This week’s guest bares his whole heart. “My story—at the moment—doesn’t end really well, but there’s hope for the future.”
This week’s guest is Matt. Matt grew up in a Methodist family and after partying through high school, Matt chose to attend a Christian college, serious about his faith.
As an adult, Matt did everything he could to be all things to all people—a good husband, a good leader, a father, a friend, a mentor… He tried for years, but superhuman expectations are put on Christian men. He couldn’t do it all. No one can.
Matt tells his story with vulnerability and a whole lot of grace for himself and others. He bore heavy burdens: Cognitive dissonance, covert narcissism (in himself and others), codependency and spiritual abuse. Yet his story reveals his great optimism for the future.
The Thinking Atheist
Leatherbound Terrorism by Chris Kratzer
“I remember laying in bed as a kid [saying] ‘Satan, get away from me,’ and rebuking demons and evil spirits, kinda scared to death at that point.”
“My story—at the moment—doesn’t end really well, but there’s hope for the future.”
“The more I began to prepare for bible study lessons and Sunday school lessons with the kids…the more questions I began to have, but I just ignored the questions because I was keeping everyone happy.”
“A megachurch…their position is, ‘Ten percent of gross [income] is just the start.’”
“Love-bombing is a pretty powerful tool.”
“I think in many church settings, there are covert narcissists walking around all over the place.”
“The beginning of my unraveling was when I had the unfortunate opportunity to kick my friends out of the church…”
“‘Let’s get coffee,’ from people I don’t know very well means, ‘We want to get you back in line.’”
“When they don’t know what to say to you, they say nothing. They ignore you.”
“As much rejection as I felt from my Christian friends, twice the amount of acceptance from my Jewish or Agnostic or Atheist or Muslim [friends].”
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“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats
NOTE: This transcript is AI produced (otter.ai) and likely has many mistakes. It is provided as rough guide to the audio conversation.
David Ames 0:11 This is the graceful atheist podcast United studios Podcast Network. Welcome. Welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David, and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Please consider rating and reviewing the podcast on the Apple podcast store, rate the podcast on Spotify, and subscribe to the podcast wherever you are listening. If you're in the middle of doubt and deconstruction, you do not have to do this alone. Please join our private Facebook group deconversion anonymous, you can find that at facebook.com/groups/deconversion. Special thanks to Mike T for editing today's show. onto today's show. My guest today is Matt. Matt was a all in Christian he was a part of a very high control church, where Matt began to see how the church was hurting people and including him being involved in hurting some of his own friends. The deconstruction began. Matt has a lot to say here. I love his term covert narcissists, he'll explain what that means in a second. You're talking about forced intimacy, fake authenticity, covert narcissism, people as projects or objects and purity culture. Here is Matt to tell his story. Matt, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. Matt 1:41 Thanks, David. Glad to be here. I've really enjoyed the podcast. It's been therapeutic and healing for me over the past year. David Ames 1:48 I'm very glad to hear that man. It sounds like you have just a wild story to tell. fairly high control church. But as we always do, I want to begin with what was your faith tradition? Like when you were growing up? Matt 2:01 Yeah, thanks for thanks for asking. You know, like many of you, like many of your unlike many of your guests, you interview, I didn't have a fundamentalist or Pentecostal type, upbringing, I grew up in an in Georgia. In a Methodist family. There's four siblings, I'm the youngest by many years. And I would say my parents really didn't force their faith down our throat. And I say their faith, they were in a Methodist tradition and more casserole driven and social outlet for them. But they were faithful, and they were loyal to be there. David Ames 2:42 Yeah, for sure. Like, you know, there are some healthier versions of Christianity that are community based and people helping each other. And that sounds like maybe that was your experience growing up. Matt 2:52 Yeah, it was, it was it was a fun outlet for me. I was great. I know, I'll say that. Oh, my favorite. My, my, my parents really did not push their faith on me. My older brother, when he was in college, was pulled into a ministry called Maranatha ministries that I've no idea of is still around. And I think that's a would be labeled as a cult cult under today's terms. And I think it's a seventh grade, he's looking to a revival and that point with, I guess, speaking in tongues and all that was going on there and the emotional piece to it, I broke down in tears. And at that point, I accepted Christ as my Savior. You know, I think more of an emotional appeal and also wanting to please my older brother. David Ames 3:38 Sure. How old were you then? Matt 3:41 I was in seventh grade. So you know, he had me read my Bible and and that was about the extent of it, but he took his faith really seriously almost too seriously actually approached my dad and questioned his salvation, because again, being Methodist, and my dad would have our dinner prayer. And that was about all that we, we saw in terms of the church at home. But then, you know, he pulled me aside one time I came back from Mexico on a family vacation, and I bought a Mayan Calendar. You know, one of the street art type pieces, and he had me smash it in the basement because it was full of demonic spirits. Wow. Yeah. And even had a candle making kit my bedroom had to throw away because that also could be seen as a seance I guess. And so I kind of have this dualistic component that our parents and their approach to their faith and my older brother, and I remember laying in bed as a kid. You know, Satan, you know, get away from me, you know, and yeah, just that we're looking demon evil spirits kind of scared to death really, at that point. David Ames 4:53 I can't imagine. Yeah, yeah. That didn't last long. I'd Matt 4:57 say by the time I reached high school now kind of back being me and enjoy life and girls and partying a little too much here and there but kind of moved away from my faith. And then I went to college, I went off to a smaller Christian school by the elliptical I could get into, quite frankly, okay. In Birmingham and kind of enter that space. And it was I'd say it's a Christian light school, couldn't dance or drink on campus, but we had a lot of fun. Hi. Most are fun was held off campus. David Ames 5:31 Yes, yeah, I understand Matt 5:33 in Christian colleges. And you know, from there, I kind of moved in past my childhood faith aspect I met who would become my wife in college and in was just totally captivated with her beautiful girl leader in school. And we both were in fraternities and sororities and just had really hit it off well. And it's funny, I think back now even going to her Southern Baptist Church. And comparing that to my Methodist Church, that Southern Baptist Church was so progressive compared to a Methodist Church only from a teaching perspective, but also from the music, which is almost laughable today, right? David Ames 6:18 Yeah, back back in the day, just having contemporary music was a big deal. Right, having a guitar and drums and things was Matt 6:24 absolutely, I mean, singing his eyes on the sparrow, and that was like, wow, that was so progressive to me back then. Yeah. Versus the Methodist liturgy, etc. But um, but we fell in love and started doing it all through college. And now Now we're starting to get in and didn't realize it didn't realize then what I've realized now just my Methodist, more liberal upbringing, Faith kind of light to being part of her almost fundamentalist type family in Alabama. And so I kind of shapeshifted myself to satisfy her to satisfy her family. Just a just to keep the girl happy. Right? Yeah. Which that really kind of takes me as we move through this into what my topics are today. And just to be transparent, as we go through this, that my story is at the moment doesn't end really well. But there's there's hope for the future. But I'd say four topics today as we go through this is that I was just characterized through a term often used today called cognitive dissonance, right. Covert narcissism, both as a covert narcissist, and receiving the other side of covert narcissism, codependency and then spiritual abuse, as what you're hearing my story as both a giver and a