One thig I keep constantly hearing and seeing is allegations that ex-Christians or exvangelicals, however you term it, were never truly Christians in the first place. That if they were truly saved or “knew the grace of god” they wouldn’t have left it behind. I’ve heard this personally from my ex-pastor and more recently online from several prominent evangelicals.
“I contend that if you ever experience the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, actually—that that’s really impossible to deconstruct from.”Matt Chandler
The direct statement is that anyone that leaves never really was a true Christian. It’s the very definition of a no true Scotsman’s argument. See this article for a definition if you are unfamiliar with the term. Below is also an example of the logic used in a practical sense.
Person A: “No Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_true_Scotsman
Person B: “But my uncle Angus is a Scotsman and he puts sugar on his porridge.”
Person A: “But no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”
These leaders are telling their congregants that those who leave the church never truly believed. That they were never saved or trusted god. And that as people leave the “true believers” are the people that stay. It really seems to take away any nuance from the conversation. Casting out those who leave as “false Christians.” Ignoring any possibility that someone could be a Christian and somehow leave that behind them.
But I would argue that many people who have left and continue to leave were very much “true Christians.” Many exchristians I’ve spoke with who decided to leave have spent years in service to the church. They’ve given years of their lives for missions, music ministry, Sunday school, bus ministries, or served in other ways.
Exvangelical’s also come under constant attack for their belief or supposed lack of belief. That they never were a believer or supporter of the gospel. I would encourage those that want to directly attack someone’s belief to instead listen to the stories of those that have left. Micah J. Murry has an amazing podcast where he describes his relentless pursuit of god, and how his pursuit of god led him away from the church. His story and has a striking similarity to my own in several ways (He grew up in a fundamentalist homeschool environment), and I would recommend listening.
I’ve written before on my past, but I want to share again several parts of my own story. I tried so hard to be a Christian and stay within the Christian community. From childhood to my mid twenties I would nightly worry about my faith and “walk with god” confessing my sins to him and repenting. I took my faith and my “Christian walk” seriously; desiring to be holy and acceptable before god. During my teens my anxiety regarding my faith would constantly cause me to doubt my salvation, and I would often intently pray the sinners prayer begging for salvation.
Because I’ve had someone point out that I probably wasn’t sincere or that I didn’t understand the “right” way to be saved. I’ll lay it out in a way that would be familiar with a fundamentalist.
I would acknowledge my sin and fallen sinful condition and ask god to save me from it. With the full understanding that it was Jesus’s death and resurrection that allowed for my salvation. Realizing that this was not due to my own power or actions. I poured my heart out and begged god to accept me. I prayed this prayer multiple times as a pre-teen and teen.
I looked to god for the security and peace others had spoke to me about. But would feel doubt creep in slowly. The nagging suspicion that I might not have really been saved. So the cycle would continue, and I would again do everything I had been told to ask god to be my lord and savior.
I tried my hardest to please god and live a life according to the standards I was given. But I would fall short and sin in some way. During my teen years this would often be due some “lustful thought.” I would immediately confess my sin and repent begging god to take these sinful desires from me. But they lingered on, and so I continue to sin and confess. The guilt heaping higher as I failed to break the cycle.
Following graduation from my homeschool environment, I immediately went to a Christian college. Why there? Because I was told I needed to attend a Christian college to keep my faith strong. And that “secular” colleges would lead me away from god. So I left home, with a desire to learn more about the bible and god as I went through nursing school.
Honestly it was probably the worst thing I could have done for my faith. The judgement and rules that the college focused on their students were eye opening. It was a condensed version of the environment I grew up in. Willing to accept and love you, but only if you acted and looked a certain way (and never questioned the authority over you).
The final nail in my fate was probably when me and my fiancée at the time “fell prey to sexual temptation.” Guilt and fear followed me the rest of the time I was at college. I knew full well the college would expel either of us if they found out. No excuses allowed or repentance available to their students only judgement. The same attitude was even held by my friends after I left college. With them passing judgement and laughing about their friends that “slept around” or had sex before marriage. Not realizing I was also one of the people they were also laughing at and judging. I’d asked god for forgiveness innumerable times; I didn’t need the constant reminders of my failures. I was good enough at doing that on my own.
I tried to continue on in my Christian faith after my wife stopped attending church, but it was more painful than it should have been. With side glances and questions about where my wife was. It also didn’t help that I worked many weekends and would have to miss just about every other Sunday service. In so many churches, attendance and appearance are key. Fail on either one and you won’t find a warm Christian family, but instead a distant and suspicious one. Tensions also increased in my own home as my wife moved away from the values and beliefs we initially held in our marriage.
So I dug into what I believed and why. Why being the main thing that initially kicked it off. Why did my family choose to believe this, or what happened historically that would have influenced my upbringing? This started as me exploring the Christian political movement that started with my exploration of Jerry Falwell and the moral majority (another post for another time). But I have a curious mind, and once I opened that box I couldn’t stop asking questions.
So what lead me away from the church? A lot of things really, it isn’t just a simple answer. Reflecting on my upbringing. And realizing that adherence to rules and being “separate from the world” robbed me of much of my childhood. My circumstances and treatment at PCC certainly played a role. Hearing about my mother’s repeated abuse at the hands of several different Christian leaders (with little to no support from the church). My wife’s own story of her abuse by the hands of “godly young man” in her church, and how he used and manipulated her with the very language the church supplied him with. Watching as Trump’s language continued to escalate and become increasingly worrying and how so many Christian’s continued to back him. And then a final straw of COVID as Christian’s (in my community) lead the fight against vaccination and masks. Even as the nursing homes and elderly in our community were dying on a daily basis. With their “rights” triumphing over anyone’s else’s health or wellbeing. This and much more is what lead me away.
I had a childhood, upbringing, and college life that were all centered around god and training to serve him. My strongest desire during those years was to know god, obey his commandments, and to serve him. I held myself to the standards that were laid out for me, and my anxiety would remind me daily of my failure to hold up to these standards all the time.
I’ll give an example of one the areas I felt guilt about with my “Christian walk with god.” Baptism, every sermon about baptism pushed into heart like a knife with guilt pulling at my mind. Why did I hold off until college? If I’m being completely honest, social anxiety. I feared talking in front of others. And every church, before college, I ever attended forced a public confession of faith as part of a baptism. Believe me I wanted to get up there and loudly declare my story, but my anxiety and fear prevented me from moving forward. I felt so much guilt for being unable to overcome my fear. I very much wanted to follow god and give him my all. I truly did.
I and so many others have lived and breathed the same faith. We’ve learnt and grown within Christian homes. We held to the faith that was taught to us, and learnt and served within our faith communities.
We did all of this until we reached a breaking point in our faith. I wrote my story of my faith. Other’s have written theirs as well. Please don’t absentmindedly dismiss our faith and our stories because you feel we were never “true” Christians. I swear to you; I wholeheartedly believed.
These aren’t people that have just casually attended church leaving for a “life of sin” as many people have indicated. These are dedicated Christian individuals that have decided to look into what they believe and why. Because something in their life has forced them to examine the way they view the world. What that is will vary person to person. But their questions and life changes don’t negate the way they thought and believed in the past.
We were one of you. We were fully and wholly in the same camp as you. We worshiped, served, and prayed with you. Please don’t try to take that away. And if you want to know why someone has left, just ask. Please don’t jump to the conclusion that it was just a lack of faith. If you are willing to listen without judgement, more than likely they will be willing to tell you why.