Today’s conversion story comes from Jeremy Myers. A former seminary graduate and conservative pastor, Jeremy “de-converted” from traditional Christianity. Though still a follower of Christ, he has left the institutional Church altogether. And blogging played a fairly big role in that departure…
My name is Jeremy Myers. I currently live in Westtown, New York, and work in a Federal Prison. I am married to Wendy, and we have three girls.
I grew up in a pastor’s family, attended a Christian school, a Christian college, and a Christian seminary. I never drank, smoked, did drugs, or slept around. I memorized Scripture, did daily devotions, and attended church at least three times per week. Between Bible college and seminary, I served as the senior pastor of two churches. I preached sermons every week, offered Bible studies, and led prayer meetings and men’s breakfasts. I was the perfect conservative Christian.
About five years into my pastoral ministry, I knew I couldn’t raise my family on what my church was paying me, so I decided to go to seminary so I could get a bigger church that paid me more. I applied to and was accepted to one of the leading conservative Christian seminaries in the country. To help pay for seminary, I landed a job at a conservative Christian non-profit organization where I helped organize their conferences and edit their publications.
Everything was working out. I was on my way. I was only a few steps away from the realization of all my dreams.
Through a series of events described below, I left my Christian job, abandoned my goals of pastoring a church, and rejected several aspects of my Christian beliefs and practices. I didn’t convert to another religion; I just left what many think of as Christianity. But for me, leaving Christianity is what allowed me to better follow Jesus.
What led to your conversion?
During the years in seminary, I began to notice an alarming trend in myself, my professors, my fellow students, and in the seminary alumni I worked with at the non-profit organization: We were all so mean. We each thought that we had the infallible truth, and anyone who disagreed with us was a heretic and a tool of the devil. This attitude pervaded even minor disagreements, such as whether a church could dim the lights and use candles in their service or not.
I felt that something was wrong with this. Jesus, I noticed, seemed to love everyone, and everyone seemed to feel welcome in his presence. I began to ask that if that was not how people felt around me, was I really following Jesus? So, I began to read and study “the heretics.” I studied other religions. I read books by critics of Christianity, many of which my friends and professors told me not to read.
Eventually, many of my convictions began to waver, and some core beliefs began to fade. I didn’t read the Bible the same way anymore. I made friends with atheists. I started to enjoy hanging out with “sinners” and “heretics.” I began to see the strength of certain perspectives on hell, the future millennium, and biblical prophecy that I never would have considered before. In December 2007 I wrote a post on my personal blog about some of these things I was studying. I titled it “The Heretic in Me.” It was the first thunderclap in a life storm that would last for several years.
What kind of impact did your conversion have on your friends and family?
Within a month of the fateful blog post, I was asked to resign from my job at the non-profit organization. Not because I said or did anything contrary to their doctrinal statement or had any employee misconduct, but because I was reading books and thinking about ideas that the CEO of the organization considered heretical. Many of my church friends called or wrote to try to “bring me back into the fold” when in reality, I hadn’t left yet.
At least, that’s what I tried to tell them. I hadn’t actually stopped believing any of the evangelical conservative doctrines I formerly held; I was just reading and researching opposing views and found many of the arguments compelling. But the simple fact that I was considering the ideas of “heretics” made me a “heretic” too. When I was asked to leave my job, it was confirmation for many of my friends (and even some of my extended family) that I had strayed into sin and rebellion against God and the Bible and they began praying for my repentance and return.
That was the last straw for me. I walked away from church, from reading the Bible, and from praying. It wasn’t that I stopped believing in these things. It was that I stopped believing in them the way I had been taught. Since then, not much has changed. Occasionally, I get random emails from one of my old Christian friends which basically say, “See? I told you not to go to seminary,” or “Why did you ever read that book?” There is little desire to seek understanding, love unconditionally, or extend grace.
Where does that put me now? I don’t really know. I suppose I’m still within the umbrella of “Christianity” but not in any way that is recognizable by most “Christians.” I don’t “go to church.” I do read and study the Bible, but only to discover what it says; not to reinforce what I’ve been taught. I find that my favorite people to read the Bible with are atheists, agnostics, and Buddhists. We meet weekly to read the Gospels, learn from each other about Jesus, and drink lots of coffee. And slowly, I have been rediscovering the teaching of Jesus and the message of Scripture in a way I never knew before.
Where will this all lead? Frankly, I’m not sure I care. Back when I had plans and dreams, they all ended in disaster. Now, I just view every day as another step in a journey to somewhere. And along the way, I hope to love and serve as many people as I can.
What advice would you give someone going through the same experience or contemplating a similar conversion?
Be encouraged. Everywhere I look, people are becoming dissatisfied with church and traditional thinking about the place of Christians in the world. Whenever I encounter someone like this, I tell them that they have been given a gift. Though it feels like they are being ripped away from all they know about God and what He wants us to do, the end result will be a relationship with Him that does not depend on an approved list of behaviors and beliefs. Instead, they can simply enjoy a relationship with God just as they would any other person.
Be warned. A relationship like this with God may require them to leave the church, so they can love people the church has traditionally condemned. Following Jesus may lead us to hang out with Muslims, atheists, and Buddhists, or possibly homosexuals, pornographers, and drug addicts — not so that we can convert them, but so that we can befriend them. However, this will not make you popular with many Christians.
Be creative. Ultimately, each of our paths will be different. So stop trying copy some leader, pastor, teacher, or book. Simply read the Gospels, preferably with people who believe differently than you, and watch for opportunities to love and serve others. You may be surprised where God takes you.
What are three things you have learned in the process?
1) I have learned to not make goals, or at least, to hold goals loosely. Life has a way of shattering goals and dreams, and when my goals were my life, they led to several years of depression, anger, bitterness, and despair when they all fell apart. Now that I hold goals more loosely, I can shift and flow with the changes that come my way. This enables me to view life as an adventure to be enjoyed, rather than a game to be won.
2) I have learned that it is impossible to show too much love and grace. While it is theoretically true that there are limits to love and grace, most people who talk about such boundaries are only trying to justify their own complete lack of love and grace. If I am going to err on one side or the other, between showing too much love and grace and not showing enough, I would rather err on the side of extravagance.
3) I have learned to withhold judgment so I can learn from others. While I may have opinions and feelings, I never have enough information to judge and condemn someone else. Judging others places us in the position of God. Only He knows all the events and circumstances which led up to another person’s behavior or belief. This stance allows me to hear and consider the viewpoints of others, not as something to be refuted, but as part of their journey. And if God is active in their life — as I believe He is in mine — then maybe God wants me to learn from them more than He wants them to learn from me. But I will never hear what He wants me to learn if I am busy judging and condemning the other person.
Thank you, Jeremy.
If you’d like to get in touch with Jeremy Myers, you can find him via his blog, Till He Comes or on Twitter.
Previous conversion interviews:
• Mike Wise: Christian to Agnostic to Christian
• Jessica Gavin: Universalist to Seventh-Day Adventist
• Torie Brown Hunt: From Southern Baptist to Mormon