receiver. So kind of just moving through our story, I'll fast forward here in a minute to the to the more engaging part, that we were married and moving all over the South for my job and work. And but every time we moved to a new city, we had to find a new Baptist Church to join, it was just week one, that's what we would do, right. But it's funny just that the the unequally yoked type aspect of things that term is often used in Christian teaching. We were back from our honeymoon after the first week, we were attending a small Baptist Church in North Carolina, that I had no intention of joining, because it just wasn't a fit for us. And the, when the offering plate came around, you know, it went from me, and I passed it on to my wife, and she had written a check for $250 that she put in the offering plate, which was 10% of our gross income. Yeah. And has that plate left her hand, I reached across her and took the check out of the place, we had not discussed getting at all right. And I definitely did not have to enter the dollars of gross income to give away. Yeah. And so that kind of started our struggle, so to speak. Just with with various views on our faith and Christianity and stewardship. David Ames 9:13 It's fascinating to me, Matt, to hear you say that you were unequally yoked in that you were still a Christian, you were very much a Christian having gone to a Christian college and what have you. So what you're describing is an imbalance in fundamentalism or theological conservative, you know, on that scale, right. And so I think that's fascinating that even that you recognize was unequally yoked? Matt 9:39 Exactly but based on the standards today, right, and that's going to play itself itself out here in our conversation today in more detail. So we're we moved to Texas both had jobs and attending a large Baptist mega church in where we live and state of Texas. And I was just going through the motions at that point I really didn't enjoy the the Bible studies enjoyed the people a lot there at that church Yeah. But after a couple years living where we live, I discovered that my wife had been having a work affair. And meanwhile, we're going to Sunday school and she's leading Bible Studies. And we discovered this had happened, and it was obviously devastating. And this is going to kind of begin my phase of codependency, where I was able to forgive her and move on past this primarily because I've just held the ideal of marriage up so high and just didn't want to lose that. And and a lot of that would come back to she would say, yes, she took ownership for it. But it also came back that I wasn't I wasn't leading the family. Well, her well, we didn't have kids at this point. Because she had had the spiritual, almost dogmatic stepfather who raised her that helped Bible studies every day and witnessed to people in malls, and that just wasn't me. Right at all. And she would tie that back to disappointment in my leadership in the, from a Christian perspective to her stepping out, well, so got passed through that neck. That point I began to really performed the Christian dance to keep my wife happy. And we begin leading Sunday School at this church and leading a kid's Sunday school, fifth grade, which was great, I could use my gift to communication and my creative talents and really take these kids from why we consider a boring Sunday school setting to more fun, more games. And it really brought us together as a couple. She was pleased, right that I was leading it this way. But I would say at this point, too, that this is where my cognitive dissonance. Although I didn't have that language back then. 20 plus years ago, were the more I began to prepare for Bible study lessons in Sunday school lessons with the kids reading the Old Testament and working in the New Testament, just the more questions that I began to have. Sure. But again, I just ignored the questions because I was keeping everyone happy. David Ames 12:27 And that's kind of the definition of cognitive dissonance. Yeah. So you're trying to hold one belief that maybe the your experience or your reality doesn't, doesn't hold up? Matt 12:41 Exactly. It's a term now that we hear weekly, right, where 20 plus years ago, it was just, you're crazy. Yeah. And so. So we had two of our kids there at that church and did all the dedication and Christian School etc, as they were younger, but then we decided that it was time for us to move on. She had a word from God that we needed to leave this church and find a new church, and I really still today don't know why. Okay, but we started attending a kind of a startup church. That was a non denominational Baptist Church. Back then, it was about 300 members. And I'll tell you, when I first attended, comparing this this nondenominational church to the Baptist Church, you know, I look around and everybody's wearing shorts and flip flops and drinking coffee. And you know, the typical hand raising in the worship in the music was incredible in the senior pastor was just dynamic man that could talk about leadership and parenting and being a better man better husband heavily focused on the husband's role, right. But it was a place that I've never heard these kind of messages before. I was like, wow, this is where I need to be. They really prided themselves on authenticity, transparency, I remember men going on stage and talking about their previous life as a homosexual. And now they were showing pictures of his wife and kids. And wow, people want to talk about porn addiction, and it was just refreshing. In a very shocking thing, compared compared to the way I was raised, but also our Baptist church home we have for the past 10 plus years. So I decided, our we need to be at this church here. This is my speed. And really, really dove in. Alright, and as we say this looking back now after 16 years, and I could say this place is a call. And you've mentioned the high control group at the start of the conversation. We'll talk about that more But absolutely. And when we say high control group or cold and we're speaking to people And nationally and all over the world, but sometimes we hear the word cult will think of, you know, David Koresh type, demeaning camp type event or it's a small sect of people. This is a mega church. Yeah, when I left this church, it had 16,000 members. And people are walking around in their cult clothing, I mean in their cult roles and talking about very influential people in this large city where I live of private equity. And I met Chuck Norris, when I first attended, he was a member there, kept Chuck Norris here. And so I was just very pulled into that of people that talk like me and act like me and stuff to some degree. And I just really, really wanted to be part of this, David Ames 15:54 can I jump in really quick and just respond to just two things. One, I very consciously use the term high control group, it's fine for you to say calls. But I feel like that brings so much baggage that people have some image in their head of what that is. And I think you've just eloquently described that right? People in robes, what have you. The Hari Krishna is in airports, that kind of thing. But that, that the point is that any group of any kind can be a high control group, and can be very damaging to people. And I thought it was fascinating that you started by describing a fairly positive picture of, of the churches. And I understand you're, you're describing hindsight, where we know where you were at the time. But that is how high control groups work. Right? They, they say they're authentic, they say that they're there for you. And as we know, there's more to the story, and they pull you in, and and then the demands begin to build up. Matt 16:50 And that stories come in apps. And as I say, the suit, and I know some of this is negative and critical. But I also want to point out that with any with any church, remember, there's some amazing people there. Yeah, and with my leadership roles at the church that we'll talk about here in a minute, I mean, they, they taught me a lot about about leading, and speaking in. And engaging people it was there's a lot of good that came from that. And, and one thing about the church too, is just the the amount of programs that they had to help people in their situation of life in their Christian walk. I mean, the marriage courses, the parenting courses, in addiction recovery type programs. I mean, it was a very well financed, you can imagine church that had lots of programs out there to help people and they've done a lot of good for people. Yeah. What I would also say is, we're gonna go into this, the closer you get to the center core, the more the high control unveils itself, in the complete control. So it's a biblical church, we had to be to be a member, you had to sign a membership form every year, basically saying that the Bible is true from