JON STEINGARD, LEAD SINGER OF HAWK NELSON CHRISTIAN BAND, RENOUNCES THE CHRISTIAN FAITH
I heard the sad news today, and it shatters my heart to smithereens. Jon Steingard, the lead singer and songwriter of the Christian musical band, Hawk Nelson, in a lengthy message posted on Instagram 6 days ago, renounced the Christian faith.
The road Jon took to atheism is a familiar one. Adam and Eve took the same thoroughfare and our world continues to reel from the damning consequence.
It’s so painful to see the man who wrote many songs that brought healing to many hearts (including the video below) go on to write such soul crushing message questioning the existence of God. It just crushes my heart and makes me want to weep as another soldier of the Kingdom fall in the eternal battle against evil.
LORD, on behalf of Jon Steingard, I pray for your mercy. Draw his heart back to you. Restore Him to the saving knowledge of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
This is not a post I ever thought that I would write, but now I feel like I really need to. I've agonized over whether to say this publicly, and if so, how to do it, but I now feel that it's less important how I do it, and more important that I do it. So here goes.
After growing up in a Christian home, being a pastor's kid, playing and singing in a Christian band, and having the word "Christian" in front of most of the things in my life – I am now finding that I no longer believe in God.
The last few words of that sentence were hard to write. I still find myself wanting to soften that statement by wording it differently or less specifically – but it wouldn't be as true.
The process of getting to that sentence has been several years in the making. It didn't happen overnight or all of a sudden. It's been more like pulling on the threads of a sweater, and one day discovering that there was no more sweater left.
I have been terrified to be honest about this publicly for quite some time, because of all that I thought I would lose. I'm still scared, but I'm writing about this now for a few reasons.
Firstly, I simply can no longer avoid it. Processing this quietly felt right when I simply had doubts, but once they solidified into a genuine point of view, it began to feel dishonest not to talk about it.
Secondly, I have had private conversations with trusted friends about my doubts, and discovered to my absolute shock that they are shared by nearly every close friend my age who also grew up in the church. I am stunned by the number of people in visible positions within Christian circles that feel the same way as I do. Like me, they fear losing everything if they're open about it. I hope that my openness and transparency can be an encouragement to them, and to you, if you feel the same.
Thirdly, I've got a whole lot less to lose now. The band isn't playing shows or making new music at the moment, and we've all found other work and careers to focus on for the time being. In order to make sure I'm able to keep providing for my family, that had to be the case before I could be totally honest - and that fact is one of the issues I have with the church and Christian culture in general.
So if you're someone who follows me because of Hawk Nelson, and my involvement in Christian music, you are probably thinking, "Wait – were you lying to me this whole time? Were you just pretending to be a Christian? What about all those songs you wrote? Did you mean those?"
The short answer is that I was not lying. I did believe those things at the time. I may have been pulling on the threads of the sweater, but there was still some sweater left back then.
So, what did this sweater-thread-pulling process look like then? Ok let's get into it.
I grew up in a loving Christian home. My dad was a pastor (and still is), and as far back as I can remember, life was all about the church. It was our community. It was our family.
It feels important to point out that church wasn't something we went to once a week – it was more like something we came home to as often as possible, after bravely venturing out into "the world" when necessary. It wasn't a part of our life. It was our life.
When you grow up in a community that holds a shared belief, and that shared belief is so incredibly central to everything, you simply adopt it. Everyone I was close to believed in God, accepted Jesus into their hearts, prayed for signs and wonders, and participated in church, youth groups, conferences, and ministry. So, I did too.
I became interested in music, began playing and singing on worship teams, and started leading worship at church and youth events. Even then I remember being uncomfortable with certain things. Praying in public always felt like some kind of weird performance art. Emotional cries such as "Ho ly Spirit come fill this place" always felt clunky and awkward leaving my lips. A youth conference I attended encouraged every teen to sign a pledge that they would "date Jesus" for a year. It felt manipulative and unsettling to me. I didn't sign it.
I figured I was overthinking all these things. This was the beginning of my doubt, and I began to develop the reflex to simply push it down, and soldier on.
After all - everyone I knew and loved believed in God, Jesus, and the Bible. So I felt it must be true.
At the age of 20 I joined Hawk Nelson and began touring with the band. It was a blast. Our music wasn't overtly "Christian", but as time went on we became more outspoken about our faith in our music. To be fair, I was one of the loudest voices pushing for that shift, because I believed it would lead to more success in the Christian music world.
When I became the lead singer and main songwriter in 2012, this shift was fully realized. We went from singing songs like "Bring 'Em Out" to songs like "Drops In The Ocean". Google the lyrics – the difference is not subtle.
Even through this shift, there were still many things about Christian culture that made me uncomfortable. In fact, the list was growing. There were things that just didn't make sense to me.
