Why I Left: The Short Version

PrayerI was a minister’s wife, a missionary in Africa, a prayer warrior, and in ministry of one kind or another for 33 of my 40 years as a Christian. Then I left. Here’s why:

One particular Sunday sometime in 2006, I sat in the pew sweating, listening to my (now retired) husband behind the pulpit. Can’t remember what the topic was, but it doesn’t matter. The problem was the inner dialog. “I don’t believe what he’s saying anymore,” I thought. “Oh, my god! I don’t believe this message is true.

This didn’t happen suddenly, like the flip of a switch. The truth is, I saw issues with the Christian faith and many Christian teachings almost as soon as my ‘relationship with Jesus’ began back in ‘79.

I was born again at the age of 10 and then later, at the age of 17, my relationship with Jesus really took off when I was baptized in the Holy Spirit with evidence of speaking in tongues. I was ‘on fire’, as we used to say in the charismatic church.

I couldn’t get enough of my new love interest, Jesus. During those early days in the faith I delighted in the basics of the faith…

  • God is perfect, kind, loving, just, forgiving, gracious, merciful.
  • God is the same yesterday, today and forever.
  • The bible is God’s love letter to His people, good for preaching, teaching and correction.
  • God has a plan for my life.
  • If I was the only person on the planet, Jesus would still die for me.
  • The bible reflects the character of God.
  • The bible is the inspired word of God.

Every day with Jesus was a glorious adventure for me until one Thursday night. I had attended our youth group meeting at my United Methodist Church with my boyfriend.

We all have experiences in life that separate the before from the after. This is one of those experiences for me.

“There can only be one captain of the football team,” the bible teacher began as we sat with our bibles open to Ephesians. “And God has designed it that the man leads and the woman follows.” She continued her lesson outlining the roles for the sexes according to the traditional biblical model for marriage:

The husband is the head of the wife. He loves her as Christ loves the church. The wife is to submit to her husband’s authority over her. She is to respect him.

I was in instant turmoil. My boyfriend was instantly smug. And God was instantly different to me.

The teacher went on to encourage the young men to ‘take the lead’ with their girlfriends. To initiate prayer and bible study. Never before this moment had I felt uncomfortable in my skin, feeling almost naked among my friends, ashamed and awkward of my girl parts. It was nothing short of a cosmic betrayal.

We had claimed God was perfect.  But this message of male supremacy flew in the face of that for me. “Our perfect God by His very nature cannot be a sexist,” I reasoned. “And this teaching is sexist.”

Like most Christians, I longed to find my place in the body of Christ, to nurture my relationship with the Almighty and grow into the person He wanted me to be. But that teaching (and the many others like it to which I’d later be exposed), changed my course.

No longer would I search for God’s will for my life simply as “a child of God”. God had added a caveat. I had to search for His will, “as a woman” instead. It never occurred to me that I could reject this teaching because it was so clearly scriptural. And with Jesus as the ‘only way to God’, I felt I had no where else to go for salvation. I was stuck unless I could find answers to refute this teaching.

For the three long decades that followed, I studied scriptures and church teachings in an attempt to reconcile my perfect God with His subjugation of half the Body of Christ. I inquired of leaders and bible teachers, of books dedicated to the subject, and of course, I prayed my ever-lovin’ brains out.

After years of study, it seemed to me that the bible was clear about women. When I looked up from its leather bound cover to peek at the world, I could easily see its powerful influence in the world in which I lived:

  • In our church… where we spent months debating if it violated scripture for our pastor’s wife to be given the title of “co-pastor.”
  • At work in a Christian ministry… that refused to promote women above a certain level of management lest they be “in authority over a man”.
  • In the secular work place… where women are paid less than men.
  • In courts of law… where a woman is often blamed for her rape.
  • In government… where to this day we’ve never had a woman president.

From one end of the bible to the other, God’s message to women is that we were created to serve and to be owned. In many ways, the world continues to act on that message. 

Reading the bible to uncover God’s fairness to women is like listening to a known bigot make a case for how he’s not one.  It seemed the deeper I dug into the Word of God for hope, enlightenment and comfort, the more confused and depressed I became.

Years passed, I got married, and we entered ministry. My inner struggle continued to fester like an old, ugly wound. At my core, I felt diminished as a human being standing next to my husband, where God would always see me as a subordinate. The frustration grew for my husband who had long since dismissed the offending scriptures as nothing more than outdated, ancient history.

feetWhen one views the world through this broken lens of ‘lesserness’, everything looks gray. Ministry in particular became a psychological hell as I secretly loathed the bible for placing me in shackles I couldn’t break.

After decades of being told that biblical misogyny didn’t exist and that I was reading it wrong, I took a dog-leg turn…

I quit making excuses for God and for offensive portions of text.

