Christian Nightmares Too
Unlearning Purity Culture: Q&A with the Founder of No Shame Movement


Christian “purity culture,” which promotes the belief that sex outside of heterosexual marriage is sinful and offensive to God, has been covered extensively on this blog, from the bizarre "Push-Ups for Purity" challenge and the Liberty Counsel endorsed Purity Bear (that urges teens to abstain from sex until marriage), to the militaristic Every Man’s Battle for Purity and the unforgettable  “Christian Ladies (Purity Ring On It)”, a parody of the Beyoncé megahit.










But although it’s a somewhat easy (although deserving) target for ridicule, there’s also a very dark and damaging side to purity culture, and many who decide to leave it often struggle with developing a healthy attitude toward sex. So I was glad to recently discover No Shame Movement, which “functions as a platform to share stories of unlearning purity culture.” I caught up with its founder recently to learn more.

How did No Shame Movement come about?No Shame Movement began as a Twitter conversation back in early 2013. I was talking with other “recovering conservative” Christians about Christian bloggers who would lament the damage done by shaming sexual desires, yet at the same time draw the same conclusion: everyone should wait until marriage. In the end, it didn’t seem like they were condemning purity culture, but simply offering a kinder, gentler version. Saying, “Shaming people for sex outside of marriage is bad!” followed by “But still, ummm…wait till marriage, k?” is still enforcing the SAME view of sexuality as purity culture. A subway rat dressed up in a bowtie and top hat is still…a subway rat.


We wanted there to be an alternative to just “reframing” the concept of purity culture, and eventually came up with the hashtag #noshamemov that could serve as a platform for people to share their own stories of being shamed for sexual desires and their journey towards a healthier view of sexuality. This idea was inspired by #girlslikeus, the hashtag started by Janet Mock to empower trans women. 

It also seemed that many posts on purity culture were mostly framed through the perspective of white, straight, cisgender women, and a platform that was more inclusive was necessary. 


Can you talk about what it means to “unlearn purity culture” and why you feel that’s important?First I want to clarify the definition: purity culture holds the view that any kind of sexual behavior (including thoughts) outside of a heterosexual marriage is sin. Unlearning purity culture means developing a view of sexuality that doesn’t include shame for having sexual thoughts or desires, let alone acting on them in a safe, consensual way that respects boundaries. Many who have internalized purity culture constantly feel guilty for every sexual thought that comes into their head, for engaging in self-pleasure, or for being sexually active. These are things that are a part of human nature! 


One of the most commons lessons enforced in purity culture is that your body is not your own, and that when you engage in any physical activities, you’re “dishonoring” your future spouse (assuming, of course, you want to/can legally/can afford to get married). The other most common lesson is that premarital sex is sinful and dirty and will ruin your life and make you miserable. Well, guess what happens when you have premarital sex?  Self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead of dictating what people should do with their bodies, they should be encouraged to make healthy autonomous choices. This is why unlearning is so important.


There was actually a great post that came out a few months that addressed why simply “reframing” purity culture doesn’t go far enough.


What is your background in relation to Christianity and purity culture? And how did you get where you are today?I grew up in a mostly conservative Christian environment. My mother had “the talk” with me when I was eight, but it was always clear that sex was something that should be saved for marriage (and was dirty in ANY other context). This was also enforced at the conservative Christian school I attended in middle and high school. I have no memory of learning anything about how my body worked, but plenty about how I should “honor” my future spouse by not getting busy until I meet him, whenever that would be. I was also taught that as a girl, my clothing had some mysterious MAGICAL power to cause boys to turn into lust-driven beasts in danger of stumbling in their walk with God and that I should cover up. 


I can’t remember waking up one day and deciding I no longer believed this; it was more of a slow process. Much of it happened through candid conversations with other Christian female friends who chose to be sexually active. Also, the older I got (with marriage nowhere in sight) the more I realized that living that way was simply unsustainable. It’s still a learning process, but each day I grow farther and farther way from the internalized self-loathing I felt for never being “pure” enough. 



Do you still identify as Christian?I do identify as Christian, but that meaning has shifted since I was younger. I recognize that much of U.S. Christianity is influenced by culture, and that what we practice now would likely be unrecognizable to early Christians. I no longer believe that one needs religion to be moral (growing up in the church taught me that) and that faith is a personal decision for everyone.



Why did you decide to be anonymous?Two main reasons: I work for a Christian company and want to avoid trouble, and the content on No Shame Movement wouldn’t go over well with most of my family. 



Can you give us some examples of the types of stories that are commonly shared through No Shame Movement?I hear from a lot of people (mostly women) who talk about carrying sexual shame into marriage. All of a sudden they’re “allowed” to engage in something they’ve been told was dirty most of their lives, and the adjustment is often difficult. Also, a lot of people talk about the terrible analogies they were given about premarital sex: comparing people to chewed up gum, used tape, used cars, and other items that are deemed “worthless.” Because much of purity culture centers on policing the bodies of women, that tends to be the demographic I hear from the most.



What advice would you give to someone who is immersed in purity culture, but might be too scared or not know how to leave that world but wants to?Whew, where to start. First and foremost: there is nothing wrong with you. You are human, and having sexual thoughts and urges is COMPLETELY natural and nothing to be ashamed of. Your thoughts and your “fleshly desires” (as I often heard growing up) aren’t your enemy, or something you need to fight against. 


YOU have control over your own body, as well as who has access to it. Not your family, religious leader, significant other, or future spouse, but YOU. Having autonomy over your body includes deciding when YOU are ready to have sex, and no one has the right to shame you for the decisions you make, including the decision to abstain. Your self-worth is NOT tied to your sexual choices. 


If it’s possible, seek out someone you trust with whom you can have candid conversations about sex, without judgment. If that’s not an option, seek out an online community where you can have these conversations. Most importantly: don’t feel guilty for questioning what you’ve been taught. 



What are your main goals for No Shame Movement?Well, the movement has been growing organically, so I hope that continues. It began as a hashtag, then turned into a Twitter account, then a Tumblr page. My main goal is to provide a platform that is a safe, non-judgmental space for people to share their stories with others with similar experiences, and to encourage each other. For many people, just knowing they’re not alone and there are others out there with similar struggles is the first important step in unlearning internalized shame. 


I want people to view NSM as a movement that is inclusive, regardless of race, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, or religious affiliation. I view my role as mainly a facilitator, and try not to inject my own voice too much in the conversation. NSM is about having honest conversations that flesh out the ways purity culture is enforced and internalized, and how to move beyond this.



 

Unlearning Purity Culture: Q&A with the Founder of No Shame Movement

Christian “purity culture,” which promotes the belief that sex outside of heterosexual marriage is sinful and offensive to God, has been covered extensively on this blog, from the bizarre "Push-Ups for Purity" challenge and the Liberty Counsel endorsed Purity Bear (that urges teens to abstain from sex until marriage), to the militaristic Every Man’s Battle for Purity and the unforgettable “Christian Ladies (Purity Ring On It)”, a parody of the Beyoncé megahit.

But although it’s a somewhat easy (although deserving) target for ridicule, there’s also a very dark and damaging side to purity culture, and many who decide to leave it often struggle with developing a healthy attitude toward sex. So I was glad to recently discover No Shame Movement, which “functions as a platform to share stories of unlearning purity culture.” I caught up with its founder recently to learn more.

How did No Shame Movement come about?
No Shame Movement began as a Twitter conversation back in early 2013. I was talking with other “recovering conservative” Christians about Christian bloggers who would lament the damage done by shaming sexual desires, yet at the same time draw the same conclusion: everyone should wait until marriage. In the end, it didn’t seem like they were condemning purity culture, but simply offering a kinder, gentler version. Saying, “Shaming people for sex outside of marriage is bad!” followed by “But still, ummm…wait till marriage, k?” is still enforcing the SAME view of sexuality as purity culture. A subway rat dressed up in a bowtie and top hat is still…a subway rat.

We wanted there to be an alternative to just “reframing” the concept of purity culture, and eventually came up with the hashtag #noshamemov that could serve as a platform for people to share their own stories of being shamed for sexual desires and their journey towards a healthier view of sexuality. This idea was inspired by #girlslikeus, the hashtag started by Janet Mock to empower trans women

It also seemed that many posts on purity culture were mostly framed through the perspective of white, straight, cisgender women, and a platform that was more inclusive was necessary. 

Can you talk about what it means to “unlearn purity culture” and why you feel that’s important?
First I want to clarify the definition: purity culture holds the view that any kind of sexual behavior (including thoughts) outside of a heterosexual marriage is sin. Unlearning purity culture means developing a view of sexuality that doesn’t include shame for having sexual thoughts or desires, let alone acting on them in a safe, consensual way that respects boundaries. Many who have internalized purity culture constantly feel guilty for every sexual thought that comes into their head, for engaging in self-pleasure, or for being sexually active. These are things that are a part of human nature! 

One of the most commons lessons enforced in purity culture is that your body is not your own, and that when you engage in any physical activities, you’re “dishonoring” your future spouse (assuming, of course, you want to/can legally/can afford to get married). The other most common lesson is that premarital sex is sinful and dirty and will ruin your life and make you miserable. Well, guess what happens when you have premarital sex?  Self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead of dictating what people should do with their bodies, they should be encouraged to make healthy autonomous choices. This is why unlearning is so important.

There was actually a great post that came out a few months that addressed why simply “reframing” purity culture doesn’t go far enough.

What is your background in relation to Christianity and purity culture? And how did you get where you are today?
I grew up in a mostly conservative Christian environment. My mother had “the talk” with me when I was eight, but it was always clear that sex was something that should be saved for marriage (and was dirty in ANY other context). This was also enforced at the conservative Christian school I attended in middle and high school. I have no memory of learning anything about how my body worked, but plenty about how I should “honor” my future spouse by not getting busy until I meet him, whenever that would be. I was also taught that as a girl, my clothing had some mysterious MAGICAL power to cause boys to turn into lust-driven beasts in danger of stumbling in their walk with God and that I should cover up. 

I can’t remember waking up one day and deciding I no longer believed this; it was more of a slow process. Much of it happened through candid conversations with other Christian female friends who chose to be sexually active. Also, the older I got (with marriage nowhere in sight) the more I realized that living that way was simply unsustainable. It’s still a learning process, but each day I grow farther and farther way from the internalized self-loathing I felt for never being “pure” enough. 

Do you still identify as Christian?
I do identify as Christian, but that meaning has shifted since I was younger. I recognize that much of U.S. Christianity is influenced by culture, and that what we practice now would likely be unrecognizable to early Christians. I no longer believe that one needs religion to be moral (growing up in the church taught me that) and that faith is a personal decision for everyone.

Why did you decide to be anonymous?
Two main reasons: I work for a Christian company and want to avoid trouble, and the content on No Shame Movement wouldn’t go over well with most of my family. 

Can you give us some examples of the types of stories that are commonly shared through No Shame Movement?
I hear from a lot of people (mostly women) who talk about carrying sexual shame into marriage. All of a sudden they’re “allowed” to engage in something they’ve been told was dirty most of their lives, and the adjustment is often difficult. Also, a lot of people talk about the terrible analogies they were given about premarital sex: comparing people to chewed up gum, used tape, used cars, and other items that are deemed “worthless.” Because much of purity culture centers on policing the bodies of women, that tends to be the demographic I hear from the most.

What advice would you give to someone who is immersed in purity culture, but might be too scared or not know how to leave that world but wants to?
Whew, where to start. First and foremost: there is nothing wrong with you. You are human, and having sexual thoughts and urges is COMPLETELY natural and nothing to be ashamed of. Your thoughts and your “fleshly desires” (as I often heard growing up) aren’t your enemy, or something you need to fight against. 

YOU have control over your own body, as well as who has access to it. Not your family, religious leader, significant other, or future spouse, but YOU. Having autonomy over your body includes deciding when YOU are ready to have sex, and no one has the right to shame you for the decisions you make, including the decision to abstain. Your self-worth is NOT tied to your sexual choices. 

If it’s possible, seek out someone you trust with whom you can have candid conversations about sex, without judgment. If that’s not an option, seek out an online community where you can have these conversations. Most importantly: don’t feel guilty for questioning what you’ve been taught. 

What are your main goals for No Shame Movement?
Well, the movement has been growing organically, so I hope that continues. It began as a hashtag, then turned into a Twitter account, then a Tumblr page. My main goal is to provide a platform that is a safe, non-judgmental space for people to share their stories with others with similar experiences, and to encourage each other. For many people, just knowing they’re not alone and there are others out there with similar struggles is the first important step in unlearning internalized shame. 

I want people to view NSM as a movement that is inclusive, regardless of race, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, or religious affiliation. I view my role as mainly a facilitator, and try not to inject my own voice too much in the conversation. NSM is about having honest conversations that flesh out the ways purity culture is enforced and internalized, and how to move beyond this.

 

From Christian Nightmares: An Exclusive Interview with the Director of Kidnapped for Christ
Director Kate Logan’s new documentary Kidnapped for Christ (watch the trailer here) tells the stories of several American teenagers who were taken from their homes and shipped off to Escuela Caribe, a Christian boarding school in the Dominican Republic. Although billed as a rehabilitation center for troubled teens—many of whom were sent there by their parents for being gay or experiencing same-sex attraction—the school is revealed to be a military-style work camp where students are regularly subjected to “humiliating and degrading” treatment.
After a successful Kickstarter campaign and with Lance Bass onboard as Executive Director, Kidnapped for Christ is premiering this Friday at the Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. I contacted Logan recently via email to learn more about the origins of the project, the atrocities she witnessed at Escuela Caribe, and how she lost her Christian faith during the course of filming the documentary.
You started off with the intention of making a pro-Escuela Caribe film. Can you talk about that and explain what changed along the way?
Yes, when I originally got the idea to make this film, I had no idea that anything controversial was going on at this school. I was under the impression that Escuela Caribe was an alternative therapy program where troubled teens could learn about another culture and work through their issues in a safe environment away from the bad influences back home. 
My first clue that things might not be what they seem was when I got in contact with some former students of the school. They told me some very disturbing stories about abuse that they suffered there. However, most of them had been there 10-20 years ago, so I wasn’t sure if any of those things were still going on, or if these were just isolated incidents. 
Once I got down to the school and started filming, it wasn’t long before I realized that not much had changed over the years. The points and levels system, the punishments, the lingo—they were all exactly as the former students described them. Even the staff admitted that the program hadn’t changed much over the 35 years they had been operating. I saw for myself that students were given humiliating and degrading punishments even for small offenses. 
For example, one of my first days filming I saw a girl scrubbing the steps to the school all day long and she was reprimanded for “taking a knee”—she was told that she could not rest on her knees while scrubbing. So, basically she had to take a stress position for over six hours while scrubbing in the hot Dominican sun. There was also another girl who had to scrub an empty pot all day while facing the wall; I was told that this was her punishment for not having a good relationship with her house mother. These things were just the very tip of the iceberg, but they gave me insights into the culture of fear and intimidation that the staff created… (Read the full interview on Christian Nightmares)

From Christian Nightmares: An Exclusive Interview with the Director of Kidnapped for Christ

Director Kate Logan’s new documentary Kidnapped for Christ (watch the trailer here) tells the stories of several American teenagers who were taken from their homes and shipped off to Escuela Caribe, a Christian boarding school in the Dominican Republic. Although billed as a rehabilitation center for troubled teens—many of whom were sent there by their parents for being gay or experiencing same-sex attraction—the school is revealed to be a military-style work camp where students are regularly subjected to “humiliating and degrading” treatment.

