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Dan Silverman's deconversion
My story, like anyone else's, begins at my birth. I was born into a typical American family. My father is Jewish and my mother was not. Neither were religious. And, as a result, I was not raised within the confines of any particular religion. I grew up not giving it much thought. At the age of 21 I joined the Marine Corps and, in 1990, was sent to Saudi Arabia to help liberate Kuwait during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. It was during this time that I began to see some men turn to God.
After returning to the States in 1991, I began my own personal quest. I wanted to know if God was real. I first went to my battalion chaplain, who was a Roman Catholic. When he found out I was from Jewish decent (with a name like Silverman, who would have thought that?) he sent me to the base rabbi. However, this rabbi spoke of God like some impersonal force that was out there ... a force that could be tapped into for either good or bad. This did not sit well with me.
Along the way of my quest, I met some people that were a part of a Bible believing church. I was told that I needed to be born again. Eventually, I came to the place where I said a sinner's prayer and accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. From that point on my life was forever changed.
When I was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps, I relocated to Winston-Salem, North Carolina and began to attend Piedmont Bible College (now called Piedmont Baptist College). My goal was to train to be a pastor. During a mission's conference at the school I came believe that God was calling me to be a missionary, but I did not know where He wanted me to serve. It was at this time that I met the young woman that would soon become my wife. She told me about going to Israel as a missionary. I believed that I had my answer from God and began to focus on the land of Israel.
We married and began to pursue moving to Israel. It was not easy and many years went by. In the process, four wonderful children were born. We were determined to raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Along the way, I had served as an interim pastor at one church and an elder at another. When the timing seemed right and the finances were there, we moved our family to Israel, where we stayed for the next four-and-a-half years of our lives.
In Israel we served at a local assembly in Jerusalem for three-and-a-half years and then moved to start a new work in the northern part of Israel above the Sea of Galilee. After a year there we saw the need to return to the USA in order to help take care of my wife's mother, who was aging and failing in health. I also wanted to continue my education and pursue my Masters degree.
I write all this so that you can know a bit about my life. During this phase, I was dedicated to serving the Lord. I had taught in many churches and have taught the Bible in places such as the United States, Israel and Mexico. It was the Lord and His Word, the Bible, that guided all that I did, all that I thought and by which we, as a family, tried to conform our lives. I was what some would call a Bible Thumper. I believed in the strict, literal interpretation of the Bible. To me, doctrine, hermeneutics and exegetical teaching were everything. But along the journey, there were some things that did not sit well with me. I logged them into the back of my mind and continued on my way until one day I was forced to confront them.
My story is about confronting those thoughts and what happened as a result.
The Turning Point ...
After returning to the United States we began to attend Heritage Baptist Church in Vinton, Virginia. We thought we had found our dream church. The congregation was warm and loving. The church's methodology was to keep families together. In most churches we had experience with, children went to a children's Sunday School and then to Children's Church during the normal church service. At Heritage, there was no segregation of the family. Children stayed with their parents throughout the service, sitting by their families sides and listening to the same preaching and teaching as mommy and daddy. The children in this church environment seemed to act very mature. Their attention seemed to be on heavenly things. After some time of attending there I became a leader of teachers for a part of the service called Family School (or version of Sunday School, but for the entire family) and then later was accepted as a pastor of the church alongside the founding pastor, Bob Barton.
During this time I was a busy man. Finances were tight and besides the ministry, I was doing computer graphic work on the side to try to make ends meet. I was also teaching in other churches. A typical schedule for me would include helping on Sunday morning (if I was not scheduled to preach), teaching a class such as a New Testament Survey on Monday nights, teaching classes on Wednesdays, such as Messianic Prophecies or a course I had developed called the Biblical Perspective of Israel. Besides ministry and work, we homeschooled our kids and I had a part in that as well. Needless to say, I was working most of my waking hours. Most nights I was not getting very much sleep.
As time went on and my schedule became more hectic some of the thoughts I had tossed into the back of my head began to surface. These thoughts contained doubts about what I was doing. Some were doubts about what I was teaching. In most cases I cast these thoughts aside. Christianity had taught me that thoughts like these were either a part of my own sinful nature or an attack from the devil, God's ancient enemy. How could I even trust my own thoughts? After all, the Bible was clear that the heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked (according to Jeremiah 17:9). It became even more imperative to pray and to give myself to Christ ... to die to self and to live unto God.
But my prayers seemed to go unheeded. In fact, I began to notice things that really caught my attention. My wife is an extremely religious woman. She believes the Bible to be literally true and would spend the first hour of her day reading the Scriptures. The next hour was devoted to prayer. A large portion of our prayer was for our children. Over the years we saw quite a rebellious spirit arise in each of our kids. We had desired that they would become godly offspring, willing to sacrifice their own lives for the cause of Christ. As they rebelled and seemed dead set on pursuing their own ways, we pleaded with them, we educated them in the ways of Christ, we chastened them when necessary and, above all things, we prayed for them. However, it seemed that prayer was not effective. No matter how many hours my godly wife prayed, no matter how many times either of us hit our knees, our children did not change. We began to doubt their salvation. I began to doubt God.
The Bible declares that God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (Second Peter 3:9). The Bible declares that God died for all (John 3:16). The Bible declares over and over again God's desire for a godly seed and for a holy people to follow him. The Bible told us that if we prayed anything in accordance with His will, he would grant it (First John 5:14, John 14:13; 15:16; 16:23). We prayed according to the clear will of God as revealed in the Scriptures and, despite that, things only grew worse in our family. My doubts began to raise their ugly heads again.
And Now, the Rest of the Story ...
I was a man on a quest again. I had to learn the truth. There should be no fear in looking for answers. Even the Bible said ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free (John 8:32). Freedom was to be found in the truth and I desperately wanted that.
