A Farewell to Evangelical Christianity


*I wrote this blog post about a month ago, sitting in my living room in the dark, as the words and tears poured out of me.  Admittedly, I haven't posted it until now because of fear.  It is scary to draw a line in the sand that you might regret later.  

But then the great World Vision Debacle of 2014 happened.  In 48 hours, American evangelicalism was put on trial from all sides.  And no matter which way you look at it, Christians didn't win.  It seems, we have lost miserably for all the terrible reasons.  The very thing that it was created for, to be a beacon of hope, inclusiveness and love is now the very thing that we are known for failing at, miserably. The Internet is on fire with blogs, articles and interviews of people leaving evangelical, western Christianity and the churches that are built upon it.  I am one of those people and here is how I choose to explain it.   





Come now.

Sit down with me.

First, let me put my arm around your shoulders or place my hand upon yours.  If you're up for it, let me embrace you fully and let our hearts beat together for just a few moments.  Or if all of that is too familiar to you or makes you feel uncomfortable in any way, let us just sit together in silence, close enough to hear our breaths going in and out.

The conversation we are about to have may be hard.  The words spoken may be foreign and strange and they may sound like muddled tones that clumsily stumble from your ears to your mind to your heart.

Let me be your linguist.  I will teach you a new language that your heart may already know.  Let me be your speech therapist, helping you form the words with your tongue and massaging your jaw muscles until they come out right.

Religious trauma. Brainwashing. Spiritual abuse. Depression. Anxiety.

These are the words I want to use as we talk today.  They are ugly words that scratch at the smooth exteriors I have clothed my faith in.  They are harsh and abrasive words and I have hated them and hidden them away for fear that if I use them, they may tear my life apart.

But they are real words. They are true words.

Even though I have stuffed them into the shadowy corners of my life like a child who stuffs dirty laundry under the bed.

Okay, so let's talk real.

My whole life - my whole entire life - no literally, every day for 35 years I was surrounded by evangelical Christianity.  When I was in my mother's womb, it engulfed me in her praise and worship music and intercession.  As a young child I knew sword drills, memory verses, flannel graphs.  When I was a developing adolescent I knew purity, modesty and holiness sermons.  When I was a young adult I knew ministry and mission and calling.  When I became a wife I knew submission to headship.  When I became a mother I knew that this was the "greatest and most important calling for all women for all times".

And then when I challenged it all, threw-out-the-baby-with-the-bath-water and started wondering what was actually true, actually biblical, the evangelical church was the back drop to all my questions.  I threw my questions like angry darts at the leaders of the church. They did not hesitate for a moment to throw back but their darts were bigger and more fiery and I ran from them with fear.  When I landed in softer places where my faith could sit and rest from the relentless questions, the church was still there. The people of God still going about their church business while I panted on the side of the road with exhaustion.

Modern day evangelicalism, which is rooted in fundamentalism, has been the theater in which the drama of my life has been played out.

All of those years though, I knew Jesus.  Whether it was actually Jesus himself or just a beloved idea of the kind of person his teachings can create, I don't know.  

But I loved Jesus.

I loved him so much and promised him my everything.  All my faith and hope, all my energy and mission, all my questions and anger too, they were all his.  Even when I stopped going to church six years ago, I still followed Jesus with all I had.  Some of my more progressive evangelical friends have been loving and kind and patient as I gave up "Churchianity".  As long as I still wanted to follow Jesus they wouldn't get too worried for me.

But we're talking real now right? Okay, so let's be real.  The people who were meant to protect me, nurture me, comfort me did not.  Some have even fed me to the wolves.

It was my evangelical zealot father who abused us physically, emotionally and spiritually, twisting scripture to coerce my mother into believing she had no voice.  It was the church's teaching that pushed my mother to abandon her teenagers who were having sex and getting into trouble.

It was my pastor and missionary teachers who turned a blind eye to the blatant racism I endured as a child.  His staff members and their children who taunted me, excluded me and eventually kicked me out of our church's school because we could not pay the tuition. It was those same missionary teachers who SPANKED HIGH SCHOOLERS for having premarital sex.  They spanked them. With a paddle. While their Christian parents watched.

