Theology

the not-so-ridiculous reasons people leave church

Every once in a while, someone I know on Facebook will share a joke or a meme that makes me grit my teeth because it makes me feel dismissed. Most recently it was this one:

10 reasons

I’m sure we’ve all seen these sorts of things before, or heard something similar from a pulpit. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a pastor talk about “some bitty that got her feelings hurt because ‘the pastor didn’t shake my hand!’” I’d be rolling in money. These “jokes” have always made me wonder if I was really just that out of touch– am I missing some huge exodus from church because the pews are too hard?

So, I reached out to a few groups, posting this meme and asking if they’d stopped attending church for one of the listed reasons. I also posed a similar question on Twitter:

The responses I got back were heartbreaking. They shattered me all over again because they echoed the pain I felt on being forced to realize that church is not a safe place. I used to finish that sentence with “for me,” but sometimes, I drop the modifier. I know it’s possible for people to find a safe haven in church even though they’ve been hurt by it before, but I don’t think it’s overly dramatic to say those people are finding safe places in spite of American church culture.

The reasons I got back from people fell under a few significant headings, which are in no particular order below:

The constant homophobia and mistreatment of queer people.

For some it was because a friend or family member was excommunicated for their orientation; for many others it was because they themselves were queer and were demonized by their church. In my own case, I was constantly correcting the pastoral staff at my last church for misgendering the trans people who attended, but they outright refused to listen.

Political figures, ballot measures, laws, and political ideologies were openly supported from the pulpit.

Frequently associated with this was the not-so-implicit expectation that everyone in the church be a conservative Republican. I’m not a fan of any politics being preached from the pulpit, conservative or liberal, but in America the dominant narrative in our churches is conservative. Tied into all of this is the common belief in American Exceptionalism and nationalism– that American patriotism is a part of being a Christian.

The church protected abusers.

This is the one that really broke me. I was flooded with stories of child sexual abusers being given leadership positions and subsequently using their power to attack more children. There were hair-raising instances of church leadership point-blank lying to members asking about the safety of a convicted sex offender who went on to rape multiple women in the church. I heard about pastors being shuttled around denominations where they would continue to assault new victims. One person recounted a story of how a child was sexually assaulted by one of the Sunday school teachers, and while the child was denounced from the pulpit, the teacher escaped any consequences. This should never happen, but it does, on a level that feels almost routine.

The church refused to accommodate, understand, or show empathy to those with disabilities.

Most often I heard this from people who have autism, or are the parents of children with autism. Children with autism, or a sensory impairment of some kind, especially suffer in church, and the reactions of church members was to shame and ostracize the parents of those “spoiled rotten brats.” I know that, for myself, I couldn’t participate in church service because there was nothing for someone who wasn’t able-bodied to do. One person said that their allergic reaction to perfumes was treated like a joke.

Women are treated as less than men.

This was the biggest reason why we left our last church. They wanted to have their cake and eat it, too, and refused to even consider the idea that silence in the face of oppression is wrong. Many people talked about abusive relationship dynamics being endorsed from the pulpit or in private counseling sessions, of blatant misogyny in the sermons every Sunday, of being refused to use their talents and gifts to serve because of their gender.

The church did not care about the community.

This was one of the more repeated reasons, and I know it was something that annoyed me about the last church I attended. There was plenty of money for bulletins and pens and donuts and coffee and giving away flat-screen TVs and putting on lavish Christmas spectacles, but less than 10% of the budget was dedicated to helping either church members or the community. How many churches have I been in that had a coffee shop in the lobby but it had never occurred to them to have a soup kitchen?

They had experienced spiritual abuse.

