Faith Turning Points
Recently I was talking about stuff on WikiGodPod, a podcast out of the Greater Toronto Area (I live close to the GTA in Kitchener) centred around our stories and how that shapes how we understand God. I’m not somebody who speaks well without preparation, so the potential questions were sent in advance and I spent a few hours the night before and morning of planning. I figure since I already spent those hours writing notes, I may as well clean them up a bit and publish them here.
Mark’s next question for me was:
What were major turning points in terms of faith and God?
I grew up in the United Church of Canada, but a more evangelical rural congregation rather than the liberal stereotype. I think it started to become more real to me when I was early in my teen years, not long after my mom was remarried. That level of life change, right as I was hitting an always-tumultous stage of life, made me see some more comfort in the Christian message. I’m not sure it was too much else beyond comfort and maybe a few extra rules to follow yet, though. I took part in two short-term mission trips in that time as well, with more of a social justice bent rather than an proclamation bent, which probably strengthened the connection between following Jesus and helping people in practical ways for me.
Over the course of my undergraduate degree at Queen’s is when the biggest change happened, shifting away from evangelicalism – of the moderate to conservative variety – toward Anabaptism by way in large part of the emerging church movement. In my first two years, I was a part of a campus group that was really not healthy. When I started, it averaged about 150 people at the weekly gatherings and by halfway through my second year, it was down to about 30. A lot of it came down to the leadership stifling any questioning, trying to force everyone to follow their system. I tried for a few months to present some other options before realizing I was not getting anywhere and moved on to some healthier communities.
That opened me up to question things, though. Before that I had largely assumed that all Christians believed more or less the same things. Now I knew otherwise firsthand. And I knew that theology could not only help people, but often could really hurt people as well. There was a whole world of theological discussion out there. It was a slow and steady journey as I unpacked more and more of things I had been taught, becoming stronger in a lot of the core beliefs about Jesus but setting aside a lot of things that previously had been important to me: the Sinner’s Prayer as a sort of magic formula to Heaven, penal substitutionary atonement, inerrancy, evolution, playing judge over sexual minorities, and probably a lot more.
Finishing up my undergraduate degree, I decided to stay at Queen’s for a Master of Divinity. I got a lot of backlash for that from some evangelical friends since Queen’s is affiliated with the “liberal” United Church of Canada. I’m glad I did it, not just because it kept me in Kingston long enough for Emily – now my wife – and I to start dating, or my general love of Kingston, or its great bursaries. I needed those different perspectives – not just liberal mainline but also even more influential the place of liberation theology. In many ways, this wasn’t a turning point nearly as much as it was the continuation of the newfound freedom to question things, but I don’t want to understate how valuable it was to have that safe space to continue doing so.