PODCAST: Who Are The ExVangelicals? Feat. Sarah McCammon

by | Jun 27, 2024 | Podcasts, Theology of Marriage and Sex | 8 comments

Why do people deconstruct and become exvangelicals?

Today on the Bare Marriage podcast author Sarah McCammon, an NPR journalist, joins us to talk about her experience with deconstruction, and what she learned interviewing so many people for her new book explaining the phenomenon of exvangelicals!

This is the first podcast in our series on deconstruction. I talked yesterday about how we’re going to be interviewing people who ended up in different places with faith, but that their stories are so vital to hear for two reasons: First, because people’s pain matters, especially when we (as the church) are responsible for causing it. But second, if we’re going to have a healthy church, we need to listen to those who are explaining why things have gone awry. 

After I talk with Sarah, Keith joins me so we can talk about how I’m processing Lies Young Women Believe, and I ponder if my faith would have looked differently if I hadn’t been taught as a young adult that my “negative” emotions made God disappointed in me.

Or, as always, you can watch on YouTube:

Sarah McCammon examines all the reasons for deconstruction.

I really enjoyed her book. She tells her full story, and I see in her parents a genuine desire to raise her child in Christ. But they become so hyper-fundamentalist that eventually it collapses under its own weight.

I hope as you listen to Sarah’s story you can sense that this isn’t someone you can dismiss as “she never really believed”. She was completely and utterly immersed in evangelicalism. But it hurt her.

And as she shares her story and those of so many others, we can see why. And hopefully, we’ll start a bigger reformation in the church, so that we can get rid of these harmful aspects and create a church that leads to wholeness and healing, not to shame and brokenness. 

The Exvangelicals Sarah McCammon

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What do you think? Does Sarah’s story resonate with you? What do you think of being told that healing is entirely about forgiveness? Let us know in the comments below!


Sheila: What does it mean to deconstruct your faith?  Hi.  I’m Sheila Wray Gregoire from baremarriage.com where we like to talk about healthy, evidence-based, biblical advice for your sex life and your marriage.  And, actually, for the next two weeks, we have some amazing interviews coming up with three different people, who have deconstructed their faith.  Now deconstruction has gotten a lot of bad press in evangelicalism lately.  Matt Chandler accused people of deconstructing just because it’s sexy as if deconstructing is something really cool to do.  Lots of people say that those who deconstruct are doing so because they want to sin.  And, actually, that’s not what’s going on.  And it is so vitally, vitally important that we listen to the voices that are coming out of the deconstruction spaces, and that’s why I want to dedicate the next three weeks to some interviews on that.  What deconstruction means is simply that you’re examining all the things that you were taught about God and about faith.  And you’re dismantling them one by one until you get down to the foundation of what you think is true.  So you’re taking out the stuff that’s extraneous—basically the toxic teachings that we talk about here on Bare Marriage all the time—until you get back to what’s true.  The problem is so many people grew up with such horrendously toxic teachings and with people around them who had bought the toxic teachings and that they experienced tremendous betrayal and hurt that they couldn’t continue in the faith.  And so we’re going to hear stories today from Sarah McCammon, the author of Exvangelicals, and next week from Cait West, the author of Rift of people who have really deconstructed because they really, really believed and they were hurt.  And they’re still on their journeys.  They’re not sure where they’re going to end up, and I’m finding it very interesting to watch them on social media and see how they’re processing things.  And then we’ll hear from Ryan George, author of Held and Healed by the Church, to look at how he had to deconstruct, but he ended up falling in love with a whole new Jesus that he had never been introduced to.  And that’s really my heart is that people who deconstruct end up finding the real Jesus.  But I know that that’s not going to happen for everybody because there has been so much hurt, and that’s why it’s so important for us to listen to these stories.  When we ignore the stories of people who have deconstructed, we’re basically saying we don’t care if a whole generation leaves the church.  And, often, the people who are deconstructing have noticed something really toxic, and we need to listen to them.  And so we are going to bring on Sarah McCammon in just a minute.  But before we do that, I do have some thank yous to give out.  We just so appreciate the people who support what we do here.  We love our patrons and our patron community on Facebook.  Rebecca and Joanna have been recording up a storm this week of twelve unfiltered podcasts that they’ll be releasing in the patron group.  They’ve been having so much fun doing deep dives into things that they don’t necessarily get to talk about on the public channel.  But you can see some of the things that we’re thinking about in the patron group.  And so you can join our patron group for as little as $5 a month and be part of that Facebook group.  And then for higher levels, you get even more perks.  But we also have a chance in the U.S. to donate money to what we do.  We are the Good Fruit Faith Initiative of the Bosco Foundation.  And the Bosco Foundation is funding a lot of the research that we’re doing, a lot of our research dissemination, some of the academic papers we’re writing. We have some really cool things that we hope to be able to share with you in the next couple of weeks and months on that front.  And it also is funding our pastor outreach.  We’re preparing a lot of things for the new year on training pastors in some of the new information that we have gotten from our research.  And so I just want to say a big thank you to some of our most recent donors, people who have given money just recently.  To Donna, Rachel, Amy, Melissa, Hannah, Talia, Jessica, Melanie, Kirk, Melinda, Rebecca, and Brian.  Thank you so much for your recent donations.  And it really does make a difference.  And you can even give on a monthly basis.  And so the link to the Good Fruit Faith Initiative is in the podcast notes as is the link to join our patron.  And now, without further ado, I would like to bring to you our interview.  And then after that, Keith is going to join me so that we can talk about some cool things as we process what we’ve heard.  Well, I am really happy to bring to the Bare Marriage podcast Sarah McCammon, who is a national political correspondent with the MPR, which sounds super crazy this year with all the elections coming up.  But that’s not what we’re talking about.  We’re talking about her amazing book, Exvangelicals, which I loved.  And, Sarah, welcome to the podcast.

