I grew up in a Bible Belt town, and though my parents stopped attending church through most of my teen years, I spent a lot of time there. It was a small, conservative Baptist church. I wrestled with questions since the moment of my “salvation,” but I had accepted the belief that the Bible was literally the word of God. It could only be seen one way.
I voted Republican because I believed that as a Christian it was the sole option. Republicans were the side that voted morals. When I graduated high school, an older member of the church told me: “Don’t go off to college and become some kind of liberal.” I swore that would never happen to me. I had every intention of keeping that inner vow, but as years went by and I learned more about political science, psychology/sociology, and everything else in my liberal arts curriculum, I began wondering how I could be anything but a “liberal.”
My political identity was changing. What I didn’t realize was that my spirituality was morphing as well. I had been involved with church activities most of my life, and college was no different. I went to the Baptist Collegiate Ministry, served on Council there, played in several praise and worship bands, and attended worship regularly. But I slowly became disenchanted with everything about my faith. I tried to hold onto it, I fought for it, and I always blamed myself and my “sin.”
Fast forward a few years after college. I was working as a counselor to obtain my professional license, meeting with my mentor. Spirituality came up in regards to counseling, and he inquired about mine. My mentor was a retired Methodist minister with several degrees in theology. I told him what I described above. I said that I felt spiritually dead, not sure what to believe. He replied, “The way that I see it you have 3 options…”
1. Give up religion altogether. There’s nothing wrong with that; many choose this path.
2. Find a new religion. Buddhism is really neat.
3. Dig deeper into the faith you currently have.
No one had ever presented these options. No one had ever said it was OK not to be a Christian. I asked him how to grow deeper and he gave me Marcus Borg’s “Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time.” Borg provided a new fresh perspective on the person I had made “Lord of my life” as a child. I learned that just as Jesus could be viewed with different lenses, so could the Bible. I didn’t have to read scripture from a literal perspective, and as I adopted this new viewpoint, the stories had a more robust meaning. I also broadened my understanding of church history. For instance, I learned that “substitutionary atonement” – a keystone of my conservative upbringing – had only been a theory for about a thousand years old. Further, not every Christian held to this belief.
This journey has been hard; it still is. Nearly every day I have friends who question my belief system because it no longer mirrors their own. But I now have a peace that I never had before. My struggle is no longer with the legitimacy of my faith or my salvation in the afterlife. Now I focus on living a life like Jesus did – one that is full of compassion and inclusion for all of God’s creation.
CODY DAVIS is a Louisiana native who now lives in Arkansas. He’s a Licensed Professional Counselor with a Master’s Degree in Counseling and Guidance. He works as both a counselor and teacher at Arkansas Community College, Morrilton. Cody and his wife have two children.