Tom Muzzio has a conversion story – from atheism to Christianity and back to atheism. Along the way, he experiences the inside world of Christian fundamentalism as a convert, then an ordained minister, and then a missionary. And then he leaves. His experiences with Christian hypocrisy, the play for power, and the hatred for gays bring him to clarity about his true identity and his need to be free of the Christian community.
Since then, he has explored a new life as an artist, a free thinker, and a new kind of “evangelist,” seeking to help others become free of faith, free to come out of whatever closet they’ve been shut into.
Here Tom answers some of the questions that you might have about his experiences and his new life.
Your book is raw and derisive in many places, and the title alone has a shock value. What do you most hope to accomplish with this memoir? Who did you write it for?
Yes, it is intended to shock. And my editor mentioned that it is derisive in places. But that is my way. I have a very bad taste in my mouth about Fundamentalist and Evangelical Christianity. Even if I had not come out of the closet, I likely would have left the movement anyway. I was on a mission for years to fulfill the Great Commission and preach the Gospel to every creature, as commanded by Jesus. Beginning in 1980 I saw a clear shift in the evangelical world away from preaching and toward the quest for political power in America. My mission now is to undo what I did years ago and to convince as many people as possible to abandon Fundamentalism. I wrote it for millennial, who are leaving organized religion in droves. I should live another 25-30 years, and this is my self-assigned mission for the rest of my life.
Your book describes quite the journey, from ordination with the Assemblies of God to atheism. What single person, book, or event was most impactful in your transition?
I guess the most impactful person(s) would be Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, with both of whom I have worked. Their greed and egos alienated me forever. I was a convert, so for me to abandon the Christian world was much easier for me than for my wife and other friends I have known who are scared to walk away from falsehood (even though they have serious doubts).
You spent years on the mission field in China and other places in the far East. What good things did you retain from those years?
I still have many wonderful friends in the ministry. I felt so bad to have had to walk away from them. But so many have never walked away from me. Some churchmen and women do actually act like the Christians described in the Gospels.
What regrets do you have?
No regrets for leaving, but I have carried a lot of sorrow over the years that I hurt friends in the process.
To what do you most attribute your early years of evangelical faith? Your Christian friend, Glenn, evangelized you, but what internal shift did you make that led to your Christian years?
I was a convert. Maybe even a “seeker.” Glenn is still a very close friend. I guess I began drifting away after I became a “professional” clergyman. I saw so much evil and mean-spiritedness from believers, especially in their pathological hatred of gay people. They really do hate.
How has your art helped you reorient your life out of faith?
When I bought my first art gallery and later owned five others and the attendant framing business, I knew and felt connected more than I had ever felt in the religion biz. And it is a business. Corporate religion really turned me off. Still does.
What has been the response to your book from family? Friends? Former colleagues?
Well, I waited until my folks had died to release this book, not wanting to hurt them. My wife and son moved on, and never trashed me to anyone. Old friends stuck by me, as religious parents often do with children who leave the fold. I never had any true enemies in the church. Those who treated gay people so badly in word and deed never knew I was gay anyway. So they were the most shocked when I came out. As I said, I was always quietly recording their every mean and cruel word. But not all were un-Christ-like. Just those with media empires.