I began reading scripture differently. I quit making arguments for the text. I stopped running to the nearest bookstore to find an ‘expert’ who could explain away the atrocities and protect my image of a fair and loving God. I quit collapsing in a heap of tears, begging God for answers.

I gave myself permission to think critically, instead of prayerfully. And a floodgate opened. I traded faith for skepticism.

The next four years were very hard, scary, and painful. I scrutinized my entire Christian life, every teaching, every claim to answered prayer. Month after month I removed the layers of dogma that I once believed (or felt obligated to believe) to reveal the truth:

What I’d been taught did not add up, therefore, I could not remain a Christian.

After those four long years of intense scrutiny everything came to a head. Alone at home, through tears, pain and sorrow, I cried out to God for one last time, “I’ve been hanging by a thread for years and years and years!  If you’re real, you know this festering, old wound. If you’re there, you know the pain I’ve been in, the hours of study and prayer for your answers and comfort. If you really are the God who meets us where we are, then you know what I need right now to make it. This is it. I need you to reach me or I have to let go.”

bible in trashUtterly broken I waited. For something … For anything. But I got what I’d always gotten if I could be honest with myself… dead silence. Only THAT time, I didn’t try to interpret the silence as a Holy moment or God’s Holy Silence. Instead I saw the truth. The silence was an absence of my Christian God.

I let my god go that day. I left the religion, the ‘relationship’, the church, and tossed my bible in the trash.

The next day, I wrote Jesus a ‘Dear John’ letter. I wrote of my disappointment, my pain, and my anger at having wasted so many years trying to build relationship with nothing… and of course, I’ve heard nothing from him in response.

The world around me since that time has gone on as usual. Stuff happens with or without prayer in the exact same way as it always has. The disciplines of the faith that I once held dear are fading as I forge ahead with a new sense of freedom.

Image of woman with joy on the beach.jpgNo… things are not perfect. But the nagging chronic emotional ache is gone. The overall purveying sadness has lifted. Womanhood is no longer a gray, heavy burden bereft of joy. Every year is more colorful than the one before as I’m continually discovering the beautiful essence of my womanhood.

If you’re a Christian, thank you for reading my story. I welcome dialog with you and hope you’ll take me up on that invitation. I was once your sister in the Body of Christ so we may share many commonalities that would help us understand one another even if in our discourse, we disagree. I’m glad you visited my page! I hope you’ll come back.

 

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7 thoughts on “Why I Left: The Short Version

  1. wow … this is an amazing ex-testimony. I have not met many of us yet who have been radical believers for 30+ years and involved in ministry and I can relate to so much of what you’ve written here. It has inspired me to write my own deconversion story. It is complicated and was a long process. My husband is still a believer and yet we’ve managed to live peacefully together but avoid so much of what I want to talk about.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So glad you stopped by and left a comment, Ruth! Thank you.

    I’ve not met many of us either… but the more I talk and write, the more de-converts I meet and it’s very comforting!!!

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  3. “I was in instant turmoil. My boyfriend was instantly smug. And God was instantly different to me.”

    I know what that feels like. I used to wonder why preachers loved to gloat as they thundered from the pulpit against women. Yet the moment you tried to mention it—everyone would deny that the blatant misogyny even existed. Felt like everyone was closing their eyes to what was standing right in front of them.

    Reading through your blog—it was heart wrenching to hear so many people try to minimize your experiences, ignore your sacrifices and then try to deny that you were anything other than honestly just trying to do your best in every situation. The double standards are sickening.

    There’s way too much of that still going on in the church today and no one seems to recognize that the underlying logical fallacy of all this misogyny is that:

    If all women must suffer for Eve’s choice, then God would be punishing women—not for their
    mistakes—not even for anything Eve did—but then God would be punishing women for being the very thing that God made them—WOMEN! If God is just, there’s absolutely no way He could treat women the way the church does.

    This leads us to two possible conclusions:

    1) God doesn’t exist—therefore people are using religion against women.

    2) God exists and is ANGRY at how people are using religion against women.

    Then there’s the huge problem of KJV Bible translators who changed certain verses to reflect their personal bias towards women.

    For example, how many times have we heard “God hates divorce” when God DIDN’T say that.

    “The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the Lord Almighty. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful.” (NIV)

    So here the verse that is confronting the double standards in their society gets twisted around to justify oppression! Good grief, when will it ever end?

    I’m looking forward to hearing more about your experiences as you continue to blog—forty years is a lot of experiences to share.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi again!

      What a great comment! Thank you so much (again) for visiting my blog and posting!

      I agree with you…. the double standards are, indeed, staggering. This is true both in the church world and in the secular world. It’s hard to calculate how much of the damage in society at large has come directly from the church and religious teachings. To view men on a higher level than women is all-but in our DNA. So ingrained is this thinking, it’s incredible that we’re as close as we are to equality. We’ve a long way to go… but we’ve come so far!

