For me, autonomy means freedom—to make choices not determined by prior causes or divine intervention. It is one of my four essentials of being (see The Quest) and connected to the spiritual aspect of who I am. As I pursue wholeness and joy in the second half of life, I am making more frequent autonomous choices.
This week I marked a significant choice. Yesterday I mailed a letter renouncing my ordination in the Southern Baptist Convention. (See photo.) The wisdom and necessity of this action became apparent as I gradually freed myself from the chains of prior causes and divine intervention.
My lifestance as a humanist, the debacle of the SBC meeting last month rejecting women, the inexcusable Evangelical support of T***p, an influential article in Politico (The Shrinking Baptist Convention), and the rise of militant Christianity were just a few of the many factors behind this decision.
Religion (particularly organized religion) is a mess. I could not find a procedure to renounce my ordination. And once I did, the steps were impossible to take. One can only renounce one’s ordination from the church that gave it. The little country church that ordained me has left the SBC and is now a “King James Only” Independent Fundamental Baptist Church. I won’t even get started on that.
So I sent the letter anyway. We’ll see what happens. After all, the men that rule that church elected Marjorie Taylor Greene to Congress.
I was ordained in 1979, served four other evangelical SBC churches (two megachurches) selflessly and honorably, and resigned autonomously in June 2006. The resignation while still “at the top of my game” was one of my first significant choices toward a joyful life.
For the next fifteen years, I suffered from PTSD (I do not use this term lightly) because of the religious cult I had escaped: terrible inception-like nightmares, flashbacks, severe anxiety, and uncontrollable thoughts about the years in ministry. My therapist helped me understand that PTSD symptoms are generally grouped into four types: intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in thinking and mood, and changes in physical and emotional reactions.
He explained and empathized with my difficulty adjusting and coping with newfound freedom. He encouraged me that the symptoms usually improve with time and good self-care. Thankfully, for me, he was correct. But it took fifteen horrific years. The chains of religion are suffocating.
I still experience nightmares and flashbacks, particularly when watching recent documentaries about Hillsong, Remnant Church, and Bill Gothard or encountering judgmental and shame-filled people from my past. But they are much less frequent and intense.
As I more fully embrace my essentials—sensuality, curiosity, intimacy, and autonomy (all of which were censored by religion) the wholeness and joy of living out who I truly am is worth all the suffering, therapy, estrangement, and extreme change. Renouncing my ordination is yet another step toward a life of freedom—autonomy. I’m grateful.