It was my evangelical male mission trip leaders who sexually abused me and my female mission trip leader who covered up for them. Years later she told my mother, and I quote, "You weren't there.  You didn't see the way Rebecca acted around boys.  She was so flirtatious.  She wanted it."

It was my non-denominational, evangelical pastors who were also my boyfriend's parents that told me to not be sad when I found out he had cheated on me for two years.  I am "more than a conqueror in Christ Jesus", they said so I shouldn't "dwell on it".  If you're still sad about it then it's only because you come from a broken home.

Let's go on shall we?

It was those same pastors, my in-laws and their all white, all male pastoral staff that made me apologize after a group of teenage boys physically assaulted me and a group of girls after a youth group prank gone bad.  I was made to stand in front of the group and take responsibility even though it was the seething, adolescent boys who chased my group of crying girls with baseball bats and threatened to physically overturn the youth group van we were driving.  Theses angry boys who were all in their underwear, screaming "you fucking bitches!" climbed on the van in the pitch-black night and rocked it off it's center until we were rocking side to side on two wheels.  The girls screamed in terror and prayed, "Jesus help us!" The next night, under the Christian male leadership of the church I stood shaking in front of the group saying to the boys, "I am sorry that we caused you to get so angry.  Please forgive us for provoking you."

It was the same group of men who decided that me being a mother was more important than me being a pastor and that it was divisive to even question the Bible's "very clear" teaching on women in ministry. I got paid 1/3 of what my male counterparts did, even though I was more qualified and had more experience. They preached absolute freedom in Christ on Sunday and then enslaved me to their patriarchal interpretation of scripture on Monday.

It was the relapsed addict that I went into ministry with after I left the church.  Looking for a safe place to heal, I put my sincere trust in him and he lied to me for over a year about his sobriety.  When push came to shove it was the Board of Directors of that non-profit, all evangelical Christians, that gave me the boot and then chose him to lead the organization even though he had lied and taken advantage of me.  When I told one of those Board members that I would work on forgiving her she said, "I am not asking for your forgiveness. I did what God told me to do. I sleep just fine at night."

Most recently, I have been horrified of the allegations of sexual assault of women and minors that happened at my church for years.  The pastor and elders all knew about it and never reported it.  They refused to do justice, which their scriptures command them to do, because if they exposed one man's lies it would mean exposing their own.  They gave out "church discipline" to the pedophile and then employed him as a staff pastor.  When the victims were so filled with shame that they asked the elders to not report it to the police, instead of doing the right thing they gave in and kept the abuse a secret. To this day they are all still in ministry as though none of it ever happened, the victims lost in ambiguity and revisionist history.

All throughout these painful experiences the evangelical church taught me to forgive, to turn the other cheek.  I absorbed the teaching that enduring abuse was okay if it was in the name of Jesus and for the sake of the "kingdom".  I wanted so badly to be like Jesus [because I deeply loved him, remember] and I was taught that giving up my dignity was the way to mimic Christ.

I was taught that because of Jesus, I had the TRUTH. The real truth.  All those poor Muslims, Mormons, Hindus and Buddhists.  Our loving God will send them to an eternity in a fiery, conscious hell unless I heroically stepped in and shared the gospel with them.  I was taught that I should do "great things for God's kingdom" but then when I attempted to do what they preached I was told I can't and shouldn't want to because I'm just a girl / pastor's wife / mother.

Gays could not be Christians.  Poor people needed me to save them.  Republicans were the right ones, democrats were the wrong ones.  If you questioned God's anointed church authority, you were questioning God.  If "church loyalty" seemed like a manipulative and controling organizational value because after all, it was never mentioned in scripture, well then, you should repent of your rebellious spirit.

If you were too angry or too sad for too long then you weren't letting grace do its work in your life. The phrase "God is in control" was a fix-all for the evils of the world but if it didn't make you feel better then there was something wrong with your faith.  If you thought that women should have full autonomy over their lives and bodies than you were a baby killer.  If you thought that Mexicans or Syrians or any other ethnicity or race were no-less deserving of freedom than Americans, you were written off for not honoring the "Christian values" of our forefathers.  If you thought the Bible had flaws or contradictions or was strange in any way, your love for God was called into question.