After a successful Kickstarter campaign and with Lance Bass onboard as Executive Director, Kidnapped for Christ is premiering this Friday at the Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. I contacted Logan recently via email to learn more about the origins of the project, the atrocities she witnessed at Escuela Caribe, and how she lost her Christian faith during the course of filming the documentary.

You started off with the intention of making a pro-Escuela Caribe film. Can you talk about that and explain what changed along the way?

Yes, when I originally got the idea to make this film, I had no idea that anything controversial was going on at this school. I was under the impression that Escuela Caribe was an alternative therapy program where troubled teens could learn about another culture and work through their issues in a safe environment away from the bad influences back home. 

My first clue that things might not be what they seem was when I got in contact with some former students of the school. They told me some very disturbing stories about abuse that they suffered there. However, most of them had been there 10-20 years ago, so I wasn’t sure if any of those things were still going on, or if these were just isolated incidents. 

Once I got down to the school and started filming, it wasn’t long before I realized that not much had changed over the years. The points and levels system, the punishments, the lingo—they were all exactly as the former students described them. Even the staff admitted that the program hadn’t changed much over the 35 years they had been operating. I saw for myself that students were given humiliating and degrading punishments even for small offenses. 

For example, one of my first days filming I saw a girl scrubbing the steps to the school all day long and she was reprimanded for “taking a knee”—she was told that she could not rest on her knees while scrubbing. So, basically she had to take a stress position for over six hours while scrubbing in the hot Dominican sun. There was also another girl who had to scrub an empty pot all day while facing the wall; I was told that this was her punishment for not having a good relationship with her house mother. These things were just the very tip of the iceberg, but they gave me insights into the culture of fear and intimidation that the staff created… (Read the full interview on Christian Nightmares)

