Monday, February 06, 2006

How I Accidentally Helped A Kid Lose His Faith

I was working at a camp one summer (several years ago) and met this kid named Steve (not his real name). Steve was still in high school and was working as a Jr. Counselor this particular week. He had been recently converted to Christianity by his girlfriend and a militantly conservative Church of Christ (if you aren't familiar with churches of Christ, then I'm using the term 'conservative' to mean something slightly different than you might naturally infer). When I say Steve was converted, that was kind of an understatement. He was going to be a preacher. The "watchdog" preacher of the congregation he attended was his personal hero. Even so, he was a nice kid and was fun to be around. He played the guitar (though not to religious songs) and had a good sense of humor. I spent a lot of time with him that week. Several times in our conversations I would lightheartedly deconstruct one of his hard core legalistic beliefs. He was bewildered that anyone could do this so easily. Still, this wasn't the deathblow. He was from Montgomery, AL and kept ranting about how liberal (again, this is "liberal" in the 'church of Christ' sense, not the theological sense) and almost evil Buddy Bell was. Buddy is the preaching minister of the Landmark Church of Christ (an innovative church of Christ) in Montgomery, and is also my cousin. Buddy's son was at camp that week. Friday when Buddy came to pick up his son, I introduced him to Steve. Buddy took him off to the side and talked to him for a long time. I found Steve afterwards and he looked like he was in pure shock. I asked how his talk went with Buddy, and he said that it wasn't at all what he expected. He couldn't get over how nice Buddy was. He couldn't get over how much Buddy loved Jesus. He found out that Buddy was actually the man that baptized his Dad in college.

A couple of months later, Steve's girlfiend broke up with him. To my knowledge, he gave up on his faith all together after that. He got kicked out of a Christian college his freshman year for dabbling in some things that he shouldn't have. I'm sure the breakup had a lot to do with it. Even so, I wonder about my role in the whole thing. Steve's faith seemed to be sort of like a game of Jenga. If you pull out too many pieces, the whole thing collapses. Everything in the faith system presented to him was equally important and non-negotiable. I have often wondered about my role in this. Should I not have engaged someone with a faith system this fragile? Should I not have done so because I was only going to be with him for a week? Would it have been the right thing to do to leave him with a legalistic and distorted view of God and faith (admitting that we all have our own distortions)? I'm not on an ego trip here. I know that I was only one factor among many, but I do wonder what I could have done differently and if it actually would have made a difference. I don't know why I'm thinking about this today. Maybe I just needed to get it off my chest.


Dana said...

Yeah, I wonder what has you thinking about that.. well, first of all, it's been a long time since we've heard anything about "Steve". Second, that's not the end of the story. Could it be that you just planted a seed? Aren't you the one that is always telling me that, "we don't have to be the one to close the deal"?

I love you

james said...

I know what you mean. I think everyone wonders at some time or another if a suicide or some other negative event could have been prevented by our own action or inaction. I think the question I usually ask myself is would I approach the situation differently today. In many cases I would, in other cases I wouldn't. Just trying to make good decisions on a daily basis can be struggle enough.

I think each person bears responsibility for themselves. I won't be able to point at you or fear you pointing at me on judgement day. If I point at others don't I take on the role of the accuser?

John said...

Maybe you were a part of ruining his faith.

I wonder if if it's possible, though, that you were a part of bringing to light what was really there. If that's the case then you might have unknowingly prevented many people from learning about Christianity from someone who wasn't a Christian at all.

Of course God knows what's in Steve's heart, and I don't think you're to be blamed for having a theological conversation with someone and sharing what you've learned in your journey.