Kelly: You are Enough.

Adverse Religious Experiences, Autonomy, Deconstruction, Deconversion, ExVangelical, LGBTQ+, Podcast, Purity Culture
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This week’s guest is Kelly. Kelly was raised as a daughter in a traditional evangelical household, “indoctrinated from diaperhood.” 

They grew up perfectionistic, depressed, timid, and anxious, given Christian cliches about ‘God always being with them’ through their depression. Who they really needed were queer, whole, mentally healthy adult mentors.

“There was a dizzying array of mental exercises I had to engage in to keep the faith.” 

Today, Kelly is living their truest life with wisdom and compassion. It’s been said that we become the person we would have felt safe with as a child, and Kelly has done that beautifully. 


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Deb is Done GAP Episode

Paul is Done GAP Episode



“I didn’t know it then, but it turns out being told that you’re depraved, sinful, and worthy of literal death…really fucks with a person.”

“What I thought was being moved by the ‘Spirit of God’ was actually being caught up in the emotion [of the music.]” 

“I held onto God and my faith [after coming out], trying to find an interpretation of Christianity that would let me live my life openly and free as my authentic self…”

“There was a dizzying array of mental exercises I had to engage in to keep the faith.” 

“There were too many holes. I couldn’t patch the holes.” 

“I had lost the safety of the evangelical church but what I had found was myself.” 

“I find myself now wanting to learn more. I want to learn about all religions…I want to know everything that I was told not to learn about…”

“…when you take God out of the picture, you’re just loving people…”

“I think, maybe, that’s the whole point of life: We go through life just becoming a little bit more ourselves and continue learning and evolving.” 

“I’ve had more spiritual, connected experiences in concerts than I’ve ever had in church.” 

…instead of reflecting God’s character or kingdom, I hope that my life reflects genuine unabashed freedom…”

“At the end of the day, you are the only one who can save you.” 


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NOTE: This transcript is AI produced ( 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. Welcome, welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheists podcast. My name is David, and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. I want to thank all of my patrons who support the podcast on If you too would like to have an ad free experience of the podcast become a patron at atheist. If you are going through deconstruction, doubt the dark night of the soul. You do not need to do this alone. Please join us in our private Facebook group deconversion anonymous, you can find that at Special thanks to Mike T for editing today's show. On today's show, Arleen interviews today's guest Kelly. They were a very sensitive child in their words, empathetic, anxious, deeply feeling and people pleasing. Kelly began questioning at a very young age, they were contemplating eternity and that was terrifying to them. They tried to be the good Christian girl and continue to double down on Christianity throughout their life. Kelly came out as gay in her adulthood. Now Kelly recognizes that they are enough. And their message is that you are enough. Here is Arline's interview with Kelly.

Arline  1:50  
Hi, Kelly, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.

Kelly  1:52  
Hi, Arline. Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Arline  1:54  
You and I connected through a relative of yours who is super wonderful. I love her so much. Yes. And I'm excited to hear your story. Yeah, I'm excited to tell it. So usually we just begin with tell us about your religious environment growing up. Sure.

Kelly  2:11  
Well, I grew up in a family of five. My parents, my older brother and my sister and me. I'm the youngest of the family. Evangelical Christianity and the evangelical interpretation of the Bible was the only correct version in our household. Since I was in diapers, basically, I was indoctrinated into what I now view as the cult of evangelicalism. My my family brought me to Sunday school, where I was very timid child, I sat quietly paying close attention to those felt storyboards, they used to tell us watered down digestible Bible stories. But if I now now I think if I actually knew the real versions, I probably would have cried out of sadness or fear. I was a very sensitive child. But they told us that our Heavenly Father in the sky was our closest, closest connection. He was always there for us. They told us about heaven with its streets of gold and their mansions where all we did was sing praise songs to God for how great he was. And most importantly, we'd have eternal life, to see our past on family members and friends again, and I colored pictures of what I imagined heaven to be. And I proudly show my mom who encouraged my love of Jesus, and memorize Bible verses like the good little Christian girl that I was that they trained me to be. And I proudly rattled off books of the Bible and during prizes for my steadfast, childlike faith. What I didn't tell a soul about was the tail spin that my brain sent me and as I sat in the backseat of our family minivan, around age seven or eight thinking about the endless eternity, that was heaven. It didn't give me those feel good, warm and fuzzies but instead care scared me. shitless and how could we just live forever? Doing the same, doing the same song and dance and I mean, that literally as well as figuratively, for for eternity? What does eternity even look like? Also, why aren't other people freaking the fuck out about this? I push this anxiety deep into a dark corner of my self. I plunged myself into serving God, whatever that looks like with all of my heart and my soul in my mind calling back to that other that Bible verse we all know so well. As I was taught, on some occasions, I asked my mom what if Muslim This and Christians as Christians are actually the same. And I thought this was kind of me poking the holes at Christianity at a very young age. And I asked her what if we just had different names for God? Maybe they call him a law, maybe we call him Jesus. And she said, this was not true. She assured me this was not true. But she couldn't explain it to me how she knew it wasn't true, but she assured me that it was the truth. From Sunday school I graduated, I leveled up to the main search service where I took copious sermon notes on how on how I should have a child I was due to my sinful nature, but it was okay because of how great God was. And I didn't know it then. But it turns out that being told you're depraved, sinful and worthy of literal death. If it wasn't for God, stepping into send His Son to save the day really fucks with the person, especially the empathic, anxious, deeply feeling people pleasing kid that I was. Fast forward to youth group. During my teen years where I was taught about how my body was not my own. It was God's obviously, I learned to view my body as dangerous, a weapon that could be used to lead my brothers in Christ to stumble, whatever that means. And we got divided into boys and girls groups non binary was not a thing back in the early 2000s. We learned about purity culture course we didn't call it purity culture at the time, we called it remaining pure for marriage, modesty, saving our bodies for our future husbands. And I wanted to add in a side note that the gays also did not exist in evangelical spaces in the early 2000s. So any feelings that I might have had as a child I was taught to repress those deeply, which I'll talk about a little later, we took earnest notes on how to be godly women of God that were committed to following Him with all of our life. And apparently that translated into girls being required to wear one piece suits on summer retreats while our brothers in Christ walked around topless, like they were Jesus's disciples reincarnate. I eagerly signed up for summer and winter retreats, raising my arms, crying, being led by the music falling to my knees. What I thought was being moved by the Spirit of God was actually being caught up in the emotion that is purposefully communicated via the music and the melodies and all the chords and the build up of the guitar and I belted out Hillsong, which some of you might know what hell so yeah, yeah, it's a curse in classic Chris Tomlin the newsboys, which I probably attended their concerts by the way. I traveled to Louisiana with my youth group after Hurricane Katrina in early 2006. And it was to gut houses for God as what we call it really, and to spread the gospel to the lost souls of New Orleans. I was pretty chicken, I was too shy, too timid to get into actual conversations with people about God or about how they needed him and needed eternal life to be saved, but would listen at all and kind of jealousy. As my youth group acquaintances piously testified to strangers on the streets. I wanted that I wanted that bold faith, I want it to be that. So I pursued it. My junior year of high school I attended weekly Fellowship of Christian Athletes meetings, singing in earnest at 7:10am Every Thursday in the library, and fervently praying with my friends for a revival to spread through the hallways of my high school. Whatever that meant, at the time I thought it was converting everyone to evangelical Christianity the interpretation that I knew to be correct. I circled the school on see what the poll day which we're all familiar with, see what the poll, walking laps and laps and laps as many as I could with two of my friends, as we belted out prayers for our lost friends and classmates and teachers.

In March 2006 I was coming to the end of my junior year in high school. My family had never been financially well off. My dad was frequently away on business trips or working long hours. We didn't talk much my dad and I but I was a teenager. And I didn't talk to my parents much anyway. One night when the whole family was home around dinnertime, my mom told my siblings and me that we needed to have a family meeting. Because there was something they needed to tell us. I immediately thought that they tell us that my dad had lost his job. Or that she needed to that my mom needed to get a job to support us further. Instead, my dad told us that he had been cheating on my mom. And in a matter of seconds, my world collapsed in upon itself as my dad turned into a stranger before my eyes, I crumpled into the sofa, and I sobbed as my mom helped me. And it was kind of as if we were suspended and a movie, I watched my dad, walk to the door, collect some bags and walk out the door with my aunt and uncle, my Aunt Deb and Uncle Paul, who actually were on the podcast previously, he never lived in our house again, and that events would change our relationship forever. I leaned hard on my close circle of Christian friends after collapsing on the floor in tears during youth group worship, and I frequently would leave the service to talk to my friends in my youth pastors office. In short, it was an event that turned my world upside down and made me dig deeper into my faith. It's interesting because my older brother and sister looking back, they took very different paths than I did. My brother and sister were also involved in the youth group, but my brother kind of pulled away from youth group and Christianity after high school age, and I saw how he processed the divorce and separation which was kind of going out with his friends and kind of distracting himself and my sister distracted herself with getting into relationship and to relationship after another that were toxic. And I dug my heels in I dug deeper into leaning on God and leaning into my faith. senior year of high school was met with apathy. But I persisted with being president of Fellowship of Christian Athletes and in college, I immerse myself into church and Bible study, it's a cover up the excruciating pain and abandonment that I felt. Throughout my high school and college years, I felt intense flashes flashes of attraction for my female friends, and it terrified me. Like I said earlier, being gay and evangelical spaces is not a thing. It does not exist. It wasn't in the evangelical playbook. It was not a part of God's plan. So my feelings would bubble up, and they would come to the surface and I would freak out and I push them so hard down that I eventually now know, as internalized homophobia, I immerse myself in and it took over my whole worldview like a like a invasive weed. I spent my college years in post college years going on one date after another with one man after the next, some blind dates, some dates set up from friends of friends. Some of them led to second dates, but most of them ended in one. I could never figure out what I did. I thought there must be something wrong with me. Or like my friends love to tell me you just haven't found the right man yet. So you just haven't met him yet. He's out there somewhere, just keep the faith. So I believe them. And I kept trying. Towards the end of 2018. After a well meaning man tried to make physical moves with me on a first date, my body froze. I awkwardly found myself pulling away and everything in my body was yelling, Kelly, run. But instead, I stayed with him in his house as he asked me questions about what was going on in my head. And just like I was taught in my evangelical upbringing by people pleasing training kicked in, and kept me solidly in that space. I wanted to run, but I couldn't. After about 30 minutes, I told him I had to leave. I made up an excuse, and I left and I cried the whole way home. And I think back wondering why my body had such a visceral reaction. And the only thing I can point to is because I realized in that moment, that I hadn't been able to listen to my body and spirit everything was telling me Kelly protect yourself. Pretty Head to your heart protects your soul, do what you know to do. And I couldn't move I was frozen

in spring 2019, I couldn't pretend to be the straight version of myself anymore. And I came out as gay in March 2019, to my older brother, with tears in my eyes, my voice shaking and 29 years worth of tears of closeted tears streamed down my face. And he cried, too. I was so nervous with how he was going to react, but I knew in my heart that he was going to be a safe space, because as I mentioned, he had deconstructed from Christianity long before I had and I knew he was affirming of gay people. And I knew I would have a soft place to land with him. And he said over and over how much he loved me and how he was proud of me. And I will never forget that moment. I held on to God. And my faith, trying to find an interpretation of Christianity that would let me live my life openly and free as my authentic self. But my older sister, she's two years older than me. When she rejected that part of me. I eventually told her that I came out. I hadn't originally texted her called her because again, in my heart, I knew that she wouldn't be a place to land for my for my soul. But she told me outright that she did not approve of me being gay and living what she called the gay lifestyle. One of my friends, I kind of viewed this as a breakup, she broke up with me. This was one of my best friends. Yeah, one of my best friends from college after a decade's long friendship, called me. This was right before the pandemic happened January 2020. Saying that we were going down two very different paths in life. And she ended it with that. And I told her, okay, I guess I'll talk to you later, and we never talked again. So three years later, and that hurt that hurt like hell. Christians all around me, were turning their backs on Me, which left me confused and hurt. How could they be there for me? How could they love me and still reject this fundamental part of me. I thought they should be thrilled for me, because I was finally living without shame. And I was finally living openly as myself. And it made sense to only rejoice if one of my friends had done the same thing. I can only think how happy I would have been for them. But instead, I was met with rejection. And I asked myself, isn't that God's whole plan for us? Isn't that supposed to be his plan for us to live freely and in the fullest versions of ourselves and in complete and utter freedom? Isn't that the plan, but because I didn't follow their idea of the Bible. Because I was choosing to act on what they told me was my sinful thoughts. They couldn't affirm me. And the something, there's something extra that stings a little bit. Harder is the I love you, but I cannot love this part of you and your decision to live it out. It's the whole trope of love the sin or love the sinner Hate the sin. And I would almost rather take the outright rejection of my sister that she had handed to me one that wasn't rooted in a base of love for me even as a human. I think she at one point loves me when I was playing the straight me but she made it clear on two distinct occasions that she holds no love for the queer me. The straw that really unraveled my belief in God was prayer. I spent years of my life following my hands, my Aunt Deb and my grandma to Wednesday night prayer services, fervently praying on bent knees for dozens of sick and elderly and children dying of leukemia and lost jobs and family members gone astray. And the whole time I believed that, if there were enough of us gathering together as it says in the Bible, if even two or more of you are gathered in my name, that your prayers will be heard, if we prayed earnestly enough if, if we meant it with our whole heart that God would answer Are our prayers. But the boy with leukemia died, and the elderly were still sick, and my dad still lost his job. And my parents marriage still fell apart. There was a dizzying array of mental exercises that I had to engage in to keep my faith and I know you probably have done a lot of the same in our listeners have done a lot of the same. Doesn't God give us the desires of our heart? Or is it that our desires don't fit into the magic formula of his will? Or is it because Adam and li ne have sinned? So now we're fucked no matter what we pray for? Or is it that God's ways are higher than ours? And so they are not to be questioned? is Satan interfering? And preventing the prayers from being answered? Is our freewill holding God back from doing anything? I saw this Tiktok comment recently that said, God's omniscience and freewill actually can't coexist. Because of his omniscience, God didn't give Adam and Eve a choice. Actually, he knew what they do even before He created them. God knows whether you're going to heaven or hell before you even exist. That's not free will. And I've gotten into several conversations with some of my friends who are still practicing Christians. And I see my past self in them as I see themselves kind of working through these these mental exercises and trying to to rationalize something that can't be rationalized because when it comes down to it for me, there were too many holes, I couldn't patch the holes.

D converting was a slow burn for me over the years. I had had thoughts of, of our suspicions that I might be gay. As like I said, as early as high school when I didn't have crushes on the boys I was supposed to have crushes on. And as that continued into high school, and I dug deeper into my faith. In the back of my mind, doubts that crept to the forefront were impossible to ignore. I had to address those, I would say in mid to late 2020. That was when I could no longer hold on to my Christianity and the irrefutable truth that I had held to so solidly for 30 years of my life at this point. It was scary. I lost friends. As I mentioned, one of my best friends from college for our decades long friendship dissolved immediately. I lost the safety of the evangelical community. But what I found was myself, and I had the intellectual curiosity that I had been carrying with me, my whole life and true wonder and awe as I became more and more delightfully uncertain of just about everything. And I didn't feel fear or misery or isolation. It's interesting, being a D, convert D convert from Christianity and my family, I am not formally outs as ex Evangelical, in my close family. My Aunt Deb and Uncle Paul, and my brother and one of my cousins are the only people in my family that are ex angelical that have deconstructed their, from their Christianity and now identify as agnostic or atheist. And it used to bother me for a long time that I wanted to have this close relationship with my mom being a being a child of divorced parents, in your late teens, it fucks with you on a different level than being a child because I now I'm working through abandonment from my from my dad, I now can't relate to my mom through our common our once commonly held faith. And it has bothered me the past couple of years that I can't really connect with her anymore. We have no common thread anymore. So I would say and maybe people listening can relate to this that I'm struggling with where to find common ground with her and how to in 2023 How to have meaningful and profound connections with her when we no longer share the fundamental belief that Jesus is the Son of God that He came to die for our sins, that Christianity is the base of our lives anymore. So there's not really a solution that I can see at this point. Maybe my mom will hear this episode and realize that I am in this new space. And she will probably more than that. I've seen her on occasion after occasion, say, Kelly, I'm praying for you.