Sarah: Thank you so much.  It’s good to be here.

Sheila: I read a lot about exvangelicals, and—because we’re sort of in that space.  And I think what I loved about your book—first of all, it’s so well written.  But your anecdotes and the stories of your own life—it’s so poignant and funny.  And I just thought you did a great job.  So yeah.  

Sarah: Thank you.

Sheila: It was a lovely read.  It was a lovely, heartbreaking read but a lovely read.

Sarah: Thank you.  And it was nice, as a journalist—usually, you stay out of things.  But I, obviously, have my own experiences in this world, and I wanted to share them but also in conversation with a lot of other people’s stories too.  

Sheila: Yeah.  Yeah.  It was so good.  So there are a lot of people who listen to this podcast on all ends of the spectrum of religion.  And what we often here in evangelicalism is the term exvangelical, but it’s not always defined.  And we get a lot of talk from a lot of pastors, especially, accusing exvangelicals of all kinds of horrible, heinous things.  So how would you describe an exvangelical? 

Sarah: I use this word—I use it in the title of my book because I feel like it’s a nice shorthand.  And like any shorthand, it serves a purpose, but it doesn’t say everything.  When I was in the evangelical world, that wasn’t the word I would have used.  I would have just used the word Christian.  But I came to understand that I was part of an evangelical movement that meant something specific.  And when I heard someone in the course of some of my reporting use the term exvangelical, I thought that is really an interesting word because it just kind of says very efficiently I used to be part of this world.  This really what is a subculture in many ways.   And now I’m not for whatever reason.  It doesn’t necessarily say where you are, who you are now.  It just says I’ve had some kind of a break, for whatever reason, with that community.  And I started paying more attention to that word after I heard it and seeing all these—around 2017, seeing all these spaces online, podcasts and hash tags in social media groups and so forth, where people were having really interesting and really heartfelt conversations about how to make sense of their faith and how to make sense of maybe some changes they were having in their faith.  And I had been through that process myself many years before I ever heard this word.  And so I think it means different things to different people.  But I think what it means is I have some kind of a connection to the evangelical world.  And for whatever reason, that connection has evolved and changed, and I’m now in a different place.  And that different place can—it sounds like your listeners fall into a lot of different categories.  But it can fall into a lot of different categories.  For some people, that means not being religious anymore.  And for other people, it still means being deeply Christian, but it might look different than what they were doing before.  

Sheila: Yeah.  Exactly.  And the deconstruction movement is highly tied up in this whole exvangelical movement, and sometimes people deconvert.  And sometimes they just get rid of certain beliefs.  And I think it’s just a lot of questioning, and that’s what I really appreciated about—in the book, you wove in your own story but then all these other people—just like a journalist because you are one.  That you talked to about all these different aspects of trying to figure out faith when things just aren’t working once you’re an adult.  And they probably weren’t working as a teenager too.  So before we get going, okay.  In Philippians 3, Paul does his whole here’s what I was.  I was the Pharisee of the Pharisees.  I was so super religious, and now I don’t consider myself any of that.  I consider it all junk.  So give us your bona fides because you were in the middle of evangelicalism.    

