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.
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.
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 Deconversion Anonymous guest is Bethany. Bethany grew up in the Pacific Northwest, attending an Assemblies of God church. It was an insular experience of their brand of Christianity against the world.
The older Bethany got, the scarier the church doctrines—eternal torment, losing one’s salvation, the Apocalypse, faith healing that doesn’t always work and even demons under her bed.
“[My dad and his friends] were warriors for Christ, going out into the world fighting evil forces, but as a child, it was so scary to me…”
Bethany was a conscientious and sensitive teen. She ardently believed what she was taught and would believe even if it led to martyrdom.
“…[My parents and church] weren’t that extreme; I felt like I became really extreme.”
In college, Bethany got exposed to reformed theology and progressive Christianity. She began to think, “There is no, ‘God says,’ or ‘Scripture says.’ These are all interpretations.”
After college, Bethany moved to California. She immediately joined a church, but it wasn’t the same. She was no longer tied to it the way she had been; she finally had space to think for herself.
“It felt more like I had been indoctrinated my whole life, a constant stream of indoctrination…and then I finally got a break.”
In California, Bethany’s been able to think, hike, read and realize who she is without outside influence, but it hasn’t been easy. She’s been afraid and uncertain, still haunted by some of her old beliefs. But she is free and life is full even while she is still “in process.”
“Maybe I’m worthwhile in myself, and I can have strength and autonomy in myself.”
This week’s episode is Natalie. Natalie grew up in a traditional Christian household, one of six kids. Living in the South and attending a Southern Baptist church most of her childhood and adolescence, however, left a bad taste in her mouth.
“[At church, integration] was never talked about. It was a complete separation of community and religion, and yet the missionaries would come and show their slides about the brown people in South America and Africa that we were ‘saving.’”
One place she found solace? Books. Natalie was an avid reader from a young age and reading authors like Judy Blume opened her eyes to a whole good and happy world outside of her Christian bubble. Fictional, though it was, that world made her wonder, “How can [my family] be so unhappy and still have these beliefs about this religion?”
“Reading was really the gateway for me to questioning everything.”
Natalie escaped the South at seventeen for a few years and began seriously examining her childhood faith. Even as she was questioning her beliefs, she had to move back in with family. It wasn’t long amidst the chaos that she needed to escape again. After a quick and clandestine wedding, she and her husband moved.
“The further I got from my family, the easier [questioning] became until…I woke up one day and realized I hadn’t thought about a god for a long time.”
It’s been a while since Natalie deconverted, and she has lived a fulfilling life, with both happy and hard times. Today, seeing those who are deconstructing their faith, she empathizes deeply .
“You have to take everything you’ve been told most of your life and run it through a ringer to see what’s true…And a lot of it doesn’t survive.”
My guest this week is Phil Quagliariello who blogs at Phil Q Musings. Phil grew up moving around often as PK in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Churches and attending Christian schools even into college. Unfortunately, he saw the dark side of ministry when his father was removed from a church by its board for being too “new fangled.”
Phil eventually found himself in Calvary Chapel churches. They were were more exegetical, more focused on the Bible. He married and they both were worship leaders. Phil led worship for the service in which he was introduced to the idea of the “Emergent Church.” His marriage did not last, and Phil found himself seeking a church experience that was more authentic and “did not suck.” He found a faith community that met in the basement of a bar, and at first, it was satisfying.
Phil remarried a woman with two children. These children and the children they have together became the light of his life. When he became a father, he began to recognize the trauma of his upbringing: the fear of punishment and the fear of Hell. He focused on being parent who does not use fear as a weapon.
Phil began to seriously doubt Evangelicalism during the 2016 election. But he still hung on to the church experience until the Jan 6th insurrection when he could no longer call himself an Evangelical, a Christian or even a believer.
Phil has a particularly thoughtful answer to how he finds meaning in his life now.