Many couldn’t experience a church service without experiencing flashbacks and panic attacks. I’ve had to leave many a service because of a trigger. For those of us who have experienced Religious Trauma Syndrome, we’re more aware of the ways that pastors can abuse their authority. The first red flag I got at my last church was that the pastor was completely unaccountable to anyone. Supposedly the staff was in place to help keep him in check, but they were far more interested in defending his terrible behavior than they were in addressing it. For a long time I thought I was only reacting to ghosts from my past, but over time I realized that wasn’t it. I was reacting to my past being repeated. For many who shared their stories with me, this was often the case. They recognized the red flags and couldn’t stay.

~~~

In doing the research for this post I googled “stupid reasons why people leave the church,” and, sadly, I wasn’t disappointed by what turned up. Among the 24 million results there was “7 Really Dumb Reasons to Leave a Church,” “5 Stupid Reasons People Leave the Church,” and “3 Stupid Reasons Millennials are Leaving Churches.” I read through maybe twenty different articles on the subject, and I realized that many of these pieces are actually including the list I’ve given above. Except, to these people, it’s described as “being offended,” or “disagreeing with the pastor,” or “they want so-called freedom” or “their feelings got hurt.”

It’s not that the people who make these memes or write these posts are unaware of the reasons I gave here, it’s that they don’t think these reasons are legitimate. The unending putrid tide of misogyny and homophobia? Just us “being offended.” Thinking that nationalism should not be a part of Christianity? We’re just “disagreeing with the pastor,” (which, in the meme above was given as “reading a book makes me more of an expert than the experts”). Try to explain to a staff member that what the pastor just said was narcissistic or abusive and we just “got our feelings hurt.”

They look at people like me, like the hundreds of people who shared their experiences with me, and they see “7 Stupid Reasons to Quit Church” instead of listening to the pain and horror in our voices.

Photo by Phil Roeder
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  • Beroli

    I’ve seen a couple other bloggers talk about this, too. Churches recognize people leaving as a problem and they want to correct it, but they want to do so without changing anything really important. So when church leaders ask “What can we do to keep you?” and they get back answers that they don’t want to address, their next approach is to translate the answers they got into something they can feel good about not addressing.

    • HypercubeVillain

      “Since I read a book on sports, I feel I know more than the coaches, anyway”

      Oh hi, gaslighting! Didn’t see you there.

  • I had an anxiety attack in church last Sunday. Started shaking and sweating and eventually got up and left during a sermon about divine healing, complete with a video of congregants praising God for healing everything from arthritis to viral infections to cancer. My father died of cancer last year, so this obviously struck more than a nerve. I hid in the restroom, bawling, until it was over, and I haven’t yet told my husband that I’m scared to go back.

    • I’m so sorry that happened. <3

    • ((Hugs))

    • This is why I think a “church” isn’t meant to be a broad community that gathers to be instructed by an impersonal leader, but an interactive group of a size that has the capacity to know these things about every member and support each other with the gentleness necessary for healing of wounds and processing spiritual questions in real time.

      • Agreed. I feel much more comfortable in my Thursday night small group, but my husband loves the church. I’m not saying I’ll never go again, and that particular pastor is not the only one there, but I’m just really afraid. When I got up and left, everyone stared and I’d rather not experience that again :/

  • Glenn Katherine

    Long time reader, first time poster.
    Ouch. Just… ouch. I’ve been an atheist all my life, so there’s probably at least a few subtle little twists of the knife that you and other people who have stopped attending notice when pastors talk about why they think you left, but the sheer dismissal and lack of empathy comes across loud and clear.
    What really enrages me, though, is the fact that pastors recognize that people leaving their churches is a problem, have at least some awareness that the root cause of so many people quitting is that they are being hurt, and are too comfortable with or rewarded by behaviors and practices that hurt people to change. Which means that more people will be hurt in the future.
    Given that you have already stated that there are no churches in your area that feel genuinely safe, understanding, and welcoming, I’ll settle for hoping that one starts up a reasonable distance from where you live.

  • Rose Magdalene

    I don’t get why many of those reason listed in the meme are considered silly. When I was still a christian, I was looking for a new church. I went to one where the only person to talk to me was the pastor. I was ignored by everyone else. Obviously, I never came back. Why would a church believe that a person owes them their attendance if they don’t bother to acknowledge that person’s existence? Even as an ex-Christian, I once attempted to join a UU church. Again, I was mostly ignored. So after attending for a few Sundays, I quit. Being ignored doesn’t feel good, and why should I waste my time being around people who couldn’t care less if I show up or not?

    • Exactly– to me, they’re making fun of real problems. Christian culture doesn’t really seem to understand that people *should* choose to spend their time in spaces where they are treated well.

      • JBReiter