Sarah: Yeah.  From preschool—half way through preschool, I was afraid to go to preschool, so my mom let me wait until the second semester.  I went to Christian school all the way through twelfth grade with the exception of one semester when I was a U.S. Senate page in Washington D.C., and I write about that.  It was a pivotal semester.  It was this time I was exposed to people who thought differently than me.  And it sort of raised a lot of questions for me.  And then I went to an evangelical college.  So I’ll sort of—since we’re speaking, I think, kind of in the family here, I’ll talk a little bit about what those specific traditions were.  For people outside of evangelicalism, I often say that evangelicalism is a huge umbrella term.  And it means a lot of different things.  And it, generally, includes theologically and, usually, politically conservative Protestant Christians, but there are a lot of different ways to be that.  So my Christian school was a Bible church school in Kansas City.  More toward the fundamentalist end of the spectrum.  Not fully fundamentalist but really conservative.  Girls wore dresses every day.  In some ways, it would be similar to a Baptist church probably in terms of theology.  My church that my parents went to was a charismatic, nondenominational church.  So similar to an Assemblies of God but not denominational.  Kind of Pentecostal.  We raised our hands.  We believed in the possibility of miracles.  We spoke in tongues.  I always tried to speak in tongues.  I never really felt like I had it, but I tried and prayed for it.  And then my college was an Evangelical Free college, Trinity.  Which if people are familiar with seminaries, it’s got a big seminary.  Trinity Evangelical Divinity School outside of Chicago.  I went to the undergrad college, which is pretty much now defunct.  But that was 20 years or so ago that I graduated.  So I kind of covered a spectrum of the evangelical world in those educational institutions and churches, and I had friends who were Baptists, and friends who were Nazarene, and friends who were conservative, like Missouri Synod Lutheran, lots of nondenominational folks.  But we were all kind of unified by, essentially, the same theology with some small differences.  

Sheila: Right.  So good.  So in your book, you talk about all kinds of issues that have caused people, as they get older, to find that they just can’t continue in the faith in the same way whether it’s politics, the LGBTQ issue, the issues of authoritarianism, of fear based stuff of not handling mental health well.  So you do all of this in the book, but I really want to focus on two chapters, which are not necessarily the main part.  But they’re the part that is going to resonate the most with our audience which is how you handled modesty and the sex purity culture messages.  So I laughed out loud.  I mean it was so pathetic.  At your story that opened your chapter on modesty about your homeroom teacher.  You wrote this so well.  Can you tell us about this buttoned up schoolmarm and what she did?

Sarah: Yeah.  We had this—this is my K12 school.  We had this very pretty strict modesty code.  Girls wore dresses every day at least below the knee.  You could be asked, if they looked too short, to kneel and demonstrate that your dress touched the floor.  And I think I say in the book I had a friend, who went to public school for awhile, and then she came over to my school.  But a friend from church who, I think, was kind of proud of herself for not having to go to Christian school initially.  And she knew about that, and she said, “Do you guys—is that because you kneel to pray all the time?”  I was like, “No.  That’s just the test.  We’re not that crazy.  It’s just the test of if our dresses are long enough.”  So I was a rule follower, and I did not break dress code ever I don’t think.  But there were girls, who’d hike their skirts up, roll them just a little bit, or wear them just a little bit above the knee, just push the envelope.  And it’s funny.  Our cheerleading uniforms—because I was a cheerleader for a couple of years.  They were little—allowed to be just a little bit shorter because it’s weird to have a cheerleading skirt that goes down to below your knee.  So they could come right above the knee.  But some of the girls, again, would roll them up just a little bit shorter, show some thigh.  And it was funny.  The really tiny girls could get away with it more because they were skinny, and they didn’t have these womanly frames.  I was pretty curvy, and so I couldn’t get away with anything.  I didn’t really try.  But yeah.  One day I got to my first period class, which was kind of like a homeroom although we used it to pray and have devotions every morning.  My teacher, who was this really—yes.  Very buttoned up, very strict kind of—very serious type of person.  She sat down and told us she had to talk to us about something.  And she basically starts kind of doing this pantomime where she hikes up her skirt and she unbuttons her buttoned up shirt and shows us a little bit of cleavage.  And her whole point was that a lot of girls are dressing like this, and we were told that some of them male teachers had complained which was really creepy.  All the women were having a—giving the girls a talking to about how we were not complying with dress code sufficiently.  And so I got out of that class and found out that some of my other friends in other sections that had a similar performance from their female teachers—which is just weird but also funny.  The whole point was to reinforce this modesty code.  And I talk in the book about how there was another occasion at my college where all the RAs did a slutty fashion show where they wore tighter—their tighter clothes and hiked up their skirts.  It’s all kind of funny, but it’s also not that funny because this was a message that was really, really hit hard for girls that you need to cover up.  If you’re not covering up, you’re going to lead your brothers astray.  You’re going to cause them to lust.

Sheila: Or your male teachers.

Sarah: Or your male teachers.  Even weirder, right?  So yeah.  I mean I still laugh about it, but I’m—and if I had a daughter, it’s not something I would ever want her to have to experience because it’s just not appropriate.

Sheila: Yeah.  And so many women that you talked to have really had long-term consequences from that.  Not being able to accept their bodies, not feeling free once they’re married even.  If they’re in a good relationship, they’re supposed to have this great sex that the church promised them, but they still feel like they can’t even show their husband their body.  Yeah.    

