Is There Such a Thing As Deconversion?

A couple of years ago, someone recommended a book to me called The Anatomy of Deconversion by John Marriott. A deconvert is defined as a person who used to be a Christian. Marriott’s book is based on extensive interviews with 24 deconverts, ranging in age from early 20s to mid-50s. 15 of them are men, 9 female. 6 of them come from fundamentalist backgrounds; 9 were “conservative evangelicals with fundamentalist tendencies;” and 9 were conservative evangelicals.

Before I started reading the book (which I just finished), my main interest was why people deconvert, and to his credit, Marriott devotes an entire chapter to that question. I was not surprised to find that there were two broad categories of reasons why people deconverted: emotional and cognitive. Under the first category (emotional), Marriott wrote only about disappointments with fellow Christians; under the second category (cognitive), he wrote about three subcategories: problems with the Bible, Darwinian evolution, and the influence of atheists. What surprised me was that deconversion seemed to happen primarily for cognitive reasons, not emotional ones; on the other hand, it’s obvious that they were intertwined.

As someone with a scientific background (although I became an ESL teacher), I was struck by statements from deconverts like this: “Evidence of evolution was one of the biggest things.” Here’s another one: “I’m huge on you should only believe in what you actually test.” More than one person referred to Richard Dawkins, a staunch atheist and one of the biggest proponents of evolution. I have written before about evolution, but let me just say this: the “evidence” for evolution is flimsy at best, and frankly, it cannot be “tested” unless by that you mean looking at the fossil record. And if that is the “test” for evolution, it fails miserably. Someone has said that the pictures/drawings of evolution have evolved into the “proof.” How true that is. If you’re interested in more of what I wrote about evolution, click here: https://keithpetersenblog.com/2020/09/16/is-evolution-a-viable-theory/

As for people who deconverted because of “problems with the Bible:” one of the problems mentioned is the commands that God gave the Israelites to wipe out or drive out the Canaanites and the other “-ites” in the Old Testament. I could devote an entire post to this, but here let me just quote Deuteronomy 9:4-6: “After the Lord your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, ‘The Lord has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.’ No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is going to drive them out before you. It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the Lord your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.” Notice two repeated phrases: “the wickedness of these nations” and “not because of your righteousness.” This explains very clearly why the Lord commanded the Israelites to drive out the Canaanites, while at the same time reminding the Israelites that they themselves were sinful, not righteous.

Marriott also writes about two main moral issues that deconverts changed their views on: abortion and homosexuality, including same-sex marriage. When they were believers, they viewed these as sins, but after they deconverted, most of them became pro-choice, and “They all accepted homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle and also supported same-sex marriage.” I was not at all surprised at this; I have known churchgoers who have changed their views on homosexuality because of a friend or relative who came out as gay. I have written elsewhere about this as well, but let me just say here that first of all, the Bible is very clear that homosexuality is a sin; second, if people in the LGBTQ community hear only acceptance from the church, then it would seem to me that their motivation to change is going to be less, which means they are on the fast road to hell. I think we as believers need to figure out what it really means to love those in the LGBTQ community, which is, however, not going to be the same for everybody.

At the end of his book, Marriott writes about four reconverts, meaning people who once identified as Christians; then deconverted; but then reconverted to Christianity. One of those four people is also one of the 24 deconverts that he interviewed.

There is more that could be said about Marriott’s book, but what are we to make of deconversion in the big picture? First of all, let me say that there are some American church practices and even beliefs that have become elevated in some fundamentalist churches. For example, is hair length important? How about Sunday observance? Is becoming a pastor or missionary a vocation that is really somehow more “worshipful” than being a plumber or an electrician? I think that the Bible gives clear answers to these questions, but as a lifelong friend of mine (now a retired pastor) would say, they are non-salvation issues. In other words, we should not elevate them to that level because they can become a needless stumbling block.

Finally, let me answer the question posed in the title of this post: Is there such a thing as deconversion? In other words, is it possible to lose your salvation? Marriott doesn’t answer this question directly, but it’s clear that he thinks it’s possible. Marriott doesn’t mention John 6:66, but I thought of it as I was reading. John 6:66 says: “From this time many of his [Jesus’] disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” Does that sound like “deconversion?” I can imagine that some might interpret it that way, but remember also how so many of the people in the Palm Sunday crowd turned on Jesus just a few days later, on Good Friday. I think Scripture makes it very clear that it is in fact not possible to lose your salvation. I have written about this in a previous post; here, let me quote John 10:28, which says, “I [Jesus] give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” Philippians 4:6 gives us this assurance: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

“Deconverts,” then, are people who used to have the appearance, including words and actions, of being Christians, but who in fact were not, and are not. Thankfully, however, those who have denied the name of Jesus can repent, just like the apostle Peter did, as well as the prodigal son in Jesus’ parable in Luke 15:11-32. I also mentioned earlier that Marriott writes about four people who had renounced the name of Jesus but who have since come back home. If you, like me, know someone who used to be a churchgoer and was perhaps baptized, but has since denied the name of Jesus, pray for them according to the Lord’s will and trust Him for the results.

