Why Should I Want to Come Back?

It’s been about a week since I learned that a dear friend of mine was leaving an abusive marriage. Her note said that her husband (a recovering drug addict) had relapsed and been hurting her for about two months now. It all came to a head, she said, when he beat her so badly she had sprained body parts, bruises and likely a concussion. They had been married for only four months, and now she was being whisked to safety by her family and filing protective orders against him. She is, as you might imagine, heartbroken and in shock. We live on opposite sides of the country, but I’ve assured her that if I could ride in on a horse and wield a sword, I would avenge her in any way possible. Life such as it is, I’m sending all my love to her family who fled to her side and made sure she is safe now. 

The thing is, after learning about what she'd been through, a slow fury began forming in my belly. It was deep, smoldering—a strong fire, stirring so many thoughts and feelings, that I began to dissociate while my husband and I traveled down the road on our way to a movie one night.

I blurted out a million curse words, lobbing questions about her church, his preying upon a wonderful person, how they shouldn’t have given him a “free” pass just because he had prayed some sinner’s prayer and attended Bible study for a few months.

I began grasping for ways that the “right” Christian group could have kept her safe. But I could sense my sweet husband was quickly becoming overwhelmed by my mounting levels of rage. So I performed some on-the-spot EMDR and brought my mind back to a safe place.

In the days following, I have been anything but chill.

I have been stirred.

I have had good days and quiet days.

Up and down days.

And I have been reeling with more questions.

I have been looking at the pine trees around our house and asking them, “What should I do? How do I respond?” They just stand there, tall, brave and give me shelter. They don’t say much, kind of like me. In fact, that’s pretty much how I’ve been since I walked away from evangelicalism: I have been mostly quiet, mostly secretive and mostly focused on providing others shelter. Inevitably, without my trying, people come across my path who end up being scorched to the ground, into a heap of figurative and literal ashes, and the Evangelical Christian church is almost always among the perpetrators.

That silence ends today.

I have spent more than 15 years mending myself from the torment of the Evangelical Christian church in America. I have not been the person who saw the torment and abuse from afar—I’ve taken the blows to my face and held the weeping in my lap.

They are not only mentally and physically weary, but they are spiritually obliterated. Trying to find a way to discover a sense of self confidence that their church never gave them a chance to have. Trying to figure out how to find jobs and friends now that they’ve been kicked out by church leadership. They are searching for assurance that they aren’t going to hell just for disagreeing with a minister. They are begging for some sense of inner stability that was only ever filled by a strong and persuasive cycle of control, shame, control, repeat.

These dead bodies keep coming across my path, and I don’t know what else to do but to say:

I WILL NEVER COME BACK TO CHURCH AGAIN.

I want nothing more than to push every Christian leader to the ground. To scream at the top of my lungs, “THEIR BLOOD IS ON YOUR HANDS! THE DESTRUCTION OF THEIR LIFE, THEIR SELF WORTH, THEIR SECURITY, THEIR CONFIDENCE – YOU HAVE RUINED PEOPLE, AND YOU DO NOT CARE!”

And when I say they do not care, I mean it.

The Evangelical Churches I was part of have a very convenient way of perpetuating this history of violence and control. They see a bleeding person on the side of the road, they look in their Bibles and say, “Well, we followed all the Bible instructs us to do. We gave them a chance to repent. We offered them a path to reconciliation. It’s too bad they chose not to follow the instructions.” And then they roll up their sleeves and start looking for the next person who’s eager to feel a sense of belonging and community at any cost. And how do I know this? Let me tell you …

Why I Left the Church

My sophomore year of college, I was standing on a parking garage on the Baylor University campus. I had been feeling uncomfortable with the way my “accountability partner” had been automatically transferred to me without my consent. And so I came back to college a bit apprehensive about being forced to confess my sins and struggles with a stranger. Perhaps that’s what started my “deconstruction,” but I know what definitely sealed it.

The college pastor was standing on a platform, looking out on us, the group of college leaders who were in town early to “help” the incoming class of freshmen. He began praying loudly, fiercely, talking about how we must be aggressive in showing these students the way. He said a bunch of other things, but all I saw was a man instructing me to hunt freshmen like prey.

I recoiled. I felt sick to my stomach. And for the first time in my life, I didn’t do what a church leader told me to do. He wanted us all to get on our knees and pray for revival. And I indignantly stayed standing. I folded my arms and I began yelling in my mind. That was the beginning of the unraveling.

On top of that, my education was struggling. I was entering my journalism courses, and I knew I couldn’t keep attending Sunday morning services, teaching 2-year-old Sunday School, attending Wednesday night leadership meetings and church services, planning and attending the weekly “Life Group” I co-led as well as attending Early Morning Prayer every Friday. Something had to give, and the leaders did NOT like that. My “accountability partner” told me I wasn’t seeing her vision for my life, and that I wasn’t hearing God clearly. She threatened me, saying that I wouldn’t be allowed to see the girls I was friends with (“discipling”) if I wasn’t under her authority. And she wasn’t kidding.

