I feel like this post needs a bit of a disclaimer. This is my experience and may not be everyone’s experience and I know that. I believe in honesty and that honesty is the only way to open up dialogue. We all go through life with our own experiences and some are shared…or should be shared to offer hope and give someone the chance to say “me too.”
Leaving the American Evangelical church is a really difficult thing to do.
No one looks at aspects of the Evangelical church and thinks they are a cult -like organization, but according to the Evangelicals, America was built on The Bible and its “core principles,” and if you can’t align yourself with them then you’re either out of the group or the one they’re trying to fix and rehab back to Jesus.
Oh, and if you’re not sure what The Bible’s “core principles” are, may I direct you to FOX News and all of the things they find wrong with the world, because thus saith the LORD.
Christianity is America’s religion. Let’s all say it together, ‘MERICA!
I have spent a long time silent as I processed through all of the muck I had to get through to get here. Now that I am on some sort of solid ground again, I want to share my experience of leaving the Evangelical church.
Let’s go back to 2011, I had just had a baby, I was on a personal journey to find out who I really was. I knew that to teach my kid how to be authentic, I probably should get some experience in the matter. It was then that I began questioning my ability to live an authentic life inside the walls of an American Evangelical church. The longer I was in the evangelical church, the more fake I felt. It is so heart breaking to look back on past journals. I wanted to live an authentic and happy life so badly, and thought that Jesus was the only way to do that (did you say something about brainwashing?). Instead, I was dealing with the desire to end my life because I would never be able to be happy the way my life was. To everyone else I appeared really happy and had a wonderful husband who was really attractive; he was in the ministry, we were involved at really innovative churches, I had a somewhat successful blog, had a large group of friends, we were expecting a baby and were living the evangelical dream.
On paper, I should have been happy, I should have been fulfilled, I should have felt loved.
Yet I was incredibly unhappy with everything inside.
I was convinced that the only way to start living a more authentic life was to find a way out from the culture and lifestyle that the Evangelical church encouraged.
I’ve always said that my experiences in the Evangelical church were more extreme than most peoples, but the longer I’ve been away from it, the more stories I get to hear, and those stories are starting to change my mind. They’re reinforcing that there are some really unhealthy aspects to what the Evangelical church encourages.
The Evangelical church experience I had was manipulative and controlling. I think the manipulation and control in the church goes unnoticed a lot of the time because the good the churches are doing in their local communities outweighs the things that happen behind closed doors and in private leadership meetings.
Mars Hill, in Seattle, WA, under the leadership of Mark Driscoll, was the most recent and most public display of pastoral and church culture abuse. There are horrific stories told of the shaming and abusive things that happened behind closed doors at his church, yet Mark Driscoll and his wife will be at the Hillsong Conference, an international conference for church leaders.
Speaking from experience, having been around some of the mega churches that draw thousands every week, I find that their teachings are ones that slowly manipulate you into becoming more and more entrenched in the evangelical culture. I saw things happen that I couldn’t stand for, and at times I was subject to some of them, but while you are in it, it is nearly impossible to speak out against those leaders.
While it was happening I didn’t want to invalidate or call in to question all the good that is done in the communities and the personal lives of the people that are impacted in incredibly positive ways. I had an awe and reverence for God and how powerful He is, but behind closed doors, I saw people torn down and shamed by the same people that lead me in to the Presence of God and were the catalyst for, what at the time, I saw as a positive life change for me.
It took me almost 4 years after I left the Evangelical church to be able to look at some of my religious experiences and call them abusive.
It’s a lesson that has taken me years to learn and it’s finally starting to sink in.
Abuse is abuse.
After years of manipulation and constantly being told that I was broken and in need of repair, that even on my best day God isn’t pleased with me, after 10 years of that, I finally got worn out and left the church.
I spent over 10 years praying, fasting and doing everything the leadership told me to do with no avail. I started to feel like I was actually broken and that nothing could fix me, not even Jesus.
My experience is a shared experience with many other people who have been displaced and questioning everything after experiencing the abusive ways of the Evangelical church. This isn’t wonderful news, but it seems to be a somewhat chronic problem that needs to be addressed and sadly, we, the ones on the outside of the church can’t fix it. It is an issue that needs to be addressed inside the walls of the church.
Honestly, my main goal is to start a dialogue between those of us who have left the Evangelical church and feel like it was an abusive experience and the leaders of the Evangelical church. Right now the tone is a lot of “us vs. them” and that never serves anyone. It only puts both side on the offense and leads to heated discussions and hurt feelings, which is not my intention at all.
I don’t share my experience to throw the Evangelical church under the bus, but more to offer my story to those who have been manipulated and feel alone and abused, as I did. I offer my story to those who are leaving the Evangelical church and fear what might happen if they do, including the friends and family they will lose by leaving.
Having left the Evangelical church I know it can scary, I know you might lose friends and people may talk about you and it will likely hurt, but it gets better. Just because you leave a specific church or denomination doesn’t mean you have to leave Jesus. He’s a pretty cool guy.