Sarah: Yeah.  I interviewed some women in my book who talked about really following all of those rules, really internalizing those messages and then when they got to their married life feeling like, as you described, just like they couldn’t enjoy their sexuality.  They couldn’t enjoy their bodies.  One woman talked about having—not having an orgasm until she was in her thirties.  I’ve been fascinated with your research that backs up the idea that this is a bigger problem for people raised in purity culture and modesty culture then it probably needs to be.

Sheila: Yeah.  Than it definitely needs to be for sure.  This affected you too.  I mean you really were this good, Christian girl.  You were trying to follow all the rules.  You’d never kissed anybody.  And then you told the story of your relationship with John, who is the guy that you—the only guy you dated before you got married—which ended up being sort of a physical relationship that, to me, sounded kind of exploitative or at least not—

Sarah: The only guy I really had a physical relationship, but I went out on a few dates.  But yeah.  My husband—my first husband that I married—was my first actual boyfriend.  And I had really minimal relationships before that.  But yeah.  I had held out for a long time.  I had gone on a couple of dates in high school that didn’t really go anywhere and gone on a few dates in college with different guys.  But there was this real sort of sense of needing to hold everything really close.  I think I mention in the book having a friend that I thought about making out with.  I had never kissed anybody, and I just didn’t do it because, literally, if you kissed a friend, you might end up finding yourself engaged in a few months because that was just how the culture worked.  It was this extremely serious approach to any kind of physical connection, and any kind of dating, even casual dating, was kind of frowned upon.  It was supposed to be serious and leading to marriage.  And so yeah.  This boy asked—man.  Man.  He was 28.  Asked me out when I was a sophomore or junior in college.  And I had never even kissed anybody, and I was really attracted to him.  I was at that age where you’re curious, right?  Sexually.  And I just remember feeling so conflicted because there were things I wanted to knew but knew I wasn’t supposed to do.  He was, for a lot of reasons, probably not somebody that I thought I would want to marry, but I was just so curious and so tired of having—of just waiting because all of this—everything has to be put off until you’re basically ready to get married.  And so yeah.  We went out.  And I talk about what that was like.  But just feeling a lot of guilt and also a lot of pressure from him.  And I think the thing about purity culture that I’m not the first person to point out is that it so emphasizes purity and not crossing any lines.  It doesn’t talk much about consent or knowing your body or knowing what you want which is a problem when—I mean, for me, it was a very confusing set of feelings.  It’s like I wanted sex, right?  I was a 20, 21-year-old woman.  Healthy.  I wanted sex.  I was attracted to men.  But I also was terrified of sex.  And I think being physically close to a guy that I was really attracted to and having these incredibly conflicting feelings was so confusing, and so he would put pressure on me to do more.  And I, on some level, wanted to but on another level didn’t.  And I have to be clear.  I mean when I said no it was absolutely his obligation to respect that regardless of why I was saying no.  And so I just really struggled to navigate those negotiations because I was so out of touch with what I even wanted and felt so—I think so removed from my own desires and feelings.  And so then I talk about when I did finally find the guy I wanted to marry who had not dated before just feeling a lot of guilt that I had done anything physical at all.  And I’m just talking about—I’m really just talking about making out with clothes on.  Sorry if that’s TMI.  I don’t know how much do we go into in this podcast.  

Sheila: But I guess what really struck me too is—and this comes up in some much of our research is you were actually in quite a vulnerable position there.  And you really were not equipped to handle it.  It could have gone a lot worse, right?

Sarah: Oh yeah.  If he had—I mean if he had pushed farther.

Sheila: Yeah.  And you really weren’t equipped to handle it.  Not that any of us ever are equipped to handle sexual assault.  I don’t mean to say that.  But I just mean that there’s a level of naiveté that came with that that we saw a lot in our focus groups where—yeah.  Because there wasn’t that emphasis on consent, it really was your job to stop everything.  Yeah.  It just puts you in a bad position.  So then you come out of that relationship, and you marry the very next guy, who is the perfect for you on paper.  He is the son of a SBC pastor.  He’s done everything right.  And you’re supposed to have this great marriage, and you didn’t.

