what it's like…to get kicked out of church

blog what its like to get kicked out of churchtoday is the first post in a series of posts i’ll share over the next month or so called “what it’s like…”  i am grateful for the many brave and honest friends who are journeying through all kinds of tricky places in their lives, spiritually, emotionally, practically. one of my #1 most favorite songs is what it’s’ like by everclear (warning: bad language). we can never know what it’s like to walk in another man’s shoes. but we can become people of compassion who try to understand what it’s like.  and we can also find great comfort in knowing there are others who share some of our same feelings.  when i first started getting honest about my past i can’t explain the relief i felt when i finally met some other women who understood some of my feelings in ways others couldn’t.  thanks for honoring these stories with kindness and respect.  if you want to read some other past blog interviews, too, i have several other series from a few years ago–a view from the margins, out of the darkness, and signs of hope.

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this first one for what it’s like  is from my friend janell* (all of the names have been changed) and is a story near and dear to my heart.  a faithful follower of Jesus for years, she was kicked out of church and is finding freedom and hope in all kinds of new ways.  here’s what it’s been like for her.  my guess is some of you can relate.

describe a little bit about your background, faith experience, and what lead up to the “beginning of the end” when it came to church.

I began to follow Christ in earnest as a 12 year old girl.  Eventually I found my way to “Bible-believing churches” and became everything a stereotypical “good church lady” would be–a team player and woman who knew her place, and teaching women while carefully not appearing to know more than the pastor/leaders.  Our children were raised in a very Christian bubble as well.   In recent years, I had become a little edgy or restless, wondering if what we were doing “as the church” looked much like Jesus.

what did the end look like for you?

The end was dramatic and traumatic. A new policy was launched, and “feedback welcomed.” We saw the policy as mistreating people we loved, and we stated our objections strongly.   I naively believed my objections would be considered, since I was addressing brothers in Christ, friends, and long-time partners in ministry.

They responded from a strong power position, saying they would not answer us and that we were in spiritual danger for having criticized them. As we pursued communication and reconciliation, we were increasingly labeled as divisive and rebellious. Then our membership was removed through a phone call saying we had been “taken captive by Satan to do his will.” They followed up with a letter to all the membership calling us “false teachers,” and “savage wolves,” and saying that we were now to be “handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.” This was all done “in the name of God.”

it’s all so traumatic! what are some of the raw feelings you experienced during this season?

I had every feeling you would expect in a person just released from slavery, or any other refugee who is displaced.  I still alternate between “this is the worst thing that ever happened to me” and “this is the best thing that ever happened to me.”  There was relief and release to be out of something so painful and dysfunctional.  There was also a great sense of disorientation, being off-balance without solid footing; the loss of identity and purpose felt like a black hole.  Despair is one of the best descriptors.  There was devastation from loss and betrayal of close and trusted friendships, and a sense that all of life was in ruins.

Also, I experienced tons of shame. It took me to places where I could think of nothing else except what people thought of me.  All of these feelings created an emotional paralysis, disconnection from life and people, and so much fear of the unknown.

what did you want to scream out to church leaders? to God? to anyone who would listen?

To leaders – “Who in the bloody world do you think you are to treat us/others this way? Do you have any idea what it is to live and love like Jesus?  You look nothing like Him!

To God – “Why do you let this go on?  So much pain, so many wounds, not just in our city but everywhere in the name of ‘church’, in the name of You!. Why do you sit still? Do you care?”

To myself – “Am I crazy?  Am I what they say I am?  What is the truth?  Who am I?  Where do I belong?”

To some former friends who went missing – “Where are you? Did I mean so little to you?”

what are some things that safe people did or said that have really helped you keep moving forward?

A couple of friends patiently listened to my lament, vents, and pain day after day with no judgment or advice.   

“What happened to you is wrong.”  It was a huge help to have people use the words “spiritual abuse” “reprehensible” and “heinous” for what happened to us.   

“You are not alone.”  As hard as it is to hear other people’s church wounds, it was comforting to know others shared and understood this experience. 

“I am here., followed by a demonstration of actually being there.

 “I love you.”

“I think you are —- (Awesome, noble, courageous, inspiring)”

what are some things that people said or did that hurt, that you’d put in the category of “these kinds of things really harm souls so don’t do or say it”?

Minimizing: implying that moving through this should be swift or simple, or that there is a time limit on the pain or grief of it.  “Move on,” “get over it,” “plug in somewhere,” “be sure you still use your gifts” or “All churches have problems.

Spiritualizing:  Statements that God is in control, God still has a purpose, etc. may be true but the timing was wrong.  God’s Word was used as a weapon against us soI couldn’t find comfort in Bible verses.   Reminders to forgive were painful too. These felt like telling an assault victim to be sure to forgive while the wounds are still fresh, instead of apprehending the criminal and making sure the wounds are bandaged.   

how has your relationship with God, others, yourself changed over these past season?

I’m definitely not a “church lady” any more in any sense of the word!  I haven’t been in a church building in almost a year except for weddings and funerals.  I have learned lots about my own integrity and core values and have no regret for standing for what I did.  I have learned tons about soul care and self-compassion and still have far to go in that.  I realize now my false view that “dying to myself” meant having no opinions or beliefs of my own. 

