*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.
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.
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.