Monday, October 15, 2007

Walking away from church.

Well I have finally decided to stop going to church after just over a year in the same church, not having been committed to any church for a few years.
There were two things which made me make the decision:

1. Having been on holiday and then unwell I had not been at church for a few weeks so I did not know that there was going to be an induction for the new minister. Nobody told me and after it had happened and other people had told me about it I asked the church secretary who said it was my own fault for not being at church to hear about it.

2. Last week the new minister preached a message that the church is mainly about new people not existing members and that this was where our future lay. That was afair enough point, but I had a few issues (one of them being about corporate fasting) and someone suggested I speak to him about it after the service. He refused to engage with my questions and said I just had to accept by faith that what he was saying was correct. I then asked him how fasting could work as a lever to persuade God. He replied that fasting showed God that you were serious about what you were asking him for, to which I replied "well surely God would know that as he knows whats in your heart, and is that not the same argument used by some christians for self flagellation?". He then said he had to go and speak to a new person who had come along and just left me and my friend standing there. Maybe I am just too forthright.

The thing that surprises me most is how other people in the church can think that this sort of behaviour is proper.When I trained for the ministry I was taught that the way to deal with difficult questions was to buy time by arranging to see the person later or to be honest and say you needed some time to go away and think about it. he just walked away.

I felt quite hurt with the dismissive way it was dealt with and the comments from other people since, that the newly saved are more important. That may or may not be true, but I felt deeply hurt that I was being expected to agree to things without there being any reasonable explanation for them and without any attempt to convince me - just accept and do it.

My doubts and my drifting away are probably more difficult to deal with than a new fresh person so in some ways its understandable from a purely marketing point of view, but stopping the significant churn in church members should be getting addressed as well IMO.

27 comments:

  1. Hi Gordon,
    My name is Jeff Hammond. I pastor a church in Indonesia and a community in Yemen but son and his family now live in Livingston. They too have struggled with the religiosity of most churches and are looking for one to possibly attend in Livingston.
    We saw the Elim site and your blog with your experience of last year.
    I'd be interested to know what you have found post Elim.
    jeffhammond@bigpond.com

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  2. Hello Jeff

    Well I finally realised thay I don't believe in God any more. I detailed the full story here:

    http://www.hudson.nu/blog/2008/01/from-christian-to-atheist.html

    and here:

    http://www.hudson.nu/blog/2008/01/further-background-to-my-deconversion.html

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  3. Hi Gordon,
    This is John Henson, the new pastor at the Elim Church in Livingston that you write about in your blog. I want you to know that I unreservedly apologize for not fully discussing the Scriptural basis for my belief in fasting. It is true that there were visitors to the Church that Sunday and there was a need to introduce myself to them and make them feel welcome. I should however have got back to you to answer as best I could all your questions. I am quite prepared to do so if you will call on me.
    Meanwhile I pray that the Lord Jesus will bless you and draw you into a very close walk with Himself.
    John Henson

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  4. Hello John

    Thats a very kind offer but as you will see I have moved on since this article was written in 2007.

    I wrote two articles which explain my position fully.
    You can read them here:

    http://www.hudson.nu/blog/2008/01/from-christian-to-atheist.html

    and here:

    http://www.hudson.nu/blog/2008/01/further-background-to-my-deconversion.html

    Feel free to pop round any time.

    Gordon

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  5. Looking back on my time at Livingston Elim the most disturbing aspect was the conditional nature of the friendships I had with people in the church.

    When I decided to leave a couple of people said they would keep in touch with me but they didn't. One of my closest friends in the church (although by this time in a different Elim congregation) even managed to move to the south of England without telling me. I have met a couple of people from the church in the shops but its been very awkward and some didn't seem that pleased to see me (the phrase used by one of them which sticks out is "when I used to know you", well they still do!).

    When I left the church I was not very well and I lost my entire support network. If it had not been for the work of my psychologist at the time helping me to put these friendships in perspective then I might not have made it through this period of my life.

    Overall it was an incredibly damaging experience for me, but having recovered and taken responsibility for my own problems (rather than waiting on God to fix things) I can honestly say I am in a better fitter state. It has not been easy coming through it, but it was worth it.