Sarah: Yeah.  I mean I remember when we were dating—and I want to say.  He and I are on good terms.  I dedicate the book to him and to my children and to my—I’m remarried.  To my spouse, my husband.  We tried so hard to do everything right.  Both of us.  And bless his heart.  I remember when we were dating he would say things like, “I really want to do right by you.  I really want to guard your heart.”  These very kind of sweet ideas from purity culture, but that—to execute on them is very difficult when you have no frame of reference for who you are in a romantic relationship or who you are sexually or anything like that.  I remember feeling like, as soon as we started dating—and I think—and he’s not here.  And I don’t want so speak for him.  But my sense is that, I think, both of us kind of felt that once we started dating that—we were—to break up, to not get married, would be a really big deal.  And he had been raised in the Bill Gothard environment.  ATI.  IFB.  That’s profiled in Shiny, Happy People.  My church had been influenced by it, so we both had—not just—not only the idea that we should save sex for marriage but a bit more of an extreme version of that, kind of courtship—almost toward courtship kind of philosophy.  Both of our parents did.  And that meant that there was very little room for error.  There was very little room to just spend time with somebody, figure out how to be in a romantic relationship, figure out what you like, and not even just talking about what you like sexually, but what you like in a relationship.  What it feels like to be supported in a relationship, what it feels like to be romanced.  And I don’t think either of us knew what that was like.  And so there was just so much pressure to not break any rules, to get married soon, to settle down, to be adults really fast.  And, for a whole lot of reasons which I don’t go into too much detail in the book out of respect for him, there were just a lot of things that never were quite right.  And we tried.  We really tried to make them work.  And I think we stayed together for a long time, and we have two wonderful kids.  And we coparent, and I’m really grateful for that part of my life.  But I also think that had we entered that relationship with less fear it might have been very, very different.

Sheila: You put, at the end of one of your chapters—this is highly personal.  So I’m sorry to read it out loud.

Sarah: Anything in the book is fair game.

Sheila: But you say this, “For most of our marriage, I had a recurring dream.  The setting changed each time. Sometimes we were at his parent’s house, sometimes in my childhood bedroom, sometimes a place I didn’t recognize, but the circumstances were always the same.  We were alone wanting to touch each other, but there were people moving around outside our door.  Never sure if the door was locked, we’d move from room to room with a growing sense of frustrated desire with no opportunity to act on it without embarrassment and shame.  And suddenly, without consummation, the dream would end.”

Sarah: Yeah.  Yeah.  I had a lot of dreams about sexual frustration around my spouse even after we were married.  And I think it was because it was always—it felt so controlled and supervised.  In a way, it’s never really yours when there are this many rigid ideas about how it should be.  I even remember a real embarrassment on my wedding day with the idea that everybody knew that I was going to have sex for the first time that night.  That was really—and it was true.  I hadn’t had sex.  Neither had he.  We had done all the right things.  And I remember being really embarrassed about that.  It felt like something so intimate and so private.  And the idea that everybody knew the timing, and it wasn’t ours to choose really was really hard for me.  And then I remember the morning after, at the airport when we flew off on our honeymoon, my mother-in-law was there.  And it was just so uncomfortable because it’s like—everyone is thinking, “Oh, they just had sex.”  It’s not something you should be embarrassed about.  Probably most couples have sex on their wedding night.  But the idea that something so momentous and intimate would be, in a way—not witnessed but kind of witnessed by everybody.  That was really hard for me.  And I think it created a lot of stress around our honeymoon.

Sheila: Yeah.  When I look at the stories in the book, what I see is a lot of pain.  There’s people in a lot of pain who are doing a lot of work to try to get healthy.  And yet, when I hear people within evangelicalism talk about the exvangelical movement or the deconstruction movement, whatever you want to call it, there’s a lot of anger.  And there’s not a lot of acknowledgement of that pain.  Instead, there’s more blame quite often.  People just want to sin.  Or they’re just—whatever it might be.  How can we get to the point where—or is there any way that you think we can get to the point where people understand this is really about pain?  This hurt people tremendously.  And it isn’t just purity culture.  It’s the whole package that was authoritarian and fear based and exclusionary and everything.  

Sarah: I wish that there would be more of a willingness to listen to that because I think that is one of the most hurtful things.  And I felt this to varying degrees from people within the evangelical world as I’ve struggled with different parts of it is this sort of censure that comes with that.  This sense that you must be doing it wrong, or you must have done it wrong.  Or you must have not been sincere or really tried or really loved Jesus or really read the Bible or really prayed enough.  And it’s like I think I did all of those things.  And I still pray.  I still ask God every day pretty much to help me find the right path, to help me do the right things.  I care about that a lot.  I care about that, but I have come to different conclusions than some people, who I used to be close to or have been close to or maybe would be close to if we went to the same church back in the day.  People from the evangelical community.  I think there are those who are willing to hear that, and I appreciate that so much.  Frankly, I think that some of us, who have questioned things, are—I’m sure it feels threatening.  I mean I used to feel threatened by that myself when I would be around people who saw things differently.  I sometimes found that destabilizing to my own point of view.  Yeah.  I just wish that there was more of a willingness to listen.  I will say I did a story—and I mentioned it in the book several years ago.  All things considered was doing—our NPRs after news magazine was a series on sex.  And somebody wanted to do something on purity culture, and they knew that I grew up that way.  So they asked me.  “Hey, Sarah, can you do this story?”  And we did the story where we talked to this really lovely couple, who are, at least at the time of the story and probably still are, evangelical.  They had waited for marriage.  But they were really honest about the fact that some of the messages from the church have been harmful.  And they said that they specifically were grateful for people in their lives who were honest with them about sex, who were willing to have sort of very honest, frank conversations, who didn’t frame it as this sort of end all, be all thing that they were going to screw up if they didn’t do it right or stepped out of line.  And I just appreciated from this couple, who are evangelicals, this willingness to say, “The church doesn’t get it right all the time, and we understand that some people are hurt by it.”  I mean even that would mean a lot.  And I say in the book I think that many people—I talk about my mother, and I think many of the intentions were good.  I think my parents and many other evangelical parents wanted to protect their children from pain and from casual relationships that might be hurtful.  And goodness knows, there are other really bad ways to do sexuality besides purity culture.  I mean abusive sex, nonconsensual sex, sex that uses people, right?  Purity culture is not the only harmful way to do this.  And I think it was an attempt, by well intentioned people in many cases, to avoid those kinds of harms.  The challenge is that people and emotions and sexuality don’t fit into a little formula that way.  And there were, for many of us, unintended consequences, and I just would appreciate it if more people who are still immersed in the movement would just acknowledge that and maybe reflect on how to make it better.