Christian Nightmares Too: An Interview with a Gay Former Southern Baptist Pastor
A few months ago, I got a nice email from Larry Pate, the man behind the blog Holy Fucking ShitBalls. It included the following:
As a seminary-educated, former Southern Baptist pastor, I’ve witnessed (and embarrassingly participated in) the scam known as organized religion from the inside out. Hence, I have no qualms about exposing it for what it is.
Naturally, I had to find out more. This interview was done via email, and it’s one of the most compelling and insightful discussions I’ve had in a long time.
Can you tell us a little about your background?  Where did you grow up?  Were you raised as a Christian?
I am the older son of two, born to working class parents near Asheville, North Carolina. Since both of my parents were Southern Baptists, I was raised in the fundamentalist tradition of the blood sacrifice and soul-saving grace of Jesus Christ. In the vernacular, I was “saved” at the age of 10 during Vacation Bible School. At that point and for the next decade and a half, I was addicted to the practice of religion.  
Because I sensed from a young age that I was different (attracted my gender), and because I was uninterested in sports, more inclined to academics and arts, I was ill-fitted for the pressures of adolescence. My church, which was a small congregation within walking distance from my house, was a safe zone—a sanctuary in more than one sense—where my sexuality was never in question and where I was affirmed when I began learning to play the organ and acquiring leadership and public speaking skills. By the time I graduated from high school, I had served as organist, youth group leader, and the church’s sexton, while holding other part-time jobs in town. Interestingly, as I became more steeped in church, my parents were distancing themselves, having become disillusioned and disinterested.  
After high school graduation, I entered a large state university two hours from my hometown where I lived in a dorm. Away from my biological family for the first time in my life, I immediately gravitated to the Baptist Student Union (BSU) and the First Baptist Church. Within those walls I was once again safe from the awkwardness of not being athletic or a sports enthusiast or having interest in college clubs, fraternities, and drinking parties. I held a number of leadership positions at the BSU and at the church during the four years in which I earned my Bachelor’s degree, finally becoming paid staff my senior year at the church. While this was uncharacteristically a “high church” tradition for Baptists and far from the little country church in which I was raised with its emphasis on Biblical literalism, it was still a safe haven for me to escape peer pressures and a college culture that, at the time, I considered to be hopelessly hedonistic.
What made you decide to go to seminary?
During my freshman year of college I voluntarily submitted to vocational testing and, to my surprise, ministry was the number one result of the aptitude exams. Number two was physical therapy, which now that I’ve been an out gay man for 37 years, I can possibly understand. In retrospect, I spent too much time in college playing church, even working two summers for the Baptist Home Mission Board. My college studies were entirely secondary to my religious commitments, and it seemed a given that full-time pastoral ministry would become my calling.  I was “licensed” to preach by the denomination my senior year of college; and I visited the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville and was accepted pending college graduation.
In addition to absorbing all matters Christian during my college years (at the expense of my studies), I also witnessed how positions of influence, authority and power can corrupt clerics. Both of my role models, ministers at the church, had illicit sexual affairs. Both were married men and the parties with whom they had secretly carried on were church members, one of them being an underage boy, the other being the wife of one of the deacons. I pretended that these were anomalies and that carnal passion was altogether unrelated and antithetical to physical desire. I now know that to be untrue with a very fine line between religious and physical passion. Curiously, both men died relatively young; and in my “vengeful God” theology, I attributed their premature deaths to disobedience. To sin.  
As a pious Christian, I also had a chance encounter, a “moral failure,” while active at the BSU. Confronted by the chaplain, I denied the incident and adamantly refused to resign my positions. He predicted that my peers would delegitimize my leadership and force me out. They did not and, like my two mentors, I survived the episode unscathed. It was only after being in seminary and coming out several years later that I addressed a long letter to the Baptist State Convention’s director of campus ministry, detailing how poorly this incident had been handled by the BSU chaplain at the time.  
Concurrent with this process of preparing for ministry was a very real pressure to conform to an ecclesiastical culture in which marriage was if not a requirement, an expectation for any successful ministerial candidate. While I had had some limited sexual experiences with men, which I dismissed to adolescent experimentation, I had never engaged in sexual activities with women. I desperately hoped that I could perform satisfactorily. I had misgivings, even to the point of contemplating breaking off my engagement to a young woman to whom I had proposed senior year. However, one of the ministers, the one who had an affair with a boy, assured me that I would adjust to heterosexual married life just fine and that it was my obligation to marry the woman. I now realize decades later that he believed the sacrifice of his sexuality should be mine as well.  
On the day of my college graduation, I was married in my fiancé’s church, complete with hand bell choir, solos, congregational readings and singing—a truly high-church affair. The ceremony lasted almost longer than the marriage.
How long were you a pastor and what was that experience like?
All Master’s of Divinity candidates at the seminary were expected to be at least part-time pastors by their second semester. I pastored a rural Kentucky congregation for about one year before my calling and my marriage imploded simultaneously. I can now, some 35 years later, look back to my period as a seminarian and Baptist pastor as the time in which my faith began to crumble.   
Every accredited graduate-level seminary or divinity school has academic requirements, which include Biblical languages (Hebrew and New Testament Greek), church history, theology, clinical pastoral ministry, Christian ethics, and Biblical criticism. The latter may be included in scriptural studies; but my time at the Southern Baptist Seminary included separate courses in textual criticism. The coursework was arduous, far more challenging than the master’s degree I completed eight years later.  
My pastoral duties were routine although compact since it was only a weekend responsibility and a small congregation. I married them and buried them and I preached every Sunday. My flock responded positively to my leadership and they were stunned when I resigned before completing my first year as their pastor.
Without devolving into extraneous details, I will say that it was my seminary courses, the texts, coursework, lectures and research, which cast into question Biblical authority and thereby theology. While I had studied the Bible devotionally for years, it was only in the context of seminary that I was expected to study it critically. In other words, is the Bible the inerrant, infallible, unchanging word of God? Was it what it purported to be? Learning that the bulk of the Hebrew scriptures were altogether fictitious, plagiarized versions of other ancient mystery religions with a desperate agenda to galvanize and perpetuate an ethnic minority, and then to learn that the Gospels were not in fact the actual words or deeds of Jesus, since they were authored in thousands of variant forms generations after the death of Jesus, all produced an intellectual and theological crisis for which I could no longer authenticate myself as a minister of the gospel.
Curiously, my seminary professors cautioned us that the churches we served, that the congregations we pastored, weren’t ready to understand the Bible in these terms and that should we attempt to teach or preach Biblical criticism, we would do so at our own peril, i.e., probably lose our jobs. That fact alone was one that ate at my sense of integrity in being called to represent a truth that was in fact a fiction. Had I taken some comparative religion courses during my undergraduate years I might have never entered seminary; but now into my second year of a three-year Master’s of Divinity curriculum, my calling and my faith collapsed. My final semester was one of reading from the variant texts of the Greek New Testament, not one containing an entire “book” of the New Testament, and all with differing “verses” that seriously called into question the traditional understanding of these texts and the theological traditions established upon them. In ecclesiastical terms, it was an epiphany to learn that the foundation of Christianity was built upon confusing, conflicting, and competing claims to truth, with obvious parallels in so-called pagan traditions.  
When did you come out as gay?
I knew from a very young age—as I believe most children know, that I was “different.” Due to my religiosity and a literalist interpretation of biblical passages regarding homosexuality, I believed I was damned to eternal torment. I prayed daily as a young teenager that this “curse” would be removed from me and that I would be delivered from an obsession which I knew to be sexual perversion. Because I was overactive in my church, I had a key to the building; and there were times when I was so overwhelmed with shame, anxiety, guilt, grief and despair, I would flee to my little church, fall on my knees at the alter and beg my God to remove this “abomination” from my heart and mind. My imaginary god did nothing of the kind; and I defy anyone to say I simply didn’t beg or scream or pray hard enough. My teenage years were ones of conflict and confusion, of fear of being discovered (or “outed” as we say today) of extreme guilt and self-loathing. My self-hate and low self-esteem were reflected in poor grades in high school and unease in social situations outside the safe and secure walls of the church.
It should be noted that this was the 1960s and despite the sexual revolution that was making headlines in the larger culture, homosexuality was still very much a closeted subject and believed to be a psychological disorder. If the subject was treated by mainstream media at all, it was covered as depravity and scandal, as ruined and wasted lives. A great aunt who worked in the local bus terminal’s restaurant told lurid stories of “faggots and queers” being dragged by police out of the men’s restroom there after being caught in lewd sexual activities. That only underscored a conviction that my life would eventually be an embarrassment and scandal to my family, friends, church and community, and that I deserved nothing less than torment and damnation.  
I wanted so very desperately to be “normal” that while in my senior year of college, during which I was having sex with my roommate (who was later a soloist and groomsman in my wedding), I followed through on an ill-conceived marriage in mid-1975.  It was hardly consummated despite the two years in which we lived together at the seminary as husband and wife.  It was easy for me to fault the rigors of the academics with my poor bedroom performance, but in my heart of hearts, I knew my marriage was a sham. Our sex life was a disaster and I was emotionally and physically incapable of satisfying her.   
One and one half years into my marriage, I disclosed to my wife that I might be homosexual. She was bewildered although she had been cautioned by some of our mutual college friends that there were rumors of my homosexuality. I had denied them at the time, feverishly wanting to convince myself that I could be heterosexual. What ensued thereafter were six months of personal therapy outside the seminary campus with a secular counseling agency. I had sought out therapy while in college, but the student counseling center was less than enlightened relative to sexuality and my college counselor insisted that I had to overcome the compulsion to have sex with men for the sake of my future and for my eternal soul. The therapeutic experience in the late 1970’s while in seminary was altogether different wherein the culture was already beginning to reflect the presence of sexual minorities, although it was not until 1979, when the Stonewall incident broke down the closet door once and forever.  
While my wife believed that my therapy—along with fervent prayer—would “change” me, it was only a matter of a few weeks before I realized I wasn’t broken and there was nothing I needed to fix other than my self-image and my dishonest marital relationship. In late 1976, I told my wife that the marriage had to end, that I was withdrawing from the seminary and resigning my church. Looking back, and with no support at all from peers or family, I’m not sure where I found the emotional muscle to follow through with this drastic change of life. However, by 1977 I had returned home to my parents, with whom I had not lived in six years. I was broke, without work, and with no realistic blueprint for my future. Despite that difficult period of transition and adjustment, I never regretted that I had ended both my marriage and my ministerial training.
Did people at your church know you were gay?  Do they know now?  If so, what was their reaction?
When I resigned from the pulpit of my little Kentucky church, I was purposely vague in offering much explanation. I was far too tender, emotionally and spiritually, to debate with anyone the merits of what I was embarking upon. My wife was angry and bitter once I declared the marriage to be over, and she disclosed my homosexuality to her family, to our mutual friends from the seminary and college, and also to some folks at the church. It was seemingly her attempt to vindicate herself so that she would be held blameless for the failed marriage and perhaps some retribution for what she I believed I was doing to her. Among her last words were those assuring me that my life would be one of ruin.  
While I no longer adhered to biblical authority and theological orthodoxy, I still enjoyed the communal experience of church—it’s grandiose traditions, liturgical celebrations and rituals, music, art, and drama. I simply couldn’t return to my hometown fundamentalist church and instead I attended the grand First Baptist Church of Asheville. Its home is a magnificent and historic building that more resembles a Catholic basilica than a protestant denomination. There I sang with the chancel choir, seated behind the senior minister each Sunday with the service broadcast live on local television. I struck up a friendship with the organist, a closeted gay man, and I was content with my role as a layperson with no formal membership in any church.  
All of that changed when Anita Bryant made national headlines with her antigay campaign in Miami. At the time I had withdrawn from the Baptist Seminary, the Southern Baptist Convention was embroiled in a major internal dispute relative to the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture. Shortly after I left the seminary, its administration was deposed by a newly elected conservative board of the Convention and those professors who taught Biblical criticism and alternative, non-orthodox Baptist beliefs, were expelled. Concurrent with this was the Convention’s public positions on social issues that were threatening their literal and legalistic understanding of the Bible. When the Convention formally endorsed Anita Bryant’s efforts to flagrantly discriminate against gays and lesbians in Florida, once again I was confronted with a moral dilemma.  It ended for me—after 25 years—by finally leaving the Baptist church.  
Still seeking that communal affiliation, with a growing interest in social justice issues over evangelism, I discovered the left-leaning United Church of Christ (UCC). And although I was closeted at the First Baptist Church, I joined the UCC with full disclosure and I was welcomed warmly. During my tenure there, prior to a job transfer to Alabama, I was elected Chair of the Board of Deacons, Chaired the Music Committee (which leveraged the purchase of a new organ), and again I sang with the choir.
My coming out process became full circle and fully complete when I organized Asheville’s first LGBT support organization in conjunction with a United Way-funded family counseling service. I had stayed in contact with one childhood friend from my little neighborhood church there, and he was struggling with his sexual identity and seeing a counselor.  It occurred to me that he was surely not alone and that many in Western North Carolina were probably enduring the conflicted and confusion emotions.   
Despite the presence of two or three gay bars in Asheville, there was no community-based organization for support, education, and activism. With the help of a roommate and a few close gay friends, that changed in 1979 when we chartered a group and I was elected its first president. With only a half-dozen in the first couple of weekly meetings, we soon outgrew the counseling agency’s offices as we were attracting up to 100 gay, lesbian, and transgendered people from Western North Carolina. We found a new home at the Episcopal cathedral in Asheville and the organization soon made headlines with my interview and photos. It was only then that I fully came out to my parents and to my employer. My parents were divorced by that time and they grieved at my coming out, with my mother pleading with me not to “embarrass the family.” Years later she became far more knowledgeable, comfortable and supportive of me, accepting my partners as family.  
My employer was a local unit of a national non-profit where I held an administrative position that required me to appear on television and to make public presentations in schools, churches, industries and civic organizations. My dual role as a “gay activist” and the local agency’s official most often seen doing interviews almost cost me my job. I refused to soft-pedal either role and I prevailed, although I am certain that senior management was relieved when in 1981 I accepted a position with another unit in South Alabama.
My UCC church was distressed that I was leaving and honored me more than was necessary. The LGBT organization I founded in 1979 is still in existence and it has spawned a multitude of LGBT political, cultural, athletic, and arts groups.  I was asked to return to keynote their annual meeting in the late 1990s and I was delighted and gratified to see that our early efforts had yielded dramatic results with lives affirmed and changed forever.  
In your first email to me, you referred to organized religion as a scam. What do you mean by that?
The Abrahamic religions—Christianity, Islam, and Judaism—have been institutionalized to such a degree through elaborate buildings, salaried professional staff, print and electronic media productions, and partisan political activities that the tribal roots of all of these Bronze Age traditions are long lost. Christianity, which I know best, has become corporatized, most especially in America. It requires revenues over expenditures, i.e., profits, in which to perpetuate and inculcate the culture with elaborate, even theatrical messages of salvation and redemption. One need look no further than the emergence of televangelism during the last quarter of the 20th century, the slick studios, adoring audiences on their feet, and of course, “all major cards accepted” by all of these predatory, proselytizing rackets. While living in New Orleans, I noted that one large suburban church (whose senior minister was caught in a sexually-compromising position with one of his same-sex members and it was quickly hushed up) bought a downtown office building, which they labeled their “corporate offices.” Somehow I don’t think the historic Jesus, Moses or Mohammed would have ever framed their teachings within a corporate framework.   
Most disturbingly, organized religion preys on ignorant, unformed, vulnerable and gullible people. Pat Robertson recently assured an out-of-work, almost broke couple that if they gave a generous contribution to “God” (i.e., Robertson’s 700 Club) they would be blessed many times over with financial prosperity. The rise of the so-called “Prosperity Gospel,” which all too many prominent evangelists preach, is evidence in itself of the craven fraud of religious racketeering. Periodically an exposé of a prominent evangelist’s lifestyle blows up the double standards of the self-sacrifice which they preach versus the lavish lifestyle they lead behind gated compounds, traveling in private jets, with multiple homes and vehicles and investment accounts around the globe. Big religion has become big business. Look no further than the Crouch family’s Trinity Broadcasting Network, shiny made-for-TV evangelists like Benny Hinn, Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, Rod Parsley, James Robinson, Paula White, T.D. Jakes, and John and Matthew Hagee. Most of these are family owned and operated enterprises with policies and income known only to the family. Parsley has proudly stated, “I just love to talk about money. I just love to talk about your money. Let me be very clear—I want your money.  I deserve it.  The church deserves it.” (source: Chris Hedges, “American Fascists,” p. 171). These predators preach a false message of material wealth for gullible believers, and poverty, deprivation, and financial ruin for those who reject their self-serving gospel.  
Popular and successful evangelists, particularly televangelists, often acquire celebrity status with a cult following. While Roman Catholics are mass-centered and parishioners are typically satisfied to attend any mass, anywhere, irrespective of the priest presiding, evangelical Protestants are centered in “the Word,” whereby the quality—and often the volume—of the preaching is paramount. When these men (rarely women) are gifted speakers and can entertain, thrill, frighten, and motivate large numbers of people (and also large monetary collections), they become almost god-like themselves. Their narcissism knows no bounds as their following grows, with larger building projects, national television exposure, and book, DVD and movie deals. Some, by virtue of their popularity, are considered to be spiritual or morality experts and are invited to testify before Congressional committees or advise presidents. In my personal training and theology, nothing can be farther from the historical Jesus than today’s successful megachurch pastor or televangelist.  
God has become a business. A very big and very profitable business. I’ve borrowed the pejorative term “scamvangelist” from another blogger to better describe their ilk. Worse yet, religion in the U.S. is a tax-exempt racket, which deprives the country of desperately needed revenue. Despite strict IRS rules against partisan politicking, many evangelical churches are now testing the IRS, openly preaching partisan politics, endorsing political candidates (generally Republicans), and challenging the IRS to investigate their violation of 501(c)(3) rules. In too many mainstream religions, preachers, priests and imams have become nothing more than political operatives. Since Barack Obama became president, the envelope has been pushed even further since he represents “the antichrist” for these theological train-wrecks. Demonizing the culture, its popular celebrities and elected officials is always good for the bottom line, however. In fact, religious adherence historically declines when believers aren’t presented with an “us versus them” paradigm. They’re far more comfortable knowing they’re at war with something or someone. 
Closely related is the relatively modern development of religious organizations that are not exclusively affiliated with one denomination, but frame a social, cultural or political mission that appeals to narrow ideological communities. These quasi-religious organizations include The American Family Association, The Family Research Council, Liberty Counsel, all of which are designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “hate groups” since they rail against homosexuals and the reproductive choices of women.  They are also tax-exempt organizations whose officers appeal to the baser, prejudicial instincts of the population in perpetuating endless culture wars. Some, including the National Organization for Marriage, Mission America, Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, and Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays, receive direct funding from ecclesiastical sources, either through the denominations’ national budgets or individual congregations who buy into their narrow, Byzantine bigotry. 
In addition to the profit motive, there’s an intellectual scam being perpetrated by clerics of every stripe. Every graduate of an accredited graduate school of theology has been exposed to church history, linguistics, Biblical and textual criticism, Christian ethics, clinical pastoral care, and advanced theology courses. Yet popular and prevailing myths of Biblical literalism, magic and miracles, apocalyptic violence, the “second coming,” heaven and hell all still pervade the belief systems of too many religious people. The crime is that those who teach and preach such nonsense know better. At best it’s intellectual dishonesty; and at worst it’s economic, cultural, and political opportunism. 
Given the power many of today’s popular preachers, “prophets,” and priests have accrued, to challenge or to contradict their distinctive, customized, and self-serving interpretations and theology is to reject God. Or so they would have their minions believe. Having spent decades as a Southern Baptist, I can attest to the cultural conformity that exists within that denomination. Clergy are not only to be respected, but they are to be revered, hence the title “Reverend.” Disobedience to the teachings and instructions of pastors is conflated with disobedience to God. Men of the cloth still have the power to excommunicate congregants—figuratively and in the Catholic tradition, literally—who stray from the party line. Authoritarianism and control mechanisms are built into every church’s bylaws either implicitly or explicitly. In the vast majority of faith traditions, righteous certitude is reinforced with ancient creeds and denominational statements of faith. A critical questioning of human or Biblical authority is not only disparaged, but also considered to be evidence of “back-sliding” into heresy or sin.  
Finally, the dominionist movement, which completely politicizes Christianity and seeks to redefine democracy as theocracy, is perhaps the most extreme example of religious scam. One doesn’t have to look far into the halls of our Congress or the courts or state legislatures before finding public officials who call for a state religion (as did the N.C. state legislature in its last session) for which the Bible supersedes the Constitution, and Christianity and its powerful leaders—often evangelists, self-styled and self-appointed preachers and prophets—are to be consulted prior to the enactment of public policy. These radicals believe that America is, in fact, a “Christian nation” and that the country has strayed from its foundational, fundamentalist Christian beliefs. Separation of church and state is a myth to this crowd, and their leaders, including the pseudo-historian David Barton, speak convincingly of a country governed by (his) almighty God. The inherent problem is that such a God is invisible and not audibly heard except as seen and heard by fallible, often craven, agenda-driven human beings.   
When did you stop being a believer and why?
After moving to Florida in 1998, I volunteered extensively for a local hospice agency and in one year I was honored with their “Unsung Hero” award. One of their chaplains took an interest in my background and skills, suggesting that I finish my Master’s of Divinity and specialize in clinical chaplaincy. I found a multi-cultural, non-denominational seminary in Miami, which accepted all of my Baptist seminary credits and I enrolled there in the fall of 2001. Needing a local church to validate my ministerial credentials upon completion of seminary, I joined a United Church of Christ in Ft. Lauderdale where I was immediately called upon to be a liturgist, offer prayers, and to write litanies for worship.
While I had rejected fundamentalist Christianity in the 1970’s, I thought that perhaps I retained enough theological understanding and interest to actually make chaplaincy work for me and, more importantly, for people facing acute or chronic medical conditions and end of life issues. However, during that first semester back in divinity school, 9/11 occurred.  I was at a boyfriend’s house (himself a devout Catholic) when we witnessed the terrorist attack in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. Seminary classes were cancelled that evening and Will and I went to the Catholic cathedral in Miami for a memorial mass.   
When classes resumed at the seminary the next week, nothing was the same for me. One of my professors abandoned his lesson plans and we spent three hours that evening searching for evidence of “God” in the horrific, unspeakable attacks on our country. Curiously, neither he nor my classmates had anything close to theologically satisfying explanations for a God who was allegedly omniscient (did he know that thousands of lives would be taken on 9/11?), omnipotent (could he have prevented this unspeakable evil?) or was he simply a fraud, uncaring and unwilling to intervene?  In other words, why did this happen? More broadly, why is there suffering if God is able to end it? In the midst of my new plan for the final decades of my life, one in which I wanted to devote myself to people who were suffering, I experienced a real and final crisis of what little faith I had. I couldn’t answer these fundamental questions for myself, much less for one who might be holding a child dying of cancer.
Unable to convince myself of the simultaneous presence of omniscience, omnipotence, and a merciful god who loves his creation, I knew what little belief I had hoped to regenerate had crumbled around me in late 2001.  I withdrew from the seminary, ceased attending church, and I threw myself more into the critical study of Christianity, Islam and Judaism. I wanted to be certain that there was no rational foundation for faith even before I read any works by contemporary atheists such as Dawkins, Denkins, Hichens, and Harris. I spent the next full year re-examining the theologies for the Abrahamic literature and by the time I read “the new atheists,” I was not only a doubter, I had become a disbeliever. Having read even more since that time, having had personal encounters with other skeptics and former believers, I’m now fully, 100% convinced, that gods have and are and always will be human constructs to satisfy human insecurities, provide for social order and control the culture. They are products of overactive imaginations, human desperation to believe there is life after death, and—too often—calculated schemes to extort and exploit vulnerable peoples.  
When I left Christianity, although it was ultimately very liberating, it was initially really hard: I struggled with depression, anxiety, anger, etc. What was it like for you?  Have you gotten over it?  If so, how did you do it?
My experience has been quite the opposite from yours. I have found my journey from ardent believer to strident disbeliever to be one of total empowerment. With certain knowledge that there is no supernatural, transcendent reality outside of ourselves, that this life is our only life, I find that I am even more curious about the wonders of the physical world. A friend who was also raised Southern Baptist but has since converted to Episcopal, bemoans what he believes is my willful denial of mystery. I have tried to reassure him that in my evidence-based reality, there is still much mystery, much wonder and awe.  In fact, I consider the tenants of faith, fluid as they are relative to thousands of denominations and faith traditions, to be not only intellectually constrictive, but utterly void of mystery. I certainly know that many shrug off the problem of human suffering to a God “who works in mysterious ways.” That may be a self-gratifying notion of mystery to them, but to me it reflects a lazy, uncurious, sheep-like acceptance. Of course sheep are often metaphors for God’s people in the Christian and Hebrew texts; but sheep as we know are always fleeced and then slaughtered.  
If I harbor anger or resentment about religion today, it’s twofold. One is entirely directed toward myself. While I was a product of a religious family, I could certainly have taken a different path once I left home for college, rather than falling into the safe, false security of primitive belief. Yes, it did provide sanctuary for my sexual confusions, and it also helped me to develop leadership, organizational and public speaking skills. However, had I not taken the easier route, had I explored other faith traditions, had I taken some comparative religion and philosophy courses at my secular state college, had I challenged myself spiritually and intellectually, I would have probably never matriculated for seminary. And since seminary and ministerial preparation was my prime motivation to get married, I surely wouldn’t have followed through with an ill-conceived marriage, which only inflicted unnecessary hurt on my wife and our families.   
Some people in their later years defiantly declare they have no regrets. I tend to believe such people are either idiots or liars. I honestly regret the years that I devoted to the folly of religion. At age 60, I look back with embarrassment at my gullibility and adherence to such irrational ideologies. There may be something sacred in our universe, something so mystifying and awe-inspiring that human minds may never conceive or understand it. But it’s not the ancient, tribal magic and miracles described in the Abrahamic religious traditions.  
One thing I think a lot of people get out of church is the sense of community it offers. Where do you find community these days, or what’s your new “church”?
I have no parallel experience to “church” in my life today, nor do I seek one. However, I can still enjoy classical, even “sacred,” organ or choral music within the confines of some churches today. I still own a church organ, which I enjoy playing occasionally. By attending cultural events presented within the walls of a church or synagogue, I am not endorsing their theology or creed. I’m simply enjoying timeless classics of fine musical literature, which is performed by gifted artists in churches. Pragmatically, most of the fundamentalist, right wing churches have little to offer in the way of art and culture and I find myself more often than not in Episcopal, Methodist, or Presbyterian churches.  These are also the denominations that are most often engaged in worthy social justice issues, programs of benevolence for the marginalized or impoverished of our world. Hence, if I must pay an admission price to enjoy a cultural event, I have little concern that it will be used for predatory proselytizing. 
Intellectually, I enjoy informed dialogue with people who have survived the fundamentalism of their youth and have come out more enlightened, liberated, and free. Skeptics and free thinkers are still often reluctant to self-identify since society still has a strong cultural tradition for spirituality. However, I see that changing rapidly among younger people who no longer feel compelled to claim an obligatory faith.
I also identify with those who’re engaged in progressive politics. Having undergraduate courses in history, social science, economics, and political science and a master’s degree in public administration, I am compelled to stay informed of vital issues in my community and in my country. Where possible and practical, I lobby for legislation that reflects the best of our nation’s values, and empowers our citizens through education and opportunity.  
While living and working in Louisiana, I was asked to help lobby for the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act. I did so with enthusiasm and I was later invited to the White House to witness the renewal and extension of the act by President Clinton. Successful endeavors such as these, collaborating with motivated individuals and organizations, provide me with a real sense of purpose and community, knowing untold millions will be advantaged by such actions.  
Given the information age in which we live, anyone who seeks a sense of community can find such, somewhere and somehow. There are enough special interest groups, worth causes and organizations, volunteer opportunities, and local and national programs and efforts with which one can network, affiliate and enjoy some sense of contribution and community. The age of the village church being the epicenter of a community is gone forever, and I don’t mourn its passing.
What would you say to someone who has released they are no longer a believer but is afraid to leave the church/and or abandon Christianity?
Although spirituality is deeply personal (and too often on public display to satisfy personal or professional agendas), I would suggest uninstalling this obsolete program with the fullest information available. Reading, studying, and reflecting on subjects related to comparative religions, the origin and development of sacred texts, and the history of religion in world civilization are among the places to start. Obviously, one’s own faith tradition possesses almost endless titles written from a sectarian perspective. However, if you are honestly seeking objectivity and less biased perspective, you must go outside of your particular faith or denomination and seek out established researchers and scholars of religion, often teaching at the major universities of the world.  
Former Catholic nun and now liberal religion researcher Karen Armstrong’s seminal publication, A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, is a great starting point, followed by her book, The Battle for God. 
Christians seeking a critical understanding of the Gospels, i.e., the foundation of Christianity, should certainly study the Jesus Seminar’s publication, The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus. This is written by a large consortium of religious scholars (including Dr. Armstrong) from around the world and their credentials are beyond question. Prior to the seminar’s examination of the five gospels, they offer a quick summation of Biblical literature—when, where, how, and for whom ancient texts originated—and a discussion of the Jesus of history versus the Christ of faith. And there are crucial distinctions. Bart Ehrman is a former fundamentalist Christian who’s now agnostic or atheist and chair of Religious Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill. His publication, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, is a must-read, particularly for those who insist that scripture is a monolithic work, inerrant and infallible. A more recent work, God’s Problem, examines suffering and faith and how the two cannot coexist.  
Anyone interested in apocalyptic (“rapture”), end-times (“second coming”), or the historic and contemporary exploitation of the last book of the Christian Bible in the Left Behind series taken from a literalistic interpretation of The Revelation, should read A History of the End of the World, by Jonathan Kirsch. His research is consistent with my semester-long seminary course in The Revelation, which lays bare the contemporary, hysterical, fear-mongering, self-serving theology of end times preachers and prophets.  
Once a critical understanding of what has been considered as authoritative sources for religious belief has been considered, contemporary skeptics and atheists should be studied. Among those are The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, The End of Faith by Sam Harris, and God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens. Online interviews featuring all of these writers are freely available with minimal search effort.  
For those who want to retain some measure of personal faith but understand more fully the human origin of the Bible and its archaic texts, Bishop Shelby Spong’s The Sins of Scripture is very helpful. Spong addresses the Bible’s authorship, along with problematic passages for the modern world, including the text’s patriarchal references to women, homophobia, and anti-Semitism. He concludes with an examination of proselytizing and missionary expansion that often includes religious bigotry and exclusionary creeds.  
The critical thinker can and should start by doing research with these tools and others, but that is perhaps the easiest part of evolving into free thought, skepticism, or disbelief. Coming out to one’s peers, friends and families is far more difficult and can often be emotionally traumatic. For those of us raised in a strict religious tradition, irrespective of faith, questioning or repudiating faith is often met with not only harsh, judgmental criticism, but also with social ostracism. In American culture, it has been historically an assumption that everyone adheres to a religion, even if they aren’t particularly observant.  It’s perhaps most strongly inculcated in Jews and Muslims since it’s accompanied by a cultural and ethnic identity. But even for Christians, an expression of doubt or disbelief can often become the subject of argument and dispute, and worse yet, for loss of friends and family. Even the workplace for many is one in which it might be unwise or unsafe to articulate questions that most believe are authoritatively addressed by their Bible.   
We’re only now learning with anonymous polling how many Americans consider themselves non-religious. However, polling is very different than personally identifying as an agnostic or atheist with friends, family and co-workers that one has known for a lifetime and has to relate on a regular basis. Holidays take on a different meaning for many after abandoning virgin birth and bodily resurrection, but that doesn’t mean we have to forgo them. While I never had much use for Easter, doubting the specious resurrection story early on, I’ve always been a big fan of Christmas. The Bethlehem story (all of which is myth and lore) can be portrayed inasmuch as flying reindeer. The lights, carols and candles of the holiday season can still be a source for mysticism and reflection if one is open to such.  
Finally, in the larger urban areas of the country there are fledgling, sometimes-established groups for skeptics, freethinkers, agnostics and atheists. As in every other endeavor in which one seeks solidarity or community, identifying and establishing a relationship with like-minded people is helpful. Sometimes such organizations are small and difficult to find, but they exist and they can be invaluable to one who has consciously begun to question and abandon long-held religious sentiments.  
Everyone has a choice: to desperately cling to traditional belief systems utterly unsupported by evidence, or to engage one’s critical faculties in examining the tangible, evidence-based realities of the universe. It’s really that simple. 
On a final note, I rarely consider myself a “militant atheist.” I recognize that I’ve had some extraordinary opportunities to examine religion and its failure to meet my intellectual criteria. While I may question people who still adhere to baseless, ancient dogma, I rarely challenge them on a personal basis. Where I do become agitated and militant is when religion is used as a weapon or a calculated ploy to advance a cultural or political agenda. Because so few believers have the critical skills to objectively evaluate their beliefs, I won’t stand by while opportunists—whether preachers or politicians—manipulate and exploit ignorance for personal gain. I can still quote scripture and verse and I can call up fire and brimstone when required.  
Despite my disbelief, I hope my legacy will still be one of insightful, honest compassion and service to those I’ve met and known in this brief pilgrimage we call life.
Check out Larry Pate’s blog Holy Fucking ShitBalls.