The list goes on, my friend.  The list could fill your smart phone or computer for hours and I fear that my rage may burst through these megabytes and shatter the screen on which you read them.  The walls of evangelicalism are built as high as the tower of Babel and scaling them to get into the cool club of holiness is nearly impossible unless you are hetero, have power, money, whiteness, maleness or some other combination of evangelical social prestige.

[[[Breathe.]]]

Ok. Come now. I need you to sit with me.  Put your arm around my shoulder or your hand upon mine. Hug me for a few moments so our hearts can beat together.

I need your presence because the pain can overcome.

I am undone.

And I am done with what people call evangelical Christianity.  It excluded me and taught me to exclude others.  It shamed me and then helped me to shame others.  It victimized me and then discarded me and then told me to forgive them like Jesus does.

I want nothing to do with this kind of brainwashing.  I am suffering from religious trauma and spiritual abuse that has been disguised as "following Jesus".  I was told the wounds being inflicted upon me were kisses and like a lamb to the slaughter I believed them.  I am working toward recovery from all of the ways this brand of religion has scarred me.  The double-standard, hypocritical, closed-mindedness gets all mixed up with the promise of redemption until you can't even tell what is actually good and right and true anymore! Depression and anxiety are just bi-products of the way my mind and body had to adapt to the trauma.

And so I am done.  I refuse to submit myself to this kind of horrific abuse any longer.  I refuse to believe that my anger is anything but a perfectly normal reaction to the insidious behavior of wolves in sheep's clothing.  I refuse to accept that forgiveness means letting the bad guys go free so they can hurt other people. I refuse to cover for the lies and dysfunctional behavior of Christians and call it "unity in the Body".  It is not unity.  It is complicity in abuse and I won't do it anymore.

Perhaps these words have confused you.  Perhaps your experience with evangelicalism has been pleasant and life-giving.  Perhaps you have fond memories of youth camps and small groups.  Perhaps being in evangelical church ministry has been a positive and empowering experience where you were unleashed to be all you were fully meant to be.  I can say with deep sincerity that if it has, I am very happy for you.  I wouldn't wish this hellish recovery journey on anyone.

But perhaps these words have knocked you upside of the head and you are dizzy with a knowing.  You get it and you know it in a similar way.  You too feel washed-up from this shipwreck of the American evangelical church.  The "if you build it, they will come" model of Christianity has left you parched for something less glitzy and more gutsy. The "take-your-pick-of-weekend-services" brand of churchiness has pummeled you until you just can't invite one more "unsaved" person, let alone find the strength to take one more note from another All-Alliteration-All-The-Time Sermon.

Maybe you have been hurting for a very long time and you have never felt permission to let the agony escape your shadowy corners.

Come now.  Sit with me.

Bring your carefully constructed theology and your contradictory experiences and we can lay it all out in front of us and just look at it for a while.  I am not interested in debating or using scripture to concoct a bullet-proof argument for anything.  I am interested in honesty even when that means exposing the darkness in our own hearts.  I am interested in asking, "Now what?" and then sitting in silence until a more simple, more true answer comes to mind.

I know that can be a scary proposal and perhaps you aren't quite ready to look at all the confusion and pain and questions that you have about what the church has taught you.  Perhaps you are like me and are terribly confused by the difference between who you want God to be and the people who supposedly represent this entity.  The outline of a loving God has been blurred and now we are fumbling around in the dark, stubbing our shins on the painful experiences. Perhaps you are worried that if you let your hurt bubble up to the surface you might lose friends or family members as you share this dark truth.

I get it.  I am scared too.  Not surprisingly, most of my friends and family are evangelicals, so yeah, I get the anxiety that comes from wandering away from the thing that always bound you to the people you love.

That's okay.  We can take our time. We can figure out together where to go from here.  Perhaps if we huddle close and share truthfully, the fire of our anger will burn away until only embers are left. Then maybe we can see more clearly how to step into a new kind of life that is unfettered from the chains that have shackled us to our anger.  I long for the day that forgiveness is real and not contrived; For the life that can be lived without the fear of losing everything.

But for now, just come and sit with me.

It helps to know we are not alone.

