In 1997, Joshua Harris, authored the book I Kissed Dating Goodbye – many young evangelicals would purchase this book written by a young man under the age of 25 and proceed to choose their life partners based on this book. Fast forward a few years and this author, who was once one of the prominent faces of the purity culture that is still at the heart of youth ministries in evangelical churches, has now renounced his faith and has also stopped the publication of I Kissed Dating Goodbye. You see, for years, Harris pushed an idea that saw many people enter into marriages without really getting to know the people they were marrying. This led to many failed marriages and people blaming him for being the cause of their unhappiness and some went as far as to blame him for their choice in the wrong life partners. Harris has since appeared on many media platforms to apologise for the book he wrote and for pushing the purity agenda that eventually saw many people hurt in the process. The problem many people had with Harris eventually was that he was a 21 year old single man writing a book on how to have a good marriage and then going on to pastor a church without ever going to seminary school. After doing all this damage, he had decided to walk away from it all because he no longer believes what he spent years pushing!
After posting last week about leaving church, I had many people reach out to me about concerns they had in their various religions – and I could identify with some of what they were saying. I wrote about Harris because it seems religion sometimes has one person who comes up with an idea that seems good to people at the time and without any proper research, people are expected to take on this person’s idea without any thought for the damage it could cause in the future. This was some of the issues that some of the people who got in touch struggled with. Where do we draw the line on what we allow to define our lives when it comes to religion – because I am reading too many articles of the trauma people have faced in religious practices. When many of you reached out, one thing was consistent and that was leadership – Harris, eventually decided to go to seminary school later on in his life stating in a post now removed from the website of the church he used to pastor, “I was 30 years old, with no formal theological training and no formal training in organisational leadership, and I was the senior pastor of a 3000 member church”. Unfortunately, it is mostly in church that you would see someone in leadership who has no qualification in that field and this has led to many people being hurt by those in leadership.
While I went through the many reasons people were rethinking their religion, I found that there were similar topics that were popping up across various religions from various regions of the world. And on looking closely, these were issues that I had encountered in the past and led me to where I am at the moment. So here are some reasons on why myself and several others are rethinking our religion;
A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook about loyalty, her post read ‘Loyalty is when you have my back…..behind my back.’ I loved the quote and by the time I saw the post, there were several comments under it and it seemed many were looking at loyalty from their point of view only and in my experience, this seems to be the view in religious places also. Everyone is loyal to the leadership but this loyalty is never reciprocated. A reader got in touch about a time when she was studying to further her career as a nurse – due to the nature of her studies plus the fact that she was also working, it was difficult for her to be consistent in her place of worship. Mind you, she had always been consistent before this season of her life and she had talked about this with leadership extensively. She was assured that all was fine and to concentrate on her studies joining them when required – but she turned up one day to an event and while holding the microphone singing, the leader asked the choir director to take the microphone from her! She said she felt so humiliated and up till now does not know why she was meted that treatment. I asked her what she did next and she advised that she continued until the song was done and then went to sit down, after that she never joined them to sing again.
The justification given for this leader who was so poor in his judgement in dealing with this woman was that he heard from God and that was why he behaved the way he did! If God is interested in humiliating people who are worshiping him, then what message are we sending out there? I once witnessed a young woman forced to apologise to her church because she had gotten pregnant outside of marriage. I remember my conversation with my sister after the service, I told her that I now understood why people chose to abort their babies. Because to be humiliated like this, if you are not a strong person you would carry that toxic shame with you all your life. In my experience in religious places, mistakes from members is a big no no but when leadership make mistakes, then they are being tested or some ridiculous excuse is given. In any organisation, when leaders are put in charge of people and do not have any governing body to make sure that the people are protected, then abuse is inevitable. While discussing last week’s article with my friend Kwadwo, he spoke on why he was no longer going to his place of worship. During the pandemic, the only time leadership from his church got in tough was to inform him of ways to make payment to the church and then finally to inform him of plans of social distancing when church opened. There was no concern for his and his family’s well being and for the leadership of other churches that did any good works, they had a whole media team behind them to advertise their churches through their ‘good deeds’. But the good book specifically cautions about not doing good works to be seen by others – but when it comes to these new breed of leaders, this does not apply to them.
