Daniel Smith, 23, arrived as a freshman at Cedarville University in 2008. Outwardly he was a Christian, but inwardly he was a prodigal. Doubting some essential doctrines, he was afraid to ask peers and professors about God, hell, and Christianity's dark moments in human history. "Others probably perceived me as a typical, good Christian kid," Smith says. "I worked hard to keep up that perception. But inside my faith was completely dead."
Steven* (*not real name), also a freshman, was immersed in all that life at a Christian college offered. His charisma, activism, and faith were infectious to others—including Smith. "We bonded over our bookish pretensions and freshman philosophizing. The world was in our pockets, and we were like brothers," Smith says. The two decided to room together sophomore year.
Early that year, Steven's mother began having health problems. Soon she was diagnosed with stage IV cancer. Before school was out, she was dead. During her illness, Steven grew frustrated with Christians' trite responses to his mother's suffering. He was angry at God. By the time she died, Steven had turned to meditation and Eastern mysticism for solace. By senior year, he had come out as gay and walked away from the faith. Steven's journey gave Smith a lot to think about.
When Lee,* Michele Sterlace-Accorsi's husband of 24 years, walked away from Christianity, he walked away from his family, too. Much of their marriage had been difficult, says Sterlace-Accorsi, but the years of raising their four children were mostly good. The couple built a large home in upstate New York on a plot of land with woods and a pond. The family went to church each Sunday, the children ...