Christian Nightmares Too: An Interview with a Gay Former Southern Baptist Pastor

A few months ago, I got a nice email from Larry Pate, the man behind the blog Holy Fucking ShitBalls. It included the following:

As a seminary-educated, former Southern Baptist pastor, I’ve witnessed (and embarrassingly participated in) the scam known as organized religion from the inside out. Hence, I have no qualms about exposing it for what it is.

Naturally, I had to find out more. This interview was done via email, and it’s one of the most compelling and insightful discussions I’ve had in a long time.

Can you tell us a little about your background?  Where did you grow up?  Were you raised as a Christian?

I am the older son of two, born to working class parents near Asheville, North Carolina. Since both of my parents were Southern Baptists, I was raised in the fundamentalist tradition of the blood sacrifice and soul-saving grace of Jesus Christ. In the vernacular, I was “saved” at the age of 10 during Vacation Bible School. At that point and for the next decade and a half, I was addicted to the practice of religion.  

Because I sensed from a young age that I was different (attracted my gender), and because I was uninterested in sports, more inclined to academics and arts, I was ill-fitted for the pressures of adolescence. My church, which was a small congregation within walking distance from my house, was a safe zone—a sanctuary in more than one sense—where my sexuality was never in question and where I was affirmed when I began learning to play the organ and acquiring leadership and public speaking skills. By the time I graduated from high school, I had served as organist, youth group leader, and the church’s sexton, while holding other part-time jobs in town. Interestingly, as I became more steeped in church, my parents were distancing themselves, having become disillusioned and disinterested.  

After high school graduation, I entered a large state university two hours from my hometown where I lived in a dorm. Away from my biological family for the first time in my life, I immediately gravitated to the Baptist Student Union (BSU) and the First Baptist Church. Within those walls I was once again safe from the awkwardness of not being athletic or a sports enthusiast or having interest in college clubs, fraternities, and drinking parties. I held a number of leadership positions at the BSU and at the church during the four years in which I earned my Bachelor’s degree, finally becoming paid staff my senior year at the church. While this was uncharacteristically a “high church” tradition for Baptists and far from the little country church in which I was raised with its emphasis on Biblical literalism, it was still a safe haven for me to escape peer pressures and a college culture that, at the time, I considered to be hopelessly hedonistic.

What made you decide to go to seminary?

During my freshman year of college I voluntarily submitted to vocational testing and, to my surprise, ministry was the number one result of the aptitude exams. Number two was physical therapy, which now that I’ve been an out gay man for 37 years, I can possibly understand. In retrospect, I spent too much time in college playing church, even working two summers for the Baptist Home Mission Board. My college studies were entirely secondary to my religious commitments, and it seemed a given that full-time pastoral ministry would become my calling.  I was “licensed” to preach by the denomination my senior year of college; and I visited the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville and was accepted pending college graduation.

In addition to absorbing all matters Christian during my college years (at the expense of my studies), I also witnessed how positions of influence, authority and power can corrupt clerics. Both of my role models, ministers at the church, had illicit sexual affairs. Both were married men and the parties with whom they had secretly carried on were church members, one of them being an underage boy, the other being the wife of one of the deacons. I pretended that these were anomalies and that carnal passion was altogether unrelated and antithetical to physical desire. I now know that to be untrue with a very fine line between religious and physical passion. Curiously, both men died relatively young; and in my “vengeful God” theology, I attributed their premature deaths to disobedience. To sin.  

As a pious Christian, I also had a chance encounter, a “moral failure,” while active at the BSU. Confronted by the chaplain, I denied the incident and adamantly refused to resign my positions. He predicted that my peers would delegitimize my leadership and force me out. They did not and, like my two mentors, I survived the episode unscathed. It was only after being in seminary and coming out several years later that I addressed a long letter to the Baptist State Convention’s director of campus ministry, detailing how poorly this incident had been handled by the BSU chaplain at the time.  

Concurrent with this process of preparing for ministry was a very real pressure to conform to an ecclesiastical culture in which marriage was if not a requirement, an expectation for any successful ministerial candidate. While I had had some limited sexual experiences with men, which I dismissed to adolescent experimentation, I had never engaged in sexual activities with women. I desperately hoped that I could perform satisfactorily. I had misgivings, even to the point of contemplating breaking off my engagement to a young woman to whom I had proposed senior year. However, one of the ministers, the one who had an affair with a boy, assured me that I would adjust to heterosexual married life just fine and that it was my obligation to marry the woman. I now realize decades later that he believed the sacrifice of his sexuality should be mine as well.  

On the day of my college graduation, I was married in my fiancé’s church, complete with hand bell choir, solos, congregational readings and singing—a truly high-church affair. The ceremony lasted almost longer than the marriage.

How long were you a pastor and what was that experience like?

All Master’s of Divinity candidates at the seminary were expected to be at least part-time pastors by their second semester. I pastored a rural Kentucky congregation for about one year before my calling and my marriage imploded simultaneously. I can now, some 35 years later, look back to my period as a seminarian and Baptist pastor as the time in which my faith began to crumble.   

Every accredited graduate-level seminary or divinity school has academic requirements, which include Biblical languages (Hebrew and New Testament Greek), church history, theology, clinical pastoral ministry, Christian ethics, and Biblical criticism. The latter may be included in scriptural studies; but my time at the Southern Baptist Seminary included separate courses in textual criticism. The coursework was arduous, far more challenging than the master’s degree I completed eight years later.  

My pastoral duties were routine although compact since it was only a weekend responsibility and a small congregation. I married them and buried them and I preached every Sunday. My flock responded positively to my leadership and they were stunned when I resigned before completing my first year as their pastor.

Without devolving into extraneous details, I will say that it was my seminary courses, the texts, coursework, lectures and research, which cast into question Biblical authority and thereby theology. While I had studied the Bible devotionally for years, it was only in the context of seminary that I was expected to study it critically. In other words, is the Bible the inerrant, infallible, unchanging word of God? Was it what it purported to be? Learning that the bulk of the Hebrew scriptures were altogether fictitious, plagiarized versions of other ancient mystery religions with a desperate agenda to galvanize and perpetuate an ethnic minority, and then to learn that the Gospels were not in fact the actual words or deeds of Jesus, since they were authored in thousands of variant forms generations after the death of Jesus, all produced an intellectual and theological crisis for which I could no longer authenticate myself as a minister of the gospel.

