Content Warning: graphic wound details, surgical processes, PTSD, emotional trauma, religious trauma and dark humor.
This week’s guest is Jack Robertson. Jack is a returning guest and an integral part of the Deconversion Anonymous Facebook group. Earlier this year, Jack’s youngest daughter, Emily, was in an accident, suffering severe burns on her body.
Jack explains how his online community and IRL friends stepped in to support his family but also recounts the platitudes and clichés given by the Christians in their lives.
Emily’s clearheadedness, dark sense of humor and incredible resilience has brought her a long way in the healing process—mentally, physically and emotionally. Jack and the rest of their family are also healing in their own ways, supporting one another and seeking professional help.
We are Human. We are social beings whose needs are not met by “a guy in the sky.” Our needs are met through our relationships with one another, especially those who are closest to us.
“It is heart wrenching to see someone you love go through that much pain…[and] there’s not anything else that you can do, other than hold their hand.”
“Do NOT, while people are still in ICU or a burn unit…message them and say, ‘You know? God only gives you what you can handle.’”
“If I have to be caught on fire, so you can look super to heal me, I want nothing to do with you.” —Emily
“You’re going to have to talk to a professional…You can get through it, no matter how difficult it seems in that moment…”
“You don’t need the clutching of a Bible or a rosary. You don’t need that. You and your family are what are going to get you through it. Not some guy in the sky…Talk to a professional.”
This week’s guest is Shannon. Shannon’ story delves into the emotional experience of deconversion. Shannon grew up in an Independent Fundamental Baptist church, where the teachings were pernicious.
“It’s like ‘Love Jesus. Love God. And be afraid of demons, ‘cause they’re everywhere and they’re going to get you!’”
As a teen and into adulthood, Shannon knew her own beliefs and convictions did not always align with her church or family. She tried to be who they wanted her to be, but her decisions were never quite enough for them.
“…showed me that no matter what I give, there will always be one step further. It’s just not good enough.”
Over the years, she slowly, like “mental velcro,” ripped out the only beliefs she had known. Where her family couldn’t hold space for her questions, her husband could. It was a hard journey, but she wasn’t on it alone.
“From, mentally saying, ‘This isn’t real. I think I’m done’ to being done? It was torture.”
Today, Shannon misses the certainty she used to have, the path laid out in front of her with easy answers. But she is able to see the world with new eyes—the glory and majesty of nature, the wonders of scientific inquiry. It has changed her for the better, and she isn’t looking back.
This week’s guest is April Ajoy, viral Tiktok’r, youTuber and podcaster. She is a “recovering conservative humorously detoxing religion.”
April had a unique childhood. She was homeschooled and spent half of each year in Pentacostal spaces and the other half traveling with her family, singing and evangelizing.
Her parents were evangelists and her grandfather was a pastor of a megachurch, so even as a young person April saw cracks in the traditions and beliefs. She didn’t see them as systemic, though, only random, separate incidents.
“[I was taught] don’t ask too many questions because if you ask too many questions, one day you’re going to wake up and become an atheist and go to hell.”
Over the next decade, tragedy hits April’s family and God does not step in to thwart it, a family member comes out to her and she realizes she cannot continue believing much of what white Christianity has painted as “good news”.
“I found myself not wanting to be around Christians…not being able to know what parts of my Self I could present until I could figure out what kind of Christian I was dealing with.”
Today, much of April’s childhood beliefs have been dissected and thrown out, but she is loving others in a much deeper way. She still considers herself a Christian and is fighting injustices in her own creative way.
“Humor is how I cope with trauma.”
On social media, April tackles all the difficult subjects—white supremacy, misogyny, purity culture, the absurd things evangelicals post online and more! She brings levity and fun to serious topics in a way that will make you laugh out and that is good medicine.
NOTE: This transcript is AI produced (otter.ai) and likely has many mistakes. It is provided as rough guide to the audio conversation.
0:11 Welcome to the show.
2:12 What was the faith tradition that you grew up with?
6:04 Being a pastor’s kid.
10:51 The biggest thing that opened my eyes was my dad’s death.
14:13 What it was like to be an outsider in the Christian world.
20:17 On the day the Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage.
25:04 The seeds of deconstruction are within Christianity itself.
27:41 Did you go to assemblies of God schools?
34:01 If you’re a Christian and you don’t like Trump, you get kicked out of the club.
41:10 Is satire intentional? How does it change people’s minds?
44:22 The role of women in the church and gender roles.
50:07 The sexy deconstruction commercial.
55:52 How EvangelicalIsh came to be.
1:00:59 Where can you find April?
1:04:46 How do we know what we know is true?
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 rating and reviewing the podcast on the Apple podcast store, rate the podcast on Spotify, and subscribe to the podcast wherever you are listening. Please remember that we have the deconversion anonymous Facebook group where people are connecting with one another who are going through deconstruction and deconversion. And we typically have a Tuesday evening discussion of the previous week's podcast so come and join that facebook.com/groups/deconversion Special thanks to Mike T for editing today's episode. onto today's show. My guest today is April joy. April has a very large following on Tik Tok and Instagram. She began doing satire videos of evangelical culture and her experiences growing up in evangelical culture and went viral almost immediately. April was the real deal. She was the daughter of an evangelist she traveled around. She sang in many churches with her father. She worked for CBN she went to very conservative colleges. She's a very interesting story of someone who was deep in the evangelical world, and even just a few years ago, would have considered herself an evangelical. Since then she has deconstructed. She is currently the co host of the evangelical ish podcast, and continues to do satirical videos on Tiktok and Instagram. Here is April Ajoy to tell her story.
April Ajoy, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.
April Ajoy 2:19
Hi, thanks for having me.
David Ames 2:21
Hey, we want to give credit to our Arline who is the deconversion anonymous Community Manager for reaching out to you thank you to Arlene for bringing this connection. April, what I've learned about you so far is that you have a pretty large Tiktok and Instagram following you do comedy and satire about growing up evangelical or evangelical culture of today. You're also the co host of evangelical ish. And you guys are how would you guys describe yourself as progressive Christians? Is that what you would say?
April Ajoy 2:47
Yeah, probably. We're all in kind of different places. And Christian is kind of like a cringe word sometimes. But yeah, I guess if we were putting us in a camp, progressive Christian would probably fit.
David Ames 3:02
You all are working it out, though. Yeah.
April Ajoy 3:04
We're working it out. We're on a journey. Yeah.
David Ames 3:07
So we will talk more about your work the latter half. But I want to begin with your story. And we often begin with what was the faith tradition that you grew up with?
April Ajoy 3:15
Sure. So I grew up my my parents were evangelists, more Pentecostal, nondenominational. I think my grandfather, who was also a pastor was Assemblies of God. Okay. So we kind of but we left Assemblies of God and had dinner, non denominational churches, but pretty close to Assembly of God.
David Ames 3:41
That happens to be the tradition that I in my late teens that I converted into, so Ooh,
April Ajoy 3:47
we probably have some, we probably have some things we could talk about. Um, yeah, so but yeah, Pentecostal, but I had a unique when I say it out loud, it feels weird. But my so my dad was an evangelist, and my mom would seeing like before he would preach in churches all over America and all over the world. So growing up, I was homeschooled for most of it until like random years, like I randomly went to seventh grade public school and high school, on and off, but we would travel in a motorhome. And so we would be visiting a different church, probably for half the year growing up. So I was in like, hundreds of different churches of all types of denominations, which my dad was pretty Pentecostal, but we'd still go to like some Methodist and Baptist churches. So kind of good taste, if at all.
David Ames 4:38
Can I interject there? And just Yeah, please. So I think that is definitely unique and that many people grew up in a single church. They really have this, not just the monoculture of evangelicalism, but the monoculture of their specific church. Growing up, did you gain some insights that you have some did you notice the differences between the churches as you went from Sunday to Monday.