        Yes, THIS. I now ask myself, “If the church were a person, would this be a healthy relationship?” Acting entitled to my presence, dismissing my needs, putting down other relationships in my life as inferior to this one? Nope. The church ought to model consent and mutuality, but it often doesn’t. And I have almost always attended very liberal churches, so this isn’t just conservative Christian culture.

      • Jackalope

        And even in the areas that might be considered “less essential” than some of the very real abuse/disrespect issues we’ve been discussing, my experience is that either a) that issue is very important to the person leaving (they can’t deal with the hard pews because they have a health issue making it excruciating to sit there; music is the foundation of who they are and how they worship, and so the wrong music style means they CAN’T worship there) or it’s their “socially acceptable” reason because they don’t feel the need to share the real (more personal) reason. Not that it’s anyone else’s business anyway if someone wants to leave because they dislike the pews or the music, but just saying.

      • Wow, yes, this, exactly.

      • megaforte84

        Or that damage can be dealt by time spent in explicitly Christian spaces, including churches.

        Reason I can’t pray out loud with witnesses? Being judged about how I was praying in Sunday School or at the dinner table in middle school and younger. I’d stopped volunteering before I was baptized.

        Reason I can’t have a regular quiet time with Bible reading? Pressure about having to have one and never ever miss a day from the start way too young, along with being judged for not being an early bird who could benefit from reading something before 8am.

        When I came into the Episcopal church, I personally needed to make a Act Of Commitment that I would not let myself get into that mental space over spiritual practices again, that skipping something or adapting it was better than letting my relationship with God – any person(s) thereof – get damaged by trying to perform something I couldn’t do and ending up in a guilt spiral. I’ve already needed to invoke it twice in two and a half years.

  • HypercubeVillain

    Re: political ideologies from the pulpit:
    In my experience, this is usually done with a phony air of reluctance; pastor says “I don’t want to get all political, but…” and then he talks politics. Which is completely out of his league, anyway; in an attempt to complain about the Supreme Court & gay marriage, he complained about the electoral system of voting as if it were a new thing.

  • Interesting. I’m seeing a pattern here.
    1. Treating LGBTQ individuals with disrespect and ignorance.
    2. Treating people with other political views with disrespect and ignorance.
    3. Failing to protect members from those who physically and emotionally disrespect them, and ignoring the probability and effects of that abuse.
    4. Treating the disabled with disrespect and ignoring them.
    5. Treating women with disrespect and ignoring them.
    6. Treating the wider community with disrespect and ignoring them.
    7. Disrespecting and ignoring people with different perspectives.

    Loving much? *sighs*

  • First, full disclosure: I grew up with two ordained ministers as parents, surrounded by clergy throughout my life. My churches have always been progressive (openly welcoming to all people in reality, not just stated).

    This post is something I have seen before – the reasons in your post, as well as the meme. I have to wonder why there aren’t more churches where people do feel safe? Or is this perception? Have these people who left not sought them out? If not, why not? If so and they found the progressive churches wanting, why? Are they starting their own communities where they feel safe? If not, why not? I would welcome thoughts on this.

    I aggressively seek out churches that are progressive whenever I move because I need a faith community (I’ve moved a lot in my adult life, so I’ve gone through the process a few times.). I feel lost without one. That said, I can’t go to a church where I feel like myself, family members, or friends would be unwelcome, and have experienced that in visiting other churches during vacations etc.

    The Church is a human institution, plagued by human problems. Solutions to its problems are human too. I know a lot of people don’t have the energy to foster change or create their own communities, or even to go through the trouble of church-searches (they are exhausting). I decided what things I could live with and what I couldn’t, and then I went from there I say this to offer hope to those who have been hurt, that there are possibilities. For what it’s worth.

    • Tamara

      I can answer you question “are they starting their own communities where they feel safe,” for myself by saying yes. I don’t attend church anymore because I participate in a small intentional community that I helped create. We are less than 12 adults and a few children and we live close to each other and have been together for more than 6 years. We eat together twice a week and check up on each other and meet our neighbors and care for our neighborhood together. We participate in local social justice issues, donate money together, support those of us who travel abroad for relief work, and take communion together. I don’t call myself a christian anymore and I still am a part of this and still I am welcome by these people. After experiencing this, I would never go back to church as most people know it.

    • I looked everywhere and tried 3 different churches (UMC, ELCA, Episcopalian) that belonged to at least somewhat progressive denominations, and each were ultimately hostile environments to me as either a queer person or a liberal or a woman.

      I and my partner were the leaders of a small group at our last church, but even though the group is still intact, we’re no longer connected to a church. We’re trying to figure out how to sustain what we have, as we’ve been whittled down to about 6 people now, and we need to be able to grow. How to do that, though, we’re not sure– especially on how we go about finding people that are kind and respectful of our established group boundaries.