My guest this week is Emily. Emily grew up in an Evangelical Free Church in the rural Midwest. She was on the Cubbies-Sparks-AWANA track. Around age 10, Her dad switched careers, went into ministry and she became a pastor’s kid. Her early childhood church experiences were fairly positive, but from a young age, she struggled with a severe fear of hell and the rapture.
The youth group setting was horribly unsuited to a sensitive introvert like Emily. She was miserable, being forced to attend churches where she didn’t know anyone except her parents. This discomfort in Christian circles continued into college.
After college, Emily spent a year in London working on a master’s degree. She immersed myself in the city’s amazing performing arts scene and met a lot of people with totally different backgrounds and beliefs to hers. That year expanded her horizons; when she moved back to the US, she pursued a career in performing arts administration.
For the first few years after grad school, Emily wasn’t ready to reject everything, saying she didn’t believe in God. However, she had no interest in going to church, praying, reading the Bible, etc. Then the 2016 election happened. She watched with horror as Christians whom she loved and admired went all-in for Trump. At that point, she wanted nothing more to do with Christianity.
[The White Evangelical embrace of Trump] turned my indifference that I had had towards Christianity into a feeling of disgust. I want nothing to do with this. I was so disillusioned and just repelled by it.
In the past 2-3 years Emily has really done the hard work of figuring out what she believes now and addressing the harm that her Christian background has caused. Emily has had to work through the baggage of purity culture as she is in her first long term relationship.
Therapy with a focus on religious trauma has been helpful; Emily is discovering who she is–relishing the arts and experiencing the joy of being a human being.
I’m so much happier now that I’ve left Christianity. As someone with a deep appreciation of the arts, I’ve found so much joy in embracing the beauty that humans create – music, theater, literature, etc. – without the need to glorify God as the source of inspiration. I love being able to navigate relationships and shape my life on my own terms, rather than trying to fit into the prescribed narrative that evangelical Christianity boxes people into. I also like sleeping in on Sundays!
My guest this week is Joel. Joel grew up in the WELS Lutheran church. He met his wife at a Christian group during college. They attended a few churches, one of which was Mars Hill, Mark Driscoll’s church.
Joel began to question what he had been taught. He began noticing discrepancies in scripture. He began to see the way the Church handled LGBTQ rights and the role of women was wrong.
Am I waiting for revelation to confirm what I have been taught or am I avoiding an inevitable confrontation with my real thoughts and beliefs.
He was able to reconnect with his sister as they grieved the loss of his grandfather. He discovered that she had deconstructed as well. He began to see atheism as not just reductionist and evil but as a viable option.
I got really afraid, to be honest, because I am not thinking “oh, I am finally learning the truth.” I am thinking, “I am losing this faith that I should be given and I am falling away I am going to be punished for it.”
Today he is making his unequally yoked relationship work with mutual respect and love. And he is experiencing “absolute joy that the shackles are off.”
It started to make me think of blind faith as a concept. And I started to think, “Am I also blindly faithful of things and what does that look like?”
My guest this week is Daniel Kelly, the new co-host of When Belief Dies. Daniel began as a Charismatic Christian, moved to an Orthodox Christian church and eventually was at a Bible church that preached through every verse in the bible.
Daniel was a dedicated Christian working in a Christian non-profit helping those with disabilities. His mother had MS when he grew up so he was focused on helping his family through difficult times and did not always get to be a kid.
I believed I had to be perfect and I had to be helpful to everyone in order to be valuable.
Daniel’s feminism and belief in the humanity of the LGBTQ community, led to moral objections to some of the harder Biblical passages that do not uphold the humanity and full autonomy of everyone. His serious investigations into theology and the Bible were some of the early seeds that led to deconversion.
The grief Daniel experienced leaving the faith and the loss were profound. He lost his faith, his community, the health of his relationship and on top of that the pandemic hit. He was isolated and alone. He experienced “Hell Anxiety” and worried he was a “vessel of wrath.” The first year after deconversion was one of the most difficult of his life.
He made it through and today he is the co-host of the When Belief Dies podcast. He is building healthy relationships and restoring family relations. He is experiencing the freedom to love people unconditionally.