I lost my entire support group seemingly overnight. The “sinful” students who I was taught to evangelize became the ones who took me to the hospital with chest pains, who helped me when I fell over while running on a trail. It was the most stressful season of my life, that is, until my home church uncovered that the pastor had been “investing” members’ 401Ks and had “lost” all their money. He skipped town amid swirling accusations of abuse, money laundering and more. Ugh. That story is for ANOTHER DAY, PEOPLE. But I’ll tell you what is here right now …

The Rage Is Here To Stay

I have sooooooo much more street cred on this issue. I have loooooong avoided being labeled as the person who was hurt by Christians. I have tried AD NAUSEUM to reconcile with the church; I even converted to Roman Catholicism to try to put a safe, more balanced structure around my faith and life. But the fact of the matter is:

 These dead bodies keep floating up on my doorstep, and I can’t look away anymore.

I am angry. I am indignant. I am, above all, DONE. I am done with hearing nice, tidy Christians shrug their shoulders and say, “There’s nothing we could do about it.”

Fucking BULLSHIT. 

I am DONE hearing nice, tidy, celebrity Christians eerily paint “repentance” as a path to being accepted into leadership. You are controlling people to appease your own insecurities, and I am done with it.

In my life, I have been privy to faaaaaaaar too many conversations and events WITH THE ACTUAL LEADERS THEMSELVES to turn a blind eye. 

The Church in America is hiding bloody, dead bodies under its pews. And I swear to God, I will not step back inside until I’m given a damn good reason.

I know the Catholic Church gets a ton of shit for covering up the SICKENING EPIDEMIC of child abuse among its clergy. And it should keep getting shit for it. Forever. And ever. Keep bringing the dirt out, believe abuse survivors and get them the care they need. But here’s the tiny, one/100,000,000 of an ounce of credibility that they can lay claim to:

They repented. They sent monks into the desert whose ONLY FUCKING JOB is to beg God for mercy and forgiveness for the atrocities committed against innocent children. They are uprooting the perpetrators. They are defrocking. They aren’t doing it fast enough for my watch, and I will be the RAGE LADY who doesn’t let up. Clean out your pulpits now.

In contrast, what does the Evangelical Church do? It (1) blames the victim, saying they didn’t have enough/the right kind of faith; (2) it preaches on the very subject the victim experienced as a “warning” to not lose faith; and (3) it EXCUSES THE ABUSIVE LEADERS AND LETS THEM STAY IN POWER. Phew. Can you feel this? Can you see why after all I’ve been through and witnessed, that stepping back into ANY kind of church would feel like an act of betrayal? To me, going back to church sends a message to my abused friends, “Well, it wasn’t that bad… Maybe it’ll be better next time.” And I just can’t.

So despite laying claim to the title “Rage Lady,” here’s the weirdest, craziest thing. I STILL SEE GOD through the teachings of the Bible and the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. It is the most maddening part about this journey: I can’t just walk away and dismiss the entire premise as sheer idiocy. Because the fact of the matter is that I DO CARE.

Have you read about how rebellious and loving Jesus was? Do you have any idea how ANNOYED the disciples probably were that they had to admit that JESUS HUNG AROUND CHICKS? THAT WOMEN FOUND JESUS’ BODY BEFORE THEM? They could have easily edited those tidbits out, but they didn’t. I don’t know why they didn’t, considering everything else that male Christian leaders like to omit.

But here we are. Jesus stood up for the underprivileged, the minority and the female. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Today God is much, much bigger and more generous than when I was a “church leader.” God is closer, nearer and also further away. God is in other religions and it feels WARM to find God in surprising ways.

That’s what I deal with every day: I’ve discovered that the people who claim to know God best actually know God the least. And their actions give them away every damn day, even 15 years later.

Message for the Abused

I don’t want to close this rage blog on a low note, so I’ll share one final thing. This is my I AM HERE TO PREACH (even though I won’t go to church) moment.

I was checking in with my friend the other day, and I asked permission to share something about Mary, the Mother of God. I only ever want to share things that will uplift and comfort my friends. She gave me permission, and here’s what came out:

I was thinking about how Mary is called the Theotokos in Orthodoxy, which means “bearer of God.” It’s a very intentional name of reverence and one that distinguishes Orthodoxy from Catholicism. God chose the body of a woman to hold and grow his Chosen Son. The same body that you and I have today. The thought of that has often made me feel strong and empowered. That just as Jesus was beloved to God, a human such as Mary was beloved to God as well. And if I were to let out my super hippy dippy side, I think the power and blessing of God on the female species is what makes weak men so afraid, so threatened. 

The worth and dignity of the female human body was inarguably honored and cemented because God sent Salvation through the womb of a female. 

So here’s my message for all my friends out there:

YOU ARE THE BEARER OF GOD AND DON’T YOU FORGET IT.

You are made from the same material as the stars in the heavens, and that’s a scientific fact, so don’t try to fight me on it.

There is this thing called the cosmos that makes zero sense to me most of the time, but here I am, still trying to figure out how to be me, to find God, to find peace, to fight injustice, to laugh, to create more happiness and to sit with my suffering.

NONE of life makes sense, and if you ever talk to someone (PROBABLY AT CHURCH!) who says they have it figured out, go ahead and laugh in their face and run for your life cause they’re selling you something. 

I am FINISHED. I will not accept the label Christian anymore. I have always sensed a closeness to God, to the Divine, to Mary, to the communion of saints past, present and future. And I think there’s a reason for us to be here. But don’t count on me for church services or bullshit unpleasantries. Because until the Church starts pulling the dead bodies out from underneath its pews, there’s no way in hell I’m shaking blood-covered hands.

I mean, really, why the hell should anyone want to come inside?