How I Became a Heretic (or How the Evangelical, Conservative Church Lost Me)

I wasn’t always a heretic. I used to be as Religious Right as they come, raised as I was in the 70’s and 80’s in a conservative, evangelical, James-Dobson-loving, Christian home.

I went to Awana and learned Bible verses for candy and badges when I was little.

I know the Four Spiritual Laws by heart, and I attended Evangelism Explosion training so I could lead people away from the Fiery Pits of Hell where their souls were bound if I failed to witness, and I learned to shove them into the arms of JesusChristTheirPersonalLordAndSavior (one word).

My parents became missionaries, so I lived with pagan tribespeople in the jungle, sacrificing for Jesus, and I went to missionary boarding schools where I took Old and New Testament classes and memorized Scripture because it was a shield against the Devil.

I voted for George Herbert Walker Bush in 1992, my first American presidential election as an eligible voter, because he was the Only Godly Choice. I was appropriately, emotionally destroyed when Bill Clinton, that Lackey of Satan Who Proved He Was Evil Incarnate When He Squidged on Monica Lewinsky’s Dress, was elected in his stead.

I went to conservative Christian colleges — two of them — and I majored in Church History. I know the nuanced differences between the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed, and I’m geeky enough to have an animated conversation about them.

I bought books at the Christian bookstore about the dangers of Drug Culture, Hedonism, and Sex, and I hid those books deep in the couches of my nonChristian friends so they’d find them eventually, read them, and be saved. Coercive Couch Conversion, YEEHAW!

I was sure to tell my friends to Never Have Premarital Sex with their boyfriends (I didn’t even consider they might have girlfriends) and to remain pure so they didn’t transform into Chewed-Up Gum; used and wrecked and never able to pristinely fit back in their box. I knew, after all, that being Outside the Box was the Most Dangerous Thing that could happen to us. I didn’t mention to my friends, of course, that I was having premarital sex, because saying so would’ve meant I was deliberately doing it, which I was definitely not doing, since what I was doing was falling on my boyfriend’s penis — accidentally — over and over again.

All of which is an extremely long way to say I have street cred, man. I was a good Christian once. I meant well. I was very sincere. I have all the training. I prayed all the prayers. I asked Jesus into my heart at least 46 times, and I meant it every one of them. I was baptized twice, once as an infant and once as a teenager, so I have all the baptismal bases covered. I’ve studied Scripture, and I’ve committed it to memory so it is writ upon my heart, and I love Scripture still. I believed All the Things about Hell and how to scare people away from it, even though very few of those beliefs were based on the Bible. And I was extremely scared to hit the “like” button on questionable Facebook posts, sure I’d be found out for giggling at swearing, or loving the gays, or Being Political, or Thinking My Own Thoughts, which is, of course, the Worst.

I am, in short, not the person you would’ve picked to become a heretic. Not the person you would’ve picked to abandon Republicanism and the theological giants of the 1980’s. Not the person you would’ve picked to believe marriage ought not be confined to one man and one woman. Not the person you would’ve picked to deeply doubt a Literal Hell. Not the person you’d think would come to believe others’ salvation doesn’t depend on me at all.

But I did become that person. I became that person in spades, and I’ve given a lot of thought to where conservative Christianity fell apart for me. To where I became a heretic, off grid from the theology I was taught was Higher Ground. Away from the theology that was supposed to keep me Safe and Protected, as though those are the goals, and, instead, found me walking a ragged path through the wilderness rather than the well-trod highway I was told was the Narrow Way.

Here’s where it came apart for me:

When I was 7, you told me in no uncertain terms that the Smurfs were Satanic — something about arch demons and Papa Smurf as Karl Marx in disguise. I mean, I could buy the bit about He-Man luring me to Hades — after all, he called upon the Power of Grayskull and was practically, deliciously naked — but the Smurfs were a little harder to believe. You didn’t know it yet, and neither did I, but you started to lose me there. Even my 7 year old self knew the most evil thing about the Smurfs was that wretched theme song.

When I was 14, you told me to trust you, and you were my youth pastor, so I did. You said weird things about sexuality and girls’ bodies which led men to sin, and I felt uncomfortable around you always, but I was taught to trust you more than myself, so I shoved down my own discomfort, and I didn’t question you. Nothing awful happened. Not to me, anyway. But I learned what men said to me was more important than the Holy Spirit or my gut or my conscience. And you lost me.

When I was 15, we were out to save the world. You said we were doing God’s own work, though my soul squirmed at handing out trite tracts on the city streets and saying as many sinners’ prayers as possible instead of feeding the hungry, and clothing the naked, and finding medical care for the mentally fraught. And so you lost me.

