Hawk Nelson frontman Jonathan Steingard is getting candid about his beliefs.
The Christian rock band star, 36, revealed in a lengthy statement last Wednesday that he no longer believes in God, writing on his Instagram, “I’ve been terrified to post this for a while – but it feels like it’s time for me to be honest. I hope this is not the end of the conversation, but the beginning. I hope this is encouraging to people who might feel the same but are as afraid to speak as I am. I want to be open.”
He wrote in the caption, “I want to be transparent with you all – and also open to having my heart changed in the future. I am not looking for a debate at all – just a chance to share my story in the hopes some good can come from it. I love you all.”
In the post, Steingard shared six slides of a written statement that detailed his spiritual change.
“After growing up in a Christian home, being a pastor’s kid, playing and singing in a Christian band, and having the word ‘Christian’ in front of most of the things in my life — I am now finding that I no longer believe in God,” he began in the statement. “I have been terrified to be honest about this publicly for quite some time, because of all that I thought I would lose.”
“Processing this quietly felt right when I simply had doubts, but once they solidified into a genuine point of view, it began to feel dishonest not to talk about it,” he wrote.
After having “private conversations with trusted friends” about his doubts in Christianity, Steingard said he wanted to renounce his faith publicly because he’s “got a whole lot less to lose now.”
“The band isn’t playing shows or making new music at the moment, and we’ve found other work and careers to focus on for the time being. In order to make sure I’m able to keep providing for my family, that had to be the case before I could be totally honest – and that fact is one of the issues I have with the church and Christian culture in general.”
The singer explained he initially believed in God because “when you grow up in a community that holds a shared belief, and that shared belief is so incredibly central to everything, you simply adopt it.”
“Everyone I was close to believed in God, accepted Jesus into their hearts, prayed for signs and wonders, and participated in church, youth groups, conferences, and ministry. So I did too,” he recalled.
Though he grew up in a Christian home, Steingard said he felt “uncomfortable” with certain aspects of the religion, explaining that praying in public “felt like some kind of weird performance art” and “emotional cries such as ‘Holy Spirit, come fill this place’ always felt clunky and awkward.”
“I figured I was overthinking all these things,” he shared. “This was the beginning of my doubt, and I began to develop the reflex to simply push it down, and soldier on.”
Steingard said he secretly continued to have doubts when he joined Hawk Nelson, though “this shift was fully realized” when he replaced lead vocalist Jason Dunn in 2012.
“There were things that just didn’t make sense to me,” he wrote. “If God is all loving, and all powerful, why is there evil in the world? Can he not do anything about it? Does he choose not to? Is the evil in the world a result of his desire to give us free will? OK then, what about famine and disease and floods and all the suffering that isn’t caused by humans and our free will?”
Steingard explained that his doubts were “only amplified” when he consulted the Bible about his questions.
“Suffice it to say that when I began to believe that the Bible was simply a book written by people as flawed and imperfect as I am – that was when my belief in God truly began to unravel,” he wrote. “Once I found that I didn’t believe the Bible was the Perfect Word of God – it didn’t take long to realize that I was no longer sure he was there at all.”
The Canadian musician said his internal debate led to “struggles with depression” as he worried about losing friends and family in the Christian community.
“I feel like I’ve mostly emerged from that dark place now – because I’ve discovered that life really does go on,” he shared. “I have trusted friends that know this about me, and love me anyways. My family is showing me incredible love and support, even though I know this grieves them.”
Steingard added that renouncing his faith meant that he can no longer continue his work in Hawk Nelson.
“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 wrote. “Until then – I feel like the best thing I can do is be honest.”
“Stepping away from belief in God has felt like a loss in some ways – but it’s felt like freedom in others,” he continued. “I am not sure how much this will rock the boat. I don’t know if this will surprise anyone. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is that I’ve finally worked up the courage to tell my story. To share my deepest truth. And that feels like freedom too.”
His band members later released a statement of their own reflecting on their frontman’s change in beliefs.
“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,” the band wrote in a statement to PEOPLE.
“So now we turn that truth towards one of our own. That God is still for Jon and he still matters. Why? Because that truth doesn’t change just because we question it,” they continued.
“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 truth,” Daniel Biro, Micah Kuiper and David Niacaris wrote.
“Ever thankful and grateful for how God has used this band, the music and the relationships and how he continues to do so.”