A musician who spent years writing songs and performing with the globally influential Christian music collective Hillsong now says he is questioning his faith.
Marty Sampson is a songwriter and worship leader for the recording label that grew out of Hillsong Church, a congregation based in Sydney that now has branches in 23 countries. Hillsong frequently sets the trends in the Christian contemporary music industry, and its songs are sung by millions of people around the globe every Sunday.
Sampson has been writing for Hillsong since at least 1998. More recently, he was one of the musicians behind “The Lord’s Prayer,” a song that appears in Hillsong Worship’s 2018 album, “There Is More.” The song is a musical rendition of Christianity’s foundational prayer.
But Sampson now appears to be questioning the foundations of his faith. In mid-August, he started sharing his doubts about Christianity with his followers on Instagram. According to the faith-based news website Christian Post, Sampson announced in a since-deleted post that he was “genuinely losing my faith,” clarifying later that while he hasn’t completely renounced Christianity, his faith has been on “incredibly shaky ground.”
By last Friday, Sampson appeared to have stepped even further away from Christianity. In an emotional Instagram post, he thanked Hillsong Church’s founding family, the Houstons, for their support over the years. He insisted that he still loves Christians but no longer counts himself as a member of the faith.
The post, captured by HuffPost on Aug. 23, reads in part:
To the CHURCH of Jesus Christ, I forgive you, and I LOVE you. I’ve got tears running down my face because it’s so true. I adore you Christians. I love you SO MUCH. That’s all. It was amazing being one of you, but I’m not any more. I love you all, and I always will. I won’t forget how much I love Christians, even if they don’t love me, I will always love you. Sorry for any bad words I have ever said about any of you. Forgive me. I love you all.
Sampson later deleted the post.
Since then, the musician has been posting memes scrutinizing Christianity and expressing doubts about how a good God could condone evil and suffering in the world.
HuffPost has reached out to Sampson for comment on his faith journey.
Hillsong Church is its own denomination in Australia, with roots in Pentecostal Christian theology. The church is known for its rock concert-style worship services; its hip, tattooed pastors; and celebrity attendees. It has faced criticism for its conservative positions on sexuality ― particularly its non-affirming stance toward LGBTQ Christians.
Hillsong has not responded to HuffPost’s repeated requests for comment.
Sampson’s public wrestling with doubt has been closely followed on Christian news websites. He’s caused significant consternation among some evangelical leaders ― especially since his posts came not long after another high-profile evangelical announced he was also leaving the faith.
Joshua Harris, a writer who once promoted Christian purity culture, told his Instagram followers in July that he is no longer a Christian and apologized for the harmful theology he preached in the past.
“The popular phrase for this is ‘deconstruction,’ the biblical phrase is ‘falling away,’” Harris wrote in his post. “By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian. Many people tell me that there is a different way to practice faith and I want to remain open to this, but I’m not there now.”
Franklin Graham, son of the famous American evangelist Billy Graham, accused Sampson and Harris of pulling publicity stunts and trying to draw Christians away from the Bible’s teachings.
“Why did they make it so public? I think they just want publicity. Otherwise, why didn’t they just leave their faith and just be quiet about it?” Graham recently said on “The Todd Starnes Radio Show.”
“Shame on them,” Graham added. “You’ll stand before God one day and give an account to him.”
Ken Ham, the biblical literalist best known for building a gigantic re-creation of Noah’s ark in Kentucky, used the moment to plug his ministry, Answers in Genesis.
“Answers in Genesis @AiG produces books dealing with the supposed contradictions in the Bible to show when passages are properly understood, there are no contradictions,” Ham tweeted about Sampson’s doubts. “This sad situation about this person is a reminder the church & parents need to teach apologetics to counter today’s attacks on God’s Word.”
John Cooper, a lead vocalist with the American Christian rock band Skillet, wrote a Facebook post castigating Christian “influencers” who have abandoned the faith.
“I’m perplexed why they aren’t embarrassed? Humbled? Ashamed, fearful, confused? Why be so eager to continue leading people when you clearly don’t know where you are headed?” Cooper wrote.
Sampson fired back at Cooper on Instagram, saying that he never intended to influence others but simply wanted to “wrestle and to learn and grow.” He also questioned why his doubt is causing “panic” in Christian circles.
“Why when someone is influencing others, does this cause the kind of panic in a truth so strong that it cannot be shaken? I for one don’t see this kind of shock and horror in the scientific community when a theory is usurped by a new and contradicting theory,” he wrote in an Instagram post captured by Relevant Magazine before it was deleted.
Amid the backlash, some spoke up on social media in defense of Sampson and others who are going through a process of deconstructing religious beliefs.
Jonathan Martin, an evangelical pastor from Oklahoma, chastised Graham for his harsh words about Christians who doubt.
“I find it astonishing that there are people who actually think that the disillusioned, disenchanted children of the Church who walk away, are somehow ‘the problem,’ as if it is some great falling away,” Martin wrote on Twitter. “I’m just tired of hearing people berate their kids for leaving a faith system that we handed to them that was already rotting and full of maggots.”
Michael Gungor, a musician who started his career making Christian music, stunned the industry in 2014 when he revealed he no longer literally believed in the Bible’s stories. Since then, Gungor has spoken frequently about how he left his evangelical Christian roots and came to understand that doubt is a healthy and necessary part of a person’s faith journey.
Michael Gungor encouraged Sampson in a tweet, calling his doubt “beautiful.”