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  6. The Church is made up of people who are there of their own free will. They are free to come and sadly they are free to leave. I know that Gordon says he felt rejected when he decided to leave Elim Livingston (without a word to the Pastor) but I pray he understands that those who remained and who had befriended him, and were a support network to him, also felt rejected. Hence the difficulty in relating to him when meeting him at the shops. When I met him once at the shops it was I who was friendly, and him that was awkward. My offer still stands to meet with him, and by God's grace, repair the broken relationship.
    John Henson, Elim Livingston Pastor.

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  7. That's not quite how I remember it John.

    I don't recall having met you anywhere since I left the church, although you did phone me shortly afterwards as I was locking up the office one night.

    I did not reject anybody. In fact it was several people in the church who promised to keep in touch with me, but for some reason didn't.

    Its no big deal because I am over it now, but what's interesting is that you have chosen to:

    * respond quite strongly in the third person and address yourself to other readers of this article rather than myself.

    * not contact me directly even though I had said in my previous comment response that you were welcome to pop round any time. I only live down the road.

    * chosen to comment on my apparent awkwardness as an implicit criticism of me without acknowledging that I was actually quite ill with depression at the time.

    I will leave others to draw their own conclusions from this correspondence.

    As I have said before, Livingston Elim does work for some people, but it was not for me and apparently also not for the hundreds of people who have passed through it over the years.

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  8. Dear Gordon,
    I note with interest that "all comments must be approved by the blogg author". I would consider it fair if bloggs which name Churches such as "Elim Livingston" and that name individuals such as "the new pastor" should also be approved by those concerned. I will consult with lawyer friends about that as we were not consulted for approval. It would have been far more honourable to speak of an unnamed Church being the reason for your walking away from Church.
    I am painfully aware that much fault can be found with Christ's Church and His ministers but I am completely confident that no fault whatever can be found with the Lord Jesus Christ. The greatest tragedy would be to walk away from Him.
    Please remove your blogg from the internet and please let us get together to discuss things.
    God bless you,
    John Henson

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  9. Hello John

    How the blogging process works is that when someone submits a comment on the form I get an email notifying me, and have to click on a link in the email to publish it. My policy is to approve ALL comments on my blog posts unless they contain bad language. In the past few years I have only blocked a couple of comments which consisted solely of incoherent swearing. Feel free to post any response or statement you wish, and it will appear on this page.

    I find it disturbing that you have raised the threat of lawyers rather than responding to my previous points or simply choosing not to respond. I don't understand what you hope to achieve by doing this. If you believe that the original article (written in 2007) is critical, surely God is big enough to cope with criticism?

    It sounds rather like this Iranian Case where a blogger was locked up for being critical of a Muslim cleric.

    A blog is an on-line journal and as such it consists of personal thoughts. It is not journalism.

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  10. I do find John Henson latest remarks rather disturbing. Gordon has commented in a rather mild manner on his experiences, and John Henson is free to respond with his own take on events. However talk of lawyers and firm requests to "remove your blog from the internet", given that there is nothing remotely actionable in Gordon's comments, hardly befits a man of the cloth, in my opinion.

    Somehow one expects a different approach from a Christian, with a degree more tolerance and understanding.

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  11. Gordon I get this link from RDF.
    I am so pleased for you to have left the controling pente movement.

    With regards to J Henson. He will do all to get you back to the wacky world of pentecostalism.

    If J Henson is so correct about the ridiculous notion of being baptized in the holy spirit!!
    why don`t we send him an invitation to come and post his proof and whacky ideas on Richard Dawkins forums.

    And hey we never know he might try and sue me for not believing LOL

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  12. jhenson, stop trying to control people by threatening legal action for expressing unfavorable opinions. It's childish, and marks a severely underdeveloped moral sense.

    Sam

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  13. Stay strong Gordon! The news spreading on the internets and we will defend you.