start to finish, right? inerrancy, you had to be part of a small group, which is also called a community group. You had to serve, you had to serve somewhere, whether it's handing out bulletins, or parking ministry or getting more involved as I did, and marriage and parenting ministries and recovery ministries, but you had to have a job somewhere with that. Right. And, you know, for a while, that was great. Now, the interesting part here, we came off this Baptist Church and I was, you know, trying to grow in my faith the best that I could, and that they pulled us in quickly and made my wife and I community group leaders. So we were assigned a group of four couples. And our job was it's kind of an arranged marriage, we didn't know them, they were brought to us and said Here Here, a group you're going to live the next year with, right? Wow. And I've got some great friendships that came out of that. We've led multiple groups over the years. And as I'll share in a minute to also use that platform to really spiritual abuse people. And I'll describe that here in a minute. It's a term I didn't know that even existed up until two years ago. But we really do community are and and living life with these people is different as we were, I was expecting the group to be I don't know executives and private equity people and guys to kind of run in the business were like I do and instead I had two musicians and a guy that was unemployed. A couple, okay, yeah, very different, but also love the fact that I was able to learn more about people that you know, I just have a different, different pace of life than I do. And, again, some really good friendships came out of that. That with community group, we let that for a while. And that was interesting. We had, we had some curriculum we had to go through, almost like authenticity was forced. And so the guys get together once a week, the girls would get together once a week, and then we'd meet as a couple, maybe twice a month, and just the pressure to disclose. You know, I masturbated this week, right? Or I watch pornography or, man, I got angry with my wife and I need help with this. And there's lots of value in that being known and have other people in your life, but it was an area of forced confessions, that is David Ames 20:46 the difference between being really open with a best friend who you trust implicitly versus the artificial forcing or pushing you to reveal things about yourself that you would rather have private to people who are not yet your friends, is that dangerous part? Matt 21:03 Yeah, there definitely was groupthink going on there. I mean, I felt it, I had pressured to, if I didn't really have anything I wanted to share. But if I wasn't sharing or mind sharing wasn't as juicy as the guy next to me that shared I just the pressure of Want to share something, yeah, to be accepted by the group. David Ames 21:22 So again, you know, it begins with good intentions and can go off the rails really quickly. Matt 21:28 And we took it a step further. My wife and I were pretty strong personalities, and I mean sales for a living. So I can use that skill set to kind of hate to coerce people. But one area that we would drive home is we would the church heavily influenced us to as leaders of the group to share finances? Twice a year? David Ames 21:55 Wow. Really. Matt 21:58 Every doubt down to the, to the penny of how much money we made, where our money went from an expense perspective. Do we have any debt? But also lots of pressure on did you give to the church, right. And even though this place here, again, a mega church, their position is 10% of gross, it's just the start. David Ames 22:25 That's the opening ante. Yeah. Matt 22:27 And I really struggle with that. Going back to the tithing story that I said, we were first married, right, that was tough, but at the same time to was leading the group and enjoyed that that authority position. Yeah, that moves us into pre married ministry, right. And then we moved in, we did that for years kind of counseling couples, in a group setting, to marriage recovery for those marriages that were in trouble. And that led to us being on stage frequently, videos being made about our story and using my wife's, you know, his previous affair as the platform for recovery. Right. And that was an interview. In one point, I just, I was so uncomfortable getting on stage in front of probably, I don't know, 1000 people at a time and sharing our story. But I'll tell you one thing I've learned love bombing is a pretty powerful tool. Yeah. And when you have done a good job presenting or serving in a ministry, and the church comes around you and pulls you on stage and tells me how great you are. And they tell you all the time we love you guys are incredible. You could get me to jump through a ring of fire, right? My personality if you just love me enough but what I discovered and all that but myself and a new term that I now had language for that I didn't back then is a term called covert narcissism. And, you know, we often hear the term narcissist and that goes with grandiose so to speak, right. But now I'm looking back, I would say without a doubt I was or had I had become a covert narcissist. And what I mean by that is that I was able to control people in getting what's called narcissistic supply, because as I'm controlling them and helping them in their marriage and calling out men directly about their issues, what have you and couples, you know, correcting them? They're thanking me while I'm doing that. Right, right. Yeah. And then leadership, the multi hierarchical levels of leadership, they would praise you for that and I just found man, I would come home from leading these groups is so full of energy. And we'd say the term pride right back in the church days. Yeah. But I loved it. And my wife loved it, because I was white. And just looking back on that now, it was like, Oh, goodness. And now just evaluating other other aspects. I think in many church settings, there's covert narcissist walking around all over the place. Oh, yes. David Ames 25:35 Or not covered? Yes. Matt 25:39 Over, it's easy to find, right. It's the one that's loving Yeah. Meanwhile, getting their supplies by controlling you. David Ames 25:48 Absolutely. I think that that is extremely common. And to be somewhat fair to Christianity that's maybe common among human beings, right? It's just that it can be a breeding ground for that, especially in the very intimate settings of a small group, where the small group leaders is granted power. And people like power, they like to be the center of attention. And then that begins to feed into maybe latent covert narcissism that can grow into something that can be dangerous. Matt 26:20 Yep, absolutely. And so, you know, I think one observation with that, in hindsight, and again, I will say that part of our service and leadership, we did watch people turn their marriage around, right? We did watch them, find better ways to parent their kids. And I'll talk about that here in just a minute. It was takes on both sides that were made on that area. Yeah. But I will say, though, that here's what I found in my heart is that in these groups that were leading, I made people project and an object. Yeah, right. And so our job was to go in and help people recognize their fault, what they're bringing to the marriage, the problems that they're bringing to the parenting, the problems, etc. And as long as they agreed and made changes, then we were great, we'd be BFFs, right, at least until the group ended. But if you wouldn't change, or couldn't change, regardless of your family of origin, regardless of what you went through, and trauma in your past, whatever things you're whatever baggage you're bringing into your relationship that just made you an object and dismissed you. Okay, move on. Next one next in line, please write in to some degrees of total talk today to that happened to me. And so a lot of what I what I were talking through what I dished out, I had put right back on me, as we'll go through this message to the story today. David Ames 27:59 Also very common just to you've been the giver, so to speak, even though you're getting things back and return. And the minute that you need something that we're you're in a position of vulnerability, you experienced the other side of that and can have abuse take place. Matt 28:17 Absolutely. And, you know, I look at this now. And this goes back to the covert narcissism aspect is that we sacrificed 1000s of hours of time with our kids, when they really needed us to be leading in these ministries. Of course, we weren't paid, right? We're volunteer leaders, but I literally would land from a business trip, and would go straight from the airport, straight to my leadership meetings, marriage ministries, etc. And I'll come rolling in at 10 o'clock at night after that. We