Sheila: We actually have some stats to prove that because, in our book She Deserves Better when we surveyed 7,000 predominantly evangelical women, what we found is that the people who had deconstructed the most tended to be the people who had believed the hardest, who believed the most.  And the people who still believed some of the toxic stuff were people who just hadn’t necessarily—there was sort of two groups.  Either they hadn’t necessarily bought into it to the same degree and they weren’t quite as religious or they just hadn’t had any of the negative effects.  So you had a bit of survivorship bias there.  So for people who are still—who don’t see purity culture as harmful, I think often there is a big survivorship bias.  And they don’t realize, well, no.  I just was one of the lucky ones.

Sarah: Right.  Right.  And I think that—and I always say I’m not here to talk anybody out of anything.  If you’re happy in an evangelical marriage to—fantastic.  I mean if people are happy that’s great.  But it’s just sort of important to acknowledge that it doesn’t work out that way for everybody. 

Sheila: Yeah.  Yeah.  And the whole purity culture and the extreme authoritarian control and patriarchy really doesn’t work.  You talked about your mom, and that’s another theme that came up a lot in your book is the immense pain that it causes when you lose contact with your family or when your family doesn’t want anything to do with you because you’ve rejected evangelicalism in some way.  Can you speak to that?  

Sarah: Yeah.  I’m not estranged from my family, and I hope not to be.  I did send my parents some of the most difficult sections of the book before I published it months ago.  And that was a difficult conversation.  They asked me to keep most of that conversation private, so I am.  But I will say I didn’t want to blindside them, and I wanted them to—I considered their feedback.  I also had to talk about my childhood and my family in order to tell my own story.  There’s no way around that, so I tried to strike a balance and also acknowledge, again, some of the good intentions that were behind a lot of these things.  But yes.  I think a lot of times evangelicalism, probably any religious system is—it’s as much about identity as it is about beliefs.  Not to minimize the importance of beliefs but the identity piece is a really big piece of it.  And so when you have a change in your beliefs, however sincere it is, however honestly it’s been come by, however painful it might have been to arrive there, that change in beliefs can feel like an attack on the identity and like a betrayal and a moving away.  And I never wanted that.  I have never intended that, but I understand that that can be the impact sometimes.  So one of the big themes in the book is sort of tension between my parents and my grandfather, who didn’t believe the way that we believed.  And, unfortunately, that—I feel like that tension has been a theme in our family, and it’s one I’ve tried to overcome.  I’ve always encouraged my children to have whatever relationship with their grandparents they desire.  But it’s hard when you see things very differently and also when there is some pain and even trauma there from, again, things that were well intentioned but, nonetheless, painful.  And so I think, for me, it’s just been a matter of trying to delicately navigate that.  For people that I—several people that I talked to in the book, and I would say this is true for me too.  You hear a lot of talk about boundaries and the idea that there are some things that you maybe don’t talk about or don’t talk about in certain ways in order to protect the relationship.  

Sheila: And that’s what I heard from so many of those stories that you shared was these younger people desperately wanted to keep a relationship with their parents, but they found that it was really difficult to because their parents were the ones who were rejecting them.  And that made me really sad.  And I know there’s a lot of parents listening to this podcast who maybe have kids in their twenties or late teens or even in their thirties who are going through this deconstruction process.  What would you say to them?

