Veteran Christian band Hawk Nelson has entertained rock fans for two decades: singles, albums, concerts, you name it. No doubt, their music has inspired many fans and artists. Recently, the band's latest lead vocalist, Jon Steingard, told the world on Instagram that he no longer believes in God. Of course, this Instagram post was met with controversy and has made national headlines.
Fans, fellow artists, as well as the media are having conversations about the post. Reactions are mixed: anger, shock, sadness, to name a few.
NewReleaseToday's founder Kevin McNeese and Associate Editor Paul Phillips have a chat about Jon's message and its impact. You can join the conversation now on our Facebook post.
Kevin: Paul, thanks for taking some time to have a discussion around news that has made quick national headlines. I'm seeing this reported on Fox News, CNN, NBC and many more and while news of anyone losing their faith in God is hard to hear, it's hitting home for Christian music fans with Hawk Nelson being one of the highest-profile bands of the last two decades. What was your initial response after reading Jon's Instagram post?
Paul: My initial reaction was sadness. I think whenever we lose a major soldier who represents Jesus in the entertainment world, I grieve. Last year, Kanye West came into the Christian faith. That was a huge, major story. I hate to say it but Jon isn't a celebrity. But, Fox News, NBC and CNN are covering the story. And, as of now, he is.
Kevin: I had a sense of sadness as well, along with confusion, some anger like, "why isn't anyone in Jon's circles answering these basic questions of faith and who God is (and isn't)" as well as compassion. I think anyone who has lived some life runs into a wall or two. While none of the questions Jon is asking have easy answers, I do believe they all have answers, but all require faith. When you allow doubt to start creeping in, it can all unravel exactly how Jon explained. I worry about those that simply nod their head at the questions, pump their fists at the honesty and vulnerability and say "finally, someone is vocalizing what I've felt," essentially giving credibility to the walk away from God.
It's the moment that every believer has to face: Do I really believe this? Jon's situation is not unique. Many of us have grown up in and around faith. We adopted it from our families and we had to live some life, fall and struggle, and find God in those valleys to really bolster some of these answers. My prayer is that Jon did not give up too early.
Paul: You mentioned basic questions. Basic? Yes. Easy? No. Faith isn't easy–it's trusting in the unknown. I came to Christ later in life. But, my mom was a believer. She was always hopeful that we'd come to Jesus. After 30 years, I did give my life to Christ. But, before coming to Jesus was something that I "had" to do. Not something that I "wanted" to do. Some believers never get that difference. Jon mentioned that he's always been around Christian circles. He accepted everything as is. And, probably never focused on the hard-to-ask questions.
When I came to God, I went from one environment into another. And, it wasn't an easy one. The funny thing is though that all the questions that Jon asked in his message are ones I ask now. Not back then. Back then, I was roped into the "should believes" instead of formulating my own opinion.
Jon brought up many interesting points. Some of which should be discussed in public, for sure. But, as you said, Kevin, faith is called faith for a reason. And that is one of the basic requirements that Jesus asks from us when we give our lives to him. But, it isn't easy.
Kevin: We follow a lot of Christian artists on our NewReleaseToday Instagram account and because of that, we can see dozens of artists who have poured out their love and support for Jon already. Jordan Feliz, Jeremy Camp, Josh Willson, and many others. However, a few early comments have stood out, specifically these thoughts from John Cooper of Skillet, who has spent a lot of time on this topic with others who have publicly abandoned their faith in God.
"This is heartbreaking bud. No lie," Cooper says. "Obviously doesn't change our friendship. but I really wish you had just stated your disbelief and left it there. Not sure why PUBLICLY questioning the Bible, and the very morality of God can possibly be a good thing. That is unless you don't mind leading others down the same path. Whew, that's scary stuff. Doesn't mean that I don't love you. Just wish you hadn't felt the need to burn it down that's all."
That's really the part I struggle with. This was an eight-page slide on IG, that almost read as a defense as to why a single human man does not believe in the Bible, church, worship, and the God of the entire universe. And when Jon said, "I hope that my openness and transparency can be an encouragement to you, if you feel the same," I sunk inside. It felt like he would celebrate if he got a few more struggling believers off the boat.
Paul: We have to be very, very careful. I never picked up any malice from Jon's message, at all. If anything, I think the opposite, based on these words he wrote towards the end of his letter: "I am 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." He also clarified in some follow-up posts that he "certainly couldn't say for certain that God isn‘t there. I would prefer it if he was. It feels important for me to leave that door open."
What I think we need to be careful of is how we respond to Jon. Whether we think his approach is vindictive is irrelevant. The whole world is watching now. And, we have the opportunity to respond in grace. Do I have my opinions on how Jon should have responded? Yes. But we need to look at this as a form of outreach. As someone who is–was–a Christian who's really struggling. He's someone who wants answers. And, as Christians, we need to be ready to stand up to bat. To not only answer someone else's answers, but our own as well. Even against those we have lost–for now.
Jon's message is also a reminder to us to ensure we get the answers we're looking for. Not to ignore obstacles that can get in the way of our faith. Not to just defend questions with "well, just because," and "just have faith." Find a support system for prayer, information, and everything in between.
I like how Hawk Nelson responded to their brother on Facebook.
"One of our best friends, one with whom we have walked, worked and lived alongside for 20+ years revealed some of his innermost feelings on his faith journey this past week. Our mission as Hawk Nelson has always been to inspire and encourage all people with the truth that God is FOR them and not against them. In that message's most simple and purest form, that THEY matter. So now we turn that truth towards one of our own. That God is still FOR Jon & he still matters. Why? Because that truth doesn't change just because we question it."
How we treat one another when they are at a different stage in their journey based on their life experiences is part of a bigger conversation. We are called to love one another unconditionally, as God loves us. We should also encourage and challenge one another in our Faith, seeking the truth."
Kevin: That's a great challenge and check, Paul, and one that I certainly need to hear, process and execute. In a sense, I do appreciate the step away and the honest admission, versus the continuation of leading a platform that is designed to bring people closer to Jesus. I have no doubt that was an incredibly difficult road he has been struggling on and I'm encouraged to hear and see his close circle rallying instead of distancing. So important.
We serve a big God, and if He is true, which I believe to my core He is, he will reach Jon and become real in his life. It might look radically different than what we're used to seeing or would expect in our Western culture. And that's ok. I think the Western culture has gotten a lot wrong when it comes to church and structuring faith and adding in a whole bunch of consumerism has complicated it even more. There are a lot more opportunities to get hung up within the Gospel. But those are man's faults, not God's.
Paul: So much news is out there at the moment about Jon's message. But, let's rise up and create new headlines. Ones that scream grace. Ones that escape judgment. Ones that embrace truth. And, in today's COVID-19 circumstances, a little bit of grace can go a long way.
Kevin: Agreed. I'll still hold on to some hope that this public step away turns into an incredibly personal, unexpected and powerful encounter that will radically shape and alter the course of his future. He wrote the lyric in "Drops in the Ocean," Open your heart/it's time that we start again. I pray that time comes quickly.
Kevin McNeese started NRT in 2002 and has worked in the industry since 1999 in one form or another. He has been a fan of Christian music since 1991. Paul Phillips is a Canadian journalist with over 10 years of experience writing and editing digital and print content. He specializes in health, fitness, nutrition, and travel. He loves music, movies, and, of course, living for Jesus.
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