01: Ex-pastors in a shed
How can we move forward after seeing the dark underbelly of Evangelical church world? Tim Ritter and Nate Hanson kick off Almost Heretical by starting the conversation.
Tim: Alright, Nate, here we are!
Nate: We’re doing the podcast that we have been talking about doing for a couple years now.
Tim: Yeah, we are sitting in my shed in Bend, Oregon, finally ready to get into some stuff.
Nate: And it’s cold. We have a heater on. What does the heater say?
Tim: The space heater is cranked up; it says the room is at a balmy 39 degrees.
Nate: 39! Yeah, it doesn’t feel a degree over 32. Um, why are we in a shed in Bend, Oregon, Timmy?
Tim: Well, it’s a bit of a long story. Probably a couple episodes just on that, but Nate and I met years back doing ministry in San Francisco, and we were pastors for some years. One thing led to another, I got fired, and my wife and son, Camden, and I moved here this year.
Nate: Our experience is one of climbing the Christian church leadership ladder, seeing some dark stuff, and… now we’re in a shed in Bend, Oregon.
Tim: I think Nate and I kind of both grew up fundamental conservative evangelical background, really swam in that pool for a long time, and like he said, climbed the ladder. Both of us did the typical Christian leadership thing, all the way up to, kind of seeing the top of the tower there for a little while, the good, bad, and the ugly. And I think over the last few years we’ve both been growing increasingly discontent and disgruntled with the state of the church and what evangelicalism is, and I think in the last year or two, especially, deciding that somewhere along the way, I think a line had been crossed. If it hadn’t already happened—
Nate: I know somewhere along the way where it happened.
Tim: Yeah, the election of one Donald Trump was, for us, as well as for many others, many whom we’re friends with, that was the final breaking point. So, we’ve been having conversations for years, wrestling with theology and power and issues like race and politics, and I think we finally feel like it’s ready to take that conversation a little more public.
Nate: Yeah, so if that’s you—if that describes you, welcome! Welcome to the conversation. Welcome to the journey. We don’t have it all figured out, and we’re going to be learning stuff along the way, and learning stuff with you, but we want to start a conversation, and we want to invite you in to that conversation.
Tim: Yeah, we’ve been seeing there’s kind of a whole world of deconstructing Christians, especially here in the States. People are in different phases of deconstruction, but many have kind of jumped into the deep end in the last few years. And there are other podcasts out there doing awesome work to try to speak to this group of people, which we’re big fans of, and we just want to join that conversation. What we’ve seen over and over again is that many churches, many Christian communities aren’t actually safe places for people to process a lot of their doubts and anger and confusion and frustration, so we’re going to try to create and honor some of that space, and it’ll be a place where we work out some of our own questions, our own processes. We also just think we’re at a point where we’ve seen enough, experienced enough to kind of know some of what’s behind the curtain. And there’s good there too, we won’t all be digging on church world, but we do feel like we’ve lived some lessons that we can share from. And also we’ve spent enough years doing some deep processing. Me going to school and really having to wrap my head around seeking the truth, deepest truth, there are some ideas that, I think at this point, we’ve got some other angles to add to the conversation.
Nate: Yeah, so we’ve seen a bunch of stuff, the good, bad, and the ugly, as we’ve said, and I think we’re ready to talk about it now. So this is going to get into a lot of the stuff that Tim and I stay up super late talking about. How to be Christian in Trump’s America, and issues of race and gender equality and power and control...
