Monday, June 4, 2018

Our Children ARE a Significant Reason We Haven't Returned to Church

This is kind of a continuation of a few conversations I have had since we left the church over a year ago. Generally, it is along these sorts of lines: “Not all Christians are like that.” “Stop dissing the Bride of Christ™.” “My church is great!” And, my all time [least] favorite: “Why are you depriving your kids of the experience.”

And my response is this:

Our children are a significant reason we are reluctant to go back.


Let me clarify a few things. I remain a committed Christian. I still believe. The problem is that I really don’t see Christ in the American church right now. And, although it pains me to say it, I find that, rather than helping my walk with God, church was hindering it and making me miserable in the process. Rather than giving encouragement in following Christ, I was finding that the church was pressuring me to abandon my beliefs in favor a political culture war.

I also am not saying that I will never go back to a church. Never is a long time. But I am not eager to do so, and I feel that in our current climate, doing so would require unacceptable compromises in the name of getting along. If I do go back in the future, though, I don’t think it can ever be to an Evangelical church. The trust is broken, and it isn’t coming back.

Also, since every time I speak out against the increasing toxicity of American religion, those who remain in the church feel defensive, let me say it again: no, not everyone in church is like this. There are good people there too. But a lot of people are devoted to a political faith, and the poison is in the water, so to speak. Also: lots and lots of good people in Mormon tabernacles - and in mosques and Hindu temples. Just saying.


My wife and I have been watching the ongoing suicide of Evangelicalism (and the American church in general) for a long time. Because we grew up in nutty, cultic subcultures, we saw the crazy before most ordinary churchgoers did. And we have watched, as she put it, the crazy become mainstream. From openly anti-Civil Rights (and sexual predator) Roy Moore to White Supremacist Steve Bannon. From viciously anti-gay Tony Perkins to deeply racist Bryan Fischer. Ideas too, from abusive child rearing practices (see the Pearls and the Ezzos) to Modesty Culture. From the endless obsession with female virginity to a delusional persecution complex. From outright rejection of science to conspiracy theories. From the economic policies of Ayn Rand to the racial policies of Milo Yiannapolous. (Oh yes, that’s real. I know several people from our former church - including leaders - who are big fans.) From the Cult of Domesticity to toxic masculinity. From gender essentialism, gender roles, and gender hierarchy to survivalism.  From virginity pledges and rings to macho man activities. Maybe I was unaware when I was a kid, but I don’t remember any of this being mainstream back then. Heck, even in the 1990s, when our respective families got involved in cult groups, we were the fringe people. Now, much of what we experienced in those far out groups is just another day in the pew.


Even before we left our longtime church (which had for a while been a haven from the craziness), we had some significant warning signs. And since we left, a number of additional things have happened that make us reluctant to go back. Some of these were specific to our situation, but others are more universal. Here are just a few that stand out:

