Deconversion, Blogs and Enemy Love
Oct 01, 2010 by Craig Blomberg | 9 Comments
“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44 TNIV)
Whether you are a Calvinist, Arminian, or something in between, if you live long enough and aren’t a hermit you will meet, tragically, people who once claimed to be Christian believers but who have now repudiated their faith. Some of these have been leaders and even pastors in evangelical churches. I’m not interested in this blog in wrestling with which theological tradition best accounts for this phenomenon; I’m more interested in reflecting on the reactions of those who are “left behind” as still faithful Christians.
The fairly newly coined term for such abandonment of apparent faith that seems to be most popular among those traveling that road is “deconversion.” Studies of deconversions find three fairly consistent factors or kinds of experiences that trigger such rejection of Christianity. First, a crisis of some kind unexpectedly intrudes into a person’s life. Maybe it is the loss of a loved one, a major personal failure or even sin, a life-changing injury, a divorce or a devastating financial loss. Second, the community to which this individual has normally turned to for support in hard times turns on that individual instead. Perhaps it is a kind of church discipline that does not seem geared to lead to rehabilitation. Perhaps it involves pat theological slogans that don’t adequately address the complexity of the situation. Perhaps it includes interpersonal estrangement rather than empathy. Third, the hurting person is introduced to and/or for the first time takes seriously and investigates seriously an alternate world view. This may be a different religion or, as it commonly seems today to be, some form of agnosticism or atheism.
Search the blogworld and it’s striking how many of the most aggressive and hostile atheist blogsites are hosted by ex-evangelicals. That shouldn’t cause surprise, however; frequently when someone converts (or deconverts) from one religion or ideology to another, it is because of disenchantment with the former worldview, so that it is natural to take out one’s frustrations against those who remain in the group the individual has rejected. And if personal mistreatment has exacerbated the situation, the deconverted will naturally reciprocate with even greater venom.
But how should we as Christians react to the hostility of the deconverted? Whether that person is a blogwriter we’ve never met or a close friend or family member we know all too well, the tendency is for the believer to lash out also—answering ridicule with ridicule, rejection with rejection, rationalizing with rationalizing. If our goal is, as it should be, to bring this person either back to Christ or truly to Christ for the first time, such tit-for-tat reciprocity will almost never do anything except cause greater alienation. Jesus’ words on enemy love suggest that we should instead go out of our way to treat these people kindly, affirming any legitimate criticism they may have of Christians and churches, pointing them to healthier models of true Christian worship and lifestyle instead.
I try to do this periodically in the blogworld. Recently, a self-described atheist kept objecting to another atheist blogger because of the wildly inaccurate things he was claiming and because of the harsh, demeaning tone with which he and most of his contributors wrote. Shortly after we both made multiple responses to this blogger’s post, the other man who was objecting to the post e-mailed me, thanked me for my courteous and reasonable remarks, and said that he was getting so frustrated with atheists’ irrational hostility to others that he was starting to think seriously about becoming a Christian! But he lamented the number of Christians—not as many, fortunately—who were equally nasty, overly simplistic or just misinformed in their blogs or in their responses to their critics’ blogs. I quickly told him I was equally distressed by such behavior, found out where he was living, contacted some friends who lived nearby, and found out about a good church I could recommend to him. I have no idea whether or not he will take the next step to visit it, but I was again reassured that Jesus knew what he was talking about when he called us to that radical, countercultural principle of enemy love.
Peter even goes one step further, commanding us, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Pet. 2:12). The evangelistic motive and its periodic success is patent.