So the biggest challenge that I am finding myself facing now is finding true connection with my mom, because she is in her 60s. Now she has lived as an evangelical Christian her entire life. And now suddenly, I don't have a common ground with her. I don't have this shared faith, this shared worldview anymore. And it's interesting because my aunt who has deconstructed in her late 60s and early 70s, I've seen her her entire worldview shift. And I had always thought to myself, Oh, there's no way there's no way people can ever change when they are so deeply immersed in a worldview and in a faith. And I've seen that happen with my aunt and my uncle. And they have done a complete worldview shift. And I look at my mom, and I see the difference between her and I being this glaring discrepancy of intellectual curiosity. And I find my now wanting to learn more, I want to know about all religions, I want to know about atheism, I want to know about mysticism. I want to know everything that I was told not to learn about as a child and a teenager, and a young adult. And I look at my mom who lost her mom, April 2020. And that was the for that for her that was the loss of her her world in a huge sense. And I think the primary reason that she can't be intellectually curious, is because if she were to be intellectually curious, that would rock the foundation of her world, just like my world was turned upside down, when I realized that my dad wasn't the person who I thought he was when I was young. And I can't fault her for that. And I now find myself trying to connect with her and trying to love her in a way that is not so founded in Christianity, and it's, it's a weird thing when you're taught your whole life to love people as as God has loved you. And now when you take God out of the picture, you're just loving people. And this is a common theme. For a lot of people who have deconstructed is now I feel like I can see people for who they are. And I can love people for who they are truly at their core instead of loving them because a book told me to love them or because somebody's words told me to love them. And I'm trying to take the same approach with my mom, it's just that I haven't figured it out. So any any advice is welcome in that area. I'm finding myself trying to, to find meaningful connection with her and my other family members as well. But I'll be honest, it is an elephant in the room. We about faith. We don't talk about politics. As many evangelicals do, she is. She is deeply entrenched in the Republican conservative party, and I'm very much a progressive. Leftist, too, and she voted for Trump twice, and I did not at all so I have to find common ground with her and learn how to have deep profound conversations where I'm still making connections with her, but I'm not upsetting her entire worldview, which I haven't figured that out

Arline  29:46  
yet. Yes, I can. Oh, so many things that you've talked about, but this specifically, my real mom, I have a stepmom who raised me and my I've always just called her my real mom. That's just how we have used it and And it's similar like used to, we're both Christians and we had now we had completely different understandings of Christianity. She was more of the prosperity gospel, Jesus was wealthy, apparently, I'm gonna just like, Yeah, I had no idea. And, you know, TD Jakes and other people I can't think of right now. But so her theology was very different. But we both love to Jesus, we both, you know, the Bible is God's word, you kind of the basics, and we could connect on that. And then, over time, closer to 2016, it was like, wow, we really have completely different values. Now, we both still love Jesus, but it was just, our values were so different. And trying to find that common ground was hard, then. And now it's like, I do not have any kind of great advice for. For us, we've had to talk about things that, sadly, are not super meaningful and deep. And I've had to kind of spread my relationships out more where I find those things from other people. Because I would keep running into that Emma and my stepmom has passed away. So like, what she and I, you know, we had issues because every parent and kid has issues, but it was, I don't know, it's hard to explain. But yeah, I've had to kind of spread out my getting those relational needs met from more different people, so that I don't, you know, put them all on my husband or put them all on family members. And that has been jarring at times to remember that like, oh, this may not be a thing. And it may be one day, things like you talked about Deb and Paul like things can totally change that you don't see but you don't see coming but um, but please continue. Yeah,

Kelly  31:53  
yeah. Um, so that's kind of where I am currently. Yeah. Is I what you're saying resonates a lot with me. I'm having to find community outside of my immediate family and I rely heavily on my atheist and agnostic friends. A lot of them were also previous evangelicals. So they know a lot of the indoctrination that we experienced growing up and I'll be honest, that's that's a bitch to unravel.

I'm still unraveling purity culture, and how insidious that is. I just kind of on a side note, I didn't really realize how much of an impact that would have on my life, I thought I'll be able to flip a switch and I'll and I'll be okay. But I'm still finding myself now. It's, it's, it's hot. It's different because I've come out later in life. So I'm but I'm still finding myself unable to to make that switch. I'm still having feelings of shame come up, I'm still working through living out my truest version of myself. And I think maybe that's the whole point of life is just where we go through life just becoming a little bit more ourselves and we continue learning and we continue evolving and changing and it's hard it's it's it's not like somebody handed me a guidebook after coming away from evangelical Christianity saying this is how to D convert one on one like you mentioned earlier, like, We're all just trying to figure this shit out. Like we're not we're not able to follow the the, the the Word of God anymore, like we used to. So we are now finding ourselves in Facebook groups, or listening to podcasts, and we're making connections with people online because we don't have those connections and our quote unquote, real lives. So yeah, now I'm trying to going back to the purity culture thing. I'm trying to chip away now at this indoctrination, and I'm, I'm turning to my left and to my right and asking my friends, like, Have you experienced this? And they're like, yeah, yeah, we are still we're still working through the the teaching this. It's not just teaching though. I want to just stress how insidious it is just because it permeates different areas of our life that we just weren't even aware. Arab. So, yeah, going back to the to the community and just how important that aspect has been. When I first D converted, I did feel isolation, I felt that now that I didn't have a church to go to I didn't have the the ritual of the waking up on Sunday and going to the service and singing worship songs and spending time in that space. I almost was having to reinterpret what Sunday looks like. And at first, it was jarring. And I felt guilty. Because again, that's that good old evangelical Christian guilt that you are supposed to be dedicating your Sunday to the Lord. And if you're sleeping in and you're watching TV, that's you better have a good excuse, you better be sick, you better be dying, because you absolutely should not be doing that. But then I think with the, with the beginning of COVID, and we were now having church online, and I think me as well as a lot of other people were discovering that this might not be as great as we were told, this might not be the be all end all. Having community in a church on a Sunday, I'll be quite honest, I've had more spiritual, connected experiences and concerts than I've ever had in church, post deconversion. I've felt the Spirit move as it were singing along to one of my favorite French rappers with the with the group of 1000s that I had in my youth group services as a 14 year old 15 year old. And I can see clearly now as clearly as clear goes, you know, life is always muddy, nothing's black and white anymore. When you've D converted, everything's kind of in that fuzzy gray. But I can see clearly now that what I was told, which I was taught to take at face value, and never question to hold tight to was purposeful. They and when I say they, I mean youth pastors, main pastors, Bible study leaders, the collective they, they were telling us these things to keep us on the straight and narrow. And what was what was the what was the straight and narrow what were the straight and narrow was following the bible as we see it to be interpreted as, save yourself for marriage, live live in accordance to God's design, man and woman and then build a life with your husband and and have children and and you will be carrying out God's will. So you can see and I can see how impossible it would have been for me to authentically live as a queer person in that space. I think now looking back, if I had come out in college, I would have had no one. I relied entirely on my Bible study community and my church community and my roommates and my hall mates who are Christians, that was my entire world. If I had come out, then I would have had no one. And none of my family had D converted at that time. That wasn't even an option. That wasn't even a blip on the radar. That was I thought for sure I'm I'm going to either be a nun because the whole dating men thing wasn't working out. So obviously, none are missionary. Those are the only two options or I find myself forcing heteronormativity on myself and marrying someone who I wasn't in love with.

I got to the point where I could not compromise anymore. And the long and short of it is is that I have no regrets. I have no regrets for coming out when I did. The only regret and I'll be honest shame at some point is and not knowing that there was ever another way that there was never another path presented to me as a young queer kid. I think about how, and just decide no. So I'm a teacher, I also have been a mentor to gay and queer kids in my school. And I think about how lucky they are to have someone to look towards and to see someone modeling what it looks like to unashamedly and so openly live out who they are, which is what I tried to do now is just to be myself and to be genuine and to encourage my students to do the same with with with their lives. And I think about how drastically different my life would have looked like, if, as a 11 year old preteen, I would have had a Bible Study leader who was queer, who would have said, Kelly, you know what, you don't have to do this straight thing. That's not you. You're clear, and you're wonderfully made, and who the fuck knows who made you, maybe it was God, maybe you just appeared one day doesn't really matter. But you are you and there is no one else you should be. And I want my life to reflect instead of, you know, reflecting God's character or kingdom, I hope that my life reflects genuine, unabashed freedom. And that my testimony, quote, unquote, is that you are perfectly made the way you are, and you deserve to take up space. You deserve to fight for the things that bring your heart joy. You should never let anyone tell you that you are less than, and that you need someone to save you. Because at the end of the day, you are the only one who can save you. And I tell myself that now at 33, almost 34, to my nine year old self to my 10 year old self to my 17 year old self, you are enough for you. You never needed a god. You never needed saving from an outside source, you were always enough.

Arline  42:47  
I just want to like sit and let all your affirmation just like wash all over me. I'll be 40 In a few months. And it's like, I did not grow up in the church. But I spent my entire adult life from time I was 18 on believing the opposite of everything that you just said. And the times I have to reparent my little little Arline. That's her color. Arline. I just talked a little Arline and remind her. Yeah, everything that you just said, because even not growing up in the church, I still grew up in a patriarchal home, girls were valued less. And I was an only girl. So like I was just kind of a third wheel. And so yeah, just like I want our listeners to just pause, take this little chunk out where you're speaking and just like let it let it be true because so many of us who especially if you grew up in the church, but are Christians or I don't know about other religions, but there's just so much shame and internalized, whatever is against yourself. Like for me it was internalized misogyny, like how much I thought less of women I thought less of myself I thought less of girls and the things I believed that were just wrong, like they were just wrong.

Kelly  44:12  
I do want to speak a little bit on the importance of mental health and how it relates to my story growing up. So I do think there as as far as many insidious things as the church taught me, one of the most insidious things was God will save you from sadness. He will deliver you from oppression. If your faith is is strong and you and you put your entire trust in Him and that God can conquer anything, anything that you're going through as far as like mental health wise or, or physical health or anything. And I mentioned earlier, going to prayer meetings and fervently praying on hands and knees as a five year old, six year old seven year old. And I believed that I believed that I just needed to have faith. And if God wasn't responding, that means my faith wasn't enough. And let me tell you how that fucks with you because that puts the entire weight of the world on yourself now. Now you're saying to yourself, I need to be better. I need to read my Bible more. I must not be praying enough. I must not be witnessing to my friends at school enough. How else could these things be explained? How else could I explain going through all this shit? What's What's this all for? So I think about when I was when I was itty bitty, and we're talking like 567. And I know now that I had anxiety, I had anxiety as a kid. And that anxiety manifested itself as perfectionism, it manifested itself as obsessive compulsive tendencies, depression, there will be times when I would, I would be sitting on the sofa as like a sixth grade or seventh grader. And I would I would be so distraught I would be I would be crying, I would have my hair and like kind of veiled in front of my face, like picture the girl from the ring, like I would use my hair as a curtain like a room. And my mom would Cove come over to me and be like, Kelly, like, what's what's wrong? And I said, Mom, like, my friends don't care about me. And she said, How do you know that? And I said, I just No. And she was she was obviously taken aback by this because why would why would a kid even bring up something like this? Obviously, I had friends, I had friends that were that were loving to me, and that were always in my corner. But I was convinced to my in my soul in my being that my friends didn't care about me. And I now know, of course, that was anxiety. Of course, I was experiencing depression because of that anxiety. And because of my OCD, perfectionist tendencies, and there was no intervention. My mom didn't reach out for help professionally. Her solution was prayer was we need to pray about this. We, we need to surround you with with strong Christian role models. We need to we need to spend times on time on our knees in prayer because obviously, the devil is tormenting you. Satan is tormenting you. And he is he is infecting the thoughts of your mind. And this harkens back to what I mentioned earlier about God being omniscient. Well, is God all powerful? Or isn't he can can he stop Satan from putting these these thoughts in my head or campaign? And if he's not doing anything, well, what a shit dad that is like, who would let their child suffer in torment for years of my life. And I'll be honest, that a lot of my depression growing up was now I recognize internalized homophobia. And I was being forced to live a straight lifestyle when I was clearly queer. But to think about all that anxiety, and all that turmoil that I experienced as a kid, and no fault to my mom, because she didn't know better, but she did nothing. And no one stepped in on behalf of little Kelly. And I found myself growing up, thinking that I just need to be a better representor of God, I need to be, I need to be more in the word I need to be more faithful. And if I'm if I just do ABC 123, then maybe I'll get there. Maybe I'll maybe I'll wake up one day and find that God has lifted by depression that God has lifted these anxious thoughts from my mind that that God has made me straight. Because I can't tell you so many, so many prayers, I prayed to be straight. So many so many. But that never happened. God didn't lift the anxiety. He didn't lift the depression. And let's also talk about the fact that God could only be a he and never could be a day which boggles my mind to this day. How spirit could have a penis but you never know. But, you know, that never happened. That never happened. And I have to say like, it couldn't have happened any other way that I continually went to bat for God. I've heard a lot of guests on here talk about being an apologist and defending the word and defending God's character because God is untouchable God's ways are higher than ours. So we who are we to question Who are we to question?

So, I spent all this time running circles in my mind, for this being who I'd never seen, by the way, who I was told was always there for me holding me, but I couldn't feel anything. If anything, it was it was the worship music and the Hillsong and the newsboys that were holding me way more than anything else. But I was told that this this, this being was, was always going to be there for me. But where was he? Where were they? Throughout my whole life, I'd experienced so much, and God was nowhere to be found. And my family who are still in that evangelical space, being very well versed in being in apologetics, I would say, God did answer your prayers, but they didn't look like what you thought they would look like. There's any answer, there's an answer. There's always an answer. Yeah, there's always an answer. But sure, you might have to live in torment in your depression for decades. That's just God's plan for you, because he needed you to trust him more. Obviously, that was the only explanation. Of course, you had to live with internalized homophobia and force heteronormativity. Because you had to rely on God. Of course, you couldn't rely on a partner, you had to rely on God. You couldn't trust your body, your body is evil, your body is sinful. Of course, you had to trust God, of course, they had to be the ultimate answer, because you are not enough. And again, that's coming back to my other comment of being enough. But now, looking back, there was just so many times where I can point to tying this back into the mental the mental health piece, like there were so many points where I could have said to myself, you need to talk to a counselor, you need to see a doctor for the effects of depression that it's having on your body. You need to examine why you withhold food from yourself why you look at your body as as being not enough. And you you need intervention you you need someone you need someone and God is obviously not doing it. He's he's just not he's he's leaving you high and dry on this one.

Arline  53:07  
The Christianity I was a part of, we had just kind of a catchphrase of like, we follow a suffering Savior. So like, Why could we expect anything different? And it was very much suffering was glorified. Like yes, very much a thing.

The way you're able to tell your story is just absolutely beautiful. I have a couple more questions, but Okay, anything else you want to, to talk about that you haven't had a chance to yet. Um,

Kelly  53:44  
just to restate my appreciation on the side of deconversion for evolving and learning and giving myself grace, the name of this podcast, I love it so much because I'm constantly reminding myself that I deserve grace. I am deserving of the grace that I withheld from myself all these years. I deserve the celebration for who I am. I deserve the uplifting that I would have given God that I now give myself because now I'm pretty sure that God is me. I am God. We are all we are all divine. That's kind of where I've landed right now. I'm kind of in like a mystic state. And it's not too late. It's not too late to be fully embodied. It's not too late to to come out of indoctrination and to find freedom on the other side

Arline  55:09  
almost said Amen.

Do you have any recommendations for listeners books, podcasts? Anything that has been helpful to you?

Kelly  55:24  
Yeah, yours? Yeah. So I love Marla Tatiana. Both of her books loves so much. Yeah. Her poetry just does something speaks something to my soul. And I find myself just constantly like taking photos and like passing them on to all of my friends. And this one and this one and have you oh my god, like it's just so amazing. But yeah, I found a lot of solace. In her books, I found a lot of solace in this podcast. Dirty Rotten church kids is another one of my favorite podcasts, which is more of like a tongue in cheek comic relief.

Arline  56:10  
There is plenty right now coming out. Thank you so much for being on the podcast. Kelly. I really really enjoyed it. Thank you so much, Eileen.

My final thoughts on the episode, Kelly's ability to tell their story with compassion for their little self, little Kelly, compassion for their self now. Moving forward learning staying curious. Just so much grace, so much love and kindness for themselves. And for others. This was a really good episode for my own heart. The way Kelly was able to just speak truth. I don't know how I'm trying to articulate this. It was just it was just beautiful. Their story reminded me how there's no timeline for coming out to your family and friends with any information that is going to, to make the other people sad. These are our stories. These are our truce, these are our lives. And we owe it to nobody else. To come out as an agnostic as an atheist as not no longer a Christian no longer religious, as a queer person, as any is non binary trans to anything. We owe it to no one to come out on anyone else's timeline but our own, and to not even come out. Like we're all on our own journeys. And nobody. Nobody has a right to hear anything from our stories. If that's not what we know is best for us. So Kelly, thank you again for being on the podcast. This was this was good for me.

David Ames  58:12  
The secular Grace Thought of the Week is you are enough. Inspired by Kelly, as well as previous guests, Robert peoples who frames it as to be human is enough. I want to quote Kelly here I thought their way of framing this was really important. They said it turns out that being told you are depraved, sinful and worthy of literal death if it wasn't for God stepping in to send His Son to save the day, really fucks with the person, especially the empathetic, anxious, deeply feeling people pleasing kid that I was. You may or may not feel like you were a sensitive, deeply feeling child but many of us were damaged by the doctrine of total depravity for even faith traditions that didn't frame it in those terms. This idea your righteousness is as filthy rags. Part of that deconstruction process is to discover oneself to recover your own humanity to reject the framing that we are bad by nature, that we are evil by nature, that we are broken by nature, to accept the human condition that includes both great qualities like empathy and love and grace, as well as selfishness and bitterness and anger. That is what it is to be human. Kelly's message and Robert peoples message is that is enough. You are enough. You can walk away from that damaging message and accept your own humanity. As always, we have lots of amazing interviews coming up. We have Stephanie cat, Joanna Johnson, who has written a book called silenced in Eden 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 that you want to get in touch with me to be a guest on the show, email me at graceful For blog posts, quotes, recommendations and full episode transcripts head over to graceful This graceful atheist podcast, a part of the atheists United studios Podcast Network

Transcribed by

Nicki Pappas: As Familiar as Family

Adverse Religious Experiences, Autonomy, Deconstruction, ExVangelical, Hell Anxiety, Missionary, Podcast, Podcasters, Purity Culture, Quiver Full, Race, Religious Abuse, Religious Trauma
Listen on Apple Podcasts

Content Warning: Spiritual, physical and sexual abuse. Depression, post-partum depression, infertility and suicidal idealization.

Arline guest hosts interviewing author and podcaster, Nicki Pappas. Nicki Pappas is a writer who critiques the evangelical establishment that shaped her. She’s the author of As Familiar as Family: Leaving the Toxic Religion I Was Groomed For. She’s also the host of the Broadening the Narrative podcast where she interviews guests who are broadening the narratives she was taught within white evangelicalism. She has three young children with Stephen Pappas, her steady partner in the chaos since 2010. Through her work, she desires to spark hope in the world around her and live out an embodied faith.