April Ajoy 5:01
Yeah, I mean, we would obviously if we're like, oh, we're speaking at a Baptist church this week, because I would sing before my dad would preach to you. We'd like, you know, kind of tone it down a little bit. Like, we knew our audience, right? Um, but yeah, like, I mean, there were like inside jokes of, you know, the you gotta beat the Presbyterians to the restaurant because they get out before the Pentecostals. You know, just like dumb things like that. So yeah, I did notice some differences. And I think having the exposure to so many different denominations, I never, I never fully bought into. Like, we're the only ones that have it. Right. Right. Okay. Like, I believe that we had it right, and that these people had it wrong, but I wasn't as dogmatic about it, like with the different denominations, because I met so many people from different denominations who were nice. Yeah. Um, so yeah. And I don't know, I don't know how far you want me to go. But
David Ames 5:59
let's, yeah, so you you were traveling with your dad, you would sing before he spoke? Yeah. And you were able to see a lot of different churches.
April Ajoy 6:07
Yes, it but also so my grandfather was a pastor of a pretty large church in the Dallas, Texas area, in the night in the 80s. And 90s. had about 4000 members, which is pretty big for back then. And so my dad was also the CO pastor. So when we were home, because I'm originally from Dallas, when we were home, my dad would speak at that church. So I also, I was kind of a half pastor's kids. I have like the PK, like, you know, people all up in your business, like experience plus the being in different churches every week. So yeah, fun, fun time.
David Ames 6:42
I bet. I've had a lot of pastors kids talk about that. Having to hold the family secrets and how pain?
April Ajoy 6:50
Yes, yes. And I think I think I still deal with that. Sometimes trying trying to unlearn it's just like caring way too much of what other people think. Because so much of being a pat, like a pastor's family is not necessarily doing the right thing, but at least appearing like you're doing the right thing.
David Ames 7:09
That's wild though.
And then how about like, when you were in your teen years, were you still like, was it first of all, let me ask the question. Was this something that, that you believed yourself? Or was it something that was just passed on to you by your family?
April Ajoy 7:30
Yeah, I mean, it was passed on, but I definitely believed it. I was full on I was in it. I wanted to pretty much take over my dad's ministry when I grew up and being, you know, felt called to be in full time ministry myself at different times. So yes, I definitely believed it. And then in high school, we had moved to Florida, but we did. This is this is one of my receipts, because now when I speak out against stuff, I get a lot of comments that are like, You were never really a Christian. And so one of my receipts is I'll play me singing an original song that I wrote called America, St. Jesus on the Jim Baker show.
David Ames 8:09
Okay, yeah, that's
April Ajoy 8:12
okay. Yeah, here I am. I mean, this is a weird brand of Christian but still Christian. Um, so we did that in high school, my dad wrote a book called America sage Jesus, and was on the Jim Baker show for it. And we did a three month caravan, where we drove a 40 foot bus that had America sage, Jesus written all over it from South Florida to California, and then back and then up to DC. And back. And that was wild, right? Especially when we drove up and down the Las Vegas Strip, like several times, because my dad thought it was funny. In a bus that said, America stage Jesus everywhere. Yeah. So and I remember like, I should have been way more embarrassed than I was, but I was like, 16 min. Like, this is so cool. And normal.
David Ames 8:56
Yeah. Interesting. Yeah. Yeah, it was not. It was not so cool, ya know? And so, like, at what point do you start to see some cracks?
April Ajoy 9:10
Yeah, so I think I had seen cracks pretty much my entire life, seeing behind the scenes, seeing, you know, hypocrisy and just people being crappy. And, like, I, I had seen plenty of bad things, but somehow was able to have enough cognitive dissonance to like, somehow separate it from the whole, like, these are just one offs, you know, like, oh, that person just is deceived or being led of Satan. Like, that's not it's not a systemic thing. It's just bad people. You know, like, nobody's perfect. So anytime you have people involved in a church, it's not going to be perfect. So you kind of find ways to justify, like, just seeing bad things happen. So I had like, you know, little questions here or there. But you're kind of you see what happens to other people that really question and then they wait make up an atheist, like I remember, like, this is not this has been said to me many times. I don't know if my family actually but like in Sunday school and stuff, they're like, Don't ask too many questions. Because if you ask too many questions one day, you're gonna wake up and you're gonna be an atheist, you're gonna go to hell, like that quick. So I'm like, oh, okay, I guess I just won't ask these questions. So you just kind of learn to when questions pop up, you just kind of don't think about it. You just move on. Because they demonize people that
David Ames 10:30
Yes. Like me, you know, that go to? Yes, yes.
April Ajoy 10:34
Yes, yes. Because no, because obviously, you couldn't come to those conclusions on your own, you have to be led by Satan. And Satan's involved somehow.
So the probably the biggest thing that opened my eyes was my dad when I in 2011. So a little over 10 years ago, got cancer. And when he when we caught it, it was stage four. And I had never really dealt with cancer, like I knew of people that had had cancer, but they were not close to me. So being Pentecostal, we like, just knew that God was going to heal my dad, and it was just not going to be a thing. And he still went through radiation and chemo, but it was so far advanced that he passed within four months of being diagnosed. And there so there were like two things that really woke me up in this scenario, because I think this was by far the biggest change, and then the rest, the rest of things kind of fell into place, like over the next 10 years. But one just wrestling with the question of like, okay, I've been taught, you know, name and and claim it, you know, as long as you have enough faith, God's gonna answer your prayer. And I knew that I had enough faith, like, I was probably living in denial, but I was just like, No, my dad's gonna be healed. So I was wrestling with the fact that, okay, so that's not true. And then to Christians were just really the way that they responded both when my dad had cancer. And then after there were all these Pentecostal ministers that we hadn't heard from in years, suddenly would just like, show up to my dad's hospital room like and like they wanted to have. They wanted to be the ones to get credit for, like saying the quote, unquote, healing prayer. And it just kind of became a little bit of a circus to where we just stopped letting people in. And then we were being blamed for like, being out of God's will, because we wouldn't let these people come in and pray for my dad. And then when my dad died, these people saying like, Oh, well, that's because you didn't let us in. Or because we didn't have enough faith or because my dad was out of God's will, or because there was some unresolved sin in the family that so there were just like, all of these excuses coming from Christians that were really painful, because we were also going through a huge loss. And I don't know, it was just kind of, I saw a dark side of Christianity that was happening, like directly to me and my family, and then people trying to blame me. For my dad's death, oh, my goodness, which I bought in like, different ways of like, oh, maybe it was, like, maybe God was using this to wake me up. And, you know, like, just like, really dark things that are very hard to wrestle with. And so that kind of led to, I immediately started questioning and deconstructing, like, my more Pentecostal beliefs, but I was still very much like, you know, diehard Republican, because in my mind, if you were a Christian, you are a Republican, they went hand in hand. So, so yeah, that was probably the first thing that that started the path. So it was like a theological issue around healing, that kind of jump started the whole thing. And then 10 years later, and now here I am,
David Ames 14:08
I don't want to make this about me at all. But I just just to say, I just lost my father in law to cancer. It was very similar. We, we found out in November, and we lost them in at late in late January. And of course, of course, I'm not a believer, and I was trying to support my very, very believing family. And the, the observation kind of as an outsider is the hollowness. The platitudes, you know, there is an element of denial, you know, being in denial. And now I'm watching the that real grief as they process the loss and anyway, I'm very sorry for your loss.
April Ajoy 14:47
Thank you, and I'm sorry for your loss. I know. It would be interesting now. Like with like, what I believe now going through like great, not that I would no one wants to go through loss, but just seeing how I process it. Because another thing I noticed As to I don't know if you've seen this, but there's a lot of almost lying to yourself, like people would be like, very dismissive of our pain and be like, Oh, well, you know, he was healed. Like, God gave them the ultimate healing, because he's in heaven now. And you know, and I kind of bought on to that too, for a while, because it was kind of what kept me going. But it was just like, you know, just kind of gaslighting a little bit. Yeah. Yeah, like, like, oh, like, Oh, God didn't heal my dad. No, he did. Like, that was not the prayer that I asked for.