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

On April 18, U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle ruled that U.S. health agencies do not have the authority to uphold a national transportation mask mandate. In her ruling, she said that the CDC failed to properly justify its mask order and did not follow proper federal procedures in implementing it. For a little background, U.S. airlines had been requiring that passengers and crew wear a mask since mid-2020. In addition, the Biden administration and the CDC had issued orders in January 2021 requiring that masks be worn on and in virtually all forms of public transportation (including Uber and Lyft), as well as in airport terminals, train stations, ferry terminals, and the like. Following Judge Mizelle’s ruling, virtually all airlines and Amtrak, as well as Uber and Lyft, did away with their mask mandates.

Following the ruling, when a reporter asked President Biden whether Americans should continue to wear a mask on a plane, he responded, “That’s up to them.” However, both the Department of Justice and White House spokesperson Jen Psaki soon undermined what Biden had said. Psaki, for example, said, “Public health decisions shouldn’t be made by the courts. They should be made by public health experts.” She also said that the Biden administration is “abiding by the CDC recommendations . . . and we would advise all Americans to do that.”

To no one’s surprise, the response of many on the left has been nothing short of apoplectic. Here are a few examples. An ABC news commentator said that Judge Mizelle’s ruling was a legal ruling, not a scientific one. (More on the second part of that later.) Paul Krugman, a New York Times opinion columnist, predicted harassment of mask-wearers and even violence against them. In response to video of airline passengers cheering the announcement of the lifting of the mask mandate during a flight, foul-mouthed TV host Joy Reid said, “Did announcing the end of the mask mandate, literally in the the middle of the flight, kinda let those a-holes win?”

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that I’m firmly against vaccination and mask mandates. Please note the word mandates. I simply believe that people should be free to choose whether they get vaccinated and/or wear a mask. Listening to some of the strident voices on the left, one might think that Judge Mizelle has made it illegal to wear masks on public transportation, which is simply not true.

I came across an interesting website which gives brief summaries of the findings of 167 studies regarding mask ineffectiveness, mandates, and harm(s); here is the link, if you’re interested: https://centerforneurologyandspine.com/do-masks-work-see-the-review-of-over-150-studies-below/ I haven’t read all 167 of them, but I did read several, especially some of the 61 summaries of studies regarding mask “harms.” You may recall that very early in the pandemic, it had become obvious that the elderly and those with certain comorbidities were most at risk from COVID. Some of the studies in the above link refer to physical harm, even death, from mask-wearing, particularly in children. For example, in China in April of 2020, there were “three cases of students suffering sudden cardiac death (SCD) while running during gym class. All three students were wearing masks at the time of their deaths, igniting a critical discussion over school rules on when students should wear masks.” Maybe you’ve seen the video of Maggie Williams, a high-school student in Oregon who collapsed while crossing the finish line at a track meet in April of 2021; she was wearing a state-required mask. Thankfully, the state of Oregon revised its previous foolish outdoor mask mandate as a result, “allow[ing] people to take off face coverings when competing in non-contact sports outdoors.”

There are other studies that refer to not only physical harm, but psychological and emotional harm as well. One example that essentially combines all three of these types of harm is language acquisition, which has been made more difficult for children because of muffled voices and the inability to see the faces of the people who are talking to them. I believe that only time will tell how much injury of various kinds we have unwittingly inflicted on our children because of foolish government (worldwide) policies made during the pandemic.

Since this blog is focused on Biblical answers to questions and issues, how are we as Christians to respond to the lifting of the mask mandate on public transportation? Here’s what Romans 12:18 tells us: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” If you desire to continue wearing a mask (in various contexts, not just on public transportation), then do so; while I would prefer to see your face, I’m not going to harass or become violent against you–note to Paul Krugman. In fact, I will gladly talk with you if you so desire. Regardless, I would also hope that you treat me with civility, even if you prefer not to see my face! I should also add that if Judge Mizelle’s ruling is overturned, I will continue to wear a mask where required. Let’s live at peace with one another, regardless of our differing opinions and preferences.

“Give Us Barabbas!”

Back in the 1980s, when I was a young believer, I heard a sermon called something like “Three of the Most Frightening Words in Scripture.” I don’t remember who the pastor was, but the message was incredibly powerful. In this post, I will share some of the things I remember from that sermon, as well as adding some of my own thoughts.