Broadening the Narrative Podcast








I wasn’t ready for Rachel Held Evans but I read her.

Who am I if I am not going to church?

And over the next few months I really got to spend a lot of time with myself and was, ‘Oh, I really like myself apart from a church … and like the person who I’m getting to know.

Curiosity and compassion

I feared I was gonna fall apart. And that was when I was like,

‘Okay so we can actually leave church and I’m not gonna fall apart because I have something better than my trust placed in [pastor].

I trust me. I trust myself.’


Join the Deconversion Anonymous Facebook group!


Secular Grace

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“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats

Arline Interviews Boundless and Free

Adverse Religious Experiences, Autonomy, Deconstruction, ExVangelical, Hell Anxiety, Podcast, Religious Trauma
Boundless and Free
Click to play episode on Apple Podcasts
Listen on Apple Podcasts

This week’s guest is the content creator, @boundless_and_free. Boundless grew up in a good Christian home, attended a PCA church and believed all was well in her life. She would later learn the term CPTSD and understand that her “good Christian upbringing” was not quite what she’d thought. 

In college, Ms. Free first experienced anxiety and depression but had no vocabulary for it. (The Church rarely discusses these things.) It wasn’t until the “perfect life” she’d been promised began to unravel that she realized she needed a different way to understand both “god” and herself . 

Now, as a “parts work” therapist, she helps others on their own journeys. Her personal experience of the divine centers around the ways that humans are connected to one another and the universe. 

Once again—whether someone leaves religion and becomes an atheist or continues on a spiritual journey—the real purpose in life comes from connecting with other people. We are all in this together, and we each get one life to leave this world better than we found it. 


Counseling Website

Boundless and Free on Instagram

Religious Trauma Institute

Secular Therapy Project

You are not broken, you are human


No Bad Parts by Richard Schwartz

CPTSD: From Surviving to Thriving by Pete Walker

Waking the Tiger by Peter Levine

A Course in Miracles by Foundation for Inner Peace

Instagram profiles
  • @thejeffreymarsh
  • @jystsaysk
  • @aftergodsend 
  • @francescafemme 
  • @christenacleveland 
  • @thepracticeco 
  • @drlauraanderson 
  • @reclamationcollective 
  • @hillarymcbride
  • @methodsofcontemplation
  • @blackliturgies
  • @stewartdantec
  • @kevinjamesthornton
  • @abraham.piper


“I should have been being a teenager, and here I [was] thinking about predestination.”

“…because, of course, if you’re a Christian, you can’t get depressed!”

“I spent every morning praying. I had done all the devotionals…What did I have to be depressed about? I just couldn’t understand it.”

“I look back now at my sweet, young self and think, Honey, what do you mean you have nothing to be depressed about? Look at all the things!

“So many people in the church don’t talk about mental health.”

“[Depression] has a strong connection to what’s happening inside your body. It’s not just something you can snap out of; it’s not just a mood.”

“[Anxiety and depression] are very connected. They’re often two sides of the same coin.”

“When my body was starting to break down…its way of telling me something was wrong. It was trying to get my attention.”

“My body is this big source of wisdom…this guide that can teach me.”

“We tried really hard to follow the rules [of purity culture], and it had a cost. It had a cost for a lot of people.”

“We were alienated from our bodies. We were told this home that we live in—this beautiful trustworthy home…was bad and wrong and would lead us astray.”

“…a lot of what was keeping me in church was the fear of leaving.”

“I hope I’ll always be in a place of curiosity and wonder for the rest of my life.”


Join the Deconversion Anonymous Facebook group!


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Support the podcast

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“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats

Julia: Deconstruction of a Doctor

Adverse Religious Experiences, Agnosticism, Autonomy, Deconstruction, Deconversion Anonymous, ExVangelical, Hell Anxiety, Podcast, Purity Culture, Religious Abuse, Religious Trauma
Click to play episode on Apple Podcasts

Content Warning: miscarriage; traumatic birth; mental health problems; hell anxiety 

Listen on Apple Podcasts

This week’s guest is Julia. Julia is the clever mind behind the Instagram account, @painfulpostchristianprayers

Julia grew up in a German mostly-atheist home. The hostility, however, she saw for religion made it all the more appealing. As she came of age, she found herself confirmed in the German Lutheran church but attending and loving a very American Baptist church. Julia was all-in but soon found some doctrines were a bit much, especially the teachings about Hell.

For years, Julia threw herself into American Church World. She read the entire Bible, went to university to become a missionary doctor, met her spouse at church, even read Joshua Harris’s books. But life has a way of forcing some to wonder–Is the God I believe in really is as kind as I’ve been told

After one trying event after another, Julia could no longer see God’s “goodness, and she started to see through the “incredibly ridiculous explanations” people gave when God did not come through.

Julia is in a different place now. Her online presence provides an outlet for the anger that had been pent-up for so long, and it has also brought her community. She is far from alone; thousands are waking up to the empty promises of Christianity. 

And that is what is what humans truly need—not a distant, pretend deity but real human connection and relationship.


“I’d prayed The Prayer…like, twenty times or so because I was never sure if it worked.”

“This Christian role that I was trying to press myself into was really causing me to be in a really bad place…”

“I think this is happening because I wasn’t faithful to god.”

“I felt like I couldn’t trust God anymore to do what he, supposedly, was suppose to do—namely protect his kids!”

“That’s what I am looking for, I am trying to find a god I can love, and I cannot love this one because he is abusive.”

“I came in touch with my longing for that god. I wanted it to be true … and I didn’t. “

“Everything works in that theological framework until it doesn’t.”

“It’s not just a belief system. It’s an abusive relationship with an abusive deity.” 

“I tried to salvage my faith … but the slippery slope is really as slippery as they say.”

“It just all came apart in my hands until nothing was left”


Painful Post-Christian Prayers


Online deconversion communities


The Phil Drysdale Show podcast


Wayward by Alice Greczyn

Leaving the Fold by Marlene Winell 



Alice Greczyn

Join the Deconversion Anonymous Facebook group!


Secular Grace

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“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats

Cooper: Deconstruction of a Mother

Adverse Religious Experiences, Autonomy, Deconstruction, ExVangelical, Podcast, Purity Culture
Click to play episode on Apple Podcasts
Listen on Apple Podcasts

This week’s guest is Cooper. Cooper grew up deeply immersed in church world. From a young age, she was devoted to God and obedient to her family. In high school, life threw her a curve ball, but she continued faithfully loving Jesus and doing what she believed to be best. 

Parenthood, marriage, church life and military life all, in different ways, knocked her feet out from beneath her. Every year it seemed like something was more difficult, more uncertain, and the church didn’t stepping up with the support she needed.

After years of questions without satisfying answers, Cooper finds herself a woman—more than just a wife and mom—with options and freedom to choose her own life. She may not have the answers to every question, but she’s okay with that. She and her children keep moving forward, empowered now to love one another without sacrificing themselves.


“Looking back…I was so broken, and I thought that should be celebrated.”

“It was…‘Any of your natural instincts? Completely disregard them because they’re sinful, especially because you’re female.’”

“I thought anytime anything would go wrong in my life, it was punishment.”

“I had been told, ‘If you walk in these ways, God is going to bless your life, so I just thought we were immune to everything.”

“Our story is like Jesus or Jerry Springer, depending on your view of the world.”

“I was like, ‘No more God. No more church…I need a break’”

“There isn’t this male entity that’s just waiting for me to mess up and show me why I should have done it his way.”

“I definitely want to raise my kids with…altruism, empathy and genuine love for people but also knowing that they don’t have to take crap from people.”


Join the Deconversion Anonymous Facebook group!


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“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats

Jan: Mental Health and Deconstruction

Adverse Religious Experiences, Deconstruction, Dones, ExVangelical, Missionary, Podcast, Religious Trauma
Click to play episode on Apple Podcasts

Content Warning: This week’s story includes references to physical and emotional abuse, mental illness and suicidal ideation. Listener discretion is advised.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

This week’s guest is Jan. Jan grew up in a strict fundamentalist household but attended a loving church. That disconnect planted the first seeds of doubt. 

She went off to a Christian university where she was told to expect “signs and wonders”, but they didn’t happen. Becoming a missionary wife was supposed to satisfy her “need to serve God” but it didn’t happen. Again and again, as she pursued God, she was let down.

Trauma, depression and unfulfilled promises slowly broke her, and even then, God didn’t show up. She had been doing it all on her own, and it would take a divorce and leaving the Church completely, for her to see that.

After finding care and support in therapy and “spiritual but not religious” communities, Jan now supports others struggling with mental illness. She is living a life filled with grace both for herself and others. 

Banksy: London. There is always hope


“I just kept believing it, because that’s the subtly of brainwashing…even though it has positive aspects, the problem is you’re not getting any other influences, not developing any critical thinking skills.”

“I kept putting doubts on the shelf…but the shelf kept getting heavier.”

“…[thinking] ‘Wow, something’s wrong with me. Nobody else is talking about [depression], so I must be the only one.’ That’s a hallmark for problems in mental health, when you think you’re the only one.”

“I got divorced and left the church. It was like jumping off a cliff with no parachute.”

“One of my quests is to just have adventure and have fun.”

“Find a compassionate person. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable…know that it is not hopeless, you have choices and there are people waiting to point you in the right direction…”


National Association on Mental Illness

Secular Therapy Project

Recovering From Religion


Join the Deconversion Anonymous Facebook group!


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“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats

Jenny McGrath: Embodied Sexuality

Adverse Religious Experiences, Autonomy, Podcast, Purity Culture
Click to play episode on Apple Podcasts
Listen on Apple Podcasts

This week’s guest is Jenny McGrath. Jenny is a licensed mental health counselor, a somatic psychotherapist, and a movement educator specializing in religious trauma and sexual abuse. She believes “in the power of story and the wisdom of the body.”

Jenny’s work stems partly from her evangelical upbringing in Colorado Springs. She was steeped in the world of purity culture. Her work also comes from a broad understanding of the history of purity culture—women’s disembodiment, trauma, gender erasure, systemic racism and more. 

Jenny guides and support others in their journeys to liberation and hope after years of harm and trauma. She is truly living out secular grace! 

Tweet-Worthy Quotes

“A lot of times in psychology, we’re looked at as though we are ‘floating heads’…that’s not enough. We are deeply embodied beings.”

“I really wanted to be good…and I dedicated myself to it.”

“…started to unpack more of the systems—white supremacy and Christian supremacy—and how they impact the body.”

“…these insidious messages: Your body is dangerous. You are dangerous. Cover it up.”

“[Purity culture] for young women is this crazy-making experience. You are completely sexualized while being told, ‘Don’t be sexual.’”

“Young white women are really taught to be objects of sexuality. We aren’t taught to be subjects of sexuality.”

“I always view healing not as just individual, but I think especially as white-bodied folks, our healing needs to also look at how we’ve also been complicit in systems of harm.”


Counseling website

Embodied Sexuality Course

Purity Culture Research Collective



Straight White American Jesus podcast


The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti

Virgin Nation by Sara Moslener

Shameless by Nadia Bolz Weber (progressive Christian perspective)



Secular Grace




“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats


NOTE: This transcript is AI produced ( 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. Welcome, welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David, and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Please consider telling someone about the podcast if you have a favorite episode or a story that really impacted you let a friend or family member know about that, show them the podcast and show them how they can listen to it in an app. We continue to have the deconversion anonymous Tuesday evening hangout after the podcast release. The guest from the previous week generally is available for you to ask further questions, so please join the deconversion anonymous Facebook group at Special thanks to Mike T for editing today's show. On today's show, my guest today is Jenny McGrath. Jenny is a licensed mental health counselor. She works from a trauma informed perspective and she has a focus on embodiment. Her particular expertise is for those who have suffered trauma because of purity culture. And as a content warning, we will be talking about the trauma induced by purity culture and religious trauma. Jenny is a part of the purity culture of research collective. And Jenny has a course called embodied sexuality that helps people walk through recovery from religious trauma and purity culture trauma. You can find Jenny's website at indwell As well as finding the embodied sexuality course at indwell Here is my conversation with Jenny McGrath.

Jenny McGrath, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.

Jenny McGrath  2:08  
Thank you so much for having me really excited to be here.

David Ames  2:12  
I'm glad you're here. I'm gonna let you talk more about your credentials, but you're a licensed mental health counselor. And you have focused on purity culture, and specifically the embodiment of one sexuality, you want to give us the five minute overview of your work. And we'll we'll dive in deep in a bit. But just the overview here.

Jenny McGrath  2:32  
Absolutely. Yeah. So I'm a licensed mental health counselor, and I do somatic psychotherapy. So I really help folks integrate kind of more traditional talk therapy with their bodies. A lot of times in psychology, we're looked at as if we're floating heads, and especially in trauma research, what we've seen is that that's not enough. We are deeply embodied beings, and especially when we've experienced trauma, the body just needs to be engaged. And so I do that in different ways, both just through simple breathing exercises and somatic exercises in session. And then I also do classes and courses to help folks understand their connection with their bodies.

David Ames  3:21  
That's amazing. Yeah, I know that the kind of the bleeding edge on mental health at this point in time, is that recognition that we've kind of ignored the body and that the nomenclature is the traumas held in the body. Is that the perspective you're coming from?

Jenny McGrath  3:36  
Absolutely, yeah. And especially as you mentioned, I work primarily with folks who are working through religious trauma or religious sexual shame. And for many in that world, myself included, most of our life, we were told our body didn't matter, or our body was sinful or terrible. And so there's even just so much ingrained messaging and beliefs and disconnect from the body that takes a lot of time to heal and to rediscover what it means to be human what it means to be a body, when we've learned so many skewed messages for a really long time.

David Ames  4:14  
Yes, the flesh is evil, the flesh is weak. Yeah, you know, there are some definite parallels you know, with the the podcast, the message that I've been trying to get out from the get go is embracing one's humanity. That includes your physicality, that includes your sexuality, that includes your emotions. And on the other side of the fence, the atheist rationalist side of the fence has been very focused on the brain and the mind as well and ignoring the rest and so definitely, we try to take the whole picture the whole human being into effect. So you are the perfect guest here.

Jenny McGrath  4:51  
I love that. Oh, great. Yeah.

David Ames  5:02  
So what I'd love to start with is a little bit about your story. So I understand that purity culture affected your life as well.

Jenny McGrath  5:10  
It did. Yeah, I grew up in Colorado Springs. And so for a lot of folks who understand fundamental evangelicalism, that might sound like a familiar place, yes, it really was the height of a lot of purity culture, rhetoric, Colorado Springs was the birthplace of the original Purity Balls. And so I was very steeped in that world. And I am the youngest and the only girl, I have three older brothers. And so I think I was uniquely impacted by the messages of purity culture, I think everyone is impacted by the message is a purely cultural, regardless of gender. And so for me, I really wanted to be good in that system. And I really dedicated my life to it. So much so that when I was 19 years old, I moved to Uganda to be a missionary. Wow. Yeah, and spent several years there. And it was actually my journey with my body. That kind of started to shift course for me, after a few years, my body really shut down with vicarious trauma with my own undealt with trauma. And so I wasn't sure if I would be able to go back to Uganda, I actually initially went to grad school, to learn how to work in Uganda long term, and how to try to make it sustainable. And that was kind of my goal. And then through my grad school experience was where I think for me, I started first questioning race, and what it meant for me as a white woman as a 1920 21 year old to step into Uganda as an expert, and why that was okay. And, and it really started to not become okay for me over the years. And then that really started to unpack a lot more of the systems of white supremacy and Christian supremacy, and how they impact the body. And so I've been in private practice for over six years now. And most of the clients that I work with are also on some level, either deconstructing or just trying to sort through what they believe, versus what they've been told that they should believe most of their lives. One of

David Ames  7:47  
the things that I mentioned fairly often is that I came to Christianity in my late teens, 16 or 17 years old, and I had already had sexual experiences, I already had kind of a sense of self. And I feel like that protected me from some of the most damaging elements of purity.

Jenny McGrath  8:06  
Totally, my first response was lucky. Yeah.

David Ames  8:10  
So maybe as a beginning question, then what are some of the damaging messages that one receives, especially as you know, maybe a person going through puberty within this purity culture?

Jenny McGrath  8:22  
Totally. Um, I think, you know, purity culture, sets up binary rhetoric. And so it has very, very specific gender social norms and constructs for who are quote unquote, men and who are, quote unquote, women. And so right off the bat, there is just a ratio for folks who are non binary or who are transgender, there really is no languaging for them in this world. And so for people who are cisgender men, or who are socialized as men, you know, they receive so many messages that they are out of control animals, that they're not going to be able to control themselves. And they're also, you know, I think the subtext for that is that there's often not a lot of responsibility taught. There's not especially because, you know, purity culture wasn't only in evangelicalism through Reagan and onward. And then, through George W. Bush, there was a lot of abstinence only education taught in public schools, that was kind of put there because of purity culture. And one of the main tenants of that is this idea that you can't teach kids about consent, because if you teach kids consent, they're going to have sex, so just don't do it. And so what that does is creates another binary of sex or no sex. IX and there is no language for sexual abuse. There's no language for unwanted sexual contact. And so a lot of times, then the messaging that cisgender women or those who are socialized as women here is that, you know, especially white women, I will add also, this is also very racialized in the system where white women are these bearers of innocence and purity. And young girls. 1211 are told, you know, don't dress too sexy. You know, I remember in seventh grade, I was lined up in a hallway with a group of girls, and we were 11. And we had to put our arms down. And if our fingertips went below our shorts, we've added the tension. And it was just these like, insidious messages all the time, like your body is dangerous, you yourself are dangerous. So cover it up, you know, these messages of like, frame only your face, make sure like nothing else in your body is appealing. And so it really set up a lot of harm for obviously, all genders. And then you know, the flip side of that is that often there was these ideas that have a long history in our country as well, where there was no place for women of color. Within purity culture, often black women were socialized, or not socialized, but they were stereotyped as being hyper sexual, or lascivious. And so purity culture really does emphasize this idea. And what this trope of what I call the young white woman, and how there's this really small, rigid idea of what that means, and how you are supposed to perform racially and gendered within that system.