David Ames 15:32
And you know, and just to acknowledge, again, like, when you are the one who has experienced the loss, this is your data. It may not be you know, other than your mom, any other figure in your life who's more important. And they, I don't know, the minimization of your grief when they say something like that, right? That just the lack of empathy, the total lack of empathy is painful. Yeah.
So obviously, grief and the way that the Christians handled, your grief was leading to a lot of questions and you kind of said, there's this 10 year process, but give us a little insight into what what that looked like. Like what yeah, what in particular?
April Ajoy 16:22
Sure. So there are obviously other things that had happened. I found myself I probably used to be more of an extrovert and I found I found myself moving to be more introverted. I was going to Regent University at the time, which is Pat Robertson school. You were the real Yeah, I
I later worked for Pat Robertson, was a producer for 700 Club
Interactive. Wow. So yes, I have. It's been a journey. So but yeah, so I find myself like not really wanting to be around Christians like not feeling. I found myself like not being able to know what parts of myself I could present. Yeah, until I figured out what kind of Christians I was dealing with. Interesting.
David Ames 17:11
Yeah, yeah. Code switching in the Christian world.
April Ajoy 17:14
Yeah, like, I like at Regent like I had, I had already deconstructed alcohol. So I was drinking, like, not like getting drunk or like, anything crazy, because I'll still go look Christian. But, you know, like, and drink wine and stuff like that. And I remember like, trying to figure out what other Christians that region drink, you know, and be like, hey, yeah, my favorite story of Jesus is when he turned water into wine. Right? This is like gauge. Exactly. Yeah. And it was alcohol, not grape juice, right? Because there are those that are like, No, it was grape juice back then it wasn't really alcohol. Okay. Okay. We take everything literal, except that
David Ames 17:53
right? Yeah, I remember that in the assemblies. Yeah, for sure.
April Ajoy 17:58
Yeah. So the next, the next big thing that happened was one of my brothers have two brothers who I'm really close to, because we're only a year and a half apart, they're twins. And we grew up in the same childhood. So I'm very close to them. And one of those brothers came out to me about six years ago, as gay. And he had new since he was in middle school, but just had begged God to take it away. And one of the things that I had been taught growing up was that people choose their sexuality and choose to be gay, and it's just the worst thing that you could do, you know, like, turned over to a reprobate mind, it's an abomination. Like we, my church did not like gay people. And so and when he told me he was, like, just sobbing, because I was the first and he had told him he was 26 at the time, and had kept that secret for that long. And so I like immediately, immediately changed. Like, I had kind of already been questioning that but I never had a personal reason to really dive into why I believed what I believed. Right. And so you know, my brother coming out to me because I knew him and it wasn't some fictitious you know, nameless group of people that you hear about from the sermon it was my brother
David Ames 19:27
love that person. Yeah, you know, right.
April Ajoy 19:28
I love that person. So I was like, Okay, it's definitely not a choice I believe you and he had originally cuz he's still a Christian to had this originally came out saying he wanted to be celibate because he still believed it was a sin and but that like couldn't change and I was still there and I was like, okay, yeah, and probably at the time, it was easier to swallow because he said he wanted to be celibate because I still just having that ingrained in you and indoctrinated into you that that is sinful and then it will send you to hell like it was though it took it took some time to unlearn all of that your theology. But yeah, so that that was six years ago. And then I do remember though that and this was before my brother came out. I was working at CBN, like I mentioned earlier, and I was in a cubicle. And it was the day that Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage. So I'm sitting in my cubicle at CBN and doing little breaking news goes off like It's like Supreme Court rules, whatever. And you see on video all celebrations happening all over the country, right? Yeah. But in that room, you would have thought someone like blew up our studio, like, the lady next to me was like, I kid you not goes Dean Supreme Court rules favor of gay marriage. She goes, Oh, Jesus, come quick, evil gays are taken. And people just thought, like, even then, and I had not even deconstructed but I was like, You people are crazy. Like, this is not. Y'all need to calm down. This. This seems like a huge overreaction.
David Ames 21:12
I've always been fascinated by this concept of the gay agenda, where it's like, here's a disenfranchised group of people who have no power in society has, you know, repressed them and, you know, somehow they are taking over the world in some way or another. It's ridiculous.
April Ajoy 21:30
Oh, yeah. It's, there's so many Boogie man's Yeah, it's it. Like, that's, that's what I realized, too. Looking back to there's just, it's just they say they're against canceled culture. But they are the ones that cancel all of the things. Yeah. Like, it's, yeah, I was always we were always in a fight some kind of fight against some kind of culture war that we pretty much we're making up in our heads, right.
David Ames 22:03
And so like, how does this resolve itself? So obviously, you know, some major milestones? So major questions? Where did you land? Where do you feel like you are these days?
April Ajoy 22:15
Sure. So, um, I, I've deconstructed quite a bit, it's kind of a buzzword these days. I would still consider myself a Christian. But I don't know I just because I feel like that closely, would resemble where I am. But I don't really hold to a lot of the evangelical beliefs. Yeah, if any of the, if any of those. So like, I believe in the teachings of Jesus. And I would say that I follow the teachings of Jesus, because I think that the the story, it's a beautiful story. And there's really good to be had of just like being selfless, and taking care of the marginalized and loving your neighbor and doing all the things that I don't see the evangelical church doing much of. So but like, I don't believe in hell, like an eternal conscious torment. Right. And honestly, once that one left, it was kind of, I've kind of landed on, you know, there's a lot that I don't know, and I'm still figuring it out. But I, the biggest difference now, between where I was, is I don't feel this pressure and this need to know, because when I was in evangelical spaces, I had certainty. And I had a very black and white way of thinking of this as absolute truth. And this is right, and this is absolutely wrong. And it's exhausting living in that binary. But in some ways, it's, it's easier because you can put things in boxes, and you don't have to think about it. Like it doesn't, you don't have to use a lot of logical thinking or critical thinking, because people just tell you what to think. And you just put things in black or white. That's right. We're now I'm kind of just living in the messy gray. And I don't know, like, I'm just finding myself being okay to not know and being okay. In this kind of, you know, I don't have to have an answer for everything. Because at the end of the day, especially when we're talking about spiritual, our spirituality, and God and like these really high level questions that we've all had at certain points in our life, none of us know. Yeah, like, you know, like, none of us had have died, and then like, come back to life, you know, to tell us like, Oh, I was in heaven for years, or I was reincarnated or, you know, all these different belief systems and like, good, none of us know. But I think that's okay. And just trying to be respectful of everyone's beliefs were before it was like, I didn't respect other people's beliefs because I knew that I am the like, What I know is correct. You know, people call me now I reminded and I would take it as a compliment, like, well, I can afford to be narrow minded because I'm right. Yeah, yes. So
David Ames 25:06
one of the things, a common theme that comes up is the seeds of deconstruction or deconversion, or whatever are, are within Christianity itself, that the push for humility, the push for honesty, the seeking after truth, all of those things tend to lead slightly outside of Christianity. And I think you're a really good example of that of just kind of struggling to figure out which bit which bits do I keep? Which bits needs to go than that? Yeah, I'm really challenging.