● A sermon in which misogyny and feminism were presented as opposite evils. (The political, social, and economic equality of women is an evil?)
● The Christmas Wars™ becoming a focal point of our kids’ Sunday school every December.
● Frequent historical revisionism from the pulpit. This was generally of the hagiography of the past variety, but also the “everything good was done by our theological tradition” sort.
● Frequent references to “persecution is coming” from the pulpit.
● A seeming obsession with preaching against homosexuality - and at a time when open white supremacy was evident from people within the church - including leaders.
● A friend’s daughter being pressured (at a large local church) to make a virginity pledge - and this is very, very common. (Personally, I don’t think young teens - let alone tweens - have the capacity to enter into contracts. This is actually the law too. I think it is inappropriate to pressure children into making pledges they are too young to understand. Also, why virginity but not, say, greed?)
● Swag from a political lobby group (and recognized hate group) being distributed at church
● A leader at church pushing “be a real man” theology
● A guest preacher saying “When God comes to your door, he will ask to speak to the man of the house” from the pulpit, with no blowback from leadership.
● Our food pantry, which partnered with the local dialysis center was for all intents and purposes eliminated by leadership without input from those involved. It was deemed not to be a priority.
● At the same time, the establishment of a quasi-security-force group, which changed the vibe to one less welcoming. I cannot help but wonder if this was connected to the fact that some African American young men had started to attend.
● Some church leaders - including ones who taught our kids - posted stuff from openly White Supremacist jerk Milo Yiannopolous. And also openly social darwinist stuff like “we don’t feed the poor for the same reason we don’t feed squirrels in the national forests.”
● At a winter camp, a speaker pushing grossly sexist beliefs about men and women, making creepy remarks about how attractive his kids were (with them present), pushing sexist views of the marriage relationship, and more. My kids had to be deprogrammed by a friend (who was a chaperone) afterward, lest they think these were truly Christian beliefs.
● After said camp, the child of a friend deciding (s)he couldn’t be a Christian anymore because (s)he couldn’t live up to the demands the speaker said needed to be met.
● Open talk at church (not from the pulpit, but in the hallways) in favor of building a border wall and sending the Mexicans back.
● A sermon in which the line from Numbers, “Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.” was claimed to have been written by Moses. Say what? Even a kid can see that was added at some point by a scribe. Likewise, St. Jerome (who did most of the work translating the Vulgate, back in the 4th Century CE) understood that the Torah wasn’t written by Moses. It was just one example of the Bible-dolatry that tried to make scripture what it isn’t.
● My wife being ignored and marginalized when she filled a job viewed as “male” (sound tech.)
● A candidate for leader of children’s ministry spending an interview with my wife making it clear that she didn’t care what parents wanted, she was going to do what she wanted, particularly culture war stuff. And lied about it afterward. Oh, and also bragging about the intact condition of her daughter’s hymen (medically verified!) and saying it was her greatest accomplishment as a parent. And dissing Harry Potter. And saying she didn’t see the point in having missionaries talk to the kids. She wasn’t hired, but it was close. (We would have left then if she had.) Oh, and she was in the same position previously at a much larger church before that.
● A men’s retreat that feature the use of military-style weapons as an exercise in manliness. I’m a gun owner, but that still just feels wrong to me that weapons would be part of a spiritual retreat.But, manliness, yo.
● After we left, a leader at our former church was talking with a friend about the local women’s march, which my wife participated in. He said, and I am not making this up, “Some women just need to be smacked.”
● Another friend’s teens were taken aside by another church leader, and the girl informed that she shouldn’t be leading, but should defer to her brother, because God intended women to be submissive and take that role.
● A friend dyed her hair a lovely shade of blue, and a bunch of people at church stopped talking to her.
● A local megachurch held a big rally in support of a local business owner who violated California law by refusing to serve LGBTQ people. A friend who counterprotested this was insulted, threatened, and physically assaulted by the church members. Gaining the right to refuse to do business with LGBTQ people seems to be an obsession of the American church right now.
● My dad teaches a church history class at a local largish church. He has mentioned how much effort he puts into pushing back against the idea that Christianity is synonymous with (white) America. And trying to convince people that “love your neighbor” applies to immigrants and refugees and poor people and black people and so on. While I greatly admire his efforts as a missionary to the unregenerate, the fact that he has to spend effort fighting against ethno-nationalism in the church is a huge problem to me. That isn’t a place I want my kids.
● A local church held an official “service of mourning” after Obama was elected.
● In response to protests over police killings of unarmed African Americans, several local churches have held services with “Blue lives matter” type themes.
● A local pastor finally left the local high school board after years of pushing toxic stuff like creationism in science class, armed teachers, and - of course - no transgender people in the “wrong” bathrooms. (This is in violation of state law here in California - he was advocating open defiance of the law, just like Roy Moore.)
● A fellow professional musician was disinvited from the nursing home ministry she had served in for years (with her former church) because she was “caught” playing a professional Easter gig at another church. (Our former church - to their credit - was much better about this sort of thing. It’s too bad it went off the rails in other ways…)
● And that’s just the local stuff. I could also mention Steve Bannon speaking at the Values Voter Conference. (Yeah, the guy who recently said “They call you racists. Wear it as a badge of honor.” That guy.)
● I could mention 80% of white evangelicals voting for Roy Moore, despite credible accusations of child molestation against him.
● I could cite the poll showing that a solid majority white Evangelicals believe they are more persecuted than Muslims in our country. And more than racial minorities too.
● I could mention Jerry Falwell Jr.’s assertion that Trump is a “dream president for Evangelicals” and that one big reason was that he was building a border wall and evicting immigrants.
● I could mention that Russell Moore was nearly ousted from the SBC because he called out Trump’s racism.
● Or that the SBC was going to let a resolution condemning the “Alt-right” (a new euphemism for old fashioned White Supremacy) die in committee, until the most prominent African American member threatened to walk - and leave Evangelicalism altogether. Faced with likely becoming a whites-only denomination, they finally voted for the resolution. (Under duress, basically.)
● I could list the building of a multi-million dollar, high-tech gun range at one of the largest Christian universities - so that students will be prepared to fight of the inevitable Muslim invasion.
● Furthermore, in the midst of a push by the Trump administration to follow through on his campaign promise to ethnically cleanse America, a prominent and influential Evangelical organization decided that was the right time to come out with a document denying the existence of intersexuals and transgender persons, and asserting that you cannot be a “real” Christian if you don’t uncategorically condemn departures from “traditional” gender or sexuality. Basically a litmus test for the faith that would exclude me and many others from being accepted.
● The current political cause of much of the American church is over so-called “religious liberty,” meaning the rights of Christians to punish and control those who do not observe their sexual purity rules. That means denying employees birth control, refusing to serve LGBTQ people and single mothers, and refusing to obey the law as government employees.
● A trend (of which “9 Marks” is the best known example) toward the use of “church discipline” to enforce doctrinal purity and loyalty to leadership. And, along with this, the inclusion of beliefs about human sexuality, young earth creationism, abortion, and other issues that are at best non-essential (and really are mostly political issues) as core beliefs from which there can be no dissent.
● A never-ending series of sex scandals where church leaders who molest children or commit clergy sexual abuse are protected from prosecution, and the victims blamed.
● Ditto for domestic violence.
68% of white Evangelicals say we have no obligation to take in refugees. Worse, the polling on this has gotten worse over the last couple decades. Religion in America is becoming more, not less racist and xenophobic over time - in measurable ways. The trend is in the wrong direction.
● The Trump administration decides to start separating immigrant children from their parents indefinitely in an attempt to discourage them from seeking asylum, and this is met with deafening silence from most Evangelicals.
● Instead, they promote Franklin Graham’s political rally tour of our state - he’s literally working to get out the vote for Republicans, saying that “progressivism is another word for godlessness.”
●After a year of watching Trump consistently deport, harass, defame, and antagonize immigrants; after seeing the GOP come within a couple votes of ending healthcare for the poor and disabled; after it came out Trump paid off a porn star -- after ALL of the crap we have seen -- white Evangelicals approve of Trump with a 75% rating. They are by far his most loyal fans. It is safe to say that Trump is the truest expression of the moral values of Evangelicalism.