25 comments

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April 3, 2014 at 8:53 PM ×

Rebecca, thank you so much for posting this. I wish I could come sit with you... though that is not physically possible, your words will stay with me and remind me I am not alone.

Jennica

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April 4, 2014 at 10:57 PM ×

Rebecca, I know we have only met a time or two, but I check here regularly to see if you've posted. Thank you for being well, vulnerable doesn't even cover it... And, I consider that a good thing. Sometimes buildings need to be demolished, so we can see the foundation and investigate whether it is sure or not. I see that picture as I read your words. I'm encouraged, challenged and even hopeful. Here's to you for having the courage to sit in it.

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April 4, 2014 at 11:02 PM ×

Thank you for what you've said. And thank you for not ending this post with some plea to "just keep trusting god." Seriously I can't handle that any more :).
I am on a similar journey to yours. I have identified as an atheist now for about 6 months- don't know if I will forever (though I am thoroughly satisfied by it emotionally and intellectually).
For me too, at first it was a very lonely journey. As time has passed, I've lost touch with those whose lives revolve around religion- and I'm totally ok with it. I have found even deeper, more authentic and compelling relationships based on sincere inquiry and straightforwardness. No more dancing around or spiritualizing our emotions. The universe is a beautiful, terrifying place. I am learning to truly be in awe for the first time.
Stumbling across confessions like this one you've shared make me hopeful for a humanity that will be better to each other- not for some spiritual reward- but just for the plain sake of doing something that's fucking nice.
Keep on going. Hope to cross paths with you one day.

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April 5, 2014 at 12:30 PM ×

Come now. Stand with me. Let us walk this journey together.

What beautiful writing. This is such an important message. One that rings true!

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April 5, 2014 at 2:46 PM ×

Wow. This was very compelling and I want to thank you for sharing.

In so many ways, my life has been like yours, surrounded by evangelicalism since conception. I can completely identify with the cultural things that go along with that: the flannel graphs, the purity challenges, the missions trips, and the motherhood being sacred. In other ways, my life has been so very different from what you've shared. I admit. I'm one of the ones confused. Please don't think I'm trying to defend the church, truly, I am not, just sharing my experience. Though I've seen bits and pieces of the ugliness that you describe, it is far from the norm of what I've experienced. My life has not been bright and shiny; it has been dark, murky, and traumatic. But not because of the church. In fact, God used the church as quite literally my refuge - there were times that people of the church sheltered me from imminent danger. In my adulthood, I have gone through significant Post Traumatic Stress and it has been beloved friends in the church who have taught me the grace of Christ, the patience, the long suffering, the steady loving kindness. My incapacitating depression and anxiety were not shamed, my abusers not excused, my grief not tritely swept away.

It is difficult to know how to respond to your experience. I know that you are certainly not alone. There is a wide wake of carnage that people have left in the name of Christ - in every church throughout the centuries. It is absolutely soul crushing. And it makes me think of Matthew 18:6, where Jesus says, "If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea." I know it causes God great anger. As a parent, I know how I would feel if someone hurt one of my kids so devastatingly.

I don't have any answers for you and I know you are not looking for them. I felt driven to respond and yet I have no response except to say, though my experience with church has been so very different, I know what you are saying is the truth of your experience and I would love to sit with you and put my arm around you and not preach to you or shame you but to love you and listen.

~ Melinda

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April 5, 2014 at 3:36 PM ×

Beautiful response, Melinda. Mine would be much the same. Thank you for the voice you gave to our similar experience.

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April 5, 2014 at 4:42 PM ×

Indeed we are not, Jennica.

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April 5, 2014 at 4:43 PM ×

Thank you for your kind words, Jessica.

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April 5, 2014 at 4:45 PM ×

Strength to you as you explore unknown territories. Peace to you as you face tender choices. Thank you for sharing a bit of your story here.

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April 5, 2014 at 4:47 PM ×

Oh yes, Brady! I look forward to the day when the sitting in quiet is over, when the grief does not overcome. I look forward to the standing and walking together towards a better day.

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April 5, 2014 at 4:55 PM ×

Melinda,
Thank you for your sensitive and honest response. I am sincerely happy that the church has been a safe refuge for you! It is what it was meant to do, after all! I am thrilled that you have been treated with dignity and compassion in the face of all the pain that you have endured.

