church refugees part 1 – a video conversation

thanks everyone for the comments on my last little rant.  it definitely stirred up a little trouble, and it’s so funny that it got linked to an ultra conservative site as an example of an unhappy leftist feminist. ha ha.   anyway, i appreciate all of your thoughts & i don’t mind being one of the loud naughty christians who stir up awareness of this issue because it needs stirring. we need reminding that sexism in the church is holding it back from what could be.  we need reminding that we all play a part in breaking the chains of oppression for the unrepresented, the marginalized (and i’m not just talking about women) and that things will never change if we keep just leaning into the status quo.  i have also yet again been reminded of something that i am pretty sure richard rohr said:  the best criticism is to provide a better alternative… (definitely paraphrased but you get the point).  even though so many times i think that all of the refuge nuttiness is insignificant in the big scheme of things, these kinds of moments remind me that we need more and more practical, real models where it is actually happening.  we all know, theory is one thing; practice is quite another.  what i’m seeing up-close-and-personal when it comes to equality in the church is really pretty.   and really possible.  and i am more than willing to do my little part in helping others try to live it out, too.  my hope is over time (and oh is it going to take lot of it) it will become the norm instead of the exception.

over the next two weeks i wanted to share with you 3 video conversations that i recorded a couple of months ago with my-dear-and-wise-friend-on-the-journey phyllis mathis.  she is a therapist, life-coach, and has been involved in church leadership in all kinds of shapes and forms for many years.  she, like so many others i know, has ended up as a “church refugee”–displaced from “the church” after years and years of giving her life to it. so many of the stories we both intersect with over the course of the work that we do seems to center around church refugees.  good, beautiful, people who for all kinds of reasons left all they once knew and are now in the foreign land of church-less-ness, cynicism, and loss. this particular conversation centers in on some of the disillusionment that often comes over “the system” and the realities of the gravitational pull toward margin.

as always, i would love to hear what it stirs up in you.


Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • Well, you two, way to hit it out of the park! Love it, and it pretty much sums up my experiences. It’s taken me most of 5 years to stop feeling like a refugee FROM something and become a person headed TO something new.

  • Great job, you guys!!! I totally can relate, as before I was a refuge-ee I was for sure a refugee, haha 🙂 I started my church experience being in the “desirable color zone” and was verrrrrry aware of the tension of not bleeding the boundaries. In fact, that very word has, been, in my experience, used to explain why it is so important to keep the healthy/unhealthy structure.

    I think part of my whole disenchantment with the structure as I knew it was getting to know people on a deep level helped me see how, um, truly “blue” everyone really is? Yet the emotional hiding game is like a never-ending round of tag?

    I understand how Phyllis’ church demise was the client population, as how do you know where to send people for life aftercare?!? Right back into a facade of ok-ness? Um, nooo thanks.

    I was pretty freaked out when I was no longer in the confines of a church system, though, as I thought that the next step down from Super Christian was rampant out of controllness & illegal behavior. Seriously. I decided, however, that a nutty life was better than forcing myself to participate in a system that made me doubt my own integrity.

    So glad to be a part of a community now where doubts and pain and fears aren’t like scarlet letters, but considered just part of the fodder of doing life together. A crazy beautiful palette of colors allll mixed together. 😉

    Love you both, & now can’t imagine doing life with either one of you. 🙂

  • If the church is to be a place of refuge, then it must learn how to invite, welcome, support and include refugees.

    Being a place of refuge will require the dropping of aspirations for church growth and becoming/returning to a meaningful place in the secular community.

    Being a place of refuge will require the church to deliver the Good News of God and not the News That Is Good For The Church.

  • Interesting video conversation!

    The voices of those who have departed from organized religion need to be heard and heeded. Otherwise the same mistakes are repeated and repeated. Then again, those mistakes may be repeated anyway as long as the money stream continues to flow.

    How easy it is for those of us who have departed to get stuck in the rut of forever critiquing what we left. Our criticisms may be right and just, but after awhile we find that we’re not moving forward.