Basically, both before and after, there has been ample evidence that church culture is becoming ever more political, reactionary, and toxic. It isn’t just one church. It’s the whole system. What was once fringe right-wing lunacy is now mainstream.

It isn’t that everyone believes these things. And there are lots of good people in American Christianity. (Just like there are lots of great people in Mormon tabernacles. And in mosques.) But the increasingly toxic culture taints the experience, and makes it particularly difficult when you have kids and don’t want them to think this kind of evil is okay.

Here are my concerns:

1. Incompatible moral values. I have discovered that to a rather significant degree, I do not share the same values as a solid majority of American Evangelicals. Not the same political values. Not the same moral values. That’s a problem, because that means that putting my kids in church means that they will surrounded by people who will be undermining the values I wish to teach them. Not everyone, obviously. But an awful lot of them...and usually the people with power. 

2. Deprogramming. One of the most exhausting things about being part of a church the last couple of years before we left was the continual need to monitor and deprogram. Over and over. No matter what we said to leaders. And it was getting increasingly worse. In retrospect, we probably should have left sooner. But for a while, the good outweighed the bad...until it didn’t. And honestly, it would be the same pretty much anywhere else, because the political and cultural beliefs are widespread. We are so tired of fighting this fight, and realize we are never going to win it.

3. Recruitment into the culture wars. This is related to the above concern. We have, over, and over, and over, objected strenuously to the culture wars and to their being brought into Sunday school. We have mostly gotten a pat on the head, followed by our wishes being completely ignored. And this is the same pretty much throughout American Christianity. As social justice causes became passe (due to the need to justify slavery and Jim Crow), and with the founding of the Religious Right (on a pro-segregation platform - I am going to keep saying this until people start listening…), the political culture wars are pretty much the only way that white middle class Christians in this country interact with those outside the tribe. Certainly, within Evangelicalism, there will be NO escape from this. (And that means most protestant churches in our town.)