  • Original Lee

    I think that if we leave our current church, it would be because of too much drama. Maybe a clearer way of putting it would be, too many of the adults in the church act as if it’s junior high all over again.

    I can understand why “they hurt my feelings” as a reason gets mocked, though. Perhaps I’m an awful person, but IMO leaving a church because the youth group decided to go somewhere different for their summer mission trip than the place you picked out for them 30 years ago is kind of stupid. Leaving a church because the new pastor has decided that other people deserve a turn at being the Fellowship Hour organizer or the Welcoming Committee chair is kind of stupid.

    I mostly feel sorry for the ones who think the pastor is preaching politics from the pulpit, though, because at least in our community, EVERYTHING except personal spiritual advancement is political, and they lack the empathy to understand that helping the poor actually should help you become a better person.

    • ArtK

      I’m going to disagree with you on the “hurt feelings,” in two ways. First, accepting that hurt feelings are a bad reason to leave the church gives the church a big out. All they have to do is redefine everything as hurt feelings and then they don’t have to take any responsibility. Sure, the pastor choosing someone else to be the Fellowship Hour organizer might be silly, but it might be because you aren’t one of the founding families and therefore not welcome to participate. It may be silly to be hurt when a suggestion is ignored, but not if it’s ignored because it came from a woman. Ask any woman who’s been seriously hurt and then accused of being “bitter” because she didn’t forgive her abuser. “Hurt feelings” is a convenient way to deny someone’s real hurt.

      The second thing is this: Even if each individual hurt is silly and not worthy of leaving a church over, the cumulative effect certainly can be. The death of a thousand cuts, if you will. I’m a soccer referee and we have the concept of persistent infringement — break the laws of the game multiple times and we bring down a bigger hammer (yellow card) even though each infraction wasn’t that serious. The same thing applies here.

      • Original Lee

        I probably should have expressed it more clearly: the members of abusive congregations mock hurt feelings as a reason people leave, because to them the reasons people leave are silly. I agree that sometimes it is the death of a thousand cuts. We left a church about 10 years ago because we were being taken advantage of. My husband was asked to stand for elder and then three days later was told oops we didn’t mean to ask you. The summer my father-in-law passed away, we were gone from church the entire summer, and not one person from church called or emailed us at all. Those were the last straws for us. So there’s that.

        The examples I gave in my previous post are from my current church.

        The committee chairs had been the chairs for 30 years or more. The pastor (IMO) very tactfully explained that they had given wonderful examples of service and should take a break to recharge their batteries and give others a chance to develop their servant skills. Some of them got very miffed and left. It was territorial and about control for them.

        The Fellowship Hour organizer had been doing the job for 20 years all by herself and had been getting increasingly passive-aggressive about it. The pastor asked her to take turns, not to give it up completely, also so she could recharge and let others with the gift of hospitality serve. She resigned in a huff and left.

        Similarly with the youth group mission trip. The organizer for 15 years had picked a spot and resisted strenuously the youth pastor’s suggestions for other kinds of experiences. I think the youth pastor could probably have been more tactful, but in the end just basically had to say, “This is part of my responsibility as youth pastor, and we are going to let the kids have a voice in their mission trip.” And this organizer left with hurt feelings and a lot of her friends left, too, because the youth pastor had hurt her feelings.

        I think hurt feelings are a lot like the stumbling block Paul talks about. On the one hand, we should have empathy for others and try not to hurt their feelings and not mock them because we can’t understand why anyone would possibly feel that way. On the other hand, some people are very passive aggressive and use their hurt feelings (which might or might not be actually hurt) as a weapon to get their way. I think abusive congregations see a lot more of the second than the first and because they lack empathy mock both because they can’t imagine two kinds.

  • “Church is not a safe place” are the exact words I give people when they ask why I don’t go to church anymore. There’s no way I could be open with others and trust them with my heart enough when the views they openly condemn are my own. “Democrats are going to hell,” “liberals are morons,” and “feminists are corrupting America” are words I heard far too often, and it hurts to have someone say those things to your face and know that instead of saying “liberals are morons,” they’re really (if unintentionally) saying “you’re a moron.”

    • poetrymafia

      Exactly this! Hearing these things always leaves me wondering: should I speak up and say I am the type of person they’ve been insulting, or keep quiet and maintain something of a respectful relationship? Of course, without knowing it, they’ve already been disrespectful to me so… I’ll be avoiding them in the future lol.

      • I have spoken up a few times, and they usually shuffle around and pretend I didn’t say anything or start lecturing me about how I’m wrong. The only rational conversations I’ve had were with people who weren’t making those types of proclamations in the first place.

  • Jackalope