When I was 29, and my gentle, compassionate, kind friend from our missionary high school wrote our entire class to tell us why he couldn’t come to our reunion and why he’d never see us again — because he was gay, so he’d had to choose between God and not killing himself — and, well, in the nicest possible way, said that we could go fuck ourselves because he wasn’t dying for any of this crazy, conservative Christian bullshit, you lost me. You lost me like my friend never did.

When Christianity became an In-Club with its own subculture and language rooted in white, middle class America — when Christianity was bought and sold to the Republican Party through the efforts of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson and fears about the Supreme Court — you lost me. When James Dobson and Franklin Graham took up their hypocritical banner, you lost me again.

When you taught me that blasphemy and taking God’s name in vain meant uttering the phrase “oh my God” — as though avoiding those three words completely fulfills one of only ten commandments — as though “oh my God” said in horror isn’t the deepest prayer for help — you lost me. When you buried the idea that blasphemy is spreading lies in the name of God, in favor of a simplistic phrase — when you didn’t look deeper — your vapid explanation lost me.

When you told me drinking wine was different in Jesus’ time — that the alcohol wasn’t as potent so it was OK that Jesus drank but it’s not OK to do it today — that Jesus didn’t really mean “do this in rememberance of me,” like his goal wasn’t communal worship over wheat and wine — like his first miracle wasn’t turning water to wine for a party that had already drunk its fill — you lost me.

When you told me God created the world 6,000 years ago — when you said, specifically, during college chapel that believing in evolution was the same as disbelieving in God — when you denied science the way the Church in Galileo’s time denied the earth revolved around the sun — you lost me. As though God is too small to set evolution in motion. As though evolution isn’t a miracle all on its own.

When you told me you’re certain your interpretation of the Bible is the only interpretation — when you said the meaning of the Bible in whatever English translation you prefer is clear — when you said homosexuality was a “lifestyle choice” and an “abomination” and changed your mind to “orientation” when the science became clear — when you still insisted that our homosexual and transsexual and bisexual and pansexual and polysexual and queer and questioning and human neighbors may exist but may not practice their sexuality within the parameters of Godliness — when you said the theology on sexuality is different than our former, historical theological justifications for slavery or women remaining silent in church or the sun revolving around the earth — you lost me. When you said you believe in a static understanding of the Bible outside of context and history and oral recitation and science and poetry and translation — when you ditched the beautifully mysterious and mystical meanings of God’s Word who was made flesh in Jesus Christ — when you denied the Holy Spirit has come with fire to be an ongoing revelation to God’s people — you lost me completely.

When I watched people suffer and become more disenfranchised than ever because of your interpretation of Scripture and your imposition of that on their lives, so very unlike Jesus’ response to the marginalized, you lost me.

When you became more concerned about protecting our borders in the isolationism sweeping the globe than protecting the most vulnerable who are trying to flee to us, crying out for help — when you didn’t say like Jesus, “let the little children come to me” — you lost me.

When you told people to come as they are, and I knew it really, secretly meant “come as you are so we can change you, and if you fail to conform in time, you’ll have to leave” — when I berated myself for thinking that was uncharitable, and it ended up being true — you lost me.

When you told me after my miscarriage to examine my life for sin, and you wished I’d bothered to listen to the tapes on how to have a Christian pregnancy, and if only I’d tithed more to the Church so I didn’t lose my first born like the cattle of the Israelites, you lost me.

When you told me my genitalia affects who I’m allowed to teach and which platforms I’m allowed to take — whether I can preach, which men can do, versus “bring a message,” which women are allotted — whether I can be in leadership or must submit to those with different genitalia — you lost me.

When I brought home my precious baby girl from Vietnam and you said, “At least she’s not black,” you lost me.

When I spoke what I believed in earnest — out loud and in public — and you punished and shunned me and told me you’d probably forgive me eventually but you couldn’t say when, you lost me.

When Jesus’ example was to make wine for drunk people at a wedding, to break the Sabbath to pull an ox and its farmer’s livelihood from a ditch, to bodily block the stone throwers, to furiously upend the tables of people cheating the poor from inside the Temple, to eat with hookers, to abandon the rules in favor of loving his neighbor — and you wanted to monitor the length of my skirt, and which words I could utter, you lost me.

When I finally realized you taught me to be polite and quiet because it upheld the power structure and made those oppressing others more comfortable, rather than upheld Jesus’ radical example and God’s great love of every person, you lost me.

When you told me my virginity was my most precious gift, you lost me.

When you told me premarital sex would wreck my life and relationships forever, and you were wrong, you lost me.

