Witness Me: An Exvangelical Testimony – Ep. I

Hello again friends. Look at that; I promised I would write again soon, and here I am.

In my last post, I talked about some topics that I was hoping to cover over the next little while. One of those topics is faith. This can be a very polarizing topic, and so I haven’t written much about it here before, because I want everyone who comes here to feel like this is a safe place, and not feel alienated. And that can happen when talking about one’s own personal beliefs. After the last little while, I’ve come to the conclusion that omitting this part of myself and my life is not only doing me a disservice, but you my readers, as well. I haven’t shown a full picture of myself. It feels a little like being dishonest, without really meaning to. So here we go.

What am I. It’s a question that I ask myself multiple times a day, and very seldom do I have any kind of answer, beyond vague sighs and Tina Belcher moans. And most of the time, I’m okay with that. Because often with a label, comes expectations… And expectations are exhausting, and I just don’t have that kind of energy.

I grew up in a loving and open and supportive Christian home, with two parents and two siblings; each of them easily make the list of the best people I know. And I know I’m really privileged to have had that experience. I love my family, and I love how they love me. We were always super involved in our church community, which meant for me as a teenager, sometimes four nights of the week at the church, volunteering or participating in different activities. The majority of my social life was intertwined with my church life, and so was my dating life. And at the time, I thought that was what I wanted for my life. I felt called to go into ministry starting at around age 13, and stuck with that until I was 18, at university. Ain’t no Bible bro with a 1 Timothy quote gonna hold me down, no ma’am (and there were many). I would marry a pastor and we would be a ministry super team.

I led worship at youth on Thursday nights. I went to every youth social and youth retreat. I hung out with my church friends Friday and Saturday, and showed up to church to hang out some more. I read my Bible. I quoted Bible verses in my Facebook statuses, and exclaimed how excited I always was to be going to church. It was al very real, and it was my life.

When it came time to start looking at universities, I really started to look at private Christian universities and Bible colleges, that would get me on the road to being the pastor that I wanted to be. I was so sure. By the Grace of God, my parents *begged* me not to apply to Christian universities. They had always been vocal to us that they believed strongly in the public system, and that you needed to be outside the bubble to have a well-rounded education. It was important to them. Thankfully, I heeded their advice and applied to the *~*~*secular*~*~* school that captured my attention: Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo. Little did I know, that this was not only one of the most important decisions I have made in my life, but also one of the best. I met some of the most incredible people I know, grew up, and met my partner in life and love (and blah blah blah mushy stuff for a later post).

I decided to apply to the Religion and Culture program, because after a lot of talking with my Mum, I agreed that it was important to study from a well-rounded point of view, and not a biased one. I got some blowback from peers; there was a lot of concern that I would “lose my faith” or “be led astray” by studying religion at a non-religious university. I thought it was silly then, and I still think it’s silly now. It’s a point of view based on fear, and I don’t have time or energy for that.

Lots of things happened at university. I realized that I actually didn’t want to be a pastor (because like, #no), but a teacher instead. I would still be taking care of teenagers, but in a bit of a different context.

I was able to look at my life, and my faith, and my religious community critically, in ways that I probably never would have been able to, had I chosen a different path. I learned things and met people that I never would have, before. I challenged myself, and my views, and found that only clarity could be found through this process. There was no despair in this clarity; only peace, and deeper understanding of God. All of my profs knew me as a person of faith, and always respected me and my views, and often asked me to share any insights that I might have had, during class discussion. God’s Not Dead is a terrible sham of a movie.

All of that aside, I really had trouble finding a real “community” of Christian friends while I was at university. I tried a couple of different churches, but didn’t feel good about any of them. I went to the on campus Christian group; the people were nice and everything, but there was such a huge focus on evangelizing that I couldn’t deal. I barely had the energy to take care of myself and make it to class (I was still undiagnosed at this point), let alone trying to scare other students into accepting Jesus, in the university cafeteria. I will always stand by the view that this is neither an appropriate, or effective means of evangelism. But I digress.

I was also finding that as I was studying, I was finding more and more things that didn’t add up and that I didn’t agree with, that seemed to be very central to the kind of Christianity that I knew. I realized that God didn’t need defending; people needed love. And that’s what I felt was the best way for me to live my faith; to love people the best that I could, wherever I was, with whatever I had. It was different and I was unlearning and learning again. I was hearing things that I had never heard before, about my own faith tradition. I learned that the Pentecostal movement was founded by and nurtured by women. I learned about how the New Testament was formed, and about the source material for the Gospels. I learned that Paul probably didn’t even write most of the Epistles. My understanding of Scripture widened, and deepened. I loved it more, and I was enamoured with learning everything I could. I learned how deep the scars of colonialism go, as a result of militant missionary work. I learned how the Bible has been used to oppress the least of these, essentially since its inception. I learned how evil people twist it and turn it into something wholly disgusting. All I could keep thinking, as I watched W*stboro Baptist Church using their platform to spread hate, was: “This is *not* my God.”