David Ames  12:00  
Interesting, because I was just listening to a podcast. This is critical with Virginia Heffernan where they were discussing public pools and one of the big racial issues was when they went from gender segregated to gender integrated was when racism just exploded, and they didn't want to have black men and white women together in kind of that intimate setting. So let's expound upon that you've, you've said in your work, there's this intersection of sexism and racism. And let's just talk about more about that.

Jenny McGrath  12:32  
Yeah, definitely. So I, you know, in my research and my work I look at, I kind of trace the trope of young white women really through early us days, you know, there were the messages that you couldn't rape and enslave to women, because black women always wanted to have sex. And so the the ways in which white women and black women were pitted against each other, and that always led to disproportionate harm of bodies of color. And what I want folks to also understand is that white women are also harmed in that system, the more implicit and subtle harm, but it ends up being a really dis embodying experience when your whole life is about how you perform in that system. And so we see this trace through, you know, in 1950, and there was the film, Birth of a Nation that had white men in black face sexually assaulting white women. And after that we see huge uptick in in lynchings and in violence against black communities. And so the ideology of quote, unquote, protecting young white women has always been used to harm bodies of color in the United States.

David Ames  14:05  
Yes, this seems like just one more way in which the systemic racism rears its ugly head in the United States and Western culture in general.

I want to focus a little bit on the impact on women, we've already acknowledged that this affects all genders, all of the spectrum of genders. You know, for boys, it's that boys will be boys and they're kind of let off, let off the hook and treat it as though they are uncontrollable. But for women, specifically, there's a another level of burden. So you were describing being 11 years old and having to put your arms down. There's a sexualization of an 11 or 12 year old young girl, she hasn't even thought about sexuality, and yet, maybe, maybe, maybe not. But you know, and suddenly, all of all this sexuality is placed upon her. You want to talk about what that is like for young women?

Jenny McGrath  15:05  
Yeah, absolutely. It's this crazy making experience where you are completely sexualized. While you're being told, don't be sexual. And so everything about you is about your life, your value your worth, your future has been hinging on the social construct of your virginity, while you're also not receiving comprehensive sex education to even understand how virginity itself is a social construct. And so there's so many messages that then sever oneself from their body. Because if I'm in my body, you know, young white women are really taught to be objects of sexuality. They aren't taught, we aren't taught to be subjects of sexuality. And so even in a lot of the youth group messaging, or the abstinence only often when there were conversations about masturbation, they were only focused on young boys or young men. And there was never an idea or a thought that that would be something that young women might want to explore or enjoy. And so a lot of times that compiles this shame for folks who are in a female body and do have a sexual desire. Because in that world you're taught kind of sex is something you're supposed to endure, it's not really supposed to be something you want or you enjoy. It's really to, you know, keep your husband satisfied. And so when you have your own ideas, or fantasies or desires, that becomes so disorienting and so confusing. Even more, so if you are not a straight woman, and if you're a queer woman, and there's no education for that being normalized are okay. And so for most of the folks that I work with, in my own journey, a lot of what is kind of the norm is the certain level of dissociation. When I ask my clients, you know, what types of things do you like? Whether that sexual or not, it is a really common phrase that I hear this say, I don't actually know what I want simple things like do you like pizza? You know, like, there is an and I tell people, we don't come into the world not knowing what we like, you know, the first thing we do is scream if we're cold, or hungry, or tired, or we want to be held. And so we've really learned that as a super young age, often, how to disconnect and how to have this aspect of everything's fine. I'm okay. And we don't really know what's going on in our insides often.

David Ames  18:02  
Yeah, that is amazing. Again, as I mentioned, you know, coming to it late, one of the things that was shocking to me, as I started to do these interviews was how much impact this has had on I'll be talking to a 35 year old, right 30 year old and you can see the trauma literally that they have lived through. And I just wasn't prepared for that. I was naive, I was ignorant, you know, and it has been an education to, to talk to people about their experiences.

Jenny McGrath  18:34  
Yeah, Yep, absolutely. You know, and it was primarily girls who received purity rings or Purity Balls, you know, I I had a purity ring. None of my three brothers had a purity, right?

David Ames  18:48  
It was suspiciously so

Jenny McGrath  18:52  
totally, yeah. And so they're really, you know, and these were, we received these when we were 1112 13. Often, without even fully understanding what we were committing to or what we were consenting to, because we didn't know we didn't really have much language for it. And so for a lot of folks, it's kind of just the water we swim in. And it is deeply traumatizing, as you're saying. And a lot of folks don't even realize that because it's for those of us who grew up in that world. That's all we knew. And that's all we saw modelled. And so it's kind of like, oh, this, it takes more work to kind of the frog in boiling water, you know, just step out and be like, what was that? Yeah.

David Ames  19:51  
You've touched on a few times the lack of sex education. It's my understanding that even as it pertains to abortion rates and things like that, that solid sex education, access to reproductive health care, all of those things reduce abortion rates, and yet the abstinence only crowd and the anti abortion crowd, do the opposite of that such that we have, of course, ignorance. Of course, a 16 year old who's never had sex education has no idea how sex works. And so you're going to have unplanned pregnancies, you're going to have that more often? Because they don't know. They don't know what they don't know.

Jenny McGrath  20:31  
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, there is the you don't know what you don't know. And also, there's the sense in that world that you can't admit that you want to have sex. So having a condom on hand is planning that you want to have premeditation. Exactly, it's so much more, okay, quote, unquote, to say, oh, my gosh, it just happened. I don't know why we were just in a room together. But to say like, Yes, I actually put thought into this. This is something I desire. Yeah. And you're absolutely right. You know, the places that have the highest abstinence only education are the places that often have the highest teen pregnancies, unwanted pregnancies, STI rates, because there isn't information. And usually abstinence only education is really correlated with access to contraceptives, as well. Places that really value the whole person, including sexuality and providing for that often have more access to healthy and safe and affordable contraceptives, whereas in the United States, we do not.

David Ames  21:59  
One of the things, Jenny that I've heard you talk about is the potential for people to over respond. So they come out of purity culture, and they have all this new freedom. And in some ways, it's like, you know, the person has been had Arrested Development, right, and they are coming as an adult, as if they were a teenager, and they can, they can overreact a bit, I wanted to just mention that, again, no judgement about this at all. But to say that, we also need to be wise about our sexuality.

Jenny McGrath  22:30  
Totally. Yeah. And it's such a complex area, you know, because hypersexuality can also be a symptom of sexual abuse. It's one of many ways in which someone who has had experiences where they didn't have agency, they didn't have consent looks for what we call trauma mastery. And there's kind of this unconscious, visceral sense of maybe this time, maybe this time, maybe this time, yeah. And we really keep trying to find spaces where we feel empowered. And often when we do make disembodied or impulsive choices, that ends up doing the opposite of what we want. And so I love what you said, like no judgment, I think it starts with understanding, it makes sense, you know, either from a trauma lens, or even from just a compensatory effect. Yeah. Really, yeah. And for some folks, I do think that that can be sort of a delayed developmental stage where they didn't get to, we didn't get to have the exploration, the experimentation at ages that we could do that in a smaller, safer community. And so sometimes that might happen later, and it might come with more risks. And so that's why I think it's so important for folks to understand, you know, how to use protection, how to have conversations about STI status, how to talk about consent, and making sure you feel safe with someone, and things that take a little more time to develop. So that is that can be part of the developmental phase. And then over time, usually that can kind of work itself into a sexuality that feels like it's integrated into all of who the person is.

David Ames  24:39  
Jenny, you've mentioned a couple times doing research and I understand you're a part of the purity culture research collective. So I wanted you to talk about about that. What does that organization do and what is the research aspect of the work that you do?

Jenny McGrath  24:53  
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So we are a collective of Professor as scholars, therapists, artists, activists, a group of folks who came together around this issue of purity culture, and so you know, some folks in our group such as Professor Sarah Maas Lindner has written the book virgin nation, which is one of kind of the Bible's I say that for purity culture. And then we have, you know, just folks that are continuing to do ongoing research. And so my aspect of the research comes out of my own experience, and out of just this phenomenon that I've witnessed, and it's the trans nationalizing of purity. And so I was one of many young white women who decided to be missionaries, who grew up in this world, and especially missionaries in Uganda, that was a very big focus in the early to mid 2000s. And so I'm looking at why, how was the rhetoric and the socialization that we received? How did that prime us when we heard about organizations such as Invisible Children, that there were, you know, I know, so many women? And as I've been telling folks about my research study, one of the most common responses I have is that is so weirdly niche. And I just had 12 People come to mind,

David Ames  26:38  
right? Exactly.

Jenny McGrath  26:42  
But there are folks researching all different things like the intersection of purity culture, and eating disorders, the intersection of purity, culture and racism, how an effect within evangelicalism lends itself to covering up sexual abuse. Looking at crisis pregnancy centers, and their correlation with purity culture, it just is such an amazing group that I'm really honored to be a part of. That's, that's amazing. Yeah, it's really exciting.

David Ames  27:17  
And then what is the output of that? Do other other counselors consume that? Does academia consume that? Who who is the the other end of that research?

Jenny McGrath  27:26  
Yeah, so right, for me personally, or for the whole? For the collective? Yeah. So we're all it's all very different. Um, so some of us are professors at universities. And so their research goes to their students to their publications. Some are artists and their work goes to whoever gets to see that and witness that. Those of us who are therapists that ends up being one of our specialties, we do have kind of an offshoot of the purity culture research collective, is the post purity healing project. And so that is compiling different healers and therapists or body workers who are helping folks who experienced purity culture, because part of our our collective is this funny, mish really specific thing that actually the more we dive into, really touched so many people, whether they grew up in evangelicalism or not, and so we're still young, we're a couple years old, but still learning like, how and what we can contribute to those who were impacted. So it's all very exciting.

David Ames  28:47  
Very cool. You say something that's really important there that obviously we are focusing on the Christian aspect of this, but honestly, it's kind of Victorian era sexual politics that have been around for a very long time. And it is, you know, if you think of kind of all the tropes of the 50s, that young young people just weren't educated about sexuality, and were making mistakes as they went along. So you could imagine people that are older in their 60s 70s that could still have been affected by this purity culture.

Jenny McGrath  29:18  
Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, one of the things that I often like to point out is that our first permanent settlement was Virginia, named after the virginal status of a long obsession.

David Ames  29:52  
Okay, so let's turn to more of your particular practice. I understand that you have a project at For lack of a better term called Sexual embodiment, or embodiment, why am I saying this wrong?

Jenny McGrath  30:06  
Embodied sexuality? Okay, yes,

David Ames  30:09  
you have the embodied sexuality course. And I want to delve into that. What is that? Like? What would participant experience if they went through that?

Jenny McGrath  30:18  
For sure, yeah, the embodied sexuality course really came out of over six years of having different and very similar conversations with my clients around their bodies, around understanding why we were socialized to the way that we were socialized. And so the embodied sexuality course really is, what I would say is more of a process course. So I think there are courses out there that are very content oriented, and this course does have a ton of content. But it is really emphasizing allowing someone to be in the process of engaging the course material. And I it's not therapy, it doesn't put me in a therapeutic relationship with someone. But I have created the course out of the therapeutic relationships that I've had for the last six years, to really help folks get to go through unpacking the impacts of purity culture of abstinence only education, on their bodies, on their lives on their communities. And so there's nine different modules that include, you know, one is a 90 minute lecture with a ton of reading about the history of purity. Like we were just saying, these old tropes that you can trace back for 1000s of years. Because I think it's so important for folks to understand, our sexuality doesn't exist in a vacuum. There are reasons that we feel the way we do about what we like what we don't like. And often those are because of external messages, not actually because of the way that we feel, right. And so then I also have modules on trauma and understanding how sexual abuse and sexual trauma impact our relationship to our body and our sexuality. There's a module on pleasure, and exploring what that looks like, especially for female bodied folks who never had that curiosity or not that they didn't have that curiosity. It just wasn't allowed. Yeah. And so it's, it's really meant to be a fully comprehensive, I call it the sex education we never received, plus a lot more plus kind of helping understand, you know, why and how these racist and sexist ideas have been so strong. And I always view healing, not as just individual, I think, especially as white bodied folks, our healing needs to always look at how we've also been complicit in systems of harm. And so this course is really about individual healing and collective liberation. How do we allow ourselves to be more become more free, in service of a world that's more free that allows all bodies to feel safe and free?

David Ames  33:46  
Jenny, I've had multiple people asked me to do a podcast on purity culture, and I've been super nervous about doing it because I've seen it done wrong. Right. I've seen it done the overreaction side of things. Yeah. And so I really appreciate the expertise that you have brought to this subject. And the matter of fact, way that we can discuss sexuality. I think that in itself is just a model that sexuality is such a normal part of being a human being we can talk about it in a normal way. I just really appreciate that. I want to give you a moment to let people know how they can reach out to you how, as maybe as a counselor, but also how to be a part of the second embodiment, of course.

Jenny McGrath  34:29  
Yeah, for sure. So my counseling website is indwell And then the course website is indwell And one thing I want to say about the course if that's all right, is that you know it is our highest priority that the course get to as many folks that need it. And so while the course is priced for the value because of the dozens of hours of content much less the hundreds of hours that went into it. We are committed that anybody who wants the course will have access to it and not be prohibited due to lack of funds. So just want to put that out there for folks who've heard our conversation today. And think this sounds really like something I need. Feel free to go to indwell And let me know if there is anything I can do to help you in in your process and your journey of healing because I think it's so, so important and so valuable.

David Ames  35:34  
Jenny McGrath, thank you so much for being on the podcast.

Jenny McGrath  35:37  
Thank you so much for having me.

David Ames  35:45  
Final thoughts on the episode. As I said, there at the end, I am very thankful to Jenny for coming on and discussing the topic of purity culture, and sexuality and embodied sexuality. This is a topic that has been requested on a number of occasions. And I've really been looking for the right person to come and talk to us about that. So I really appreciate the expertise that she brought to the conversation. I want to give a shout out as well to the purity culture research collective and the work that they are all doing. I think that's amazing work. I think it's a understudied area, as well as religious trauma in general. And what Jenny is doing and what the collective is doing is amazing work. I really appreciated Jenny's matter of fact discussion about sexuality, about purity culture, about the trauma that is induced from purity culture. To quote Jenny, these insidious messages, your body is dangerous, you are dangerous, cover it up. Another quote from Jenny purity culture for young women is this crazy making experience you are completely sexualized while being told don't be sexual. And my heart is broken, as usual to hear about the way that particularly young women, but people within fundamentalist religious context in general, and the purity culture experience, the trauma that a person experiences. What that would do to a person going through puberty, going through their teenage years is just devastating, and my heart is broken. For those of you who have suffered through that journey also represents hope, though, that we can reclaim our bodies, we can reclaim our sexuality, reclaim our autonomy and individuality and move forward and progress and work through these things. I also appreciated Jenny's unpacking of the intersection of sexism, purity, culture, and racism, and how that has impacted historically disparate groups of people, as well as the myths around young white female purity and the paternalistic protection of young white women. But the damage that that does not only to the people of color, but also the young white women themselves. So I really appreciated her highlighting that and digging into that as well. The quote of the conversation has to be, and this is quoting Johnny, women are really taught to be the objects of sexuality, we are not taught to be the subjects of sexuality. I think that really hit me the most as a heterosexual man having lived within the Christian context and that subjectivity never being in doubt, the boys will be boys excuses, and the focus of men as being the subjects and the women as being objects. And begin to experience that autonomy of becoming your own self as a woman and taking over your own sexuality. And your own body has got to be one of the greatest elements of deconstruction and deconversion. Jenny was absolutely the perfect guest to discuss purity culture, and I really, really appreciate what she brought to the table here. You can find Jenny at indwell And you can find her embodied sexuality course at endwell And of course, we will have those links in the show notes. I want to thank Jenny for being on the podcast and bringing her expertise and giving us some hope that we can overcome the messages that we may have internalized, and we can be a whole human being at the other end. Thank you Jenny for being on the podcast. The secular Grace Thought of the Week is about embracing the fullness of our humanity. That includes our sexuality, our gender, our internal identity, our bodies, our emotions, and all of those things holistically make us a human being. And it is a continual process of embracing that, and deconstructing, and jettisoning the messages that tell us that any part of ourselves is bad, or unrighteous, or less than human in any way. This truly is the message of the podcast that almost all religious traditions, we tend to focus on Christianity, because it is a super easy target. But virtually all of them diminish one's humanity in one way or another. You've heard me be critical even of meditation in the past, and my reason for that is that people talk about meditation as if they are doing it wrong. They will say things like, I love to meditate, but I'm not very good at it. What I want to get across to you is that any message that suggests that you are not good enough, isn't true. The entire point is that when we accept our humanity, accept ourselves for who we are, to give ourselves secular grace. This enables us to recognize these insidious messages that are just not true. Because we are no longer seeing ourselves as incomplete, unrighteous, unhealthy, unfit, all of these messages are to the detriment of our own humanity. And this simple message of you are a human being and that deserves dignity, respect, love, community, and self respect. And if you can get a handle on that, you begin to see all the other messages that would suggest otherwise then become obvious and easy to reject and get rid of. My hope for you is that you embrace your own humanity and let go of the baggage of the past. That is the end goal of deconstruction and deconversion. Next week, we have Adria, Adria, has expertise in international development and education. And she reached out to me because we've had so many missionaries on she wanted to challenge the idea of missionary work and the inherent racism that is underneath that and the audacity, much like what Jenny recognized in herself, of traveling to another country and suggesting that you know, more than the local people know. So look forward to that next week. Until then, my name is David, and I am trying to be the graceful atheist join me and be graceful human.