If you’re a Christian, you probably recognize the name Barabbas because of what happened on Good Friday. All four of the Gospels tell us that Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion against the Roman empire. Mark and Luke tell us that he had committed murder; Luke also reminds us in Acts 3:14 that Barabbas was a murderer. Matthew, Mark, and John all tell us that it was the custom for the Roman governor (at that time Pilate) to release a prisoner at the time of the Passover Feast. When Jesus appears before Pilate, he finds nothing to charge Jesus with, so Pilate wants to release Him. In John 18:39, Pilate asks the Jewish mob, “Do you want me to release the king of the Jews?” In verse 40, they respond, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” If you look at Matthew 27:20, you will see that the chief priests and elders had persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.

One of the most frightening things about the mob asking for Barabbas, not Jesus, to be released is that just 4-5 days earlier, the “great crowd” (John 12:12) of Jewish people were shouting something very different when Jesus entered Jerusalem (verse 13): “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel!” Yes, even calling Jesus their King! Now, I’m not saying that all of those in the Jewish crowd did a complete about-face five days later, but the implication is that the vast majority of them did. Acts 1:15, for example, tells us that before Pentecost, there were only 120 believers. Even taking into account I Corinthians 15:6, which says that Jesus appeared to more than 500 brothers at the same time after His resurrection, that still doesn’t sound like the “great crowd” in John 12:12. Some have studied mob mentality in regard to what happened; while I find that interesting, it is beyond the scope of this post.

A second frightening thing about the Jewish mob asking for Barabbas instead of Jesus is what we read in Matthew 27:24-25: “When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood,’ he said. ‘It is your responsibility!’ All the people answered, ‘Let his blood be on us and our children!'” Ponder those chilling words from the mob for a moment; truly frightening–and prophetic. Israel ceased to exist as a nation just two generations later, in 70 A.D., when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans.

I believe the most frightening thing of all about the mob’s desire to have Barabbas released rather than Jesus is this: it reveals the human heart, not just at that time, but for all time. Obviously, people don’t consciously think of it in terms of choosing a criminal rather than our Savior, the perfect One, but whenever people reject Jesus, that is in essence what they are doing. I suppose thinking of it in a slightly different way may make it clearer: most people choose sin instead of Jesus; they choose to follow the crowd rather than the Lord. Here are the words of Jesus Himself, from Matthew 7:13-14: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Indeed, following Jesus is becoming increasingly hard in today’s world.

Thankfully, the death of Jesus a few hours later was not the end of the story! And even though following Jesus is not the easy road, people put their faith in Him every day. There’s a message by S.M. Lockridge called, “It’s Friday, But Sunday’s Comin’!” Short, but powerful. Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8gx6_rGLz20

Speaking of Sunday’s comin’: A year ago, I wrote a post about evidence for Jesus’ resurrection; here’s the link, if you’re interested: https://keithpetersenblog.com/2021/03/24/evidence-for-the-resurrection/ The beginning of Holy Week is just a few days away; may you have a most blessed one, culminating in the celebration of Easter! And if you’re not a Christian, may this be the time you put your faith in Jesus Christ.

How Low Can We Go?

Sometimes I read or hear something so outrageous that after my initial emotional reaction, I tend to dismiss it. However, when I hear essentially the same thing from a second person, I give it more notice. I’m sorry to say that many of these outrageous things come from professors. (I’m retired, but I used to be one.)

A few months ago, I heard about an Old Dominion University professor named Allyn Walker, who has called for us to use the euphemistic term “minor-attracted persons” to refer to people who are “preferentially attracted to minors.” Such people have historically been referred to as pedophiles, but Walker says that this term unfairly stigmatizes such persons, particularly if they are “non-offending,” meaning that they have not acted on such attraction–or at least, I might add, they have not been caught. Thankfully, although there were those who defended Walker, the outcry against him was so great that he was pressured into resigning at the end of this academic year.

More recently, I heard about another academic like Walker, this time at SUNY Fredonia; his name is Stephen Kershnar, and he takes things several steps further. Some of the things he has said are so vile that I don’t want to repeat them here, but here’s a telling statement: “I don’t think it’s blanket wrong at any age.” To justify his position about adult-child sex, he chillingly says we make children do other things they don’t want to do, like going to church or their sister’s ballet recital. SUNY Fredonia has suspended Kershnar, but it’s not over yet; his lawyer is arguing that Kershnar has a first-amendment right to say and teach what he wants.

As I write this, Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is in her third day of confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee. One of the things she is being grilled on is her sentencing of child porn offenders. To understand her pattern of sentencing, I think it’s instructive to take note of what she said back in law school in the 1990s: she spoke against the “current climate of fear, hatred, and revenge associated with the release of convicted sex offenders.” Jackson criticized sex-offender registries, which allow people to know where any convicted sex offenders are living in their community; she argued that such registries unfairly continue to punish such people. Jumping ahead to 2012: when Jackson was on the Sentencing Commission, she supported eliminating the child porn mandatory-minimum sentence. Thus, it should come as no surprise that Judge Jackson has consistently given child porn offenders sentences well below the congressionally endorsed Sentencing Guidelines recommendations, as well as below what the prosecutors were requesting. In the most egregious example, U.S. vs. Hawkins in 2013, Sentencing Guidelines recommended an 8-to-10-year sentence; Judge Jackson sentenced the perpetrator to a mere three months.

