I don’t know how else to tell everyone this, so I’ll just come out and say it: I’ve decided to leave church.
I should probably preface this by telling you a few things about me. For starters, I’m nearly twenty-eight-years-old and I’ve gone to the same church my entire life. I grew up in church–my parents met, married, and I, in turn, was born and raised going to church. Church, Christianity, the faith that I’ve learned since I was old enough to go to Sunday School–these are the things that have been central to me my whole life. They’re what everything else revolved around.
Church has been many things to me. It grounded me in a faith that will always be an essential part of who I am. It was a community of like-minded individuals who were like family to me. Many, in fact, are my actual family. It was the place I was socialized. I developed my closest friendships with other church people. It was also where I met and married my wife. And in between everything else, church was a haven, a home, and a place where, for a long time, I felt secure.
So why leave? There are several reasons, but, to put it plainly, my church is a fundamentalist church. Some might say that it’s your average conservative evangelical church, some prefer the term legalistic, and I’ve even heard the word cult or “cultish” thrown out by a few who chose to leave in past years. In laymen’s terms, what this means is that I grew up in a very conservative form of Christianity. It relied on strict codes of conduct, adhered to literal interpretations of the Bible, and set firm theological boundaries as a means of maintaining order and consistent thought throughout our congregation.
Aside from the reasons why one might find it necessary to leave this type of atmosphere, let me also address what happens when someone leaves. The church is really into separatism. In other words, if you’re not for us, then you’re against us. It’s the standard, tribal, “us versus them” dichotomy, but with God thrown into the mix, and you better believe he takes sides. When someone leaves, the tribe takes it personally. You’re made out to be a heretic, a heathen, or told that you’ve compromised your walk with God or your spiritual integrity. The point is that something is wrong, and that something is always the person who leaves. They get painted as the “them.”
I’ve seen some leave and give up on religion or God altogether. I’ve seen some just go to another church. I saw some voice their grievances. I’ve seen some never say a word about why they left. The result is almost always the same: they become “them” and we, being “us,” should not fellowship “them” because to do so might lead to our loss of spiritual integrity, and we, too, might be tempted to leave the church.
Because of this mentality, I lost out on so many wonderful friendships with people I was immensely close to before they left the church. I kept in touch with some, but I didn’t make the effort like I would have if they had stayed. Looking back, I can’t see Christ in these actions. At a time when my friendship was in need the most, I was aloof. I didn’t understand why someone would feel the need to leave “us,” but now I do. I know that, regardless of my reasons for leaving, the same things will happen to me. In a way, it’s almost paradoxical, knowing that what will happen when I leave is precisely one of the reasons why I feel it’s necessary to go.
There are other reasons why I must go, but these are difficult to summarize in a few words. I have several personal theological stances that are a direct contrast to the theological stances of the church. Some of these are minor, but many, I’m certain, are fundamentalist “deal breakers,” though this is another conversation entirely. Ultimately, why I’m leaving comes down to something bigger than theology and even orthodoxy.
All my life I’ve lived in an insular box. In the last few years there have been significant changes in my life that all seemed to occur simultaneously and ruptured this box. When these events happened, it forever changed how I viewed God. It brought me to a place of personal reformation and an ongoing reconstruction of my faith. I cannot go back to the insular box and, to me, the church is that box.
I know some will meet these words with criticism. They will tell me I should pray more or read my Bible more. They will say that this is a trick of the enemy and that I only feel this way because of some aspect of my personal life that they’re privy to (the latter being partially true, though the implication is more affirming, for me, than intended).
If you know me and feel the urge to say these things, please think twice before you reduce all the personal nuance of my life, my prayers, and my walk with Christ to your assumptions of where you think I belong. I know that your intentions may feel like the right thing, but if they have anything to do with apologetics, your interpretation of the Bible, or “saving” me because you assume I’ve backslidden, they’re not the right thing. If you know me and love me and call me a friend, then all I need from you is a hug or greeting the next time we meet.
This expression is not intended to hurt or offend anyone. This isn’t even so much for me, as I have come to a place of confidence in the path where I’ve been put. This is for the person who feels lost and alone, even in the midst of a congregation. This is for the one who feels misunderstood within the status quo of the belief system in which you grew up. This is for the person who feels spiritually homeless and unsure of their direction, their path. or even their faith in God at all.
God is not only with us when we fit in among the tribe, but he stands beside us when we’re on the outskirts. So to the person who identifies in any way with this tale, please know that you are loved, and you are not alone.
Photo via Pixabay.
About Alex Camire
Alex Camire is a life-long Christian who currently works in behavioral health and case management and is pursuing a Masters in Social work. He enjoys reading and writing on topics related to religion, science, law, and social justice.