Time for the footnotes. The beat is called waves for MCI beats, links will be in the show notes. If you'd like to support the podcast, you can promote it on your social media. You can subscribe to it in your favorite podcast application, and you can rate and review it on pod You can also support the podcast by clicking on the affiliate links or books on Bristol If you have podcast production experience and you would like to participate podcast, please get in touch with me. Have you gone through a faith transition? And do you need to tell your story? Reach out? If you are a creator, or work in the deconstruction deconversion or secular humanism spaces and would like to be on the podcast? Just ask. If you'd like to financially support the podcast there's links in the show notes. To find me you can google graceful atheist. You can google deconversion you can google secular race. You can send me an email graceful or you can check out the website graceful My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist join me and be graceful human beings

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Transcribed by

Elizabeth: Deconversion Anonymous

Adverse Religious Experiences, Autonomy, Deconstruction, Deconversion, Deconversion Anonymous, ExVangelical, Podcast, Quiver Full
Click to play episode on Apple Podcasts
Listen on Apple Podcasts

This week’s show is a Deconversion Anonymous episode.

This week’s guest is Elizabeth. Elizabeth grew up in what she calls a “Methodist Baptist” church, mostly Methodist but with more conservatism and even some charisma thrown in. 

Elizabeth loved church as a kid, but as a teen, things were harder: purity culture demands, a youth pastor leaving abruptly and even a camp with exorcisms. Looking back, Elizabeth sees a theme: The parents did little to help the kids feel and be safe. 

After graduation, Elizabeth went to a Baptist college where she met (again!) and married her now-husband. When adversity hit, trying to expand their family, they saw their Christian friends’ true colors. 

“People can be really, really cruel when they’re just saying what they’ve been taught. They’re not thinking about the flip side of what they’re saying.”

Throughout a difficult pregnancy, crying out to God, Elizabeth thought, No one is listening and no one is coming to save me. She continued hoping, though, only to be let down again and again. Church people will not support you and no god is coming to save you. 

“It feels like I spent my whole life pushing a really heavy dresser down a hallway…and everybody around me is saying, ‘You can do it because your best friend is on the other side holding it…’ 

Elizabeth sees that it was here. She was the strong and resilient one all along. She bore the load, the emotional, physical and mental weight. No one—neither supernatural or human—showed up to help. 

“When there was one set of footprints they were mine.”

Now, on the other side of faith, Elizabeth has her immediate family and a strong community of friends, diverse people walking alongside her. She no longer looks to the sky for help, but knows she has all she needs inside her and right around her. 

My analogy is that I’ve been carrying a tall, heavy piece of furniture my whole life, and all that time everyone around me has been telling me that my best friend is on the other end helping me. When I’ve asked to see that friend, they’ve said I just need to trust that he’s there, of course he is, because I wouldn’t be able to carry the load if he wasn’t. When I asked him to talk to me, I didn’t hear anything, but convinced myself that of course he was there. When I finally decided to set down the load and see for myself, I discovered that I’d actually been carrying it on my own the whole time, and that I’ve always been stronger than I gave myself credit for.


Review: Hell is the absence of God

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“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats

Anne: Deconversion Anonymous

Adverse Religious Experiences, Artists, Autonomy, Deconstruction, Deconversion, Deconversion Anonymous, Dones, ExVangelical, Podcast, Religious Abuse, The Bubble
Click to play episode on Apple Podcasts
Listen on Apple Podcasts

This week’s show is a Deconversion Anonymous episode.

This week’s guest is Anne. Anne grew up in a loving and happy Christian home in a large city where her father pastored a small reformed church.

“We were cloistered as this little wonderful diverse congregation.”

As a teen, her faith was very real to her, and a few years later, she attended a Christian college, but struggled mentally and physically. 

“I was trying to figure out what made me a christian aside from the fact that…I didn’t drink, I didn’t smoke, I didn’t blah blah blah.”

Anne left that school and attended a Bible college, but she quickly realized she would be excluded from most ministry opportunities because of her gender.

“I thought, ‘You know? What is out there for me?’”

After a short and sometimes insulting experience in children’s ministry and then a sickness that went on for man years, Anne felt like God had “benched” her, but she continued praying and hoping.

“I was such a magical thinker…”

Over the next many years, Anne’s family met one obstacle after another—toxic or cult-like churches, physical and mental illnesses, Christians backing Trump and even loved ones passing away. Finally, she couldn’t take any more.

“I couldn’t hear from God…I couldn’t worship. I couldn’t hypnotize myself with the piano. I couldn’t do anything…[I was] done.”

Then during the Pandemic, Anne read a single book that made her stop and think for a moment. Then, her questions started coming and couldn’t be stopped. From the outside, it may seem like Anne’s deconversion was quick, but she had given God plenty of time to reveal himself. 


  • The Lasting Supper
  • Deconversion Anonymous
  • Harmonic Atheist
  • MythVision
  • Bart Ehrman
  • Darkmatter2525
  • Holy Koolaid


Jesus & John Wayne by Kristin Kobes Du Mez



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“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats


NOTE: This transcript is AI produced ( 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. Welcome, welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David, and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Consider telling a friend about the podcast share an episode that you've been in, or an episode that really touched you and that will grow the podcast. This Tuesday nights, we will have another deconversion anonymous hangout that will discuss the podcast and have this week's guests so please join us the Facebook group deconversion anonymous, join that first and then Tuesday night Come and meet many of the people who are part of the community. Special thanks to Mike T for editing today's show. On today's show, my guest today is Anne, and has been a part of a number of different faith traditions beginning with Dutch Reformed Calvinists background, she worked with her father in an inner city missions Church in New Jersey, she's been a Baptist, she's been a charismatic in Foursquare and Assemblies of God, and eventually was in an organization called streams. That was very cult like, and the common theme throughout Ann's life is her leadership ability, her desire to do God's will her attempt to live out the Christian ideal, and yet tragedy besets her and she is held back by the role of women and ultimately is a part of a cult where things begin to unravel. And she begins to recognize the flaws in evangelicalism and that it no longer is workable for her. To sum up. Mike T's response to me was when is an going to write a book, it is that kind of story. So without further ado, here is an to tell her story.

And welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.

Anne  2:13  
Thank you. It's great to be here. David,

David Ames  2:16  
I appreciate you jumping on short notice. You're a part of our community deconversion anonymous, and I put out the call I needed I needed an interview and you are right there. But I am super excited about your story in particular, because I think adult D conversions are much more telling. And just as a quick example, I had a Christian research organization reach out to me and asked me about you know that I have any Gen Z's that I could refer them to which I would have said no anyway, but I pointed out to them that you know, if you're Gen Z, you're supposed to be questioning everything. You should really be looking at adults and why they have changes of heart whether deconstruction or deconversion. So anyway, I don't want to give away thanks. So let's, let's hear your story. And we'll begin with what was your faith tradition? Growing up?

Anne  3:07  
All right. So I am Dutch and I grew up in a Christian Reformed Church. So very Calvinist, yeah, um, I come from my father was a pastor, my grandfather, his dad was a pastor in the Christian Reformed Church. When we go way back, we even found some Jewish roots that that one of our forefathers was a rabbi. So you know, there's a long line of Bible teachers and scholars in the family. Yeah, I guess. Yeah. So my parents met at Calvin College, and my dad took a took a ministry opportunity in Paterson, New Jersey, which is right outside of New York City called inner city, it was in a mission. And he started a church in this mission. So they were giving out bread and soup to people on the streets. And he came and his job was to make it a church. And he did. And it was a it was a wonderful Inner City Church. It was, it was full of diversity, primarily African American, a little bit of Hispanic, you know, a few people from all over the world. And this was during the 60s. So as a civil rights movement, and all of the, all of the, you know, we shall overcome and all the civil rights movements were going on and we were cloistered as this wonderful, diverse congregation. It was it was fantastic. I mean, my mom and dad were great. My dad was the picture of love and acceptance. No judge mentalism. He helped all who had needs he was he was a fantastic preacher. He was just the real deal and everything. You know, and so it was a wonderful, wonderful experience. I felt loved and embraced. And, you know, it was great. It was Yeah, I can't even say it enough. Yeah.

David Ames  4:58  
I think that you know, you You've probably heard me say, but I think it's important to recognize there are so many good things about being a part of a community being, you know, loved by people beyond your parents, you know, all of those things can be quite good. Obviously, we have people in the audience who have had more traumatic experiences when they were young, but it sounds like yours was really positive, got exposed to different cultures as well. And so that sounds really interesting.

Anne  5:25  
Yeah, yeah, we grew up singing all gospel music, black gospel music, you know, um, but at the same time, I went to Christian school, and the Christian School was, again, a bunch of cushy foreign people, all these Dutch immigrant kids who had moved to America, and we're second third generation. And they were more from the suburbs, they were more Republicans, whereas we were Democrats, they were more just, it was just kind of like this culture clash between what I was experiencing at church and what I was experiencing in school. And I had a hard time ever really fitting in anywhere in a way, you know, because the kids in my church, I went to the same schools and the kids in my school, I went to the same churches, and there I was kind of straddling the middle. Right. So I found that kind of hard. In a way, it was a very secular upbringing in the sense that the school didn't act very Christian. You know, we were there were the partiers, and you know, the druggies. And you know, all of that was still going on, you had a few people in there that were the Holy Rollers that I just didn't want to have any part of, because, you know, they were little dresses and carried their Bibles with them and had this weird smile on their face. Like they were in a cult. You know, I'm, I wasn't a partier, but I wasn't a holy roller. I was just kind of one of those middle line, kids, you know, just trying to get through. Yeah. And my family was very, they weren't strict about you know, what we wore, I wear bikinis and two tops, you know, we weren't all caught in the purity culture. This was kind of before that. I didn't have a curfew. You know, my parents didn't care what we watched on TV, I had all the latest records, I listened to meatloaf or everything else, you know, it just it didn't matter. It was all it was all good.

David Ames  7:24  
What time period are you growing up as the 70s or late or

Anne  7:28  
I grew up in? I was born in 61. So this is a 60s and 70s. So you know, I'm a total teenager during the FlowerPower movement and the hippie movement. And you know, like, behind that, and it was a Yeah. It wasn't Yeah. But you know, I, so I wasn't, you know, we had we read the Bible, every meal. We had devotions after every meal. I know, my dad would read the Bible after our dinner. And we don't lay around in the floor and listen to the Bible stories. And you know, talk about I'm going to laugh about things like, maybe God is set aside and Isaiah Isaiah, like, he's on the toilet. And then we thought that was the funniest thing. We want to hear that verse over and over again, crazy things like that. But I do think that the Christian Christianity influenced my growing up in a few ways, because my dad was absent a lot. He had, there were a lot of needs. And he was, you know, one of those pastors that met everybody else's needs and left it to my mom to raise us. And, you know, later on, he had a come to Jesus about that, and, you know, repented, and we had a hug, and you know, but if that was hard, because my dad was kind of more of the, my dad was the My mom was a strict disciplinarian. And my dad was the kind of listener, right, the pastoral care guy. So I was more like my dad. And I was, you know, kind of ADHD a little bit out there. I was emotionally impulsive, and my mom to her to be a Christian, especially a pastor's daughter with strict obedience. And I didn't fit that bill. So I got a lot of, you know, it wasn't easy. Yeah. It wasn't easy on me. And, and, you know, it's not till now that I look back on it, and I go, Oh, ah, you know, but then I just stuck. There was something wrong with me. I wasn't I wasn't good enough. I wasn't perfect enough. I had to be a perfect little Christian, you know. And, wow, I remember this one example. I was five years old. And my little best friend from school came to church with her grandmother, her grandmother was playing the organ. And she was sitting with me in the church pew and they were having communion. And when that communicate by we pretended to take the bread and we pretended to drink the cup, and my mother read me the riot act, she was furious, and I was in such trouble. I was five. Now she looks at it and she says, What was I thinking, you know, but back then it was serious business and I had blasphemed God You know,

David Ames  10:01  
yeah, I think it's so hard because kids take those things so seriously. And, and you know, Christianity in general is saying that, you know, you're a bad person. Like, that is the message and right when a kid starts to internalize that pretty young, that's not very healthy.

Anne  10:17  
Yeah, I didn't, I mean, I did and it wasn't healthy. I did, you know, have my whole Jesus acceptance when I was four, like, everybody else four and five. And, you know, it really came down to my Sunday school teacher who was also my babysitter who was a sweet little old grandma, who just loved Jesus and told us about how much she loved Jesus. And, and she had a little, that little picture of the white, you know, Jesus gave it to me, and I'm like, oh, I want him to come into my heart, you know, and that was it. So, yeah, I had all of that going up. But, but I wasn't, you know, I wasn't, I wasn't a holy roller. You know, I just kind of got by with what I could get by with and did my thing. So that was my growing up years.

David Ames  10:59  
In the Christian school where you mentioned, it was a little more secular. But did you have Bible classes? There was Was there a religious track? But yeah, definitely,

Anne  11:06  
we definitely had Bible classes. We, you know, had chapels. All our songs were Christian songs, you know, it was, you know, it's Christian, but, but it didn't, it didn't feel like beat you over the head Christianity, you know, it's just kind of like Christianity was part of it. And it was more of a, because it was more of a Calvinist kind of thing. It was more world life view. Right. So God was a part of every part of your life, but we didn't have to beat it into everything. You know, like, our history class didn't have to be all about God. And you know, you didn't even talk about God and your history class. So it was it was more of I thought, a balanced kind of environment. Yeah.

David Ames  11:52  
And then, because of five year olds, not really capable of making that kind of decision. When do you identify the time where you you decided for yourself that you wanted to be a Christian?

Anne  12:02  
Um, I think that would probably, well, I did make profession of faith, which was also a CRC thing. You at one point you, you take all your catechism classes and you spit, you know, you spit back all of the doctrine from John Calvin, the Heidelberg Catechism, and then you become a full fledged member. And that's when you can now take communion and not get in trouble for I was about 16 When I did that,

David Ames  12:32  
okay. Okay. And again, I guess what I'm trying to get out is internally, was that real for you? Was that something that was important to you personally? Or were you just kind of following along?

Anne  12:42  
No, it was very real. To me. It was very real to me. Um, I remember crying when my father was asking me questions. And he actually had a picture of me sitting there with all the council members and church people around me. And it was it was very emotional. Yeah. Very real. Yeah. So then I graduated high school, and I wanted to go to decorating school. Because I was an artist, I just really loved decorating. And my mom was like, No, you have to go to Calvin College, because that's where we went. And that's where everybody goes, and that's what's going to be good for you. So I go off to Calvin College, and I wasn't ready. I didn't want to be there. I struggled through college. I was there for two years. And I struggled because I don't know. I mean, there were all kinds of things going through me at that time. But I would go there skinny, I'd meet a lot of guys, you know, that's why I was. And I have all these boyfriends. And then as time went on, I started to gain weight because of the college food. And then my love, life started to shrink. And then I started to get miserable, and I developed an eating disorder. And then I would throw myself under the, you know, the blanket of God. And I would go into the prayer rooms, and I would just pray and pray and pray. God helped me God helped me and they always had two little prayer rooms in the dorm basements, they were all dark, and they put up little Christian posters. And they had like black lights in there. And they had a little bench and most people went in there to make out yeah, not me. I went in there to pray. So half the time I'd be in this little prayer room and then right in the prayer room next door with this thin wall, I'd hear some couple going at it, you know, and I was just praying, oh, God, you know, help me, help me be a better person and blah, blah, blah. So, um, each time like after the first year of college, I went back home, I got into Overeaters Anonymous, I lost all my weight. I went back to college again, all skinny again. All these boyfriends all these friends started to get away. Guy became a compulsive Overeater. Again, I was skipping half my classes that I didn't like, like biology. I was getting A's in my art classes. And I just, you know, I was just unstable. I was just so unstable. But, you know, I'd go out partying on the weekends and then on Wednesday nights out same prayer meeting and I just couldn't get my grounding, you know. Um, so I went back to New Jersey after two years, everyone just wanted me out of college, the professors encouraged. My grandparents, everybody was like, you just go home, you're a mess, you're a hot mess. So, I went home, and started working as a graphic artist got my weight back down, you know, I was now happy because I was back in my church that was loving and wonderful. And but then I realized I didn't have any friends anymore. My age, my friends, were all gone. I needed to meet people. So I ended up in a non denominational church in their young adults group, because that's where you're gonna get to meet people. Right? Right. So that's where I encountered more of the fundamentalist kind of faith. You know, they really drove home having daily devotional time, that was not something we ever really talked about in the CRC. Yeah. I got to see all this wonderful movies like a thief in the night and all those awful things. And I was more fascinated than terrified because we didn't adopt that view. And the CRC were more Amil. So, but at the same time, I thought, What if they're right, and this happens, and it you know, was a little scary. And, um, I was, I was, you know, just kind of getting to know that there were different expressions of faith that were going on.

In the meantime, I met a guy through a friend and he was a non Christian, and I started dating him and I fell in love with him. He was just the nicest guy. He, he was better than any of the Christian boyfriends I had ever had. Yeah, I was much more moral and consider it and wonderful than anybody. Okay. So things were going on. My parents were cool with it. It was all cool. And then one day my grandparents came to visit and this is my dad's parents. My grandpa was a pastor, my grandma was the most influential adult in my life. She loved me and spoiled me and wrote me letters. And, you know, she came and she said, Oh, no, no, no, you can't you can't date a non Christian.