Curiously, my seminary professors cautioned us that the churches we served, that the congregations we pastored, weren’t ready to understand the Bible in these terms and that should we attempt to teach or preach Biblical criticism, we would do so at our own peril, i.e., probably lose our jobs. That fact alone was one that ate at my sense of integrity in being called to represent a truth that was in fact a fiction. Had I taken some comparative religion courses during my undergraduate years I might have never entered seminary; but now into my second year of a three-year Master’s of Divinity curriculum, my calling and my faith collapsed. My final semester was one of reading from the variant texts of the Greek New Testament, not one containing an entire “book” of the New Testament, and all with differing “verses” that seriously called into question the traditional understanding of these texts and the theological traditions established upon them. In ecclesiastical terms, it was an epiphany to learn that the foundation of Christianity was built upon confusing, conflicting, and competing claims to truth, with obvious parallels in so-called pagan traditions.  

When did you come out as gay?

I knew from a very young age—as I believe most children know, that I was “different.” Due to my religiosity and a literalist interpretation of biblical passages regarding homosexuality, I believed I was damned to eternal torment. I prayed daily as a young teenager that this “curse” would be removed from me and that I would be delivered from an obsession which I knew to be sexual perversion. Because I was overactive in my church, I had a key to the building; and there were times when I was so overwhelmed with shame, anxiety, guilt, grief and despair, I would flee to my little church, fall on my knees at the alter and beg my God to remove this “abomination” from my heart and mind. My imaginary god did nothing of the kind; and I defy anyone to say I simply didn’t beg or scream or pray hard enough. My teenage years were ones of conflict and confusion, of fear of being discovered (or “outed” as we say today) of extreme guilt and self-loathing. My self-hate and low self-esteem were reflected in poor grades in high school and unease in social situations outside the safe and secure walls of the church.

It should be noted that this was the 1960s and despite the sexual revolution that was making headlines in the larger culture, homosexuality was still very much a closeted subject and believed to be a psychological disorder. If the subject was treated by mainstream media at all, it was covered as depravity and scandal, as ruined and wasted lives. A great aunt who worked in the local bus terminal’s restaurant told lurid stories of “faggots and queers” being dragged by police out of the men’s restroom there after being caught in lewd sexual activities. That only underscored a conviction that my life would eventually be an embarrassment and scandal to my family, friends, church and community, and that I deserved nothing less than torment and damnation.  

I wanted so very desperately to be “normal” that while in my senior year of college, during which I was having sex with my roommate (who was later a soloist and groomsman in my wedding), I followed through on an ill-conceived marriage in mid-1975.  It was hardly consummated despite the two years in which we lived together at the seminary as husband and wife.  It was easy for me to fault the rigors of the academics with my poor bedroom performance, but in my heart of hearts, I knew my marriage was a sham. Our sex life was a disaster and I was emotionally and physically incapable of satisfying her.   

One and one half years into my marriage, I disclosed to my wife that I might be homosexual. She was bewildered although she had been cautioned by some of our mutual college friends that there were rumors of my homosexuality. I had denied them at the time, feverishly wanting to convince myself that I could be heterosexual. What ensued thereafter were six months of personal therapy outside the seminary campus with a secular counseling agency. I had sought out therapy while in college, but the student counseling center was less than enlightened relative to sexuality and my college counselor insisted that I had to overcome the compulsion to have sex with men for the sake of my future and for my eternal soul. The therapeutic experience in the late 1970’s while in seminary was altogether different wherein the culture was already beginning to reflect the presence of sexual minorities, although it was not until 1979, when the Stonewall incident broke down the closet door once and forever.  

While my wife believed that my therapy—along with fervent prayer—would “change” me, it was only a matter of a few weeks before I realized I wasn’t broken and there was nothing I needed to fix other than my self-image and my dishonest marital relationship. In late 1976, I told my wife that the marriage had to end, that I was withdrawing from the seminary and resigning my church. Looking back, and with no support at all from peers or family, I’m not sure where I found the emotional muscle to follow through with this drastic change of life. However, by 1977 I had returned home to my parents, with whom I had not lived in six years. I was broke, without work, and with no realistic blueprint for my future. Despite that difficult period of transition and adjustment, I never regretted that I had ended both my marriage and my ministerial training.

Did people at your church know you were gay?  Do they know now?  If so, what was their reaction?

When I resigned from the pulpit of my little Kentucky church, I was purposely vague in offering much explanation. I was far too tender, emotionally and spiritually, to debate with anyone the merits of what I was embarking upon. My wife was angry and bitter once I declared the marriage to be over, and she disclosed my homosexuality to her family, to our mutual friends from the seminary and college, and also to some folks at the church. It was seemingly her attempt to vindicate herself so that she would be held blameless for the failed marriage and perhaps some retribution for what she I believed I was doing to her. Among her last words were those assuring me that my life would be one of ruin.  

While I no longer adhered to biblical authority and theological orthodoxy, I still enjoyed the communal experience of church—it’s grandiose traditions, liturgical celebrations and rituals, music, art, and drama. I simply couldn’t return to my hometown fundamentalist church and instead I attended the grand First Baptist Church of Asheville. Its home is a magnificent and historic building that more resembles a Catholic basilica than a protestant denomination. There I sang with the chancel choir, seated behind the senior minister each Sunday with the service broadcast live on local television. I struck up a friendship with the organist, a closeted gay man, and I was content with my role as a layperson with no formal membership in any church.  

All of that changed when Anita Bryant made national headlines with her antigay campaign in Miami. At the time I had withdrawn from the Baptist Seminary, the Southern Baptist Convention was embroiled in a major internal dispute relative to the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture. Shortly after I left the seminary, its administration was deposed by a newly elected conservative board of the Convention and those professors who taught Biblical criticism and alternative, non-orthodox Baptist beliefs, were expelled. Concurrent with this was the Convention’s public positions on social issues that were threatening their literal and legalistic understanding of the Bible. When the Convention formally endorsed Anita Bryant’s efforts to flagrantly discriminate against gays and lesbians in Florida, once again I was confronted with a moral dilemma.  It ended for me—after 25 years—by finally leaving the Baptist church.  

Still seeking that communal affiliation, with a growing interest in social justice issues over evangelism, I discovered the left-leaning United Church of Christ (UCC). And although I was closeted at the First Baptist Church, I joined the UCC with full disclosure and I was welcomed warmly. During my tenure there, prior to a job transfer to Alabama, I was elected Chair of the Board of Deacons, Chaired the Music Committee (which leveraged the purchase of a new organ), and again I sang with the choir.

My coming out process became full circle and fully complete when I organized Asheville’s first LGBT support organization in conjunction with a United Way-funded family counseling service. I had stayed in contact with one childhood friend from my little neighborhood church there, and he was struggling with his sexual identity and seeing a counselor.  It occurred to me that he was surely not alone and that many in Western North Carolina were probably enduring the conflicted and confusion emotions.   

Despite the presence of two or three gay bars in Asheville, there was no community-based organization for support, education, and activism. With the help of a roommate and a few close gay friends, that changed in 1979 when we chartered a group and I was elected its first president. With only a half-dozen in the first couple of weekly meetings, we soon outgrew the counseling agency’s offices as we were attracting up to 100 gay, lesbian, and transgendered people from Western North Carolina. We found a new home at the Episcopal cathedral in Asheville and the organization soon made headlines with my interview and photos. It was only then that I fully came out to my parents and to my employer. My parents were divorced by that time and they grieved at my coming out, with my mother pleading with me not to “embarrass the family.” Years later she became far more knowledgeable, comfortable and supportive of me, accepting my partners as family.  

My employer was a local unit of a national non-profit where I held an administrative position that required me to appear on television and to make public presentations in schools, churches, industries and civic organizations. My dual role as a “gay activist” and the local agency’s official most often seen doing interviews almost cost me my job. I refused to soft-pedal either role and I prevailed, although I am certain that senior management was relieved when in 1981 I accepted a position with another unit in South Alabama.

My UCC church was distressed that I was leaving and honored me more than was necessary. The LGBT organization I founded in 1979 is still in existence and it has spawned a multitude of LGBT political, cultural, athletic, and arts groups.  I was asked to return to keynote their annual meeting in the late 1990s and I was delighted and gratified to see that our early efforts had yielded dramatic results with lives affirmed and changed forever.  

In your first email to me, you referred to organized religion as a scam. What do you mean by that?

The Abrahamic religions—Christianity, Islam, and Judaism—have been institutionalized to such a degree through elaborate buildings, salaried professional staff, print and electronic media productions, and partisan political activities that the tribal roots of all of these Bronze Age traditions are long lost. Christianity, which I know best, has become corporatized, most especially in America. It requires revenues over expenditures, i.e., profits, in which to perpetuate and inculcate the culture with elaborate, even theatrical messages of salvation and redemption. One need look no further than the emergence of televangelism during the last quarter of the 20th century, the slick studios, adoring audiences on their feet, and of course, “all major cards accepted” by all of these predatory, proselytizing rackets. While living in New Orleans, I noted that one large suburban church (whose senior minister was caught in a sexually-compromising position with one of his same-sex members and it was quickly hushed up) bought a downtown office building, which they labeled their “corporate offices.” Somehow I don’t think the historic Jesus, Moses or Mohammed would have ever framed their teachings within a corporate framework.   

Most disturbingly, organized religion preys on ignorant, unformed, vulnerable and gullible people. Pat Robertson recently assured an out-of-work, almost broke couple that if they gave a generous contribution to “God” (i.e., Robertson’s 700 Club) they would be blessed many times over with financial prosperity. The rise of the so-called “Prosperity Gospel,” which all too many prominent evangelists preach, is evidence in itself of the craven fraud of religious racketeering. Periodically an exposé of a prominent evangelist’s lifestyle blows up the double standards of the self-sacrifice which they preach versus the lavish lifestyle they lead behind gated compounds, traveling in private jets, with multiple homes and vehicles and investment accounts around the globe. Big religion has become big business. Look no further than the Crouch family’s Trinity Broadcasting Network, shiny made-for-TV evangelists like Benny Hinn, Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, Rod Parsley, James Robinson, Paula White, T.D. Jakes, and John and Matthew Hagee. Most of these are family owned and operated enterprises with policies and income known only to the family. Parsley has proudly stated, “I just love to talk about money. I just love to talk about your money. Let me be very clear—I want your money.  I deserve it.  The church deserves it.” (source: Chris Hedges, “American Fascists,” p. 171). These predators preach a false message of material wealth for gullible believers, and poverty, deprivation, and financial ruin for those who reject their self-serving gospel.  

Popular and successful evangelists, particularly televangelists, often acquire celebrity status with a cult following. While Roman Catholics are mass-centered and parishioners are typically satisfied to attend any mass, anywhere, irrespective of the priest presiding, evangelical Protestants are centered in “the Word,” whereby the quality—and often the volume—of the preaching is paramount. When these men (rarely women) are gifted speakers and can entertain, thrill, frighten, and motivate large numbers of people (and also large monetary collections), they become almost god-like themselves. Their narcissism knows no bounds as their following grows, with larger building projects, national television exposure, and book, DVD and movie deals. Some, by virtue of their popularity, are considered to be spiritual or morality experts and are invited to testify before Congressional committees or advise presidents. In my personal training and theology, nothing can be farther from the historical Jesus than today’s successful megachurch pastor or televangelist.  

God has become a business. A very big and very profitable business. I’ve borrowed the pejorative term “scamvangelist” from another blogger to better describe their ilk. Worse yet, religion in the U.S. is a tax-exempt racket, which deprives the country of desperately needed revenue. Despite strict IRS rules against partisan politicking, many evangelical churches are now testing the IRS, openly preaching partisan politics, endorsing political candidates (generally Republicans), and challenging the IRS to investigate their violation of 501(c)(3) rules. In too many mainstream religions, preachers, priests and imams have become nothing more than political operatives. Since Barack Obama became president, the envelope has been pushed even further since he represents “the antichrist” for these theological train-wrecks. Demonizing the culture, its popular celebrities and elected officials is always good for the bottom line, however. In fact, religious adherence historically declines when believers aren’t presented with an “us versus them” paradigm. They’re far more comfortable knowing they’re at war with something or someone. 

Closely related is the relatively modern development of religious organizations that are not exclusively affiliated with one denomination, but frame a social, cultural or political mission that appeals to narrow ideological communities. These quasi-religious organizations include The American Family Association, The Family Research Council, Liberty Counsel, all of which are designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “hate groups” since they rail against homosexuals and the reproductive choices of women.  They are also tax-exempt organizations whose officers appeal to the baser, prejudicial instincts of the population in perpetuating endless culture wars. Some, including the National Organization for Marriage, Mission America, Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, and Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays, receive direct funding from ecclesiastical sources, either through the denominations’ national budgets or individual congregations who buy into their narrow, Byzantine bigotry. 

In addition to the profit motive, there’s an intellectual scam being perpetrated by clerics of every stripe. Every graduate of an accredited graduate school of theology has been exposed to church history, linguistics, Biblical and textual criticism, Christian ethics, clinical pastoral care, and advanced theology courses. Yet popular and prevailing myths of Biblical literalism, magic and miracles, apocalyptic violence, the “second coming,” heaven and hell all still pervade the belief systems of too many religious people. The crime is that those who teach and preach such nonsense know better. At best it’s intellectual dishonesty; and at worst it’s economic, cultural, and political opportunism. 

Given the power many of today’s popular preachers, “prophets,” and priests have accrued, to challenge or to contradict their distinctive, customized, and self-serving interpretations and theology is to reject God. Or so they would have their minions believe. Having spent decades as a Southern Baptist, I can attest to the cultural conformity that exists within that denomination. Clergy are not only to be respected, but they are to be revered, hence the title “Reverend.” Disobedience to the teachings and instructions of pastors is conflated with disobedience to God. Men of the cloth still have the power to excommunicate congregants—figuratively and in the Catholic tradition, literally—who stray from the party line. Authoritarianism and control mechanisms are built into every church’s bylaws either implicitly or explicitly. In the vast majority of faith traditions, righteous certitude is reinforced with ancient creeds and denominational statements of faith. A critical questioning of human or Biblical authority is not only disparaged, but also considered to be evidence of “back-sliding” into heresy or sin.  

