God is less interested in you having the right theology than in you being healed.
That is what Brian Moll concluded after deconstructing his faith.
Pastor of Cincinnati Mennonite Fellowship, Moll spoke at the morning worship service Tuesday, July 4, at MennoCon23, the national convention of Mennonite Church USA, in Kansas City, Mo.
His was the first of two stories of healing and transformation told at worship services that day.
Moll compared his faith journey — swinging from “one set of rigid religious beliefs to another” before learning to understand God’s compassion — to the story of Jonah, the rebellious prophet who hated that God spared wicked Nineveh.
Moll suggested that he and his audience could identify with Jonah — and that God wants to heal them, too.
“For so many of us, the healing and transformation that we need is behind the door we refuse to open,” he said. “It’s inside a conflict that we refuse to address, a conversation we refuse to have, a fear that we refuse to face.
“God is actually doing more than we could ever ask or imagine, and some of us in this room are angry about it because it is not happening the way we would do it if we were God. . . . It may be hard for us to believe in a loving and compassionate God, but that’s the God we actually have.”
Moll told his own story of transformation.
“I was raised very religious,” he said. “I cut my teeth on the back of a church pew.”
By the age of 29 he was pastoring a church in New York City where people were putting their faith in a God he wasn’t sure he believed in anymore. As the theological certainty he once knew collapsed, his crisis of faith led to depression and drinking.
“I realized there was blood on my hands,” he said. “So I quit. My soul couldn’t take it anymore. I walked away from church leadership, searching for a better picture of God.”
He enrolled in an Anabaptist seminary, where he learned a more compassionate theology — and became even more certain he had finally discovered the right beliefs. But, “in my childlike manner, I started judging all the people who believed the same things I had believed yesterday,” he said.
He described how his faith grew more mature as he became the director of a faith-based coalition that addressed homelessness in New York City.
“I think the question for each of us is: Are you willing to go on the journey of healing, no matter what it costs you?” Moll said. “My hope is that you would open that door that leads to healing, even if your faith needs to crumble first. Because God is far less interested in you and I having perfect theology and far more interested in each of us being healed.”
At the evening worship service, Iris de León-Hartshorn, associate executive director of operations for MC USA, told of her daughter’s healing from multiple traumas.
“Isabel came to live with us when she was 6,” de León-Hartshorn said. She came from an abusive home. Her mother’s drug use during pregnancy caused learning disabilities.
Then, when she was 11, a church member sexually abused her.
The congregation responded with great love and care, but “it set Isabel over the edge,” de León-Hartshorn said. “Isabel was on a path of self-destruction. . . . We knew she was in extreme pain and probably self-hate.”
Years later, she ended up on the street as an addict as she tried to cover the trauma with drugs.
“We had given up trying to figure out what we could do, and we resigned ourselves to leave it in God’s hands,” de León-Hartshorn said. “I kept praying.”
One cold, rainy day, in a tent on a street in Portland, Ore., Isabel asked herself if she wanted to die on the street and her body be found in a tent. She told herself no — and checked into the Native American Rehabilitation Association.
“I witnessed a transformation of her life,” she said. “It didn’t happen overnight, and it wasn’t easy. Her healing contained times of struggle and hard work. Step by step, with each accomplishment, her life began to heal. Our relationship with Isabel became stronger and healthy. She has been sober for more than 8 years.”
The crowd applauded.
Two weeks ago, Isabel graduated from college with honors. She is a counselor for people with addictions, working for the organization where she got clean. Her relationship with her son is restored. She is happy and healthy and secure in her connection with God.
“Healing is a journey for all of us,” de León-Hartshorn said. “There are no quick fixes. We hurt other people and break relationships, but God is there and calling us toward restoration.
“I believe the question Isabel asked herself in the tent that day was God calling her, but she had to say yes.”
De León-Hartshorn urged her listeners not to let fear of what others think of us stand in the way of restoration and healing. Earlier she had used the example of the apostle Peter, who overcame fear after he denied knowing Jesus and later resisted accepting Gentiles as Christ-followers.
“We are on a journey of restoration together,” she said. “Jesus wants to break the chains that bind you.”
She concluded by inviting people to come forward for anointing “as a symbol of readiness to be on a journey of healing.” Lines formed in front of the stage as the band and crowd sang songs and hymns.