had couples over all the time that needed help. So we pushed the kids aside in years where they really, really needed us and we'll get into that, okay, in order to serve in this ministry in this church. So with that, you know, we adopted a curriculum called Growing kids God's way. Okay. With older curriculum, very fundamentalist, well known and older circles. And we use that in our parenting for our kids, as well as you know, coached up other couples, whether part of the church or not, you know, we love helping people all the time. Yeah. And lots of regrets around that. I'm not sure if you're familiar with that, that curriculum at all, David Ames 29:45 not directly, but I can imagine. Matt 29:48 It's, again, high control, right? Yeah. Lots of corporal punishment. First time obedience was the goal. And there's some good that came out of that also, but but If your child will not obey on first command, and they get spanked, okay, and I remember looking at my wife going and we're beating the crap out of our kids. Yeah, how awful. He has all been in love, right? Control that not out of anger. So are you disobeyed? Now you need to get a spanking. I'll be in your room and two minutes, you know, the spanking, and I love you. And, and there's a part that maybe there's a time for correction like that. But the frequency of what you're delivering does really have me turned up inside the other reality too. I was I was too afraid to challenge my spouse. Because it was working to some degree. They were, you know, Chip shaped little kids that stood in line and Yes, sir. And yes, ma'am. And they followed orders after a while, I would have to David Ames 30:51 seriously? Yeah, wow. Okay. Matt 30:56 And so kind of moving through this kind of where what was happening here is that I'm in small group, I'm leading a small group, okay, we're doing these various ministries, and taking it all this, this content driven towards men as leaders of the household, right, in that role, and I soak it all up, right. I've got to read every book that I could read, it's funny, I was cleaning out my inbox or cleaning up some old files on my computer of the weekend. And I found a an e book, written by Mark Driscoll called pastor dad. Interesting. I consumed all the Driskel I could get in the podcast and in everything else, and and he just read through it just skimming through, it just drove home that your family's spiritual development. And your kids future is all on you, as the biblical Christian leader of the household, right. And I took that seriously. And I would surround myself with older dads that were part of the church, other leaders and we just kind of soak in from them what they would do, I would go to Dad's class, not only as a leader, but also as a recipient of participant. And they put these older dads on stage. And we talked about how they discipled their kids and how they went on prayer walks and take off for weekends and fast and pray with their kids. And I'm just going oh, my gosh, I suck. And I often look at it, there's I mean, there's there's two sides of the coin. I mean, I would I would judge other dads that weren't doing things as well as me. Right? To try to get them in line. And meanwhile, I'm looking at these other guys going, I don't measure up. And it was exhausting. The cycle there. And, and then, you know, trying to do devotions with the kids. When they're younger, it was great. They they get in line and do it, do it please us, of course doing devotional and you got a 16 year old then 14 year old 12 year old. The audience is not quite as receptive as they were eight, six and four. Yes. But that's what Christian dads did. And that, that played itself out anything from just how we control the kids, as teenagers. With social media, things like Snapchat as they enter the scene and Instagram, a new back then newer type of scary pieces to it. But that was outside of our biblical mission statement. As a family, we'd written up a mission statement about what our faith was going to look like. And we would proudly share it with other people in our church and small groups, and they'd be overwhelmed. Again, they're looking at us go when you guys got it all figured out. And we're so prideful that we've got it all figured out at this point. Yeah. All right. And I'll talk about that here in more just a minute. But, you know, I mentioned the term spiritual abuse earlier. And thanks to a therapist that we've been seeing the past year that focuses on that I now didn't know that there was even such a thing. But part of my unraveling begin unraveling was when I had the unfortunate opportunity to kick my friends out of the church through a process called Matthew 18. Okay, wow. Right, which is basically you go to a believer, you confront them. If he or she doesn't change and you bring other people to confront them on their son. If they don't change them. Then you basically say you're out of here. Tonight, he said one of my very best friends, a couple that we were in small group with an amazing man. But he lost his wife in a horrific sledding accident. While in Colorado right in front of our kids, and the church did a beautiful thing of coming around that family. And it's really helping him with two twin daughters and an older son and just doing what the church does well, right loving people in time of need. But then once the initial shock goes over, you know, maybe a year passes, nothing will ever you can never get over that, right. But what's the initial shock of my wife's no longer here? People went back to their lives as normal. And my friend, being a 45 year old man, maybe 18 months after his wife passed and began to reenter the dating world. Right. And in one small group together, we're sharing everything meeting weekly. And then he started to date his high school sweetheart. Beautiful girl, and but she was not a believer, going back to the unequally yoked. And he had plans to move to her state after they dated for a year and move in together then pursue marriage. Right? Well, of course, that's a no no. Right? Not only does a believer not marry an unbeliever, but cohabitation with kids. I mean, what else can you go wrong, right? So we went to the process of confronting him. And he's a strong man, much stronger, much stronger than I ever could have been at that point in time, right? emotionally strong. And he basically said, I hear you guys. But no, a lover, man, we're gonna make a family out of this, right. And so the church came to me as the small group leader and said, We need to form Matthew 18 on him, and D member him. Which basically required a letter being written by a staff member, and then three people have to sign it. And I was one of those. And I kind of pushed back saying, Gosh, I can't do this. This is my best run. Yeah, no, no, you have to map like, I'm not going to do it. You have to. And I did, at a fresher. And I remember that phone call that I received from him. Where he was just like, you know, man, I love you. I've always felt accepted by you. Until now. And I've never felt judged in my life, as I'm feeling right now. Yeah. And I'll keep the story short, I did it to another guy that was having marriage problems. And the other letter signed by me and the same kind of reaction. And since then, kind of fast forwarding a little bit, I did go back to both those guys and seek their forgiveness. They were gracious and we're friends today. They're no longer part of the church. David Ames 38:11 Right, right. Right. Matt 38:13 In this church was on record for doing the same thing to people that were in the homicide, homosexual lifestyle that couldn't, that wouldn't repent from that. Lots of publicity around that. But it was just a very common practice at that point in time. Okay. Matter of fact, the senior pastor, the guy that was so dynamic that really drew me in. I was in a leadership meeting with him and he was talking about performing Matthew 18 on teenagers. Right, that would not up hold it up. I kind of said, under my breath. That's the craziest thing I've ever heard in my life. Yeah. Right. So I begin to really start to look at things differently. But I was stuck. Right. I was stuck. Not only afraid of my wife you know, hating me, right? Yeah. I was afraid of, of losing my status. I mean, I lead in five ministries, right or sometimes three at a time. And me speaking up and starting to say I'm having struggles with what I'm reading in the Bible having struggles with this, but I've seen this control. I spoke up about that then I would be maybe go through the same process of David Ames 39:34 it exactly. Matt 39:43 Well, we're our story really begins to turn this is not this is kind of moves us outside of that church we've been talking about. That my my spouse now of then of 24 years I've always had a dream of being a biblical counselor. And I really never knew what that meant. But