Sarah: I’m so glad you asked this question because I’ve had a couple of parents come to me at book signing events in recent weeks.  In one case, it was, I think, a—I think it was a mother and daughter.  And another case it was a couple that told me that their whole family was kind of going through different stages of deconstructions, but it had been a lot more difficult for their adult children.  And they were trying to understand what their adult children were going through.  And I’ve also gotten at least one private message or two along these lines, and I’m being generic here because I don’t want to expose any confidence.  But I think I can broadly say I’ve heard from a few different people who are in a position along those lines.  And first of all, it’s really encouraging to me when I hear from parents, who are at least willing to acknowledge I think my kids went through something I didn’t realize they were going through.  And I’m trying to understand what it was.  And I’m trying to understand my role in that.  I hope that those conversations will continue.  I hope people will read this book with an open heart and understand that I think most people want their parents to love them.  I mean it’s such a basic human need.  And it’s so difficult when you feel like they don’t love you for who you are and like there are conditions on that.  And I understand that people have strong beliefs and strong moral beliefs and have—in some cases are very worried probably about their children’s souls and their spirituality.  And I understand that.  And I guess—I mean I can’t really—I try not to give a lot of advice, but, if there’s any advice I would give, I think it would just be to try to love your kids.  Try to love them.  And I think—I mean I’m a mom, right?  My kids are teenagers now, and I think sometimes, “What could they do that would make me not want to be around them?”  And I am sure there are lots of things.  If they did something really terrible, it would be really hard for me.  And I hope that never happens.  And I hope that I would navigate it in the right way, but then I don’t think that people who are deconstructing are doing something terrible.  You know what I mean?  It’s not like we’re killing someone or something or committing some kind of horrible crime.  It’s just arriving at a different place.  I think there are evangelical parents, who are able to hold on to very strong beliefs and still express love.  But I think it’s hard for a lot of them for whatever reason.  And so—and maybe there’s a fear of if you get too close to someone, even your own child who is different, it will in some way start to unravel things for me too.  Maybe that’s part of the fear.  I really don’t know.  I wish I had an answer, but I am encouraged that I think some people are, at least, asking the question.  That seems like a good place to start.

Sheila: Yeah.  And I think that’s one of the overwhelming things I got from your book is that the people who are deconstructing and who are coming out of the evangelical movement they’re not—they’re not this angry army, who wants to burn everything down.  They’re hurting, and they just want health.  And they want wholeness, and they want that acknowledged and the hurt acknowledged.  And I think that’s a fair thing to ask even if you don’t land on the same place religiously.  I think that’s a fair thing to ask.  And so I really appreciate what you wrote.  I appreciate all the people’s stories that you put to paper and honored them too, honored their stories.  So thank you for doing that, and we will put a link to The Exvangelicals in the podcast notes.  Where can people find you, Sarah?

Sarah: I am on Substack.  That’s usually where I sent people.  I have a Substack called Off the Air because it’s sort of what I write about behind the scenes of being a NPR reporter, and also I write a lot about religion and politics and various things that interest me.  So that’s one place.  I’m also on Instagram, sarahmccammon_journalist.  So those are probably the two best places to find me.

Sheila: Awesome.  I will put those links down there too.  Well thank you very much.  

Sarah: Well, thanks so much, Sheila.  Thanks for your work.  It’s really good to talk to you.

Sheila: If you’re wanting to change the conversation about sex and marriage with us, we have an amazing resource that can help.  It’s our Great Sex Rescue toolkit, and it has downloads that are really pretty that you can send to people to explain the harmful effects of the obligation sex message, of the modesty message on teen girls, of the idea that all men struggle with lust, and so much more.  It’s also got all of our one sheets in it of the book that we’ve looked at and some great tips on how to talk to people about why things are harmful and why we need to change the way that we teach about them.  The toolkit is just an amazing resource.  There is lots of videos in there for me to help you out.  And we’ve priced it at pay what you can, so you can get it for as little as $3.  Or you can give a whole lot more if you want to support us.  So the link to that is in the podcast notes.  All right.  Well, I have brought my husband, Keith, on the podcast.

Keith: Hey, everybody.

Sheila: And I really appreciate Sarah telling her story and writing her book.  It honestly is a really good overview of deconstruction and exvangelicalism.  I highly recommend getting it because I think we need to listen to these voices.  It’s really important.  But the reason that I wanted to talk to you today and bring you on is because ever since I read Lies Young Women Believe, which we talked about last week on the podcast, I’ve just been processing a lot of things and thinking a lot of things that kind of relate to this deconstruction.  And I think it can be summed up best by a Facebook post that was shared in our patron group this week about the Robert Morris incident.  Do you know—not incident.  The Robert Morris—what’s a good word?  Betrayal?  Horrendous abuse?

Keith: Crime?

