News broke earlier this month that prolific song writer and main stay in the Hillsong Worship team, Marty Sampson has lost his faith and further more, according to his since removed Instagram feed, ‘he couldn’t be happier.’ It’s challenging news from someone who penned the lyrics to ‘O Praise The Name’ with the words, ‘I cast my mind to Calvary where Jesus bled and died for me’, and serves to remind us all that faith is very far from fixed - even for those whose platforms extend the globe.
His decision to go public comes off the back of another major influence in the evangelical world Joshua Harris whose book ‘I Kissed Dating Goodbye’ was a mainstay for youth leaders seeking to lead their kids along the path towards marriage as part of the purity culture during the 90’s. He shared via social media both his decision to split from his wife and has stepped away from his faith in Christ and apologised that he ever wrote the book after numerous people spoke of the emotional and spiritual harm it brought them.
For Marty Sampson, it was in part the silence of the church to tackle issues he believes are very real that contributed to his doubts. In his Instagram account he wrote:
Time for some real talk. I’m genuinely losing my faith, and it doesn’t bother me. Like, what bothers me now is nothing. I am so happy now, so at peace with the world. It’s crazy.
This is a soapbox moment so here I go … How many preachers fall? Many. No one talks about it. How many miracles happen. Not many. No one talks about it. Why is the Bible full of contradictions? No one talks about it. How can God be love yet send four billion people to a place, all ‘coz they don’t believe? No one talks about it. Christians can be the most judgmental people on the planet—they can also be some of the most beautiful and loving people. But it’s not for me.
I am not in any more. I want genuine truth. Not the “I just believe it” kind of truth. Science keeps piercing the truth of every religion. Lots of things help people change their lives, not just one version of God. Got so much more to say, but for me, I keeping it real. Unfollow if you want, I’ve never been about living my life for others.
All I know is what’s true to me right now, and Christianity just seems to me like another religion at this point. I could go on, but I won’t. Love and forgive absolutely. Be kind absolutely. Be generous and do good to others absolutely. Some things are good no matter what you believe. Let the rain fall, the sun will come up tomorrow.
A lot has been said of the ‘falling away of Sampson’. For my part I have to start by thinking of him as being brave. I mean consider what he’s given up to live true to himself? Security, platform, opportunity, community - he may of course find these in other places, but for now that is all part of the loss.
It’s true that we do no favours in not dealing with reality. When we don’t allow space for doubt and close down all conversations as a ‘lack of faith’ we only store up problems for the future.
The high profile confession of Sampson does however raise challenges within the evangelical community to do with fundamentalism and how we understand it, and why we must speak with maturity borne of humility into areas where we don’t carry all the answers. Apologetics has its part to play but the issue is deeper. Faith should not be cited alongside reason as if to set one against the other. If the evidence is strong enough then the pendulum will swing in favour of faith - if not then unbelief. The travelling companion of faith has never been reason but mystery. As the Apostle Paul wrote, ‘Beyond all things, the mystery of godliness is great.’
The themes of Sampson’s leaving are repeated time and again for those with ears to hear: science, sexuality, the miraculous - ‘we don’t talk about these issues’ he says. Well I do think that depends where you are positioned. To be honest, I like very many others, think about these things all the time!
There is a genuine challenge here and in a church that is giving more time to music (and I’m not against this and love many of the Hillsong songs) drawing deeply on emotion, we do well to pause and think because the person we are becoming is not found in the music as much as in the silence. We can easily feel like mountains have moved, giants have been conquered and miracles made when we are surrounded by 100 decibels - but what we need is living presence when we rest our head on the pillow and stare into the dark night of the soul. And I”m not sure we always do this well.
Emotion can be beautiful and music enthusiastically played in an intentionally created environment uplifting, but if it is not borne out in every day experiences then we create a disconnect that’s going to trip people up. The gap between the emotion of what is said should happen and the realities of what is happening leads to a disingenuous situation that challenges the integrity of good people that can become the breeding ground for doubt. For all of us faith has to be owned and refined, in a life that will test it. Doubt will always be part of this and somehow we need to create Christian communities that speak about it and help support people to process it well. My prayers are with Marty and for all of us when we are confronted with our doubts that we won’t see them as simply the antithesis of faith but rather the breeding ground of it.