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An "All-American Boy"
Allâh is a permanent reality that works in the lives of those who hear His message. Not having a personal relationship with my Creator tugged at my heart and mind for nearly two decades. Then, I discovered Islam. I would not be considered in the West as a stereotypical Muslim. I believe the popular Western stereotype of a Muslim male is something like the following: dark skin, dark hair, bearded, Middle-Eastern or Asian descent, dressed in modest clothing and possibly a head covering. No, I'm the complete opposite of this. I am in many ways the epitome of the "all-American boy": blond-hair, blue-eyed, corn-fed Protestant/Christian background. However, Islam and Muslims take on many faces, many backgrounds, many cultures, many nationalities and many tongues.|
Our family moved a few times in my youth, but my world was limited to the heart of the "Bible-belt" in Augusta, GA, and Spartanburg and Greenville, SC all fairly large communities, but all offered little in religious diversity. I had normal, loving, God-fearing parents - they are still happily married today after more than 30 years and one younger brother.
I grew up as a "PK" (for those of you outside of Protestant Christianity, I was a "preacher's kid"). My father was a Southern Baptist minister for more than 25 years. As you can imagine, for the first 18 years of my life, I attended church every Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night and any number of other nights that the church lights were on. I grew up believing in God and Jesus, or, should I say, fearing God and Jesus. Like most adolescents, I was afraid not to believe in the religion of my parents. However, something was wrong. I can recall thinking, even at age 10, "this Jesus' story just doesn't make sense to me." Even at this young age, I didn't accept the divinity of Jesus and the notion of Christian salvation (i.e., Jesus dying for my sins).
As all my church friends were getting saved, baptized and confirmed during their pre-teen and teenage years (this all seemed like more of a rite of passage than a sincere decision for most, or just the popular thing to do), I quietly sat in the church pews questioning the fundamentals of Christian theology. My parents, my church-friends and the various churches my father pastored throughout my childhood all prayed for my salvation.
Then, one Sunday night, I succumb to the pressure. I was 12 years old and my family was at the First Baptist Church of North Spartanburg (in Spartanburg, South Carolina). After a fiery sermon, which obviously moved a lot of people, my father came to me and said, "Son, do you want to ask Jesus into your heart? It's about time you do so." Tired of all the solicitations, tired of all the "Scott, we're praying for you," tired of always feeling like the one who didn't belong, I lied to my father and said, "Yes POPS." That night, I repeated after my father and supposedly accepted Jesus into my heart. I was presented to the church as a new Christian, baptized and immediately became part of the Christian community; although, I was very empty inside. For the next 5 years, I put on the charade of a good preacher's kid. I attended Bible studies, went on summer mission trips and even had a couple "saves" (individuals becoming Christian) contributed to me. This was all under the veil of a big lie that night when I was 12 years old, the night that I supposedly became a Christian myself I never asked Jesus in my heart. True, I went through the motions, but it meant nothing to me.
When I graduated high school and it was time to go off to college, I only thought of one thing: religious freedom. I viewed the opportunity as the chance to move away from my parents and explore the religions of the world. I moved about 70 miles away from my parents to Rock Hill, SC, enrolled in Winthrop College and majored in religion. However, moving from one part of the "Bible-belt" to another part of the "Bible-belt" didn't help my search. Rock Hill was a smaller town than I grew up in and there were even more churches per capita. Once again, the only religious diversity was in the form of what favor of Christianity you wanted for the week. I did manage to run across a couple freethinking religion professors that mentored me in exploring religion. If anything, they pointed me to many different sources to satisfy my quest. I rarely pushed the envelope of my comfort level and only ended up exploring different forms of Christianity. During the two years I spent in little Rock Hill, SC, I attended Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Pentecostal and many non-affiliated/community churches. It would not be until another couple years before I would experience non-Christian religious expression.