Oddly enough, it was the words of Jesus that lead me out of Evangelical Christianity.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.”
I was 22 years old the first time I voluntarily attended a church. I went with a buddy of mine who had recently converted.
He baited me into going by saying that “church was the best place to meet a nice girl.”
Sure enough, I spotted a pretty gal who got inside my head long enough to bring me back the next night. And the next. And the next.
That particular church was holding a week of special meetings. It was on the final night that my life took a new direction.
I didn’t answer an altar call (though I would answer dozens of them in the years to come - just to be “sure”).
No, my change came while my buddy was driving home, talking about girls, and I was in another world, realizing that I had never really loved - unselfishly loved - anyone in my entire life.
And my heart changed. It remains changed to this day. That much was real. Sadly, much of what followed was not.
My dramatic change resulted in being instantly recruited at that Evangelical Quaker church to do lots and lots of stuff “for Jesus.”
Less than two years later a national ministry took an interest in me and moved me near Chicago.
In those days Wheaton and Oak Brook Illinois were like Protestant Vaticans. It was hard to cross a street and not encounter a devoted Evangelical.
In the course of my tenure with that organization I became a counselor. I spoke with hundreds of folks each month.
I was 24 years young, arrogant, idealistic, and like a kid who knows just enough karate to hurt himself and others.
A couple years later, after voicing concerns to near deaf ears about things that troubled me in the organization, I returned home. I was soon asked to teach a Bible study and eventually invited to become the minister for the congregation our Bible study had grown into.
The following decade was the period of my life for which I am most ashamed. I said and wrote many things I deeply regret and eventually rejected. I was stupid, dogmatic, but thankfully conflicted on many fronts.
Our church tried hard to feed the poor, visit prisoners, and address global needs. But doing so only fueled my self-righteousness because so few other churches were doing the same.
In fact, the deafening silence in the Evangelical church regarding civil rights, indigenous sovereignty, slavery, AIDS, global warming, poverty and the evils of war troubled me constantly.
Moreover, the thinly veiled hatred of gays and condemnation of women exercising their right to choose convinced me something was terribly wrong.
The church as a whole began to bother me. Not just the Dobson’s, Falwell’s, and other preachers, but nearly everyone I knew (including myself) displayed horrid intolerance (sanctified bigotry) as well as a penchant for whacky “signs and visions” which should rightly scare the crap out of any sane person.
Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits.”
After 20 years of studying Greek, Hebrew, Byzantine and Alexandrian texts, and trying like hell to live according to the “red letters” in the New Testament, I finally left Evangelicalism and arrived at a place of deep settled peace.
I concluded that God is not stupid. Nor is he a xenophobe. Nor is he a homophobe.
I came to believe that though Christians may trust in the authority of their book, this in no way dismisses the inspiration of other ancient teachings that bear beautiful fruit among their followers.
I began to embrace the fact that the 3 major religions on this Earth have been, and continue to be, at the root of wars and divisions among humankind.
“You will know them by their fruits.”
I came to realize that I loved, respected, and had much, much, more in common with honest atheists than I did with disingenuous religious folks of any stripe.
What began to matter most to me was fruit. Folks can argue all day about which books or religions are inspired and which ones are not. My question will always be, “What sort of fruit have your beliefs born?”
Faith of any kind is something we exercise for ourselves. No one can do so for us and we cannot blame anyone else for what we choose to embrace.
I believe that love never fails. And I believe that a good life bears good fruit.
I confess I could more easily believe that all the parts of a wristwatch could be thrown into the air and come down an assembled watch than not believe in Jesus Christ or a Creator.
I believe in love. Love may get the crap kicked out of it at times - but I believe it never fails.
I regret the quality of the picture. I couldn't find my original drawing.