“I’m praying for you.”
These are words I never thought I’d hear - in the context of hearing them from someone worried about my salvation being in jeopardy. I know I’m not the only one who has heard these words from concerned family or friends.
What it’s like being liberal in a conservative world
Honestly I never imagined growing up and becoming a liberal. I was raised in the heartland of country Victoria, Australia within a conservative Christian family, church and community. I was home schooled for high school, and was socially awkward with few ‘outside’ people around me.
But all that changed as I ventured out into the real world, where the cotton wool doesn’t reach and the “hedge of protection” doesn’t seem to grow…
Plagued by fear
One of the things I noticed most about my old worldview and the people around me who held to it, was the prevalence of fear. Often when you are in a bubble it's hard to see outside it, and as I saw more and more outside of the bubble, I observed more and more fear inside.
Interestingly, I noticed the fear that held me back as well. I found it hard to love others for fear of being hurt. I was even afraid of having fun in case I possibly sinned in some unknown way.
Another big area for me was a fear of others. I recall being told how bad so many people were for not believing the right thing. I thought to myself, “If there was even 5% of Christians going to heaven - that would be a miracle.”
So many even in my church’s denomination had their beliefs ‘wrong’. Let alone other churches which accepted parts of “heretical teaching” or those “non-Christians”.
I think this, coupled with the fact that while growing up, I lacked people around me who thought differently and it led me to being shocked to my core when I met those “other” people.
Insanity or genuine enquiry?
When I started working, and I got to know these “others” who disagreed, I think I suffered from cognitive dissonance for about 6 months. What I had been told and what I was experiencing were two very different things.
For a long while I wasn’t sure what was going on; why was my experience so different from what it should have been? Why was I experiencing such a new perspective on things? Eventually I started seeing cracks in the tight fort of truth I’d been living in, and slowly but surely began to venture outside.
I felt torn between what I had known and what I now lived. Thankfully though, the more I asked, searched and questioned, the more people I found like myself who were on this journey together.
Crossing the line
I was honestly shocked the first time I had what I call a “crossing the line” conversation with someone. The person was a family member (who didn’t know much of what I was thinking), concerned about some of my “salvation risking choices”. Holding my hands, they looked longingly into my eyes, tears streaming down their face, begging me to seek Jesus and said they would be praying for me to find him.
I think that was the moment I realised I had crossed a line. I couldn’t get away without being questioned and judged in conservative circles anymore. Before long I’d been labelled a ‘non-Christian’, ‘heretic’, ‘heathen’, told I was ‘no better than all those going to hell’ and threatened with excommunication.
Now I’ve lost count how many people are praying for me to find Jesus again. But even though I’ve given up a lot of beliefs about Jesus that no longer make sense to me and I am still unpacking the “mystery” of Christ, I feel much closer to him than I have ever been.
Through all of these experiences, one thing I have learnt is compassion for others. Not only those going through a similar experience to me, but for those oppressed by a system, regime or another person. I hope to live the life of the wounded healer - to experience pain, yet because of Jesus’s example: express that as love for others.
Michael Enderby is currently a Chaplain in the South Eastern suburbs of Melbourne, Australia. He has a heart and a passion for walking alongside youth and helping them realise and grow into their potential. He resides in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne. Michael's personal blog is here.
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