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PROCESSING THE STARTLING DEFECTION OF HIGH-PROFILE CHRISTIAN LEADERS

Posted by Steve Benninger

“Though none go with me, still I will follow…”

I’m not sure if you pay attention to things like this but recently several well-known, high-profile Christians have posted on social media that they have decided to back away from their faith. This news has sent shockwaves throughout the Christian community and reverberations across the Twitterverse. Many people have weighed in on these noteworthy departures from the faith with online posts of their own, offering responses all across the spectrum from harsh judgment to pity to sorrow and grief to sensitive understanding to enthusiastic support.  

What are we to make of reports like this? For me, I’ve found myself having several internal reactions…

Sadness. Confusion. Dismay. Anger. And a Renewed Resolve.

To be honest, hearing these reports initially just made me sad. To hear that a once-seemingly-grounded, Jesus-loving, gospel-proclaiming Christian leader has chosen to turn away from Christ is just…sad. It hurts my heart. It causes me to grieve. 

I’ve also been a bit confused. Why? What possessed you to let go of Jesus? What’s underneath your newfound disaffection for the Christian gospel? Or has it been there for quite a while? You seemed to be a genuine lover of Christ…or was that all just an act? Was it really the true gospel you professed to believe or was it one of the many counterfeits that are all-too-prevalent? A cheap off-brand that promised you an easy life if you just do A,B, and C, and now that things got hard you’re disillusioned? So I find that I have lots of questions, and I’m still somewhat perplexed.

My dismay is due to the fact that these people chose to disavow Christ publicly, on social media. They decided to broadcast their experience of “religious deconstruction” to millions of people and couch it as a freeing experience, even an adventure. This bothers me greatly, but more importantly, it bothers Jesus. To process an internal faith struggle with a few close confidants is one thing; to announce to the world that Jesus is no longer worthy of your trust and devotion is quite another.  

Some believers have a faith that is quite fragile. They could be influenced away from Christ by this kind of announcement coming from someone who has had a lot of credibility in the Christian world. My dismay even turned to anger as I thought about the people who might be prompted to follow suit…and also those enemies of the cross who are no doubt emboldened by these reports of disillusionment with Christianity.

But in addition to these responses I’ve also sensed something else rising up within me…a renewed resolve to finish my own race well, even if others fall away. When it’s all said and done I sincerely hope to leave behind a legacy of Trust in The God Who has shown Himself to be Faithful. And believe me, I am well aware that this kind of perseverance comes from the Lord. I know that enduring faith is a gift from His hand.

In thinking about all of this I was taken back in my memory to a night many, many years ago. I was 21 years old and staying several days at a campground where a leaders retreat was being held for a bunch of us students who attended a Christian college.  One night we were all sitting around a campfire under a starlit sky. Several students had just testified of God’s faithfulness to them; others had quoted scripture; a few told their stories of being called by Him into ministry.  Passion was high, faith was strong, and the atmosphere was super-charged.  At one point someone broke out the old camp song and began to sing “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.” Everyone else immediately joined in. When we got to the verse that begins “Though none go with me, still I will follow…” I remember feeling my throat tighten up and tears flooding my eyes.  I wanted that. I ached to have the kind of faith that endured to the end, that held fast and stayed strong even if everyone else bailed out.  In my heart I asked Jesus to make me strong in Him 'til the end of my days, to keep me faithful all the way home.

So…I don’t know how all of this affects you, but I felt prompted to share with you how I’m processing these recent revelations. Nearly 40 years after that moving experience around the campfire I still long to have a strong, persevering faith that can withstand disappointments, heartaches, being let down or misunderstood, or even having to go it alone.  And even if godly leaders that I highly respected end up abandoning their faith in Christ, I hope by the grace of God that I will continue to cling to Jesus no matter what. I believe now as I believed when I was 21 that He is worth it!

…though none go with me, still I will follow…

Resolved,

Pastor Steve

 

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