I could give you examples of leaders who do not know how to delegate and those who provide no outline on what is expected and berate people when they do things contrary to the ideas they had not shared. I am in no way saying leadership is easy – I know how hard and lonely leadership can be, but I also understand that being a leader is about sacrifice and responsibility. I would never ask anyone to do what I am not willing to do and when things go wrong, there should be understanding to allow people to learn from their mistakes without being made to feel like idiots. Leadership these days in religious places is more of do as I say and not as I do – eventually people get frustrated with these types of leadership. I had someone write in to say that they no longer attend their place of worship because their pastor was acting like a Demi God! He even went as far to say that whatever he did was inspired by God and no one was allowed to question. She watched this person talk a bunch of non biblical sermons and if you dared to question, you were branded rebellious.
I have witnessed leadership that were uncomfortable with people forming friendships in the church and the moment more than 3 people formed a friendship, one person from leadership would work behind the scene to break it apart. This person did this by going to the people in the group and spreading rumours that the other friends were gossiping about them. Before you knew it, the friendships, which were sometimes life line for people, would break down. When I found out, to say I was disappointed was an understatement. And then there is the issue of breach of trust and confidentiality – a reader got in touch about how information they had shared in private was preached from the pulpit! She was mortified and did not go again. I could go on and on with examples of what I had witnessed over the years and what readers had shared in the last week – one thing I have been telling myself is that the religious figures that started these movements had people at the heart of what they did. Their followers were loyal to them and they were loyal to the people that followed them. If at any point you feel your boss is not qualified, you lose respect for them and in most cases, you leave the job. Why should it be any different in religious settings? Why should people be hurt needlessly? These are questions I encourage people to ask and answer honestly for themselves and my questions led me to the next point;
When I was a young Christian in church, I had a leader approach me and tell me that I was not qualified to sing and lead worship because I did not speak in tongues – lol. I was perplexed and frantic to get this ability so I could continue doing what I loved – I trusted this person wholly and did not check to see that what they were saying was false. I was not given any teachings to help me grow and yet here I was being told to be something I had no idea about. Like I wrote earlier, I would never ask anyone to do something I was unwilling to do or teach. Places of worship have been the only places where no training is given yet people are expected to do things in excellence and to come to church once a week and to prayer meetings and then encouraged to study the bible on their own so they can grow. I mean, how realistic is that? Without any mentoring and proper teachings, how do people grow? And for those who have made some progress, they are never given the chance to put what they had learned into practice – they are advised to go out there and convert people! They are trusted to go out and convert people but not trusted to use their own churches’ platform to practice what they have been taught. So in frustration, those that are ready for their next chapter leave and start their own churches and the cycle then continues because they don’t know any better.
The truth is, most times in these instances, the leadership themselves are not qualified and feel threatened by someone else coming along and doing a better job. I was talking to an old acquaintance a couple of weeks ago – he felt God was calling him to be a prophet(a topic for another day) but his church had not supported his obedience in his next steps. So he had gone solo and was holding events independent of the church he had served for many years. While talking to him, he kept referring to his pastor as his ‘spiritual father’ I told him that I did not agree with that statement. He argued that it was biblical because Paul had used the term ‘son’ when he wrote about Timothy – so I pointed out certain qualities about Paul and Timothy’s relationship and asked if he was seeing those qualities in his relationship. The look on his face confirmed that my work was done! Paul testified of Timothy and recommended him to others but that was not the case for this young man I was talking to – he was very loyal to this leader but his loyalty was never reciprocated.
Do not just be someone attending your place of worship – consciously ask yourself what purpose it plays in your life and if the people leading are helping you find that purpose and live it. I cannot speak for everyone, but I don’t want to do things without having a purpose any more and if I find myself in place where the practices are not good for my well being, then I am leaving. No one should be in a place where the practices will in the long term be detrimental to them and neither should anyone be humiliated doing what they love. We need each other, that is the point of a community – we are interdependent. You need the leadership and the leadership needs you too.
Thank you so much for always taking the time to read, comment and share your experiences – please continue to share your experiences so we can effect the change we need.