Liberals in conservative churches: leave, or stay to effect change?

Yesterday on my Facebook page I wrote this:

I receive letters from closeted liberals in conservative Christian organizations–ministries, seminaries, churches. They’re torn between leaving, and staying so they can effect change from within. What’s been your experience?

You would not believe how many such letters I get in. Each is unique, of course. But generally speaking I would say to any conservative church-goer, “Dude [to me a unisex sobriquet], you have no idea what kind of people are in your church.”

Sobriquet. Huh? Huh? Wheredaya think you are, your corner liquor store?

My sobriquet should be Roget.

Please don’t kill me.

Which is what many liberal Christians in conservative churches are secretly thinking whilst socializing around the ol’ donut table between services.

And what should such Christians do? Stay, have another donut, and try to effect changes in their church from within? Or bolt, go find a flock with similarly feathered birds, and start flying?

Either way, I think we can all agree that they should snag another donut. I know I always do. Sometimes getting two free donuts is the only reason I go to church. But this isn’t about me.

Seriously, friends: I cannot believe the quality of responses to this question left on my Facebook page. (Which, if you haven’t already, please go “Like” right now so I’ll know my life has depth and purpose.) Just remarkable stuff. Roget Sobriquet or not, words fail me. (Stupid words. Why can’t just pressing my chest against my iMac tell you what I think? I would so buy that app!)

If you are a liberal Christian who has written to ask me whether you should leave your conservative church or stay to effect change from within it, then … well, then I’ve probably already written you back about that. And so you’re likely aware that my core feeling on such matters is that it’s best to move on: that people don’t change, that life’s too short, that you don’t want to end up in jail for one day snapping during a service, etc.

On the other giant hand, I know how much just this blog has changed people.

So obviously the answer is that everyone should start a blog.

Oh, right: everyone already has.

Cool!

Seriously: I know that right now there are a lot of Christians deeply conflicted over the relationship between their values and the church family they’ve come to know and love. And of course there’s no one-size-fits-all answer for such a conundrum. All there can be, for each of us with any such concern, is reflection, prayer and discernment. And to help with that sacred process on the particular matter we’re here discussing, I can definitely recommend reading through what turned out to be a superb repository of thoughtful and heartfelt offerings. Some of which are:

“I stayed for a long time until I realized I was avoiding church because it was so distasteful. Even the friends, long history of good relationships and other support wasn’t enough. Then it was time to go–which opened up a whole ‘nother phase of spiritual growth, for me. So my advice would be, it varies by person and stage you’re in, but be open to new experiences. Leaving is never wrong, let’s put it that way. It may not be your best option at a given time and phase, but it’s never wrong per se.” — Jessica Turner

“While I did stay for 5 years, I tried to speak up and it definitely make me a stronger (but scarred) person. People from my old church seem to know they can come to me when they feel extremely stressed about the church which always surprises me, esp the ones that didn’t know me that well. And I have messaged young people privately, that have witnessed evil things (like even their own parents freely slandering and gossiping about others) and all I say is, “Remember not everyone in church acts like that and it is wrong. There are some who are trying to follow in Christ’s footsteps.” — Shirley Valleroy Buntin

“My partner and I were rejected as potential members of a local conservative church that we had grown to love (the worship was awesome!). They said we could stay and worship there but we chose to leave. However, I have since realized that I believe we can make more of an impact if we simply stay and really let people get to know us, so they can see that we are regular human beings. I know that we will not change church doctrine, but we will likely change a few human hearts.” — Julia Simmons

“What decided me was the fact that I truly believed we are to be the light of love to the world and the body of Christ that was about grace, forgiveness, and love was a city on the hill. All of the time I spent trying to get the whosoever won’ts to become whosoever wills was time taken from loving the lost, cold, suffering, abused, etc. Venturing out in the wilderness is not lonely, it actually takes less time for you to be appreciated just because you care. I much prefer reminding gay friends who are not churchy that no one can take their faith from them, that freedom of religion means they can love Jesus without permission, and that they have a spirit that will guide them too. Some of them truly become strong defendants of all faiths. I love seeing wild people grasp and own their own love of good and God and stop carrying socialized guilt because they have no use for the traditional church rules. It’s not lonely and I have spent more time discussing God and faith and spirit with “sinners” than the “saints” were ever interested in exploring.” — Brena Easterday