If God is all loving, and all powerful, why is there evil in the world? Can he not do anything about it? Does he choose not to? Is the evil in the world a result of his desire to give us free will? Ok then, what about famine and disease and floods and all the suffering that isn't caused by humans and our free will? If God is loving, why does he send people to hell?
My whole life people always said, "You have to go back to what the Bible says".
I found, however, that consulting and discussing the Bible didn't answer my questions, it only amplified them.
Why does God seem so pissed off in most of the Old Testament, and then all of a sudden he's a loving father in the New Testament? Why does he say not to kill, but then instruct Israel to turn around and kill men women and children to take the promised land?
Why does God let Job suffer horrible things just to...win a bet with Satan?! Why does he tell Abraham to kill his son (more killing again) and then basically say "just kidding! That was a test." Why does Jesus have to die for our sins (more killing again)? If God can do anything, can't he forgive without someone dying? I mean, my parents taught me to forgive people - nobody dies in that scenario.
I was raised to believe that the Bible was the perfect Word of God. Sure, it was written by human beings, but those people were divinely inspired - and we can consider the words they wrote to be the Word of God.
I began to have questions and doubts about that. It seemed like there were a lot of contradictions in the Bible that didn't make sense. I don't want to get too deep in the weeds here, so I'll leave the details for another time. Suffice it to say that when I began to believe that the Bible was simply a book written by people as flawed and imperfect as I am – that was when my belief in God truly began to unravel.
During a vacation to Mexico with my wife's family, I had a revealing conversation with my father-in-law, who is also a pastor. Like my dad, he is a loving father. He is patient and sincere and believes in God with all his heart.
I was asking about a verse in 1 Timothy that seems really oppressive of women. It indicates that women shouldn't be in church leadership, shouldn't teach men, and shouldn't wear their hair in braids. To me, that seem ed less like the message of the loving God that most Christians believe in now, and more like the ideas that would have been present in the culture at the time...a male-dominated society where women were treated less like equals and more like property.
My father in law asked me if I had been reading the King James Version – because he felt that King James had put his own spin on a lot of things, and that version couldn't fully be trusted.
"You have to go back to the original Greek," he said.
This is something I've heard a lot over the years. I asked him, "So it sounds like you believe that modern translations can't fully be trusted, because they are human, flawed, and imperfect? I am simply taking that thought to its next natural conclusion – that the original Greek is also human, flawed, and imperfect, and also can't fully be trusted."
He replied, "Well, if you believe that, what do you have left?"
I said, "Exactly."
Once I found that I didn't believe the Bible was the perfect Word of God – it didn't take long to realize that I was no longer sure he was there at all. That thought terrified me. It sent me into a tailspin. The implications of that idea were absolutely massive.
I began to ask myself, "What now?”
Over the past year I've occasionally mentioned publicly my struggles with depression. This is what really kicked that off.
What do you do when the rug is pulled out from under your feet? When you find yourself no longer believing the thing at the core of how you see yourself and see the world? What do I teach my own children? If I'm honest about this, will all my Christian friends abandon me? Will this alienate me from my family? Will this leave me with nothing?
Those are the questions that led me into a very dark place for a while.
I feel like I’ve mostly emerged from that dark place now - because I've discovered that life really does go on. I have trusted friends that know this about me, and love me anyways. My family is showing me incredible love and support, even though I know this grieves them. While I know I can no longer stand on stage and in good conscience sing songs like "Drops In The Ocean", I no longer fear losing my place in Christian music. I know this means giving it up voluntarily.
I'm ready to be transparent and open.
I think that "open" part is key.
I'm open to the idea that God is there. I'd prefer it if he was. I suspect if he is there, he is very different than what I was taught. I know my parents pray that God reveals himself to me. If he's there, I hope he does.
Until then – I feel like the best thing I can do is be honest.
Stepping away from belief in God has felt like a loss in some ways – but it's felt like freedom in others. Jess and I both always had this sense that we weren't doing enough of the things we were supposed to do as Christians. We didn't enjoy going to church. We didn't enjoy reading the Bible. We didn't enjoy praying. We didn't enjoy worship. It all felt like obligation, and our lack of enthusiasm about those things always made us feel like something was wrong with us.
Now I don't believe anything was wrong with us. We simply didn't believe – and we were too afraid to admit that to ourselves. So in that sense, we have a tremendous sense of relief now.
I am hoping that writing this contributes to that relief. As I've processed these thoughts and feelings over the past year or so, I've avoided writing online about matters of faith. I didn't want to pretend to believe anything I didn't believe – but I also didn't want to rock the boat.
I am not sure how much this will rock the boat. I don't know if this will surprise anyone. But it doesn't matter. What matters is that I've finally worked up the courage to tell my story. To share my deepest truth.
And that feels like freedom too.
It's going to be 72 degrees here in San Diego today. The sun is shining. It's a beautiful day. No sweater needed.