If you’re still inside the walls of the Evangelical church and want to start a dialogue and learn about my experience use the “contact me” page of my website, I would be happy to talk with you.
There is hope. Sometimes looking out for yourself is scary. But you can do it. You only have one life to live and it isn’t a long one, it’s worth being happy. I can promise you that.
As of today I am unemployed. I do not have a steady stream of income coming in.
And yes dad, It is scary as hell.
For the first time in my adulthood I don’t have a job. I’ve always had a job, and at times when I was transitioning jobs I would often overlap employment. Now, at 29 with two wee ones to care for I don’t have a job.
For the first time in my life I am trying to find my way on my path alone. I thankfully have really supportive partners who are willing to have my back and let me explore who I am, and what has made me who I am and what makes me passionate to get up in the morning.
I am coming out of a really intense season of transition and change. In the last 4 years I have had 2 kids, ended my marriage, walked away from the abusive churches I had been a part of, came out as queer, started a wonderful partnership, found my chosen family, lost my mom unexpectedly, found myself in a job where I constantly felt in over my head and fully accepted what it meant for me to have PTSD. That is a lot of shit.
I need to take the time now to make small changes and heal from my wounds so when it is time for me to break from my cocoon I know that I will have taken the time to be the best butterfly I can become.
For the first time in my life I am listening to my body and my gut. It is saying I need to dig in and do the emotional hard work so I can move forward in my life with resolution and focus.
One of the things that was said most often during the intense workouts was “You can pay now or you can pay later!” No matter what you’re going to have to do the work, but you get to choose when you do the work. You can put it off as long as you want, but you might miss out on some really great things if you’re not able to jump in with both feet when the time arrives.
It is a lesson that has stayed with me. I am going to have to do the work…I am a human. I can push it off or I can jump right in so I am ready when the time comes.
As I embark on this journey of doing the really hard work and intentionally removing aspects of my life that were no longer serving me so I can shift my priorities to match my goals. I plan on spending a lot of time following my gut and doing the things that bring me happiness and passion.
It is a trite lesson, but one that became obvious to me when my mom unexpectedly died last year, at 58. We have one life. And we don’t know when it will be over. Why not be the most authentic you and do what you need to do to feel passionate and happy?
I wrote the date today. It is 4/2/14. 2 months after your heart stopped beating and your lungs quit drawing breath.
When I wrote the date I took a deep breath and remembered when I picked up the phone early on that February morning. I knew when I saw Michaels name on the caller id I would be receiving bad news. Why would he call at 6 am? 6:03 to be exact. I heard sobbing and his scared little voice tell me that you died as he burst back in to tears. I don’t recall much in the next few minutes except a sinking ache on my stomach.
An ache that reminded me how I wanted to call you. How I wanted you to be ok. How I wanted to know that you were at your apartment on Vindicator Dr breathing. But you weren’t. You had left us.
Your beautiful soul was too great for this world to contain any longer so you had to leave. And you did.
And I miss you. 2 months and I wish you could come back and see me. See the kids running and playing. India, trying to eat worms. You would like her. And she would like you.
These moments. The ones where you are still. And peaceful. When I can smell the top of your head. I can smell the mixture of adventure, passion, sweat and love as you sink in to me and fall asleep.
It doesn’t happen as often now that you’re getting older. But I enjoy it just as much. It reminds me why I’m making the hard choices to live a life of integrity now.
You. You were the spark in that fire. For you to be the best Print I had to be the best me.
It is in those moments that I am reminded of at. As I smell your sweet scent and feel your soft skin and listen to your breathing. I soak it in as a reminder and a recharge to say that I am doing the right thing. That I’m on the right path.
You have permission to process in the public. You have the permission to air all of the dirty laundry, the flaws, the hurts and every thing you hid for years. You have permission to be in the light. As the sun rises and softly lights each thing in the world you have the permission to let your voice rise and share all of the dark and hidden things that have been in hiding. It is time for you to open the dark spaces and let light in. You have permission to take the messy out and try and make some sense of order within it.
You have permission to hurt and to bleed on the pages of this blog. You have permission to say fuck off to anyone that is aggressive or is scared of your process. You have permission to hurt and to share your side of the story knowing that everyone has their own side but you are not responsible for it. You are only responsible for having integrity and owning your experience, your life and your voice.
Your experience was real. It is real. You have the permission to embrace the beauty, messy and every little thing that can come with all of that.
For so long you operated under someone elses voice. You became a poster child for a church, for a faith, for a religion that you didn’t always agree with. There were basic parts that you attached to, and still do, but for a big portion of your time in fundamentalism you took on the voice you knew you needed to. You had influence. You were a leader and you let yourself say what needed to be said, and not what should have been said.