Thankfully, I also have many beautiful souls that have tended to my wounds over the years. Some Christians, some not. And right now, the most overwhelming responses of compassion, support and "Yes, me too!"'s are coming from non-believers. It is a beautiful thing to experience. Thanks again for your kind and respectful words.

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April 5, 2014 at 8:47 PM ×

Brutal Bec! Also awesome. I was one that had a great experience with it all my whole life but I walked away several years ago. My brain thinks too much and the canned answers for everything didn't add up. Also, the scriptures themselves didn't seem to support most of what was put to me either.
I pulled away, and anger and hatred set in for 5 years. Not only because I felt like I had been duped, but also because I realised I had duped other people!
All I can say is that the anger is necessary but it dulls your mind to everything that makes life and the world really awesome and beautiful. So, try not to ride it for too long.
Don't trust anyone who tries to give you answers. You are alone. It is the most awesome and terrible place to be. Nothing holds you up and nothing holds you back. The possibilities are limitless. Jesus not withstanding, find out what it means to have a savior in yourself.

Good luck. I know you will make it through and your life will never be the same!

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April 5, 2014 at 9:47 PM ×

Very cool, Rebecca. You should see if meetup.com has any "Recovering from Religion" groups in Orlando, I know they do out here in LA. Could be a good way to start the detox. All the best.

Tim Thompson (from back in the day, saw the post on Josh's wall)

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April 5, 2014 at 11:44 PM ×

My heart, and I know Jesus's heart, aches for you and all the suffering you experienced at the sins of others. It doesn't matter whether they call themselves Evangelicals or atheists or anything in between, they are evil and being used by satan to inflict pain, doubt and bondage. Like you said they are the wolves in sheep's clothing spoken of in scripture. Which has nothing to do with the title of 'Evanelical' and lots to do with the title 'Pharisee'. These people that hurt you are 'religious', but they don't know Jesus. They are living and sinning in the flesh instead of loving by the Holy Spirit. These are the exact ones who will hear, "Get away from me I never knew you." Praying for wholeness and freedom in Christ for you with much love Rebecca ♡♡♡

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M@
April 7, 2014 at 10:16 AM ×

I don't know who you are but I love you. Things will get better. Keep breathing and find that hope and love live inside of you and only you can decide to feed those flames or quench them.

-M@

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April 7, 2014 at 3:50 PM ×

I don't know you but I think someone in your family used to pastor some Orlando church(es) that I am familiar with. I applaud you for asking these hard questions. I applaud you for thinking for yourself. I applaud you for not putting up with the BS that is peddled over and over again by those claiming to represent God or the truth. I, too am fed up with most of Christianity. I have endured psychological abuse and not physical. I hope you have a professional counselor helping you work through all this trauma. I'd like to encourage you that that are many, many people that are seeing these inconsistencies and making the hard decision to leave the institutional church as well as Christianity all together. I hope you continue to find truth, peace and love in your journey in life.

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April 8, 2014 at 1:48 AM ×

Hey, I just had to respond. I am sorry. I am sorry for your pain. I do not know you and I am one of those who continues to find the church life-giving and real vs. death-dealing and hypocritical. What happened at your church is definitely not representative of the Christianity I know and love and hope I represent. But ultimately I responded not to defend Christianity but extend my support for you as a human being. I wish I could do more to reach out than write some words but you are loved. I am impressed by your openness and blessed by your vulnerability. Seriously, I wish I could say something more that might show the depth of my desire to extend love towards you, but just know that I am one more person who wants to show support for you and your healing process.
I believe Jesus is right there with you (he suffered some religious trauma and spiritual abuse himself) and I am confident he is sitting with you in the reality of your pain, not with empty words of comfort but with shared tears and grief over the suffering you have gone through.
I am praying for you: that you experience hope, healing, light, love and joy in your life.
Jesse