4. Historical Revisionism. This was also becoming an increasing concern as the kids got older. Particularly since church leadership types tend to live in their own intellectual bubble, getting news from Fox (or, gag, Breitbart), and seemingly everything else from approved “christian” sources. Groupthink is a problem with any group, but there doesn’t seem to be any openness to facts that threaten the theological or political beliefs. In particular, the revisionism was a problem when it came to the places that race and religion intersect. It was more important to maintain the image of Christianity as a force for good at all times (and the Republican party as righteous - unlike those godless commie Democrats - too) than to admit and wrestle with the dark things in our history. And our present. The thing is, my kids aren’t stupid. They read, they listen, and they notice lies.

5. Alternative facts and reality. On a related note, there is a growing problem of acceptance of “alternative facts.” As Peter Enns puts it:

Theological needs – better, perceived theological needs – do not determine historical truth. Evangelicals do not tolerate such self-referential logic from defenders of other faiths, and they should not tolerate it in themselves.

And this goes for so many things. The perceived needs of theology - and politics - bulldoze any possible consideration that might challenge those beliefs. So if theology says we are persecuted, well then we are! And if we have to make stuff up to prove it, we will. If we have to persecute others and claim we are persecuted when those outside the bubble call us on it, then do it, right? I’ve written before about the poison of Presuppositionalism and how it creates an alternative version of reality where everyone else is by definition wrong. BTW, I wrote the following before we left the church, and it is spookily prescient:

“Right now, I have my doubts that unless some fundamental changes occur, it will not remain possible for a person to be part of Evangelicalism and still be intellectually honest or morally and ethically decent. Such people will be increasingly purged in the name of doctrinal purity.”

We are part of that group purged in the name of doctrinal (and political) purity. We were forced out. There is no longer a place for people like me in Evangelicalism. On a related note, I find that anymore, I don’t share a common experience of reality anymore. Since I can’t believe Fox News’ fabricated (and xenophobic) reality, I can’t really have a discussion. We cannot agree on the basic facts of existence or how to find them.

6. Hostility toward science. This isn’t just about evolution - although it is about that. It is about human sexuality. It is about environmental conservation (proof positive that American Evangelicals largely get their ethics from Fox News, not from a consistent Christian ethic or the historical teachings of the church.) It is about social science. It is about the very existence of absolute truth that can be discovered. (Sorry. Evangelicals do NOT believe in absolute truth. They believe in absolute authority, which is a very different thing. A belief in absolute truth means that you change your opinions as you get better information. A belief in absolute authority means that you believe what your accepted authorities - and that includes leadership's preferred interpretation of scripture - say, in the very teeth of the evidence.) It is the same problem with perceived theological (and political) needs - they trump (pun intended) reality. Every time. I have real concerns about this when it comes to my kids. I am working to give them a solid grounding in science and math. I loved science as a kid, and I can say that one of my major struggles with faith as a young adult was due to finding out just how much the church lied to me about science. It was a tough pill to swallow. I don’t want my kids to grow up with the same problem.

7. Marginalization of women. Even within progressive denominations, church is a male-dominated affair. (Yeah, not all, but the overwhelming majority.) And within Evangelicalism, keeping women out of leadership is now a core doctrine, and has become an increasing obsession. Before we left, I did what I could to give women a platform within our worship teams. But, as the church culture changed, it seemed that there was a push to relegate women to the “pink collar” positions. I already mentioned one of my wife’s experiences. I grew increasingly concerned that church was the one place my daughters (and my wife) would be systematically excluded from the leadership positions that actually had decision-making power. Church was the one place they were viewed as “less than” men. This is rather a contradiction to the witness of the early church, where women were a majority, and respected as leaders. I know there are exceptions, but they are rather few.

8. Worrisomely bad response to sexual predators. It is bad enough that American Christians overwhelmingly voted for a serial sexual predator (Trump) and credibly accused child molester (Roy Moore.) But they continue to defend those two predatory men. Likewise, in my own experience and as demonstrated by a number of high-profile cases, if a sexual predator is a male church leader, he will be protected, the victims slandered and marginalized, and justice will not be done. As fellow OBCL alumnus Rachael Denhollander said, “Church is one of the least safe places to acknowledge abuse because the way it is counseled is, more often than not, damaging to the victim. There is an abhorrent lack of knowledge for the damage and devastation that sexual assault brings.” She is absolutely right, and, unsurprisingly, SGM (who engaged in a serious coverup of abuse), is now trying to destroy her reputation. One advantage we had at our former church in this area is that they did have a good policy - and also, we knew the people who would be leaders of our kids for years before our kids got to that age. With a new church, we would be placing them with strangers, essentially, and given what we have been through, I am not really comfortable with that.  

