Growing up as a pastor’s kid I wanted nothing more than to follow my parents in their footsteps. Imagine the heartbreak experienced when I was told after years of college that I would never become a pastor in my faith tradition. You see, growing up in a conservative Christian home lent itself to holding a certain set of identity politics and dogmas that were not up for debate. This all changed when I went to college and began to ask questions and discover that not all answers were consistent with what I grew up believing.
Entering college, I was the stereotypical conservative Christian. I was pro-war, pro-life, anti-Muslim, feared immigration, denied the theory of evolution, believed in nationalism and certainly believed that marriage was only between one man and one woman. In my mind, my time was going to be spent taking my required classes and passing just enough to obtain my credentials as an ordained minister in just a short four years.
Looking back, my naiveté was laughable. I can tell you that many young pastoral ministry students enter college with the understanding that they have it all together, know what they need to know, and are just there to fulfill requirements to appease the bureaucracy of denominationalism.
But the truth is, college did a whole lot more than prepare me for ministry. It broke me out of the mold I was shaped in; opening the door to a new and ever changing landscape of growth.
Questioned were questioned, Answers were questioned, my answers and questions evolved and grew each year. Most, if not all, of the beliefs I grew up with were put through a paper shredder and incinerated. The issue of same sex-marriage came to the forefront. I was a secret ally in support of the LGBTQ community, but afraid to make waves in an already fragile process of ordination.
Several years later, I was nearing the end of the ordination process and the tugging and calling on my life began to take a different shape. I had known since the end of college I would not fit the present ministry mold, that I would rattle too many cages. After completing my master’s degree, I began working in the non-profit world, entering seminary to continue my education.
On June 26, 2015 the Supreme Court ruled that marriage was a right to everyone, and that same-sex marriage would now be legal in all 50 states. Shortly after, I shared on Facebook my elation for the ruling and that we were entering into a new era of inclusion and acceptance.
The fiery inferno of the socials was cranked up high, and I began to get attacked from all ends. Comments like:
“Shame on you. And with that I’m going to say bye because I no longer know who you are and will not support a Pastor who SUPPORTS gay marriage.”
“Did you read the scriptures from front to back? If you did then reread it. Especially pay attention to what the Lord did to Sodom and Gomorrah. You also need to read the scriptures on serving two masters.”
The final blow was a forwarded private email train containing a two day conversation with the leaders in the church region I was serving and studying in. They all knew I was in the ordination process and they wanted to have someone talk to me about setting me straight (no pun intended). Toward the end of the conversation I read disheartening words from the leadership in the district I was licensed, starting they had become aware of my radical shift in this area and that I would no longer be considered for future candidacy. That is where I found out I would no longer be considered a minister in that denomination after all the years, money and time put into the process. No phone call. No email. No opportunity to discuss my position. Just silence.
Things got dark. Rebecca and I had already decided we needed a break from the church as a whole, but I was still involved in church ministries through work; still feeling the call to ordained and recognized ministry in the denomination I grew to love.
Coming out as an ally to the LGBTQ was the beginning of sharing my values, beliefs and radical new love for others. This lent itself to an atheism that completely denied the god I grew up knowing. The god who limited sovereignty to being about care for those who believed, instead of a God whose love was more measurable than anyone could ever fathom. The sovereignty I granted god was no more than a bureaucrat or a king who ruled with the iron fist of a dictator.
Atheism help me discovered a God who experiences the suffering of others, the one who is fully seen in the Christ who is said to be God in the flesh. Whether this is just a literary representation or not, the story of Jesus is one of love, care for the our neighbor and welcome. It is not about hatred, selection and abandonment.
The god I use to worship only required I change minor actions in my life such as not drinking, dancing and smoking. All of which I enjoy now with friends, family and strangers. The sovereignty I find in this God now requires more than surface level change, but a radical change with real consequences to how I interact with the world.
Becoming atheist helped me see that to follow Jesus, I had to reject god.