April Ajoy 25:36
Oh, yeah. When I think and I have said this before. And I remember like on a podcast, I think that other co hosts. But I think another big difference, too, is growing up in the church, especially in evangelical spaces, because so much of it is about presentation. And in like playing a good Christian role, that I was trying really hard to be a good Christian. And that made me a bad human. Sometimes, where now I've shifted it. And like, I just want to try to be a good human like to all people and by default, I, I feel like I've I'm actually a better Christ follower, like better Christian in that regard. But yeah, like, there's just, there's a lot of cognitive dissonance that you have to have to be in really extreme evangelical spaces. Like, for example, I was always taught growing up that, like, doesn't matter what you do, God loves you, and God will forgive you. And like, it seriously, doesn't matter. Like it's our relationship. It's a relationship, not religion, even though we were like, so religious. Like it's a relationship, it's not religion, it's based on grace only, like God forgives you of all your son's like, just because he loves you like, it's great that it you don't have to do anything to earn it. But then on the flip side, I grew up being like, don't steal cookie out of the cookie jar, you kids, because Jesus might come back, and then you're not going to make the rapture. And it's like, this, you all these scare tactics, like, Well, don't do this. And don't do that. Don't do that and follow all these rules, you know, just in case. And it's like, well, which is it? Is God, Does God love me? And is it completely by grace? Or is it works, and you live in this balance of it somehow being both and somehow, it like you? I don't even know how I justified it in my head. But I did and was just like, yes, it's by grace. But also you have to follow all of these rules that we're adding to the Bible, which is not like as if the Bible didn't already have too many rules. There's extra ones, especially at Assemblies of God. We have this saying for all had sinned and fallen short of the Assemblies of God. Yes.
David Ames 27:41
Exactly. Yeah, totally.
April Ajoy 27:42
Yeah. Did you go to Assemblies of God schools,
David Ames 27:45
I did college. So I went to a very small assemblies, college that no longer exists. California, very, very theologically conservative, very politically conservative, as well. And I talked about I joke that the irony was that I had fantastic professors. And I joke that the professors did too good a job, they really taught me critical thinking. They taught me really good biblical interpretation, and exegesis, and hermeneutics and all those things. And a lot of that is what led to, you know, many years down the road, which led me to going, this isn't true anymore. And yeah, yeah. So that was quite an experience.
April Ajoy 28:25
Yeah, I've some of the pushback that I get, which I get a lot from current evangelicals. say like, oh, well, I just went to school and got a liberal education and Satan use that. Yeah. I'm like, Yeah, I went to two Assemblies of God schools for undergrad and then I went to pat robertson school for grants. Yeah. I don't know what kind of liberal indoctrination you thought I was getting.
David Ames 28:49
That's right. Yeah. Like I worked in the tech field and have for many years now, but my my Bachelor's is in church leadership. Not a terribly marketable
April Ajoy 29:01
now. You probably really good at stacking chair.
David Ames 29:04
April Ajoy 29:07
Good stack a chair. That's right. All right. Yeah. Go ahead.
David Ames 29:11
Please. This is your story.
April Ajoy 29:13
Oh, no, I was just going to tell you a fun. It's not really fun. But one of the Assemblies of God schools that I went to, in Texas, stupid, like ridiculous rules. I could I could rail on the school forever. I only lasted a year. And I was still like evangelical at the time. But they had a purity week. So this school had chapel every single day, on a normal week. But on purity week, they had chapel morning and night. And it was mandatory that you had to go to all of them. And at the very end, they gave an altar call for everyone to come forward to pledge their purity in front of God and in front of all of your student body and they gave out these cards that you would vow to save yourself for marriage and you would check whether you were a virgin or a secondary.
David Ames 29:59
Oh my goodness. But
April Ajoy 30:02
it was so cringy. But all of us went forward because they also would like, they would take note of who wouldn't go forward because that's who then you'd have to keep an eye on to potentially kick out, you know, they were being devious. So
David Ames 30:15
yeah, they last thing on their college front is that it was simultaneously you know, the the time period where you're becoming an adult. And and it was infantilizing, because it was, you know, we're gonna wrap you in this bubble. And and if you break any of these rules, you're out of here, like Yeah, so I have very bittersweet memories of college time. Yeah.
I do want to segue more to your work. And so I'd like to hear the beginning of your decision to start to be a public figure or to start to make public commentary about evangelicalism. How did that come about? And and talk about some of the work that you do?
April Ajoy 31:03
Sure. So back in 2016, when Donald Trump began to run, and at that point, I would have still called myself an evangelical and a Republican in 2016. But although my person was Kasich, so a lot of people would have called me a rhino at the time, so I was definitely more like moderate, like moderate, right.
David Ames 31:27
Quick comment, like I was, I was telling all of my Christian friends, why aren't you voting for kissick? Like he is? Absolutely the Christian guy. Why aren't you? Oh, for sure. It made no sense to me whatsoever. What why Trump? I don't get it.
April Ajoy 31:40
No, I, you know, what? Neither do I still I still to this day, do not get it. Like I understand the background of it. Like I like I get it. But I also don't get it. I'm like, how do you not see? So anyway, so Trump, like I don't even need to go into detail. We all lived, we all lived through that no need to re traumatize us all. So I started just kind of seeing friends and family mainly mainly from church because I was friends with a lot of people from like, my dad's church, and just different churches, ministry, whatever. Really jumping on the Trump bandwagon. And so in 2016, would not vote I was a never Trumper. So did not vote for Trump, but also at that point, had a lot of unlearning to do still when it came to Democrats. So I also did not vote for Hillary because it was just like, Oh, my conscious. So I voted third party. And I would like make little posts like, hey, we could you don't have to vote for the Republican like, hey, Christians, like, you don't have to do that. You know, if your conscience won't let you vote for Trump, like, right, you don't have to. And I started getting just so much pushback, so much hate from, from church people. And I wasn't even saying anything necessarily really negative about Trump, I was just giving people permission to like, vote the other. And I even would say like, you can be a Christian and vote for a Democrat. And this idea that you can't is stupid, that people got very mad, very, very hard about that. They're like, like, yeah, so anyway, so I would kind of I wrote a couple blog posts, and I would post on Facebook every once in a while. But it just got really exhausting having to deal with the pushback that I would get from people that I know, especially like, a couple of people had said to one of my brothers, and my mom, too, and to me, so there's like different people that said this, that my dad would be disappointed in me because I didn't vote for Trump, like my late father. So I was just like, Man, y'all are worshipping this man, and I do not get it. So we survived few years. 2020 happens the pandemic, we're all stuck at home. I hear about this tick tock app, kids are talking about it. Like what is that a teen dancing app? I don't know. But it's a pandemic. And I'm stuck at home with my two little kids and my partner. So I download Tiktok. And just because I was bored, and I started making some mom videos, and then one day, and it was made 2020 I made one video that basically the the message was if you're a Christian, and you don't like Trump, you get kicked out of the club. Yeah. And it went really viral and got like almost a million views at the end. So, but I was surprised because most of the people that I was getting comments from like, yeah, I got some hate. But the majority of the comments were like, Oh, my gosh, me too. I thought I was the only one. And so I found like 1000s of Christians who didn't like Trump, but had never vocalized it because they were scared of, you know, all the pushback I was getting of being ousted and just the hate that you get from going against the grain. And so it just kind of became a thing. I was like, oh, there's there's like a need here. So I started making more political slash Christian content. went and kind of really accelerated my deconstruction, just kind of I was like, Okay, I'm going to take this year because I was home just had extra time on my hands like, and I'm really going to look at a lot of other like topics that I've never thought about like hell, and the rapture and racism, which was a huge one. Especially because like George Floyd and locally, we had some Black Lives Matter protests that I went to a lot of them and that seeing some of the like worship leaders and pastors that showed up to counter protest us in our in our protest was just to move a Confederate statue to our local museum. So not even not even destroy it. Like we wanted to move it to a museum. And the people thought we were Marxists trying to take over this town. It was, it was ridiculous. They, but yeah, but But one time, one of the local Baptist pastor showed up with his big ol Bible, and was preaching at us at the Black Lives Matter side. And one of the one of the things that he said in his sermon was that we needed to repent because the color of sin is black. Oh, dear. Oh, like, what, and then like, so in video of that went somewhat viral. And so people were accusing him of being racist, which he was. So then he went Facebook Live for like an hour, and just double down and was like, I'm not racist. It's impossible for me to be racist, because I'm a Christian. And and then he was like, I have a black friend. Like, he's all that typical stuff, like, oh my gosh, and so just realizing like, oh, the racism, so I also started digging into the just the history of the church and history of just Christianity in general, and how historically, we've been quite problematic. You know, but we don't ever hear it. We're all like growing up, especially being homeschooled. And with a Becca or Bob Jones curriculum, you know, Christianity was always portrayed as good, never bad. You know, so there's just, I just had to start speaking out more so that I just started making more and more content, and started gaining more people. I honestly, like, I kind of got a big audience on accident. It was just, you know, just finding an outlet. Really, it was an outlet to release some frustration that I was feeling from. Oh, just the world, like even even thinking back to the time when Trump was president. Like, I get anxious. Like, every day, I was watching the news. Is this the day we go into World War Three?
