note: this post contains some names that were changed to protect the people mentioned. Any name with an asterisk [*] next to it has been changed.
You can be amazing
You can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug
You can be the outcast
Or be the backlash of somebody’s lack of love
Or you can start speaking up
Nothing’s gonna hurt you the way that words do
And they settle ‘neath your skin
Kept on the inside and no sunlight
Sometimes a shadow wins
But I wonder what would happen if you
Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
Innocence, your history of silence
Won’t do you any good
Did you think it would?
Let your words be anything but empty
Why don’t you tell them the truth?
– Brave, Sara Bareilles
“We don’t remember what they told us years ago. Stop asking people. You don’t want to start gossiping.” These are the messages I received from my parents and others when I started asking questions about a former church of mine, a small conservative reformed denomination (this clarification was always stressed, after all, we wouldn’t want people thinking we are part of our sister denomination, who were more liberal). Why all but one deacon and his family had left all those years ago. Why so many of my friends had switched churches. Why it still hurt and was unresolved. I needed to know. I could no longer let this unknown wound hurt me with no resolution or healing in sight.
So I started digging. This blog series (Church Secrets) will share some of the things I learned along the way. The reasons why I decided to leave my church. The reasons why I call it my ex-church instead of one of my former churches. The reasons why I currently do not attend church and struggle to trust any leaders in church.
It was November 2014. I went home early for Thanksgiving break so that I could see my counselor for a special 2 hour session to work through a large chunk of my major bad relationship (the one with the 40+ year old man online). I also got to visit some of my friends. Samantha*, one of my friends who had previously been a part of my church, started talking to me about what had happened. I thought she might know more because she and her family were close friends with some of the deacons and their families.
It had been over two years since Samantha and her family had left the church. A couple weeks before I visited them, they received a printed letter from the church. I’m going to quote the parts particularly relevant to this post below (click here to read the full letter). Pay close attention to the last paragraph in particular.
You may be worshipping with another Bible-believing church. If so, though we hate to lose you, please inform us so we can formally transfer your membership, or if you have already joined another body, please let us know so that we can remove you from the rolls. We wish you nothing but God’s greatest blessings on you and all you do.
The writer of Hebrews tells us “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encourage one another…” We hope that we can be a church that does that for you. If you are not currently worshipping with another church, in love we urge you to either return to us (again, we’d love to have you back!) or find another part of Christ’s body to affiliate with where God’s Word is proclaimed, the Gospel is offered to sinners, the sacraments are given, and there is godly oversight by church leadership.
If you chose neither of these routes, the elders of our church will be forced to remove your name from our rolls, and we would consider you to have left the Church Universal and to not be covered by the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ.
I was shocked. I thought that excommunication ended hundreds of years ago. But no. It still goes on today. It went on at MY church. My own pastor and elders approved of this. And all you had to do was either not attend any church at all (because clearly all the sermons about not adding anything to the gospel were lies) or not attending a church that they approve of means you are not saved. What the actual fuck.
Yes. This actually happened. The leaders who I trusted and looked up to for over ten years were writing letters to former members informing them that they would treat them as unbelievers if they didn’t meet the right requirements.
Just thinking about this and re-reading everything over the last two days has kept me up until 6 am the other day. It’s been over a year now since I left my ex-church, and I’m finally able to start sharing some of the things that motivated me to leave. In future parts of this series I will be sharing: e-mails I received from the pastor when he learned that I was talking to former church members, a conversation I had regarding a former church ministry/outreach, a letter that was sent to all the members regarding a specific family who left, and more.