9. A pathological lack of empathy. This was the most horrifying part about the last couple of years. If you can’t find common ground on logic and reason, can’t agree on the basic facts of reality, how do you have a discussion? Once upon a time, like when I was a kid, you could at least start with empathy. But now, empathy for those outside the tribe has pretty much disappeared from American Christianity, replaced by social darwinism and tribalism. I don’t want my kids in that kind of environment. One the one hand, I don’t want them to become heartless and ruthless. On the other, I know that because they are compassionate and empathetic people, they will suffer. And as soon as they fail to conform, they will be torn to pieces in the name of God. (Just ask Russell Moore. Or Rachel Held Evans. Or Jen Hatmaker. Or John Pavlovitz. Or...the list goes on and on and on. You are useful to American Christianity only as long as you further the party line. Fail to do so, and you will be ruthlessly destroyed and disowned.)

10. It’s just politics. It has become more and more apparent that Christianity in America is mostly a thin veneer of religion over what is essentially a political movement. (Or movements.) Theology may trump reality - but politics always trumps theology. Party comes before the teachings of Christ - or even basic human decency. I can predict what at least 80% of Evangelicals believe about pretty much any political issue. Not by consulting scripture, Christ’s words, or the historical teachings of the church. Nope. All I need to do is check with Fox News. And it’s not just Evangelicals. I can likewise predict the beliefs of most “progressive” Christians by doing the reverse. (It’s not as uniform with progressives as for conservative Christians, but it’s still pretty striking.) And it isn’t so much the beliefs themselves as the fact that the beliefs seem to change in lock step with the change in the platforms of the parties - not with any meaningful change in the official theology. The last thing I want for my children is for them to have politics and religion inseparable in their minds. As it is, I am suffering loss of my church connection because I was unable and unwilling to change my morality to fit better with the racist/xenophobic/social darwinist direction the Republican party has chosen. I don’t want my children to see me sell my soul. (Heck, I don’t want to watch myself do it either.) Right now, I feel that political loyalty is the price of admission to the church club. It’s not one I am willing to pay.

11. I will never be accepted. Not really. If there has been one theme in my life experiences with church, it is that here in America, everyone is a resource. A source of money or labor or credibility. We don’t love people for who they are. In the church context, that means that you are only valuable for what you give. And only valuable as long as you further the agenda. Increasingly, certain beliefs - particularly in the areas of human sexuality and gender roles - have become a litmus test for full acceptance. Many churches say “all are welcome,” but this is mostly bullshit. You are welcome as long as you agree to change. You are welcome as long as you shut up when you disagree. You are welcome as long as you don’t rock the boat. Shut up, write that check, and give us your free labor. And when you are no longer lock-step with us, don’t let the door hit you on the way out. Right now, for a variety of reasons (which I may blog about in the future), I cannot in good conscience subscribe to the doctrinal statements of most churches. Particularly in this town. Because of this, I know I will never be truly welcome.

12. You will know a tree by its fruit. This to me is the ultimate deal-breaker. When I look at the Church, I see an institution which is decades behind the larger culture in recognizing the basic human rights of non-white, non-male persons. I see an institution which makes people less compassionate. The fruit I see is most certainly not what I want to see in my own life, or in the lives of my children. And let me be blunt: in 2016, white Evangelicals voted in a larger percentage for Donald Trump (running openly on a KKK platform) than for any presidential candidate in history. Actions speak louder than words. Actions indicate values more than theological statements. I have come to believe, like Chris Ladd, that the election of Trump was no anomaly. Trump is the truest expression of the moral character of the Evangelical Church in America.

I refuse to identify myself with that kind of “moral character.” I won’t place my children in that moral environment. Period.


Hey, want to change my mind? What I am looking for is kind of an old-fashioned Christian concept:


There are several components to this, as any good Evangelical kid can tell you.

