or ones religion is easy, I have no idea. This line of thinking is born in ignorance because how can someone who has not traveled this path actually understand it fully. A person needs only to read this and realize that this is not a decision made with a flip of a coin.

      • Angie,
        I cried also, when I read his post, which is what moved me to email him and ask him if I could repost it here. I’m a former reverend and have gone through a tremendous amount of pain after leaving the ministry. It’s important to recognize that people consider leaving the ministry an easy thing, trivialize it even (as the pastor who preached about him did), and sometimes even bash you for it. But, it’s usually a very honest, difficult, lonely road to travel.
        Thanks Matt for sharing this post. It’s done me a great deal of good.
        Lisa

    • Matt,

      Thank you very much for your polite and honest candor. Despite some common themes that many of us share, I still hold to my faith. It isn’t often that I come across someone who differs from my perspective on something so critical, yet is able to maintain a civil and approachable disposition. You are an inspiration in intellectual honesty, and I’m interested in working my way through your work. Thank you for being willing to share something as emotionally excruciating as your journey has been.

      I may be biased, but I hope that the same intellectual honesty will one day lead you back home. ;)

      -John

      • John,
        Perhaps Matt can answer you best, but as an ex-Christian, he’s probably saying that he doesn’t consider Christianity “home.” For ex-Christians, I think that (as Matt has demonstrated) it’s a hard and painful road to leave something you once held so dear. But, doing so means you probably don’t believe in it anymore, and maybe even count it as a destructive force. I think it was his intellectual honesty that brought him to a “new home” so to speak: being an ex-Christian. Matt also counts himself as an atheist, which means he doesn’t believe God exists. I think it’s refreshing to hear his story, because there may be those out there who are reading who consider themselves like Matt. It takes a tremendous amount of bravery and courage to “come out” as being atheist after being a minister.
        Lisa

      • John,

        Thanks for the kind words.

        If you intend to work through my writing, please be forewarned that the tone of this letter is not consistent with the tone of some of my earlier writing…my pain turned into anger and stayed there for some time when I first embraced my new lack of faith and it shows in some of those posts…and occasionally in some of my more current posts.

        In regards to going back home…I understand why you don’t see it, but I’d never go back…never.

  2. WOW

    Both Mr. Oxley and B.D. are good examples of classy ways to deal with tough situations on several levels huh?

    Thanks for posting this Lisa, uhh, too. Never know for sure, some old antagonists can still grow compassion, insight, or “a pair” as each specific situation may require.

  3. After reading this post and the comments that followed, I couldn’t help but feel the need to chime in. Strangely, the post and comments reminded me of the movie “Vantage Point”. It was a movie that played the same scenes from various angles, each angle depicting the views from a different persons vantage point.

    Anyway, I can relate to each vantage point that everyone has taken here. I have been high on the mountain, so to speak, in my pursuit of God, and also have reached the darkest of depths of doubt and uncertainty.

    What it boils down to for me is the day of my salvation. I wasn’t coaxed into a prayer from friends or a pastor. I was home alone and cried out to God to deliver me from the person I had become. He did. That day was a supernatural experience that could not be conjured up by my imagination or any pre-conceived ideas, as I had none. I literally fell a weight fall of of me and was overwhelmed with joy and the sensation of freedom. That day changed my life forever and eventually led me my career and pursue ministry.

    Ironically, years later, after graduating from Bible College and being in full time ministry is when the doubts would come. Bottom line, I was so consumed with ministry that my own personal time with the Lord went south. When I drifted away from the things that pushed me into ministry, the confusion came. It’s like being married to someone and telling everyone how much you love your wife, but you stop spending time with her. Eventually your relationship fades, and even though you profess your love for her, you are slowly falling out of love. When you announce your divorce, you send shock waves throughout your community of friends. Without knowing it, I was going through those steps with the Lord, and essentially on my way to a divorce.

    One day while reflecting on things, I was thinking about the day of my salvation. After playing back all the events that took place that day, all doubts were dismissed. Though time, trials, and sin has come into my life since that day, and things haven’t always gone so great, I will never deny the existence of the God that gave me salvation.

    Matt, your vantage point is that you will never come back home to God, My vantage point is that I never want to leave.

    I wish you well and thank you for your honesty!

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