    Some of us recognize that many of the groups we left smell more of religion than Jesus. Obviously I can’t do much about that, but I can determine to follow Jesus. When I read about Him, I find Him accepting everyone. I don’t see Him putting down anyone based on their gender, race, economic status or whatever. If He gets on anyone’s case, it is those who have bound up heavy burdens and placed them on others backs. That would be much of the religious establishment of His day, if I read correctly. Not much has changed, has it?

    Jesus loves people of all kinds. He spends His very life for them. He doesn’t do it for the material rewards. The common people love Him back. That’s what I want to look like. I want to smell like Jesus to the people in my world. The only ones I know who have a problem with that are the religious folks who seem to have their own agenda in mind, an agenda that I don’t find in the Gospels or see modeled by Jesus.

    Often it’s difficult to figure out who the Jesus followers are and who the religionists are. I think Tullian Tchividjian’s definition of the real church comes as close as anything I’ve seen to helping me figure this out: If we’re the church we’ll attract the same kinds of people that Jesus attracted. I can do this in my own life, even if If I don’t see that happening in the organized religious groups I know.

  • Sam,

    “I think Tullian Tchividjian’s definition of the real church comes as close as anything I’ve seen to helping me figure this out: If we’re the church we’ll attract the same kinds of people that Jesus attracted.”

    Now THAT is a metric I can live with!

    Have you got a specific citation for the quote? (so I can avoid the research time – GRINS)

  • I heard Tchividjian’s interview on Steve Brown etc. a few weeks ago, which is definitely worth the time to listen to. Also, see the article about him a few days ago on internetmonk, which quotes his interview at Church Executive, where he says “I said that if our ministry was not attracting the same kinds of people that Jesus attracted, then we were not preaching the same message that Jesus preached.” He is referring to the church he pastors, Coral Ridge Presbyterian.

  • erin – oh how i thought of you during these conversations. 2 more are coming. i think the “going to” is definitely more complex than the “leaving behind” part (that’s so much more clear). the going-to-fuzziness is the hardest part, and maybe one of the most beautiful parts, too, because of the mystery, the unknown, the beauty of the now that most of us aren’t too good at noticing. thanks for all you do to offer hope & courage to others church refugees…xo

    stacy – i am so glad you are part of the world that includes the words “nutty” “beautiful” “messy” and “crazy” ha ha.

    doug – thanks for what you share here, it is really encouraging in all kinds of ways. yes, my hope is that the church would become a place of refuge…when we started the refuge some people outside of our community said “that’s not a mission-focused word, it’s too internal” and we stuck with it because we knew deep in our hearts how important it was to create a safe place for all the stragglers, the fringers, the worn out, the questioners, the doubters, um, the human-beings…

    sam – i love the smelling like Jesus part. oh that’s pretty sma, oh meant sam 🙂 best quote in a long time, and i hadn’t heard it, thanks for sharing: “If we’re the church we’ll attract the same kinds of people that Jesus attracted.” beautiful.

    esther – thanks for your honesty & the link….peace to you from afar

    christine – thanks for reading. peace & hope to you in the beautiful work you all are doing up there!

  • Hmm… it’s odd. Until I watched this, I didn’t realize I still – after 3 1/2 years feel like a refugee.

    I was definitely a ‘blue zone’ person. But God placed me square in the middle of the ‘red zone’ – leadership, not less. And that caused no small amount of friction and discomfort, all by itself.

    I felt a lot of the this-isn’t-right-but I’m-not-sure-what-to-do-about-it thing. But the ultimate demise for me and the system came from the unmasking of gross abuse hidden under the ‘beatiful’ veneer.

    And 3 1/2 years later, I still don’t know if I ever want to be part of a church again.

    Of course, that was just the last church experience I had. I grew up in the system with parents that were deacons and Sunday School teachers… and abusive. I walked away from church when I was 16 and didn’t get pulled back in until I was 37. Then 7 more years before I walked away again… and watching this makes me realize I am not as healed as I would like to be.

  • When you get asked out for Mexican Restaurant for lunch or “coffee”…Beaware…thats code for you are about to get your a**kicked spiritually and get asked to find another place to call your church home.
    At least that has been my experience…(o:
    No questioning or wrestling with God allowed.


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