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.