    This breaks my heart as well. I have a good church that I attend these days; it has policies in place to limit abuse opportunities (generally successful from what I’ve seen), has both men and women in active leadership roles (including as head pastor) AND in roles such as childcare provider, has had few openly LGBTQ members BUT has welcomed them (baptizing them, listing them as a family like any other family in the church directory, giving up-front leadership roles), is heavily invested in our community, etc. (I have at times wished I could invite you to my church, Samantha, since I feel that you might find it safe.) It’s been an enormously healing experience attending here. And yet whenever I have to venture out of my own church walls, to my parents’ church for example, or really any place within the general Christian Culture, I’m terrified and overprotective of past brokenness (NOT from this church, which from my experience has been a safe place). Even after 8 years here, I still want to go and hide when looking at most other church options. So I really hear you!

  • II’ve been forcing myself to go to church weekly since my daughter was born 3 years ago, feeling it was more important for it to be part of her normal than for me to not be uncomfortable (or worse). I have CPTSD, and church is hands down the most difficult place I go. We’re pretty sure my husband has SPD, and its even worse for him to go. Well, two Sundays ago, I had a bad panic attack during the morning service, and then stupidly went to small group that night and had the worst panic attack I’ve had in years! The most horrible part, though, was the complete disregard by any of the church staff. Both the pastors wife and the pastor’s assistant told me to just calm down, and both kept touching my shoulders and back even though I’ve repeatedly in the past told them not to. I ended up outside for 45 minutes, the attack was so severe. The associate pastor’s wife, who has had a few panic attacks herself, sat with me and tried to help, but she’s had no help or understanding herself so she really wasn’t very helpful, and her response when I finally burst out and said that our church desperately needs some kind of training in this area was that it would be nice, but I know they all mean well so I shouldn’t take it personally. Well I disagree. I have been a member for 4 years, served for the first 3, and I’ve repeatedly spoken up as my own advocate, as have others, and absolutely nothing has changed. And I’m done. I can’t keep doing this to myself. And it hurts like fire because I want to be in church…and because I hate being ignored and judged. It’s a huge trigger for me.

    • poetrymafia

      I’m so sorry you’re going through that. What a difficult place to be in, wanting to be there and knowing what it does to you. You shouldn’t have to go through this EVER, much less time after time 🙁 I hope things improve and the church gains some understanding.

    • There’s no need to force yourself to go. Lots of kids grow up without church being a part of their normal life, and do just fine. Teach your daughter kindness and compassion, and that will do her far more good than some institution that gives their parent panic attacks.

      And if church is a place you want to be (as opposed to a place where you think you ought to be out of some obligation) perhaps you are just in the wrong church. Just because the pastor says they are the one true church doesn’t mean he’s right!

  • Mimc

    For the people writing those lists of stupid reasons to leave a church there probably isn’t going to be any reason they find acceptable. Until, of course, they are in a situation were church becomes miserable (cognitive bias being such tricky things). I’ve never left a church because of these reasons but I have left small groups. Even within and egalitarian church that does not preach right wing politics from the pulpit, I managed to join a misogynistic, far-right, and youth despising small group. It wasn’t the whole group but the main leaders were like that. Fortunately I found another small group, we’ll see how this one goes.

    • The last church I attended didn’t have any sort of means to vett small group leaders, and I ended up in conversation with a few …. yeah their small groups were horrific. One guy would NOT SHUT UP about how women-only small groups shouldn’t be allowed because “all they do is gossip and tear down their husbands” and other such shit.

      When I told a staff member about what he’d said all they did was laugh. So yeah.

      • Oh, those silly women – what other reason could they possibly have for being in one room sans Big Manly Menfolk if it isn’t to gossip?! It couldn’t POSSIBLY be to conduct a Bible study in which they aren’t consistently forced to kowtow to the opinions of Men Who Are Never Wrong, Even When They Are…

      • Jackalope

        Wow. Just… wow. While I personally prefer mixed-gender small groups (I had a long stint with all female housemates and almost all female co-workers and my brain is still reintegrating), I’ve happened to be in a number of groups that intentionally or accidentally ended up being all female. In not ONE of them did anyone spend an extensive amount of time either gossiping OR tearing down family members (spouses included). I’m kind of thinking that a) how on earth does he know, if they’re all women?; and b) if these are the sort of women he’s become friends/community members with, perhaps he should look at what the common denominator is in all of those relationships and work on HIMSELF instead.

        (As an aside, I strongly dislike gossip and try to avoid it. At the same time, I think people too often put “talking about others” into the gossip category when it’s not. There are ways to talk about people with mutual friends that are not gossiping or violating that friendship [my favorite being asking permission, a la “Hey, I’m going to see [mutual friend] tomorrow; is it okay if I mention this or should I keep it under wraps for now?”; making sure not to trash the other person is also essential].)

      • Wonder

        I have to wonder if there was some projection going on with mr small group dude.