      I would add one more thing to the list you posted… you said there are 2 possible conclusions to the Eve dilemma: 1) God doesn’t exist—therefore people are using religion against women. OR 2) God exists and is ANGRY at how people are using religion against women.

      The third possibility is that God does indeed exist but he isn’t at all what people say about him. (ie. He IS a misogynist and not just or fair.)

      Simply put, God cannot be perfect AND hate women at the same time. And yet clearly, scripture tells us that his actions were hateful towards women. Over and over again, it is in black and white. One need only read Deut 1 to learn how god gave over women as war booty to see the truth of that statement. That is but one example. There are more. So much so, Dan Barker has written an entire book on this topic titled, “God: The Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction”.

      One might wonder regarding the #2 option… if god does exist but is angry at how people use religion against women, why does he permit this to continue? Why would he have “inspired” or “god-breathed” the many accounts of his misogynistic actions or the sexist teachings about women to make it into his holy book in the first place? If god is so angry about this, why didn’t god stop Paul from penning the words that limit women in the church or subjugate them in their own homes? To this day churches teach these things and continue to keep women on a lower level than men. But God would have known that outcome! He chose to allow this anyway knowing what would come of it?! It’s a head scratcher.

      At the core is this: The bible itself and what people continue to believe and teach about the book. And as long as a significant number of people in high places continue to teach that the book is “God’s Holy Word”, we’ll continue to fail to reach our greatest potential.

      We face a troubling fact: the bible is composed of copies of copies of copies of copies of copies of bits and pieces and tatters of ancient text. We have NOT ONE whole, original or intact manuscript. Not one. And the alterations made to these copies of copies of copies is simply staggering and the errors found within the pages are myriad starting in the very first chapter of Genesis… right from the get-go!

      ——–Genesis 1:1. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (He couldn’t have done this simultaneously as Science has confirmed that the universe is 13.8 billion years old. The earth is only 4.5 billion.) The earth was without form and void and darkness was over the face of the deep. (The earth couldn’t have been without light, Science tells us that the sun is older than the earth.) ———

      Your, “God hates divorce” example is a great one to illustrate the issue with changes to scripture over time. With this verse in particular, it totally depends on which translation you read if those are the words used or not. The New Living Translation and many others read plainly: God hates divorce. Not the KJV and many others. The book has been through so many drafts and changes and these changes didn’t even come from any original manuscript in the first place! It’s reasonable to think that with many changes along the way, there may have been a specific agenda. Could keeping women in their place be one of them? Of course. No wonder the book is such a mess. And this point should make any believer wonder if it is to be trusted.

      I, too, wonder… when will it ever end? I am hopeful that this entire farce will end soon due to this age of information we’re living in. Ignorance is a choice these days for those with access to this information. One can simply do an internet search for “mistakes in the bible” or “contradictions in the bible” or “original bible manuscripts” to uncover what were once mysteries. While you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet, it’s a great starting place to do in-depth research.

      Richard Phillips Feynman, an American theoretical physicist said, “I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.” And I agree. Religion tends to offer only the latter. This puts an end to any discussion or further knowledge. I’d rather have the questions and keep searching for answers!

      Thanks again for reading!

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  4. This was one of the first blogs I ‘stumbled on’ after spending some months updating it.
    When I find a blog that looks as if it might be interesting, I like to start from the beginning. I got to the point where you referred to so much information being available on the web.
    As an 81 year old I can relate to that – but as someone who has been using computers since 1967, but who started documenting my own beliefs in 1990. In 1995 our whole family were torn apart by a church split – and I’ve been using the internet since 1997.

    I have no recollection of ever doubting the existence of God but my understanding of that word has changed enormously over the years. I stopped attending church in 2009. By 2012 I had a faith that I could hold on to ‘loosely’ and it’s since then that my education really began!

    In 1995 I had been ‘forced’ to consider Evangelicalism for the first time. I have had no experience of Pentecostalism – apart from attending one service where an interpretation of what had been said in tongues took about 9 mins to interpret what had been said in about 3 mins.

    I have entitled my introduction now as “My Journey through Christendom” based on contact over the last 12 years or so with around 2,000 people including several leaders and former leaders of Evangelical and Anglican churches.

    As an old friend once said, “Peter, you have the knack of asking some of the awkward questions to which there are no easy answers”. I enjoy asking questions – I don’t have many answers.

    Would you be interested in sharing some of your thoughts?

    https://outsidethegoldfishbowl.wordpress.com/my-journey-through-christendom/

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    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Peter. I’d be quite interested further communication. I’ll take a look through your blog next week … I’m looking forward to reading it. Thank you for stopping by!

      Like

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