When I walked away from my Oneness Pentecostal roots it was not pretty. I spent four years at a college that I wished I had never known to exist. I was around a church community for a decade and a half that was ready to quickly disown me once it saw my beliefs on certain matters were changing. There was a tension between myself and some friends and family that I could attribute to nothing more than these differences. I wasn’t sure what to think about Christianity in general.
I was blessed to have found a church and a pastor that patiently guided me through my transition. Many of the people I met had similar experiences. I think we mutually assisted each other in finding a place of sanity. We created a safe environment for recovery. I don’t know what I would have done without some of these people.
Yet even to this day when I hear certain names of some people I cringe. I confess that I have a hard time mustering up any kind words to say about them. When I hear what is preached in some of the pulpits of various churches associated with Oneness Pentecostalism it bothers me more than any asinine thing that Pat Robertson or John MacArthur could say because I have been directly impacted by people in the Oneness circles. I can relate because I have been there and it brings very bad memories to the forefront of my mind.
For a time I had to block out anything I heard. I had to avoid talking to those still in those circles because I couldn’t maintain composure in the face of some absurdities. Even now (ask my closest friends) some news of what happens in those circles can cause a profanity to fall from my lips. It is really, really hard to avoid becoming bitter.
Yet you must do your best.
One thing you cannot let happen once you have moved along is that you never let your mind become free from past experiences. As the old saying goes, “You can take someone out of Egypt, but can you take Egypt out of them?” You can leave the abusive church, or the misguided church, or the sectarian church, but can you get those experiences out of you?
Not completely. You’ll probably always carry some baggage. You’ll always have some hurts that don’t go away, some broken friendships that you miss, some days you wish you could relive.
Some of you may even wonder what it would have been like to remain. While there are some awkward moments being part of a sectarian community one thing that is hard to deny is that there sure is community. As long as you are a “company man” you’ll receive all the support one could ever need. This is why many shut up, quench their doubts, and stay put.
I don’t have a five step plan for overcoming the bitterness that may infiltrate your heart. I do know you should pray. I do know you should read Scripture for the sake of reading Scripture and not for the sake of being able to defend yourself against your old Oneness Pentecostal friends. I do know you should try to find a new church community to love and by whom to be loved.
I’d even recommend you try to think of some positives you gained. I realized that if nothing else I heard about Jesus, a lot, thanks to Oneness Pentecostals. I was taught to read Scripture (even if the hermeneutic was a bit twisted). I was taught to seek the leading of the Spirit and I am even a continuationist to this day! I was given a moral foundation upon which to build (and some legalism that needed to be torn down). Finally, I met people that have been life long friends that I would never had known had I not been in a Oneness Pentecostal church and in one of their colleges.
At the end of the day you are where you are. Your story is your story. You can speak to people in certain situations that others do not know how to address. You learned some things that were positive and some things to avoid.
At the end of the day God has been good. God has been with you. God has shown you his love revealed in his Son by his Spirit. Yes, you have baggage, but everyone does. Now you need to decide what that baggage teaches you and if there is anything redeemable. But don’t get bitter. Don’t let your bad experiences have the last word. You have too much future ahead of you for that.
Tomorrow I will say some final words on this matter and put the links to all the posts in one place so you can share them with others if you so desire.