Leaving church

We all know that American religion is quite fluid right now. Many people aren’t sticking with the church that they were baptized in, if they were baptized at all. There’s no real denominational loyalty. And people will drive a long way to find a church that they’re comfortable in.

It doesn’t bother me too much. I guess it’s because I wandered far, far away from my church of origin, and I’m so happy that I was able to do it. Our college students are made up of every conceivable spectrum of belief, non-belief, and denomination.

Since this is a trend, I thought we should put some thought into how to leave church.

First, make sure you do it. I don’t mean that people should change churches every time a pastor preaches something that they don’t agree with, or rips the bread the wrong way, or spends money on one thing instead of the other. No. Let me explain.

I was someone who grew up in churches with no polity and a pedophile pastor (the combination of the two was as devastating as it sounds). On top of that, I had this strong call to become a minister, and a church that taught that women must always submit to men. Needless to say, the church did a lot of damage in my life.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, at home every Sunday morning, bandaging your old wounds, going over the hurts again and again. If you find yourself avoiding church like a plague because you’ve heard serious bigotry preached from the pulpit. If you’ve been mistreated, abused, or discriminated against. If you think that all pastors are pedophiles and that church governments are solely in existence to hide the misconduct, or that pastors can do whatever they want with their flock and no one is in a position to stop them. Not all churches are like that. Please give up on the particular church before you give up on the faith.

Because, you see, those wounds are real. And they aren’t going to heal without some significant care and attention. And you won’t get that from watching Meet the Press or even Oprah.

Some people seem to get relief from rejecting Christianity altogether, by becoming an atheist or agnostic, or by picking up another religion. But that wasn’t my experience. I needed the church, just not my church. For me, and for many people, we received healing from living in a spiritual community, from talking to wise people, from being surrounded by care and love.

No church is perfect, of course. But there are a lot of healthy churches out there. And if there are serious flaws with yours, and you don’t think there’s any way to work through them, then it’s okay to look around. Church is not there for our convenience or to suit our particular needs, but there are times when churches do significant damage in our mental and spiritual lives.

When we’re in a place where that’s occurring, then we need to move on.

If you have moved on, realize that not everyone’s ready to move on, or that they might not have the same issues as you do. (Oops. Elephant just entered the blogosphere. See yesterday’s post and conversation. Even as a postmodern pastor, I’ll put up with some bureaucracy in order to have some checks and balances, and some space to do my job as a woman pastor).

For me, when moving from conservative evangelicalism to progressive denominationalism, at first I looked at all my friends who didn’t make the same shift as defective in some way. Like, maybe they weren’t smart enough (that’s the mainline’s party line).

Especially the women. I wondered why they would stay in an environment where they were repressed.

But as the years go by, and my gaping wounds heal a bit more, I realize they just need something else out of church than I do. Plus, the bitterness and resentment that I was carrying around wasn’t helping me grow.

You know when I changed faith traditions? It was when the pedophile died. Strange.

Alright, so what advice would you give to someone who’s thinking about leaving church?

the photo’s by Gregory Pleau

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10 thoughts on “Leaving church

  1. I would say go but never stop speaking to God. You cannot leave the church. The church is the bodies of Christ connected to the Body of Christ. Brick and mortar do not constitute church. The children of God do. We need community and relationship. I love the denomination because it provides me a way to understand and articulate some parts of my relationship with God and it allows for personal and intimate relationship with Christ and those that seek Christ. It is not exclusive nor better than an other form. It is the one that speaks to me. In than I am home. It took many years and even now I am unsettled at some items in the home.
    Seriously, please do not stop speaking to God. When all else fails God is present and wanting to be a part of our life. Leave the church if the Spirit moves you. It is pompous to think we can reach out to and speak with everyone in a meaningful way. That is why the Spirit manifests in so many ways. Thousands of nations, millions of tribes, too many languages, only one God!

  2. Stushie,

    I read the text. Maybe I didn’t make my point clear. I’m not talking about someone leaving because he or she has trouble with particular words of Jesus. I’m talking about if a person is abused by the church.

    Would you say that to a victim of a pedophile pastor? I hope not…

  3. I would say…[person hurt by pastor] this is f*&ked up. [pastor] is f*&cked up for being/doing what they did. I am sorry that you are hurting. I am deeply sorry. I wish this shite did not happen. It makes me want to beat down [pastor].
    I want you to know that [pastor]’s actions do not represent God. That shite is bad and wrong. I know it is painful and difficult to remain here at church. I support you caring for yourself. I pray that you forgive us all here that we did not intervene sooner. For your pain I am sorry.
    I want you to know that God loves you and Gods heart is breaking in this moment at your pain. I pray that you bless us with your presence. You are not responsible for [pastors] actions.
    I will be praying for grace and courage for you and for this community. I also want you to know that you have a lot of people here that love you and want to walk with you in these moments.
    F*&ked up things happen to good people. I wish I had an answer for this. I makes me mad too. I hate that we are broken and shite. I wish we all could live into the beauty and love of God. We cant, that sucks.

    I want you to do what is best for you. Please know that we are here for you and with open arms we wait for you to embrace you. We love you and support you.

    [then the hard part begins of listening and anger and messy mad kind of words. here we must respond in love and take the beatings. here is where WTFWJD really comes into play.]

  4. Good post. I think that from personal experience I would tell people that leaving the church right means that I have had to own the pain, embarrassment, fear of eternal damnation, anger and joy of finding faith again and again when it has been lost. Thanks for the thoughtful post.

  5. I’m often shocked with the way you are willing expose your personal journey and wounds, in order to bring redemptive healing to others. You are a very courageous minister of the Gospel.

    As a conservative, Evangelical, I don’t always agree with your conclusions, yet I inwardly applaud your insights and your love for the church and the Lord. Thanks for sharing your hurts without heaping condemnation on those who inflicted those hurts on you.

  6. Ryan’s right. We can’t leave the church. A former member (left 9 years ago) dropped by last weekend and I am still completely connected to her. (I buried her 4 year old 10 years ago.) We will always be connected.

    The demons in the church slowly become surgically/divinely removed I believe.

  7. Leaving the church is kind of like leaving the family. Some folks go through therapy and realize how messed up their families were, and they want to “cut off” from the family. But the family is still your family – for good and for bad. So a process of differentiation is very important, but then we realize we still need the church after all.

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