One thing I want to make clear: this is not about politics, race, or gender; if Jackson were a Republican white male, I would still be writing this. Unfortunately, many on the left are criticizing those who dare to question Jackson’s remarkably consistent sentencing pattern of child porn offenders. Another thing I want to make clear: I am not accusing Jackson of being a pedophile or a child porn offender. I am saying that her comparatively light sentencing of child porn offenders reflects misplaced priorities; I think she should be more concerned about the victims and less about the offenders.

Here’s what Proverbs 31:8-9 in the Bible says: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” I realize that the context is about those who are poor; however, our children are also “those who cannot speak for themselves.”

In summary, academics like Allyn Walker and Stephen Kershnar reflect a disturbing trend to attempt to normalize the evil of pedophilia. Regarding Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who will almost certainly be confirmed as our next Supreme Court Justice: her lenient sentencing of child porn offenders does not bode well for the safety of our children going forward. Frankly, prisons were made for people like pedophiles, in order to protect the most vulnerable in society: our children.

Are You Ready to Go Home?

Depending on your age, you may have grown up during the Cold War, which was a state of political hostility between Soviet-bloc countries and the U.S.-led Western powers, roughly between 1945 and 1990. The threat of nuclear warfare hung over the world during those decades. Maybe you had to participate in the silly “duck and cover” drills, which in some schools basically involved crouching under your desk, grabbing a leg of the desk, and putting your head down. This was designed to protect us from a nuclear blast. But I digress!

The goals of the U.S. during the Cold War were to undermine communism in the Soviet bloc and to prevent its expansion to other countries. The list of communist countries is now down to just five: Cuba, China, Laos, North Korea, and Vietnam. Of the five, Laos is the country that I know by far the least about, so I am drawn to stories about it. One such story is in the February issue of the Voice of the Martyrs magazine. Bounsaen came to faith in Christ at the age of 20 and is now 101. He used to be the pastor of a church that met in secret in the jungle during the 1980s, and he was imprisoned three times, which means in terms of his age, he spent much of his 60s in prison. While Laos is still communist, its persecution of Christians is much less severe than it was 40 years ago. That same congregation now meets openly in a church building; while Bounsaen is no longer the pastor, he continues to visit and pray for those who are sick.

It is not only Bounsaen’s story that is very inspiring to me, but his words as well. Here are a few of them: “Now I am tired physically, but my heart is not tired for the Lord’s work.” I can identify a good amount with this, as my energy level is not what it used to be. However, I’m retired, so I have more time to devote to the Lord’s work in a more direct way than I used to. For example, I have the responsibility of sharing God’s Word and facilitating discussion in a Sunday-school class at my church as we read through the Bible on a 3-year plan.

Here are some more words from Bounsaen: “I am really looking forward to the day that I am going to be with the Lord.  All my sufferings in this world will be gone… I am looking forward to the reward He has for me, too.  I wonder what kind of retirement I will get.  I am getting impatient, to be honest.  He has prepared a home for me.” I am “only” 62, but these words resonate with me. I laugh at his wondering about “what kind of retirement” he will get! He knows that the Lord has prepared a home for him because Jesus in John 14:2-3 tells us, “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” I also love Bounsaen’s honesty about being impatient; at the age of 101, I would think so!

As I write this, I’m also reminded of the man who until recently was our plumber. He was persecuted under the Romanian government (another Communist one at that time) but managed to make his way to the U.S. He will probably be going home to be with the Lord soon, and thankfully, his son has taken over the business. We recently had him replace our garbage disposal, and we had a very rich conversation while he was working. Among other things, he said, “You know, I’m not suicidal or anything ’cause that would be irresponsible, but some days I just want to go home to be with the Lord.” This was largely in reference to the way the U.S., along with the world as a whole, is becoming more decadent.

There’s an old song by Wayne Watson that I thought of as I was reading Bounsaen’s story; it’s called “There Goes Sundown.” While the context is a little bit different in that it refers to the Lord’s second coming, it still speaks to going home to be with Him; Watson was only 43 when he wrote it. Here are a few lines:

“Some days I pray this prayer more than others
For my Lord to come
When I’m weary of fightin’
Yeah, when I’m tired of runnin’
Other days I wanna stay around
And grow old with that girl of mine”

Amen to that. Like 101-year-old Bounsaen, my plumber, and Wayne Watson, I am ready to go home any time; in the meantime, I want to joyfully continue to serve our Lord and stand firm. Are you ready?