Exvangelical: Part 2 - Entering the Void
*Trigger Warning - Discussion about church, church abuse, and religious community rejection. For more context, read Part 1.
The deconstruction of my worldview was a double-sided coin. On one side there was a beautiful new way of seeing that I had previously closed myself off to. It was full of new ideas, people, and experiences. Like my son on his first trip to Disneyland, I ran through this new world with wide eyes and arms in the air. Everything was amazing. During this time I had the opportunities to travel abroad and, as Mark Twain brilliantly said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” My encounters with those on the margins fueled this burning sense that something needed to change; that I needed to change.
On the other side of that coin, the removal of an identity I carried for so long was painful, like picking at a scab.. Layer by layer, the sacred stones I had used to build my identity came crumbling down. Questioning the way of interacting with the world that I had known for so long left massive voids in my life. This was an identity and a culture I belonged to; a profession I planned my whole life around. I looked for new things to fill those voids; grasping on to anything that I thought would tell me who I was, and affirm that I was ok.
I was a mess.
I had no idea what I believed anymore, and all the while, I continued to try to lead a church. I continued to stand up on Sunday and sing “blessed assurance Jesus is mine” when I had no idea what that meant anymore. Even though I was a part of a loving community that embraced the complexities of faith, I was still torn and aching for a rest from it all. Even at home, communicating was challenge. It felt like trying to explain where I was going, but I was driving in the fog and without a map. I retreated into my head and during that time, my marriage suffered immensely. We eventually closed the doors to that church. I felt alone and in the dark, dealing with both personal and professional failure, and with a shifting view of God that for so long was what I leaned on. The reality that this new direction would alter everything I had built was overwhelming. What would I do for work? How was I going to function in the world? I was already beginning to feel my social life shift. Would that be flipped upside down too?
Only now do I realize that I was grieving. I grieved that I had been part of the problem.
I was homophobic. I held racist views (although I wouldn’t have recognized them as that). I was sexist. I advanced the patriarchy. Rarely did I ever consider the poor or marginalized peoples of the world. With every new and exciting discovery, there is also the pain that comes along with facing your past and owning ways that harmed both yourself and others.
Every day I think about those I’ve met over the years that I had a “spiritual” experience with. Bible study groups, kids I took to summer camp, Sunday church goers and the like. I genuinely loved these people. But I was so young and had such little experience in the world. I did what I thought every Christian was supposed to do and I battle a deep guilt over where I think it might have led some people. I wish I could sit down over a cup of coffee with every single one of them and share stories about the experiences that have shaped our faith. I wish I could look them in the eyes and tell them I am sorry. Sorry for giving what I wholeheartedly believed was gift, but in reality was a narrow view of both God and the beauty that is the world.
As I connected with others and began to expand my knowledge, I started to blog. I was openly asking questions about God, the church, and what I was beginning to understand about the American Empire—especially in relation to those on the margins. This exploration was met with fierce opposition. I was called all the typical names like “heretic,” “false-teacher,” and the like. Evangelical trolls regularly littered my comment sections with aggressive words of damnation and insult.
One large evangelical church in the area (which at the time I had just a few connections to) printed out a blog I wrote and passed it around a staff meeting to discuss. Keep in mind, I did not attend or work at this church! Eventually I was asked to not associate with any young people in their ministry. Many friends from my past have ghosted me and I’ve had my share of hate mail. While I have experienced marginalization by the church and christian people over the past ten years, I recognize that it pales in comparison to the type of pain inflicted on the LBGTQIA+ community. I speak about my experiences humbly knowing that my sexual orientation, skin color, and gender allowed me to escape harsher forms of excommunication.
My grief, however overwhelming, was always met with small glimmers of light. I began to find safe spaces to share my grief and faith experience with others on a similar path. I realized that not only was I not alone, but there was a deep groaning within the evangelical church that echoed my doubts and concerns. While many just kept their mouths shut (and still do) to keep the status quo alive, there were those who began to move out of the shadows and tell their stories...and I started to listen. As I did, it became clear that the evangelical church was no longer a place I could call home.
In the next piece, I’ll share the experiences and places that helped be work through my grief, heal, and begin to put the pieces of my life back together again.