David Ames  17:18  

Anne  17:22  
I was in trouble with grandma. She wrote me a letter, I read it, I, you know, I prayed about it. And that's when I felt God telling me to break up with my boyfriend. And so three days before my 21st birthday, I dumped this poor guy breaking his heart and mind. It was a terrible scene. And all I could say to him was, it's because you're not a Christian, you know, and which, Wow, that really went over big with his mom. And so I started digging deeper into my faith. And I was reading my Bible all the time. I started going through my dad's library and reading like Burke off and all of these bobbing and all of these doctrinal, you know, things, and I was studying doctrine. And I was trying to figure out what made me a Christian, aside from the fact that all I did was, I didn't drink and I didn't smoke, and I didn't wobble, blah, you know, I didn't know section, you know, this kind of thing. So I was trying to figure it all out. And I was really miserable. And my dad said to me, you know, you when I am miserable, I serve, which obviously, he did, because that's all he did. And so he got me involved in the church serving. And so I was running the youth group, and I was always doing the music and all this great stuff in church, but I got more involved. And at that point, the, the youth pastor at that time, and my father and my mother, and one week and all said to me, have you considered going to reformed Bible College? And I was like, ah, that's where all those Holy Rollers. Oh, my God, you know, just the whole thought of it just choked me. Yeah. But three people sent it to me in one weekend, so that must be God, right? I mean, obviously, it's not. So, we happen to be going out to Michigan, for my grandparents wedding anniversary, the same one that made me break up with a non Christian. And RBC was there. So I checked it out. And I sat there the whole time with my arms crossed. And you know, the girl has showed me around was the epitome of a holy roller. And I just, I just was like, God, I can't do this. Yeah. But somewhere during those fundamentalist times in the young adults group, I had decided that God's will and my will were two different things. So God would never want me to do something I wanted to do. So if I didn't want to do it, that must be gods but guess what I went. Here was a choice that I saw I was working as a graphic artist. I could have moved on to New York City and worked at an ad agency and made a lot of money and really been fulfilled. And instead, I went to Bible college, you know, like, get the most worthless degree you can possibly.

David Ames  20:12  
Tell me about it? Yes.

Anne  20:17  
So for three years, it was a four year school, but I could transfer two years from Calvin, I managed to find some of the classes I did fail and transfer them over for credits. And I actually had a really good time in Bible college, I made some really good friends. I excelled in my studies, I had a lot of fun, I loved doctrine and theology, I ate it up it was, it was a really positive experience. And I was really good at what I did. I had three professors pull me aside and talk to me. The first one was my sociology professor who told me I was going to write books, because she loved the way you know, my words were in writing. I was like, wow, cool, you know. And then another professor pulled me aside and said, You're so great at teaching, I'm going to, you're going to be writing curriculum materials. I'm like, well, that's cool. Well, yeah. And then the third woman, she was about ready to retire. She was 65. She was a very, you know, powerful woman. She pulled me aside and she said, I hate to tell you this, but you're a woman. And you're not gonna have any future ministry.

David Ames  21:22  
Wow. spoke the truth out loud there.

Anne  21:29  
She said, It's not right. It's not fair. But you've got nothing. Maybe you should go to Calvin College and get an elementary ed degree, you know, and I was just like, oh, cuz See, my dad always taught that women should be in church office. Yeah, my dad was advocating for that. And so here I am in this environment where there's so many of the guys they're like, No, you're a woman, you should be quiet, you know, and, and they'd be speaking up in class and pontificating. And if a woman talk, they just like not even listen. I mean, they were all so high on their laurels. And I was bound to prove them all wrong, right. But that was kind of a really moment of truth. I thought, you know, what is there out there for me?

David Ames  22:11  
Okay. Wow. Yeah. Yeah, so interesting. I, again, not like I think Bible College was a positive experience for me too. Same thing theology was, I just loved that. And I joke that the professors did too good a job of teaching basically critical thinking, and you know, so it's interesting, but the elements of being a strong leader and a woman that keeps coming up on people that I've been interviewing, and the struggle to know that that's something you're really good at, and that the systemic nature of the culture you're in is not going to allow you to do that. It must be really frustrating.

Anne  22:52  
It was it was frustrating, and I didn't take limitations. Well, you know, I was gonna challenge him every way I could, you know, I still had that youthful zeal. And so, um, yeah.

So after I graduated, I ended up going to Yosemite National Park, as in the Christian ministry, in the national parks movement, and I lead worship in the campgrounds and in the little chapel there for the summer, really fun, you know, met people from all over the world. And at that point, there was a church in Boca Raton, Florida. It was a huge PCA church that contacted me out of the blue, they had seen my picture in the banner, which was the cushy foreign publication. And so I was, you know, in Christian ed, and they said, Would you consider being our director of children's ministries, so I didn't have any job lined up. They flew me out from California to Florida. They they loved on me with the palm trees in the ocean and the pools and the I mean, it was gorgeous. And then the key lime pie and, you know, they just presented their best foot forward to me, this was a huge PCA church that was following Willow creeks model of evangelism. And, you know, we were like really close over there to Coral Ridge, which was, you know, Kennedy's Church and the evangelism movement, and they were all tied in together. And so this was a huge church that had over 1500 people at that time, that was like a mega church, because that was a long time ago, and 500 kids under fifth grade, fifth grade, and under that I would be responsible for all the programs. Wow. And I loved Florida, and they treated me really well. But there was this Clank in my gut that was like, I don't want to do this. So guess what, that must be God's will. Right. Woman and Yeah, they'll let me do children's ministries. So I took the job moved out there. And I was on the pastoral staff, you know, with all the pastors, except that they'd all go out to lunch without me because they were the boys club. And I was just the woman doing the children's ministries. And when I got there, the ministry was it was a hot mess. They had a woman before me was an elementary school teacher, and she didn't know anything about administration and a church kind of setting. So I took all my knowledge from Bible college, and I was good friends with my Christian Ed prof there, and I'd call them all the time and what books do I read. And I went in just revamped that whole program in a couple months, like I had, they couldn't get volunteers. I had 150 volunteers lined up. I had the nurseries running. Well, they were sterilizing all the toys. I had all the children's ministries running like Lego good shit, right? And then I decided, Okay, now that I have this all done, now, I want to really teach these kids to love Jesus, like I learned to love Jesus. So I'm working really hard on that. And I'm, I'm doing I'm using all my creative gifts and getting all this great worship going. And you know, I just thought it was just, I was just getting to get going. And at one point, in one of the pastoral meetings that I was in, I said that to the senior pastor, I said, you know, I really want to see these kids get a little better education. We've been using the same curriculum, long time, I'd like to change that curriculum. I'd like to embellish these programs. And he looked at me and he said, he said, that is not your job. Your job is just to get volunteers. Oh, wow. I was like, whoa, whoa, he goes, I just want you to keep those kids out of the service. That was it. Yeah. And I was, I was just stunned. I mean, my mouth was hanging open. I'm like, I don't get it. I mean, first of all, growing up as a preacher's kid, and my dad the way it was, I could suggest anything. And my dad would say, Hey, that's a great idea. Let's do it. You know, this guy, he just he just just pulled me and one second flat. Well, I was going to on the, I've always been going around denominations, I was going to an Assembly of God church on Wednesday nights for the Wednesday night service. This kickin the Holy Spirit, you know, when I was in college, I should mention this, I was going to a charismatic Christian Reformed Church. So I had gotten, you know, a real full picture of what it was like to, you know, worship and experience the Holy Spirit and pray in tongues, and, you know, all that stuff. So, um, I was going to this Assembly of God church, and this woman was sitting next to me that night, this was just after it happened. And I didn't know I didn't know where I didn't know anyone there. She looks at me. And she says, God tells me that you work with children. And God tells me that the senior pastor just just took the wind out of your sails. And I'm just like, No one knew me there. I was. So I was towns away, you know, and she says this, and I just start crying, you know. And she prays with me, and I thank her. She says, God says, he's on your side. This is you know, and I'm like, okay, you know, good. So I go back feeling a lot better. And the senior pastor calls me in his office, and he says, you know, he says, I've seen you sitting out there with my secretary crying once in a while, I was adjusting to living there and stuff. And it was so different being in this huge white. Oh, like, there was one black woman in there that she was my friend. All like, coming there in this high wealth situation coming from this little inner city place, you know, so, um, he says, I think this isn't the right place for you. Yeah, and I'm looking at him. And he goes, I will. I want you to think about that. And it was time for Christmas vacation. He says, you can stay through June and then we'll find somebody else. We won't mention it to anybody said, Okay. I go home. I'm thinking about and I'm praying about it. I come back after Christmas. And I go into the Sunday school classroom, all these women come up to me, Oh, I hear you're leaving. And I was like, what? First of all, I had the morale so good there that they gave me a money tree for Christmas. They rolled up 20 and $50 bills and put them on this tree for me. They loved me. And they're like, you're you're leaving. And I just I didn't even know what to say. Come to find out the senior pastor had gone to the woman's group of 150 people and announced it.

David Ames  29:35  
Oh, no.

Anne  29:39  
And from that point on, I was lame duck. So from January through June, I was they took away my office. I had an office with all the other pastors with Windows and beauty. They stuck me in the closet behind the sanctuary. Oh Allah. Yeah, yeah, I had I had no voice I had no ability to do anything. The only thing good about being over there was there was a piano. So I just played a piano all day because I had nothing else to do. It was humiliating, and horrible. You know,

David Ames  30:13  
I think what's particularly fascinating about this is that they recruited you. Yes. You know, what were they? I guess they must have thought that they were getting a docile person who would just, you know, do the bare minimum or something. But But clearly, you were ambitious and wanted to make an impact in in the world. And so it seems like, they must have been very threatened once you got on staff, and they saw that you you actually wanted to make real changes and be a leader.

Anne  30:43  
Right? I think so. Yeah. Yeah. But it was, it was really hard on me, because I felt well, God, why did you let this happen? You know, I've done everything to honor you. And how could you let this happen? Yeah, you know, in the meantime, in those last five months, I fell in love with someone who didn't fall in love with me. So I had this hole, and then someone fell in love with me who I didn't fall in love with. I mean, this whole big disaster, right.

So I go home in June with my tail between my legs. I went back to Michigan, actually, I didn't go home to New Jersey and got back with my old roommate and went back into my old charismatic Christian Reformed Church where, you know, I love to them there and just kind of puddled for a while, okay. Then I got a job at RBC, the School of the Holy Rollers where I want to attend, they hired me as admissions coordinator, they made a job for me, they said, Hey, our Director of Admissions needs help. You know, you're here, you're dynamic. I think you could go recruit, you're, you know, you've been to school with all these people, you know, the school. And so I had the dream job. I mean, this was my dream job, I get to fly all over the US and Canada, all on their dime. Stay in these hotels, eat in restaurants. I talked to churches, and pastors and youth groups and schools, Christian schools. I loved it. I loved it. The director of admissions was also working on this whole program called students serving students, which was where you'd get some of the students and you did music and drama and just programs for youth groups, okay. And I was all about that, because I was all into the music and drama and the art and stuff. And so we started leaving a lot of worship in the school, and I was looking for a revival, like I was experiencing at church. And we, we do these great programs out, you know, all over the place. He left after one year, and then I was in charge, but they didn't want to give me the job because I was a woman. Here now I'm acting director of admissions with still the admissions coordinator pay, you know, and, um, but I grew that program, I started I actually made five students serving students programs of five students each, and I sent them out to all kinds of local churches, and then we go on, like trips to Florida for spring break. And you know, it was just, it was so cool. We were in Florida, Colorado, British Columbia, doing these things. And I loved it. I was in my element. I was preaching, you know, in these churches, not their sermon, but I was doing my own style of preaching. And I felt like I was thriving as a woman, and the perfect dream job, you know. So, then, unfortunately, well, at that point, I met the man who was going to become my husband. And he was in seminary because I really thought I had to marry a pastor, you know, because that's what we do. And so he was in seminary, he was working as a youth director at a church. And with my hours during the day and his hours working the evening as a youth director. He wouldn't come over to my house till 11 o'clock at night, half the time, right. But I had to be up at eight o'clock for work the next morning. I burnt the candle at both ends and I got mono, okay. And it never went away. Oh, like it didn't go away. It progressed to a chronic condition. They diagnosed me with chronic epstein barr virus, recurring Epstein Barr Virus. That was right when chronic fatigue syndrome was coming out as the Joby disease. Okay, and I had it, I was sick, I couldn't get out of bed. I couldn't do my job. I was just laying there. This was right after we got engaged. And we got married when I was sick, so I just kept hoping I would get better. I'm like my big joke was we spent our whole engagement in bed But it was that way. Yeah. So I had to quit my job. I kept trying to go back to it. And I couldn't do it. I didn't have I didn't have any energy, I used to say was like an 80 year old woman. But now that my mom is in her 80s, I realized I was more like 150 year old under the ground woman, I even push the door open, you know, and we didn't know what was wrong with me. And I was having all these tests. And, you know, we just couldn't get answers. The doctors couldn't do anything. And the meantime, my husband graduated from seminary and became a chaplain, and he was going through CPE, Clinical Pastoral Education program. And he was working in a hospital. So he would go to this hospital all day and be with these sick and dying people. And then he'd come home and look at his wife, who was basically sick and dying. And, you know, we didn't know what to do with me. So that was really stressful. And again, I was like, God, where are you? I was, you know, I was preaching your word. I was out there ministering. I had a great prayer movement going on. I was praying with all kinds of people. I was seeing miracles, I thought, I you know, and and I was just like, why did you bet me? You know, you just benched me. And so I would go up for prayer every week at church where these very astute, amazing prayer warriors would pray over me. I'd go to their prayer thing on Wednesdays and just get prayer and prayer and prayer. And I never get healed. Nothing ever happened. I never felt better. And people started giving me quote words from God, like, the joy of the Lord is your strength. And I was like, I can't even frickin live my flicked my head off the pillow, the joy of the Lord is my strength. But I was like, Okay, I'll try to be more joyful. Maybe that's gonna kill me. And then someone said to me, once you know, your husband, he's behind you, and leadership, because you're so bold and outgoing, and he's quiet. And, you know, I think God is trying to suppress you, so that he can raise your husband up.

David Ames  37:05  
Wow. Wow.

Anne  37:08  
Yeah. And then I'd hear things like, um, God wants you to be a human being not a human doing. You know, you have to learn to just rest in God and not always be doing something. And, you know, that's probably where you're getting your self esteem. And, you know, God doesn't want this. And so people would just throw those things at me. And I took it all. I took it all. Yeah, I go to healing services at different churches, I'd see people supposably get fillings in the shape of a Holy Ghost. And I couldn't get out of bed, you know? And, uh, like, I don't get it. You know, Why, God? Why did you bench me? You know, yeah. We were pretty much starving because my husband and CP wasn't making any money. I was living off my disability. Thank goodness, we had that grant was really cheap back then, in the middle of the inner city of Grand Rapids. But we weren't making ends meet and my husband and I were fighting he was going CP has a way of stirring up everything in your past. So he's got everything stirring up in his past. By the way, he's a preacher's kid, too. And it's all stirred up and everything's just getting out of hand. And we're fighting and I'm sick in bed. And life is just how we can't pay any bills. And he's thinking we can't pay bills, because I'm spending money. And I'm like, Look, we don't have any money coming in. You know, it's bad first year stuff on dope, you know? So he finally decided to take a position in a church as an interim pastor. So there's this church in Michigan, we go over there, he takes it. I don't go to church a whole lot because I was just too sick to go to church. And honestly, I didn't like listening to sermons. I thought they were boring. Boring, but I thought the Holy Ghost will take care of that. You know, as soon as he gets the Holy Ghost, he'll be on fire and I'll be fine. Yeah, I'll just pray it through. This is I was such a magical thinker, David. I mean, when my parents told me Santa Claus didn't exist. I didn't believe them. I used to look for him. I mean, I was that person that knew that God could do anything that I asked, you know, and I was not losing faith in God. Even though I had gone through bad church experiences. I was sick. It was all I could do it you know?

Basically, the upshot of the deal is that were there 14 months they want to call a pastor there, he had he's on what they call a duo, which means that they call him or the other guy and they vote. And there was a family in the church that he had angered because he told the mama in charge to stay out of her kids marriage situation, right. And that whole clan hated him, you know, so they never came to church. urge but they came to church that one Sunday to make sure he didn't get that job voted him right out right at this, but I wasn't that upset because that same Sunday we were going to find out if he also would get a church in Virginia. And they he was on a mono there. So I was like, Well, of course they're gonna call him there's only one person there. Well, by the end of the night, we found out that we were jobless. Homeless had nothing. Here we were. I was sick. We had nothing.

David Ames  40:29  
That's devastating. Yeah, that's amazing.