When you told me with every word and every glance and every action that my micro-behaviors and submission to our Christian patriarchical subculture were more important than my aching, expansive heart and desire to see God’s Love sweep the planet, you lost me.

When my gender and sexual minority friends found no sanctuary or succor with you — when you insisted you loved them while they committed suicide at alarming rates in even larger numbers inside faith communities and you did nothing other than spout Bible verses, nothing to save their lives, nothing to set aside your cold recitation of culturally-proscribed, modern, fundamentalist theology — you lost me. You lost me, you lost me, you lost me, and, more importantly, you lost them.

When I watched you actually believe you’re as hurt, as victimized, as terribly sad, as those who’ve been perpetually and systematically disenfranchised and abandoned by the Church, you lost me.

You lost me.

Jesus won me. Love owns me. And you lost me. Which is fine.

I live now in a place where I’m called a heretic regularly. Where I’m told I’m leading people astray. Where my convictions are not welcome in the church I chose once upon a time. And it’s a strange gift. Because I’m free. Free to love others fully. No longer restrained by false parameters. And I’ve found, as many who’ve wandered in the wilderness, that nothing — no one — no theology — no church — can separate me from the Love of God. Or stop me from spreading that Unlimited Love-of-God heresy to others.

And so I bid you good night. And send love. And Love. And wave in the dark, always and forever.

 

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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
323 comments
  1. This past Wednesday September 6, 2017 I attended a doctrine class at a local church it was a total waste of time.
    40-50 adults listening to a speaker speak to them as it was an AWANA class and doing stupid hand motions to memorize the lesson. What a waste of time.

    PASTORS in America WAKE UP your sermons are boring and not helpful to daily living let alone helpful in addressing the social and moral issues that are going to destroy this nation.

    Building projects to fill the pews are not needed, preach the BIBLE.

  2. If Jesus loved everyone, that’s fine. Some (not all) “Christians” actually are okay with that.

    What messes them up? Realizing Jesus calls us to do the same.

    Proof? Do what my wife, Renée, and I did and move into a neighborhood in east central Portland, Oregon, in part for the purpose of raising our family in the middle of “everyone,” only to be repeatedly questioned and openly rebuked for putting our children at risk.

    “Yes, we know…we have all kinds of neighbors.”

    A third of our neighbors are registered Democrats, a third Republicans, and a third Independents.

    They speak 104 languages and hail from scores of countries.

    They are Emergent, Post-Emergent, Protestant, Catholic, Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, Latin Pentecostal, Asian Presbyterian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Shinto, Animist, Agnostic, Atheist.

    They are straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning, queer, intersex, pansexual.

    They are super rich, upper middle class, middle class, lower middle class, lower class, homeless.

    Again, “Yes, we know…we have all kinds of neighbors. We actually want it that way. We want our children to be able to grow up and know, in their heart of hearts, that they love everyone.”

    Just like Jesus.

  3. I am a voracious reader of internet writing. I read and have read more blogs, tweets, Facebook posts than I can enumerate.

    Yet until I came across your blogpost, I’ve never taken the time to comment on an authors post. Not once–not ever.
    I came across yours via a Twitter link posted by author Rachel Held Evans.

    I’ve read it several times, forwarded it to a close friend, and read it aloud to my husband and daughter. My story is not identical—I was not raised a fundamentalist evangelical—but was converted into that in early adulthood (21) and like you, could have won an award over the ensuing two decades for “least likely to become a heretic.”

    For the last two years I too arrived at the place of “you lost me.” One of the most notable occasions for me was when a friend who was seriously ill, and who had no health insurance was told by church members (and members of leadership) that signing up for Obamacare was akin to accepting the mark of the beast. In despair she called to ask if I thought she’d lose her soul if she signed up for healthcare—she was having some major issues that she’d ignored for two years out of fear.

    Well she’s dead now. It turns out the issue she ignored was cancer, and by the time it was discovered, after she finally signed up for healthcare—it was too late. Chemo—radiation—she went through it all and still died as the cancer was just too far gone having been given a two year head start.

    This is the only most egregious example—but far from the only one. Like you, I could detail an extensive list. I’ve been on a two year leave of absence from “church”—not from God, not even the bible, but church. And it has been absolutely liberating—I have discovered God in the most unlikely of places and the most unlikely of people.

    I have learned more lessons that I deemed imaginable about the many ways in which I, in my former religious zealousness, so harshly judged and condemned others.

