Sent in by Marcus Johnston
Having come across your website by accident, I first thought this was just another "evangelical atheist" page in which I'd see the same tracts and arguments that I've seen many times, thanks to my rabidly atheistic friend. However, searching for the "about us" part of this page, I found myself fascinated while reading the site founder's "anti-testimony," because in many ways, it mirrored my own story.
I can't claim the same level of theologic scholarship that the author does, but I can relate to his story very well. When my parents divorced when I was seven, I first started going to the Presbyterian Church in town. I became a regular church attendee after being baptized at eight, but didn't really think much about the details of the church until later. Up until then, I loved the ceremony and the stories, but I didn't think much about what I believed, apart from the pat answers that every Christian gives. I have a good voice, so I sang in the choir once I joined junior high; male singers being exceedingly rare.
Anyway, when I was 12, I was reading a book during a sermon, obviously not paying attention to much else, when I looked up at the choir loft ceiling. Now back in the 70's, someone painted "tongues of fire," representing the Holy Spirit and its descent on the apostles during Pentecost. I looked up, I looked down, and WHAM! my life changed in an instant. Instead of wanting to be a cartographer (since before I can remember - yes, I'm that nerdy), I wanted to serve God and become a minister. I really felt as if God had reached down and called me to service.
So I began the process of "testing the call." I talked with my minister, I read the Bible from cover to cover (although I read the New Testament three times to the one time through the Old), I looked into attending seminaries, and I read countless tracts and religious books. I attended youth group, finished confirmation class, taught Sunday School, and remained in the choir.
Two major things also happened that year. Because my mom had remarried someone in this church, someone sent them a nasty letter saying that my mom wasn't good enough to raise my stepfather's kids, et al. So they decided to go to the Church of Christ (the "non-denominational" denomination, musical branch) in the town next door. I didn't want to leave, but because I was part of the family, we worked out an arrangement where I stayed at the Presbyterian church while the choir was in session, but attended the non-denominational Christian church otherwise. So I got the extremes of mainline conservative Protestant Calvinism to liberal Arminianism every year until I left for college. Because I had to defend my particular brand of Protestant Christianity every week (often to ministers who bugged me), I became a firm believer in the Calvinist tenets, infant baptism, and predestination.
The other thing is that I finally hit puberty, being a late bloomer, and having to struggle with my hormones at the same time being told "wait for marriage;" not really a problem, since God hadn't "found a life mate" for me anyway, so I didn't date much. So I felt insanely guilty about my sexuality, at the same time being told everytime I did something wrong that "a minister wouldn't do that." There were nights I would wake up scared that I wouldn't be taken in the rapture! So I'm not surprised that I finally gave up the call at age 17.
Well, having lost my calling, I floundered for a sign in college. I attended two youth groups, InterVarsity and an American Baptist group, continued to read the Bible, and got involved with worship teams. Meanwhile, I'm still struggling with guilt and becoming increasingly frustrated by the fact that God hadn't sent a woman for me to love, and that other Christian women looked at me like I was chopped liver. At the same time, I discovered the hypocrasy of "Christian Values," saying things like "no sex before marriage," and seeing active Christians bonking each other like crazy.
In college, I attended a more evangelical church of Presbyterians, where I loved the people, but disagreed with a lot of their more drastic tenets. I got my teaching certificate and taught at a Christian school in Korea, where once again, a single person was considered anathema, and a single man's motives suspicious even among single women. When I came back to the States, nothing had changed, save that I was even more frustrated with Christianity. It was only when I started rejecting those tenets, that I started progressing. I got laid at 25, thanks to a willing female friend, and got my first girlfriend soon after. Certainly I felt guilty, but it had become less and less thanks to an overdose of Christian morality growing up.
I soon taught at a Christian school in India, where no matter how many worship experiences I sought for, I kept feeling disappointed with Christianity. I believed that God exists without a doubt, but I certainly didn't have that "relationship with Jesus" that everyone talked about. I always started my prayers to my "Heavenly Father," but Jesus was an abstraction. I believed in God as taught through the Bible, but Christianity didn't make a lot of sense to me.
Strangely enough, it wasn't until I met my wife, who was a convert to Judaism, that things worked out. In order to marry her, the rabbi insisted that 1) we raise the kids Jewish, 2) we join a temple, and 3) we only celebrate Jewish holidays in the home. I didn't have a problem with them and my wife accepted the fact that I would attend services on Sunday; occasionally she joined me.
Anyway, my fiancee moved to India with me, and I would go through the Jewish prayer service with her on Fridays, then she would occasionally join me on Sunday's at the CNI (Church of North India: former Anglican, Prebyterian, Congregationalist, etc.) church at the top of the hill. I slowly realized that for the first time I had a choice in what I believed! I believed that the Christian God was who I worshipped, so where else would I go to worship and learn? I loved the Jewish service, began to understand how their theology was different than Christianity, and was fascinated.
I wanted to convert, but I had nagging problems; after all, I had confessed that Jesus was my Lord and Savior, how could I turn my back on everything I had believed for 30 years? It was only when I analyzed the prophecies about the messiah in the Old Testament that I realized how foolish they were. Especially Daniel 6, which to make it fit with Jesus, you had to calculate the first part one way, then just forget about calculating the second part and convince yourself it was on call waiting. WHAT?! That broke my doubt. If the prophecies didn't add up to Jesus, then Jesus was NOT the Messiah. When I realized that, I "went back" to being what Christianity truly was, a reformed Judaism.
I felt so liberated after that. Mind you, being in the back of nowhere India, nowhere near a synagogue and in a Christian community, was the worst possible time to make this decision, and my wife and I eventually had to leave because of our religious beliefs (they wouldn't give us permission to observe Yom Kippur in Delhi). This led us to Bangkok, where we taught in a Seventh-Day Adventist school (which is the closest you can get to Judaism and still be Christian, discounting Messianics, of course), and I had the unique opportunity to be a Reform Jew teaching Adventist Christianity to a group of Thai Buddhist students. :) After getting snubbed by the Chabad house (evangelical Jews - well, getting Jews to actually follow orthodox Jewish practice), which unfortunately, was our only synagogue access for a year, we returned to the States and I'm finally on the path (2 1/2 years later) to formally converting.
What I've discovered is that converts don't suffer from a lack of faith, but rather a surplus of it. We believe so much that have difficulty comprehending the contradictions. When we ask a serious question, we want a serious answer, and often times we get the standard FAQ in response. You don't tell a missionary that "Jesus loves you" and you don't ask a new convert to be a missionary. When the answers no longer satisfy us, we don't go running somewhere else, we usually end up agonizing about it for years because we DON'T see anything else.
I'm proud to be a Jew and I'm grateful that the founder had the good sense to make a great website.
B'Shalom, Marcus Johnston