basically it is you use Scripture to counsel people. And anything that secular in terms of psychology or therapy is not from God, this can't be trusted. Okay, back to the inerrancy piece to it. So she came to me and asked if I would support her if she enrolled in a program called masters University led by guy named John MacArthur at a California. Wow. I'm not sure if you're familiar with him. Yes. Okay. And I, being the codependent loving spouse that I was, absolutely, you know, I'll be glad to help fill the roles with kids and do things. And of course, we had money to do it. So I had no idea what I was agreeing to not that she needed for me to bless this, right. But we also were coming from a patriarchal complementarianism type, belief system. Kind of a side note on that, that drove me crazy as a husband. Yeah, because she's, she's a smart, competent woman. I mean, I mean, she can accomplish 10 times as much as I can. And again, in day, right? In the fact that she was coming to me asking me if she could do this, or if you know, one of our kids is going to have a friend come over after school and it kept going on. I'm like, you know, you, you don't need to ask Unknown Speaker 41:37 me to stuff. Right? Matt 41:38 I'm totally good with whatever's going on. I'm happy. David Ames 41:41 Now, I think that's important, too, right? It's not just the women who suffer and complementarianism but But men as well, like, not only there are maybe more introverted people than yourself, who wouldn't want to be thrust into a leadership position and the decision maker on all things, but also people who like yourself, you know, recognize your wife's ability to, to make her own decisions and our resistance to being the gatekeeper for her. So complementarianism just hurts. Everyone involved. The two spouses, the children, everyone who's involved with it. Yep. Matt 42:17 Absolutely. So she enrolled in a program and she was excited, and I was happy for while we continuously was you can you can do this all day long. Just don't make me your first patient, or first. Yeah, counsel Lee. And she laughed about that, and that lasted for about six months. Right. And what this program through this church, the Margaret MacArthur's program, set as a biblical standard for families in manhood in what is to be a wife and a husband is one of only supernatural superheroes can ever accomplish this. Yeah. And suddenly, I'm doing everything I can within managing my work and loving on the kids and being a good husband. I couldn't, nothing would add up. Now, I will say that as we were talking through this, I was also living a dualistic lifestyle, meaning that I was this church leader. But then from my work life, I had lots of great friends there. Right and have worked with for dozens of years. And they weren't all Christians, right? Jewish and atheist, and all types of religions are non religious, right? And we'd go on work trips together as a team and have a blast together and party and take clients out for entertainment. Again, not I say entertainment restaurants and David Ames 43:56 thank you for the clarification, though. Matt 44:00 But then I would come home and I would have I'd be would be this, the, the, the, the super conservative Christian dad, having a feat in both worlds, so to speak, right. And all of a sudden, everything we were doing, I couldn't measure up and part of it was I was living my life, even at home at times. But also in leadership and the standards that are set the leadership, this kind of where things begin to unravel. Okay. I mean, we'd set up this perfect family image, right? We have at this point, 16 year old 14 year old 12 year old kids and moving into the teen years. What's going to be what's going to come from that more of that story. But then as I began to push back against the control that was being put upon me from my spouse, just in terms of just the criticism Me Now she started to use the church as I began to push back against that control to get me back in line, okay to the indirect with me but but then use the church on the backside to come around and confront me whether I was having a few drinks at home, or we watched the show that had the F word on it, or was already my Bible enough until I was pulled into leadership conversations, more so than I could care to remember. challenging me and holding my leadership standard as the gold bar and how I was not fulfilling my obligation there. David Ames 45:43 Understood? Yeah, like, again, I think I want to be careful here that, you know, the people who are most often the experiences of abuse are not in leadership. But people who are in leadership also experienced that, because of what you've just described, the standard is inhuman, it is not possible. And then, while you're simultaneously asked to be open and authentic, you're also asked to live up to a standard that's not attainable. And that dichotomy can't live together at the same time. And it can only end in tears. Lots of Matt 46:19 tears coming, right? Yeah. So all of a sudden, my game had changed from the standard perspective, I began to push back against it, as I said, and meanwhile, she's growing more and more becoming more Christ, like, hurting from this, this one area of teaching through MacArthur's University. Right. That trickle this way down to our kids. Okay. And at this point, our oldest daughter is 16 years old. Trying to find her way, you know, wanting acceptance, friendship, right. Boyfriends, things that David Ames 46:54 every normal things. Yeah, yeah. Matt 46:58 But our standard was so high, really, kind of pulling back in purity culture, right from the 90s. And into what we were doing with our kids and requiring the the start line shot you're showing too many boobs? Yeah, yeah. Give us your phone and make sure not only inappropriate apps, marriages for their dating for marriage. Right. And you're really driving that standard home? David Ames 47:31 Yeah. Wow. And 16 that, yeah, it's intense. Yeah. Matt 47:35 And, you know, our kids are compliant little sheep anymore. They're independent thinking. Hormone raging. Acceptance, needing teenagers, right? Yeah. So we're always had two choices, you can either get in line and just put our head in the sand and suck it up or go around our authority. Right and find her way. And that's what she did. She had it she was living a dualistic lifestyle. You're walking out wearing the clothing appropriate. And then the trunk of her car was the leather miniskirt and the halter top David Ames 48:17 story is all this type of math Yeah. Matt 48:25 But obviously, with with controlling parents, she got caught frequently and church members reporting to us Hey, I saw your daughter out at the seven so ice cream shop and she got on a skirt that was too short in the top that was too revealing, right and confronting her and then the grounding right? And then give us your phone as part of the grounding. Look at your phone and their Snapchat on your phone. We can't have snap texts that Snapchats from Satan. And now you're grounded even further. Right and, and really, really putting the hammer on this kid. And she's an amazing girl. She lives in Hawaii today as a 20 year old but she's an amazing girl, but just trying to live her life. And that with that though this dualistic lifestyle she wound up becoming being raped while we were out of the country and grandma, we came in the house and that didn't reveal itself to two years later, when she was really in trouble for attending a party while we were out of town. Again, I did the same thing when I was 1617 years old but once we she knew she was in big trouble for the party. She just decided to come forward and share with the two of us all that she had been doing this this other person that she was in shared with us about relationships with other boys Sex and the partying and hanging out with them. In college kids, right. I mean, we were going back to the Christmas vacation. You know, I woke up with my head stapled to the carpet. I couldn't be any more surprised, right? Yeah, same thing. I just sat back on Who is this kid? I was shocked. Yeah. And that really threw us into a spiral as a couple. And as a family. She needed help. And we wouldn't let her get help. Because back to the biblical counseling, or therapy, the secular right, and all we need some God's word. And I, I was passive. David, at this point, I was too scared to confront my wife. And say bullcrap, and he's not. And, again, then we throw into this incredible level of grounding and punishment and restrictions, and our friends are slipping away, because you can't contact them. My wife is under business left and right, and just controlling and critical. And that resulted in a suicide attempt. Now, okay. She's fine. With your 70. So at that point, the church being the church came around us, and now with great intentions to