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  14. Hi Gordon,Frogblogger, Midas029, Sam and Andreas. First I must tell you that after I had posted my unreserved apology to Gordon for hurt caused him by myself, I respectfully asked him by email to remove his blogg. It was my frustration that he did not at least make the church anonymous that resulted in my last comment which I sincerely regret. I felt like I had fallen in to well laid trap. I was not going to take legal action as implied in my comment but I would like to enquire of my two friends who are lawyers as to whether organisations like our Church and individuals like me have any protection under law from bloggers - at least the same protection as the blogger who has the right to approve or disapprove (and not publish) a comment. Please could you all help me with this one - can people across the country write bloggs about organisations and individuals (be they Church or secular)so that Joe Public who is seeking to visit such can google the name and find a blogg whose apparent aim is to disuade such visits (as in the case of your first comment by Dr Hammond)?Is it possible now in this country that a blogger has the right to ruin a reputaion and even a life without any recourse? (I am not saying that Gordon has done that to me or the Elim Church although I do feel hurt and regret). I would love to visit you Gordon but can you understand that I am now afraid that some of our conversation could be added to your blogg as in your original blogg? The very basic moral value is to do to others as you would have them do to you. I am sure that none of you would like to be so treated as we have however mild (you have even protected you identities). I think you will understand why now I will not be posting any more comments. I pray this sad affair will soon end so that people enquiring about our Church will no longer have the option of reading something off-putting. John.

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  15. This will be my final word on the subject (I hope).

    The aim of the original article was not to put anyone off visiting. If you actually read it carefully you will see that my last line was that their actions were understandable under the circumstances.

    My blog is a personal online journal it is not a journalistic enterprise.

    Until this debacle broke hardly anyone has looked at this page since it was written in 2007 (according to my Google analytics reports).

    If the church were a political party or a public body, then critique of it would be considered fair comment. I don't see any difference here. Religion has to be questionable and accountable, not least because it receives funding from the general public through charitable tax exemption and local rates relief.

    If I had written a critique of the Church of Scientology or the LDS Church or religious leaders in Iran then I could imagine them trying to use the law to suppress my article, but Christians are not only supposed to be tolerant, but empowered by God. Having that power you would think that a bit of prayer would remove anything they saw as a difficulty.

    What would Jesus have done in this situation? I suspect he would not have appealed to the civil law of his time, but proved his authority by other means.

    A number of my friends are ministers and two of them have been very supportive of me over this row in spite of our different opinions on religious matters. This is the way that it should be.

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  16. Here is a link to a print of the Google Analytics report for this page. In the previous month there were 127 visitors to the page. 103 of them were in the past two days since this row broke out.

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  17. Gordon has every right to speak about his experiences I'm certain if his blog had been praising the church and yourself you would not be acting this way. Next we will have restaurant owners suing over a bad review.

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  18. Having read through all this bogg and these comments I believe that John Henson is a very honourable man and a man of great integrity.If I do come to Livingston I would certainly want to belong to his church. I can also see why he would like Gordon's blogg to be removed. Gordon comes across as a man without any integrity. His minister friends will need to "keep him sweet" if they do not want him to blogg them and their church. I am surprised Gordon has any friends. I suggest the way to regain some dignity would be for him to publicly apologise to John Henson and his church and then to remove his blogg. Ian

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  19. Hello Ian

    You seem to have a very black and white view of the world. Just because the person on one side of a debate has integrity does not mean that the person on the other side does not. The world is much more complicated than that.

    You also seem to assume that I went out of my way to do something vindictive. I did not. The article was written in 2007, this is now 2009. The original article was written as part of my personal journey out of Christian fundamentalism into rational atheism, where I have found true meaning to my life and the freedom to think without having to worry about "thought crime". I have never used my blog as a way of making or breaking a friendship. I don't have that sort of power, and in any case it would be a conditional friendship, which is one of the issues that promoted the original article and one of my later comments. I am happy to say I now have a group of close friends from all walks of life and different backgrounds, which is much more healthy than only having friends from a very narrow segment of Christianity.

    What seems to have kicked this off this week is that the original article has found its way to near the top of Google searches for people looking for information about the church in question. That is not something I have any control over, but in spite of this very few people had ever read it till this week.

    The issue remains one of freedom of speech and freedom of expression. If I had written about my personal experience of an Islamic group in Iran or an experience in a New Religious Movement (cult) would you be complaining about it? If your answer is no, then what you are trying to do is suppress my right to express an opinion. Remember, the facts are not in dispute because John confirmed them in his initial response and apology.

    The core issue seems to be that what I wrote so long ago might affect the church in some way. I can't see that myself, but if it did surely prayer would fix it without the need to resort to legal threats?