    I could go on ad infinitum—suffice it to say, you have my deepest admiration for having the courage and vulnerability to lay it all out there. I love authenticity. I’ve arrived at the place where I no longer fear being branded a heretic—but in this season as I seek to recover from what I will call “post traumatic church syndrome”—-I’m not really interested in engaging in arguments or debates. Hence I don’t have it in me to articulate my experiences in the fashion that you did—-which makes me even MORE grateful, for the fact that you did. I KNOW I’m not alone—but it’s nice to see written confirmation that I’m far less alone than I may think.

    I keep my thoughts and experiences for now mainly between myself and a very close circle of friends/relatives.

    I’m not trying to prove nor convince anyone of anything. I’m merely seeking to shed the damage of years of legalist, fundamentalist, often heretical (in my opinion) theology and come to a better understanding of and appreciation for the unconditional love of the God of grace who loves and accepts me as I am without all the striving to be acceptable enough. What a welcome revelation to fully embrace the reality that through Christ—I already was (acceptable enough)!

  4. At least she admits she is lost

    1. Oh, please.

  5. This is seriously, amazing food for thought. I’ve had so many similar experiences as she has had. Her post resonated deeply within me. Thus I decided to share my own thoughts.

    This is just a few of the things that her post reminded me of:

    ⭐️It reminded me of the preacher who told me I was demon possessed when I went to him for counseling. I was 17.
    ⭐️It reminded me of Christian friends who turned their backs on me in my darkest hours so many years ago – a lifetime really – but then in turn reminded me of a friend (who was not a Christian and also bi) who loved me in spite of myself and helped me more than anyone at that time.
    ⭐️It reminded me of the Christian “mentor” who told me I must have done something to encourage being assaulted less than a couple of years ago by a minister. Did I encourage his advances? Inadvertently flirt with him? Lead him on? Was I sure this happened ? I walked out.
    ⭐️It reminded me of the two people in my life that I deeply care for and who are transgender and who have dealt with so much hate and literal abuse from family members and the church. Hate and abuse they do NOT deserve.
    ⭐️It reminded me of the people who inferred or even outwardly said that I lost two of my beautiful triplets because of unrepentant sin.

    And I could go on and on. I didn’t even mention things that I saw or was told under the age of 17.

    But I won’t. Because Jesus and an amazing therapist and crazy loving Christian and non Christian friends helped me work through all that garbage.

    But I will share this final reminder. My young daughter recently said, “Why do people hate gays and blacks and muslims ? That’s not in the bible.”

    No baby it’s not.

    I think there is a lot of unnecessary baggage that comes with religion.

    So even though I know this in my heart, I will share it. I don’t need anyone to tell me how wrong I am. How misguided. How blinded. Or that that I should seek counsel and read my bible and pray. My answer to that, perhaps you should as well and then come back and have a personal conversation with me. Not a random attack. Talk to me. Hear me. And I will talk to you. And hear you.

    This is what I do know. I love God. I love Jesus. I even love going to church (usually). I love people. I love prayer and meditation and bible study.

    I will continue to:

    ⭐️Abhor and stand against hate
    ⭐️Cringe at religious mumbo jumbo that really doesn’t mean much, if anything at all, to my salvation.
    ⭐️And even though I’ve become more and more moderate as I’ve aged and become a mother, I may publicly shy away from some of my more conservative beliefs less I be lumped in with those I have ZERO in common with. That I will not tolerate.

    But it doesn’t mean I won’t do anything.

    ⭐️I won’t use my faith as a weapon.
    ⭐️Nor will I preach about or politicize everything.
    ⭐️But I won’t be quiet either.

    I choose to align myself as a follower of Christ.

    I choose to be brave. I choose to be full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control.

