Two days ago I ran into a friend and was telling her how Off-The-Map wants to help Christians be normal. She said with a quizzical look “Shouldn’t you be helping normal people be more Christian?” (My son loved that)
As it turned out, the next day (yesterday) I had a conversation with a Christian – actually a pastor of the church I was going to until about six months ago – which didn’t seem that normal to me.
I had received a card from him on Saturday and had called to ask if I could meet with him to talk about what he’d written. (He wrote partly because he’d just read my story – someone had given him a copy)
The pastor and I talked for over an hour. (I appreciated him taking time to talk with me)
Throughout the time I was telling him I have trouble handling the ‘belief’ part of Christianity as a result of my mental illness (That’s here in ‘my story’). He point-blank didn’t believe me. He said I was just using it as an excuse.
When I said I don’t know what I believe about Jesus he said, “yes, you do know; but you’ve turned away and you’re denying it.”
He said, based on ‘my story’, that I had gone to people who weren’t Christians for approval and acceptance. I said that wasn’t how it was; I said I was looking for it from anyone but it was only the non-Christians who gave it to me when I was ill; many Christians were unkind.
I listed some specific ways Christians at that church had been unkind at that time (I don’t think he was a pastor yet). He didn’t comment at all on that – he didn’t even say “I’m sorry” or anything about it. I was surprised because his title is “pastor of caring ministries”. Perhaps also because last year I heard him preach a sermon whose goal was to help Christians be more loving.
He read me Bible passages. One said “see to it that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God”. As best I could tell he thinks that’s what I’m doing.
I asked if he’d read the part of my story where I talk about having doubts about the Bible? He said yes; but he continued to read me Bible passages.
I told him I believed in being nice to people. He said that being nice to people would lead them astray if it wasn’t combined with telling them Jesus is the Son of God. It could lead them to hell.
I talked about Off-The-Map. Maybe I shouldn’t have, because it seemed that whatever I said about it gave him a negative impression.
His tone was cordial, but also one of challenge. I don’t know why – I went there hoping to talk, not debate.
He didn’t say anything personal like “We miss you; we wish you were still coming here”.
I know he was trying to help me and I hope I conveyed to him that I did appreciate that.
- Why didn’t I feel helped?
- Do you think I might have subverted his helping efforts by, say, not being receptive enough to what he was saying to me?
- Is this how normal conversations go?
After I posted the above entry on the ebay atheist blog, I e-mailed the pastor a link to it. He e-mailed me the following response (which he gave me permission to post):
I do ask for your forgiveness since I did not express sympathy for how you were treated. I did not know this, and I was not a pastor at that time. I am sorry. I still have as a goal to love, and I want to have a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith.
I am also sorry that I did not say; we miss you. The purpose of my note, and our meeting was to encourage you to come back to an affirmation of a belief in the living and triune God, creator of the World; The Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World; and the Holy Spirit, the Counselor of the world.
When I realized that the time had gone by so fast, and that I was late in picking up [someone] I rushed off without expressing the compassion and care you were seeking. Yes, I was seeking to challenge your beliefs, by using the Word of God, which points us to a faith in our great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, so let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:14-16.
With prayers and concerns,