help. But we really got some bad advice. Yeah, it was very consistent on the therapy is not needed to, she needs to go to a Christian woman's home, away from where we love, right, and be with a mentor to live there for a couple months. And that's when I finally had enough. And I just said, this is no no more. Yeah, she needs to leave where we are, she needs help. Real therapy, their therapeutic help. You need to get away from her family, not as a rejection she needs to She needs time from us to heal. And she's going to go to a secular therapy program that specializes in adolescents. Right. And at that point, the tables began to turn. And she went and spent 10 months there and came out a different person. Because she was away from us. And the interesting, interesting thing when we would go do visitations and partisan is a great program because we were re parented right? On how to give our kids more freedom and let them fail and how to love them through the process. Right? And which completely opposite of what we had been teaching into the talk, which was complete control, obedience to Christ. Right, right. But the interesting observation over many, many months or weekends of going there, to visit her in for the RE parenting training. One observation I had is that every family that I met, was either evangelical or some version of high control, religious organization, every one of their kids were there to get for rebellion and things that were harmful to them as teenagers. I hate to say as a result of their parents, I can't say that but the one consistent theme was they all came from a very similar type of high control background. Yeah. So as we progress through this now, kind of moving into some hard part's, it's a tough time, right? At this point, I'm fed up. And now I'm really beginning to speak out scared to death, right to lose my position to lose my marriage to be rejected and community and I. And at one point, I this was wrong, I read some of my wife's writings that she had written in a journal that was completely the wrong thing to do. But as I read through it, it was a book that was about me journaling my sins and how I'm not adding up things that just that were very hurtful to me. And it's just coming out of a really tough four years and I looked at my wife at that time and I said, I'm sorry I read this for many reasons. I'm sorry what I saw in this and I'm sorry for how you feel about me but after I'm done being married to you at this point, okay. And we had left that day to go to a wedding in Tennessee and didn't say a word to each other in free to say I was done being married to her was just completely out of left field. But then that night, she flipped not in a good way, but she became easier to engage with. And we would sit in the pool and we got back and have some kiddos and watch shows that said the F word on it and, you know, be very playful in our sex life, nothing out of balance everything within your marriage, right? You're having fun. And I look back at that time and said, I've found the woman I've always wanted, where I can be accepted. And I could share where I struggled and share real things without fear of everybody else finding out about it. And I was so happy for about seven months, okay. And she apparently was really unhappy, because I was going against everything she was taught and she was doing that to please me, which is not right. But about seven months after that, she flipped back into her biblical counseling program, I asked her to leave that after her childhood attempted suicide. She moved back into some more aggressive programs in the church. And that pendulum swing really hard to the right. Okay, so it was a little bit too far to the left for what she was comfortable with. And I can respect that. It's weighing equally if not further, hard to the right, in terms of full blown indoctrination. Control, the inerrancy and being more Christ like David Ames 56:27 doubling down tripling down yelling, Matt 56:30 right. Endorse recognizing and conversations about as we pull in things like purity culture. When we're College. We were a great couple. Right? And we did like many college teenager college kids, did we actually have sex? Pre marriage? Yeah. Mutual right. He was both of us. And we share repeatedly It was a fun part of our relationship. And you know, then after she, you know, many years still blaming me for taking your virginity. Right. Don't take that into her recovery ministries and and just now recognize, I didn't know what purity culture was until a year ago, two years ago. Yeah. And just seeing that looking back over our marriage, just the shame, the guilt fear that that she had had, we could have, we could go to the beach and have a great time and you know, act like married adults that were in love and have sex in the pool chairs at nighttime when nobody's out there right? are fun and playful. Right? Then the next day followed with guilt, right? In shame and it's moved back in and it just really had us on a cycle for many years of just what's appropriate and you know, masturbation in the church was a complete nono and I've always been very appropriate for your podcast you're but free sexually as far as who I am in my body. And sir, if I travel and have a desire, I'll would masturbate. Meanwhile, thinking of my wife during this process, right, but that was a complete nono, I was actually called in front of church leadership for that. Yeah. And the verses they use to back up that position were pretty pathetic. I remember they tell you, you can't you can't masturbate like, well, I'm having gone for five days. I can't. I can't What what? Were you just gonna lead to sin? And like, what if I think about my wife while I'm doing that? We don't have an answer for I just need to be done. I got us off track. Sorry. David Ames 58:42 Well, I just say like, in general, the purity culture that you're describing is damaging because, again, it takes away our humanity. Our healthy sexuality is a part of being human being everything from masturbation to having fun sex with your spouse, your partner, and if there should be some external source of guilt for any of that. That is, it's just, it's ridiculous. It's damaging, it's hurtful. It hurts with the kids when they're growing up during a time of puberty and discovering who they are as a sexual being. It hurts that it but it's amazing to me still that full grown adults, married adults still feel the impacts of purity culture, and you know, it's just so utterly damaging. Matt 59:28 The hard part for me is I never I was not there was no purity culture being taught in my home growing up. Matter of fact, my dad was proud of me for having a condom in my wallet. That succeed although I had no plans to use it or knowledge to come into my wallet. Right. Right. Right. So but that piece of that those in marrying a person that that was raised in that just now looking back going wow, I feel terrible for it's stropped, a lot of joy and pleasure. And again, the cognitive cognitive dissonance on her and it just it was it was hard so then, as she's back in this again, and things really started to turn south, but I getting really become fed up with not only the church control me doing the dance constantly, constantly beating myself up for not being good enough, then COVID hit. Okay. You know, everybody, there's plenty stories out there, we're COVID changed everything and I was thrilled meaning I don't have to go to church anymore. Yeah, you know, go for an hour and a half service and there's no more going to leadership. That was great for me, but I, it's my marriage is falling apart. I went to a therapist for help. And I went to the narrative therapist saying there's either one or two outcomes and I need help with. I'm either a narcissist or I'm codependent. And I don't know which one I am. Right. And I use the term covert narcissist before and I think that was really true in terms of my leadership with other people. And what I was getting from that. The bottom line when it came to a marriage, I was flat out codependent. Always working to keep my spouse happy, right and walking on eggshells constantly in the standard and ever been good enough. And so I worked really hard in books and therapy, and outside teachings and really gained grant gained ground on like codependency which is really hard when you're in a codependent relationship for 29 years, and you break free of it. And the game rules change, right? It's hard on the other spouse to Sure, he's used to the control aspect of things. But I really became fed up with the church because they again, in small groups kept really getting into wire marriage was falling apart, it had to be my fault. I remember going into a meeting with about 12 people where I was the center of the meeting. And I just arrived from the business trip, and I'm stopped by the house to get