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.
My guest this week is Brette. Brette was so serious about her Christianity in junior high her goal was martyrdom. In her young adulthood, she followed her pastor’s advice and attended Master’s Commission, similar to a discipleship training program. Her experience there was nothing short of psychological torture.
Of course, everything was always very spiritualized there and this was no exception. Everything was either god or demons. One part of the program was that we all we went through deliverance (exorcism) while we were there that we spent weeks preparing for.
Her faith began breaking down as did her physical and psychological health at Master’s Commission. It included deliverance sessions and enumerating her demons. It wasn’t until she saw her younger brother being treated poorly that she began to question. She and her brother left: “leaving was the BEST feeling!”
But I had finally given myself permission to question things and it all unraveled pretty quickly from there.
After a brief stint in “spiritual but not religious” land, she finally admitted she no longer believed in god. She let go of “trying to make it be true.”
Since then it’s been really interesting to me to look back on my past experiences and understand them from a purely naturalistic and psychological perspective. It was really helpful to learn, too, about Religious Trauma Syndrome.
Brette has since discovered naturalistic and psychological explanations of her experiences that have given her more closure and comfort.
My guest this week is Troy Moore-Heart. Troy grew up in an Evangelical family in Texas and described his childhood self as a “true-believing born-again Christian” who was baptized by his father at 6 in his grandmother’s church. Troy experienced religious trauma, the natural childhood fears given the purported reality of a spiritual realm all around him. Later in life, when he acknowledged his sexuality he “fervently believed [he] was going to hell.” When he eventually came out to his family he needed to put up healthy boundaries.
It’s hard to be in relationships with people who think you’re going to Hell.
Troy started to call himself an agnostic and not an atheist for fear of losing his relationship with his family. After marrying as an adult, he came to terms with his religious trauma and anti-queer shame. He discovered secular humanism as “an ideological and moral home.”
We don’t need to believe in any supernatural deity or god or interventionist all powerful being to believe that we must be kind and moral.
Today, troy calls himself a progressive humanist, and he is focused on transformative justice. He is becoming a humanist celebrant. He supports projects like the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Y’all Means All and the Trevor Project. Troy also supports the thriving secular therapy community that is growing around trauma-informed therapy, including the Religious Trauma Institute and the Reclamation Collective.
My personal motto is: Do no harm but take no shit and work for peace and justice. For me that is humanism.
Troy requests that you consider signing the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Y’all Means All” pledge. “It’s become a galvanizing slogan to promote LGBTQ inclusion and advocacy in rural Southern communities.”
My returning guest this week is Alice Greczyn. Alice has written a new memoir called Wayward: Spiritual Warfare & Sexual Purity. In it, Alice tells the harrowing story of growing up in an Evangelical family that attempted to live by faith. They moved from place to place believing the “Lord would provide.” Alice describes it as being “homeless.”
Alice came of age under the oppressive sexual and purity mores of the “Kiss Dating Goodbye” era. She tells the story of being shamed while on a YWAM mission trip to India for being “flirty.”
And that’s I think the greatest mind f*** of Christianity as a whole: these awful feelings are called love. They’re done in the name of love. My wires of love and shame and fear and guilt and self hatred were so crossed and it took me years to even see that wiring.
As an adult in her 20s, in a desperate but final act of faith, Alice tests God. God fails. And Alice begins the difficult process of letting go of faith. This is a dark time of panic attacks, depression and self-harm.
When we’re told God is love, and love feels like this horrible, self-hating guilt complex, what is love, how can we recognize good love?
With the help of secular therapy and the discovery of the term, Religious Trauma Syndrome, Alice began her recovery process. She studied the science of faith, neurotheology, and began to understand herself and those around her who still believed. In this new freedom, she rebuilt her life reclaiming her autonomy and discovering what real love feels like.
And again it [understanding neurotheology] alleviated the pressure. God wasn’t ignoring me. There was nothing wrong with me. I wasn’t broken. I wasn’t this chronic sinner who was just born defective and unable to feel the love of God because I didn’t have enough faith. It’s simply to be a matter of science and that’s how most things are to me.
