Why I Left: Shea's Story
What type of church did you attend at the time of your leaving?
Did you find a new church to attend?
I work at a mainline church now
Did you leave organized religion entirely?
I grew up Pentecostal. And by that, I mean exorcisms, praying in tongues, falling and rolling around on the floor - everything short of snake handling (though some of our members were into it). Even though my dad was the pastor I didn’t get it. At a young age, I had questions: “What do you mean there’s a place called hell?” “If God is love, why be so cruel?” “What if being gay isn’t a choice or spirit that needs to be exorcised?” But time and time again, I was told my “doubt was the enemy,” that I needed to renew my mind and resist the devil. My childhood was full of emotional abuse and the heavy weight that I disappointed God and my deeply (hyper-) spiritual family.
Some years later, I did not leave the church but found myself working as a worship leader at the fifth largest church in America. I loved the loud music, playing cover songs, and initially, the seemingly hip nature of following Jesus. But when I came on staff, I saw the ugly side. It was like a business in more than one sense. I vividly remember a staff meeting where the head pastor (who was later fired for alcoholism and being abusive to his wife) stood up and gave an approximate number of salvations based on the services and special effects he had planned. He spoke about a lady having an abortion: “We will have hundreds of salvations that day!” Something inside of me changed that day. It all ended for me when the church asked me, as the worship leader at a campus, to monitor the band’s giving. If they didn’t give at least 10% of what they were paid for playing at the church, I was to bench them. I could not do that. Like the theology they preached from the stage - that if you didn’t give a true tithe off of your gross income your finances were cursed - monitoring someone’s giving felt unethical. So I walked away from the job I loved because I believed it to be harmful.
And to be honest, since then, it’s been a struggle to find a place to belong. I have a skill set that would flourish in an evangelical church, but I cannot go back. (I tried for a few months and was fired from the church because of my political views. I was seen as “divisive” because i talked about racism.) Now I’m fortunate to work part-time as a youth director at a PCUSA church. They love me here. They welcome my questions, my anger, and my story. I’m also finishing my PhD in Theology and Cultural Criticism. I think I continue to study because I don’t know what else to do. Both my parents and my wife’s parents don’t think we are truly Christian. I have been told that I’m deceived and I’m “supposed to be the spiritual head of the household.” Yet, we continue on this lonely journey together.
And yet, there is hope. Some of our closest friends just left the Mormon church. We have been able to listen as they process. We are finding others that are in the same spot we are: spiritually open and a little relig-ish.
This is my story. Some days are better than others. But I know it comes with the territory.
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