    • Alice

      Some fundamentalists think leaving a church is as “bad” as getting divorced. There’s very few “acceptable” reasons such as “teaches false doctrine” and even then it can only be a last resort.

      Back then, this bothered me because most congregations don’t ask you to vow “To death do us part.” Even if they are hostile towards people who leave.

      Nowadays it bothers me because these fundamentalists don’t believe in consensual adult relationships, and that extends to church membership. If you want to end the relationship, you should be able to do so. You don’t need to earn the right to leave by having reasons that others judge acceptable.

      If people leave for minor reasons, they may be hurting themselves and others, but that is their decision. They’re not slaves. Also, these writers don’t appreciate how hard many people tried to make it work.

  • Trevel

    Apologies for quoting something as a mega-comment, but this captures why I left the church better than my own words can:

    “Christian fundamentalism has three great enemies in the struggle to retain its children, judging by the stories its apostates tell: weaknesses in its own teachings, science, and hypocrisy. As for the first, many a fallen-away fundamentalist told us that the Bible simply proved unbelievable on its own merits. It was inconceivable to them that, if an almighty creator of the universe had wanted to give humanity a set of teachings for guidance across the millennia, it would be the material found in the Bible. The Bible was, they said, too often inconsistent, petty, boring, appalling, self-serving, or unbelievable.

    Secondly, science made too much sense and had pushed traditional beliefs into a tight corner. When their church insisted that its version of creation, the story of
    Adam and Eve, the sundry miracles and so on had to be taken on faith, the fledgling apostates eventually found that preposterous. Faith for them was not a virtue, although they could see why their religion taught people it was. It meant surrendering rationality. From its earliest days fundamentalism has drawn a line in the sand over scripture versus science, and some of its young people eventually felt they had to step over the line, and then they kept right on going.

    Still the decision to leave was almost always wrenching, because it could mean becoming an outcast from one’s family and community. Also, fundamentalists are frequently taught that no one is lower, and will burn more terribly in hell, than a person who abandons their true religion. What then gnawed away so mercilessly at the apostates that they could no longer overpower doubt with faith?

    Their families will say it was Satan. But we thought, after interviewing dozens
    of “amazing apostates,” that (most ironically) their religious training had made them leave. Their church had told them it was God’s true religion. That’s what made it so right, so much better than all the others. It had the truth, it spoke the truth, it was The Truth. But that emphasis can create in some people a tremendous valuing of truth per se, especially among highly intelligent youth who have been rewarded all their lives for getting “the right answer.” So if the religion itself begins making less and less sense, it fails by the very criterion that it set up to show its superiority.

    Similarly, pretending to believe the unbelievable violated the integrity that had brought praise to the amazing apostates as children. Their consciences, thoroughly developed by their upbringing, made it hard for them to bear false witness. So again they were essentially trapped by their religious training. It had worked too well for them to stay in the home religion, given the problems they saw with it.”
    ~The Authoritarians, 130-1

  • Marc Shleske semi-recently shared an article he had found in which a pastor advocated for the removal of any and all national symbols from church sanctuaries – the USA flag should not fly in church. And he pointed out that to fly the flag within God’s house is to explicitly place patriotism and nationalism on the same level as our love of and relationship with God. I agree with him wholeheartedly, but read comment after comment of people twisting themselves in knots to explain why we MUST keep the flag there, God loves America “best”, etc and so forth. It made me a little sick to read how much we have consumed this idea that the USA is God’s “favored country”,w hen that makes no sense and goes directly against literally everything Jesus Christ told us of God.

    It’s like the prosperity gospel – it’s sickening, and -millions of people buy it-.

    I’m reading a book right now called The Resignation of Eve. Have you read it? It’s about the many and myriad ways church cultures mistreats, takes for granted, or outright wounds women. It goes into the reasons some of them agree with that treatment, some of them don’t but can’t/won’t leave, some of them leave church, and some even leave God and Christianity itself. It’s a really fascinating book – if you haven’t read it, I highly recommend. Although there are a few chapters that consist of perfectly intelligent women twisting themselves into theological knots to explain why women just aren’t equal enough to have leadership rolls on church because Paul said it once so it’s set in stone – but even though he ALSO declared women must wear headcoverings, THAT’S cultural and totes doesn’t count.

  • D Liston

    I don’t go to church because the people who write and share ‘memes’ like this one are very proud to be at church. As for some of these ‘reasons’, imagine if Jesus were to say something similar …
    ‘They never came to visit me’
    ‘Every time I went they asked for money’
    ‘They were hypocrites’
    ‘They were unfriendly’
    If there is a common complaint being made about your church, that’s not automatically people being ‘bitter’. That’s more likely an ACTUAL PROBLEM with your church.
    Also, if your church is like a sporting event, I would much rather watch actual baseball. Those guys are professionals. (GO JAYS!)

