I was too young to remember all the details, but dad invited an atheist to speak at the church. Pretty gutsy move as this was in a small town in the Dakotas in the late 1960’s. It attracted newspaper coverage and pretty sure it attracted some harsh criticism. Again, I don’t know remember many specifics but remember hearing things around the edges.
Years later I had graduated from high school and my parents were assigned to move to Sioux Falls. I asked if I could stay in Aberdeen to work for the summer and then I’d be off to college. I lived with my best friend who happened to be Jewish. The family kept Kosher in the home and they still hold Sabbath services in their synagogue when in town. I spent Passover meals with them, learned about other Jewish holidays, and they patiently answered my questions about Jewish tradition.
Recently, I asked dad why he invited an atheist to speak and what happened after. Dad said he was doing a series on difficult issues in the church. He said actually the church members were mostly supportive. They looked on it as a perspective and a way to sort out what was important to their own faith. However, a church in another state put together a petition for dad to have his clergy credentials revoked and dad said he probably wouldn’t do that again.
Isn’t it a shame that we’re afraid to confront questions about our faith?
Looking back, the summer with the Jewish family helped me more than any other event – more than any pastor, church, or class – to sort out where Jesus fit into my faith. It made me realize that Jesus WAS important to my faith and that is important to me. And I got to that point because I questioned my faith.
One of the members of dad’s congregation said after the fallout, “If we can’t handle a couple atheists in our own den, how weak is our faith?” Yep.
(Blog Photo courtesy of Rev. Rick Pittenger)