Over the past several years, as I served Christ, I felt more and more restricted, more and more bound. I found myself sleeping less and wanting to get out of what I was doing. I was not content, but felt more like a trapped animal. All this time I thought it was my own sinful nature rearing its head and I did not realize it was my mind calling out for me to be rational ... to think again. I suppressed my thoughts, but that only made things worse. But then I realized, I should not be afraid of the truth. If God is who He says He is, then I will discover this and the end result is that I will know Him better and be able to serve Him more. However, if He is not who He says He is, then I need to stop living a lie and move on with my life!
Many doubts began to arise in me and I wanted to seek the answers of other like-minded Baptists. I did not want to talk to the other pastor I served with. I wanted to do this anonymously. I found a Baptist forum on the Internet and posted a brief of my history and some of my doubts. What occurred surprised me. I was attacked! Some of the members simply assumed I was an atheist come to attempt to change their ways. I found no love and no help. Even so, I continued to try to ask questions about the things I was struggling with. Instead of rational answers, they simply threw more Bible verses at me, verses that did not answer the questions. Others simply told me that they would pray for me.
I decided to try something different. I found a web site for those that had left the faith (www.exchristian.net). I shared the same story and my questions. To my surprise, I found a loving group of people who were willing to help me find answers. I was amazed. I had been taught that atheists were cruel and amoral people that had no structure to guide them. I found that notion to be utterly false. As I began to research my doubts and look at the Bible with a new set eyes, I came to the conclusion that I had been living a lie and that I needed to leave the ministry. This was a life-changing decision, but I did not realize how it would change everything around me.
When I felt I could, I approached and told my wife of my new decision. The next day I told Pastor Barton and I stepped down from the ministry. I was a mix of emotions. On the one hand, I was free! I could think again. I could dream! It was the most liberating experience I can ever recall! On the other hand, I knew that my decision would break my wife's heart and would cause a multitude of problems for Heritage Baptist Church and Pastor Barton in particular. Even so, I could not live a lie. I had to live as I believed. When I believed in Christ, I lived accordingly. When I ceased believing in Christ, I lived accordingly.
My pastor's reaction surprised me. Instead of showing the Christian love that he had preached, he began to blame me for a multitude of problems that would occur as a result of my sudden decision. My wife's reaction was even more surprising. She took me aside to tell me that she was praying for me. She then said these words, "I am praying two things for you: that you will either get right with God or that He will take you out!"
I asked, "Are you praying for my death?"
She replied, "God's honor is worth more than anything."
I was shocked. Here was the woman I was married to for 15 years praying that God would kill me. I didn't know what to say. But things did not get better for me, but worse. The next day my oldest son came to me and said, "Mom says you are an anti-Christ and under a delusion."
She had had a Bible study with the children and wanted to warn them about their father. During my coming out of the faith, I did not attempt to stop my wife from having Bible studies with the children and I did not try to keep them from going to church. But my wife was working hard to keep the children from me. She made it clear to me on several occasions that she did not want my children with me.
Then meetings began to be arranged with my wife and the pastor. I was never told what the phone calls were about. I did not ask. After all, I trusted my wife. I thought, despite her prayer for my death, that she loved me. I did not know what was being planned.
On Saturday evening, one of my children came to me and told me that their mother was trying to find a place for each of them to spend the night on Sunday. She said she just wanted them to be able to spend some time with some of their friends from church. On Sunday my two daughters decided that they would go, but my two sons stayed. On Monday morning, I woke up to find my wife gone. The house was pretty empty except for me and my sons. I went to work. At about 12:30 that afternoon there was a knock on the door. I answered it to find two women detectives standing there asking for me to step outside. I did. They then showed me a warrant for my arrest! I was being charged with aggravated sexual assault on a child who was less than 13! I was dumbfounded as they hauled me off to jail.
I was placed in jail without bond. The next day the Pastor Barton came to visit me. He pointed a finger at me and said, "See where leaving God has gotten you!" I was crushed. I spent the next 50+ days in jail before I was finally allowed to get out on bond. I am now facing several months of court dates in an attempt to prove that I did not do that for which I am accused. My wife had placed a protective order against me and for the last two months I have not heard nor have I seen my children. I am not permitted, by law, to see them.
Did I commit the crime? No. I left the faith. I walked away from the ministry and made a decision to follow what I truly believe. Frankly, this crushed my wife. Her dreams of one day returning to Israel were dashed. Her dreams of being married to a dynamic preacher of God's word were over. And so she cast me away. The pastor of Heritage Baptist Church was upset as well. I believe he wanted to humble me in an attempt to bring me back to the faith and to the church. My wife had met with Pastor Barton and, via the phone, another minister. They recommended the solution to her: get the authorities involved. They did.
I have so far learned a lot from my experiences. The church's message of love only extends to those that embrace the church. Leave her and experience her wrath. I also learned that innocent until proven guilty is not a part of our country any longer. According to much of what I have read, people who are falsely accused of molesting or abusing a child are likely to be convicted of the crime, even if there is no evidence. According to one web site, mothers who bring the accusation are much more likely to be believed even in the face of the evidence. All it takes is an unfounded accusation to potentially have your life taken away.
This is my story. I decided, of my own free will, to leave the faith. Those who were once my friends, and even my dearest love, chose to cast me to the wolves instead of continue to love me as I am. As a result, I have decided to take a stand for freedom! I have decided to speak out for our fundamental right to think for our own selves and to not be persecuted for thinking contrary to those that are around you. Our thoughts make up who we are. No one has the right to try to force us to think according to their ways. Our minds are wonderful things, capable of reason, discovery and creativity. No one should seek to destroy your life because you dare to think!
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