David Ames 37:35
No, seriously, the existential angst that I felt for that, you know, five years or so was so long? Unbelievable.
April Ajoy 37:45
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. So it was just like, yeah, it was awful. I would hate to, I get anxious thinking about 2024. And when I see all these people talking about Trump again, I'm like, I can't No.
David Ames 37:58
Just one more comment, like, Trump is so easy to make fun of, but I am, I'm still astonished. I'm old enough to have grown up in the 80s. When, you know, Russia was the big, bad, evil, and the movement towards the Republican Party moving towards pro Russia. Following Trump was astonishing to me. So I mean, you know, obviously, all these other things were ridiculous, the level of racism, I my naivete was shattered. You know, I had an early post where I was like, Listen, you all know that racism comes along with it. Maybe you're not a racist, but Trump is. So if you're supporting him, you are supporting racism. And I got just this huge blowback. And I thought, I was like, you know, then there was my ignorance of not recognizing that this had always been true. All right, but yeah, but just there's so many things that is just astonishing that the conservative group of people sold out every principle they said they held in. Sorry, you got Yeah, you got me.
April Ajoy 39:02
Why do you think that was my biggest, you know, dirt? Like I honestly probably would have considered myself an evangelical until about a year ago, okay. Because I was just like, holding on, because I, I think too, when your whole life, my whole life was that and up until, like we had moved to, we'd moved recently during Trump and I had always worked as either a worship leader at a church, like any church that I was a part of, I was a leader and at some point, and I had resigned my most recent worship leader, position, like right before the pandemic. And so we were still going to church weekly, until the pandemic forced us not to even and we still streamed it, you know, so I do think there was something of one yeah, these these people that I had respected and thought were voices for God and you know that that meant it when they said love your neighbor and you know, things that I believed and listened to and even though I was problematic and very Republic And, you know, had some racism that I had to deal with. Like, I at least wanted to, like, do good, right, you know, like that, you know, like do the right thing. And then seeing all these people somehow justify doing terrible things. You know, you mentioned how supporting Trump is like supporting racism. I had made the comment, I think it was after. I think it was after that one debate where he was debating Biden, and he told the proud boys to stand by or what, whatever he said. And I was like, God, can we stop supporting this man now? Like, he couldn't clear like, that's an easy, that's a softball answer. There's an easy answer, and he didn't do it. And then I got so much pushback. And people mean, like, Donald Trump's the least racist person, like name, name, one thing racist he's ever done. And I was, like, easy, and then I like literally name 10. Thanks. Sure. Because I was like, I'm gonna own this answer. I named 10 things with with sources of this and and to see them somehow justify those things not being racist. Or then they're like, well, Biden is worse. I'm like, Oh, my gosh, I cannot I cannot handle these people. anymore. I'm an ex Evangelical, I want no part of this group.
David Ames 41:19
Like that's, that's fun. Yeah. Awful.
So another topic I want to talk about. And then I think what we'll do is we'll just we'll cover some of the specific items that you you tackle in your videos. Sure, is comedy in general, is satire. And, you know, was that in the use of satire? Intentional? Do you see that? How does it actually change people's minds? That kind of thing? Let's talk sure comedy as the media.
April Ajoy 41:53
Yeah. So I've always considered myself just, I don't know, a funny, funny ish person. I like comedy. Humor is just how I cope with trauma in general, like I can, I can laugh about dark things. And most people feel like oh, my goodness, I'm just dealing with trauma. So that was part of it. But it wasn't necessarily intentional, but I just kind of realized there's enough people who are vocal about the evangelical church, like in a in a serious, really, you know, intellectual way. And I just have so many ridiculous experiences that I was like, I feel like I could just, like, portray this in a comedic way, and maybe exaggerated slightly, although a lot of the stuff I do like, isn't even exaggerated. It's like, it's hard to make satire these days. Because reality is at, like, just out of this world. Yeah, but one thing that I've kind of realized is that with comedy, sometimes it can get a message across, that's a little more palatable. Where if, you know, if I go at someone and like, Trump supporters are idiots, you know, like, immediately turned out like, you know, no one's gonna listen to me anymore. But if I show in a sketch them saying completely contradictory statements in a conversation, you know, then it's like, oh, oh, is that? Is that how we sound? Which to be fair, most of them still won't get it? Or if they do, they're like, well, Democrats are worse. You know, baby killer, whatever, whatever the Yeah, the next thing is, yeah, I found that it also comedies a little subjective to so I actually get myself in trouble sometimes, because I'll do something, you know, comedic, making fun of a certain mountain, no ideology and evangelicalism. And there are people who are still evangelicals that that will find it funny. And then start following me thinking that I'm just an Evangelical, or they took it like a slightly different way. And then like, and then they see my other stuff, and then they get really mad, and then I like sailed a little too close to the sun there.
David Ames 44:06
I always think of Steven cold air when he did his original show. There was an aspect of people not really understanding that he was doing satire. There were lots of conservatives that followed his work. And so it sounds like that similar, but the same kind of thing happens to you.
April Ajoy 44:22
Yeah, yeah. Yes, it does. And you like specific groups, like I'll call I've called out Bethel. I don't know if you're familiar with Bethel Bill Johnson. Yeah. Which in California. Big. I've had issues with Bethel even before I fully deconstructed but anyway, I made a video where I specifically called out like, all the weird things that Bethel has done, and it landed on like reformed side of Tiktok. Like the Calvinists of the world, and they were loving me. They were like, yes, yes, I completely agree. And then I was like, ah, you know, there's misunderstanding here like I am not you. You are probably medic two. So it's like finding these weird things because like, I call out a bunch of different things. So that'll land on certain sides of Christianity that like, yes, love it follow. And then they're in for a rude awakening. They're like, Oh, I expected more out of you. Okay, I'm sorry to disappoint.
David Ames 45:17
If you don't mind, what I'd like to do is go over just some of the topics that you've tackled. And then you can talk about maybe specific videos you did, or just where your head was at on. Yeah, one of the themes that I think just jumps out at me looking at at your work is the role of women in church. So you're both making fun of the limitations the church puts on them, and then the the roles that women choose for themselves.