Tim: The key issue in so much of this is power. I mean, I’ll tell more of this story later, but I was a pastor on staff of a church in San Francisco for years, and just this year was part of a group of other staff that challenged the lead pastor around issues of control and power and got fired for it, which is how my wife and I ended up in Bend. So this isn’t just theory for us, it’s raw, it’s real. And it’s something that, the more we read the news, the more we tune into these times that we’re living in, it just seems that if we’re not talking about power, then we’re not talking about much at all. Related to that, Nate and I love the bible, and we’ve grown up experiencing and interacting with the Bible in different ways, and have had to walk away from some of that, but I think we’re both as committed to understanding and trying to learn wisdom from the biblical texts as we ever have. And I think part of the reason we feel like we’re ready to do a podcast is we’ve shed a lot in the last several years in terms of the theology and ideas we’ve grown up with, but we’ve actually found some replacements to them that are good and beautiful and life-giving. We’ve experienced, I think a lot of people know they can’t hold on any longer to the Christianity they’ve grown up with, but they just don’t know where else to go. A lot of what we’re going to try to do here is create a new way forward, new for some of us at least, and to keep the journey going, and lot of that’s going to deal with, “What do we do with the Bible?”
Nate: So yeah, we’ve experienced a lot of power, control in the church, and how that can go wrong. But also this experience of the deconstruction journey we’ve been on. I know for myself, personally, it’s been a lot over the last four or five years where a lot of my identity was wrapped in the things I believe about the Bible, the things I believe about God, the way I interpreted that, and what that meant for me and my life, and so losing that feels like dominos falling where one domino falls—say it’s atonement theory, or hell-—and the other dominos just start falling. And if you’ve been through deconstruction or are currently in it, you’re probably nodding your head right now. Suddenly you’re left with this pile of dominos and you don’t know what you can hold onto anymore. You just feel lost.
Tim: So we’ve been through it, to some extent feel like we’ve come out the other side, although I think we’d both say that what this other side contains is shrapnel from that experience. We’ll probably all have questions and doubts that never really go away. But I think some of what we’ve seen is that for a lot of people, what they get left with after all those dominos fall down is kind of the sense that there’s nothing really to hold onto, they’re sort of waving around looking for some sort of foundation. And it gets to the point, and we’re sympathetic here, we’ve both been through it, it gets to the point where, it’s kind of a battle between you and what feels good and right and true, where you see justice--it feels like a battle between that and the Bible. Where a lot of people have gone is you feel like you kind of have to walk away from the Bible. Some people that means walking away from Christianity, for some others that means trying to figure it out on their own. We’ve just come to a place where we’ve been able to see enough missing pieces of stuff we had never been taught in church, and ideas and paradigms that are older than the church itself, but are new to us, just weren’t part of our western tradition, but have actually led us back to the place where the Bible’s our greatest ally in the struggle. So a lot of what we’re going to do is not going to be apologetics. What we want to do is create a space where we can actually dialogue around those real struggles, those real concerns, issues and topics like violence in the Bible and what it means for God to be control but for things to seemingly be going so wrong and how the church is supposed to engage with politics and all that sort of stuff. But what we want to do is not throw out the Bible and start from scratch and figure it out our own, but actually go to battle not with the Bible itself, but with what we’ll make a case for is bad interpretation, and actually, sort of, manipulation of the Bible that’s happened throughout history, but it’s happened a lot, even in our recent American history. So we’re going to get into some biblical theology, we’re going to back and jump into a series that sort of reexamines some of the early origin stories and ideas around the fall and all that, but where we’re going to hope to come out is this other side where at least we find some sort of peace, some sort of rock to stand on, and honestly, a way to engage in some of these debates and twitter arguments and back-and-forth dead end discussions that have seemingly been so fruitless? This cultural divide that we’re all living in? Try to reengage in that conversation, reengage in this moment that we’re all living in, with tools that we never knew we could have.
Nate: Sweet. Well, we’re really excited to finally be doing this show and are happy to have you along for the ride. There are lot of other really great shows planned, and the first up are a few episodes where we dive into some of the weird verses and ideas in the Bible, the stuff we usually just kind of skip over. So those episodes are coming up. Please subscribe to this show wherever you get your podcasts so you don’t miss any of that. And also, feel free to connect with us at almostheretical.com. We’d love to hear your thoughts, feedback, questions, whatever, because it means a lot to have you on this journey with us. So signing off till next time, for Nate and Tim, this is Almost Heretical.