On top of being an author, Alice is an advocate for those questioning their faith. Her organization, Dare to Doubt, is a resource for those who are no longer satisfied with their faith tradition’s explanations and demands.
Yet this demographic [millennial “Nones”] is also resilient. We are as brave as the martyrs we were raised to be. We are battling the spiritual war we were trained to fight. We’re just not on the side of religion, and believe us—no one is more surprised by this than ourselves. We are condemned, prayed for, and loathed as much as we are feared. But persecution was once our fuel. Our skin is thick with the courage to fight for truth as we see it, and where we once saw through dogma-colored glasses, we now see through the lenses of relativity, reason, and the validity of our own experiences. It is easy to dismiss us as bitter. It is understandable to write off our deconversions as desperate attempts at individuation and rebellion. It is compassionate to ask us why we left, instead of praying for us to rejoin.
My guest this week is Suandria Hall. Suandria is a trauma informed counselor specializing in faith transitions. Her practice, My Choice My Power, is online and she offers mental health counseling to residents in Colorado and life coaching sessions online, by phone, and email for anyone.
What is more important to me than anything is being honest and being authentic about who I am and who I choose to be in this world. While pretending for a moment seemed easy. I really had no concept about how much I was about to unravel. Once I make this choice to say this out loud that I don’t believe this any more. What does that even mean? But I took a leap and I started to say out loud that I don’t believe this any more.
Suandria tells her story of being groomed for ministry in a very Charismatic community with rigorous honesty. In her early adulthood she began to question and eventually deconverted. She had a positive experience with a therapist who “held space” for her shifting faith positions. She then went on to become a secular counselor to help others through the same process.
What they are looking for is someone who doesn’t force any type of spirituality in the practice. They just want to show up and say let me just talk through some stuff.
We talk about the power of parents to influence children. And the damage that can occur when parents pass that responsibility on to an invisible god.
The child learns that the love the adoration the loyalty the devotion that a mother and a child would share with each other is now shifted. So now god becomes the number one.
Her approach to counseling is trauma informed and acknowledges Adverse Religious Experiences and religious trauma. She helps people going through the process of deconstruction and deconversion while being open to all faith positions.
Trauma is when our bodies our systems becomes overwhelmed, flooded with emotions, flooded with bodily sensations. It gets stuck.
My guest this week is Janice Selbie. Janice is a Registered Professional Counselor (RPC) in Canada helping people through religious trauma syndrome. Janice is the director of the Conference on Religious Trauma. Janice’s personal story of fundamentalism, tragedy and eventual freedom is inspiringly and honestly told on the episode.
Was it possible that everything I had believed had been wrong?
My guest today is Brian Peck. He is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) who specializes in religious-based trauma in his private practice and who helps guide individuals through their deconversions with evidence-based practices online. His practice is called Room to thrive and Brian describes it as “secular therapy for human well being.” It is trauma-informed therapy and coaching.
Brian has had a huge impact on me and my thinking. It was a great pleasure to get to pick his brain. You can hear me learning in real-time during our discussion.
If you have survived trauma (of any sort), your nervous system did exactly what it needed to do to survive.
My guest is Laura Anderson. We discuss religious abuse, religious trauma and the difference between them.
Abuse is the thing that happened to you. Trauma is the experience that your body or nervous system has as a response to the thing that happened to you.
Laura is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in the State of Tennessee, a Professor of Psychology and an Approved Supervisor through the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT). She has a Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy and is in the final stages of completing my completing her Ph.D. in Mind-BodyMedicine at Saybrook University. Laura specializes in complex trauma, religious trauma, religious abuse, and purity culture.
Laura has developed a manual for mental health professionals on Adverse Religious Experiences and Religious Trauma which is available on her website. This is a resource for both mental health professionals and those who have experienced adverse religious experiences themselves. Use the discount code: RELIGIOUSTRAUMA15 for $15 off the price of the manual.