My faith is definitely in “deconstruction” and partial “reconstruction.” I am sorting and sifting a lot.  Some days, the only truth I hold to is “Jesus loves me, this I know”.

I am more ambivalent about relationships, and there is a pretty strong urge at times to isolate and not risk relationships.  I feel more cynical.

But now there are increasing moments when I see myself sliding down the slippery slope into an absolute ocean of grace, an ocean in which I can both rest and float, not drown or be pummeled by waves.

what words of hope do you have for others out here who have also “lost all they once held dear?”

I can’t think of anything more traumatic than being abused in the name of God.  It’s devastating.  My heart is with anyone who shares this experience.  There is a word picture that helped me.  In the horrible days of slavery in our country, there arose a network of people called the Underground Railroad who assisted escaped slaves in the journey toward freedom.  They placed lanterns outside their cabins and offered a safe place to receive nourishment, rest, and directions to the next cabin of safety.

In order to reach freedom, these escaped slaves travelling fearfully through the night had to place some trust in the kindness of people they had never met.  It was a risk, but without that risk they would never find their way to freedom. 

And so it is for us.  Rescue and rest and encouragement come from unexpected places.  There is love and kindness in the world.  It may show up in places you are not expecting to find it, so keep your eyes open for those lanterns in the night. 

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thank you, dear janell.  i am so honored to know you and see your honest journey toward freedom unfold after such deep hurt.  i am so sad at what gets done in the name of God.  you are brave and inspiring and such an important part of this crazy beautiful underground railroad.

next week for this series:  what it’s like…when your child comes out as gay

 

 

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Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

36 Comments

  • With memories, I shed tears. It’s one thing to do this to me & my husband. What they did to my teenage son, turned him away for God. An anger erupted from me that not only scared me, was hard to control. I felt I could hurt someone than on the night it happened. I was unfamiliar to myself.
    We pray continually for him, his wife & our beautiful grandchildren. “We lay our hope on nothing less, than Jesus love & righteousness.”

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    • oh jean, thanks for sharing, and it is so painful, the collateral damage inflicted on your son. i know of so many in the same boat on that one, the fallout when the kids saw what they did and what it means for their faith. peace.

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  • Thank you for sharing this story. It gives me courage to stay in my church and continue to be a voice in the wilderness. I am Catholic and it’s a BIG CHURCH out there. My little voice gets lost in all the big ones. We were raised to just listen and believe and it is hard to step out and speak against the big boys. But for so many reasons, I can’t be silent. There are lots of people encouraging me…and lots who think I am a rebellious child. I have to listen to the voice inside of me that speaks the truth…

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  • Thanks for sharing your story. It is sadly one I am hearing more and more. When I was growing up in church, the phrase used to describe this was ‘being given the left foot of fellowship’.
    Hmm…it feels more like being drop-kicked in the heart. The emotions you describe are so familiar: confusion, fear uncertainty, elation, relief, guilt….and it is amazing what even one genuine voice of understanding and compassion can do,

    It has been 5 1/2 years sine I parted ways with ‘the church’ and I still struggle with wondering if I’m crazy or ‘getting it all wrong’. It’s frustrating – I had some things go wrong yesterday and I still find myself wondering if God is punishing me for some unintended infraction. Sigh. The last two days have been a little rough – but they are getting less frequent.

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    • thanks jeannette, for sharing. yeah, that sacked out “God must be…or if i, then God..” reflex can be so strong from the systems we came from. i always say that even after all these years of pursuing healing and knowing better, when something goes wrong, my very first thought is that. yikes, but also just a reminder of how deep those grooves are and the reality that healing probably looks less like never feeling those feelings and more like just not staying stuck there anymore for long. peace to you, my friend from afar.

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  • I wish I weren’t the only one leaving a comment … the part that resonated most with me is the sensation of being crazy; second guessing every single thing I do. It never ends.

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    • thanks sonja, i think that’s such a huge one–the crazy factor. we get so indoctrinated into a culture that we don’t even know what “normal” is and then because everything else keeps spinning and we are out it’s so easy to second guess everything, sure that somehow “if we only…..” then everything could be fine again. and that thinking is much crazier!

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  • Who knew that the little Sunday school song…..though none will join me , still I will follow…..would mean such a (often) lonely journey!

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  • Just because the sign out front says “church”, and just because the people inside are singing Jesus songs, saying Jesus prayers and reading some verses here and there in a Jesus bible, doesn’t mean Jesus has anything to do with it. Some people love to be in control, to be right, to be in charge and have found religion one way to do those things. Unfortunately, some of them use Christianity as their vehicle and try to give the erroneous impression that they are a legitimate part of the body of Christ. If they feel their power and control is being challenged in any way, however, you’ll soon discover who they really are.

    Of course you’re better off once you’re away from those people. On the other hand it is painful to realize that you were taken in by them, and that what you thought were genuine, loving relationships were anything but.

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    • i think that’s one of the hardest parts, the feeling of betrayal. when we think we’re “family” and then we realize that in just one fell swoop, all can be lost.