April Ajoy 45:43
Yeah, so like, growing up in the church, there's a lot of misogyny, whether intentional or not, I mean, I didn't even grow up in a complementarian Church, which is, you know, the belief that there are very specific gender roles that men have must always be the heads and women are beneath them, and must serve them and submit to their husbands blah, blah, although that existed around where I was. But the not in in besides just gender roles, putting the pressure on the woman for how she dresses, like I found a picture of me recently, from when I was like, 19, I was at church, and it was 100 degrees in Texas, and I was outside in a sweater. Yeah, I had a sweater over my like, and I was just like, like, it was a sleeveless dress, because it was 100 degrees. But I had a friggin sweater over it. Because exposed shoulders. You know, I couldn't I didn't want a man just stumble from looking at my shoulders. Because somehow that's my problem. You know, so So and which that's a very prevalent problem still today is, you know, I mean, I don't know if you saw the Brian suave tweet that was going viral last week, where he was just where he was putting the pressure on the woman, he was saying that women should never post anything about their body. That's right. And, and his examples that he gave, were having a newborn, and show a weight loss journey. I'm like, like the idea. And I remember to getting weird books at church when I would nurse my child. Like when I had a baby, even though I was covered. Yeah, it's like, oh, a man is gonna think of your breast because you're nursing a child and like, Okay, I have breasts. I'm a woman like, like, how is that my fault? I'm feeding my child. So yeah, and it's just super toxic. And it's something and purity culture, specifically, is probably something that I've that has been the hardest to unlearn for me. Because even today, and I'm in my 30s, like, if I were as something that just reveals too much like a crop top or an reveal too much, let's like old way of saying, you know, that's just like, show some skin. Yeah, like at all. Yeah, like, I get like self conscious. Like, initially, I'm like, oh, shoot, I probably like I get anxious about it. So I'm getting better. Because I want to wear what I want to wear. But it's still so ingrained that my initial reaction is like, oh, shoot, I can't I can't show that. Like, that's, that's too much.
David Ames 48:23
Purity culture was second on my list. And, uh, two videos that I want to comment on, or have you comment on was, the one was if we talk to boys, the way we talk to girls about how they dress, where you flipped the roles at genius? And then the other is the recent response to the John Cooper ridiculousness. Or it wasn't maybe not John Cooper, but the deconstruction being sexy. Oh, yeah. Where you just made it funny, but like, you know, you you're being provocative, and it's showing how ridiculous that is. So if you'd like to comment on either of those,
April Ajoy 48:57
yeah, sure. So the the male one, it was a duet of another woman who had she did the cont she was doing the audio but I was acting as the boy because I do think if if the church treated men, like purity culture, the way that they treated women, you know, because we I was very tall. So I was constantly having asked to wear pants and like 100 degree weather at church camp because my legs were too long. An employee could see my legs like well I have them I do have legs all the way up to you know, right so like the reverse of that and and like also I was at youth camp in high school one of these camps I went to and all the girls whether we were in a one piece bathing suit or not had to wear T shirts over it, and the boys could go topless. Yeah. Like so it's just I do think if they had flipped it you know and made boys like always have to cover up and because women are so visual women are visual creatures. Because lust after, after your bad, like, I feel like it would be nipped in the bud so fast, you know, like, like, oh, that's stupid. We're not doing that. So there's a huge double standard there. And then the sexy deconstruction so that was kind of a first I made that one wanted to be funny and actually my partner he came up with the idea to like, shoot like a sexy commercial for sexy deconstruction, which was based off Matt Chandler chasseur. In Texas. Yeah. Who said that? That deconstruction is just like a sexy thing to do, nowadays, which is it's just it's laughable the different things they I've seen different evangelical pastors like the way they try to diminish deconstruction and like, discount it. The the I've heard that we just want street cred, that we're doing it because we just want to live in sin, that we are ushering in the times that deconstructionist were actually the ones in charge that started slavery. And then that it's sexy, like, yeah, like, okay, so they're coming up, you could just listen to us, you could just like, listen, we're telling you why. It's none of those things.
David Ames 51:14
An episode that's coming up on my podcast is Megan Crozier. I made the comment that all of the hot takes from pastors about deconstruction show that they have never talked to someone who's actually deconstructed, and she corrected me and she said, No, they've talked to them, they just haven't listened. And I thought that was really a brilliant insight that, you know, they show that they are just looking for a response, they haven't actually listened to anyone who has gone through this kind of doubt process.
April Ajoy 51:43
Right? Right. Yeah. And they and I kind of get where they're coming from, because that's their livelihood. You know, if everyone deconstruction leaves the church, like they're out of a job fair, which is, you know, I'm at this point, I feel like an Evangelical Church is so toxic that it just needs to burn and like, go away. You know, the, they don't like that. But yeah, like they were Did you see that? There was a Christianity Today article, I think just yesterday, very recently, that was like, the title of it was, wait, are you deconstructing? And it's a pretty long article about deconstructing and what it is, and the extra angelical I don't know movement, whatever you wanna call it, and they did not interview one single person that is deconstructing? Or is an excellent Jellicle. Like, how do you write an entire piece on it and not talk to one person on that side like this? They just keep patting each other on the back like, oh, yeah, they're just being led by Satan. No. Yep. They're just want to live in that sin. Like, I never go anywhere. Like what sin? What sin Am I living? I'm married. I have two kids. I'm pretty much at home most of the time. Like, please inform me of myself.
David Ames 52:55
Like I'm the most boring person.
April Ajoy 52:58
Yeah, what is my sinful lifestyle?
David Ames 53:03
Like, we could go on forever. The more you tackle racism, the evangelical response to critical race theory. It's the new Boogeyman. And it's the new. Yeah. Anti mask. The COVID response.
April Ajoy 53:19
Oh, that that one pisses me off. So you had one job? Yeah. Like, love your neighbor? Like, that's not hard. Yeah. Oh, I saw someone tweet this the other day that I don't remember who it was. But they were saying, you know, because all these people that are anti mascot, they do it because they're patriots, you know, the like, yeah, I would. Like you claim you would take a bullet for your country, but you won't wear a mask for your neighbor. Like come on. Come on.
David Ames 53:45
It is phenomenal how a direct reading of Jesus's teaching within the New Testament is contravened by many of the responses of evangelicals. It's it is just oh
April Ajoy 53:57
yeah, no, it doesn't make any sense. I talked to a pastor's wife one time about I don't even know it was like a comment. And she was talking about something violence that you know, we're gonna have to take up our arms and defend our rights and and someone had commented like Well, what about Jesus saying turn the other cheek, you know, lay down your sword and, and she said and I quote, turn the other cheek is not meant to be literal. Like okay. All right. You take everything else literal. Yes. Except for that and the wine. skip those.
David Ames 54:39
You also tackle which I love the like the Tick Tock pastor or youth pastors like response. You've got some really good videos on that. You've tackled Christian influencers, and like the essential oil sales salesperson.
April Ajoy 54:55
There's so many it's like endless content. Yeah.
David Ames 54:58
And then you've got another I'd like one thing that you do is called the things I saw Christians post where you just take direct posts from from Christians and respond to them and I just read
April Ajoy 55:08
on that one feels like revenge for for all the things that people have said to me on Facebook I'm like, oh, okay, I'm just gonna blast you on tick tock but I do block out the names because I don't want to be people used to mass report my account so actually got permanently banned one route back in November. Yeah, cuz people mass my they'll mass report it and hopefully tic TOCs change it but the way the algorithm works like if you get so many reports, it'll automatically just take your site down. So I'll have videos that get taken down from bullying and just because they get mad, but usually usually tick tock restores it. But yeah, so but I'm back. I didn't hold me down long.
David Ames 55:52
That's amazing. Yeah.
Let's take a few minutes to talk about evangelical ish. I'll be honest, I haven't been able to see a lot of them. But I watch your like review year and the review episode. And you guys talked a lot about how cathartic it was for you as CO hosts. So maybe tell us how it came about, and what that's been for you?