You have permission to accept all that is within you. Your voice. Not the voice of christians. Not the voice of the LGBTQ community. Not the voice of your employer. Not the voice of a young mom. None of those titles are on you. You are Lynse Leanne. Simple and raw. Whatever muse or whatever side of you that comes out is valid. Listen to that voice. Hear it out and run with it.
You have permission for this space to be for you. For what you need to share.
My mom passed away February 2nd, 2014. It was somewhat sudden. This is a list of things I wish I could tell her now that almost 2 months has passed by.
India learned to walk the day you passed. I like to think that you helped her.
She is a lot like you. She looks like you. Especially when she smiles. And that makes me smile.
I’m mad at you for not taking care of you.
I’m mad at you for not sharing how bad things really were.
I’m sad that you never loved yourself.
I’m sad that you never saw all of the beautiful and wonderful people around who love(d) you and would move mountains to see you again.
I’m sad you will never get to see your grand kids do amazing things.
I’m sad I’ll never get to send you first day of school pictures, graduation announcements, wedding invitations and birth announcements. You’ll miss it all.
I’m sad you’ll never get to see Mike (my brother) well. One day he will be ok and get married and have kids. You’ll miss that too.
I’m sorry I wasn’t around more.
I’m sorry I didn’t see how bad it was.
I’m sorry you felt like, at times, that I cut you out of my life.
I’m sorry I didn’t grow up sooner and realize how amazing, wise and beautiful you are.
I’m sorry I wasn’t there for the sacred moment that your spirit left your body and became free. I wish I was.
I’m sorry you were scared at that moment.
I hope you found the peace you could never find here.
I hope your mom sees you and see how many people really loved you.
I hope she sees you. The radiant you. The smile that India has that lights up a room.
I hope she sees the you that enjoyed driving until you were lost so you could learn how to find your way out. The you that loved every person you encountered so you could learn how you could help them.
I hope she sees how you are loved and how madly you were, and are loved.
I miss you.
I miss getting to call you and chatting.
I miss you asking about the kids and what Print was up to and if India had learned more words.
I am a LGBTQ Christian. Yes, those exist. I am in my late 20’s and since my teens I “served God.” I went to the big youth group, I memorized scripture, I even did the intense after high school internship for two years so I could be deemed a leader. Something I was already, but hadn’t realized it yet.
I had been told all of those years that I was wrong. That my same sex attraction “issues” were just that. I tried to pray the gay away for over 10 years. Each January it would be my focus for a 21 day fast and every morning I would beg God to take the struggle from me. Leaders would pray over me and anoint me with oil. They would break generational curses and cast demons out. And each day I would still have those feelings and desires. I did the “right thing” by being in therapy. Working on my past abuse. Renewing my mind with memorized scripture. But nothing changed.
I got married thinking it would make it better, or change me. I loved Chad and still love him a lot. He is a fun person with a great sense of humor and we make damn adorable kids. He knew early on that I struggled with same gender attraction, but I was getting the help we saw fit.
Once I had Print, my first little, I struggled even deeper with my sexuality. In the mix of postpartum hormones and the new life of a new baby I questioned more and more. I wanted to live a genuine life so my kids could do the same. I knew that if I was unhappy or being fake my kids would know. I struggled a lot with what it meant for my family, Chad, my kids and me. Around the time I found out I was pregnant with India, my second, I had come to the conclusion that I was a lesbian.
My daily life was hard. I had felt fake. No matter what I did to try and feel genuine I could never fully feel like me. I got to the point that I didn’t want to be around any more. I wondered if my sexuality was because I had some pretty severe sexual trauma in my childhood/teenage years or if I was really just gay.
I remember the moment vividly. I was in my therapists office and I asked that question. The point of me seeking out therapy and my sole goal was “to figure out if I was gay”. We were chatting and I said “I just need to figure out if I’m gay because of my abuse or because I’m gay.” Her response was one that flipped a switch for me. She simply responded with “Why does it matter? If you’re wanting to live an authentic life full of integrity they why doesn’t matter as much as just being true to you.”
It was the moment that gave me the confidence to no longer question who I was. I could accept myself and love myself for me and not question my reasons. It was powerful. It was empowering. It was raw. It was hard.
So here I am, on the other side of a journey that has taken years. A journey that I believe started the second I walked in to a church with the attempt of being accepted for who I am. A journey that started with the goal of living a life of integrity. It may not look like most evangelical lives, but I am living with more integrity, honesty and vulnerability then I have ever imagined.
The note she left amidst all of the things she had kept simply said:
I love you guys. Love mom.
The “I” was not fully written. It was simply scratched in. I speculate that maybe she knew that with each breath she was taking through that cold February night she was moving closer to her last. I wonder, if for her the etched “I” was enough to get her point across. Maybe she knew that if she fumbled for too long to get that one simple letter out she would run out of time to share the message.
Her last and lasting statement for us to hold. Even though she was never confident that she was actually ever loved by anyone that she loved us enough to give us a tangible reminder that she loved us. That she loves us.