ready for this meeting. And I took my blood pressure. Unknown Speaker 1:02:29 And it was to 20 over 190 Oh, wow. Wow. And I'm a Matt 1:02:35 relatively fit guy. But I began now I know the Body Keeps the Score. Right? Yeah, didn't have any language around this. I was a tough it out. I'm going to get it done kind of guy. But that's the level of anxiety what I was headed into, again for another meeting, this time about my marriage and family. Yeah. Right. But at that meeting, I just basically let them have it. And saw my therapist who was very familiar with his church. He's a former pastor. That's no longer. I think he's deconstructed. I don't know that for sure. But he helped me say, here's how you leave this church. You go into a meeting, you tell him you guys have been awesome. You've helped me grow a lot in my life. Thank you for all you've done, but I'm no longer going to be a member of the church. He's like, that's all you say. Yeah. And that was great advice. So I go into a meeting. That's exactly what I say. And then that's not what I did. A question What's why and what do you believe? And, you know, I again, I didn't have a language back then. And I've learned so much, two years later, but one thing that I had language for was a couple things. I said, we treat human beings like objects and projects. That's a real people. And then secondly, you're telling me that every single person walking to the synagogue, this coming Saturday, a mile from our house is going to hell? I can't support that anymore. Yeah. Right. And so the question then came in well, so you don't believe in the inerrancy of Scripture like I don't, I'm sorry. Adam and Eve is an allegory. Job's a story. Noah's Ark never happened, right. Mark was written before Matthew and all these kinds of things are going through and I just can't see it. And then the question that came from my wife was, well, how are you going to make moral decisions going forward? And I looked at him and said, I'm pretty sure I'm not gonna go rate kill and destroy and stealing. I think I can make these choices on my own. So at that point, I was out, and I received a letter from the church you know, denouncing My membership wasn't the Matthew 18 letter we'd given other people, but it was you're no longer a member. You're an obligor expecting us to come alongside you and help you, right to guide you to shepherd you so to speak. Right, okay. But things were a mess in my home, right. And I've finally started to do some podcasting. And I heard this term called spiritual abuse. And I began to research it diligently on YouTube and various podcasts. And this was two years ago, the term was really, I think, starting to gain traction, then I found this therapist is PhD relative, that she specializes in spiritual abuse. David Ames 1:05:42 Oh, great. Okay. Matt 1:05:45 So I've sought her out. And turns out, I'm not the only person from my previous church that is a client of hers. Yeah. But really helped me understand what I went through what my body was experiencing the panic attacks and services, the blood pressure, so to speak, that I was not the broken one, okay. When your spouse tells you, you're going to help, it's pretty hard to hear when your spouse tells the family that if you love God and His people, you want to be in church every Sunday, no excuses, get your butt up, go to church. In so many things of that area is way beyond just that, right? It just developing language around that, like, what was I part of, and what happened. And I came home with that day, that day, and I looked at my spouse and said, whatever's happened in the past, whatever has been done to me in the past, I hate to like the victim, but it's never gonna happen again. I'm not going to let it happen. I'm not going to let you share. I'm not going to share anything with you. Because anything I share with you could share with 55 other people, right? There's no secrecy. There's no privacy, and you will never talk to me like that, again. David Ames 1:07:02 It's a breach of trust, right? If you're speaking privately to your partner, your life partner, and they tell 55 other people that that's definitely a breach of trust. Matt 1:07:14 Absolutely. And, you know, we she was big into boundaries. And I said, I understand I respect the heck out of boundaries, right? Boundaries are for you, not for me, right. But I'm like, I can't set boundaries with you, other than not share anything with you. Because it's my only boundary I can set. I don't want my life being shared with everyone else to get me back in line. Yeah. And the sad part of the story from that is that two months later, we decided to separate. It was we were, I was angry. She was devastated. I don't want to defame her or talk down about her too much. But we decided to proceed divorce. And that's been going on for about 18 months in, you know, kind of fast forwarding that it's been a it's been a freeing cycle, but a very, very difficult cycle. Of course, when you lead marriage ministry doing everything right, then you decide that my marriage is so toxic. As soon as I decided to not be in line with everybody else that we can handle it. And to leave a megachurch, we are so well known. Number one, that rejection in itself is is torture. to deconstruct your faith, if not lose your faith to lose that level of quote, unquote friendships. It's hard and you still on top of that, a marriage falling apart. You really kind of find out who you are as a person at that level of depression and isolation. David Ames 1:08:57 You also find out who your real friends are. The real friends will be there for you anyway and and everyone else wasn't Matt 1:09:05 you know, it's it's so true. A few guys have hung in there with me they love me regardless. And they're also going through their own version of deconstruction. They're not quite there yet where I am but they are going through that process. They if they've stayed with me the whole time. The vast majority of people turn their back on me i It's really hard now where I live in my city. I'm separated, we're you know, close to divorce, but I'm in an apartment and I'm not too far from where my church was because I'm close to the kids location wise and I'd go to restaurants and look around everywhere I go. I see people and people that I knew from the church, right and you know, your typical pat on the backs kind of piece to it, but I was bumped into a staff member probably about six weeks ago. And we served together for 15 years in marriage ministry. And he was one of my love bombers came up to me and gave me a hug and said, Man, I love you. And I'm serve what your family is going through. And I said, David Ames 1:10:08 sorry to laugh. I've had exactly that happen. I know exactly what you're experiencing. Yeah, Matt 1:10:14 I was like you really love me. I said, I've heard a word from you and 17 months, right? As I knew, and I spoke, I said, we need help, I need help. And I have your word back from you. Since I didn't remember. I was gone. So we had coffee, two weeks later. And I shared with him exactly that you say you love me. And you've told me 1000 times over the past 15 years, how much you love me and respect me that as soon as I'm not agreeing with your position on things. You turn her back on me like that. And not just you. I said it was everybody else. So beef, not just with us to the whole organization. And we kind of left it at that it was fine meeting and but I finally had a chance there. And you know, for the most part, I would occasionally get the phone call. Let's get coffee, which is triggering, by the way. David Ames 1:11:08 Sure. Matt 1:11:11 Let's get coffee from people that I don't know very well, so we can get you back in line. Yeah. Even family members from my wife's side would call once they realized that I was not going to agree with them on their position around scripture, they never hear from them again. And they don't know what to say to you. They say nothing. They ignore Yeah. But fast forward. I've been gentle with my kids who are now 2018 and 16. My oldest two had that tragedy in her life, she decided to skip college and move to Hawaii. And she's doing fantastic. News. Yeah, live in her life. Right? Not sure where she stands on her faith, other two kids are, are really doing well. But what's happened in the past 18 months now as I've shared my journey with my kids, I've had more real conversations with my teenagers about culture, drinking sex, things, they're struggling with the some of my friends, both female and male are just shocked to hear what my kids share with me about where they're struggling in life, and they can't share that at home with their mom had a fear. And so, today, I'm on the fence. agnostic. Atheist don't know where I'm straddling, I'd say there's probably more weight on the atheist foot than agnostic foot. But still becoming comfortable