To people thinking about leaving the church,
Disillusioned and traumatized, I voluntarily resigned in 2006 after twenty-nine years as an Evangelical mega-church minister with the Southern Baptist Convention. Fifteen years later, it is still the same church—the bully male pulpit, the entitled white people, the insulated culture, the canceled liberals, and the impossible beliefs.
I found the church has no room for a reflective thinker, voracious reader, candid questioner, creative rebel, change agent, or sensitive empath. Instead, my increasing questions to authorities were answered with a dismissive “No!” or a warning, “Don’t go there.” The answers coming from church leaders and pulpits did not add up, nor did they align with virtues such as truth, equality, inclusion, and open-mindedness.
As a forty-something person in the throes of a mid-life search for identity, this became an untenable situation. The symbols I had built my first half of life upon—the Bible, the cross, and Evangelical dogma—lay shattered at my feet. They had proven inadequate and irrelevant for the inner quest to who I really was.
At that time, I did not yet have symbols for the essential aspects of my self. But I had no desire to be a close-minded, racist, exclusive person required to increasingly spin the truth to be a success at my job. Leaving the church comes at a great cost. I felt as though my life had been shattered into a million pieces. It was devastating, and I did not handle it well. That story has been well documented.
Ultimately, the consequences of that decision cost my tribe, most of my family, my “closest” friends, my home, and my heavenly father. It devastated me financially, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually.
To this day, I suffer symptoms of post-traumatic shock syndrome. And yet, catharsis is gradually taking effect. I eliminate trauma by bringing it to consciousness and affording it expression through art, solitude, communal relationships, therapy, and ritual. For the first time in my life, I am on a journey of freedom, a quest to enjoy life in the real world. My body, mind, soul, and spirit feel integrated and alive. I have left behind the censorship, conformity, shame, guilt, and medieval rules and regulations that have no place in today’s world.
Each day, I feel a deep sense of peace, contentment, excitement, and joy. Odd, isn’t it? Those words sound like the promised outcomes made by the church if one lives according to their rules. But for me, it was the opposite. That is why I left.
I watched in abject horror the past six years as this same church embraced and endorsed a morally corrupt psychopath to rule our country. Justifying their heresy with self-righteous platitudes about protecting the unborn. To create courts to defend their chauvinism, racism, exclusivity, close-mindedness, and inequality. Lauding authoritarian leaders who extend liberty only to those who look and believe as they do.
Yes, I hear the Christians screaming, “No! This is not true! How bitter you are!.” But I am writing this open letter to you, to tell you something about how to leave them, for most of them will forget that you exist.
There is no reason for you to try to make them understand, and there is no basis whatever they must love you. Forget the teachings of Jesus. They don’t count for outsiders. The really tragic thing is that they consider you, my friend, a traitor, a heretic, a reprobate. They would not dare look in the mirror.
This letter seeks to point out the high stakes of leaving. But the more significant reason is to turn the tables and show what really happens to those courageous enough to walk away. I also hope to model for disillusioned ones the kind of radical thinking that might be waged and staged in the face of a hypocritical American church.
I urge you to turn your backs on the church and turn inward toward your self. It is there where truth, equality, inclusion, and open-mindedness can be found, developed, and enjoyed. But, oh the irony, that finding your self, rather than denying your self, is a way to live out meaningful and fulfilling virtues such as love, compassion, grace, and empathy.
Take courage. You will not go to hell. Lightning will not strike you. You will not be damned. You will not be miserable. You will not be punished by a vengeful god.
On the contrary, life outside the confines of the church offers radical hope, an antidote to despair, and a joyous destiny. In short, leaving the church can make us better at being who we really are. A loving human being.
Thank you for reading,
SBC Minister (1977-2006)