Why It Was So Hard to Leave the Church

Why It Was So Hard to Leave the Church

Guest blog by David Hayward
(The Lasting Supper)

David (aka The Naked Pastor) is a wonderful LGBT ally and fellow traveller in the journey of deconstructing religion. I found this article helpful in articulating the reasons why we enjoy church and the difficulties we face when we leave. His work through The Lasting Supper is amazing and bridges that gap for people who need a safe space to assess what the heck they really believe and the damage religion can cause

I’ve left the church. Many times. The last time I left was 8 years ago. It was painful every time. Here’s just a few of the reasons why it was so difficult to leave.

1. Fear: When I left the church, a profound cloud of fear enveloped me: “What have I done?” No matter how much you rationalize your decision, the years and years of indoctrination collect to shout out jeers and threats for your selfishness, stupidity, sinfulness, and short-sightedness. You have just willingly divorced yourself from God and his people, taken your first step closer to Hell, thrown yourself into the arms of the Devil, and destined yourself to an endless road of Perdition. You have officially branded yourself a Heretic. Lost! Of course this isn’t true, but try telling yourself that! Over and over and over again.

2. Friends: The first time I left the church I imagined I would keep many of the friends I had there. I learned quickly that it never seems to work out. Even the last time I left the church, that fantasy was still burning in my mind. Again, it didn’t work out. You lose friends. Maybe not all, but most of them. Period. You have to learn how to make new ones while you’re grieving the loss of your old ones. Not easy.

3. Inspiration: There is something very inspiring about gathering together with others on pretty much the same page, in agreement, learning together and singing together and supporting each other. I love hearing or delivering a good sermon. Honestly! Most often I walked away refreshed and refuelled for the next week. Learning how to do that by yourself is not simple.

4. Music: I was always involved with the music and worship. The last worship band I had rocked! I loved playing and singing with them. We had some great times and even made a CD together that’s pretty good. I haven’t picked up my guitar since I left, but that’s my fault. I don’t listen to worship music much anymore either unless it’s renaissance church music or Russian Orthodox choirs. There’s too much “ick” associated with worship music for me now.

5. Support: When I and my family went through difficult times, we always always had people around us who cared and actually did something about it. We’ve been given food, money, babysitting, cars, rides, help moving, prayers, company, words, vacations… you name it. The church also made it easy for us to be generous and give. Now we’re on our own, and the difference is noticeable. We are learning to be self-sufficient and generous independently.

6. Destiny: The last denomination I was involved with was the Vineyard. Prophetic words, words of wisdom, dreams and visions are a huge part of that culture. My life had meaning and a sense of purpose. I woke up every morning pretty much knowing what I had to do and where my life was heading. I had a destiny! Even though I now believe most of that was hype, I did enjoy living in that matrix of illusion. Then I took the red pill. Oh my!

7. Validation: When you are in the church, you get a very strong sense that you are on the gospel train. You are doing the right thing being counted among the people of God. You are a member, and that gives you a sense of assurance that you are indeed saved, that God has his eye on you and that you are on the right track. When you get off that train, you have to build your own sense of assurance that you are okay, and that is an arduous but necessary task.

8. Boredom: I have so much more time on my hands since I left the church. I remember my first Sunday morning not going. I went for a walk around the time when cars where driving by on their way to church. Did I ever feel strange! It was hard not feeling like a delinquent. A sinner. I’ve gotten used to it to the point now where I relish my Sunday mornings. But that’s not all. When you involve yourself with the church, it can become like a family with its 24/7 demands. Now I have to be self-directed. But I’m learning.

9. Children: Even though Lisa and I are learning our new way of life, we always worry about our children. They are amazing young adults now. But they have been exposed to all the crap that’s been dealt out to us, and their impression of church is not rosy. We never slam the church in front of them, but they aren’t stupid. They catch on. We don’t want them erroneously believing that this means we are enemies of religion, the church, faith, or spirituality. They each have their own brilliant expressions of spirituality, but it’s been forged by fire. Sometimes ours.

10. Inclusion: I fight hard for the church. Some people mistake it for me fighting hard against it. When pressed, I still say my family of origin is Christianity and that I love the church. I totally believe in the right of people to gather together volitionally, but in a healthy manner… which is rare. I am also for spiritual independence. It saddens me when people assume that because I’ve left the church I am no longer in the game. When I was in the church, my voice was criticized as biting the hand that fed me. Now it is criticized as not deserving to critique something I’m not a part of. Can’t win.

Please understand that even though most of these are really good reasons to stay in the church, most often they come at a price. Like the rabbits of Watership Down who were well fed by the farmer. But the deal was the farmer could occasionally harvest some of them for food and fur. In this case, none of the good the church offers is worth it for me.

Do these reasons apply to you? Or, do you have other reasons?

Posted by silentgays in Blog, 0 comments

My Legacy

Many people think that I’m now “out and proud”, and that my days of living in hidden trauma, depression and self loathing are long gone.