1. A realization that one has sinned. I am still waiting for the vast majority of Evangelicals to wake up and say, “Oh my god! What have we done?”

2. A change in behavior. This would mean doing the opposite of what they have been doing. No more voting for racists. No more Ayn Rand economics. No more pathological lack of empathy.

3. Making amends. Without this one, it is just words. You all have caused tremendous damage to vulnerable people. (The poor, refugees, immigrants, minorities, LGBTQ people, women, children.) Time to attempt to repair that damage. Until I see that, it will be obvious that there is no repentance.

Until there is repentance, I’m done.


One of the facets of organized religion that can be great is the community. This is one thing I really do miss. But the thing is, I missed it before we left. Things changed. I have been thinking about it over the last year or so, and I think that the core issue is that fellowship requires being able to be real and open. If you have to hide who you are in order to maintain relationships, it isn’t fellowship at all.

I understand disagreement. And I understand avoiding politics, like we often do at family gatherings to preserve the peace. The problem comes when politics becomes so inseparable from religion that you can’t even talk about religion anymore. At church. If you can’t talk about religion at church, well, what the heck is it even about anymore?

For all intents and purposes, I could not talk about religion at church, because to talk about how the teachings of Christ compel us to love our neighbor was, by definition, political. It would, after all, indict the embrace of the politics of hatred and viciousness toward those outside the tribe which is now a core belief of Evangelicalism.

So, it isn’t really realistic to expect community and fellowship at church right now. The trust is gone, the illusion of common values is gone. Rather than being a source of connection, our (allegedly) common religion is a source of alienation.


Why not join a progressive church?

That may eventually be in the future. Or maybe not. I don’t know at this point. I’m not ready to date again after a bad breakup. But never is a very long time. Ten years ago, I would not have predicted I would be where I am either. So the future is, as Tom Petty sang, “wide open.”

I am to a degree hampered by geography. Bakersfield is a schizophrenic town. We have a good legal community, vibrant arts and music, and a growing educated class. But we also have poverty, high teen pregnancy rates, low average education, and a lot of people who love Truck Nutz and Confederate Battle Flags and AR-15s. And we have a VERY conservative and highly political church scene. A local pastor who was on the High School board of trustees stirred up controversy for over a decade with things such as trying to get “In God We Trust” in every classroom, eventually resigning in protest over the board agreeing to follow state law on transgender bathroom use. I already mentioned the LGBTQ discrimination issue. It’s a tough town for Christians who aren't Republicans - which means Trump now.

After we left, I spent some time with another former member of our church, who left after a rather passionate anti-gay sermon. (They have a gay son.) They too haven’t found a home. It’s not hard to see why. In a metropolitan area with half a million people, and a few hundred churches, I could count on one hand easily the number of Protestant churches that aren’t fundie, political, or both. And one of those is the Unitarian church. The rest are all pretty small. And no offense meant to the likely lovely people who go there, but they are overwhelmingly old and white. I realize this is a problem facing churches all over (and Evangelicalism is most definitely NOT immune to this trend.) But the idea that we can magically find some fellowship for our kids isn’t really true. There’s no great option here.

Related to that is that progressive churches also tend to be filled with people a lot like me: white, educated, professional class - just older and long time Democrats. You know, I like people like me. But religion should cut across demographic lines. Right now, it doesn’t, and I am very much feeling like religion in America is just politics by another name. I suspect that once it becomes clear I don’t toe the Democrat platform, I will be viewed with suspicion.

Another concern for me too is that progressive churches (at least in this town) have taken kind of a non-confrontational stance, which means they have been largely absent from public discourse. The counterweight to the hate and bigotry has come, not from religious, but from secular sources. It feels kind of like the churches that were quietly uncomfortable with slavery, but too fearful to actually risk pushing back.

