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Why I left The Church

Updated: Mar 23

What if leaving my faith had nothing to do with someone hurting me?

Feel like a strange question?  Well, this week I’ve had multiple people contact me directly and indirectly curious about my spiritual well-being.  They have all had the same concern…someone must have really hurt me for me to leave the faith.

I think it's time to address this perception and assumption.

As much as I want to believe that these curiosities come from genuine care for me, I have not heard from some of them for years.  Some have been only a few years and others have been 25+ years. There is one that I am deeply fond of and will respect until the day I die. I know that I am loved by him. I hope you know who you are if you're reading this. Your prayer for me on surgery day is the most spiritual thing I've known in my life and I'm forever grateful you were there with me.

For the others...I really want to feel loved in this curiosity but I struggle with it. This is not a new conversation I am having and these are not relationships (except one) vested in my well-being in any other facet of my life.  This is tough for me because I really want to give them the benefit of the doubt.  So I am going to see this instead as a pattern of thought within the evangelical Christian faith in regards to those of us who are leaving the church and/or belief system...not as lack of sincere care for me.

I am left to wonder about the reasons my public conversations about deconstruction and religious programming are causing sudden care and concern. I think it speaks volumes to the core issues that caused me to leave the church in the first place. I want to do this in a way that is transferable to programming beyond religion. My heart is that we live lives that are free to choose what we believe about all of the things…not just god. So, here's why I left the church.

Let’s start with hurt.

Yes. I’ve been hurt. But I’ve been hurt inside and outside of the church. Some of my deepest hurts are from those closest to me AND I’ve kept them close to me.  Hurt is not a reason I use to leave a relationship or community.  Hurt is part of the human experience, whether we want it to be or not. To be human is to know pain. There is no doubt that we will suffer pain in varying degrees. I have never known the kind of pain one has from sexual abuse, for example. I have loved ones who have and it breaks my heart…there is pain for me…but not as they know it. I fully recognize that some of us have depths of suffering that are simply unimaginable.  

The pain I have known is through death of loved ones, divorces, losses, failures, emotional abuse, betrayals, illnesses, and more.  Most of us will find intersections with each other simply by the type of pain we have experienced. Pain often connects us to each other. Pain can also disconnect us…and sometimes it really should.

But here’s the thing with pain. It doesn’t always take us out of the game. And for me, it rarely does. For me, pain and hurt is often a challenge to figure something out that I don’t understand. I ask why it’s here and how can it go away.

Even more than that, I’m not the kind of person who lets pain win. I’ve trained for endurance sports a good portion of my adult life and if pain stood in my way, I would never get past the first 3 miles. I would never finish a marathon. In fact, as I learned to heal my body after my brain surgeries, one thing became very evident. I was very used to NOT listening to pain. I had trained myself to ignore it and push through. Pain is not a reason for me to quit. And I know that I am not the only human like this.

So I think the idea that “someone must have really hurt you” is a short-sided assumption of the deconstruction experience. It assumes that I have responded to hurt without thinking. I have no issue with giving credit to those who have hurt me or others in the church but it's not my primary reason for leaving.

There is a growing conversation around Spiritual Trauma that both the religious communities and the academic and therapeutic communities are having. Spiritual abuse and trauma is being recognized as a real thing with real symptoms and real causes.  It took a long time for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) to become a valid diagnosis in the physciatric world. It will take time to continue unfolding spiritual trauma as well. But here is what we do know. Trauma inside religious communities does happen and has a unique layer of damage due to the spiritual component.  This will be a conversation I will have more of in the future.

For this blog, though, I want to recognize the resiliency of those of us who have chosen to leave the church. Pain might have been part of our story, but really, it was just the thing that told us to pay attention to what was causing it. I chose to pay attention.

I had many things happen inside the church community that I would say were hurtful and even outright wrong or abusive. But they didn’t cause me to leave. 

It was my questions that led me out the doors.

I questioned why God’s love was limited to a few.

I questioned why some could teach and some couldn’t.

I questioned why the God who created love could also choose not to love all of us.

I questioned why I was born broken and sinful.

I questioned why God could only accept me through a blood sacrifice.

I questioned why women were to submit to patriarchal leadership.

I questioned why love didn’t win.

I questioned why the God of love sent people to hell or a lake of eternal fire.

I questioned why if God made us he also needed to save us.

I questioned timelines.

I questioned interpretations.

I questioned what was cultural and what was Divine.

I questioned suffering and pain allowed by a God who said he loved us.

I questioned saviorism, missions, and evangelism.

I questioned white privilege and racism.

I questioned gender equality and roles.

I questioned purity culture before and after marriage.

