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.
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…
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 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.
This week’s guest is artist Ursula Schneider. As a child, neither her charismatic church nor her unstable home were safe for her. There was a lot of mental illness at home and Ursula often felt abandoned by the church. Their family was simply “too much.”
“I look back and everything is so clear about why it went the way it went, but as a child you don’t understand…”
Ursula grew up, married young and began going to church again. As an adult, she needed something real to her. She saw that something in the women at church, so she dove right in—daily prayer, bible studies, women’s retreats, all of it.
“I guess what I believed was that, if I did enough of the things that I was being told to do, the feeling would follow…”
But Ursula kept bumping up against a certain church doctrine: women cannot teach men. She was a gifted leader and teacher but church after church kept her out of the pulpit.
“That is literally what you get told: ‘You’re listening to the doctrine of demons if you think it’s okay for you as a woman to be able to teach men.’”
At the last church she attended, Ursula faced the greatest challenge yet to her faith. Over the span of a few months, she and her husband went from being well-respected leaders to losing their entire community.
Ursula went through a depressive state and cried out to God, but no answer came. Over the next few years, Ursula would make beautiful art, write for herself and continue to question her religious beliefs.
“What happens when you start to question some of these closely held doctrines…is that things really do start to unravel.”
Since leaving, Ursula has dabbled in other faiths, wondering if any will fit her. Nothing has yet, but she is learning and growing as a whole person. She no longer has to squash part of herself or silence her own curiosity.
“…as I go through life, and I try on new ideas, each of them has something to offer me that’s valuable.”
Ursula’s art and writing empower others to exist as their whole selves in the world and to see beauty and inspiration in the world around them.
Ursula Schneider art exhibition through May 25th 2022, at D&R Art Gallery and Studio in Tucson, AZ.
My story is, I suppose, the story of a sincere seeker who, it turns out, is actually a huge threat to the organization of the church structure. Silly me, I thought the church was the place to be a seeker, but it turns out that they don’t want seekers, they want adherents. I was never a very good adherent in hindsight. But I gave my whole life to the church because I misunderstood that reality and in return, the church did its level best to silence me completely.
This week’s guest is Judah. Judah grew up “Church of God, Pentecostal adjacent,” where Judah’s father was convinced, “God is alive in these people.” By eight years old, Judah was speaking in tongues and absorbed into eschatology—the study of the end times.
Around ten, at a more “separatist” church, the family started homeschooling. His church and family were convinced they were right and everyone else was wrong. Answers in Genesis was the science curriculum, but Judah was also exposed to science on public television.
“I knew if [the creationism] pillar is knocked out; it’s going to be really hard to recover from.”
As a teen, another pillar began to crack. Judah believed his attraction to guys and girls was sinful. It felt like God was two opposing forces—one god you lean into for love and grace, the other shames and condemns you.
“If god really is all powerful, and I’m praying to him and wanting these things to go away, then why aren’t they going away and how can I be a better christian?”
Judah doubled down on young earth creationism and repressing his sexual attractions and dove deeper into eschatology. The family’s eschatology changed over time, but 2012 was the year the end of the world would come.
“Cling to family. Cling to beliefs. Cling to this idea that we will be saved from this awful place they call earth.”
Eventually 2012 comes and 2012 goes. This undid Judah. He spends the next three years learning what else was not true, debunking creationism, conspiracies and various theological matters.
“If I deconstruct this all, and I fully leave the faith, I’m willing to accept the fact that I’m risking hellfire but I care about the truth too much to live a lie for the rest of my life…”
Judah was a more liberal Christian for a while but eventually science and logic led him to become an agnostic atheist. He came out with his beliefs to his family in dramatic fashion and hasn’t looked back. His future is in his own hands and whether his family takes responsibility for their beliefs and actions during his childhood is in theirs. He now lives a life true to himself and his own values and ethics.
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 Monique. Monique grew up a cultural Christian until the family of her boyfriend “made it known they were Southern Baptists.” She married that boyfriend and had kids. He became abusive. First psychologically, then spiritually and eventually physically. He gaslit her, told her she was not worthy and that she was not following god, and called her purity culture epithets we won’t recount here.
How dare I question him [ex-husband], how dare I question god.
After years of isolation and spiritual abuse, Monique left after executing a cloak and dagger level plan to serve divorce papers and a restraining order simultaneously. Eventually, her kids were taken from her as he had lawyers and she did not. She was estranged from them for years.
Monique went through a deconstruction and deconversion that began to give her some peace. Her youngest son reached out to her to tell her he is gay. She opened up her arms and showed grace, love and respect. She and her daughter attempted to reunite but this was ruined when the daughter took offence to a passing joke about prayer.
I am not going to conform. I will not conform to meet someone else’s standards. I am who I am.
Today, Monique is free and loves learning true things. Her and her new husband (who happens to be a believer) have respect and love for each other. Monique is telling her story to give hope to others so they may know they are not alone.
You are not alone. I am here. I am may not be able to help you, but I am here with you.
My guest this week is Eli Fuhrmler-Wheeler. Eli grew up going to Awanas at an Evangelical Free church. Eventually, he attended an Assemblies of God church and spoke in tongues. His parents forbade him from going to that church and “of course I felt they were keeping me from the gates of heaven and pulling me into hell.”
Eli’s childhood was traumatic in many ways. He experienced sexual abuse, neglect, his mom was very sick her whole life, her boyfriends were abusive, his father had an antisocial personality disorder, and he lived on and off in foster homes.
Eli sought the comfort of drugs and alcohol. He discovered he was a lesbian. He was told he was going to hell by his family.
As an adult he began a relationship with his now wife. At 30 he realized he was a man and began transition. Eli has faced rejection by family and some friends. However, his gracefulness through it all has won some of them over.
[Rather than show grace, why not be angry at those who have not shown you grace?] That wouldn’t teach anybody anything. It wouldn’t teach me anything and it wouldn’t teach them anything.
Eli deconstructed from Christianity through the years. He has explored various world religions including Norse Heathenry and various mystic traditions.
Transition and therapy have given Eli the wholeness he deserves. Eli and his wife show unconditional love for one another. This is the relationship that Eli has experienced grace for himself.
My guest this week is Geoffrey Wallis, author of A Voice From Inside: Notes on Religious Trauma in a Captive Organization. Geoffrey is Physically In but Mentally Out (PIMO) of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. After recognizing the religious trauma and the cognitive dissonance he was experiencing he found help through therapy. He remains within the Watchtower organization because it is a “captive organization” which enforces shunning by family members and friends.