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unbelief in seattle

November 3, 2011

For the last eight years, Seattle has been my home. Seattle is well-known for not being fertile soil for Christianity. I have lived in other places known for the same thing—most notably San Francisco and New York. This is one of the main reasons I feel called to Seattle and love living here. I think God has created me to live out and tell the gospel in a place where Christianity is not part of the dominant culture.

When people ask me the difference between Seattle and other cities, this is how I often describe it. In other cities, if you ask someone who isn’t a Christianabout the gospel, they often will say something like, “You know, I’ve never really given it much thought.” Many of their lives are consumed with becoming successful or pursuing by all the good things those cities have to offer. They’re simply too busy for Jesus.

But here in Seattle, many of my friends answer the question more along these lines “Yes, I have considered Christianity, and I have rejected it.” In this way, Seattle has a lot in common with many European cities. On the whole, Western Europe can be described as “Post Christian”. On a societal level, the overall cultural understanding is this: “We have tried Christianity and have found it to be lacking.” That seems to fit much of the spiritual mojo of Seattle.

Why is this often the case in our city?  For many individuals I have met, this is the case because it is true. Some of the most committed atheists/agnostics I have met are former Christians. Some of them were raised in good Christian families. But, to be frank, many of them were not. Many of them were raised in awful, Fundamentalist Christian homes or have kooky Christian siblings. Their stories are often heartbreaking and tragic.  When I hear them talk, I often think of Jesus’ strong warning against those who cause “the little ones who believe in him to stumble” (Mark 9:42).

So what are we to do? I don’t pretend to have a complete answer, but I will offer some general contours of what faithfulness should look like.

1)   Listen. Take time to hear someone’s story. You can only really understand someone’s beliefs if you know what kind of life they have lived.

2)   Join in the Critique Where Appropriate. I have met a good number of people have run away from manifestations of Fundamentalist Christianity so toxic that it is really no longer fitting to call it “Christian”. In these situations, I have told people they were right to run away from the false god they were taught about.

3)   Don’t Apologize for Your Faith. To “join the critique where appropriate” doesn’t mean to become a basher of Christians or somehow feel ashamed of being a Christian. If people have been exposed to a “False Jesus” and have rejected that caricature, they still need the “Real Jesus”. That hasn’t changed.

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