Anne  40:32  
Yeah, yeah. But I still trusted God. So we had a big white dog packed all our belongings or big white dog into a truck and ended up house sitting in a tiny little house somewhere for some people that were in Florida, put all our stuff in their basement, and lived in that house for a few months, while my husband scrub toilets. For a job, that was what he did. And, um, but still, I you know, knew God was gonna turn around it was gonna be okay. And then it's just that I feel like it's just such a long story. But um, upshot of the deal is he decided to become a prison chaplain. And we were able to get some stability, then get some income. I had two kids, even though I was sick. I had two girls. He went off to be the chaplain, and I was home. And we were just kind of struggling to get through, but we were doing it. You know, it was I bought a house, it was all good. And then he wanted to go back to church. He's like, Oh, I can't get church ministry out of my mind. I want to go back to a church. So he takes this Church in New Jersey. And I was all about it. Because I was like, well, it's in New Jersey, I'll be by all the people I love, this will be cool. And it was a church at war. It was a church that had run out their last seven pastors. It was a church that 150 years ago had caused the first pastor of the church to kill himself because he was treated so poorly. And we walked right into the middle of it. Yeah, it was the worst situation possible. I mean, his preaching got good. But um, it was bad. I right away, took over the worship team, which was the worst idea in the world because worship, of course, was the hot topic. I started a prayer group, we got involved in the river and all the revival movements that were going on, went to Toronto went to light the fire nation, we did everything to bring revival to this church, right. That was the goal. If we bring revival, it's all going to be okay. Yeah. And the main protagonist in that church was out on his yacht all summer. And he came back to find the church of 65 now had grown to 150 people, new young people who were following us and not him. And he blew the church apart. And they started a concerned committee. And they started all these rumors and lies. And I mean, there were things thrown around, like, no amount of prayer is gonna save this church when I get through with it. Or you're gonna be walking over my dead body before I leave this church or I mean, it was not like anything I had ever seen in my whole entire life.

David Ames  43:17  
That's wild. Yeah. That that is not hiding the fact that that's a power trip, you know?

Anne  43:26  
No, there was one experience where one night where my husband was on council, and he called me and he said, Don't let anyone in the door. And I'm like, why? And he goes, we had this big explosion at council meeting, and these people ran out. And, um, he goes, I'm afraid they put a bomb in the car. I mean, that's how bad it was cuz their son lived down the street, and he had bombed the church at one point, and we were like, thinking he was gonna put a bomb in our car. It was bad. It was bad. Yeah, yeah.

During that time, too, I got involved with streams ministries, they were doing courses called hearing God 101. And I was like, we need to go to this because we need to hear God because we're, you know, I mean, I was doing Jericho marches around the church. You know, pastors were dominant blowing their show Fars, every charismatic leader in the community was on board, you know, it was it was crazy. If anyone had, we had gathered the priests and prophets and apostles from the whole area, and they were praying on our behalf, you know, yeah. So, um, yeah, nothing happened. People ran us out. ran us out. My dad, you know, he was so optimistic. We used to call him every day. Guess what happened today? What happened? You know, and he'd be like, what happened today and we tell him to go I can't even I can't even believe it. So, but he always had something positive to pray and then one One Thanksgiving, I was home and he had nothing to say absolutely nothing. And I was like, Whoa,

David Ames  45:07  
bad side.

Anne  45:09  
Bad side, I had this dream that I lost my youngest daughter in the church and I was flying all over looking for. And I went into this bathroom full of kids and this kid snuffed a candle of my nose, you know, burned me, and I heard what I felt like was the audible voice of God say to me, Do not lay your children on the altar for this church. And I was that was it. I was out. Yeah. But I had laid my kids on the altar. I was praying all day and sending them in front of the TV. I was fasting. I was skinny as a rail. I was, you know, like, I was going to save this place in prayer. If it was the last thing I did. Yeah. And at that moment, I just stopped at all I just stopped. My kids became my top priority. Fortunately, they were still very little. And I gathered them and we went to a vineyard church and left my husband at the church to preach and make the money.

David Ames  46:01  

Anne  46:02  
Okay. Okay. And those people were mad. Oh, they were mad that I wasn't there. And what about my tithe? Where was my tithe going? And you know, my husband was like, she doesn't even have any calm. Right? Right. So it was about six months, it took my husband to be able to pull himself away from that. And the meantime, I had gathered a really good group of friends at the vineyard and fit right in, we loved it. Our kids were all friends, we're in this community again. And then Tom just joined me there. And we felt welcome and loved there. And then they asked us to stay and play to church, because we had such a good, you know, community going. And we just said we couldn't we just were tired. We were just beat up, you know, yeah, beat up. I mean, I told you a very abridged version of what happened in that church, but you got to trust me, it was the worst thing ever,

David Ames  46:55  
I believe you.

Anne  46:59  
One guy said to one guy said to my husband, he goes, You know what? They want you on that cross upfront. They're not going to be happy to leave a pound of flesh. Well come to find out years later, the reason they were so persistent on running out all the pastors, and in fact, the pastor after us ended up in the mental institution. And my dad warned him, he said, Don't go to that church, and that guy didn't listen to him. So um, the reason they had done that was because they were sitting on a pot of gold, because it was a church outside New York City on 11 acres of land, right? Yes, what that property was worth. And guess who was gonna get that money? If that church died? They got it. They got millions and millions of dollars. I found this out a few years ago. Yeah, they pocketed all that money. And I was sick. Yeah. I was sick.

David Ames  47:53  
I can imagine.

Anne  47:54  
I mean, I was like, God, you know, what about Ananias and Sapphira? I don't get it. You know, I was waiting for people to drop dead. I was waiting for God to strike people and smite them and you know, make them sick and die. I was waiting for it. I was believing for it. You know, that sounds bad. But you know, it was it was to me, it was all a spiritual warfare. And God had to win, you know? Yeah. But God didn't when we again were unemployed and homeless. Yeah.

So we ended up going to Massachusetts living in a little half a duplex, eating at the food bank had no money freezing eating noodles for every meal. I was homeschooling the kids, they were like three and five at that point. So y'all go. And it was it was kind of horrendous. And then my husband finally got a job and it paid like 18,000 a year and we still didn't have any money. Catholic Charities brought Santa Claus the real Santa Claus this time to our house for Christmas and gave our kids toys and and we got involved in a Foursquare church. So now we're going to Foursquare church.

David Ames  49:14  
Yeah. All the bases here.

Anne  49:17  
I had been to every kind of church right? We've been Baptists for a while everything. So we get to this Foursquare church and the pastor I try out for worship team and the pastor is all about worship, and he doesn't want me in and I'm like, devastated. I'm like, why? And he goes, I don't know. I just didn't feel it was God and I was just like, God now you're not even gonna let me leave worship, you know, or play the keyboard or anything. And and, um, he left to the pastor left a few months later, and they got a new pastor and tryouts were again, and I got on and I was on the great worship team, and we were having so much fun and great community. And that pastor came to visit the church and I was nervous as I'll get out because I'm like, Oh crap, you know, here I just he told me I was no good. And now you know, I'm playing and I was a wreck. Well, apparently I was not the only one on the worship team that felt that way. But that Pastor during worship, kneeled on his face and repented and started crying. And he got up to preach. And he said, there were people I kept from using their gifts. And I was wrong. And that just touched me, you know, that really touched me that he was repented enough and good enough to do that. Right. All right, so long story short, now, I'm going to those streams, ministries, things, you know, they're having now to hearing God to a one, which is understanding dreams and visions, and then another course, and I'm taking these courses, and I always had dreams and visions, and I want to grow in all my charismatic abilities, you know, because I didn't get that in my CRC background. Yeah. And, um, John Paul would pray for us all and give us words and you know, I started having dreams about streams. And lo and behold, someone gave them a mountain in New Hampshire to come to New England, and they were going to form a prayer Mountain, 24 hours of prayer and worship streams is going to come out, John Paul was going to come out and I was like, I got to be a part of the smooth god, I gotta be. And I was having words and dreams. And I started emailing them to the ministry. Pretty soon I was talking to John Paul. Pretty soon he gave me a job. I was like, Oh, my gosh, I got a job. But my husband is like, No, I am not leaving my job for ministry. There is no way we're gonna be homeless unemployed, yet another time, right. And so my husband and I are fighting and I'm like, this is a move of God, I have to be a part of it. I mean, we have to do this. And my husband is like, No, not unless I get a job in New Hampshire with this same company. Well, it took them about eight months, but he got one. And we moved up to New Hampshire, and I was so happy. I was like, Oh, my gosh, we're going to the promised land, and I'm dancing and jumping. And finally, I'm gonna find my spiritual calling. You know, it was really hard for me to be married to a pastor who he didn't have the same leadership abilities as I did. His was his was different. He was more of a team leader. He was he wasn't the dynamic preacher. He was more quiet and subtle. He didn't do things the way I thought they needed to be done. And we clashed over that, because I was frustrated. And he'd be like, You should be the pastor then. And I'd be like, they won't let me I'm a woman. You know, it was hard. He finally gave up his credentials, because our marriage can handle it. You know, it was marriage, her or ministry? Yeah. Wow. So this was my chance he could work and stay at a ministry and I could shine, you know, and I came on that staff and I wanted to be teaching courses. And, you know, and but, you know, I knew that in these charismatic ministries, you have to prove yourself. So the first job they gave me was to work the database in a closet, here I am in a closet again, you know, on these computers, and it was awful. But I just did it with a smile. I was so happy to be there. I was one of the first people up there. And, you know, I was close to John Paul, and everybody that was up there. And you know, and I just felt like a big way. And, um, and one day someone came in that wanted to move there. There were always people that wanted to move there. It was like God was calling everybody in. And these people said, Hey, do you have a realtor? And I said, Oh, yeah, I use this guy, Joe. He was great. And John Paul was in the office, they said, No, everyone in our office uses Vicki. And I thought, well, that's weird. You know, we didn't use Vicki and I said, Oh, but Joe gives really good gifts. And he goes, he gave gifts to and I said, Oh, but But Joe, blah, blah, blah. And he goes, Well, Vicki, blah, blah, blah, blah, and we have this little thing. And I'm just thinking we're just talking right? To that he didn't talk to me for three months, three months, because I challenged his authority. But I didn't know it, because I didn't know the rules. You know, and and I didn't play by those rules. And my dad was certainly not an authoritarian leader. And you know, I was like, I don't get it. So um, it was so weird, because I was trying to figure out what I did to offend him, but I couldn't figure it out. No one ever talked to me about it. And then one day, we were at this fireside chat, he would do these things called fireside chats. We didn't actually have a fireside, but he would sit there in the room with all of us and we would like kind of gather at his feet, so to speak, and listen to his great wisdom from God and all his words from God. And, and, um, he said, You know, God tells me not to speak to people sometimes in order to punish them. Oh, wow. Yeah. And I'm like, I think he's so and about me, hmm. But I still I just didn't get it. Um, and little by little people would come and I train them in their job and I'd worked my way up till now I was running the events not running completely it was on a team of people who ran the events and, and, you know, got the airline tickets and I've started to travel all over again. So here, it's like, I'm getting my old RBC job back. I'm traveling. I'm, you know, speaking in front of people and giving words in front of people. It's just like this really great thing. I feel like Yay, I'm back to the promised land. I am. You know, it's so good. I'm fulfilled again. Now, mind you, I'm still fighting with chronic fatigue at this time, because I was sick. I was sick in bed for the first five years, and then I was sick for another 25. And it's still kind of dogs me, but um, I'm managing and it's all going really well and everything's going great. Okay, so they call David Hayward. Do you know David Hayward?

David Ames  55:58  
Yes. Not personally. But yes.

Anne  56:02  
They call him to be the pastor. And so you know, initially I was leading the worship in the worship services. And then David and I were leading the worship, and then they call Trevor, a worship pastor in. And then I was part of the worship team. And it was just so much fun because it was on the worship team, in the church and in the conferences. So everything's going great. I'm happy as a clam. I love David. You know, he's a good friend of mine, Mitch and Jeanne, you know, or they're, they're good friends. And one day, John Paul calls a meeting for everybody on staff, very important meeting, he sits us all down. And he says, God has revealed to me that the reason I am sick because he was getting a lot of colds. That Let's not mention, he was traveling non stop 24/7, you know, on planes, and you know, never sleeping. God has revealed to me that there's division and conflict in the camp, and that's why he's striking me ill. Oh, yeah. And I was in fairy land. I had no idea the stuff that was going on right now. No idea. And I'm, and I'm just looking at him like, huh, yeah, I know, you're sick as you travel, you know. And all these people start repenting and getting to his feet, and they're piling on his knees, and they're crying at his feet. It's like Mary Magdalene, at the feet of Jesus. And they're just repenting. And oh, we're so sorry. And they're praying for him. And he's just sitting there just taking all this adoration and love. And the next day, David Hayward confronted him and said, that's just not cool. Now, you are setting yourself up as God basically and taking all the adoration and that's that spiritual abuse. You know, he called it well, you can imagine how furious JP was after, you know, see how mad he was at that realtor encounter, right? Yeah, imagine how furious, furious, he was at this. And he he fired. David right on the spot. Mitch, Jeanne were fired. The two other people that worked with me in the in the events thing, Mitch was over the events, they, they quit, they're like, I'm out of here, you know, and then I was like, my world was spinning, what's going on? What's going on? This was going so well, I don't understand it. So come to find out that things were going on, you know, because people were having suggestions. And he felt his authority was challenged, when there was all this stuff going on. But they were keeping me out of it because they knew I needed the job. And you know, they just wanted me to be safe. And, um, but then it all broke out. And I was devastated. Because these were the people I was close to, you know, David was my good friends. And you know, Mitch and Jeanne and them and, and, and I was just like, oh, man, but Mitch said to me, just keep your head down. Don't make any trouble. Just try to get through this and keep your job. But it was really hard because it turned into a place of slander, the talking and the way that they slandered them was just awful, right? And we were basically told to shun them all. Okay, um, but I didn't, I didn't shun them. They were my friends. And when David left, they packed up their car to leave, you know, their truck and everything because they bought a house out there and everything. And we went to help them move. You know, we went there, and Mitch and Jeanne were there but nobody from the church was there. No buddy from the ministry was there. Nobody, and one person drove down the street. And he looked at us and he said, What are you doing here? And we said, we're helping the move, you know, and they were just like, whoa.

So, it wasn't long after that, that John Paul said to me, well, We need a new pastor. Maybe we should look at your husband. In my husband's mind, he's like, there is no way in hell, I'm in the middle of this.

David Ames  1:00:12  
Wise, man wise.

Anne  1:00:15  
No way. But he didn't want to come right now and say that because I was working there and he didn't want to jeopardize my job. So we went out for lunch with all of them. And they kind of got to know Tom and talk to him. And Tom was just not biting. He was biting on nothing. And the two days later, John Paul meets me in the office by the coffee machine, and I'll never forget it. And he said to me, yeah, so that was very interesting going out to lunch with you. He said, Your husband is probably at least one or two years away from being able to be in ministry. God's told me this show, Yes, God has shown me that he, he doesn't know how to lead. He doesn't know how to be a leader. And that's the reason that you're getting fat because I was gaining weight, lifelong struggles. Yeah, this is this is the reason that your husband isn't in ministry. And that your children are damned. Your children are damned.

David Ames  1:01:19  
Yeah. I'm like,

Anne  1:01:20  
hello. You know, I had the best little girls. They were the best little girls in the church, and they were damned about them. Yeah. And I cried, and I said, thank you. And I took it because it must be a word from God, because it's John Paul, you know, I must be God. And I go back and work and I'm crying. And you know, I just can't get myself together. At the end of the day, the President calls me into the office with now the guy who is now my boss, who was the the shipping guy, he made him my boss suddenly, because I couldn't just do it because I was a woman. And they call me in the office. And the President says to me, I understand you got a word from JP today? And I'm like, Yeah, and I start to cry. And then I apologize for crying. I say, I'm sorry. I thought I must be getting my period or something. And he goes, No, it's because it was a true Word of God. He said, we've understood you have a problem with authority. Oh, dear. Ah, and you know what he cited that time, I had the little exchange about the realtor with John Hall in the office at the beginning of time. Yes. And I'm like, there it is.

David Ames  1:02:33  
Super petty, very, very bad.

Anne  1:02:36  
Yes. And then he has some other stupid thing. And then he said to me, so we're gonna let you continue to work the events, but we're gonna not gonna let you go anymore. You're not going to be able to go to the events and I just thought, Oh, the writing's on the wall. You know, because there's, you set up an event and there's always, you know, shooting that you have to do when you get there because something fell through the cracks. They're going to just fire my ass, and that's gonna be the end of it. Yeah. And, and he said, and we want a marriage counselor, you, we went to marriage counseling to teach Tom how to be a leader and how you should be submissive. Wow. Well, now that my whole job is riding on it, all my husband's fault, you know, because he's not a leader, and I'm crying. And, you know, I left there, I went home, I cried the whole way home. And, um, and I said, I'll give you two weeks. I have to think about it. I need to think about it for two weeks. So he said, Okay, so at the end of two weeks, I quit. You know, I was like, I can't do this. But Tom was like, I want to see what happens. I'm curious of what kind of dynamics are gonna happen over there. And so I stayed on the worship team, I stayed doing worship, I stayed being friends with them. And um, this went on for a couple of months, I was miserable. We did a worship seminar at a church. It wasn't a church. It was at one of the conferences, and I was up there leading with other people and worship was a dud, everything was a dud. And I looked at some of the people there and I knew that they were there. Because of me. I knew that they were open to that ministry, because they came there because I was and they knew my background, and they trusted me. And I thought, I can't do this anymore. Yeah, I can't do it. That way. That night, on the way home, we hit a moose. Oh, wow. We hit a moose. It came out of nowhere. It hit the part of the just the actually the mirror the rearview mirror of the car, and and shattered the glass. And so Trevor, the worship leader, and I was sitting here and we were just covered with glass, and he just kept driving. We got back and found out that was just not cool. And the booths hit another car. There was an accident, he might have charges against him. And it was this whole thing that's the bottom line was the next day John Paul went to that conference and said, God came to me in prayer and asked me if I would give up some of my staff to him and let him take them home. But I prayed and said no and and they were saying and they were spared. So now I was alive because he prayed and spirit. Yeah, you know, and I was like, This is bullshit. And I quit. I quit that day. I was like, I don't care what they do. I'm not going back. Okay. And then I was shunned. Yeah, yeah, I was out of there. Nine months is only lasted. I wish it was probably like a cult, you know, I was shunned. And I didn't know why. Nobody was calling me. They even had a concert in our clubhouse where we lived. And I went, because I thought, I'm not going to let anyone keep me out of this concert. And no one would talk to me. They all looked at me with these terrible looks. A year and a half later, a friend of mine from there who had shunned me called me and said they came after her. And she apologized to me. And she said, John Paul had gone to everyone on staff and said things slandered us to death. were horrible. People were sick. We have a bad marriage with Bebo, but he just slandered us and made up all this crap. And everyone believed it. Because I had too much charisma in the office. I had too much control. John Paul said that to me. He said, I see you there's leadership, and you can steer a ship that's sinking. And you know, but you've got to be careful. Well, he had to do damage control. And he came back and just killed me. Yeah. So when I found that out, I wrote him an email. I sent him an email. I said, How dare you and I just never heard from him again. You know, never.