“Some people flourish in environments of conflict. For them, I say “stay.” Others flourish in peaceful environments. For them, I say “leave”. God will work through you wherever you are at, but when you find the place that helps you to flourish, you will see Him working in ways you never dreamed possible. Personally, I flourish in peaceful environments. I left a conservative church that seemed to WANT strife and turmoil every 16-18 months. Splits, pastoral firings, staff turnover…. Ended up in the Catholic church, and now have conservative and liberal friends. And I finally found the peace and place where I can open up and be myself. It also helped that I wasn’t pressured to join every committee, or be there every time the doors are open. I limited my “church duties” and am living a much more peaceful and loving life. And I’ve grown tremendously!!!” — Jennifer Vance

“I realized that my cash in the basket may be paying for lawyers to oppress rape victims, and my butt in the pew was a source of political power. For me, there is no moral option. I am out.” — Mike Huber

“I tried many years to stay, thinking if I wasn’t strong enough to try to enact change, who might never hear the truth? But I found that eventually, it was just killing me. I really wasn’t being fed and could never just relax and be me. I started avoiding going at all. When I realized I wasn’t the “strong one” I had envisioned, I went out and found a congregation that already shared my ideals and visions. Now I work to let people know that such congregations already exist as an option and I have never been happier.” — AC Smith

“I’m staying because I think that it’s important that people see that there are genuine, true-believing Christians who hold different opinions on some subjects. I am not rewriting Scripture, I’m not throwing out the Bible, I’m not living some kind of crazy, wild-eyed “radical secular” life. (Whatever that means.) But I’m well to the left of my Church. When some members speak in general terms about how evil and anti-Christian someone has to be to hold certain views, I’ve been known to ask if that applies to me. This generally results in some hemming and hawing, though not a concession. Have I won anyone over? Not yet. But some of us are more willing to speak knowing that there are more of us in here.There might come a time when I have to walk, but that time is not yet. This is my family, even if we disagree on some major points. I don’t begrudge anyone who makes the choice to leave. This is where I think I need to be right now.” — Ken Leonard

“If there is genuine and honest interest in dialogue and achieving mutual understanding, then stay as long as it does not wither your soul. But if it is a place where people already “know” the answers and are more interested in changing others, run as fast as you can and never look back.” — Jeff Blackshear

 

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is co-founder of The NALT Christians Project and founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here). His blog is here. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • John C Hoddy via Facebook

    I have found that it is very different to effect change from within. It is probably more mentally and emotionally healthy to go than to stay.

  • Mike Little via Facebook

    I keep having images of repeatedly walking into a cement wall… each time expecting it to give a little and each time my headache becoming more intense.

  • Mike Little via Facebook

    And that being said, I’ve since learned that the same cement wall exists in liberal churches as well. Why are we christians so dang disputatious?

  • Martin

    Where I am from, there are only conservative churches. If a liberal church were perhaps to pop up somewhere nearby, I may just start attending church again after two years.

  • http://pathux.wordpress.com/ Pat

    I stayed for awhile, because I had friends (you have them until you leave anyway, Ha!) and I loved the worship (was on the worship team). But I had no real fellowship because my ideas were evolving and didn’t fit the denomination’s statement of belief.

    I would take notes in the ladies’ Bible study, and come home and rewrite the whole thing. I learned a lot by doing that, but in the end it became a waste of time. The same thing happened regarding the pastor’s sermons.

    So, I left. Nicely, quietly, but I tell the pastor it wasn’t working out because of the official doctrines. I had thought I could live with them, but could not. And the colored everything, really.

    Now I have found that, A) I am the church, and, B) the structured church doesn’t work, at least not for me. So, I fellowship one on one when I can. Thank God for Facebook. I have met like minded people on it. Some are local and we get together when we can.

    I have never been happier, but it is hard to find that fellowship consistently. Still, I could only go back into a church if there truly was freedom. I’m not sure that place exists.

  • Leslie Marbach

    Here’s the thing. If you have to take Xanax just to avoid going into full-blown, sweaty, eye-twitchy panic attacks just by walking through the church doors, it’s probably time to leave. That or when they tell you you can’t serve the homeless and poor because you’re too gay. Either one, but yeah, what do I know.

  • Alan

    Definitely situational. Fer example, I was a long time member of a very liberal little church in a not-so-liberal major mainline denomination. Being loved and nurtured in that liberal congregation made fighting the good fight at the denominational level much, much easier.