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  • Thank you for sharing your story, Janell. This really speaks to me, and I identify so much with what you shared of how you felt/feel. It’s been just under a year since I was excommunicated from my church, and the pain is still very real. Thank you for having the courage to speak up in the first place, and for having the courage to share your story now.

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  • I can totally relate to this story, Janell. It echoes so much of what I have experienced and it is good to hear your story….another step on the road to spiritual freedom.

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  • Having this opportunity to share my story has been another step of healing for me … And you all have encouraged me with your humility and courage in sharing yours as well. Bless you.

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    • thanks for your honesty. i know it’s so hard to capture everything in one post but you did such a beautiful job of helping us experience what it’s like…..grateful.

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    • If you are still around…

      THANK YOU for sharing your story…seriously…thank you.

      I went through something very similar. Threatened to vote me out…to it to the district overseer even. Held prayer vigils around my house where they walked around the block praying me out of town at 3am in the morning lol.. I even crawled out a bedroom window to escape these people…good grief.

      Ooh. oof. I can laugh at it now. Couldn’t back then.

      And I STILL went back to church. Another church, mind you. But I went back..many states away lolololol

      And had it happen all over again.

      Evidentally my idea of justice for the widow the poor and the disabled scares the crap out of alot of people.

      I don’t “do church” now. I’m in an odd space. I still want to see that healthy space, that loving space, that safe space created for people like us….here in the middle of nowhere…(litterally and figuratively)

      I used to think I was the problem. I used to think that I needed to be a part of church so I could help “fix it” or be a “part of the solution” Then I came to the conclusion that they didn’t have room for Jesus in the “establishment”. Something that huge, that all consuming..passionate…loveless… had to be born outside the walls.

      So that is where I am sitting. in a stall. outside the walls. contemplating how much mess many oxen will make when things start coming together and working again…

      much love..

      and THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for sharing.

      me.

      Reply
  • I got way behind on my google reader so just now got this post. Thank you so much!
    It has been three years since we got the boot. I finally got brave enough to post a little bit on my blog just the last few days – in story form – some of what it felt like.

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    • hey kaye, just realized i never commented on this but thanks for taking time to share and glad you are finding ways to tell your story!

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  • I’m glad I came across this – I was ‘treated’ to the same phrases, “divisive”, threatened to be ‘cast over to Satan’ unless I ‘repented of my sin’, etc….lost people who I had thought were my friends – I grew up in churches, stood for everything conservatives stand for, was a ‘witness’ and ‘testimony’ and was ‘separated from the world’ and for what? I attend church with my wife when my conscience bothers me, or just to be around some people; but the church is THE LAST place I will ever trust anyone for anything, ever. (This from a Bible college graduate, and licensed pastor) I am just numb to life, going through the motions – my stuff happened about 5 years ago – it also included being fired from the church school where I had built a highly successful, very popular math program, and not one person to this day has admitted fault, or apologized, or reached out – no, I was painted as a heretic, unsaved, a danger to myself and others around me, etc….
    Sorry this is so long – the hurt is still deep. . . I hope you all recover way faster than I seem to be doing – I just feel like I was totally thrown onto the scrap heap as useless trash.

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    • fading shadow, thanks so much for sharing here; these real stories are so freaking painful, what happens in the name of Jesus, and that feeling of being “thrown onto the scrap heap as useless trash” is one many of us can relate to. and it’d not the way it is supposed to be. my heart hurts with you from afar..

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      • Also Thank you Kathyescobar for your empathy from afar. Your time you took to respond was helpful to me.

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    • So painful and maddening to hear what you experienced … You have worth and value because of your very existence. Some people are willing to destroy everything in their path to retain their power, it’s what happened to Jesus too. Please know that you are not alone, and even cyber space can be a place to be safe with your story and to know you are cared about.

      There is no statute of limitations on pain, our souls learn to include it, and i’m learning the real help that comes from feeling it. It takes what it takes, and can’t be rushed, I think.

      I’m so glad you shared a little of your story here. It’s a privilege to hear it, I consider your sharing holy ground.

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      • Thank you Janell, for your honoring, kindly words. That helped!

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  • I’m new to this blog so I’m going through lots of old ones….thank you so so much for sharing your journey…I’m on my own painful exit from a church, one not so overtly abusive as your experience, but it really helps my healing process to read this post. The alternating between this is the worst thing and this is the best thing that ever happened to me sounds so familiar. Thank you for sharing and bringing me some comfort. I hope, now it’s a few years on, that you have experienced even more healing, freedom and affirmation.

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  • I was taken out of church right when the service was just beginning back in 2001. I was shocked when the police came right up to my pew and marched me out the front door. There was an off duty officer in the service who stated he didn’t even know I was in there let alone causing any trouble – which I was not. I was taken to headquarters where nobody from the church made any statements against me. The officers found nothing to charge me with so one of them gave me a ride home. On the way home the officer invited me to his church saying I wouldn’t be arrested there. In 2012 there was a big lawsuit which I opted into and was awarded $24000. I haven’t been to church in nearly 17 years. They had a part of the settlement where I was supposed to stand up front of the service but I skipped that.

    Reply

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