    • D Liston

      Another reason I don’t go to church is that I feel the ‘subdivisions’ of class pretty intensely. I’m scruffy-looking, most of the time. To not be scruffy-looking is a kind of epic battle for me and I often feel fake and dehumanized at the end of it. I often feel like I’m being judged as unworthy of entrance over stupid stuff like my clothes and weight and hair. I can’t seem to get my ‘style’ up to snuff.
      Church feels like the times I’ve gone somewhere fancy (restaurants, opera) with rich friends/family. Like I’m an interloper, or imposter. Like I’m embarrassing and ‘shouldn’t be here’.

  • DugongMotorboatJoust

    The issues with reconciling science and fundamentalist belief were definitely part of my decision to leave my parents’ Pentecostal church in my late teens, but even before I got to the point of really being able to parse what was philosophically confused or contradictory about their system, I had (inwardly) withdrawn from their community because I simply could not feel what they were feeling.

    I saw the ecstatic experiences, the overwhelming outpouring of emotion, the spiritual awakenings, and all that I knew as a depressed child was that I would have gladly sold my soul for a taste of that joyful feeling and a glimpse of that ‘truth.’ There was no external judgment from the members of the congregation that I could not feel the way that they did, but there still was a sense that these feelings and experiences were basically bestowed both as an unearned act of grace and as a natural consequence of having the right mind and heart. Apparently, I thought, I had none of these things.

    The church I grew up in was a true community. Very small, only about 40 congregants. I had known virtually every person in the church my entire life, and they felt like aunts and uncles (the pastor and his wife included), not some impersonal mass of strangers. They were active in the community, joining with other churches to do canned and fresh food drives, visit people in the nursing home and be willing to hold services and musical events there at their request. I watched the pastor call out and condemn a physically abusive father in front of the full congregation. I listened to my grandmother when she felt moved to stand up in the middle of the service and start speaking, in wildly poetic flourishes (so unlike her stoic Depression-era farmhand upbringing) of being filled with love for everyone.

    As I grew I started to become critical of elements of their worldview: the way they seemed to consider themselves besieged by evil and persecution, despite being well-respected community members in a small rural town; their homophobia (which was particularly hard to swallow, as the pastor had a lesbian daughter he loved dearly); their strange obsessive focus on sexual immorality, despite the fact that half the congregation was quite advanced in age and about as sexual as a turnip; and most of all, their unshakeable belief that the end of the world/ the Rapture was coming “soon,” and the weird mixture of creepy joy and dread that this belief seemed to bring them.

    After I shook them off I went through an angry atheist phase that lasted for much of my 20s. I’m agnostic at 32 now, and I can see a lot clearer–and I find that I feel compassion for them rather than anger. I was able to see that they belonged to a world that no longer really existed, and the end they were waiting for had already happened–they simply could not adapt quickly enough to parse the new world that had emerged, and so everything around them seemed threatening. I could also see that even though I rejected their way of life, I very much took with me the feeling that there is nothing more important than living ethically. And lastly, I found that I could now easily spot unreasoning belief in myself, not just others–which is a form of scrutiny that many of the people in my current social circle who grew up in more liberal environments seem to be unable to turn on themselves.

  • Michele Crawford

    My experience of being a Jesus follower isn’t about church attendance. It’s the essence of a 24-7 all-of-life affair, and being committed to my Christian community – my companions on the faith journey we together attempt to live out his kingdom on earth. As a body needs all its parts engaging to function, so it is with Christ’s body and being the broken person I am I could not survive living true to Jesus and be loyal to the gospel on my own.

  • Yes. Agree with all of this. For me, I was going to church because “that’s what real Christians do” and I finally realized that it’s MUCH more healthy for me to not go and stay at home and believe “God loves me regardless of whether I go to church.”

    On another note, could you not use the word “homophobia”? I have phobias- it’s a legitimate mental health condition- and I believe that words like “homophobia”, “biphobia”, etc are using the stigma about mental health as a weapon against those who oppose LGBT rights. Sort of like “people who don’t support LGBT rights are as ridiculous as those silly people who are afraid of harmless stuff for no reason, hahahaha.” It’s a form of ableism. I wrote a whole post about this last week: link.

  • Fuego

    I’ve been in a spectrum of church cultures, from pastors that distanced themselves with the mis-applied scripture “Touch not the Lord’s anointed!” as though they were Christ and not to be questioned (complete with hired cronies who would say to questioners “You’d probably be happier somewhere else”), to guys that behaved as though god took them to a special place that you just weren’t ready for yet, to some who meant well but were unprepared to deal with real humans who didn’t fit the neat pigeon-holes they learned about in seminary, to others that really were trying to do right by others and had to deal with a lot of church gossip about themselves. Add to that mix that the only reason to be there is a shared myth that presupposes that we believe in our own wretchedness beneath a psychotic and narcissistic god, and things can get pretty ugly on a regular basis.