Finally, the dominionist movement, which completely politicizes Christianity and seeks to redefine democracy as theocracy, is perhaps the most extreme example of religious scam. One doesn’t have to look far into the halls of our Congress or the courts or state legislatures before finding public officials who call for a state religion (as did the N.C. state legislature in its last session) for which the Bible supersedes the Constitution, and Christianity and its powerful leaders—often evangelists, self-styled and self-appointed preachers and prophets—are to be consulted prior to the enactment of public policy. These radicals believe that America is, in fact, a “Christian nation” and that the country has strayed from its foundational, fundamentalist Christian beliefs. Separation of church and state is a myth to this crowd, and their leaders, including the pseudo-historian David Barton, speak convincingly of a country governed by (his) almighty God. The inherent problem is that such a God is invisible and not audibly heard except as seen and heard by fallible, often craven, agenda-driven human beings.   

When did you stop being a believer and why?

After moving to Florida in 1998, I volunteered extensively for a local hospice agency and in one year I was honored with their “Unsung Hero” award. One of their chaplains took an interest in my background and skills, suggesting that I finish my Master’s of Divinity and specialize in clinical chaplaincy. I found a multi-cultural, non-denominational seminary in Miami, which accepted all of my Baptist seminary credits and I enrolled there in the fall of 2001. Needing a local church to validate my ministerial credentials upon completion of seminary, I joined a United Church of Christ in Ft. Lauderdale where I was immediately called upon to be a liturgist, offer prayers, and to write litanies for worship.

While I had rejected fundamentalist Christianity in the 1970’s, I thought that perhaps I retained enough theological understanding and interest to actually make chaplaincy work for me and, more importantly, for people facing acute or chronic medical conditions and end of life issues. However, during that first semester back in divinity school, 9/11 occurred.  I was at a boyfriend’s house (himself a devout Catholic) when we witnessed the terrorist attack in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. Seminary classes were cancelled that evening and Will and I went to the Catholic cathedral in Miami for a memorial mass.   

When classes resumed at the seminary the next week, nothing was the same for me. One of my professors abandoned his lesson plans and we spent three hours that evening searching for evidence of “God” in the horrific, unspeakable attacks on our country. Curiously, neither he nor my classmates had anything close to theologically satisfying explanations for a God who was allegedly omniscient (did he know that thousands of lives would be taken on 9/11?), omnipotent (could he have prevented this unspeakable evil?) or was he simply a fraud, uncaring and unwilling to intervene?  In other words, why did this happen? More broadly, why is there suffering if God is able to end it? In the midst of my new plan for the final decades of my life, one in which I wanted to devote myself to people who were suffering, I experienced a real and final crisis of what little faith I had. I couldn’t answer these fundamental questions for myself, much less for one who might be holding a child dying of cancer.

Unable to convince myself of the simultaneous presence of omniscience, omnipotence, and a merciful god who loves his creation, I knew what little belief I had hoped to regenerate had crumbled around me in late 2001.  I withdrew from the seminary, ceased attending church, and I threw myself more into the critical study of Christianity, Islam and Judaism. I wanted to be certain that there was no rational foundation for faith even before I read any works by contemporary atheists such as Dawkins, Denkins, Hichens, and Harris. I spent the next full year re-examining the theologies for the Abrahamic literature and by the time I read “the new atheists,” I was not only a doubter, I had become a disbeliever. Having read even more since that time, having had personal encounters with other skeptics and former believers, I’m now fully, 100% convinced, that gods have and are and always will be human constructs to satisfy human insecurities, provide for social order and control the culture. They are products of overactive imaginations, human desperation to believe there is life after death, and—too often—calculated schemes to extort and exploit vulnerable peoples.  

When I left Christianity, although it was ultimately very liberating, it was initially really hard: I struggled with depression, anxiety, anger, etc. What was it like for you?  Have you gotten over it?  If so, how did you do it?

My experience has been quite the opposite from yours. I have found my journey from ardent believer to strident disbeliever to be one of total empowerment. With certain knowledge that there is no supernatural, transcendent reality outside of ourselves, that this life is our only life, I find that I am even more curious about the wonders of the physical world. A friend who was also raised Southern Baptist but has since converted to Episcopal, bemoans what he believes is my willful denial of mystery. I have tried to reassure him that in my evidence-based reality, there is still much mystery, much wonder and awe.  In fact, I consider the tenants of faith, fluid as they are relative to thousands of denominations and faith traditions, to be not only intellectually constrictive, but utterly void of mystery. I certainly know that many shrug off the problem of human suffering to a God “who works in mysterious ways.” That may be a self-gratifying notion of mystery to them, but to me it reflects a lazy, uncurious, sheep-like acceptance. Of course sheep are often metaphors for God’s people in the Christian and Hebrew texts; but sheep as we know are always fleeced and then slaughtered.  

If I harbor anger or resentment about religion today, it’s twofold. One is entirely directed toward myself. While I was a product of a religious family, I could certainly have taken a different path once I left home for college, rather than falling into the safe, false security of primitive belief. Yes, it did provide sanctuary for my sexual confusions, and it also helped me to develop leadership, organizational and public speaking skills. However, had I not taken the easier route, had I explored other faith traditions, had I taken some comparative religion and philosophy courses at my secular state college, had I challenged myself spiritually and intellectually, I would have probably never matriculated for seminary. And since seminary and ministerial preparation was my prime motivation to get married, I surely wouldn’t have followed through with an ill-conceived marriage, which only inflicted unnecessary hurt on my wife and our families.   

Some people in their later years defiantly declare they have no regrets. I tend to believe such people are either idiots or liars. I honestly regret the years that I devoted to the folly of religion. At age 60, I look back with embarrassment at my gullibility and adherence to such irrational ideologies. There may be something sacred in our universe, something so mystifying and awe-inspiring that human minds may never conceive or understand it. But it’s not the ancient, tribal magic and miracles described in the Abrahamic religious traditions.  

One thing I think a lot of people get out of church is the sense of community it offers. Where do you find community these days, or what’s your new “church”?

I have no parallel experience to “church” in my life today, nor do I seek one. However, I can still enjoy classical, even “sacred,” organ or choral music within the confines of some churches today. I still own a church organ, which I enjoy playing occasionally. By attending cultural events presented within the walls of a church or synagogue, I am not endorsing their theology or creed. I’m simply enjoying timeless classics of fine musical literature, which is performed by gifted artists in churches. Pragmatically, most of the fundamentalist, right wing churches have little to offer in the way of art and culture and I find myself more often than not in Episcopal, Methodist, or Presbyterian churches.  These are also the denominations that are most often engaged in worthy social justice issues, programs of benevolence for the marginalized or impoverished of our world. Hence, if I must pay an admission price to enjoy a cultural event, I have little concern that it will be used for predatory proselytizing. 

Intellectually, I enjoy informed dialogue with people who have survived the fundamentalism of their youth and have come out more enlightened, liberated, and free. Skeptics and free thinkers are still often reluctant to self-identify since society still has a strong cultural tradition for spirituality. However, I see that changing rapidly among younger people who no longer feel compelled to claim an obligatory faith.

I also identify with those who’re engaged in progressive politics. Having undergraduate courses in history, social science, economics, and political science and a master’s degree in public administration, I am compelled to stay informed of vital issues in my community and in my country. Where possible and practical, I lobby for legislation that reflects the best of our nation’s values, and empowers our citizens through education and opportunity.  

While living and working in Louisiana, I was asked to help lobby for the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act. I did so with enthusiasm and I was later invited to the White House to witness the renewal and extension of the act by President Clinton. Successful endeavors such as these, collaborating with motivated individuals and organizations, provide me with a real sense of purpose and community, knowing untold millions will be advantaged by such actions.  

Given the information age in which we live, anyone who seeks a sense of community can find such, somewhere and somehow. There are enough special interest groups, worth causes and organizations, volunteer opportunities, and local and national programs and efforts with which one can network, affiliate and enjoy some sense of contribution and community. The age of the village church being the epicenter of a community is gone forever, and I don’t mourn its passing.

What would you say to someone who has released they are no longer a believer but is afraid to leave the church/and or abandon Christianity?

Although spirituality is deeply personal (and too often on public display to satisfy personal or professional agendas), I would suggest uninstalling this obsolete program with the fullest information available. Reading, studying, and reflecting on subjects related to comparative religions, the origin and development of sacred texts, and the history of religion in world civilization are among the places to start. Obviously, one’s own faith tradition possesses almost endless titles written from a sectarian perspective. However, if you are honestly seeking objectivity and less biased perspective, you must go outside of your particular faith or denomination and seek out established researchers and scholars of religion, often teaching at the major universities of the world.  

Former Catholic nun and now liberal religion researcher Karen Armstrong’s seminal publication, A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, is a great starting point, followed by her book, The Battle for God

Christians seeking a critical understanding of the Gospels, i.e., the foundation of Christianity, should certainly study the Jesus Seminar’s publication, The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus. This is written by a large consortium of religious scholars (including Dr. Armstrong) from around the world and their credentials are beyond question. Prior to the seminar’s examination of the five gospels, they offer a quick summation of Biblical literature—when, where, how, and for whom ancient texts originated—and a discussion of the Jesus of history versus the Christ of faith. And there are crucial distinctions. Bart Ehrman is a former fundamentalist Christian who’s now agnostic or atheist and chair of Religious Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill. His publication, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, is a must-read, particularly for those who insist that scripture is a monolithic work, inerrant and infallible. A more recent work, God’s Problem, examines suffering and faith and how the two cannot coexist.  

Anyone interested in apocalyptic (“rapture”), end-times (“second coming”), or the historic and contemporary exploitation of the last book of the Christian Bible in the Left Behind series taken from a literalistic interpretation of The Revelation, should read A History of the End of the World, by Jonathan Kirsch. His research is consistent with my semester-long seminary course in The Revelation, which lays bare the contemporary, hysterical, fear-mongering, self-serving theology of end times preachers and prophets.  

Once a critical understanding of what has been considered as authoritative sources for religious belief has been considered, contemporary skeptics and atheists should be studied. Among those are The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, The End of Faith by Sam Harris, and God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens. Online interviews featuring all of these writers are freely available with minimal search effort.  

For those who want to retain some measure of personal faith but understand more fully the human origin of the Bible and its archaic texts, Bishop Shelby Spong’s The Sins of Scripture is very helpful. Spong addresses the Bible’s authorship, along with problematic passages for the modern world, including the text’s patriarchal references to women, homophobia, and anti-Semitism. He concludes with an examination of proselytizing and missionary expansion that often includes religious bigotry and exclusionary creeds.  

The critical thinker can and should start by doing research with these tools and others, but that is perhaps the easiest part of evolving into free thought, skepticism, or disbelief. Coming out to one’s peers, friends and families is far more difficult and can often be emotionally traumatic. For those of us raised in a strict religious tradition, irrespective of faith, questioning or repudiating faith is often met with not only harsh, judgmental criticism, but also with social ostracism. In American culture, it has been historically an assumption that everyone adheres to a religion, even if they aren’t particularly observant.  It’s perhaps most strongly inculcated in Jews and Muslims since it’s accompanied by a cultural and ethnic identity. But even for Christians, an expression of doubt or disbelief can often become the subject of argument and dispute, and worse yet, for loss of friends and family. Even the workplace for many is one in which it might be unwise or unsafe to articulate questions that most believe are authoritatively addressed by their Bible.   

We’re only now learning with anonymous polling how many Americans consider themselves non-religious. However, polling is very different than personally identifying as an agnostic or atheist with friends, family and co-workers that one has known for a lifetime and has to relate on a regular basis. Holidays take on a different meaning for many after abandoning virgin birth and bodily resurrection, but that doesn’t mean we have to forgo them. While I never had much use for Easter, doubting the specious resurrection story early on, I’ve always been a big fan of Christmas. The Bethlehem story (all of which is myth and lore) can be portrayed inasmuch as flying reindeer. The lights, carols and candles of the holiday season can still be a source for mysticism and reflection if one is open to such.  

Finally, in the larger urban areas of the country there are fledgling, sometimes-established groups for skeptics, freethinkers, agnostics and atheists. As in every other endeavor in which one seeks solidarity or community, identifying and establishing a relationship with like-minded people is helpful. Sometimes such organizations are small and difficult to find, but they exist and they can be invaluable to one who has consciously begun to question and abandon long-held religious sentiments.  

Everyone has a choice: to desperately cling to traditional belief systems utterly unsupported by evidence, or to engage one’s critical faculties in examining the tangible, evidence-based realities of the universe. It’s really that simple. 

On a final note, I rarely consider myself a “militant atheist.” I recognize that I’ve had some extraordinary opportunities to examine religion and its failure to meet my intellectual criteria. While I may question people who still adhere to baseless, ancient dogma, I rarely challenge them on a personal basis. Where I do become agitated and militant is when religion is used as a weapon or a calculated ploy to advance a cultural or political agenda. Because so few believers have the critical skills to objectively evaluate their beliefs, I won’t stand by while opportunists—whether preachers or politicians—manipulate and exploit ignorance for personal gain. I can still quote scripture and verse and I can call up fire and brimstone when required.  

Despite my disbelief, I hope my legacy will still be one of insightful, honest compassion and service to those I’ve met and known in this brief pilgrimage we call life.

Check out Larry Pate’s blog Holy Fucking ShitBalls.

