Thoughts in Grayscale

Taking a Different Path

Wed, 25 Apr 2018 20:32:30 GMT

Photo: Joshua Boucher

In 2015 I finished a four-year-long endeavor to get a Masters of Divinity (M.Div). This is the degree you get to either be a pastor or continue on to doctoral work in theology. It was a weird time to graduate. I received my degree in June, right before the US Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. And suddenly, my stance on that issue became a litmus test of my belonging to the Christian tribe.

I have always leaned to the moderate-liberal side of the Christian spectrum. I was already a full egalitarian (i.e. women and men are fully equal, period), but the stories of my female classmates were a sobering reminder about how much gender inequality remains a major issue in the church. I found the same echoes of this in the stories of my LGBTQ classmates. Considering the historical and cultural Christian perspectives on women and their influence on the development of Christian theology allowed me to fully affirm same-sex relationships in the church.

I understand the difficulty some people have with these issues, on all sides, but I was extremely disturbed at many of the angry, hateful, and hurtful Christians responses that I observed — responses from my people, my tribe. After a while, I had this sinking feeling that my tribe was doing more harm than good, and yet I had just spent four years and a lot of money to participate in this professionally. I found myself questioning if what I had been aiming to do with my life was good. In the process, I also ended up shattering my own identity.

Questioning religion breaks you when it was your primary source of identity and purpose.

At times I wonder if I spent more time studying and researching after seminary than I did when I was in it. The simple answers were not working for me, yet I was expected to have thoroughly articulated positions on issues I did not feel qualified to address. So I kept researching and questioning. The process was exhausting, painful, and lonely.

After some time, this wrestling felt like staring into the abyss. It stared back at me. It became a staring contest.

Why was religion important? Was religious conversation important? It seemed that good and bad were hopelessly tangled together in the subject. So much blood has been spilled in the name of the divine. So much hate and oppression carried on in God’s name. I felt the questions some of my peers were asking simply did not address my concerns. Worse still were those who refused to ask any questions because of fear. So was theology really like a Jenga tower? The point of the game is the tower will eventually fall. Did it really have to be?

It was a long process, but I was able to reconstruct my own faith from a set of systematic beliefs to one fixed on a central idea. Something that balanced belief with history and ethics and practical consideration.

Finally, the abyss blinked.

Why is religion important? Well, one reason is that it will not go away. There is no scenario where suddenly all of humanity abandon all religions. To ignore Christians would be to ignore roughly a third of the human population. Religion shapes people: it influences and imposes values and patterns of thinking and lenses with which people see reality. It can inspire people to horrible acts of violence, hate, and bigotry. It can also inspire beautiful acts of love, generosity, forgiveness, selflessness, and fidelity. Religion is something every one of us has to navigate in some form.

It has taken me far longer than I anticipated to get to the place I am at now. Exploring these questions cost me. I lost friends and strained relationships. I avoided every pastoral employment opportunity that came my way since graduation. But facing these questions also brought me to an important realization about my ministry pursuits in the context of a career.

The best thing for myself and my family at this point is to move my professional pursuits outside of Christian ministry. I am not giving it up on religion, but I am not seeking to draw my primary income from it. I need the freedom to share what I believe is best for a person I am counseling, rather than feeling forced to toe a particular doctrinal position. This way I can focus my energy on encouraging people toward positive values that transcend religious borders in an effort to foster dialog and collaboration amongst diverse groups of people. And if in the process, people find themselves drawn to faith — great!

As a result, I am looking to explore new interests professionally. I would love to repurpose my communication skills and writing experience into product design or content writing. I know that starting a new career path now will be challenging. I hope I can leverage my skills and education in unique ways. I would also be glad to take on an AV position, as I already have an extensive skill set to offer and enjoy the work.

This decision is a long-term pivot, one that has given me a new sense of excitement and peace. I hope to connect with people who can either help me along the way professionally or with people exploring theology and faith looking for good, open discussion.

Joshua Boucher

Written by Joshua Boucher, a seminary graduate who lives and works in San Francisco. You can find him on Twitter.