“In my decades of priesthood, I’ve observed that the vast majority of Christians are afraid of God. In my now broad and worldwide experience, I do not find most Christians to be naturally more loving than those of other faiths. We just think we are! It’s rather disappointing to find this out, but it’s inevitable if you’re basically relating to this God out of fear and if your religion is, by and large, fire insurance just in case the whole thing turns out to be real.” Richard Rohr
Today’s blog post is written by my beloved Rich (formally known as Richie) Motherwell. He was one of our youth groupies back in the ‘80’s. I can’t express in words how much I love this boy who is now a man…a man whose character I respect greatly. The love he demonstrates by his life is a true testament to the divine who dwells within Rich! What follows is the email sent from Rich to me.
I am finally getting this out to you with a few changes and additions. I hope it makes sense. Thank you again for letting me share some of my story intertwined with yours. What a cool project you have going. Feel free to introduce my comments however you want!
From our conversation: “Do you have a story of how you left evangelicalism?”
I don’t know if I really have thought about it as a story. I think, like you, it has been a journey with lots of steps. When I still lived in California, maybe 15 years ago, I read a book called Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. I love this book! He talked about being spiritual versus being religious. It really ignited something inside of me. He asked a lot of great questions and I really enjoyed his insights. Especially about rules and why do we always have to follow these weird rules? Like, we can’t be close to people of other faiths, or we can’t grab a drink out with friends at a bar, or we can’t be part of “this world”. It seemed that evangelical Christianity was about segregating yourself and not about living the best life God has for us.
At one point I was having a rough time with the church we were going to and I realized that the person I was closest to was a guy I worked with and he didn’t even attend church regularly AND he was Catholic, but he cared about me, my family and my life more than the people I went to church with every week. This didn’t seem right to me. That’s when I started to realize that my experience taught me that church people were on your side as long as you believed the same way they did. When I started to question some basic teachings of our theology, I realized that, if I decided that I did not believe that same way I would no longer be a part of the “club”. If I wasn’t a part of the church club, would I no longer be in with God? This was the big challenge for me because I wanted to be with God and I could not afford to be wrong and, as a result, be separated from God.
This seems like a good place to inject my own struggle with the concept of hell. If I am honest, I never really believed in hell. At least, not in the popular “damnation and torture for all eternity” way I had been taught in evangelical Christianity. I wondered why hell was such a cornerstone teaching of Christianity and was a relatively non-existent concept in Judaism. Why wouldn’t God be consistent in his dealings with old and new testament teachings? Did he change the rules in the middle of the game? Most of the time I could tell myself that I just don’t know or understand the ways of God. His ways are higher than mine and understanding on this may just be beyond my ability. None-the-less, it continued to nag at me. Then, once I had children, I wondered even more, “If God knew that creation would result in millions or billions of his children being sent to hell to be tormented for all eternity, why would he do it?” I mean, I am a mortal man and I would not have children if I knew ahead of time that they were going to be sent to hell to be tortured forever and ever and ever. I just would not do it, so why would God, who is vastly wiser and more knowledgeable than I? Eventually I was encouraged by a friend to read the book Love Wins, by Rob Bell. Long story short, I loved it and I was excited that I was not alone in my question and, even more, that I could still call myself a Christian!
I do remember a specific day where I told Tamme out loud that I did not want people to call me an evangelical. It was not a label I wanted (or want) to be associated with, just because I love Jesus. Mostly because I was just embarrassed at the lack of humility and hypocrisy when it comes to defending the right to shun people because of their sexual orientation or their political beliefs or some such nonsense that has no real eternal value and, in the end, I really feel is spreading hatred and not the message of love and reconciliation Christ intended.”
Thank you for telling your story, Rich!