    1. From one Leah to another, beautifully stated.

  6. I found myself agreeing with everything you said, just in a different timeline or things I inflicted on my kids. Was an evangelical for 30 years. Walked the walk, talked the talk, truly wanted to raise up my children “in the fear and admonition of the Lord.” Did everything by the book, whether it was the Bible, James Dobson or William Fugate. Homeschooled for 18 years (hated every minute). Tried to be a meek and submissive wife. Big into the Quiverful movement and felt more noble because I had 11 children. Was a good Christian in picketing abortion clinics and slamming “those perverted gays.” But like every other Christian (I hope), there were always those niggling doubts. How DID all those animals fit onto that boat?? What about God’s perfect love that the Bible parallels to that of a parent?? Would love really send people to everlasting flames and torment?? I certainly could never do that to MY kids no matter what… The straw that broke the camel’s back was 1) being in an abusive marriage and all my church could do was tell me to keep being submissive (in our denomination, divorce was completely wrong, and you couldn’t even be a member if you were divorced and remarried) and “keep praying, Sister!!” And 2) when my #3 daughter came out as a lesbian. My world was turned upside down with my daughter. I was already divorced, finally kicked my husband out and couldn’t believe how much better my life was, even being a single mom with 9 kids still at home. Now I’m the mom of 2 gay kids (my youngest son came out recently) and am a huge advocate for LGBT equality. I am FREE to be myself instead of the prepackaged person the churches and various groups suck you in to be. And engaging my brain again to stop believing the words of an ancient book of dubious authorship, obviously contradictory in so many places, and realizing I’m not going to be struck down. Nor do I have to live in fear of the goddamn rapture!! I don’t have to pretend I’m excited for Jesus to come back in the air when in reality, I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to live my life, watch my kids grow, become a grandmother (#15 on the way!!) if he came back soon and very soon. I cannot be so arrogant to say I’m an atheist because the existence of God cannot be proved or disproved. Life is soooooo much better without church, religion or a deity. I actually love MORE now. And I don’t live in fear. Thankfully there are more and more of us. And thankfully, the whole religion thing only rubbed off on my 2 oldest. And they’re pretty out there (oldest is a Sabbath loving Seventh-Day Adventist, #2 says she keeps the Torah and God is Yah. Uh huh). Hoping those 2 will grow up and out of all that.

    1. Thank you

    2. Thank you

    3. I appreciate your statement. Thank you.

  7. Oh, yeah!! Great stuff. Well said. And I hope you can ignore the a$$holes who will try to make you feel guilty for speaking the Truth.

    1. Using profanity is a really good example of your faith friend.

      God bless you.

    2. Some of us, thankfully, have the freedom to say whatever we want and certainly don’t fear any heavenly retribution.

      1. All of us will give account on the day of Judgement. The beginning of wisdom is the Fear of the Lord.

        God bless.

        1. Hahahahahah!! Good one!

        2. Samuel Townsend, you must be a cheery fellow to live with. Keep bestowing those rays of sunshine!

          1. Will do 🙂

            God Bless.

    3. Wow this is definitely not a sign of the Lord residing in your heart. God help you.

  8. I feel so sad for you Beth. You had terrible experiences and decided to take the hardships that many of us go through and use it as an excuse to turn away from the structure that God made for us and his Church. Just because you have bad experiences with people in the Church, and have bad experiences with people who call themselves Christians does not mean we turn our back on the Church.

    All your post is, is nothing more than a means to make your self feel better for not living in a way that keeps you accountable for your actions. You use ZERO scripture here just your “feelings”. 1 Corinthians 10:23 “I have the right to do anything,” you say–but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”–but not everything is constructive.”

    Bad things happen to everyone and it is unfortunate when they happen to us due to other people who call themselves Christians. Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.”

    Get over your self. Gods plans are more important than how you feel. Don’t make up your own truth when God’s truth is clear in his Word. Next time, substantiate what you say with scripture. I know that you are unable too because scripture DOESN’T SUPPORT what you say in this blog. But as Christians our authority is the word of God. Not your feelings.

    God Bless.

    1. You fucking pious, self righteous bastard. You are a fine example of just what she was talking about.

      1. Cursing and using foul language isn’t a good way to promote faith if you are indeed a Christ follower. You can insult me all you want but my authority is Scripture. Your argument is with God. Not me.

        God bless you.

        1. I always told my kids that foul words should be said, if at all, when appropriate. Lisa has it right. Self righteous prick you are.

          1. I really don’t care how you mislead your children. The bible is clear and is what we as Christians follow. Insult me all you want but I stand for truth.

        2. Christ said, “Love one another.”

          He never said a word about homosexuality, or women’s hemlines, or skin color. He hung out with the powerless, and chased the powerful moneylenders out of the temple with a whip. After he flipped their tables.

          Think about that. The times that Jesus got angry, it was because people were hurting others, or refusing to help someone because it was the Sabbath. When they put strict religious rules over God’s people.

          1. As far as womens “hemlines” and skin color go I agree with you. As far as homosexuality the bible is quite clear.

            1 Corinthians 6:9-11 “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.”

            The Word of God is clear on what is right and what is wrong. We as Christians are to stand for truth and live lives that point to God. We are not to condone sin. Unfortunately many people are doing exactly that, like beth.

            Romans 1:32 “Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”

            Romans 12:2 “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

            Do not fall into the trap of the world and think everything is ok. For the wages of sin are death.

        3. I find it close to hilarious that anyone anyone would believe the Twelve didn’t use some salty language from time to time.

          1. Romans 3:23 “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God”

            I’m sure the Twelve also sinned like everyone else and probably did use bad language like most human beings. But I don’t think they went as far as to condone it and tell everyone its OK to continue doing.

            Luke 17:1-2 “He said to His disciples, “It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come! “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble”

            The bible is clear on the condoning of sin.