April Ajoy 56:21
Yeah, so about a year ago, we started evangelical ish and I met there two pastors on Tik Tok for one of them is still a current worship pastor is but left their Evangelical Church and is now in an affirming progressive church. And then the other one still does like a weekly, online, Zoom community type church. But as a former somebody's of God pastor, and we actually met them on tick tock just because the nice thing about tick tock is based on what you like, and what kind of content you make, it serves you more of that. So you can be on like a deconstruction X van Jellicle kind of space on tick tock, and you find people that are very similar to you. And so I met them a little over a year ago, maybe a year and a half ago now. And we were just talking because, you know, they were building their audience kind of on similar themes. And we're like, how do we, like there's such a need for community and one thing that I hear a lot is things that people miss once leaving evangelicalism is that community feeling of seeing the same people every week, you know, seeing people, just people that you may not be very close to, but they see your kids grow up. And there's just kind of a this community that's built in on the theme on the podcast. Yes. Yeah. Yeah, yes. And so how lonely it can be, you know, once you leave those spaces, you know, because like, like, for me, I, my conviction is like, I can't support an evangelical church anymore, because I don't, I don't see enough good there for that to be worth my time. And I feel like I would be complicit in a lot of harm. So like, that's my conviction. Like, I just can't do it, even though I do miss those communities. And so we were just talking like, well, what could we do to at least try to make that space. So we started evangelical ish, which is, it's a podcast, but we record them all live. And so we do it live on YouTube. So we have a live chat. So people are chatting, and then we started a Facebook, like private group for whoever wants to join, just so people can kind of meet other people and find people close to them. So we've kind of been able to build somewhat of a community, like I wouldn't say it matches in person, but you know, it's still a pandemic. So not that we'd be doing that anyway.
David Ames 58:37
I've been living in that pension to have like, you know, trying to facilitate community, but like, okay, but still, we need to do it online right now. Because, right, it's not not as good for sure. But it's, it's better than nothing.
April Ajoy 58:49
Yeah, but I think there's there's just been something really healing and like sharing stories with each other and hearing other people's stories, you know, people in our group, they'll share kind of their deconstruction story and where they are. And it's just, it's built this community, not based on judgment, because I feel like, like, I had been in similar spaces, like in the church when I had questions. But when you bring genuine questions to like, small groups and church, it's so easily like, given a Christianese answer, you know, like, oh, well, God just works in mysterious ways. Or no, well, you know, you just need it. You just need to believe a little bit harder, you know, just it's blind faith, you got to have that blind faith. And we're in this group of people, people just like, you know, I don't I don't know. I don't have an answer to that. But you're not alone. And I think just the you're not alone piece has been just really nice and healing in some ways, and just seeing other people who have been deeply hurt and that's why people like Matt Chandler saying the deconstruction of sexy is so laughable because we're talking about really existential crisis for a lot of people like questioning everything I've ever believed in my entire life losing that community. Like, really, it's really hard. And you know, and I think that's another reason why I do. Like, why I make my page about it humorous, is because if you I don't know if you saw the Stephen Colbert clip that was going around where he was talking about why he does comedy that he like, takes power away from the sadness if you can laugh about it. And then I was like, that's really profound, because I do feel like that's kind of where I come from, like, yeah, this stuff is really harmful, and it's done a lot of damage. But it was also really weird as crap and we shouldn't be able to laugh about it a little bit, because it's so ridiculous. And so I think it also just brings like, laughter is good medicine in general. So just being able to laugh about just some of the ridiculous stuff, which is getting harder to laugh about because reality is blurring with satire these days, but yeah,
David Ames 1:00:57
well, I love your work. You've made a fan of me. I want to give you an opportunity to tell people how they can find your work where do they need to look?
April Ajoy 1:01:06
Sure so you can find me on Tik Tok or on Instagram at at April Ajoy that's April spelled the normal way and then Ajoy AJOY, and then I'm on Twitter at April Ajoy are because April joy has taken and I'm not salty about it.
David Ames 1:01:23
That's awesome. I will also make sure that the links in the show notes for that. But
April Ajoy 1:01:27
yeah, yeah. Or and yeah. And if you want to listen to my podcast, I co host it's called evangelical ish.
David Ames 1:01:32
Excellent. All right. Thank you for being on the podcast. Yeah.
April Ajoy 1:01:36
Thank you so much for having me.
David Ames 1:01:43
Final thoughts on the episode? Well, I absolutely love April's approach and her comedic take. I think satire is an incredible tool for communicating truth. It gets past people's defenses and allows them to see the ridiculousness without their defenses being up. My apologies for being a little giggly throughout this entire episode. I love comedians, comedians are my favorite guests to have an April is just absolutely amazing. I think that April's story is important because she was so deeply involved in the evangelical world. Having gone to high profile evangelical colleges, both an undergraduate and graduate school, having traveled around with her evangelist father and saying, having been on the Jim Baker show, having worked for CBN she was all in she was 100% in even calling herself an evangelical up to around 2016 or so. And for someone like that, to deconstruct it is a giant sign pointing to the problems within evangelicalism. And from my perspective, Christianity itself. Many of the topics that APR addresses on Tiktok and Instagram are about patriarchy, and misogyny and nationalism and the problems that are self evident within evangelicalism. You can hear the effect that purity culture had on April and that she's still working through that to this day, as it has had an effect on many of us. You've heard me say multiple times why I started the podcast was that right? As I was D converting there were so few voices out there that were not debate oriented and hostile. And the opposite of a Theo bro was a rationality bro and that environment. And so I am so convinced that things like comedy are the right tools to communicate what the ex van Jellicle is have to say about their experience growing up in evangelicalism. And I think April is at the top of that game. She's an incredibly important voice, communicating the problems within evangelicalism. Please do check out April's Tik Tok and Instagram, April Ajoy, April Ajoy. And you can also find her on Twitter. Also check out her podcast evangelical ish, which is, as we said in the conversation, the three co hosts are really working it out Where where are they at this point in time. Of course, there will be links in the show notes. I want to thank APR for being on the podcast for sharing her sense of humor and honesty. And her incredible story. Thank you April. The secular Grace Thought of the Week is a hard segue and really isn't related to my conversation with April. But it has been on my mind for the last week so I needed to share it with you. And this is the idea of epistemic vigilance, which sounds like a big word but it just means being very Careful and intentional about how we know what we know. And there are three areas where that's incredibly important. The obvious one is the topic of the podcast, which is we have been told that a transcendent supernatural world exists with a theistic, personal God who is in control of everything. And is that true? And how do we know if that is or is not true? What's the process we go through to determine whether that is the case or not? That's actually not what I want to talk about here. I really want to talk about the world that we currently live in, and the amount of disinformation that is out there. A simple example being a recent deep fake video of Solinsky telling his troops to stand down. The technical world is moving rapidly towards the ability to create video and audio That sounds almost indistinguishable from the person that they are faking, in this case, Solinsky. If you think that fake news is bad today, it is about to get much, much, much worse. And we will all need to learn to have epistemic vigilance to wait to let video and audio be analyzed to make sure that it's not fake to make sure that it is valid. But as you can imagine, a deep fake video comes out, it goes out on Twitter, it becomes incredibly viral to one side or the other. And then three hours later, the analysis comes out saying no, this was fake, and that doesn't go viral. And so trying to manage this information is a nearly impossible task. So what we need to do as individuals is have epistemic vigilance. And the third area that's been on my mind, I don't even know how to describe this third area other than to say the heterodox leaning, quote unquote, centrists. If you listen to podcasts like I do, there are very many left leaning or right leaning podcasts. But then there's a group of people who have set themselves up as centrists, but they are specifically heterodox in their approach. So the best example of that is there's a huge spate recently of disinformation about COVID-19 from various podcasts that are not quite against vaccines, but saying that there's too much of them. They're the people saying, two months ago, when we were in the middle of an Omicron wave that it was time to stop masking. It's that kind of thing, where they specifically take the counter position from the scientific community from the public health community. This is deeply concerning to me, because I can see how seductive This is to many people, including many friends of mine, including possibly some of you listening. I want you to have epistemic vigilance. If it sounds like somebody has a bone to pick. They do if they're going against the scientific consensus that public policy consensus. Be deeply skeptical. We don't take our skeptical hats off. Just because it is a secular person or, or someone who sounds very smart, or someone who sounds like they're an expert in in a particular field. We still need to have epistemic vigilance. All right, I will step down from my soapbox now. Next up, we have Bethany from our community, Bethany is incredibly bright. She's incredibly interesting, and I can't wait to share her story with you. And the week after that, we have Luke Jensen, from recovering evangelicals. And I will be interviewing Robert peoples of the affinis project, which I can't wait to share with you as well. A project focused on humanism and justice. Until then, my name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Join me and be graceful human beings. 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 chaser.com. You can also support the podcast by clicking on the affiliate links for books on restful atheists.com. 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 you 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or you can check out the website graceful atheists.com My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Join me and be graceful human beings
this has been the graceful atheist podcast
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
This is the three year anniversary of the Graceful Atheist Podcast. Thank you to everyone who has listened and participated. Special thanks to Mike T and Arline for their work on the podcast over the past year.
