When Christians leave, can we still love?

Marty Sampson has said his faith is on "incredibly shaky ground"

I have a passing interest in football. Enough to get me by in any conversation. I have a Premier League team I sort-of follow (grew up in Northern Ireland in the 90s, now live in the South-East of England so you'd get it in two guesses).  I enjoy an international competition, and I keep up across the sports pages enough to know who is who and how the league is shaping up.

Transfer deadline day is one I definitely try to keep an eye on. If nothing else it ensures my following week chat doesn't end up exposing me as the part-time fan I truly am too quickly. This summer, one move caught my eye, not because of the fee paid (it was relatively low) or because it affected a team I care for. It was more the manner of the announcement.

Laurent Koscielny, a player who had been with Arsenal for nine years (including a stint as club captain) appeared on social media in a video in which he removed the home shirt of Arsenal to reveal he was wearing the shirt of Bordeaux underneath. It was, at the very least, a less than subtle way to announce his transfer and one that caused a certain amount of reaction.

Former Arsenal striker Ian Wright tweeted: "This hurts. The level of disrespect. You should be ashamed for the way you've left the club after 9 years! Got what you wanted and still trying to have a dig. Hope it's worth it in the long run."

Joshua Harris said he could no longer be described as a Christian (Photo: Instagram/JoshHarris)

Other former players soon joined the chorus and Arsenal fans didn't hold back either. Words like "disrespect" "disgusted" and "disgraceful" all made appearances in the hours and days that followed (along with some other words that Christian Today won't allow me to include).

Some even found a more elaborate way to vent their feelings, adding a snake to the player's name on his Wikipedia page. Interestingly Arsenal Football Club themselves released a statement which finished with these words: "We thank Laurent for his contribution to the club and wish him all the best for the future."

Transfers are a funny thing if you really think about it. You literally go from playing for one team, giving all your effort, energy and ability to one set of players, coaches, fans and followers, to suddenly redirecting all of that to a whole new team and their fans and followers with sometimes just a few days or hours between the two.

Sure, the video might have been a little crass but it wasn't inaccurate. He used to play for Arsenal, now he plays for Bordeaux. He can't turn up to play in the French League wearing an English team shirt. At some point he would have been photographed wearing that new shirt. In fact, player unveilings are literally a photo or video of the new player in their new shirt.

So what was all the fuss about and what has this got to do with anything?

The Christian world has has seen two high profile "transfers" - or near transfers - in recent days. Firstly, prominent pastor and author Joshua Harris and in the last few days - the "near transfer" - the worship leader and songwriter Marty Sampson.

Both have taken to social media to discuss where they stand on leaving Christianity.

Harris described his journey to this point like this: "The popular phrase for this is 'deconstruction,' the biblical phrase is 'falling away.' By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian."

Laurent Koscielny met the ire of Arsenal fans after revealing his transfer to a French club(Photo: Arsenal Media)

Sampson said: "I'm genuinely losing my faith, and it doesn't bother 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...All I know is what's true to me right now, and Christianity just seems to me like another religion at this point."

Like with the football, former colleagues, high profile Christian "players" and even devoted followers have shared their thoughts.

R Albert Mohler Jr, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said. "If persons do continue in their repudiation of Christianity, then we have to remember the text 1 John 2:19 where we are told that, 'They went out from us, because they were not of us,' which is to say they never were truly Christians. They were pretend believers."

Online, others added their comments: "...They claim 'I walked away from Christianity.' Correction: You didn't walk away. You were never born again in the first place..." 

Or offered this vision of the future: "Marty of Hillsong, do you think the world will give the peace that can only be found in Christ? No chance. You'll run after this and that and never find contentment. Don't kid yourself. Nothing will satisfy you in the world!..."

"Pretend believers", "Never born again in the first place", "Never find contentment." Like scorned fans of our favourite club, the idea that someone wouldn't want to "play" for us anymore seems to bring out the worst. And, as if the decision wasn't bad enough, the idea that they might want to announce it, or publicly remove their old shirt only seems to make us angrier.

Perhaps we'd be wiser to follow the response of Arsenal Football Club than those who follow it? A club who, in a sea of anger and Wikipedia snakes, disgrace and disrespect offered gratitude for what had been and hope for what was to come.

Perhaps, we'd be wiser to follow the response of the Christ we follow, rather than those who follow Him the loudest. To offer peace. To love our neighbour. To spend time with those we disagree with. To bring life rather than hurling rocks. To refuse to play by the rules of "in" and "out". To abandon tribal badges and a "club" mentality.

Perhaps we'd be wiser to listen. To swallow our pride, overcome our fear and hold some space for those who are offering to share their stories with us, no matter how hard they might be for us to hear.

The transfer window might be closed for a while in the football league, but if our attitudes to those who no longer connect or identify with our faith grouping continues to be so demonising and dismissive, we shouldn't be surprised if there's a rush for the door.

Matt White is a Northern Irish TV producer living in Essex and working in London. Follow him on Twitter@mattgwhite


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