            God bless.

    2. So??? Not all of us believe in scripture. What makes the Bible more authentic than other scripture including the Book of Mormon, the Quran or Bhavavagad Gita?? All written by human beings. All of it unproven. Ever stop to think that the Bible is merely OPINION?? And that you have no right to quote it and tell those that disagree that they are wrong??

      1. The bible is quite clear. If you are a Christian and that is what you say you are, as Beth clearly states multiple times. You will then follow the Word of God aka the BIBLE.

        1 Timothy 1:3-7 “As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.”

        1 Timothy 6:3-5 “If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself.”

        1 John 1:10 “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.”

        The Bible speaks for itself. If you choose to believe it that’s between you and God alone.

        God Bless.

        1. So, do you know it in the original aramaic language or the 57th translation that happens to be heavily influenced by what that particular translator wants you to believe to support doctrine that is not original doctrine?

          You lost me when you thought you knew something of God and you knew nothing of him but what someone else told you (hint: the bible is what someone else told you…)

          1. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”

            I didn’t lose you, you lost the truth. The Bible is truth as it is the Word of God. If you choose not to believe in God’s Word that’s between you and God.

            God Bless.

        2. Boy are you going to be surprised when you get to heaven and see all the “sodomites” and Muslims and Bible scholars who haven’t weaponized the Bible as have you. I hope that turns out to be a joyous day for you when the scales fall from your eyes.

          I’d say God bless but She already has.

          1. In no way have I “weaponize” the bible to fit my own agenda. Scripture is CLEAR and the Truth is what it is.

            I’m sure I will be surprised by who is in heaven for no one knows what happens in the final hour and repentance and belief in the Lord is power. But the bible is very clear on those who do not repent and think it is OK to live a sinful life.

            1 Corinthians 6:9-10 “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.”

            The Bible is clear.

            God bless.

      2. You truly are lost. I pray that God will set you free from Satans hold. Open your bible and allow the truth to set you free. God help you!

    3. I think it’s responses such as these that helped form the basis of this post.

      1. Yep. Truth and the Word of God are what Beth is running from. In the end we will all give an account to He who sits on the throne.

        God bless.

        1. It sounds to me as if the author is following Jesus and interpreting Scripture from a Jesus lens, which is faithful, rather than following the Bible because, “the Bible.” After all, even the Bible has Jesus showing us how He interpreted the Torah: “You have heard it said, but *I* say …” If we’re using Scripture to jump aboard some morality improvement program, we are no better than the Pharisees. If we’re allowing Jesus to lead us into the Truth, we will walk away from interpretations that marginalize not only ourselves but others. We will walk towards people we never thought we could sit next to on a city bus, let alone let into our lives. In other words, we will stumble onto GRACE, and that is a frightening thing for those who are wedded to the rules.

          1. All old testament pointed to Christ. I think you need to read the whole book of Romans to fully understand the depth of Scripture. Next read the book of Acts so you can fully understand how the Church was founded.

            When you take the Bible out of being a Christian you are literally saying God’s Word means nothing, I am going off of what I am feeling. This is exactly how Cults are formed.

            That is very dangerous. Please read Romans and Acts. Thanks.

            God bless.

        2. Your “God blesses” remind me of the joke of the guy who yelled as someone stole his parking spot by saying to the guy to be fruitful and multiply amongst thyself– “but not in those exact words…” You can say that you don’t mean to, but the impression that you are creating with all these God blesses to commenters is not of caring, but of condescension. Therefore the reaction you receive is not gratitude but irritation. How you choose to use this information is up to you, and I suppose you’ll go on saying God bless. However, that would not make you a saint. The term used on the internet is a “troll”. And trolls lie not on the side of the sheep, but the goats.

          1. The word and what is in it is all that matters. If my God bless irritates you, you probably should look inward and figure out what really matters in life. The word of God is all that matters.

            GOD BLESS.

    4. Amen to this! The Truth will set those captives free!

    5. Samuel Townsend, I would have written almost this exact same response fifteen years ago. Thank God I saw the light. I hope you will, also. I absolutely guarantee that you, personally, “condone sin” according to deeply and sincerely held definitions of sin of previous times. Those past Christians would implore you to examine your heart and let scripture be your guide, and warn you of the fires of Hell for he who excuses himself, etc. They would call you a false Christian and a heretic. Why, in every age, does the church believe “Well, we FINALLY have it right, and we know what’s REALLY sin and what was just human tradition!” Jesus Himself excused David and his men for the shocking blasphemy of *eating the consecrated bread in the Temple* because his human need ranked higher than God’s law. How can it get any more clear?