Yeah, so that was the end of that. We ended up moving to North Carolina, my husband started again, in ministry in a church, it was a church plant that had been dying. We just closed down the church, basically, because it wasn't going to work. Then we tried to get involved in other churches, and we were really good friends with the pastor and wife and they got fired from their church, which caused a whole nother thing in us and PTSD from our church experience. And, and, you know, I was like, this is a whole bullshit. So we started we went into another church that was just really big week to slink into the back not know anybody not talk to anyone, I didn't want to know the dynamics in a church because I could see all the crap going on, you know, and, and, you know, the just a biblical sermon, and that's what we did. Ya, um, and that lasted for a little while, and then we went back to New England to be my parents, and I just couldn't go to church anymore. I just stopped. I just, I was like, I can't do it. i There's, I can't do it.

David Ames  1:07:38  
I think that's actually more common than you think that people start to realize that they're having, you know, reaction PTSD, like you mentioned, they're having a reaction and they just can't go in the building anymore. And they don't even know why really, right. But yeah, right.

Anne  1:07:52  
Right. You know, um, yeah, it was just bad. In the meantime, we found out my youngest daughter was autistic. That's why we're having trouble with her. And she was going into depression and maybe bipolar. My husband was falling apart. Our marriage was falling apart. My other daughter went to college. And then my father dropped dead, baby. Oh, no, I'm so sorry. Thank you. He was 77 just dropped in, in a restaurant. Gone. No warning, gone. Man, it rocked my world. I mean, it just killed me. Right, it killed me. And he was the picture of all that was good and true and righteous. And, you know, I still believed in God, I still believed in the goodness of God, I just couldn't go into the church, you know. And then my father was taken away. And then every, I couldn't hear from God anymore. I couldn't worship. I couldn't hypnotize myself with a piano. I couldn't do anything. You know, I just was just, I was just floored. Um, a year after that, I decided to go to art school. And so I was getting my Master's in Fine Arts, and I was learning great critical thinking skills. I mean, if you want great critical thinking skills, you go to art school with a whole bunch of people from different backgrounds and everything. And it was just a fantastic experience. And during that whole thing, I was working on my art, I was working through my dad's grief, you know, grief for my dad, and and all his ministry and all my background and all my church stuff, and I just was working through all that great opportunity to work through it. But a year after my dad died, my aunt, my dad's sister found out she had ovarian cancer. She was like a mom to me. She was the one who took care of me in Michigan, and um, we went through this suffering of watching her just die, so we're still grieving my father. Now we're grieving my aunt. And um, and then my best friend called me and said she had stage four breast cancer. Oh guy, and she was someone that I Got a visit every year in California for three weeks I get out of the winter here. And you know, just I could be myself there and have fun. And so she's dying. And we went through my those two cancers. My aunt died, we later arrest during this time, of course it's 2016. And Trump gets into office and that caused me and a whole lot of like, like, I don't get it. I mean, when he was going for the white evangelical vote, I'm like, they're not going to be fooled. Like God did that just do me and I'm going through all this and I'm just like, spinning and how could this be? And then my sister dropped dead, my little sister 53 dropped dead of a heart attack. And that killed me worse than my father. I mean, plus, my mother was a wreck. She almost died of heartbreak in the first few weeks. And, um, I, I couldn't even buy this time. I'm just spinning. You know, I lost my dad, my aunt, my sister, my friends dying. And I'm just spitting Trump's into office, everything else go ahead basket. I you know, the stupid COVID Comes right? My daughter gets COVID the first week it comes, I'm having headaches, I find out I have high blood pressure, which my right away makes me think I'm gonna die like my sister. I'm in this existential crisis. I can't pray, I can't talk to God, I can't do anything. And then, um, I find out I have a brain tumor. And it's called a pituitary adenoma. And it's a tumor on your pituitary gland. And it's operable, it's usually benign. So they're like, well just watch it. Well, they watched it for six months, just one, one thing, they said it's growing rapidly, you have to have brain surgery. So they go in and give me brain surgery during COVID. Two weeks later, I have a gallbladder attack that puts gall stones in my bile duct. But I don't know it because I don't want to go to the doctor because it's COVID. And I just had brain surgery, crawling around on the floor for four weeks just crying and not eating until my husband says get to that doctor. And I go to the doctor, find out I have to have my gallbladder out. So I've surgery, emergency surgery with that, and then another surgery to remove the gall stones, all of this in seven weeks time. During that time, my best friend died of breast cancer. Oh, man. And I of course couldn't, you know, didn't get to say goodbye really? I sent her flowers. But you know, yeah. And I'm just done, you know, just like done. Can't can't, can't do a thing just done. And I'm not even praying anymore. Because I'm like, What is the use, nothing is happening. I, you know, I don't get it.

So sometime during that time, Christian dummies book, Jesus and John Wayne came out. And my brother had to interview her. And it was just after the book came out, like the first like, it just came out that day. And so I was listening. And it was like, Oh, I like this woman. So my mother bought the book. And we both read the book. And that's when everything started to come into place for me, because I could see almost my whole Evan Jellicle upbringing, right, and all the bookstores and all the conventions and all the stuff and authoritarianism. And all that stuff that was going on was right there on the pages. And I could see how suddenly, all these people from church thought that Trump was their God, you know, and I was like, because I didn't get it. And I saw the whole thing. And I went, Oh, and the light bulb went on. And I started to see that there were so many things built into the system that were destructive and damaging in so many ways, you know, for the, with the racism and everything, you know, down to the very core of everything, the women's issue, everything, misogyny, you know, LGBTQ community, everything. And so I read this book, and the light bulb went on, and that's when I started listening to different podcasts. And

David Ames  1:14:19  
there was your first mistake, that was my mistake, because

Anne  1:14:22  
then I'm like, I started listening to straight white American cheeses. And I was like, Yeah, I'm getting into this, you know, and then somehow I stumbled on board again, again, and they were talking about they were they did one on Noah's Ark. And I'm like, What do you mean Noah's Ark is it was how could that not really, you know, and then they're talking about worship and they're talking about they have no system and I'm like, You're kidding. Because I was addicted to being hypnotized in worship. I was the one on the floors dancing and praising it, you know, and I and honestly, I did it to myself all the time. I just would play the piano and just, I was you err, I was all when and, um, and I was like man, and then someone mentioned Bart ermine. And so I started listening to some of his stuff. And this was what cracked me. It was when he said, The gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John weren't actually written by Matthew, Mark Luke. I, I thought that they were, you know, this was I thought this was God's infallible Word in Aaron, and that these were eyewitness accounts, and they weren't. And then what's to say that anything they say is true. And then I just started listening to everything and all the deconstruction stories that I found you and I found other people and I just gobbled it up. You know, after my sister died, I was listening to podcasts, but they were all about near death experiences. I was listening to that stuff and all these New Age podcasts. And as soon as this happened, I flipped, and I started listening to all deconstruction stuff. And you know, um, yeah, that's where I am now.

David Ames  1:16:02  
Okay. Yeah, that's, that is a lot. Again, just I am very sorry for the grief that you've suffered not. I mean, obviously, in the last several years of all the people that you've lost, but grieving the ministry as well, that that you had, clearly the desire to help people and to, you know, build community and help people thrive. And that opportunity just kept being taken away from you. So that is a grief process of that loss as well.

I'm curious, at this point, how are you finding community? I know, I know, you're part of the deconversion anonymous, but like, do you have friends that have gone through some deconstruction as well? And you know, how are you? How are you at this point handling that?

Anne  1:17:01  
I do? It's kind of amazing, because in art school, I developed a really great community, right. And then when we moved, we moved to this old house, this old homestead, and in this community, and it was very embracing town where everybody has these old primitive homes, you know, and they started having parties. And, you know, I was invited to other parties, and we just became friends with everybody. And then in that party scene, we became friends with this group of musicians. And this group of musicians totally took us in when they realized that I was a musician, too. And he only took us in. And there was a couple in there. In fact, the guy is downstairs helping my husband put a water heater on right now, that had also been raised in the Christian faith and been doing worship leading forever. And they both had deconstructed. Okay, and so we were introduced to each other as pastors kids, and we were looked at each other like, Oh, crap. Yeah, like this person, we ventured through, get to know each other and found out we had this similar deconstruction story. So, you know, we get together with him every three weeks, and we just laugh and talk. And you know, and look at all the ridiculous things we once believed, you know, that we don't anymore. So I actually feel very much like I have community.

David Ames  1:18:20  
That's awesome. That's awesome. Yeah. And then you've mentioned a handful of podcasts and the book, Jesus and John Wayne, any any others that I'm not talking about this one. Any other podcasts that you'd recommend for someone who find them finds themselves in a similar situation like, like that has helped you?

Anne  1:18:38  
Um, well, first, let me just say that I was in the lasting supper, David Hayward Scroop forever. And I think David Hayward is a wonderful deconstruction, you know, he's just wonderful. And he's great. And he's the real deal. And he's a good friend of mine. And I love him to bits. And so

David Ames  1:18:52  
well, maybe you can introduce me to David and we can get David on the open welcome.

Anne  1:19:00  
Well, I'll talk to him I already texted him this morning. He said, Is it okay, if I say your name and the story? He's like, Sure, go ahead. So um, yeah, David, you know, I would definitely recommend David. I have been listening to I think deconversion Anonymous was another podcast I was listening to. I listened to on YouTube harmonic atheist because I like to listen to their stories. Sometimes I'm listening to what is myth vision, you know, depending on who he has on there that's helpful anything bar ermine. You know, I've listened to a lot of debates, you know, between Christians and bar and you know, those have been kind of interesting. I love on YouTube Dark Matters 20 What is it 25 or whatever, you know, I love that that all the animation you know, holy Kool Aid. Yeah, I mean, I just kind of search around I think there's one now x well x seven jello coals. And I mean, I always have This crazy list going on, cuz I listen to the podcasts when I go to sleep. And then if I miss something I just read, listen, you know, so some of the podcasts, they have to be not too dynamic. Like, I don't think I could listen to myself going to sleep because, you know. But yeah, there's so much out there on YouTube and podcasts.

David Ames  1:20:20  
Well, that's great. And I really appreciate you telling your story. That was, I think what's really important that people hear is how dedicated you were how often you tried even it wasn't like, I think the evangelical response to deconstruction is these weak people, you know that at the slightest, you know, difficulty there out. And it's like, clearly, that was not the case you struggled through through a lifetime of attempting to do ministry with hurdles putting you in your way the entire time. So I thank you for that honesty. Thank you for being on the podcast. Yeah, my pleasure. Thank

Anne  1:20:59  
you for having me.

David Ames  1:21:04  
Final thoughts on the episode. I can't help but hearing and story as tragedy that she wanted so badly to do God's will. And she felt gifted. And she was trained to be a leader. And yet the role of women in the church consistently limited her and ultimately led to shootings and being kicked out of churches and being rejected by the very people who said that they loved her. And then the physical aspects of her life as well, the chronic fatigue, and ultimately at the end, their brain tumor, and a gallstone and just all of the physical ailments that she's had to go through. But this often is the beauty of deconstruction, as she's describing reading Jesus and John Wayne and recognizing herself and the culture that she'd been bounced to for all of her life within evangelicalism and suddenly recognizing the corruptness of that and how she no longer had to be bound by that that freedom is amazing. And it is wonderful to hear in Anne's voice, where she is now. Last week's guests, Ursula and this week's guest and have a lot in common in that they are very big personalities, very strong leaders, and they happen to be women and being forced to enhance case stay in education. And then even when she got the role that was specific to children's education, she was limited in what she could do there, there was just constant limitation. I can't imagine the level of frustration that that must create for a person who is as gifted as both Ursula and an R. It also astonishes me that the church at large evangelicalism specifically is trying to do things with one hand tied behind their back, they're stopping 50% of the population from truly 100% participating. And that just astonishes me from a logistical and tactical point of view. It's it's dumb, on every single level, and it's horrifying and abusive on many other levels, and I am just brokenhearted, to hear how and had to deal with those limitations. In a story of astonishing things, the most astonishing thing for me was her description of the streams ministry and John Paul, and had the off hand comment of it was cult like, I don't think it was called like it was a cult. That is the definition an overbearing leader who demands loyalty and a level of obedience and subservience that has nothing to do with Christianity has nothing to do with leadership. I'm really glad that and got herself out of that scenario, that that sounded really, really bad. So in any scenario in which you find yourself with a leader who is demanding that level of loyalty, it's time to get out. I want to thank and for telling her story. She has quite the story to tell I agree with Mike t, you should write a book and as soon as you write it, I'll buy it. So and we'll promote it here on the podcast. Thank you, Anne, for telling your story with such truthfulness and passion and your big personality comes straight through and thank you for being on the podcast. The secular Grace Thought of the Week is related to but not directly about and in that I mentioned at the beginning of the interview that I had been reached out to you by a Christian media organization that was doing research about Gen Z's and deconstruction. And I've been struck by this really ever since I went through my own decastro And then deconversion, that the focus has always been on the 20 Somethings who are leaving the church. I don't want to be anti scientific here, of course, the statistics are going to be much, much, much larger for people in their 20s. Because, as I said, when you're in your 20s, you're supposed to be questioning everything. When you're a teenager, you're supposed to be questioning everything that is, by definition, what young adulthood is what I think is much more interesting. And what I think the church has ignored to their peril is what are sometimes called the Dunn's adults 40s 50s 60s, even that have lived an entire lifetime within the Christian frame, and who subsequently deconstruct and de convert, that is a much more telling canary in the coal mine, that seems to me is being utterly ignored. If the statistics that I get about the podcast are to be believed, that would suggest that most of you are at least in your 30s. And most of the listeners here are adults. And so it astonishes me how the statisticians and the church itself has ignored this group of people and berated things like the extra angelical movement. This is the second week in a row that I'm giving some atheist advice to pastors. Talk to the adults who are deconstructing the Brealey. Listen to them, ask them why they've had a change of heart, what kinds of things would make a person change their mind after decades of being a Christian? And then really listen to the answer. And if you are that person who has lived an entire lifetime of Christianity, and you're the one questioning and you're the one where it feels like God's not listening, and tragedy is around you in every direction. I need you to know that there are many of us out here, myself and all of my previous guests community on the Facebook group deconversion anonymous, who have gone through this, we've experienced it, we know what it feels like. And you don't have to be alone. And you are not alone. I just wanted to mention, for those of you who are parents, the the mothers out there, Happy Mother's Day. I know that's kind of saccharine sweet. And it's one of the things I used to really dislike about this particular Sunday in church all the time. But I want to acknowledge you, you do amazing things. You are the foundation of society and you're also leaders and teachers and amazing human beings. So thank you, and Happy Mother's Day. Until next time, my name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Join me and be graceful human. Time for the footnotes. The beat is called waves for MCI beats, links will be in the show notes. If you'd like to support the podcast, you can promote it on your social media. You can subscribe to it in your favorite podcast application. And you can rate and review it on pod You can also support the podcast by clicking on the affiliate links for books on risk of If you have podcast production experience and you would like to participate podcast, please get in touch with me. Have you gone through a faith transition? And do you need to tell your story? Reach out? If you are a creator, or work in the deconstruction deconversion or secular humanism spaces and would like to be on the podcast? Just ask. If you'd like to financially support the podcast there's links in the show notes. To find me you can google graceful atheist. You can google deconversion you can google secular race. You can send me an email graceful or you can check out the website graceful My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist join me and be graceful human beings

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Andrew Pledger: Religious Trauma Awareness

Adverse Religious Experiences, Autonomy, Deconstruction, ExVangelical, LGBTQ+, Podcast, Purity Culture, Religious Trauma
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CW Mental health and depression

This week’s guest is Andrew Pledger. Andrew has spent nearly his entire life in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church—where the KJV rules and women do not. 

Andrew was homeschooled K-12 with a mildly white Christian nationalist curriculum, no sex education and no diverse friendships.

“If you’re not subjected to different worldviews and ideas, how can you even think critically about your own?”

For years, Andrew’s mental health suffered, but there were no resources for him. He was told that he wasn’t “reading the Bible enough” and “needed to get closer to God.”

“I was very emotionally dependent on those religious rituals…bible reading, praying, confessing…it has that emotional release because you believe that it’s really doing something.”

In college, Andrew knew he needed professional help but at a fundamentalist Christian college, there was only “biblical counseling”. The first two years were excruciating. Eventually, however, with a little community and a lot of research, Andrew took his mental health into his own hands. 

“It was really the first time I started listening to…and trusting myself.”

He started asking difficult questions about the Bible, and it was not long before the foundations began to crumble. 

“Is the Bible actually inerrant? Is it perfect? Are the stories original? Is this really inspired by God?”

Since leaving Christianity, Andrew has lived out secular grace. He is spreading awareness about toxic religion and working toward becoming a religious trauma therapist. His personal experience of freedom compels him to help others find the same freedom. 

“Trauma is a horrible cycle that needs to be stopped. We really need to do what we can…”



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“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats