Coming Out: This Is Me (Part 1)

Now, the title probably had you worried, didn’t it? Go on, admit it!!

But this isn’t that sort of ‘coming out’. This is a theological ‘coming out’, rather than a statement about my sexuality: last time I checked I was still heterosexual! This post more or less follows on from my previous post - particularly in that I’d like you to bear in mind what I said there as you read this.

I haven’t posted much to this blog for a few years. That’s largely because my views on God, the gospel, and the church, have been changing; at first a little, then quite radically. In 2016 I experienced what I can only describe as an outpouring of God’s love - an epiphany - it was incredible - like nothing I’d ever experienced before. And it went on, and on, for months. Considered alongside things which had happened earlier on my faith journey, it seemed to leave me no choice but to begin to examine, forensically, what I had been taught by the church - which appeared, in some ways, to contradict what I had been experiencing, and the things which I felt God was saying to me now - chiefly through scripture.

I had been dimly aware that quite a few of the things which I’d been taught and expected to believe were, at best, inconsistent - for a long time I’d been determined to ignore the cognitive dissonance to which they gave rise (because the received wisdom was that doubt was the enemy of faith). There had always been things about the ‘evangelical faith’ which bothered me: primarily, once you distill it, the idea that a God who claimed to be love personified could also hate his creatures. The blessings poured out on me made my unease about this idea increase to the point where I was left with no choice but to rethink almost everything about my faith. Since then, I have done a great deal of reading; most of it in the bible (which I found myself exploring with a complete ‘freshness’ - seeing things I’d never noticed before, and seeing familiar passages in a new light) using a wide range of versions; as well as a lot of works by philosophers and theologians both ancient and modern - from the church fathers right up to the present day.

I tried to express the beginnings of my changed views in an earlier post, and although I received some supportive responses, there were others which I can best describe as vitriolic, and which hurt me deeply.

Church has been for me, since my conversion, my ‘safe space’: it has felt very much like a refuge, and many of its members have become, in a very real way, ‘family’. To be on the receiving end of such apparent hatred, as well as messages suggesting that I had ‘lost my way’, or expressing concern for the destination of my soul (implying that the writers were unsure whether I had ever truly been a Christian in the first place), was both shocking and deeply hurtful. Those who have followed my blog for a while will likely know a little of my background - the severe bullying which I experienced as a young person, and the way that scarred me. The feeling that people in church, people I thought loved me and whom I thought I could trust, were turning against me, purely and simply because I’d decided to be honest about times I’d spent wrestling with God and my faith, was unbearable. So I stopped posting - except for things which I judged entirely uncontroversial.

Some of my friends though, were disappointed, and tried to encourage me to keep going, and to post about how my faith had changed. It has continued to evolve since, and I have continued to write, but since that experience I have been more or less ‘in hiding’ and I haven’t posted any of what I’ve written about my journey of faith. However, now I think I am reaching a point where I can’t bear to hide any more. To be honest, it’s not doing my sanity any good… Trying to ensure that I nod and shake at appropriate moments; and that I say the right things at the right times, whilst at the same time not actually being dishonest, has been getting harder and harder. Things have reached such a pitch that I don’t think I can sustain the effort any longer.

So there are things which I have to say, to be true to myself, true to what I think God has been showing me, and ultimately true to God. They are things which will definitely be unpalatable to some. Those folk will probably see me as a heretic, a backslider, someone who is apostate, someone who has lost his faith, or maybe even as someone whom they don’t consider to ever have been a Christian in the first place.

The details of what I believe now, and how it has changed, will probably ‘dribble out’ over the next, well, as long as it takes. It is going to be an exercise in vulnerability, such as I’ve probably never undertaken before. And to be frank, I am not expecting it to go well. I am expecting to be misunderstood, at best. At worst, my fear is that I’m going to lose my ‘ministries’ within the church, as well as my church ‘family’ and friends.

But que sera, sera.

I don’t actually have a choice any more. I have to do this. In view of the increasing toll staying silent is taking on my sanity, I am going to come out of hiding and say what I believe to be true. In the meantime, I can affirm that I still believe every word of that ancient statement of Christian’s faith, the Apostles’ Creed, to be literally true:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,

creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

born of the Virgin Mary,

suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.

On the third day he rose again;

he ascended into heaven,

he is seated at the right hand of the Father,

and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy catholic Church,

the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and the life everlasting.
Amen.

Part 2 to follow shortly.

Copyright Phil Hendry, 2021