      1. The light dwells within me and that light is Jesus Christ. So thank you but I am in an abundance of light thanks to Christ! 🙂

        God’s Word is where we learn of what sin is. God’s Word, not mans word. You should open your bible some time and see truth. The Book of Romans is a GREAT place to start. Next read Acts then continue on to the whole Bible that would be wonderful for you. 🙂

        God Bless!

  9. I love you. Thank you for saying so perfectly the very things that many of us wish we could say. You are truly an inspiration.

  10. I identified with you, moment after moment, as I read this piece, Beth. I hope that you’re writing a memoir. Your insights about faith and religion will resonate with many of us who have gone through similar faith journeys.

  11. Yes, this! So much this! I get beyond crazed when people make faith a stagnant rather than fluid thing. God was fluid through the Bible and yet many think that God is unchanged in the last 2000 years? ANYWAY…..mostly I want to say that there are loving and welcoming faith communities out there. If you have left a church because you can no longer bear what is being said and done there, search out one that lives, breathes and shares your belief of the radical hospitality of Jesus. One that welcomes everyone to the table – we were never called to judge who deserves to be there, only to greet all with love and compassion. And one who sees worth and respects other traditions of faith, we serve the same God. Those churches are out there – they aren’t perfect but then what family is? Faith communities can build, strengthen, offer hope and have huge hearts – and believe that being the church means our actions speak louder than our words and that we are the hands and feet of a loving God for a more socially just world.

  12. You had me at heretic.

  13. Thank you for this. I really needed it. I grew up in the Evangelical church, and am currently running as far as I can in the other direction. I no longer want anything to do with Christianity. It’s hard to know what to believe when I’m taught that Evangelicalism and Jesus are one and the same. I appreciate reminders that they are not, and draw much strength from stories of people who have separated the two. Thanks again.

  14. I wonder whether you may have had a relationship with the church
    rather than a relationship with God. All the things you mention came from
    people, admittedly people perhaps all trying to do same as you & follow
    God but ultimately fallible & guilty of towing the supposed part line. God doesn’t
    require us to follow the rules, just follow Him.

    1. What is the difference in having a relationship with “the church” and a relationship with “god”? The question implies that the deity is separate from the “followers” and implies that the “followers” are not authentic. And if the deity followers are not authentic, why would one even bother with any church, just relate to the god concept. Or does the query, wondering imply that someplace there is a “real, authentic” group of believers who “only” just follow the deity? And if the deity doesn’t require one to follow the “rules”, why are the rules so spelled out in both the New and Old testaments, and why is a so called hell threatened? Every religion can claim the same, to simply have a “relationship” with the deity and not be concerned about the followers or the rules. Yet each religion tends to discredit the other and claim to be the only true belief system. All religions are really developed by humans trying to explain existential questions about themselves and life.

    2. God doesn’t require us to follow the rules, just him. Now that’s funny!!!

    3. Lillian, you misunderstand. She said she did have a relationship with God and therefore could not have a relationship with “the church.” The people of “the church” were the ones placing roadblocks for her and her relationship with God. This is so common. The “church” is so full of itself and so certain of its righteousness, that it sacrifices living a life following the teachings of Jesus for living a life following the misunderstanding of ancient scripts, that were never, ever intended to be read as a “rule book.” Did you notice how the first argument used against her was, “You didn’t quote a single scripture” or something like that? These people have come to worship Scripture, as they understand it, rather than to worship the God of all Creation, the Incarnate God, and the Holy Spirit. God bless you, Beth Woolsey. In spite of every effort by narrow, misinformed, wrongly educated, rigid, dogmatic, unloving zealots, you have chosen to follow Jesus! Good for you! Keep your eyes on the Christ, filled with the unfailing love of God, and your soul will continue to be free and filled with Holy Spirit! You are a special, anointed daughter of God to have allowed God to lead you from such darkness into the Light. If that is being a “heretic,” sign me up! Keep holding up the Light for others lost in the darkness you came from.

  15. Beautifully said. I hope you can find a community of like minded people, virtually and in person, to share this journey. Anabaptist groups such as Mennonite Church USA congregations with an emphasis on the social Gospel would welcome your perspective and gifts.

    1. Your self righteousness is showing.

      1. Jj, You know how “irony” is often hard to define? Your comment is the most perfect example I have seen in a long time.

  16. Hey.

    I just want to say…. you’re not a heretic. Not for anything you shared here, for sure.

    Anyone who says otherwise doesn’t understand what the word means, or is trying to control you.

    Thanks for sharing, and peace to you and yours.

