The hashtag #exvangelical is comprised of people who have left Christianity and some who are still Christian but don’t believe the Americanized gospel flavor we’ve all been seasoned with. Every time I see this hashtag, I think of David. He’s the reason I came to Christ, yet I don’t think he’d walk into a church today.
David was an outcast in high school and had no sense of self. I’m not even sure how we became friends. He had a crush on me, but I ensured we’d never leave the friend zone.
David went to a Christian conference and came back saved. I mean saved. Instead of being “on fire,” as they say in the Southern Baptist circles, this kid was his own little forest fire – slightly out of control and too hot to get close to. I remember telling him as an apathetic Catholic that it was great he found Jesus in his life (didn’t seem like a bad thing, really), but he needed to start acting like a normal person again. After a couple of weeks, he returned to normal David mode, but this Jesus thing stuck. I got curious about all this and ended up at a youth game night at church. This was the beginning of my story with following Jesus.
David had a vision from God on the bus home once. I was part of that vision, where God told David that He would take care of me. David shepherded me in my new faith and our friendship grew closer because of it. He wanted to become a pastor. Even our classmates nicknamed him “Rev” as he was never without his Bible and sometimes overstepped his boundaries with calling out someone else’s sin. “Simonne,” he’d say, drawing out the “onn” part. “What are you doing? You know where that can lead,” after I told him about making out with my boyfriend in the woods. I filtered most of that because I didn’t want his wisdom bestowed upon me. We were all virgins, True Love Waits was part of our church curriculum, and our drink of choice was Mt. Dew. Still, Rev David wanted to make sure we were living pure God-honoring lives. He was a one man inquisition.
I vaguely remember when it started. “I asked Pastor about it and he shut me down,” a dejected David shared with me. “He actually yelled at me, saying something about just accepting it on faith.” David wanted more information on the supernatural part of the gospel – demons, ghosts – stuff like that. Apparently at this church, questioning too deeply meant you didn’t believe correctly, didn’t have enough faith, or were trying to circumvent the pillars of the SBC. David was upset his questions were continually dismissed with some glossed-over church verbiage.
We left for college. David went to an ultra conservative Christian one. While there, he met Jessie, a preacher’s kid. They fell in love so hard it caused them to drop out of college and get married the summer after freshman year. Jessie was a few weeks pregnant when they walked down the aisle. I found this out at the rehearsal dinner.
Their marriage was tumultuous. They attended church here and there and then not at all. Jessie forbade me from contacting David. She had what I can only describe as a mental illness and two more kids later, she abandoned the family by hopping on a Greyhound bus to Pennsylvania to meet some guy she met in an internet chatroom. Once it was all figured out and the missing person report was trashed, David filed for divorce. The judge granted him full legal custody. Thank God.
David married again. Some years ago, David apologized for severing our friendship because of his ex-wife. I stepped away because I naively thought their marriage was more important than our friendship; now I would view it as a sign of abuse. I hoped it would restart our friendship, but it didn’t. The last time we spoke David wasn’t the guy I remembered. He had a faraway look in his eye and we only small talked for five minutes before he had to go.
On his social media profile, it says “Ask me” under religion. I’d like to someday.
Most Southern Baptists would just say he was never saved to begin with if he’s fallen this far away. I disagree. I believed his faith was real. Was David just a seed that fell on those rocky places? Was he all leaves and stem and no root? Did the church ever amend the soil for him? I don’t know. But I wonder: will he be reseeded? Will anyone water him? Is there anyone in his life with a big old bucket of spiritual compost?
I’ve always wanted to reach out to him, see how he’s doing, but I’m afraid that season of friendship had sailed. I don’t have that kind of access anymore. Decades later, I’ve changed, he’s changed – is there any common ground left, outside of the distant past?
I wonder if he considers himself an exvangelical. Does he read his Bible? Does he pray? Have his children grown up knowing the Lord? I can only speculate, but I think the answer is no.
I’m leaving the door open to the possibilities, praying once again Jesus will connect our lives.