In Bible college I was an Urban Missions major. I learned to exegete scripture in order to craft sermons; I memorized all the major and minor prophets and their fiery bushes or sudden ascensions into heaven; and I studied, inside and out, the Ten Commandments given to Mosses in the Book of Exodus. But my most important lesson came from a regular semesterly check-in with my female guidance counselor, who happened to be married to my ethics professor. She sat me down in her office and very plainly told me I should switch my major to Elementary Education if I wished to be more useful to my husband on the mission field. She reminded me I would never be allowed to be ordained as a woman in the Pentecostal, Charismatic, Evangelical denomination of the Assemblies of God. Despite being nineteen, not engaged, and unwed, I knew she was right.
Some of you who’ve been following my personal blog for the last ten years, know I’m a recovering Evangelical Christian. Evangelicals believe in the necessity of evangelizing the lost, and feel called to make sure every corner of the world is being told about accepting Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior, in order to secure passage to heaven. They believe a personal relationship with Christ is the only route to eternal life, and those who don’t abide by his teachings will perish in hell.
Evangelicals are very keyed up, worried people, in my experience. They’re pretty concerned about everyone’s fate, including their own, after this lifetime. They’re also very stressed out about how much they’re praying, reading their Bibles, and attending services to counteract whatever sinful desires are going on in their corrupt hearts and minds.
Sadly, I took her advice and began studying to be a teacher the following term. A year and a half later, I married a very handsome, athletic guy who was top of his class in the Theology program. For twenty years, I partnered with him in full time ministry as youth and emerging adult pastors. It was our calling to show lost souls the error of their ways, and lead them to repeat a simple prayer admitting they were inherently sinful, deny their fleshly whims, and to convince them follow after the teachings of the church. We taught them the redemption of their lives, their salvation from Hell, was a free gift—something they couldn’t earn. However, ironically, the teachings of the church were a list of things you needed to do regularly in order to maintain this free gift. Eventually, to me, it began to feel like a sly marketing scheme—sign up for free, but pay dearly once you’re a member.
The more I read and learned about Christianity, the less it made any sense. I never felt the least bit accepted or peaceful about who I was under the watchful eyes of the Church. I was constantly having to apologize for who I was, deny what I truly wanted to do with my time, repent for who I was attracted to, and conform to a set of impossible rules. It was exhausting, depressing, and created a series of chronic stress-related health problems for me. Not seeing the connection, I took these health concerns to the altar for healing with no results. Instead was shamed by church elders and board members for not having enough faith to be healed. I blamed myself too—I knew full well I only needed faith the size of a mustard seed to experience profound miracles, yet I could not muster it. I felt convinced my sin was too great for Jesus’ blood to wash clean.
As I got older though, I began to question the logic behind why I wasn’t being healed. How come a woman could touch the hem of Jesus’ robe and be healed, yet here I was a virgin on my wedding day, a pastor’s wife, a self-sacrificing mother, leading women’s Bible studies, begging on the carpeted stairs of heaven, with no results?
In my mid-thirties, with three children in tow, I started studying alternative medicine, yoga, meditation, and energy healing. I began to realize my health issues were mainly stemming from all the stress of trying to be someone I wasn’t. I became increasingly aware I’d been denying my fleshly desires of falling in love with a woman. After a couple of years of trying to suppress this forbidden knowledge, I had a long, confessional chat with my minister husband about my attraction to women. He, thankfully, was educated to a doctoral level in some very liberal minded universities outside of our denomination, and had as a result adopted a different impression of what my eternal fate might be if I were to act on my gay feelings. There were many factors involved in our separation and divorce, but a large one was my being released from a vow I’d made under false spiritual legalities. At twelve, I was sat down by a Sunday school teacher and told very plainly that all gay people would burn in Hell for eternity, and that it ranked with the major sins of those who slept with their fathers and farm animals. It turns out this was false information.
Jesus said, “The truth will set you free.” John 8:32
It was such a relief to be set free from that lie. Lies and rhetoric go deep into the root of us though, and making lifestyle changes and free choices can feel trepidatious at best. The guilt and shame are so deeply engrained in my thought wiring, that even after several years of being “out,” I still struggle with hiding not only this part of myself, but other unconventional aspects of myself too—like having a strong intuitive connection. One of my best friends, Chris, says “Normal is a setting on the dryer. It’s not a real thing.” Yet we all hold ourselves in comparison to the illusion of it, afraid we don’t measure up.
Through my deconstruction and excavation of all the false information I was taught in my Evangelical career, I’ve been practicing being braver about showing my whole self. In doing so, I’ve found there’s a whole community of people healing from the same trauma. It’s a relief to know I’m not alone in the realization that Evangelicals have gotten it wrong. In fact, there’s now a term for recovering evangelicals like me: Exvangelical.
The Urban Dictionary, defines exvangelical as “a person who has left the Evangelical Christian movement. This includes people who have left to more progressive Christian denominations as well as those who have left Christianity altogether.”
Remarkably, there are hidden permissions to love and seek truth throughout the Bible. It’s the followers who are afraid to look too deeply into it. Their anxieties about rules and parameters keep them enslaved to small ideas and confined in tiny, suffocated spaces.
Some of my old Evangelical friends have let me know they’re worried about my salvation now that I’m gay and practicing energy healing. I’m having (gay) sex outside of marriage, and I’m using phrases like, “The Universe,” to tell people my idea of “God” has expanded. I have a strong connection to the spiritual world—sometimes I communicate with those who’ve crossed over into that mysterious world. I experience great and powerful, healing energy, brimming with love and multi-colored spectrum light, when I tap into it. I’ve always been predisposed to empathic energy and healing work, which is why religion was so enticing to me in the first place. Oddly, my days in the church prepared me well for the paranormal—it was a place to freely sense the Spirit, and tap into something unseen and outside of myself. Still, it’s all a bit too much for my Evangelical acquaintances to be comfortable with outside their Biblical parameters. I dare say they’re prayer-gossiping about me as we speak. Thankfully, my best friend left the Evangelical scene around the same time I did, and I’ve had good company with her support. We cringe and forgive ourselves for prayer-gossiping about people we deemed in need of salvation before we awoke to the insanity of it all.
The journey of awakening to the truth about Evangelicals, the universe, and consequently myself, has been jarring and disorienting to say the least. In many ways, I’m a newborn in this wide world of human pleasure and purpose—I’m still finding my balance within it all. I feel encouraged to have a movement and network of others to lean into and talk to about it. Many of us married young to remain pure, or spent long decades of our youth boycotting music and dancing, and martyring ourselves for Jesus, instead of enjoying life. Like Neo discovering the Matrix, we’re all a bit pasty and intense—some of us are pretty flipping mad too.
Thankfully, a few of the women who were not allowed to preach religious dogma from the pulpit, became Exvangelical ministers of the actual truth. Brave forerunners like Jamie Lee Finch, an embodiment coach and Meliea Black, an Intuition Activist, are leading the lost evangelicals out of the debilitating lack of self trust the Church used to hold us back and in place. I hope to join forces with women like them who are taking their painful experiences and transmuting them into healing support for people who are also deconstructing religious trauma, and attempting to establish an authentic connection with their bodies.
When those of us, who’ve found the truth, offer this support back to others simply by sharing our stories, our impact on the patriarchal machine will be immense. This work of waking up is heavy lifting, and we all need shared strength while we dig deep into the root system of all our residual dogma. If you find yourself in a similar place of awakening from the disillusion of a religious upbringing, I hope you’ll connect with me, or other healers and coaches like Jamie and Meliea, and tune in to some of the resources available to us.
Peace and Love,