I questioned the purpose and validity of the writings held inside the Bible. 

I questioned why people who didn’t believe in God knew how to love really well.

I questioned the definitions of words and why we used them the way did in Christianity.

I questioned why I was supposed to want eternal life on Golden Streets.

I questioned why children were molested while an omnipresent god knew and watched.

I questioned the inability of God to actually be God.

I know that there are universities dedicated to the depths of these questions with a wide spectrum of answers and interpretations. But I think what really struck me in my search for answers is that the answers were all limited by the humans themselves. We could only answer as far as we could know.

I was not satisfied with “only god knows and we will know one day when we die”. It was a small answer to my big questions.

As I journeyed through my faith deconstruction (the critical evaluation of my theology and beliefs), I realized that it was in the very questions I was asking that I found the answer to the human pain and spiritual trauma problem.

This system of beliefs created and fostered a culture and environment that made it inevitable. The belief system itself was founded on the fear of hell and the wrath of God. We were motivated by shame (behavior modification). And we were given a hierarchy that resulted in judgment and control. 

This exodus of humans from the evangelical church is not really about pain. It’s about a systemic failure in the beliefs themselves. Pain was just the result…the fruit of its labor.

I have ventured deeply into human neurology regarding how our beliefs and values are formed and kept. I have wanted to understand how we embrace what we do and why we do it. I have also left my soul open to the Divine should they want me to find them. I am a very spiritual person but not for the reasons Christianity said I was. I am a spiritual person because I am human. I can’t help it. To be human is to be spiritual. It’s like trying to remove the trunk from the leaves and still call it a tree. Christianity robbed me of that. It said that I was empty, evil, and absent of spirituality without being saved by God through the blood of Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  This is simply one way humans have described the vast experience of being human. Just one. For me, it was the most confining way.

It was the smallest box for my human experience. 

My programming from the beliefs and culture of evangelical Christianity limited my human experience. It couldn’t contain my questions or my love. It didn’t offer me equality and it fostered a sense of privilege and exclusivity. It encouraged me to see everyone and everything through a lens of agenda and saviorism. It gave me a purpose for eternity without a value for the present. It said I was intrinsically bad and propelled me to a life of behavior modification under the illusion of grace and mercy. It gave me perimeters for love and limited my worldview. I devalued myself and told myself I was never good enough. It taught me that I needed to be saved from my very self.

And THAT…that was the greatest trauma of all. I lost who I was to a system that taught me that true spirituality was making myself as small as possible. I disappeared. There was nothing left of me. I was only my beliefs. 

I think the shock that many have about my departure from my faith is that I had been all in. I am not the one you expected to see leave the faith. My whole life was lived for God. 

I wonder if they are afraid of what this means for them.

It's hard to understand something we don't understand. The value one has about something effects how they will see the world. If they value something very high, its less likely they will be open to another way of thinking, or to another value. We actually filter out what doesn't agree with our values. This essentially makes it hard for us to be "open minded" to another person's opinions, values and beliefs. We are preserving our own. And when that value is so high on our list, it creates a sense of threat to see someone not hold to the same value. For this reason, I truly appreciate those who reach out and ask me questions. My hope is that they authentically want to understand and aren't just trying to save my soul...again.

My dedication to my faith would have been viewed as unwavering by most. Including me. I just struggled to see a good God inside the belief system anymore. For a long time, I clung to the teachings of Jesus because it was the "good" that I could find. It was justice and love and life. I had a few teachers and mentors who I still refer to in my thoughts, values and beliefs. I just think the systemic beliefs of the American Evangelical Christianity lost sight of who God was… so I left the system to go find the Divine.

I follow love.

I believe things are grander and bigger than than what sits inside the "good book". I believe there is more and that we are ALL a part of it. I believe that humans are the greatest GOOD expression of the Divine. And I believe that anything that leads with fear, shame, and guilt is not of a Good God. I heard it said once (I think it was Rob Bell) "well, I wouldn't believe in that god either." That has stuck with me as I stay curious about life.

This is my journey. It doesn’t have to be yours. But assuming it's about something that it's not, devalues the work I have done to arrive at this moment. It says that I don’t know what is best for me. It says that I am just angry or bitter or broken. I am not these things. I am not even anti-God and I wouldn't call myself an atheist...yet. But I am impassioned to call out systems that hurt us as humans and co inhibitors of this planet. And American Evangelical Christianity needs more than deconstruction. It needs a complete overhaul. The carnage is grave. The reason why I left the church...I became a curious, critical thinker who wanted to love more and live bigger!

Liberate your programming and you liberate your life.

girl on the beach arms spread wide in freedom
Get Curious. Get Brave. Get Free.

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