I was writhing in fury in the balcony of a Colorado Springs megachurch one Saturday night in 2013. I gripped my wife’s hand tightly.
It was probably good that we were sitting in the balcony because I have never wanted to punch a preacher more than I did that night.
I had spent the past four summers teaching kids about Jesus on staff at a United Methodist Church camp, and this preacher had just said “the entire United Methodist Church is basically godless.”
I looked at my wife in stunned horror. My entire body tensed up.
With much support and soothing from my wife, who I met at that “godless” camp, I managed to remain in my seat, livid, for the rest of the service.
We never went back.
At another church’s bookstore I found a book about how Christians who believe the theory of evolution is real are “compromisers.”
I never went back there, either.
At another one-visit church, the sermon was about how God used Lazarus’ death for God’s glory. What kind of god lets a man get sick and die, and his sisters mourn him for three days, “for glory”?
My main crisis of faith started a few years earlier when someone, a fellow Christian, told me “God commanded genocide.”
I was an atheist for a solid 15 minutes until a pastor’s blog showed me a way I could reject divine genocide and keep my faith. I later discovered a different, more ancient way of reading those verses.
My stories, which include childhood abuse (the Bible says “He who spares the rod hates his son”), are mild compared to others’ about church leadership covering up physical or sexual abuse, and shaming victims because telling the truth would be “a bad witness” and “divisive” and “bitter.”
I’m by no means alone. So many of us “exvangelicals” have similar stories.
For the sin of wrestling with our doubts and building a more resilient faith, our faith communities maligned us as “compromisers.”
For the sin of reading the whole Bible through the lens of Christ, they asked us why we “don’t believe in the Bible anymore.”
For the sin of taking seriously Christ’s command to love our neighbors, they accused us of “wanting to fit in with the world.”
Some of us quit on church but worship in bed Sunday mornings, giving thanks to God for the extra rest.
Some dynamited their faith but held onto the core of “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Others joined a different religion altogether that lived out the Christian ideals they were taught better than their church had.
Some, like me, went to seminary and came away with even more questions.
Some slipped into the back pew of a church in a different denomination after weeks, months or years away, healing from their trauma.
And some of the most committed followers of Jesus you’ll ever meet may never darken the door of a church building again.
This column appeared in The Herald-Palladium on February 5, 2022.