This week’s guest is Ryan Mulkowsky. Ryan grew up Independent Fundamentalist Baptist. He made a “profession of faith” when he was nine years old and was reading Christian apologetics before he was twelve. By fourteen, Ryan was “licensed” by the church and started teaching the kids.
However, Ryan’s mental health suffered during adolescence. Whether at home, school or church, no place was safe for him to grow and change—strict dress codes, young-earth creationism, white-centered history books and virtually no sexual education.
“I constantly felt like anything that was happening to me was because I was a sinner or because I was depraved or something was wrong with me.”
Ryan went to one university that was even more conservative and strict than his high school, left and graduated from another with a degree in apologetics. But Ryan knew he wanted to be with people.
“I realized that the majority of the apologists have this disposition. They have zero interest in talking to people. They just like to debate, and they just like to lecture.”
Soon Ryan was introduced to healthcare chaplaincy, and for the first time, saw people up-close in great physical and emotional need. He was also introduced to other religious faiths—Buddhism Orthodox Judaism and progressive Christianity.
“That’s when a lot of my beliefs started disintegrating and dissolving and coming apart was when I was a chaplain and a resident.”
Ryan is a now a secular humanist, married with a family and working as a grief coordinator for Hospice. His life has both meaning and purpose without religion. He is living out secular grace by providing comfort and peace in some of humanity’s most vulnerable moments.
“That’s where the beautiful stuff is. That’s where the human, raw, real, unfiltered but so damn beautiful and sacred stuff is.”
This week’s guest is Jeffrey Caldwell. Jeffrey grew up in Lancaster county, PA in a liberal denomination set in a conservative area. As a child, church was “okay,” filled with the usual things—bible crafts in Sunday school and singing in the choir. His family was “quasi-religious,” so no one was ever pressured to believe anything.
Jeffrey doubted whether Christianity was real throughout middle school. Neither his parents nor his siblings took it very seriously, so he left church in high school but was still searching for meaning.
Music, books and movies filled the space that religion often does. Eventually, his interest expanded to include philosophy, politics, social justice, all influenced by the “oldies” his dad played in the car.
“I was fascinated by this idea of just ordinary, everyday people banding together to solve whatever problems they were facing…”
In his twenties, Jeffrey struggled with mental health issues and after a surprise encounter with a church youth group, he knew he was missing community.
“I recognized instantly that that’s what I was looking for in my life, some place where I felt like I belonged, some place where I felt like people valued me for who I was. But at the same time, I realized that I wasn’t a christian.”
He didn’t fit in with the traditional religions, so he tried the UU church. Then he got involved in progressive politics and social justice, and eventually went to seminary and became a chaplain.
“Learning to be a chaplain was learning how to sit with people who are in pain and distress and not be overwhelmed by their pain and distress.”
Now, Jeffrey has a thriving online and in-person community, Connections Humanist Community. Each week, people share stories and conversations. The members belong to a community where they are valued and heard. Jeffrey is living out what it means to be a “graceful atheist.”
When one has deconverted, the holidays may look completely different, reexamining everything from family traditions to singing carols to dealing with those extended family members. On today’s episode, two returning guests, Arline and Lars and a new guest, Carlene, share how the holidays have and haven’t changed since deconversion.
Lars and Arline go into what it’s like to be an unbelieving parent during the holidays, navigating the mythologies of Santa and Jesus. Children ask genuine questions, and they expect genuine answers.
The group discusses what they have not given up, among other things, singing Christmas carols. Carols are different than singing religious songs at church, more cultural than sacred. For some, however, it takes a little self-discipline to sing along without critiquing the lyrics.
The guests also examine what they have thrown in the trash bin completely, including, but not limited to, the phrase “Merry Christmas” and all those nativity scenes.
Being thankful of the time spent with extended family can be challenging, regardless of religious beliefs. Each person shares how they’re finding their own unique ways of appreciating time with family. Religion does not own the rights to giving thanks.
Lastly, Carlene, David, Lars and Arline consider some new traditions they’ve started or would like to start. Nature is the easiest place to experience awe and wonder, and everyone discussed ways to be in nature more this winter. Also, creating new traditions can be awkward and may not always turn out quite like we hope.
It is a lovely conversation, full of hope and lots of humor.
“…It’s scary and new, and that might actually be the best part because your life is in many ways new again…you get to experience so many things for the first time with a new mindset, and this will hopefully enrich your life going forward…”
My guests this week are Lars, Christie, Teddy, Amy and Eleanor, a whole family who deconverted around the same time. Lars felt a sense of duty to be a Christian all his life because he believed it was true. Christie felt there was “good evidence” for parts of the Bible and accepted on faith that the rest was true. This worked fine until they both came to the conclusion that there was not enough evidence to continue believing.
During the pandemic with Church on screen rather than in person, both Lars and Christie began to feel freedom from Church. They eventually admitted to each other that they no longer believed. A few months later they asked the kids, “Do you notice anything we are not doing any longer?” To which they responded, “church.” None of them seemed to miss much, other than friends and the snacks!
Lars and Christie also share about Lars’ demi-sexuality and the difficult early conversations around sex when they were first getting married. This highlights the destructive aspects of purity culture on everyone.
Today the whole family is feeling free, intellectually honest and relieved after admitting to themselves they no longer believe and stopped going to church.
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 Thomas. Thomas is a Missionary Kid. He was very close to his mother who passed away in her 40s when he was in middle school.
There were all these other people there [his mom’s funeral] talking about her being in a better place, but I knew she was just gone.
There is nothing else.
Thomas went through real depression for years after losing his mother and losing his faith. We discuss the hardships of grieving a loved one without comforting beliefs. He went through bouts of self-medication including being immersed in the massively multi-player online game, World of Warcraft.
It all just seems like symbols for human metaphors and common experience.
Thomas went on to become a professional scientist. The meditative nature of running was helpful. He also discovered actual meditation gave him peace. A rich and varied diet of podcasts also helped him along the way. He says he now experiences real joy that was only promised to him as a Christian.
Akira the Don, created a genre of music called Meaningwave, lofi hip-hop with themed lecture content made musical. On Spotify and YouTube, with some songs having full visuals.
My guest this week is Travis. Travis documented his deconstruction on the blog measureoffaith.blog. There Travis has documented his journey from a questioning but dedicated Christian to a doubting agnostic. He delves into the apologetics that were supposed to give him comfort but which ultimately led to loss of faith.
This is one of the more emotionally raw episodes. Travis opens up about his grief at the loss of his beloved father. His dad was an example of faith well lived and it had a profound impact on Travis. We discuss what secular grief is like after one no longer can be comforted by belief in life after death.
I have been feeling a little conflicted putting this information out there that can potentially help people lose faith because it was so important to someone like my dad. It makes me question whether I really want to be a participant for taking that away from someone.
These days Travis feels like he has said what he needed to say on the blog. His compassion and empathy is evident in that he is more concerned with caring for the people in his life than endlessly debating apologetics and counter-apologetics.