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April 10, 2014 at 2:15 PM ×

Dear Rebecca: As I read your Farewell to Evangelical Christianity I was able to feel your pain, your disgust, your anger and all the emotions that confusion brings. I too have had experiences with religion and religious people that have marked me enough to change my views, therefore, my believes when it comes to the so called "Christianity". Nowadays, the word Christianity has lost it's meaning. It no longer means "Born Again". It is freely used not to identify but to confuse people into thinking they are saved. These are the days when the devil himself will use these charlatans to confuse the masses to do exactly the opposite. A lot of so called Christians churches no longer preach the word but a version of it that has been adulterated with a human agenda. This is the reason why I do not believe in religion. You see, I met the Lord when I was 10, MANY years ago and I remember this preacher who visited our church inviting people up to the altar for a prayer that would also include sick people. He said "even a bad tooth". When he said a bad tooth, I went to the altar, kneel down, (remember Rebecca I was 10,) did not say a prayer but I thank the Lord because He had done it already. I said this three times. When he ended the prayer, he came up to me and asked me if my mother was there. I said yes. Mom, come and check your daughter's mouth. God has silver filled her tooth. Indeed, He did. When I became a woman I understood the magnitude of what had happened to me and the faith behind it. After experiencing religion, extreme religion, fanatic religion, vague religion, I no longer believe in it. I now put everything on a scale, in the scale of the WORD and my faith. The faith of that 10 year old girl. There is NO religion in the WORD and faith can not be usurped. I am still that little girl who believe in the Lord and his almighty power. It is just that now I can see. I see that men can not save me, a lot of time can't even guide me. So it is my responsibility and obligation to learn and to ask the Lord for wisdom so that I can be used to teach others, you know why Rebecca? because these are the times that God will use people like you and me who are not afraid to speak the truth, who are willing to STAND ALONE, if that's what it takes, who have experienced so much hurt that our skin has thicken, in order to point out what's wrong. People need to hear and learn truth and it takes brave, courageous and sometimes bold people to do that. I understand your experience and my experience as "Christians are not the same but we can not all be a leg or an arm in the BODY. Please do not be discouraged, keep your faith intact, take the good and reject the bad. Salvation is individual, it is every day and it is with force. Keep strong in your creator and savior. Let NO man be an obstacle.

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April 12, 2014 at 11:36 AM ×

Here this morning because of Kristin Howerton's Saturday list. Powerful writing, terrible truths in your life story. I am so sorry. More than I can say. And I am angry - angry that these kinds of things could EVER happen in a group setting that purportedly follows in the footsteps of Jesus. I've had to dump some baggage from my early fundamental teaching, but overall, my experiences in (mostly mainline) churches have been positive and reflective of what I see in the NT. I am an ordained pastor and grateful for the ways in which God has allowed me to see goodness and wholeness in the churches that have been part of my own story over the years. What happened to you should never have happened. Never. And I am heartbroken that this is your story. May you be blessed in the truth-telling you are doing here and elsewhere and may you experience healing in the deep places. Thank you for this powerful post.

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April 17, 2014 at 1:50 AM ×

thank you! for your gutsy writing -- i am 65 now, and like you, have said bye to all that -- but, make no mistake, the poison lurks in my very bone marrow. omg, i think, how could my consciousness have accepted all those lies! but of course, we had no choice! like any addiction, the depth of the toxicity is never completely eradicated -- i suspect i will always be in recovery. yet...........i must say, i feel so much freedom now, and for that.....i express overwhelming gratitude. thank you once again -- your words are precious.

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May 1, 2014 at 12:37 PM ×

Thank you for your compassion and words of support, Jesse!

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May 1, 2014 at 12:40 PM ×

Mary, I applaud your courage to face your own journey of pain and your quest to speak out against injustice when you see it happening in others' lives. It truly is not an easy path to walk, but the Healing Path is most assuredly in the valley. Courage and strength along the way to you, Mary!

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May 1, 2014 at 12:43 PM ×

Thank you, Diana. I still have hope that there is a remnant of people who will have the courage and ability to speak to the systems that create such dysfunction. I call that remnant Loving Misfits. It sounds like you might be one of them! :)

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May 1, 2014 at 1:14 PM ×

Just thought I would share my web site with you. Perhaps some of the links on it may be helpful for you since I also de-converted from Christianity only 3.5 years ago myself. I am just starting to "come out" myself actually. I'm so sorry your experience in the church was sooo much more painful! I wish you well on your continued journey.

http://fromchristianitytofreethought.webs.com/

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