    Eventually that very liberal little church changed the denomination, the PCUSA, which now allows LGBT people to be ordained. One church … about 50 members … wrote and put forward the overture (the bill) that became the “law” of the entire denomination … about 1 million members. No one from outside the denomination could have done that. It took work (lots and lots of work) and time (way too much time), but change eventually happened.

    And it will happen again in the PCUSA as we move to the next fight for marriage equity. Now that we have LGBT elders, deacons, and ministers, the fight will be much easier (more people to help) and take much less time (more allies to vote for equality.)

    But again, that change in the denomination is only going to happen from the inside. Nice to say “Hey, denominations aren’t for me”, and that’s great. But these denominations write Sunday School curricula and Bible Study curricula that go out to kids who don’t have that kind of choice. Change the denomination and you get to change those materials as well.

    All that said, I was lucky because I went to a liberal congregation in a liberal town that had a dozen other liberal congregations to choose from. In fact, I found being gay in Christian circles far easier than being Christian in gay circles (a whole ‘nuther topic.) So, your mileage may vary.

    • Michelle P.

      Hey there! I, too, am a member of a little, liberal congregation of the PCUSA! I’d like to think that our little, liberal congregation was working alongside yours or at least following in your footsteps. Thanks for fighting that good fight. Because of you, and all the folks who did, I can be proud of my denomination.

      Our Session has talked about the conservative churches who are trying to leave our Presbytery over this issue (which I just can’t fathom, because equality is, as I see it, a core tenant of Christianity, even if it hasn’t always been practiced as such) and are quite sorry for them, and worried about the effect on the Presbytery, but, at the end of the day, we’re too busy loving people to be dragged into mess that the frightened haters are creating, so I, for one, am letting them go. I wish they didn’t feel the need, but I understand how that can be.

      • Alan

        Hi Michelle, I’m sure you were…I certainly wouldn’t want to imply that we did it alone. We proposed the overture that ultimately deleted the ordination ban first, but many, many, many other people worked to get the message out! Glad you were one of them!

        As for the folks deciding that now that the gays can get ordained, they’re going to pick up their toys and leave the denomination…. Meh. I can’t be bothered to care.

        • David S

          I take breaking the communion of the church seriously. But MEH is right. The church I grew up in fought tooth and nail against 10A; the pastor spoke at the “fellowship” gathering. He/they made absolutely no attempt to empathize with people who supported the amendment and actively preached against it (“how can we ordain people who are living in unrepentant sin?”). And now he/they are claiming victim status (despite the fact that each presbytery can set their own ordination standards). They will be downright apoplectic if the GA ever approves the blessing of gay unions. I say screw ‘em. Don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out. Our shining light will burn more brightly without you.

          • Alan

            Exactly how I feel. Their “oh, woe is me” garbage is particularly galling.

            That said, any Presbytery that is making it difficult for them to leave is causing more problems than it’s worth. Assuming a reasonable settlement can be made, let them go.

            If the history of Presbyterianism has taught us anything, we should have learned that they’ll be back in 20 years, once they realize that simply splitting off won’t solve their problems.

  • Carol Everett Adams

    I would have to lie in order to be let in the doors of my former church. Lie about who I am, what I believe, who I love, what I’m teaching my kids… everything. If you have to be dishonest in order to stay in a group, what change can you really make happen?

    Make change from outside the walls of the prison. Otherwise, you’re just beating on the cell doors from within, making noise, but not using the power of your freedom.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jonathanvitale Jonathan Vitale via Facebook

    I really wish that there weren’t “liberal” or “conservative” churches at all – then the issue would be moot.

  • Jill H

    Perhaps my view will change (likely) over time, it feels to me like the change is more about me and what changes I might want church to support me in making. Changing my faith in humanity, for one.

    I’m less convinced on the idea of me changing the church. Impacting, hopefully. Altering, doubtful. I guess being away from it all these years, I’ve grown perspective on what faith community is and is not capable of doing.

    I like to think we each hold the power to plant the seeds of change, even if we don’t see them taking root.

  • jo

    I feel that I cannot stay because I have a child. I don’t want this child to grow up believing that some are better than others and I just can’t risk it. That’s my bottom line. I also feel that if I sit in the pew I’m seen as in agreement and since I can’t (won’t!) stand up and shout disagreements throughout the service, I choose to not be “counted” as in accordance with them. Very sad, wish we had other options available to us, but none has been found thus far. It does actually feel quite lonely to me.