with that. That terminology. David Ames 1:12:54 And there's no time pressure, Matt, you get to you get to figure it out. There's nobody watching you asking you what do you believe? What do you believe? What do you believe? Right? Wherever you land is up to you. And you get to take as much time as you need to figure that out. Matt 1:13:08 Being in Texas, I would say that this is no shock here. I thought this the word atheist is also aligned with Satanist. Sure, David Ames 1:13:17 yeah. Yeah. Matt 1:13:21 People really don't know what to do with that. It's I'm real careful with my I went to the cycle right of, of being the bitter guy that the pushback and my friends that would come to me and talk about scripture, I would just I can, quite frankly, I can level them on I can, I can cut them in half with my words. We did that a few times. It didn't go well. Now I just engage in smile. And so you know, I don't know where I am right now. Right? I don't know where I'm gonna land. But things are different. You know? Where you're going to church anywhere? No, I'm not. I'm not. Well, I'm gonna come visit this church was really good. Like, I'm good. I'm really good. David Ames 1:14:06 Honestly, that I think that is a a beautiful way to handle it. I think one of the experiences of coming out of a very fundamentalist or very high control group is the feeling or the pressure to have all the answers and to correct everyone around you, right, like there's a bounce back effect of correcting the believers. And it is much healthier, and much, much better for you personally, to be able to just, you know, let that slide. There they are, where they're at you are where you're at. And again, as we've said, your real friends, the people you actually trust, you can be open with them, and they're going to carry you through it. Well, I'm Matt 1:14:48 thankful that I had this dual world though of work friends, and church friends, because I'll tell you that as much rejection as I felt from my Christian friends twice as much as acceptance from my friends that were Jewish, or agnostic or atheist or Muslim, quite frankly. Yeah, I mean, actually follow up how you doing, man just got love on on your checking on you. And so thankful for those people I can't imagine. And I've been completely tied up and I feel for people that are on staff at churches that that are going to this journey that can't. I mean, they're there, their livelihoods tied to everything's tied to it, they're stuck. And so I'm thankful for for that part of my life as well. David Ames 1:15:33 Real quick, we are running out of time, but we you know, any any positive things on this side, we've talked about therapy, obviously, that, you know, any particular books, podcasts other than this one, any YouTube channels, and anything that you found really inspiring through this process for you? Matt 1:15:48 Yeah, absolutely. Of course, your your, your podcast was again, so therapeutic for me to hear other people's stories to realize I'm not crazy. Yeah. Because for awhile, I thought I'm absolutely the asshole here. Right. You know, the Thinking Atheist course, the big podcast that was good. divorcing religion. And those those pieces, they're just not a big reader. A book that really helped me was leather bound terrorism, which is by former evangelical pastor that kind of tapes. Here's his story of using Scripture as a weapon. And what he did to people in the exact story that I shared at the humanizing. There's so much out there. And I've moved from the trying to find work scripture and Jesus into my life. And as it worked out to really saying, none of this just makes sense to me. I can't sit back and say, I can take the Jesus from the Bible, and pluck out those stories and those verses that I want to hear and then ignore everything else. Yeah. And then to hear again, I don't worry about the Old Testament, because the New Testament is, is the word of God now. And then let's quote Psalms and Proverbs. And let's really dive into Deuteronomy and Leviticus and see what things look like there. Right. So there's a lot of great resources or resources out there, and you're one of those. David Ames 1:17:13 Oh, well, I really appreciate that. Matt, I talked about wanting to be having honesty contests in these kinds of interviews. And I think you've, you've lived up to that it's clear you're doing the work. I know, it's a painful place to be, both from a relationship point of view and from a deconstruction point of view. But I really appreciate you telling your story. I know there are going to be a lot of people who relate to your story. So thank you so much for being on the podcast. My pleasure, thank you. Final thoughts on the episode, I really appreciated Matt's honesty and vulnerability here. He talks about a lot of relatively intimate things in such a way that you can hear the work that he's been doing in therapy and otherwise learning about the spiritual abuse that he experienced, as well as the abuse that he gave out. Matt's terminology about a covert narcissist is really interesting. All of us can think of overt narcissists, various pastors and things of that nature. But many of the people in Bible studies or in leadership positions like Matt was that need that constant attention need that constant feedback, I can think of those kinds of people as well. So it's a really interesting concept that Matt brings up here. hearing that story, what I am the most struck by is how the system of the church is spiritual abuse that no one survives it from the least powerful person in the church to the senior pastor, that everyone is ground down by the things that Matt described, this false intimacy, this fake authenticity, a invasion of privacy, breaking down a boundaries, impossible standards of morality and expectations. What I appreciate most about Matt's story is that he recognized how he was also the abuser, that he definitely experienced spiritual abuse, but that and his words hurt people hurt people. And that takes a lot of guts to say out loud, all of the spiritual abuse can be summarized in Matt's wording of seeing people as projects or objects. I think that was so succinct, an explanation of both what it's like as the person in power and as the person who is the object and how abusive that is. I can think of many times in my experience as a church leader, and as experienced as a church member of either making people projects and objects or being the object itself. I want to thank Matt for being on the podcast for telling his story with such honesty and vulnerability. Thank you, Matt. The secular Grace Thought of the Week is obviously inspired by Matt. And that is to give ourselves grace for what we did what we said, who we hurt, who we treated as objects and projects. When we were believers, when we were in the system of the church, when we were being spiritually abused, and we were spiritually abusing others. Hindsight is absolutely 2020. And I'm not saying we shouldn't make amends and feel true regret and sorrow for that. But I am saying we have to also recognize we were trapped in that bubble, that the system was grinding us down, and it takes amazing self awareness to break out of that. Probably if you're listening to this show, you have that amazing self awareness. The evangelicalism that Matt experience that I've experienced that many of you listening, is systemically abusive. And I've said this before, this isn't very popular, but I don't think it is redeemable. I do think that any system with people in it is going to have the potential for abuse. But the roots of this manipulation and abusiveness are so deep that I don't think it can be fixed. And here I don't mean that our job is to tear down the church or tear down even evangelicalism. Here. What I mean is for you to escape, to get out, to be free, to not allow yourself to be a part of that system anymore, to not allow yourself to fool yourself to not allow yourself to be abused and manipulated in the way that 2020 hindsight can show we have in the past. We have some amazing interviews coming up. We have a number of community members in line. I already did my interview with Holly Laurent from the mega podcast. That'll be out sometime in April. I'll be talking with Dr. Darrel Ray from the recovering from Religion Foundation. Arline's has a number of interviews including some popular personalities on Instagram. Until then, my name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist join me and be graceful human beings. The beat is called waves by MCI beats. If you want to get in touch with me to be a guest on the show. Email me at graceful firstname.lastname@example.org for blog posts, quotes, recommendations and full episode transcripts head over to graceful atheists.com This graceful atheist podcast part of the atheists United studios Podcast Network Transcribed by https://otter.ai