And that was the start of it, kids. My (what we in the biz call) deconstruction. It’s a painful process, trying to reconcile the hurt and the trauma with the love of God. It hurts to separate yourself from what you know, because its toxic. As my Dad has been known to say, “Once you see the b*llshit, you can’t unsee it.” And that’s what it was for me. I couldn’t unsee the hurt that Christians were causing across the world, and the hurt that I had experienced at the hands of Christians myself. Manipulation. Gas lighting. Emotional abuse. Shame. Fear of Hell and the guilt of not sharing Jesus enough to save all of your friends. Denying the personhood and rights of marginalized people. The silencing of victims of abuse. The silencing of women. The simultaneous objectification and ridicule of women. The list goes on and on and on. And this is not my God.

I couldn’t sit in a pew and listen to a preacher speak about things that I knew about deeply, and hear them telling the congregation things that were untrue. Or omitting certain portions of passages, that erase the scriptures of their context. Or telling people that if you just pray enough, God will heal your depression that’s caused by sin. Or trying to cut down complex concepts into three easy sermon points, that leave congregants empty. Or justifying misogyny or racism. Or asking too many questions meaning you were doubting and you weren’t a real Christian. Or feeling like you deserve every bad thing that happens to you, because you’re somehow displeasing God. Or feeling like your life is absolutely out of control, or not worth living because its all been decided for you anyway and you don’t get to choose anything that happens to you. Or the whispers of people who were my friends, condemning someone else we knew for living their life as their truest self. Or the thought that my entire value as a woman lay in whether I had sex or not; whether I was worthy of a good Christian husband or not. Or the fact that I had friends who were boys, made me a tease. Or that my clothing choices had anything to do with my worth as a person. Or the fact that I was “too opinionated” and wasn’t afraid to challenge narrow ways of thinking. I was too emotional and too much to handle. I was too much and not enough. Never enough. I couldn’t unsee any of it. And I couldn’t stand to be a part of it.

It’s been a painful process of unlearning. And I know it will continue to be. But I am so glad for this process. It hasn’t been so much a crisis of faith, as it is a crisis of community. It’s a lonely process. You don’t want to upset anyone else so you try to reason through it on your own.

Since this past fall, I’ve been connecting with a community of people like me. And it has been the best thing for my faith to happen in a very long time. That community is called Exvangelical. It includes anyone who has left evangelical Christianity, whether you still identify as a Christian, or not. And these are my people. They call out abuses and bring to light things that must change. They highlight the voices of the marginalized and the oppressed. They stand beside and behind victims of abuse. They know the Bible inside out and can take anyone to task on their problematic thinking. They are women, and men, and non-binary folks, and trans folks, and people of colour. They are gay, straight, bi, pan, and everything in between. They’re married, single, divorced, remarried, parents, and grandparents. They are ex-pastors, ex-worship leaders. They are Christians, atheists, agnostics, pagans, Buddhists, Taoists. They host podcasts, write books, write blogs, teach at universities, and work in completely unrelated fields. And we’re all here, healing together and holding each other up.

So where does that leave me? Have I answered my question? No, I guess not. I don’t always feel comfortable identifying myself as a Christian because I wouldn’t say I identify or agree with a lot of what the Church believes are the right hills to die on.

When I was in university, and the real work of my deconstruction was just beginning, I was sharing life experiences with a friend, and it came out that we had both grown up in Christian families. I was trying to articulate to him exactly what made going to church (now) feel so awful, and he said the greatest thing – seriously, I’m not sure there are many other moments in my life that I’ve felt so understood (And Friend, if you’re by any chance reading this, thank you). He said, “Going to church now is like going to Phil’s when you’re sober, and everyone else is blackout drunk.” (Okay, a little bit of context: Phil’s is the grimiest bar in all the land, and everyone who goes to/went to school in Waterloo goes there, because the drinks are cheap as heck, and you can get white-girl-wasted on a $20 bill. It’s usually really fun, because the music is loud and the buzz is good… as long as you don’t look too closely as the walls, or the floor, and certainly not the bathroom.) I was stunned. Because that is EXACTLY what it’s like. Because you can still enjoy yourself a little bit, because music and friends and familiarity; but you don’t have the haze of $2.50 shots to distract you from the wet spot on the ceiling, or the subtle sewage smell of the bathroom, or the stickiness of the floor sucking the shoes of your feet. You can’t unsee any of it, once you know its there.

This has been long and sort of all over the place, so if you’ve made it this far, congrats. You’re the best. Here’s a proverbial gold star.

This is really just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a lot of things, and it’s impossible to break all of it down in just one post.

I’ll be continuing this series, amongst other posts. If you have any questions, or specific topics you’d like to see me unpack, please leave a comment below or shoot me an email!

Here’s to growing together – iron sharpening iron, and all of that.

Love Always,

Emma

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