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  20. If I were I a real cynic, I would suggest that as blatant 'plants' go, new blogger Ian (on Blogger since March 2009) takes the biscuit. As it is I'm a mere sceptic, so I'll just say that his post looks about as genuine as Mrs Beckham's enhancements.

    There, I'm glad I've got that off my chest.....

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  21. I just got a comment from "Ivan" in the same style as that from "Ian's" here. From my visitor log, "Ivan" has computer information identical to John's. I don't want to accuse him of sock-puppeting, but this is suspicious.

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  22. Hi Gordon,
    I really enjoy your church commentary! You shouldn't settle for 'lame' in the name of religion. God has better for His kids! I am so sorry to read how you have been 'done' in church.

    I am going to a Baptist Theological Society lecture in Livingston Thursday night 2 April at 7:30 in the Dedridge Baptist Church.

    So as I googled the church I got a limited presentation of what/who that church is about.

    Then I saw your blog and the sincerity and openness is refreshing. Any ministry worth it's salt should be eager to answer your valid and pertinent questions.

    I think you need to draw on God and MAKE a difference somewhere. Corporate gathering is something that refines Christians and builds us up and encourages and grows us.
    There is room in the spectrum of Christian worship for a guy like you.

    I do not doubt your love of God and honour for him. Just that, lone-ranger Christians end up drifting and missing out on the richness of the life as a part of the body of Christ.

    You just need to find a live body.
    :)

    I see you think you're an atheist now, but faith comes by hearing the message and the message comes by the word of Christ. I hear that you received a different message, from busy people, who were doing church rather than lifting up the Christian message.

    Remain as open-minded as you have been to step away from Christendom.
    There is more to life.

    And keep telling your story!
    And keep insisting on truth!
    God loves you unconditionally!

    I would sooo like to buy you a coffee!
    David

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  23. Gordon,
    Don't sweat this drama in the comments section! I love your writing. Keep up the chronicle.

    ~David

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  24. Thanks David

    Its not been a very good week with all this trouble in the background, but I think it has died down again.

    I hope you enjoy your visit to Livingston.

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  25. I came across your blog,as I was looking for some form of link between bnp policy and Christianity,I know that sounds daft,but I was interested in something a rev Hargreaves had said that intimated a support to the bnp,s policy of supporting Christianity.so I read your blog,and was fascinated.I totally identify with your thoughts,I too have had the same experience of Pentecostalism.the bottom line is money here,the Pentecostal church employs a policy of brainwashing individuals into tithing,giving ten percent of everything you earn to the church coffers.since you no longer were of any interest to them financially,you became insignificant.Pentecostal churches are cult like,the very fact that mr Henson stated he would consult,not one but lawyers in the plural,could be construed as a threat,he then goes on to ask you,not in person,but through the Internet to cease this blog is lamentable,the last time I looked the uk was still a democracy.the post he published in the third person,addressing the third person,that's me or any one else,is hysterical.is this man in touch with reality.the stooge called Ian,was he paid to put that post up?I can imagine the prayer meetings,oh God stop this man from spreading the truth about us,strike him down,silence him,,,loonies,but dangerous loonies,a really good blog,and intellectually you have destroyed this mr Henson,and shown these people for what they are,utter control freaks,so that they can dip your pockets,if they want to consult their lawyers about that then go ahead.why is mr Henson not standing up for the culture of great Britain which is being destroyed by other religions,instead of stomping down on the poor and suffering Christian,the sooner these left wing intolerant fascists are out of business the better,well done my friend in standing up to the bullying tactics of mr Henson and stooge Ian,or Ivan the terrible.

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  26. Just a last comment,Gordon,you are not alone,the whole countries depressed,and were depressed because churches like this are breeding grounds for left wing bullies and the cult of cultural Marxism,threatening you with lawyers,attacking your integrity through a third party,amazing stuff.

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  27. Just re-reading this article six years after it was written and four years after the row broke out, after reading an article written by someone else about a visit to a different Elim church.

    It still hurts that they found it necessary to attack my integrity, in the way they did in these comments, especially the apparent sock puppeting. The church in question has since changed its name to Oasis Christian Centre. Looking back on it I realise I had a lucky escape.

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