    • chera

      jo,

      one of the main reasons we left was because of our children. we stayed for a while…hoping to help with change…ran into brick walls. when things just kept getting worse we left. we have not started going somewhere else yet. my husband and i struggle with the knowledge that there are good things about churches for children…..but do they outweigh the bad?

      we also didn’t want others to assume we supported everything in the church because of our membership. i quit tithing long before i quit going. i did not want any of my money going to support the state and national conventions that work against equality…among other issues.

      • jo

        I agree with the wonderings of the good outweighing the bad. I just got to the place that I couldn’t stomach it anymore in the pew. Such a shame. Hopeful to find an embracing fellowship one day, I hope that for you all too.

        Thanks.

  • chera

    For those of you that have children…..

    How has that influenced your decision to stay or go?

    If you decided to go, did you look for a new church?

  • Matt Muecke via Facebook

    Very nice.

  • http://wilkinsonweb.com Dan Wilkinson

    I have a lot of conflicted feelings about this whole issue…and it’s essentially something I’m dealing with right now. I do think the idea that any one individual is going to cause any real change within an organization that is controlled from the top down is naive. But I think there can be an appropriate place for providing alternative viewpoints within an organization that doesn’t entirely represent your views. I guess I’d say there’s a considerable gray area that everyone must negotiate for themselves…

  • Robert

    Everyone talks about finding a more Liberal church, but how do you actually go about doing so? I am a transplant into the Bay Area (San Jose) and would love to find something inline with the “unfundamentalist” Christians- John’s core value statement are right up my alley. I just have no idea how to do so aside from randomly attending churches.

    I’ve found that churches don’t tend to post up things like, “hey, we don’t believe the Bible is the literal word of God either!” on their websites. I can’t see myself attending any church that thinks homosexuality is wrong, so that would seem to cross most of the list, but I’m sure there is something in this area that I’d groove with.

    • Robert

      I didn’t realize Yelp would have church reviews- but they do. That was helpful- I’ll give the local UCC church a shot(http://www.firstccsj.org/).

      Knock and the door shall be opened ;)

    • Alan

      If you have a particular denomination you’re a fan of (let’s say you were raised Methodist…) then do a quick Google search to see what the LGBT Advocacy group is in that denomination. (For Methodists it is called “Affirmation”, for PCUSA it is called “More Light Presbyterians”, for Episcopalians it is called “Integrity”, etc.)

      Then search for a Methodist church that mentions “Affirmation” on their website that is in your area.

      Be aware that some denominations are pretty affirming wherever you go (UCC, Episcopal) and others (PCUSA) are going to depend more heavily on where you are. In the Bay area it seems hard to imagine that every UCC, Episcopal, and PCUSA church in the area isn’t going to be really, really liberal. I suppose non-liberal mainline denominational churches exist in the Bay area, but it is hard to imagine.

      There are some denominations (eg. Southern Baptists, Missouri Synod Lutherans, EPC, PCA, CRC, RCA) that are anywhere from pretty across-the-board conservative to Are-You-Kidding-ME?!?! crazy conservative.

      If you’re not a denominational kinda person and are looking for non-denominational churches, be aware that many non-denominational churches are more likely to be conservative than churches that are part of the mainline. At least that’s true in the areas of the US I’m familiar with … maybe not the Bay area. Let’s face it, most things that are true elsewhere are not true of the Bay area. ;)

      If the church you’re looking at is really affirming, look for the obvious signs like rainbow flags on their website. Look for statements somewhere in the “Who we are” or “What we believe” section of their website that say something about affirming LGBT people, or gay marriage, or whatever.

      If they’re really affirming, they’re not going to be hiding it. Let me repeat that, If they’re really affirming, they’re not going to be hiding it.

      And then there’s Catholics, which I know nothing about.

      • Robert

        Thanks Alan- I didn’t realize there were code words :) Very helpful post!

  • Allie

    I’ve sat out the past several posts on the theme of Christian fellowship for two reasons: one, I’m very unwell and foggy-headed and I feel like my words aren’t coming out as I want them to, and two, the quality of responses from others here is literally humbling. I am humbled to be in your company, y’all. And I am not, in general, a humble person, so that’s saying something.

    But I do have something I’ve been wanting to say. I believe in the Communion of Saints, as the Creed puts it. Every now and again, when I am in the presence of other Christians, I look around and see everyone’s face shining with starlight, robed in purple, and wearing golden crowns. It doesn’t happen often and it doesn’t happen generally with the people who make a big spectacle of wearing their religion on their sleeve. Just every once in a while, someone talks about something that happened, something they had to do because it needed doing, something that to them wasn’t even a thing, which is so brave and wonderful that it’s as if a window opened up and Christ shone right through them. To me that moment is one of the two best reasons for being part of a fellowship with other Christians. To learn to see Christ in other people. The other reason is the same: you can’t serve people, help them, or give to them, unless you get to know them well enough to know what they need. And we are commanded to help and serve each other as we would help and serve Christ. That is the true church, it’s non-denominational, it’s anywhere and everywhere.

    Which leads in to the other thing I’ve been wanting to say. That church, the true church, isn’t a building or a congregation. I’ve stumbled into it while talking to a guy in a filling station about who was going to give someone a ride. I’ve found it in an online chat room. I’ve found it here. Often the physical, local embodiment of the church becomes the opposite of that, a defense to shut it out. I’m an Episcopalian and I love Episcopalians, but one thing about us, we tend to be shy, and oh so genteel, and I’ve been in Episcopalian churches where talking about religion would have been an extreme faux pas. And of course there are fundamentalist churches where it seems like every day is Opposite Day, and the talk is all about how to please Jesus by doing the exact opposite of anything he ever said.

    But the thing about physical churches is that people are physical. They need hugs. They need hot meals. They need driven to the hospital sometimes. They need just to see a smile – just looking at someone smiling releases all kinds of good endorphins. And Jesus never said do only what’s easy. It’s easy to get along with hand-picked people online who are exactly like you. Anyone can find a like-minded group of people online, even people most of the world considers horrifying. It’s much harder to get along with the actual people who happen by chance to live within five miles of you. But they are the people you are most in a position to help, or hate, or need help not hating. So that’s what we’re called to do. Not because those people are your favorites, but because they are your neighbors. In the exact sense Christ meant it when he said Love your neighbors.

    • Lymis

      Allie, that was exquisite. Thank you.

    • Jill H

      “…two best reasons for being part of a fellowship with other Christians: To learn to see Christ in other people. The other reason is the same: you can’t serve people, help them, or give to them, unless you get to know them well enough to know what they need. ”

      Seriously awesome, every bit of this Allie. What you’ve said is what I feel in my heart as well. Thank you for validating all this for me.

  • http://ingridspeak.com Ingrid

    So, I never got past the first sentence because when you said “unisex sobriquet” I had SNL flashbacks of Pat, who then reminded my of an unfortunate coworker memory, which then made me laugh harder. *AHEM* I’m done now. I will continue to read in complete seriousness Roget.

  • Lymis

    As a gay man, I can’t help but see a lot of issues through a lens that includes that, or at least my own experience of it.

    In this case, the word that wasn’t included in the discussion, but really needs to be, is closet.

    The very rough equivalent of this in a literal sense is when a gay person asks whether he or she should leave their conservative family behind or try to work within it. But a big part of both the question and the answer has to include whether they intend to do so by telling the truth of who they are or whether they intend to hide it.

    Regardless of the choice, and of what is right or wrong for the individuals involved, and regardless of how they may be able to influence the conservative church or congregation in question, I think we have to acknowledge whether we are talking about remaining in that congregation as an openly liberal Christian or not identifying that way and trying to quietly work behind the scenes and within the system as someone that the other, more conservative members think pretty much agrees with them.

    I won’t try to give a sweeping recommendation to anyone. I’m still pretty bitter nearly two decades later about the way I got pitched out of my Catholic parish when I came out as gay. But being an openly liberal Christian in a conservative congregation is going to be a notably different thing than being a stealth liberal Christian in the same community. What’s best, what’s right, what’s wrong, and what any individual is called to is a separate discussion.

    But I think we need to make that distinction when we discuss this, because it really is a very different question when you include that aspect.

    • Matt

      Ah, the closet. A blessing and curse indeed, the place where I live 3/4 of my life right now. You make an excellent point, Lymis.

      But (and I’m hesitant to say this), I’m not a big fan of the “closet” analogy beyond LGBT topics. LGBT folks stay in the closet to keep our family ties, to avoid violence/murder, and protect our jobs. I’m not saying it’s not difficult to be openly liberal at a conservative church, but the stakes are simply not as high, and they have an option to move on.

      I’m probably just splitting hairs here.

      • Lymis

        Not all metaphors are intended to express an identical situation.

      • Chris

        Caveat: I can’t imagine the fear and dangers of coming out as LGBT in a conservative family.

        That said?

        “LGBT folks stay in the closet to keep our family ties…”

        - I would lose church family – for many people, as “real” as blood – if I came out as truly liberal as I am. Further, many people lose actual blood or law family members over being liberal. Not as many as lose those ties for orientation, but it happens.

        “…to avoid violence/murder…” – I am a pastor. If I were truly outing myself with my full liberal colors, I would have to pastor, preach, and lead as liberally as I lean. If I did that, I would face serious threat of violence. I am a straight white male, but if I behaved more honestly in my pastorate it is not unthinkable that I would be harmed.

        “… and protect our jobs.” – This goes without saying for liberal ministers. Hell, it’s not even illegal to fire a pastor with certain political leanings because of how indistinctly political ideology and religious theology are defined.

        Again, I’m not trying to belittle the safety of the LGBT closet and the fear and danger of escaping it. I am saying that the difference in consequences is not one of type, but at best scale.

  • http://ingridspeak.com Ingrid

    Ok, I am now ready to be serious. Point one, seriously snag the second donut. I’m positive thats a steadfast rule.

    Point two is a little more flexible. I agree with Ms. Turner. Where you worship is decided by where you are spiritually. With the exception of cult-like overt hatred for any group, churches are like shoes, some look good and pinch, some are scuffed, slightly run over but comfy, and yet others fit us perfectly depending on the occasion.

    While the movie Malcolm X is about Islam there is a very apt scene that applies to truth rather than doctrine. It is the point where Elijah Muhammad showed Malcolm a glass of water fouled by black ink. He said that if this is all that is offered people will drink it, but if you show them a glass of pure clean water and let them choose most sane people will drink from the pure glass.

    I think you staying or going should be secondary to you being the pure glass of water no matter where you are.

    John, you are a glass of pure water in the midst of a lot of muddy water.

  • Peet

    Joined a church several years ago (PCUSA) because I liked the pastor and the music, and the guys in church were relatively easy to beat at poker. But the church was filled with staunch right GOP stalwarts, and I heard and saw a lot of unpleasant things there, politically speaking. It was great when it kept to the God thing, unbelievably lame at the donut-counter chat thing. Finally, too much. We left after a Right Wing PR direct mail guy rented the church for an evening and made a pre-election spiel (right in front of the altar!) about how much more godly the GOP was, and voting democratic was not in tune with family values. My pastor (again, someone I like) kind of pulled a Pontius Pilate thing. ‘It was a non-church event, he doesn’t control who rents the building, if Rachel Maddow wanted to rent the building she could, etc.’ The REAL problem, though, was the Board of Directors who were leaning on the pastor to advocate for Christian (i.e. GOP) political activism. We’ve found a new place, no different than the other, but I made it clear to my new pastor in the first month that we were most likely on opposite sides of the fence and the less we talk about politics the better. But as for changing things from within? I’ve given up.

  • that Mike guy

    Another thing to look at is how big a community are you trying to change?

    Your neighborhood church? Your denomination? Your nation? Your world?

    For the world, bad churches with empty pews are better than slightly less bad churches with full pews.

    • Jill H

      To further that point, I happened across my old cult’s website recently wanting to see their current membership numbers.

      While I cannot find their US membership numbers, their worldwide figure nearly exactly matches what it was when I left almost 20 years ago. I’ve found they’ve markedly ramped up their missionaries to third world countries and made ‘much success’ there. Meaning: the same amount of defectors balanced the scales of the number of uneducated recruits.

      A corporation that reports stagnant profits over 2 decades ought no longer be in business, yes?

  • Tim Kelly

    *sigh* There will always be Fundamentalists and always be people who believe gay people are going to hell. You are never going to change them. Why are people still giving money to these churches and pretending that they fit in? You don’t fit in…they may pretend to like you…some may actually like you(except for the fact you’re an abomination and going to hell). God is always with you and loves you…do not continue to encourage these people with your time and money.

  • textjunkie

    omg omg you quoted me!! ::fangirl squeeee!::

    Ahem. Nicely put as always, John. :)

  • PLTK

    In my church the donuts are seriously so NOT worth eating if you are anybody who appreciates good donuts. much better to go get your own.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      So there is no God. Bummer.

  • skip johnston

    I was raised a liberal Christian in L.A. A few years ago, we moved to the buckle of the Bible Belt. If there’s a liberal church within 500 miles of me, they’re not saying. I figured, if I was going to keep up my church-going habit, I’d have to learn the language. Which means I had to learn to speak Christian. Which means using “Jesus” an inordinate amount of times in every sentence and dismissing people by saying “Bless your heart” with all the malevolence we used to say “Have a nice day” in my former home town.

    But it also meant I had to learn to listen.

    Sure, there are those rock-brained fundies and heart-hadened conservatives to whom I can say, “Bless your heart” and walk away. And I’m finding more and more are walking away. I’m hearing people (even preachers from the pulpit) say things like “we’re not political” or, even better, “we’re definitely NOT Southern Baptist”, especially in reference to “social issues”. I know they’re being intellectually dishonest and evasive but it does, in my mind, reflect a growing spiritual ambivalence and, really, poverty. I’m finding many so-called conservatives as hungry for spiritual connection as liberals.

    So, I’ve been staying and connecting where and when I can to the extent we can feed each other’s hunger. And I’ve been leaving when we start to threaten each other too much harm. I’ve become an itinerant church-goer. Yet oddly enough, I’ve kept up the good connections. We’re a kind of meat-space virtual church in the way this blog is a cyberspace virtual church. My point is that I’m watching the Church go through radical changes. We’re not there yet. There’s a lot of hunger, need, and movement. Seems to me this is where God comes in.

    • Jill H

      Skip, this is all genius. Have a nice day.

      (I’m a Midwestern girl so I actually mean it!) :)

  • Patty

    I choose to leave my church because of what I saw as blatant hypocrisy. I was in a perpetual state of unrest; it was as if the God I knew personally and the one I met on Sunday Mornings and Wednesday evenings was not even the same. I struggle though, feeling very disconnected. I feel like a person without a place. My mother thinks I have fallen away and prays fervently for me. I don’t want her to endure stress regarding this but she clearly thinks I am the one with the issue. I tried to explain using love (or lack of) as my basis- she then says I am forgetting about the other side which is God’s wrath. Yikes! She says she has gone to her same church for 50 years. Where is my commitment? I have not been contacted by even one person from my church to ask where I have been or why. It’s been almost 1 year. So much for the love overflowing….My husband recently said to me, he wants to go back, he misses it. He who only occasionally went anyway now wants to go. Hum…..and my kids (adult) aren’t going as much because we don’t go. So there is this pull on me and I need to decide. I have been in church all my life –I have learned the basics and believed at a young age, I brought my daughters up in church and want the same for my grandchildren. I hope I am clear about what I mean by the basics….so they have some good seeds planted…. creation vs evolution, bible stories etc etc. … But I have grown in understanding about Gods character through studying GRACE and love on my own- and thru reading books and blogs like this one. I have found a gospel of completeness, love, forgiveness, and inclusion.

    I felt free to not go for me but now find myself worrying about not going for my family. Advice?

    • textjunkie

      I’m amused by the idea that “the basics” includes creation vs evolution; but leaving that aside:–Why does your husband want to go back, and how does he respond to the hypocrisy that you are seeing? Does he disagree with you and say it is not hypocrisy? Is he of the opinion that you have to take the good with the bad and the bad is not so bad for him, there? What does he think of what you have said here? that would be where I would start.

      Do you have to go back to that specific church, or could you shop around, explaining to your family that yes, worshiping with the Body of Christ regularly is important to you, and finding where God is calling you to be is also important?

      • Patty

        I believe my husband wants to return for social reasons. He misses the people. He is not a deep thinker and has a pure simple faith. We have had some bad experiences: we attended a Pentecostal church for a number of years that controlled its members. If we didn’t attend every service we received phone calls-once we were humiliated in front of congregation for presumably withholding tithe on $$ they thought we had received. There were other things and we finally left. He didn’t want to attend any church after that. I returned to the church of my youth- settled in next to my parents-husband rarely attended….but then my parents disowned one of my children for an interracial relationship that resulted in an out of wedlock baby, Their judgment of my child and my parenting skills was very difficult. I soon left there because it was difficult for me to worship next to them. I continued to honor them though and told them I was just seeking a different style of worship.(which was only half the reason) My husband was comfortable with a couple hymns and a 30 min sermon. We found middle ground, he doesn’t get very involved. No deep discussions. He sees things black and white -I see that there is also gray. He has a few of his own prejudices so certain things do not bother him that bother me. He doesn’t want to switch churches and he thinks I should just accept the things I can not change. Thanks for comments.