  17. I love this so much. I became an atheist about 8 years ago. Up until then, I had been an Evangelical minister, preaching the Gospel to all who would listen. I grew up in a fundamentalist church of the Pentecostal denomination. We later became Non-Denominational, which is a funny way of saying “an even more devout Pentecostal Denomination.”

    Your experiences so closely match my own in so many ways, save for the missions trips. We just stayed right here in the good old United States, better known as ALMIGHTY GOD’S UNITED STATES OF AMERICA HALLOWED BE THY NAME GET THEE BEHIND ME SOCIALISTS AND MARXISTS. *cough*

    I just couldn’t keep doing it. I couldn’t keep condemning all of these sweet, wonderful people who had done nothing more than not recite the magic words that made them better than everyone else. I mean, sure, we would say we weren’t perfect, but deep down I know most of us probably felt that we weren’t perfect in the eyes of God, but we were most certainly better off than the sinners we saw every day.

    These days, I watch the church get even further away from their roots. I was reading an article about school lunches, and how kids were being denied a chance to eat because they didn’t have the money to pay. One solution was to simply funnel a bit of tax money to the school system to make sure children had food to eat in such a case, rather than them going hungry. So many people with Christian avatars, bible quotes in their bios, “How much do you love Jesus?” quizzes in their newsfeeds, were complaining about how they didn’t want their tax money to be spent on lazy, ungrateful kids. It just shattered my heart to see it.

    Like you, I’m finding my way through this unmarked path, just trying to navigate my own life. Plenty would say I am lost. They can cite scriptures, and give me warnings about being hellbound, but if heaven is full of people who don’t even want to feed hungry children, why would I want to go there? Why?

    Thank you for your wonderful words, Beth. They have been a soothing balm for my broken heart today. All of my best to you.

  18. I left the Church almost 30 years ago because of the hypocrisy. However, I never left God. We don’t always agree, but He has a mission.
    Your message is very enlightening about the varying ways of hypocrisy in churches. While we were taught to ‘worship in groups’, I have come to the realization that I am able to worship in my actions every day. I have no need of a group to interfere with my relationship with God.

  19. When I was in bible class and the teacher said we should go down to the Episcopal church and burn it down because they opened their doors to the gay community – you lost me.

  20. Oh God I got tears in my eyes as I read this. Yes, a million times.

  21. Beautifully written. My father was an SBC pastor who was considered too radical by many of his colleagues for nothing more than taking the New Testament so seriously. In his later years, he remarked sometimes that he seemed to have become a heretic, because he couldn´t believe that God would consign his Jewish daughter in law or her family to hell; he was the pastor who would minister to persons with AIDS and their families in the early years of the crisis; he stood down the racist deacons in one church in the early 60s even when it might have cost his job; he was always urging the police department to treat citizens as human beings rather than as mortal enemies, etc. etc. To him, this was just taking Jesus seriously. It distressed him no end to see his denomination depart from their tradition of faith to become a politically motivated fundamentalist machine. At least it gave him a laugh to be able to shut down a few unpleasant exchanges by referring to ¨My daughter the Episcopal priest.¨

  22. You are becoming quite the internet sensation. Because you are speaking the Truth.

  23. Hi Beth! Been a long time and I’m walking with you, smiling freely and breathing freely with you. My spirit rejoices with you. Nuff said.

  24. At first I was taking this a bit seriously but it turned out to just be a bunch of typical boilerplate arguments used to stereotype and attack people of faith. Yeah, people like this do exist out there and on TV in their bubble but it is hardly descriptive of the orthodox faith community at large.

    1. You can deny her experience and that of so many who have left the Church for these very reasons, but it is a denial of reality. I pitty you cannot see what has beco.e of the Evangelucal Church.

  25. Thank you so much for writing this!! I was fortunate enough to have parents who were not only Christian, but also taught me to think for myself (egads, a young female with a mind??). It can be challenging to have ideas that are different from everyone else’s around you… especially when those ideas deal with something as personal (and often divisive) as religion. I’m sorry to see so much backlash to what you were brave enough to post, but it’s definitely nice for me to see another Christian whose focus is more on the big picture of the depths of God’s love and less on… well, you know.

    1. Thanks for your kindness. As for the backlash… meh… no worries. There’s been some, but everyone who’s been entrenched inside the conservative, evangelical subculture knows that’s the price we pay for saying what we think out loud. We’re breaking the deeply-held rules of that society. Fortunately, when we follow a Love that’s bigger than the tight parameters of fundamentalism, we learn that speaking out loud is survivable. Even when we’re no longer welcome in our former communities. Even when we’re shamed and shunned. It’s survivable… and then we THRIVE. I can understand how very threatening that must be.

      ❤️

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