I guess I do give that impression because I’m a passionate advocate for helping people untangle the mess of religion, especially for LGBT people. I speak about how amazing life is now that I’m free from the bondage and abuse from that belief system.
But there’s a hidden legacy that I live with – that most who have been through this sort of stuff live with.
Let me explain…
On one level I’ve never felt more at peace to be free from religion and dogma and how that affected me as a gay man. I understand love in ways I never thought possible. Life is infinitely better!
But I lived a nightmare for most of my life. I lived a life of shame and guilt – of being a failure, a “freak”, faulty, rejected and deeply tormented for being something I couldn’t change, which culminated in a breakdown after my wife died.
It’s been a slow journey out of that mess, and the legacy of that life is deep and lingering. I was on antidepressants for 6 years and still have bouts of depression and anxiety. I have ADHD that became far worse after the breakdown. I can’t absorb complex technical information any more (which sucks because I used to be a Technical Writer and Instructional Designer). My brain runs full tilt all the time, dancing from one thing to another without a word of warning. I get confused easily. I’m impulsive. I lose track of what I’m doing. It’s not just old age, lol, although I’m sure that doesn’t help!
I struggle every day. It took me 2 years to write It’s Life Jim… not only because of the time it took to untangle so much of the mess, but also because my mind doesn’t operate in linear coherent ways any more (not that it was ever that good at it anyway). Some days I get up with the best of intentions and clarity only to find it turns to vapour the moment I start to be “productive”. I practice mindfulness and go for long walks. I take time as best I can, to slow down. I like my wine and beer, and the odd bit of wacky weed to help slow down the endless barrage of chatter in my head.
I struggle with how most of my life was a complete waste, never finding peace or integrity, self worth and living a complete lie, damaging those closest to me, as well as myself. Sure, there’s all the platitudes about my life’s journey and nothing is a waste etc… I get that, really I do. But that doesn’t help the deep scars left by the endless years of crap.
Daily, “normal” life is not something I do well. I’m one of the walking wounded, with a pronounced limp that I’m slowly realising may never go away. And yet, the paradox is I’m happier than I’ve ever been. A deep happiness and peace – so much better than my previous life.
One thing I can give, without hesitation, is my integrity and honesty about who I am, what I’ve done and where I’m at. I can “share my journey” with as much honesty as I’m capable of mustering, because that is the only thing any of us can do in the end. Sure I “preach” about the things that have set me free, and I’m passionate about everyone growing into real life and love without fear or dogma. But I’m just me, still discovering my own biases and how I affect others.
My favourite tag line is “Live loved”. I’m still learning how powerful and profound those simple words are. Some days are better than others, but it’s always a step forward.
The legacy of christianity, for me, is deep. I’ve seen the utter failing of it’s core doctrines. I’m not as bitter as I used to be, and have always recognised that many beautiful, loving people have found a belief system that works for them. They are the ones who have shaped their beliefs around their own inherent beauty, rather than the doctrines of the belief system itself, but that’s a whole other story, lol.
So I guess I’m saying that if I (or anyone) give the impression that I’m suddenly free and perfect after a lifetime of abuse, then sorry, it doesn’t work like that.
Now, where’s that beer?…
Posted by silentgays in Blog, Mental Health, 0 comments

“Nice” Christians

It’s always bugged me. Even when I was a pentecostal bible basher.

“Nice” Christians. 

You know the type…
Always smiling, always have an encouraging “word” for you, and ignoring everything “bad” in the world and only trying to think “good” thoughts.
Plastic, is one word that comes to mind, or shallow. They are out there in their millions.

Most live happy lives and I guess that’s OK. But it’s not OK when you interact with them on anything other than how lovely the pastors wife looks, or discussing how your latest sponsor child in Africa is going.

I had a run-in online with an old acquaintance from my pente church in the 80s. She was commenting on the upcoming vote in Australia on gay marriage and was posting articles as to why we should vote no. I was quick to jump on them and point out the many flaws in the facts and research they stated. They were highly inaccurate and offensive for those who actually know what they are talking about.

The comments were all “oh, dear, how terrible, yes we must vote no!”. But I had the guts to point out the flaws. It didn’t go down well. But here’s the rub. You see, she’s a “nice” christian, so wouldn’t dream of confronting me with her real feelings, so proceeded with patronising comments that had that “I’m being firm but loving” attitude, and it was wrong of me to confront her and make assumptions about her views etc, and then finished off with “God bless”, and the unfriended me.

I’m inclined to think these types are far worse than the Westbro psychopaths. At least with Westbro you know exactly where you stand – there’s no fake mask, no pretence, what you see is what you get. (Yes, I’m generalising)

But the “nice” ones are insidious. They hide in their little isolated worlds and even when they “go out into the world”, it’s to do good deeds and help those poor 3rd world people and the “underpriveliged” (a very apt word). Of course, they may bring practical help but it’s always with an agenda of getting them saved and making them into “nice” acceptable western Christians, just like them.

In daily life, they avoid conflict, and if it arises, they default to bible verses, spoken in love of course. If that doesn’t work they may gently rebuke you with a smile and claim they still love you, but not your actions. They think that being “nice” is all they have to do to be “Christlike”.

The truth is, they are just like the Pharisees. Pretending they are wise and caring. Pretending they know best and we should just all be nice like them and get along. We must follow their doctrines and only allow questions that are within the constraints of their bible study guidelines. They are gutless, controlling, patronising, arrogant and everything Jesus stood against.

If you try to interact with these folks, you’ll come away feeling like you are the one with the problem. They may trigger all your issues of religious abuse, and then quietly, and oh so politely, point out that you are the one who has reacted badly. They may suggest a good Christian counsellor, or if you really get up their noses, they may snub you and remove you from their circle of niceness.

These are the ones I really struggle with, and I now realise it’s ok to call them out on it. It’s ok to challenge them. We don’t have to be “nice”. We have to be loving and compassionate but also real, honest, exposing bigotry and injustice – just like Jesus did!

Posted by silentgays in Blog, 2 comments