How a Christian boy lost his faith on a warm summer day in Northern Ireland
I lost my Christian faith on 15 August, 1998, in the village of Omagh in County Tyrone around 3:00pm.
It was one of those summer days where you could be glad to be a 10-year-old. Sunny and warm, a rarity in Ireland where we get clouds and rain nearly every morning. I was celebrating my recent progression to open champion in Irish dance, the highest level achievable. It was only three weeks till my 11th birthday and my mate Johnny, also a competitive Irish dancer, invited me to his home for the weekend. My grandparents were nervous about it at first. It wasn’t as though I was camping out with one of my cousins across the county. Omagh was nearly an hour away. In addition, it was in Northern Ireland, and my grandparents had lived three decades in the shadow of the Troubles. But after much begging and cajoling, and with my grandfather’s reminder that Omagh had been virtually untouched by the violence, my grandmother finally relented.
That Saturday, Johnny and I insisted on being allowed to go to the town centre unaccompanied. Market Street was a popular tourist destination and we wanted to see the sights and play with the lads. Naturally, Johnny’s parents refused our perfectly reasonable request. But after much begging and cajoling (a skill we had perfected down to an art form) they agreed and let us go, provided that Johnny’s 14-year-old sister Maeve accompanied us.
It was every lad’s dream. We played tag and pop-around-the-barrel with a group of local lads, as Maeve stood with her girlfriends and sniffed over our desperate immaturity. Johnny and I kept a close eye on her, and when her back was turned for a moment, we scampered off, headed down toward the courthouse to have our own adventure, congratulating ourselves on our daring and bravado.
We hadn’t gotten 50 yards down the side way when we heard the car bomb go off behind us.
We stared at each other for long moments, the shock turning our faces ashy white. Johnny sprinted off first, headed into the carnage, screaming for his sister. I was immediately behind him, but we lost sight of each other the moment we entered the boiling mass of people. The smoke stung my eyes as I pushed my way through, the fires that had broken out sending people into a panic. I stepped over falling, crying people, bloodied shrapnel, bits of masonry, bits of bodies. I fought the crowds, screaming for Maeve, for Johnny, for anyone, my voice lost amongst the hundreds raised, all crying for Jack, for Aodhan, Alan, Mary, Osla, Aoife, Michael, Padraig, Brigit. A swell of people pushed me to the cobblestones, and I lay there stunned for a moment, unsure if it was from the impact or from the bloody, charred arm that lay a metre from me.
“Oh god,” I whispered. “Oh god, oh god, oh god.”
But no god heard my prayer, nor did he hear the prayers of hundreds of other people around me screaming for their loved ones. I picked myself up and brushed the dirt from my jacket and trousers, and fought my way back into the crowd. I never prayed again.
I didn’t leave the town centre for another hour. When I did, Johnny was at my side, dusty and red-eyed from the smoke and from the sobbing. I looked down at the road as we stumbled away towards his home where his parents were waiting, oblivious to what had happened until Maeve came home moments before us, hysterical but unharmed. As I pulled my trainers from my feet, I noticed for the first time that the white leather strip above the soles had been stained a dirty, blackened red.
Twenty nine people died in the town centre of Omagh. Twelve of them were children and teenagers.
No one ever ‘officially’ claimed credit for the bombing of Omagh. But the acknowledgement came soon after nonetheless. They called themselves RIRA, the Real Irish Republican Army. They were Christian militants, angry about the recent Good Friday Agreement that had been signed back in April that had called for an unequivocal ceasefire between the opposing Catholic and Protestant forces. They had given the village of Omagh a warning earlier that day. They told them an inaccurate location for a bomb, one that would push the evacuating crowds into the actual target zone.
This was by no means my first encounter with extremist Christianity; it had been a constant in my life for as long as I can remember. In Mass, the priest prayed for the deaths of the Protestant oppressors of our Catholic brothers and sisters. On the television, I would see Protestants in the north burning the Tricolour and screaming for the deaths of Catholics. Despite the efforts of the adults to keep what was happening out of sight of the children, we all knew about what was happening in Ireland. Men and women killed for walking out of the wrong church. For marrying someone of the wrong religion. For suspected Loyalist sympathies, for associating with the wrong denomination, for simply being in the way of the true targets, and for no other reason than the Christians wanted some more press. Thousands of bloody, pointless deaths.
I will not step foot in a church again. Because to give tacit approval to that belief system in any way is tantamount to rubbing shoulders with the butchers of my people. – by Tim Gavin (The Irish Atheist)

How a Christian boy lost his faith on a warm summer day in Northern Ireland

I lost my Christian faith on 15 August, 1998, in the village of Omagh in County Tyrone around 3:00pm.

It was one of those summer days where you could be glad to be a 10-year-old. Sunny and warm, a rarity in Ireland where we get clouds and rain nearly every morning. I was celebrating my recent progression to open champion in Irish dance, the highest level achievable. It was only three weeks till my 11th birthday and my mate Johnny, also a competitive Irish dancer, invited me to his home for the weekend. My grandparents were nervous about it at first. It wasn’t as though I was camping out with one of my cousins across the county. Omagh was nearly an hour away. In addition, it was in Northern Ireland, and my grandparents had lived three decades in the shadow of the Troubles. But after much begging and cajoling, and with my grandfather’s reminder that Omagh had been virtually untouched by the violence, my grandmother finally relented.

That Saturday, Johnny and I insisted on being allowed to go to the town centre unaccompanied. Market Street was a popular tourist destination and we wanted to see the sights and play with the lads. Naturally, Johnny’s parents refused our perfectly reasonable request. But after much begging and cajoling (a skill we had perfected down to an art form) they agreed and let us go, provided that Johnny’s 14-year-old sister Maeve accompanied us.

It was every lad’s dream. We played tag and pop-around-the-barrel with a group of local lads, as Maeve stood with her girlfriends and sniffed over our desperate immaturity. Johnny and I kept a close eye on her, and when her back was turned for a moment, we scampered off, headed down toward the courthouse to have our own adventure, congratulating ourselves on our daring and bravado.

We hadn’t gotten 50 yards down the side way when we heard the car bomb go off behind us.

We stared at each other for long moments, the shock turning our faces ashy white. Johnny sprinted off first, headed into the carnage, screaming for his sister. I was immediately behind him, but we lost sight of each other the moment we entered the boiling mass of people. The smoke stung my eyes as I pushed my way through, the fires that had broken out sending people into a panic. I stepped over falling, crying people, bloodied shrapnel, bits of masonry, bits of bodies. I fought the crowds, screaming for Maeve, for Johnny, for anyone, my voice lost amongst the hundreds raised, all crying for Jack, for Aodhan, Alan, Mary, Osla, Aoife, Michael, Padraig, Brigit. A swell of people pushed me to the cobblestones, and I lay there stunned for a moment, unsure if it was from the impact or from the bloody, charred arm that lay a metre from me.

“Oh god,” I whispered. “Oh god, oh god, oh god.”

But no god heard my prayer, nor did he hear the prayers of hundreds of other people around me screaming for their loved ones. I picked myself up and brushed the dirt from my jacket and trousers, and fought my way back into the crowd. I never prayed again.

I didn’t leave the town centre for another hour. When I did, Johnny was at my side, dusty and red-eyed from the smoke and from the sobbing. I looked down at the road as we stumbled away towards his home where his parents were waiting, oblivious to what had happened until Maeve came home moments before us, hysterical but unharmed. As I pulled my trainers from my feet, I noticed for the first time that the white leather strip above the soles had been stained a dirty, blackened red.

Twenty nine people died in the town centre of Omagh. Twelve of them were children and teenagers.

No one ever ‘officially’ claimed credit for the bombing of Omagh. But the acknowledgement came soon after nonetheless. They called themselves RIRA, the Real Irish Republican Army. They were Christian militants, angry about the recent Good Friday Agreement that had been signed back in April that had called for an unequivocal ceasefire between the opposing Catholic and Protestant forces. They had given the village of Omagh a warning earlier that day. They told them an inaccurate location for a bomb, one that would push the evacuating crowds into the actual target zone.

This was by no means my first encounter with extremist Christianity; it had been a constant in my life for as long as I can remember. In Mass, the priest prayed for the deaths of the Protestant oppressors of our Catholic brothers and sisters. On the television, I would see Protestants in the north burning the Tricolour and screaming for the deaths of Catholics. Despite the efforts of the adults to keep what was happening out of sight of the children, we all knew about what was happening in Ireland. Men and women killed for walking out of the wrong church. For marrying someone of the wrong religion. For suspected Loyalist sympathies, for associating with the wrong denomination, for simply being in the way of the true targets, and for no other reason than the Christians wanted some more press. Thousands of bloody, pointless deaths.

I will not step foot in a church again. Because to give tacit approval to that belief system in any way is tantamount to rubbing shoulders with the butchers of my people. – by Tim Gavin (The Irish Atheist)

The latest episode of The Grapes of Rad: Losing Our Religion (To listen to the podcast, click image or here; For a related post, click here http://christiannightmares.tumblr.com/post/37086655780/nice-christian-nightmares-shout-out-at-around)

The latest episode of The Grapes of Rad: Losing Our Religion (To listen to the podcast, click image or here; For a related post, click here http://christiannightmares.tumblr.com/post/37086655780/nice-christian-nightmares-shout-out-at-around)


Thoughts on Abusive Christianity From a Man Who Studied at Hyles-Anderson College
From my inbox:
Thanks again for your blog. But I want you to know you caused me to get totally off task for over 4 hours last night. 
I followed your links to the blog with the long list and case histories of Independent Baptist Fundamentalists who have molested children via their “ministries.” I don’t know if you have listened to the multi-part audio documentary on a particularly horrendous case of systematic abuse in a church in North Carolina. It brought so much back to me that I had put far behind me. The website and blog make a strong point to link this systematic abuse to one place who trained the perps: Hyles-Anderson College. It is fair to say that Jack Hyles is the father of both the evangelical mega-church movement and the most insular and dangerous brand of fundamentalist Christianity. The audio documentary uses archival sermon clips, many of which I heard in person, to paint a picture of the justification and glorification of abuse of power that is hard to fathom. I wrote a note to the webmaster that had I not been there I would not believe she’d not taken those clips out of context, but since I was there I know she presented it all too accurately. 
I hope you don’t mind, but I think you might like a few excerpts from the email I sent:
As I sat and listen to the your discussion on Jack Hyles it brought back so many things that I had long ago had deliberately forgotten.
I spent 5 years at Hyles-Anderson College and received a B.S. in 1986.
I just don’t see how anyone who have not been there can quite understand what that world is like.
Your research in putting together the audio clips is amazing, but I’m sure most “normal” people just can’t imagine Jack Hyles really meant the things he says in those things. How could they? It just sounds insane to me as a 50 year old; but I know all too well he meant it all.
Your rebuttals to Hyles-ism is excellent. Sadly I had to find those answers as a 22 year old student at Hyles-Anderson. Even though I concluded I was on the “wrong side” in my 5th year at Hyles-Anderson; it took me a decade to fully break free from that brand of Christianity.   
One more interesting tidbit for you. Like Shifflett, when I heard about the charges of adultery regarding Jack Hyles I did not read what the accusations. This was not hard since I had graduated and was a masters’ student at another college. However, when Jack Hyles sent a multi-page defense of himself to all the alumni  I read that.  I was shocked. It was filled with things, penned by “Brother Hyles” that anyone who had gone to Hyles-Anderson would have to know were outright lies. Some of the things were stupid little things that didn’t matter, and I could not imagine why he boldly printed and mailed these patently untrue statements.
That was when I first realized Hyles-Anderson was the world of Orwell’s 1984 and the letter was the “how many fingers am I holding up?” test.  If you could not make yourself believe those things, you were disloyal.  I failed that test. I could not make myself believe the lies. That was the end of my relationship with Hyles-Anderson College.  
Looking back to my interactions with Jack Schaap, it is almost Shakespearean in it’s the way that a decent young man (and I think he was once) stepped into a role that only the most exceptional person could not end up the same place he did. But once he passed the test of openly professing to believe things no-one who’d been at the college could not know were false, he was lost. He is only 5 years older than me, but because he had married Jack Hyles daughter he was in leadership by his mid-20’s with no more qualification than he was “Brother Hyles” son-in-law.  He could have broken free earlier on, but when he did not leave with the other “sane” people, the end of the story was as sure as it is each time I read Othello.
Perhaps as many as half the faculty left when they were asked to choose loyalty to Pastor Hyles over reality. But, what is really frightening is that half of the staff stayed. If you go to the college’s website, look at the faculty list, for some reason they have removed it, but if you follow the links to the current catalog you will find the list. There is only one (1) person on the faculty or administration whose entire education was not at Hyles-Anderson College. Since the college does not have a doctoral program, all their teachers who go by “Dr.” are falsely using the honorary doctorates given to them by…..yes….Hyles-Anderson College. 
Sorry for rambling on like this. It’s your fault though. LOL.
FYI, as my Rev. Polyamory alter ego presents, though I still use the word Christian, I make it clear that I am a firm secular liberal in the vein of Emanuel Kant and take the position that Jesus presented the model of human rights centered liberalism.  I actually began developing that position while at Hyles-Anderson 30 years ago. I now “Preach” secular human rights liberalism from the pulpit of a major state university professor’s chair. My Rev. Polyamory blog is the toned down version of my main blog where I go by Professor Polyamory. That blog is NSFW and I use sexual provocation as way to keep people on board so I can get them to read the things that matter. 
Sure, link away.  I will certainly mention your blog in my “Sunday Sermon” this week. I’m writing on abusive Christianity. This email is posted on my main blog anyway, so feel free to post it. I’d love it if that would lead someone who is struggling with the damage so-called “Christianity” is doing to drop me a note.
Sorry for going so long…now to do what I was supposed to do last night. 
Rev. Dr. Polyamory

Thoughts on Abusive Christianity From a Man Who Studied at Hyles-Anderson College

From my inbox:

Thanks again for your blog. But I want you to know you caused me to get totally off task for over 4 hours last night. 

I followed your links to the blog with the long list and case histories of Independent Baptist Fundamentalists who have molested children via their “ministries.” I don’t know if you have listened to the multi-part audio documentary on a particularly horrendous case of systematic abuse in a church in North Carolina. It brought so much back to me that I had put far behind me. The website and blog make a strong point to link this systematic abuse to one place who trained the perps: Hyles-Anderson College. It is fair to say that Jack Hyles is the father of both the evangelical mega-church movement and the most insular and dangerous brand of fundamentalist Christianity. The audio documentary uses archival sermon clips, many of which I heard in person, to paint a picture of the justification and glorification of abuse of power that is hard to fathom. I wrote a note to the webmaster that had I not been there I would not believe she’d not taken those clips out of context, but since I was there I know she presented it all too accurately. 

I hope you don’t mind, but I think you might like a few excerpts from the email I sent:

As I sat and listen to the your discussion on Jack Hyles it brought back so many things that I had long ago had deliberately forgotten.

I spent 5 years at Hyles-Anderson College and received a B.S. in 1986.