  • What a peculiar meme. It makes an unquestioned assumption that a church service and a sports event are fundamentally similar things, when they are not remotely similar in nature, purpose or effect.

  • Timothy Swanson

    I agree. I’m still attending church, but it has been an occasional struggle, and it has centered to a degree around my kids. I worry about the messages they may absorb. In addition to the reasons you gave, I do not feel I can trust the church to show a commitment to speaking truth when it comes to history or philosophy. (At least our church isn’t Young Earth, or I would have to include science as well.) The fact that the only place my daughters are likely to be told that they have to obey men or that their opportunities should be limited because of their gender is the church is concerning to me as well.

  • Debra Montague

    I haven’t been to church in any capacity outside of weddings/funerals since my divorce, some 15 years ago. When my marriage started falling apart, my church’s youth pastor reached out to our daughter about issues she’d like to discuss. This guy was fantastic in creating a safe place where kids could express feelings. But when she said she wanted to discuss the fear of a broken family, several kids, who were, themselves, products of divorce, told her that was “old news” and she should just suck it up. The leader tried to reclaim the discussion, but these kids would have none of it. My daughter left the room in tears and told both me and him she was never going back to youth group. He left the church a year later over parents dictating to him what their children should be discussing.
    I found that people treated me like a pariah or someone with a communicable disease. When I came to church, people walked away from me. If I volunteered to help with something, I was told, “We have enough volunteers” even when I knew they were still looking for people. I belonged to a women’s group that met Tuesday evenings and was told not to come because my presence made some women “uncomfortable”.
    There was nothing in the church to help people going through divorce. I kept asking the pastor for something pastoral. I felt abandoned by the God I supposedly worshipped. If he was so kind and benevolent, how could this happen to me? Finally, after 2 years of monthly pestering, pastor called a therapist who dealt in grief to come have classes. She wasn’t particularly religious and although I went through all the classes offered, It was clear this was just something to shut me up. I walked away and never looked back.
    My mother is sad that I no longer go to church. It’s very important in her life. It’s not important for me to be in some brick and mortar place. I won’t say I’m atheist. I feel there is a God, but I also feel that he/she isn’t all that concerned with me. There just isn’t anything contained within organized religion that I can’t find outside of that. When you hear, “Whatever you do to the least of them, you do so unto me” and the behavior is avoidance and making sure people feel they aren’t wanted, that doesn’t say much for your “religion”.

  • AuntKaylea

    In the space of 6 months time I was outsourced from a job I loved, lost 2 family members in unrelated accidents, was assaulted, and was experiencing significant health problems for what turned out to be problematic tumors in my thyroid and lymph nodes. (I have had treatment and surgery and am thankfully doing better with that).

    In any case, I had volunteered with the church significantly – and I approached the leadership to communicate that I needed to resign as a volunteer due to my circumstances. I was guilted into staying on in what was supposed to be name only as the group I had mentored for 7 years was going to graduate high school in a few months.

    During that time, I struggled to get out of bed. I had panic attacks. I could barely leave my house at times. And I completely shut down. It was all I could do to return a phone call.

    Friends of mine who were not in the church would stop by to check on me. They called me – some daily to make sure I was ok. Some showed up with meals. Some just came over and cried with me when I let them.

    But my church leadership called me in and told me that my failure to continue to volunteer was sin in an ambush of a meeting. The only call I ever received from anyone in the church was the one to invite me to “come talk” one evening. When I showed up it was the pastor and the students I mentored assembled to “confront” me. I tried to explain about my panic attacks and emotional health and how I had not been able to reach out – the pastor interrupted me to say to the students who I had mentored (who were gathered there to see him confront me in my sin) – “See how she is blaming you for her sin?”

    After many tears and my refusal to talk anymore, I got up, walked out, and haven’t wanted to be in a church since. I called the pastor to inform him that it was a gross betrayal of my trust.

  • Our “pastor” cornered my husband at a high school football game last night, told him that if we felt left out it was our own fault and that he and his wife didn’t feel “led” to minister to us in any way. The juxtaposition of the two comments would have been almost amusing in its self centered blindness if it wasn’t so hurtful.

  • Samantha, thank you so much for talking about this, and other tough issues related to fundamentalist and evangelical churches. I spent my teen years in evangelical and fundamentalist churches, and so many of your words ring true for me. I found church an overloading and exhausting experience — I’m autistic and don’t do too well with constant loud noises and lack of space just to exist. If I want to honour God, or the gods, I want to do it in a space where I can truly come as I am. The overload and the misogyny, homophobia, spiritual abuse and the association between being a good Christian and being a Republican ended up turning me off permanently.