When I got to OBU, I honestly had a pretty strong disdain for all things theological and doctrinal. To me, my faith was about loving Jesus and others and nothing else mattered. Over the course of my years of study at OBU, I came to realize that theology and doctrine, when studied rightly, lead to loving God and loving others better. With this newfound fervor I began to study, but I started to find myself in an increasingly lonely position.
I grew up in a strongly conservative Southern Baptist church. My beliefs about sexuality, Scripture, sacraments, service, and soteriology are thus all firmly conservative and Southern Baptist. This was a heritage I entered into OBU with, something I was proud of. I was proud to have been raised in a conservative Christian home. My peers and friends around me at ‘The Walk’ at OBU when we started our collegiate journey stood by me in said beliefs.
Then the ‘deconstruction’ began. Countless people I knew, who I sat by in class, began this process of deconstructing their faith, a process that in my belief is the result of the tremendous lack of family discipleship. Many members of my generation grew up in homes where church was mandatory, but the gospel was not lived out at home. This is a tremendous travesty, akin to that of Judges 2:10 – “That whole generation was also gathered to their ancestors. After them another generation rose up who did not know the Lord or the works he had done for Israel.” The book of Judges is full of disheartening and disgusting acts done by the people of God, and this is the backdrop. A generation arose that did not know the Lord or what He had done. This means implicitly that the parents of this generation did not show their kids who God was and didn’t tell their kids about what God had done.
In response to growing up in homes where there was a lack of genuine gospel conversation or Christlike character despite religious practices, many of my peers were driven to process their faith for themselves via the deconstruction of it. Soteriology, Scripture, service, sexuality, and the sacraments. All of these facets of theology were on the table now, ready to be studied and made new in the lives of my peers.
As this deconstruction revolution went up like a powder keg all around me, I found myself ostracized, villianized, and condemned by those who had stood by me as conservatives only four years before.
I remember the day. My Senior year we had Rosaria Butterfield come and speak in chapel at OBU. A group of students who had put sexuality on the cutting block and reassembled their beliefs about it were adamantly opposed to her presence. They stood up and silently left the auditorium in defense of said beliefs. This was the day where I felt the loneliness really start to kick in.
I am all for the right to protest. Yet in the aftermath of this protest, I felt myself smack dab in the middle of a divide with no place to call my own ‘theological home’.
On one side was the ‘deconstructionists’, a group that had pushed deeper into what they were taught and told to believe (an admirable endeavor) and had come out on the other side with opposing views to what I believed about sexuality, service, soteriology, and Scripture. Those who came before me at OBU were militantly and rudely attacking the college on social media in what was honestly a cowardly way of action. Instead of face-to-face conversations, there were social media clap-backs that were not at all showing the love of Jesus that this ‘camp’ was so desirous of. I felt (please know that I’m aware that feelings can be wrong) like I was looked down upon by this group for being one of two things. For holding tightly to my conservative Southern Baptist beliefs I was either 1) foolish and naive or 2) unloving and devoid of compassion. I was either a man who had not thought long and hard about what I believed, or if I had, I was a man who had no love or compassion for the broken and battered in our world.
On the other side were those who I felt like adhered to my beliefs about theology and doctrine. That being said, I felt myself alone in these circles due to my desire and emphasis on holiness. The ‘conservatives’ were now wearing shirts that said “I love Jesus but I cuss a little”. Cards Against Humanity, obscene talk about sex, and an outcry against our legalistic ancestors were the talk of the town. I could never find myself able to fully embrace this camp of ‘authenticity’ and ‘brokenness’ because I can’t escape the call of 1 Peter 1:16 to be holy as God is holy. This camp decried me as being either old-fashioned or legalistic for my belief about this. I became a weirdo in the denominational family that I called home.
When I left OBU I felt quite alone. I had a group of friends that stood with me in this middle ground, but we were few and far between. Two experiences at two different churches solidified me in this lonely middle ground.
On one hand, in Portland I was at a church event where we attended a Portland Timbers soccer game. I left discouraged and frustrated as members of this church chanted “We are the Timbers, we are the best. We are the Timbers, so F*&% all the rest. F&%$ them all! F#$% them all! F%#$ them all! Being authentic believers meant being no different than the world.
On the other hand, I served at a church in Phoenix where jokes were consistently made about SBC life (which in fact funded said church), and how we should not be so concerned with theology and doctrine (which led to an unhealthy meddling of Pentecostal, Baptist, Anglican, and Catholic beliefs). “Let the theologians argue about theology, we are going to love like Jesus”.
In a world of acceptance and charity, I found myself ostracized by those who had deconstructed their faith and outed by those in my own denominational camp because my desire for holiness and Scripture-driven sermons was not in agreement with the cussing Christians.
Where was I to go?
The answer is still not clear.
That being said, I am grateful for God’s grace given to me in two ways. One, I’ve been grafted into a community of youth pastors in my region who seem to be in the same position I’ve found myself in with this middle ground. Second, I’m incredibly honored and grateful that I have been asked to join the conversation at Misfits Theology. Go give that blog a follow!
In His Name,