Leaving is painful (Deconstruction Part 7)

Evangelicalism treats people as marketing tools, a source for the offering plate, and a vote to propel their political power.

Growing up in Evangelicalism my sister and I were instilled with the idea of service and community. It's one of the few things I appreciate being imbued with and it sticks with me. I want to help people, to lift them up, to solve problems.[1]

In Part 6 I talked about how my wife and I finally had enough of the church we'd spent several years pouring our lives into. The scandals perpetrated by our pastor and his family, the associate pastor's decision to remove women from almost every position, and the insistence that I personally believed sinful things as a deacon, weighed on us. We could stay but our service options were becoming limited. We were no longer the true believers. All the hallmarks of a church squarely shooting itself in the foot.

We went on one last Sunday, a day I remember vividly. We hadn't been in some time, partly due to the deacon conversation that happened a few months prior and mostly because our second child was born and we remained home with the baby for a few weeks to recoup.

Evangelicalism is a cult. I don't mean to be harsh about it, it's something that I've only recently come to terms with.[2] It's a large and well-funded cult that takes on many different forms, but it has all the hallmarks of a cult nonetheless.  In particular, you're either in or you're a pariah that's out. People don't speak with the pariah.

If you're still in and still reading this[3], you may argue that "your church isn't like that" and "You can't judge all of Evangelicalism by how your one church treated you."

But while anecdotes are not evidence, I can say that it's happened to me in 100% of the churches I've left. The in-crowd is very local and once you walk out you're out of sight, out of mind. I mentioned before that Evangelicalism treats people as marketing tools, a source for the offering plate, and a vote to propel their political power. If you're not there on Sunday they can't use you for those purposes. It explains their COVID response too.

When we were gone for several weeks, no one called us. No one checked to see if we needed help with a newborn at home. We became outsiders, no longer useful to the community. Then the last Sunday we attended, people talked to us as though nothing had happened. They asked if we were back for good. Mostly they wanted to ogle the baby. There was no attempt at reconciliation, only a hope that we'd become useful again.

There was very little contact afterward. A message on social media here and there, a letter in the mail "We miss you!". Even a friend, who we spent many summers on mission trips with, disappeared and attempts to contact them went unanswered. Our friendship was tied only to church membership, not as people. They were friends with us as an ideal church member and when that was gone we were no longer worth it.

That's the truth of cults. They don't involve self-reflection. There's no attempt to understand why someone would reject the message, and less attempt to understand those who were in and left.  People who get out never truly believed in the first place and that's that. It's neat and tidy, black and white. It makes the world simpler and free of nuance. Jesus preached that the disciples should wipe the dust from their feet when a village rejected their message. Evangelicals love that passage.

I must admit there was one contact and it was kind of weird. I mentioned in a previous post that my wife lost her father in the summer of 2013, a little less than a year after we left. A few of the church leadership showed up at the funeral. It was strange because while I appreciate their sympathy, I can't get over the idea that they were there to check a box. One last ditch effort to save us. And in the end, it was superficial anyway. They shook our hands, gave condolences, and disappeared. I don't believe I've spoken with any of them since.

My wife and I were fortunate to have friends outside the church. And we're fortunate that our families have decided to love us anyway. But there are people out there who feel trapped. They feel there's something wrong but they can't take that step because their friends and family will disown them.

My biggest regret in leaving is that I didn't reach out to those people. I have no desire to debate but there are people I should have looked back and checked in on them. Enough of a regret that I've reached out to a few people in recent weeks to see where they are and what they're doing.

I'm unsure how to end this one. I guess a concluding point would be to say that if you haven't been exposed to Evangelicalism and are confused about why anyone would put up with the abuse, know that we were born into it. We were told it was our birthright and that we would die without it. Finally, we were sheltered from influences outside of it. It's all some people have, and it becomes incredibly hard to walk away.

And if you're in, and you've read this far. I hope you see why people walk away, and why they continue to walk away. Religion can serve a useful purpose, it can give people meaning.  But the religion has to care about people in this life first because this is where we are.

If your religion harms people in the name of God then I encourage you to examine it outside of what your pastor or minister tells you. Seek out media that's from the perspective of those your church tells you are bad or wrong. Find out what their agenda really is[4]. (Hint: most people want to feed their families and feel secure as they age).  Don't let your church leaders coax you into a conspiracy about what someone else thinks or believes. The only people who have agendas in that scenario are the church leaders.

  1. Sometimes this gets me in trouble with my wife when she wants me to listen rather than solve her problem. #marriagethings
  2. One does not like to admit they were brainwashed.
  3. Welcome. I hope you continue to read this and listen to how a leaver feels. I'm not asking you to walk away, I'm asking you to understand.
  4. Talking with people from marginalized groups is great but it can't be from a place of studying them like you're making a documentary. If you do that, you must get to know them as people outside of the context of their identity. In other words, don't go to a gay bar and ask people what it's like to be gay.

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Jamie Larson