A more personal issue for me (and other Evangelical ex-pats) is that a big denominational switch means learning an entirely new religious language and ritual. I don’t want to sound whiny here, but ritual is important to us humans, religious or not. And part of what holds us together in the hard times is the muscle memory of our observances. It isn’t that I can’t worship God in a new way, or that the form itself is that terribly important. It’s that part of the sense of belonging that comes with being part of a community is sharing a common - and familiar - ritual. To make a complete switch after 40 years is hard enough for anyone. For someone like me, who spent 30 of those years actively creating a part of those rituals (particularly music, but more than that - I was an active, participatory church member all my life), it is particularly disorienting. It is hard to feel so much of an outsider, and everything reminds me of the loss of something that was very important to me - a vital part of me, really. I was pretty decent at both CCM and traditional hymns, and I’m proud of the work and passion I brought to it. Alas, I doubt that will ever be part of my life again. After being stabbed in the back on the way out, I am extremely reluctant to take a visible role in a church again, even if I go back. It is like losing a limb. And then watching others run and play and not being able to be one of them. Not really. So I grieve. I didn’t choose this. I didn’t want this. But I am no longer welcome where I was, and I am unable and unwilling to sell my soul to fit in again.


Please read my comment policy. For this post, if you quote your favorite proof-text, or just want to lecture me, I will delete your comment. And no, not really interested in hearing how great your church is. I’m glad you found a place you fit.


Update June 5, 2018: I can't believe I forgot to link this song. In Southern culture (so Michael Stipe says), the phrase "Losing my religion" isn't a crisis of faith. It's when you are at the end of your rope and can't be polite anymore. This is actually a great description of where I am at and have been for the last two years or so. Maybe three. I'm still a Christian, and I am more inspired by the teachings and example of Jesus Christ than ever before. It is THAT which has led to my break with the organized church. And I'm tired of being polite and pretending that American Evangelicalism in particular is anything less than the polar opposite of Christ. It is, so to speak, anti-christ in pretty nearly every measurable way.

Take it away, R.E.M.



  1. Hey, much love and support from the wilds of Idaho. You and Amanda are doing great, and you're not alone.

  2. I hung on every word written in this blog. You speak for me, and for all of us who call BS on every toxic message spewing forth from the Evangelical pulpit. I do not miss going to church. I'm finally free to be the me our Creator meant me to be.

  3. One thing I've always admired about your posts is how thoughfully you seek out counterarguments and address them. So I won't tell you how great my church is. I hope you find a new spiritual home. And I hope you keep writing about it.

  4. (((((Swanson Family)))))

    An I am in the position of no longer believing in a deity that is paying attention to humanity, being appalled by the concept of substitutionary atonement, believing not at all in Heaven or Hell -- yet still being deeply, profoundly offended by the ugliness being perpetrated in Jesus' name. I cannot tell you why it bothers me so much, in the absence of a belief in the underlying theology, but it does.

  5. I so feel your pain. I get it. I had the opportunity to restart in a new town and a new church (actually my old church, as I was raised Episcopalian). I had to move 3000 miles across the country to find my spiritual home, and that was a privilege that most don’t have. I pray that you and your family find others that you can share Jesus with, probably without the trappings of church. I suspect that you and yours will be more likely to find Jesus in the eyes of the outcast. Blessings.

  6. Thank you for your post. My son has very little church experience for all the same reasons. Thank you for sharing yours in detail.
    After some years away from almost all fellowship, we've been checking out some local churches here in the Bay Area. It's been an interesting experience. We're currently visiting a small, humble Methodist church that reminds me a lot of the small Evangelical church I attended during high school, & which became my sending church during my missionary years...except this church is active in local social justice, especially supporting local muslims, & is minority white, & I mean I can count the white people, including us, on one hand. Also, I am fully accepted there as a queer person. It is still so, so hard to get up on a Sunday & go there. But if my partner & I are going to build authentic community, then we have to start meeting other followers of Christ, & I can tell that I let it go to long. I read this post recently, & it speaks to my long-term hopes for what church will look like to our family. Not trying to tell you what to do, lol, just thought you'd find Samantha Field's take on patriarchy insightful:

    1. Blessings, and I sincerely hope you find that community.

  7. I so appreciate how you thoroughly explain your side and give equal attention to counter arguments (ok, what Nemo said). My husband and I just moved our family to a decidedly rural southern area. On the one hand, I see it as an opportunity to love those I don’t identify with (baptist), although I don’t know how much contact we’ll have with a congregation on a weekly basis. When the church Facebook page includes a comic of someone asking Jesus, “what do you think about immigration?”, and Jesus’ reply is “remember, heaven has a wall, a gate, and a vetting system”-I can tell I won’t set foot there. I want to guard against self-righteousness and yet here we are smack in the middle of political, Righteous Right religion. It is discouraging and frustrating. My best to your family; I admire your and your wife’s thoughtful parenting and pray we can do the same.