I just don’t see how anyone who have not been there can quite understand what that world is like.

Your research in putting together the audio clips is amazing, but I’m sure most “normal” people just can’t imagine Jack Hyles really meant the things he says in those things. How could they? It just sounds insane to me as a 50 year old; but I know all too well he meant it all.

Your rebuttals to Hyles-ism is excellent. Sadly I had to find those answers as a 22 year old student at Hyles-Anderson. Even though I concluded I was on the “wrong side” in my 5th year at Hyles-Anderson; it took me a decade to fully break free from that brand of Christianity.   

One more interesting tidbit for you. Like Shifflett, when I heard about the charges of adultery regarding Jack Hyles I did not read what the accusations. This was not hard since I had graduated and was a masters’ student at another college. However, when Jack Hyles sent a multi-page defense of himself to all the alumni  I read that.  I was shocked. It was filled with things, penned by “Brother Hyles” that anyone who had gone to Hyles-Anderson would have to know were outright lies. Some of the things were stupid little things that didn’t matter, and I could not imagine why he boldly printed and mailed these patently untrue statements.

That was when I first realized Hyles-Anderson was the world of Orwell’s 1984 and the letter was the “how many fingers am I holding up?” test.  If you could not make yourself believe those things, you were disloyal.  I failed that test. I could not make myself believe the lies. That was the end of my relationship with Hyles-Anderson College.  

Looking back to my interactions with Jack Schaap, it is almost Shakespearean in it’s the way that a decent young man (and I think he was once) stepped into a role that only the most exceptional person could not end up the same place he did. But once he passed the test of openly professing to believe things no-one who’d been at the college could not know were false, he was lost. He is only 5 years older than me, but because he had married Jack Hyles daughter he was in leadership by his mid-20’s with no more qualification than he was “Brother Hyles” son-in-law.  He could have broken free earlier on, but when he did not leave with the other “sane” people, the end of the story was as sure as it is each time I read Othello.

Perhaps as many as half the faculty left when they were asked to choose loyalty to Pastor Hyles over reality. But, what is really frightening is that half of the staff stayed. If you go to the college’s website, look at the faculty list, for some reason they have removed it, but if you follow the links to the current catalog you will find the list. There is only one (1) person on the faculty or administration whose entire education was not at Hyles-Anderson College. Since the college does not have a doctoral program, all their teachers who go by “Dr.” are falsely using the honorary doctorates given to them by…..yes….Hyles-Anderson College. 

Sorry for rambling on like this. It’s your fault though. LOL.

FYI, as my Rev. Polyamory alter ego presents, though I still use the word Christian, I make it clear that I am a firm secular liberal in the vein of Emanuel Kant and take the position that Jesus presented the model of human rights centered liberalism.  I actually began developing that position while at Hyles-Anderson 30 years ago. I now “Preach” secular human rights liberalism from the pulpit of a major state university professor’s chair. My Rev. Polyamory blog is the toned down version of my main blog where I go by Professor Polyamory. That blog is NSFW and I use sexual provocation as way to keep people on board so I can get them to read the things that matter. 

Sure, link away.  I will certainly mention your blog in my “Sunday Sermon” this week. I’m writing on abusive Christianity. This email is posted on my main blog anyway, so feel free to post it. I’d love it if that would lead someone who is struggling with the damage so-called “Christianity” is doing to drop me a note.

Sorry for going so long…now to do what I was supposed to do last night. 

Rev. Dr. Polyamory

A trailer for the upcoming documentary Kidnapped for Christ, about a controversial Christian reform school (For a related post, click here http://christiannightmares.tumblr.com/post/57773540232/a-reason-to-like-lance-bass-n-sync-member)

The New Bethany Boys and Girls Home Nightmare
From my inbox:
If you’ve never heard of the place I will be surprised. Googling “New Bethany,” “Mack W. Ford,” Mack Ford,” New Bethany Girls Home” and endless number of combinations will get you on the right track, but the BOOK is where the most awful first-hand accounts of what happened to some of us can be found. I was there in 1982. We have made the book free to read online so everyone will know what happened. It’s raw, unedited, and written by those who are tired of Mack Ford being looked at by his minions and followers as a success story. – Name withheld by request
For more info and to read the book The Children of New Bethany, click here
For a related post, click here http://christiannightmarestoo.tumblr.com/post/40156921625/held-captive-for-nine-months-at-a-christian-reform

The New Bethany Boys and Girls Home Nightmare

From my inbox:

If you’ve never heard of the place I will be surprised. Googling “New Bethany,” “Mack W. Ford,” Mack Ford,” New Bethany Girls Home” and endless number of combinations will get you on the right track, but the BOOK is where the most awful first-hand accounts of what happened to some of us can be found. I was there in 1982. We have made the book free to read online so everyone will know what happened. It’s raw, unedited, and written by those who are tired of Mack Ford being looked at by his minions and followers as a success story. – Name withheld by request

For more info and to read the book The Children of New Bethany, click here

For a related post, click here http://christiannightmarestoo.tumblr.com/post/40156921625/held-captive-for-nine-months-at-a-christian-reform

What hiding the truth from church members cost one Christian man
I didn’t know Kevin that well. The truth is, I didn’t know anyone at my church that well. Church is where I learned to wear a mask, to hide my true thoughts and beliefs. It was a fire and brimstone Baptist church. “Where the Old-Fashioned Gospel Is Preached,” the bulletin boasted each week. The pastor regularly yelled, “God said it, I believe, that settles it!” from the pulpit to a roaring round of Amens. Throughout my childhood, I spent several hours a week there. So did Kevin.
Kevin’s mother sang in the choir, had lots of friends at church, was on committees, and hosted dinners at her house on a regular basis. She was an extreme germaphobe. Houseguests were always required to leave their shoes on her walkway outside before entering—even in the dead of winter. Both children and adults had to wash their hands before coming to the table. And if, say, your dinner roll accidentally slipped from your plate and onto her bleached-white tablecloth, she’d quickly snatch it up and drop it in the trash like a dead rat. She also rarely paid attention to what anyone else was saying and was the queen of nonsequitors. Someone might remark, “So the doctor put me on these new pills for my heart condition.” To which she’d reply, “Did anyone else notice that Ron and Betty Wilson weren’t sitting together at church this past Sunday?” Her husband, Kevin’s father, never said much. He traveled a lot for work, which seemed to be the secret to their marriage. Kevin never uttered much around his mother either, but he always sat close to her and seemed to long for her recognition, which he rarely got. He was always well groomed and would nod earnestly at her remarks. “Finish your meal, Kevin,” she’d say. “You’ve barely touched anything on your plate.”
Kevin had wavy black hair, slightly crooked teeth, and a smile that took up half his face. He was shy but friendly and fairly skilled at post-church parking lot banter. He’d always agree when someone praised pastor Tom’s “powerful” sermon. He’d go out of his way to compliment the new hairstyles of women in the church (“You’re ready for the red carpet!” he’d often say). And he’d always promise to keep people in his prayers whenever there was a request.
He was a few years older than me and I remember missing his presence at church when he went away to Christian college. The parking lot wasn’t the same without him, and the hymns on Sundays didn’t sound as good either. He finally returned four years later and got a job at an accounting firm nearby, but there was something different about him. He was still quick to say hello and chat but he seemed distracted, more guarded, nervous. I had always suspected that Kevin was wearing a mask like me, but his was starting to show cracks—it seemed harder for him to contain whatever it was he was holding back.
Eventually I went off to college myself, and only saw Kevin occasionally, when I was home visiting for a weekend, or on holidays. One Christmas I came home and noticed that Kevin had lost some weight; the result of working out, he told me. But when I visited again that summer, he’d lost even more weight and didn’t look healthy at all. His skin seemed tight around his cheekbones, he had dark circles under his eyes, and even his hair was thinner. I heard through the grapevine that he’d been seeing one of the doctors from the church, but nobody seemed to know what was causing his symptoms.
It was the following summer, a Fourth of July weekend at my parent’s house, when we got the phone call. Apparently, Kevin was supposed to go camping with some of his church friends but had bailed out at the last minute because he wasn’t feeling well. His friends had tried calling him over the weekend to check in on him, but he never answered, and when they returned to town after the trip, he still wasn’t answering their calls. That’s when they drove over to his house and found him lying in a puddle of his own urine and feces, a skeletal version of himself, clutching a half-empty bottle of vodka.
The ambulance came, but Kevin only lasted a few hours at the hospital before being pronounced dead. None of his family or friends from church ever knew he was gay; the last thing they suspected was that he had been dying of AIDS all along. Kevin had probably been seeing the doctor from church just to appease his mother. If he had been seeing another doctor that knew he had AIDS, I don’t know for sure why he wasn’t receiving more rigorous treatment. What I do know is that Kevin heard the same sermons I did, year after year, the ones where the pastor would angrily declare homosexuality a “vile sin” and “an abomination unto God!”
At Kevin’s funeral, which was attended by less than half the members of the church, a friend of mine approached Pastor Tom, who had baptized Kevin as a kid. “Isn’t it terrible about Kevin?” she asked.
“What do you want me to say?” he replied. “Kevin was a homosexual.”
To this day, Kevin’s mother doesn’t know why he really died. Some members of the church had managed to get to the hospital before her and somehow kept the doctor’s reports from her. They decided it was better that she not know the truth about her son’s “lifestyle”—they didn’t think she could handle the humiliation. – by Christian Nightmares
(The names and some minor details were changed to protect the privacy of those involved.)

What hiding the truth from church members cost one Christian man

I didn’t know Kevin that well. The truth is, I didn’t know anyone at my church that well. Church is where I learned to wear a mask, to hide my true thoughts and beliefs. It was a fire and brimstone Baptist church. “Where the Old-Fashioned Gospel Is Preached,” the bulletin boasted each week. The pastor regularly yelled, “God said it, I believe, that settles it!” from the pulpit to a roaring round of Amens. Throughout my childhood, I spent several hours a week there. So did Kevin.

Kevin’s mother sang in the choir, had lots of friends at church, was on committees, and hosted dinners at her house on a regular basis. She was an extreme germaphobe. Houseguests were always required to leave their shoes on her walkway outside before entering—even in the dead of winter. Both children and adults had to wash their hands before coming to the table. And if, say, your dinner roll accidentally slipped from your plate and onto her bleached-white tablecloth, she’d quickly snatch it up and drop it in the trash like a dead rat. She also rarely paid attention to what anyone else was saying and was the queen of nonsequitors. Someone might remark, “So the doctor put me on these new pills for my heart condition.” To which she’d reply, “Did anyone else notice that Ron and Betty Wilson weren’t sitting together at church this past Sunday?” Her husband, Kevin’s father, never said much. He traveled a lot for work, which seemed to be the secret to their marriage. Kevin never uttered much around his mother either, but he always sat close to her and seemed to long for her recognition, which he rarely got. He was always well groomed and would nod earnestly at her remarks. “Finish your meal, Kevin,” she’d say. “You’ve barely touched anything on your plate.”

Kevin had wavy black hair, slightly crooked teeth, and a smile that took up half his face. He was shy but friendly and fairly skilled at post-church parking lot banter. He’d always agree when someone praised pastor Tom’s “powerful” sermon. He’d go out of his way to compliment the new hairstyles of women in the church (“You’re ready for the red carpet!” he’d often say). And he’d always promise to keep people in his prayers whenever there was a request.

He was a few years older than me and I remember missing his presence at church when he went away to Christian college. The parking lot wasn’t the same without him, and the hymns on Sundays didn’t sound as good either. He finally returned four years later and got a job at an accounting firm nearby, but there was something different about him. He was still quick to say hello and chat but he seemed distracted, more guarded, nervous. I had always suspected that Kevin was wearing a mask like me, but his was starting to show cracks—it seemed harder for him to contain whatever it was he was holding back.

Eventually I went off to college myself, and only saw Kevin occasionally, when I was home visiting for a weekend, or on holidays. One Christmas I came home and noticed that Kevin had lost some weight; the result of working out, he told me. But when I visited again that summer, he’d lost even more weight and didn’t look healthy at all. His skin seemed tight around his cheekbones, he had dark circles under his eyes, and even his hair was thinner. I heard through the grapevine that he’d been seeing one of the doctors from the church, but nobody seemed to know what was causing his symptoms.

It was the following summer, a Fourth of July weekend at my parent’s house, when we got the phone call. Apparently, Kevin was supposed to go camping with some of his church friends but had bailed out at the last minute because he wasn’t feeling well. His friends had tried calling him over the weekend to check in on him, but he never answered, and when they returned to town after the trip, he still wasn’t answering their calls. That’s when they drove over to his house and found him lying in a puddle of his own urine and feces, a skeletal version of himself, clutching a half-empty bottle of vodka.

The ambulance came, but Kevin only lasted a few hours at the hospital before being pronounced dead. None of his family or friends from church ever knew he was gay; the last thing they suspected was that he had been dying of AIDS all along. Kevin had probably been seeing the doctor from church just to appease his mother. If he had been seeing another doctor that knew he had AIDS, I don’t know for sure why he wasn’t receiving more rigorous treatment. What I do know is that Kevin heard the same sermons I did, year after year, the ones where the pastor would angrily declare homosexuality a “vile sin” and “an abomination unto God!”

At Kevin’s funeral, which was attended by less than half the members of the church, a friend of mine approached Pastor Tom, who had baptized Kevin as a kid. “Isn’t it terrible about Kevin?” she asked.

“What do you want me to say?” he replied. “Kevin was a homosexual.”

To this day, Kevin’s mother doesn’t know why he really died. Some members of the church had managed to get to the hospital before her and somehow kept the doctor’s reports from her. They decided it was better that she not know the truth about her son’s “lifestyle”—they didn’t think she could handle the humiliation. – by Christian Nightmares

(The names and some minor details were changed to protect the privacy of those involved.)

The Hotline Project: A Secular Service Project from Recovering from Religion (For more info, click image or here; Found at Friendly Atheist; For a related post, click here http://christiannightmarestoo.tumblr.com/post/49990418607/blog-recommendation-homeschoolers-anonymous-to)

The Hotline Project: A Secular Service Project from Recovering from Religion (For more info, click image or here; Found at Friendly Atheist; For a related post, click here http://christiannightmarestoo.tumblr.com/post/49990418607/blog-recommendation-homeschoolers-anonymous-to)