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.
Content Warning: sexual abuse, rape, spiritual abuse
This week’s guest is Jessica Moore, a life coach focusing on purity culture. Jessica grew up in a non-denominational Christian in Salt Lake City Utah surrounded by Mormons. She felt both the pressure to evangelize and be proselytized.
Jessica went to an unaccredited Christian college where she first began to have doubts. She wound up traveling to Israel and seeing life on both sides of the Palestinian/Israeli border. She experienced the reverse culture shock coming back to the United States.
Jessica put a lot of pressure on herself to be a “godly woman.” Purity culture had a damaging impact on her life.
The focus of her work now is helping people recover from purity culture and religious abuse.
Ben and Ang have been married for seventeen years. They met as tender home-schooled church-kids. They married young, and the church’s “formula” worked well for a while.
They were mostly happy and went on to have kids of their own. But little things from childhood would pop up now and then—purity culture shame, fear of emotions, fear of the end of the world…
In June of 2016, the shooting at Pulse nightclub “broke” Ang, and she knew she had to find a different way forward. By 2017, they both were out of church—Ben trying to save their marriage; Ang trying to save herself.
Now, Ben and Ang are navigating a new and more intimate life together. They’re both agnostic, defining agnosticism a little differently from one another, but they both agree—this life is most important, and it must be lived to the fullest!
She married at eighteen and expected to have a similarly happy marriage as her parents, but no matter how hard she worked—both literally and metaphorically—that was not going to happen. Heather felt like a spectator, watching the men around her plan her life.
It took years of a one-sided marriage, churches refusing to help and zero answered prayers for Heather to realize she had to be her own savior. Once she had a well-paying job and more education, she no longer needed others to rescue her or her family.
Heather now enjoys a life that is her own and no one else’s. She is the trustworthy one. She can look to herself—her own intuition, her own knowledge and education—for what is best for her. That is a sweet gift that no one can take from her.
I have the freedom and confidence to call myself, Trustworthy.
“…the men were deciding my fate. I was just a bystander.”
…I tried to trust God, and I prayed a lot.
It’s a little easier for women to be financially trapped, especially coming from the Christian background where training in other skills is not always encouraged for women. So what else are they going to do?
…I started to think, Is this a cult that I’m in? because if we can’t consult with anybody else or counsel with anybody else and they don’t want me to visit certain people…”
…the scales fell off of my eyes and I began to see things for what they were…I had been praying for so long and there had never been an answer.
If God has this plan for my life, and I’m just ‘with the wrong people,’ why should that get in the way of an all-powerful god. That doesn’t really make sense.
Once I had financial security, that’s when I could drop all of the weight: I’ll be okay…Now, I can support myself and my children.
The further I stepped away from region, my world got bigger and bigger and bigger.
…Christianity often teaches you not to trust yourself.
Even if it feels as though everything has been stripped away from me, and it looks like there’s nothing left, I can be something…I’m going to be something amazing and beautiful and imaginative. I just need to give myself the chance…
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.
This week’s guest is Keke. Keke’s family was in church, “running the show,” anytime the doors were open. Life at home was difficult for Keke, however, so the church provided a safe haven. But over time, domestic violence, mental health problems and other family secrets were too great a burden for her to carry.
After high school, Keke joined the military, got married and even led her husband to Jesus. Then in 2017, as she was reading a most peculiar bible story to her daughter, she started on a deconstruction journey she never saw coming.
Keke now is learning everything she can about ancient mythologies, African American history and many other cultures. She’s raising her children to be open to the world and its vast ways of living. She knows that human connection is truly what we need—whether with our ancestors through stories or with those around us today.
This week’s guest is Treasure, interviewed by Arline, the Deconversion Anonymous community manager. Treasure grew up in the Seventh Day Adventist tradition. Her whole family was focused on ministry. Treasure is a singer and was continually asked to sing for every church she attended. She was focused on mental health issues and ministering to people in need.
In 2020, Treasure began to quietly question her faith and then began the slow painful process of deconstruction. Though she still loves hymns, even music–once a joy–has become “confusing” due to the obligation to perform for churches and feels like a “job”.
Treasure has found spiritual and community fulfillment in her current spiritual practices of meditation, intentional journaling and yoga, including sound bowl healing. She is also a participant in the Deconversion Anonymous Facebook group where she says, “It is safe to vent.”
Does prayer work?
Why am I here?
I am OK with not knowing.
You don’t have to unpack it all.
Once…the mind is stretched, it cannot go back to its original form. It just can’t.
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 slipery slope is really as slippery as they say.”
“It just all came apart in my hands until nothing was left”
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.”
Content Warning: This week’s story includes references to physical and emotional abuse, mental illness and suicidal ideation. Listener discretion is advised.
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.
“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…”