        • textjunkie

          To be honest, I’d be so happy that my hubby actually *wanted* to go a church I’d probably stay there much longer than was healthy for myself. So I say stick it out for a while longer, but that’s completely depending on you being like me–which you aren’t. :) Would he mind trying out other churches? Are you in a town where you have some options?

          • Patty

            I hear you..and appreciate what you have said. I thought him coming back around (and wanting to now go) meant something. I think part of it is because I seem lost on Sunday mornings….but its all good. No, he doesn’t want to go elsewhere so I pretty much have to go there or not go or go alone elsewhere and I am not sure where, so I am going to coast until the fog I feel clears. Thanks again for comments

    • Allie

      So… for you the basics include lies? That’s kind of a bad foundation for anything.

      • Patty

        This was my first time engaging in conversation here.- I definitely didn’t pick my words carefully enough. I wasn’t looking for a spiritual quarrel, I am seeking truth. I feel that children brought up in church are more likely to believe in God. Whether we were created or evolved wasn’t the point I was making. We are all products of what we are taught. I was addressing intolerance and you are questioning whether I condone lies?

        • Jill H

          So true Patty– we are products are what we’re taught. And that is often (it’s mine, certainly) the dilemma we can face– do we want to continue to be the sum total of what we had been taught, or is there something more out there?

          Commitment is a wonderful thing when it’s based in a mutual respect and trust. Question is, do you respect the values of said church and do you trust it’s impact on your life? Does it value and respect you for who you are? And will it teach these values to your grandchildren? textjunkie is right about making the best decision must include what you need out of it too. I’m ‘church shopping’ too! Good luck!

          • Patty

            Thanks Jill– Do I respect the values (of present church) and trust its impact? Great point. Since there is no perfect church I guess that number does not have to be 100% ….I have found both good and bad and that too is opinion driven. It clearly doesn’t bother me that they teach creation for example but it does bother me that “everyone” may not feel accepted there because of their view on certain things. I need to pray for HS leading……thanks for your kindness!

          • Jill H

            Exactly– just like relationships with human beings, my relationship to a new church for me needs to enhance my life, not bog it down. And help me in helping others more fully.

            I won’t expect perfection– from community, from another person, from myself. But I have certain fair expectations to meet before investing myself. With all relationships, we have the right to renegotiate the terms.

        • Allie

          Making refusing to believe scientific truth about God’s universe a basic tenet of your belief isn’t good. It’s forcing yourself to accept a certain way of thinking, a way that involves disabling your brain, that is bound to hurt every other part of your faith. If your faith has a foundation of stuff that no educated person can honestly believe, how can you honestly believe ANYTHING?

  • gloria derosa

    thank you for all of the responses i have been really struggling as the church i have belonged to for 20 years is probably going to vote to leave the mainstream presbyterian affiliation for the evangelical affiliation, yuck! and i’m already halfway out the door. having children definately weighs on me i do not want them to think that intolerance is a christian value. i guess my overwelming feeling is sadness /disappointment in the people i have worshiped with for so many years….i guess my plan is to attend the meeting/vote and express my feelings about the split, be outvoted and then leave to find another church….i think at least i will feel better for having spoken up??? thanks for the tip about more light, guess i’ll be driving 1/2 hour each way to church from now on :(

    • Nadine

      we have to drive half a hour to get to the evangicial church cuz the church ten mins down the road which we have been going to for a while but are slowly coming out of domes not preach the gospel so we tend to Hardley ever go there it’s hard but stand on gods word and u will be fine. god bless

    • Beth C.

      Gloria, thank you for sharing what you are going through. My husband and I are going through the exact same thing. I NEVER thought we’d be leaving our church family, but are feeling so disappointed at the desire of many to go to the evangelical affiliation as well. The intolerance baffles and hurts me, and I’m seeing a side to my Christian brothers and sisters that breaks my heart. Hugs and prayers to you! You are not alone, and we have felt so alone and singled out for such a long time, it’s good to see that there are others out there feeling much like us.

  • Nadine

    I am a conservative and born again Christian who attends a evangelical baptist church and have been did the past year after moving away from my roots as church for England cuz I felt the gospel was not bring preached there and feel that in the evangelical church everything comes from the word of god and is not man made. if u are in a Church of England church or any church that u don’t feel is preaching the pure word of god get out of there depart ur self from it as we’re told to depart from what’s not right in scripture find a church that stands on gods word alone and nothing else. god bless u all and I pray that this will be of help to people.