Why the Church Could Use a Few More Skeptics

The Rev. Jeremy Steele joins the United Methodist Reporter as a monthly columnist as our “Skeptic Pastor“. He is the Next Generation pastor at Christ United Methodist Church in Mobile, AL. This article originally appeared in AL.com, we extend thanks to them for allow us to republish. 

the Skeptic Pastor Jeremy Steele | United Methodist Reporter

I’m going to make a confession. I am a skeptic. I have deep questions that go to the core of faith and belief, and I’m a pastor. The problem is that churches and believers in general are not very welcoming to those who ask questions.

Most people have experienced the awkward moment where someone asks the question about God, faith, life, etc. that everyone has wondered but has left unsaid that has resulted in a hush in the room. Maybe it is, “How does Genesis make sense with what science knows of the beginning of the world?” or “Why do we tell people to not get tattoos but allow them to cut their hair and eat pork?” Whatever it is, the mood in the room changes immediately.

More often than not, I am ashamed to say, the questioner is silenced by one of the faithful with a “We just accept that on faith,” or a simple, “Some things are just unknowable.”

That may feel like faith to those who are more on the devotee side of things, but to the skeptic, that faith feels flimsy. To a person who enjoys finding answers and digging deep, “We just accept that on faith” translates as “We’re afraid that if we seriously consider the question, the answer might prove our religion false.”

I am not interested in devoting my time, energy, passion and finances to a religion that can be shot down by a simple line of questioning that would occur to most people if given permission to seriously evaluate a church’s claims.

Though some Christians and even whole churches have alienated the questioners in their midst, Jesus did not reject skeptics. Jesus did not silence them.

Picture the scene: Several of Jesus’ followers have seen Jesus after he rose from the dead. One morning they are gathered together talking about it when one of the closest followers (named Thomas) drops the skeptic bomb in the middle of the excited conversation.

Thomas doubts if what the other believers are saying is real. He wonders if they are suffering from a group delusion. He says that he will not believe that Jesus has come back to life unless he can put his fingers in the nail holes, and then comes the hush to which he has grown so familiar.

Later, when Jesus appears, he walks over to Thomas and offers his hands. He gives the proof Thomas needs and then tells him it’s time to let go of his doubt and believe.

Jesus not only allows Thomas to question, but offers him the proof he needs. The reality is that Thomas was not the only skeptic alive at the time. There were most likely other followers of Jesus who were in the same boat as Thomas but too afraid to say it. And, seeing the proof given, they were able to believe.

Jesus did not exclude them. He did not see them as a liability, and he was not afraid that their questioning might cause others to lose their faith. He made sure they stayed part of the church.

The reality is that the church needs skeptics. They need people to push them to explain answers or call them on hypocrisy. They need people to encourage research and seek understanding.

The church needs skeptics as much as skeptics need the church. Skeptics need a place to be cared for and shown faith, because if we are honest, there aren’t great answers to every question. In fact, there are some questions that have been probed for millennia by scholars and philosophers with no solid answer. At some point, you either have to go with the evidence, or become comfortable without a good answer.

On the other hand, if you are not a questioner, it may be that you need someone to push you outside your comfort zone to help you grow while caring for the person’s soul by not silencing his or her questions.

All of this is to say that if you are questioning God, great! Find a church that has room for you because they need you as much as you need them. If you aren’t, find someone to push those buttons for you so that you can grow together.

Jeremy Steele, UMR Columnist

The Rev. Jeremy Steele is the author of Reclaiming the Lost Soul of Youth Ministry and the Next Generation pastor at Christ United Methodist Church in Mobile, AL and a regular columnist for The United Methodist Reporter. You can find more of his writing and a list of all the places he contributes at his website: JeremyWords.com

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
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Maine Skeptic

Well, I haven't been able to find his obituary, so I have to assume he escaped the torch-brandishing mob of raging Christians that took after him the week this was posted. It's a shame really, because he sounds like a nice guy, but fact-based reasoning is the unpardonable sin in 21st century American Christianity.

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