Let Them Kick You Out

Let Them Kick You Out May 26, 2023

I’ve been thinking about the threat of being asked to leave a church or other religious organization—and the power these threats can have over us. I would like to break the power of those threats, explicit or implied. In other words, I’d like to say this: Let them kick you out, if they really want to. 

I want more and more of us to find the courage to face that threat head-on. And to know that, if what we fear did happen, it would be okay. 

The Threat of Not Belonging

It makes sense that the threat of something like excommunication—usually not called that today, but the same basic idea—is a powerful thing. Humans evolved to live together in communities. This is how our vulnerable fleshy bodies have always survived. 

illustrate getting kicked out and being alone
The threat of getting kicked out is a threat of being alone / Photo by Dan Gribbin on Unsplash

And so, being cut off from a community that has sustained us is a deeply visceral threat. It’s not just the emotional pain of the loss of friendships, emotional support, a comforting space, a sense of purpose in ministering together. 

It’s all these things—and don’t get me wrong, these things are hard. But it’s also more than that. It’s also survival. 

I’d like to see more churchy leaders acknowledge this. I get the sense that some leaders aren’t quite aware of the cost of asking someone to leave their faith community—or, as often happens, making someone feel so unwelcome that that person “chooses” to leave. 

I also get the sense that some leaders are acutely aware of it. And they use this power against people anyway. They evoke the fear of not-belonging to keep people silent about things that matter to them. To control. 

Either way, the situation is not good. I think it’s helpful to speak of these things honestly.

Authority That’s Ready to Kick People Out

As in a couple of previous posts (A Crisis of Authority and Religious Authorities Are Not God), I continue to think of Julie Rodgers’ reflections in her book Outlove: A Queer Christian Survival Story.

Rodgers realized, as she puts it:

My theological beliefs were based on the authority of Evangelical leaders. Of course, Evangelicals say the Bible is their authority, but it’s interpreted in thousands of different ways…In Protestant communities, the issue of authority ultimately falls back on the individuals because we choose to believe the teachings of one theologian over another, one pastor over another. I inherently trusted conservative Evangelical leaders because I was raised in a context where they were given total power. We followed their teaching or risked being kicked out (149).

I was fortunate not to be raised in a context where, as Rodgers writes, “conservative Evangelical leaders…were given total power.” But I have spent some time in evangelical communities where not toeing the party line provokes all sorts of consequences—where openly questioning a received teaching means you no longer belong.

This is what I’m getting at when I say that faith is a practice, not a belief statement. We build communities of true belonging not by trying to control people’s beliefs (can we even control our own beliefs?) but by loving and welcoming everyone. By encouraging honesty. By acknowledging that we’re all on a journey together, and none of us is right about all the things. 

This is the kind of faith community I want to see. This is the kind of faith community we deserve. We deserve better than leaders who have no qualms about kicking out people who disagree with them.

Getting Kicked Out is Costly, But Often Worth It

I want to see more and more people of faith willing to live authentically as who they are and openly express the things they believe. Which means being willing to pay the cost of this integrity. Sometimes it means you have to let the powers-that-be kick you out.

I also know there’s a cost to this. And the cost is different for different people. 

Having to leave a faith community in a big city with lots of other church options that might align more closely with your real beliefs, for example, is a very different thing from having to leave a church in a small town with only one church.

Or, if getting kicked out means losing your job, a whole host of factors having to do with background and privilege (or lack thereof) might make it easier or harder for you to find a new job. Financial pressures may make getting kicked out just too costly.

We have to weigh these things. Not everyone needs to be willing to be kicked out. 

But I wish more people were. Especially those for whom the experience would be uncomfortable socially but not existentially threatening. 

Let’s Find the Courage to Get Kicked Out

Being willing to get kicked out takes courage. Can we find this courage, together? 

Because otherwise, people who are abusing their churchy power by using it to kick people out often don’t feel the cost of their abuse. When we leave quietly, the path might feel smoother and easier. But no one really wins.

We miss out on the honest conversations that could have been had, even if they are difficult. We leave others who may have similar questions or concerns feeling like they are the only ones. (Often under leadership that is more than happy to make them feel like they are the only ones.) 

Our fears about getting kicked out are valid. But, when possible, let’s not let these fears control us. 

Let’s be honest about who we are and what we’re thinking. And if it means getting kicked out of a community, that community was likely not good for us anyway.

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