Sheila: Crime.  That’s a good word.  Yes.  For those of you who don’t know, Robert Morris is a—or was the lead pastor of Gateway church, which is a mega church in, I think, the Dallas area.  And he resigned a week after a victim came forward, a woman—Cindy Clemishire, I believe, is her last name—to say that 35 years ago when she was 12 he sexually abused her for 4 years.  And he had been portraying this to the church as an inappropriate relationship with a young lady.  A young lady.  A 12 year old is not a young lady.  She is a child.  And so he did resign.  I wish he had been fired.  And I hope the church actually looks into the dynamics that both led to the abuse and led to the elders not investigating it and not being curious and dismissing those who brought things up.  So I hope it isn’t just swept under the rug.  But all that being said, there was a Facebook post that was shared in the patron group about this.  And a woman said—this was a friend of hers had written this.  And she went to Gateway.  And the post, on the whole, wasn’t bad.  It was very open that Robert Morris had done what was wrong.  It wasn’t defending Robert Morris, but it was what she said about the victim that really got me because she said, “We just need to keep praying that the victim will be able to forgive and won’t be taken up by bitterness.”  And it just struck me how similar this was to the message in Lies Young Women Believe where the issue is all about your own emotions and whether you have forgiven and is not at all about addressing the harm that’s been done to you.  And I think this is really the story of my faith growing up.  Not with my mom, not in the little churches I belonged to.  In those churches, I really believed that God loved me, that Jesus called me friend.  I would go for walks and talk with Jesus.  Jesus was very much—we very real to me, very compassionate to me, very close to me.  But as I got more into parachurch organizations, into missions organizations, I went on Teen Missions International, which was my first experience with fundamentalism and was very destructive.  I heard a different version of Christianity, which was everything was about whether or not I had the right emotions.  So if I was angry at something, I needed to forgive and make sure that I wasn’t bitter.  And if I was still hurt by something, that was a sign that I hadn’t forgiven.  Coming from family where my father walked out when I was very young and I had very little to do with him, I was constantly needing to process that as a kid.  Lots of kids have to process the way that their parents hurt them.  And this message that the reason I was hurt was because I hadn’t forgiven rather than the reason I was hurt was that my dad did something bad to me and that needed to be acknowledged and healed was really destructive because—and I’ve said this before on the podcast and in my speaking engagements.  But I ended up seeing God kind of like a magazine cover where it’s like seven ways you could be doing better, five ways you could get more done today, four ways you could have a better attitude.  It was like God loved me, but He was always disappointed in me because I was never just right.  And every time I had this negative emotion—and emotions are not negative.  Okay?  But we tend to think of them that way.  Anger tells us something.  Sadness tells us something.    

Keith: Yeah.  Whenever you have the emotion that in your culture you’re not supposed to have, which is in itself an unhealthy thing, but—

Sheila: Right.  And so faith in—as I grew up in increasingly fundamentalist circles, faith became about whether I could get my emotions under control for God and be joyful and grateful in everything so that I never experienced sadness, loneliness, frustration, anger.  Because if I did, I was in sin and I wasn’t seeing God right.  And so faith was entirely about me.  And somehow I missed that that’s not what Scripture is about primarily.  

Keith: Yeah.  Yeah.  Absolutely.  I think that’s why a lot of people are deconstructing, right?  Because basically, they’re getting to a situation where they’re realizing that the way that my faith is expressing itself, the way I have been taught of what faith means, doesn’t line up with what’s actually in Scripture.  And so the question is Jesus, Himself, said to be wise and build on rock.  And I think a lot of people in the church are going, “Have I built on sand?”  And they’re trying to figure out, “Have I built on sand?”  And they’re honestly wrestling with their faith trying to follow the words of Jesus.  And then Matt Chandler tells them, “You just want to sin,” and dismisses them which is ridiculous.  And one of the big things to me that I think a lot of people are deconstructing is this whole idea of faith being this individualistic, personal, me, and only me, and God, and that is it.  And community it not part of it.  The picture of the whole, the body, that’s not part of it.  It’s all about me and what I’m feeling and what I’m doing as opposed to making things right in the community where we all share in making a better world for everybody.

Sheila: Yes.  That’s what was missing.  I was missing the kingdom of God.  I was missing the kingdom of God and how much Jesus talks about the kingdom and how it is community.  I mean even think about communion.  When He instituted communion, it was, “When you guys are all together, do this in remembrance of Me.”  It’s a community event, and I made faith so individual because that’s what was taught to me.

Keith: Yeah.  That’s the way that western evangelicalism is wired right now.

Sheila: I think it started in—I mean we’d have to go back into history lessons, and so I might be doing a very bad job of this.  But I think of it as the Billy Graham idea where we’re going to have a crusade, and it’s all about individuals accepting Christ.  But then the big problem the Billy Graham crusade always had was there was no follow up, and so they were always trying to get together with churches so that there would be follow up.  But it was a constant battle, right?  But the idea was we got all these people saved because they said the prayer.  But what did that—and I’m not trying to diminish salvation.  But salvation is not just—

Keith: It’s more than just saying a prayer though, and that’s the point.  There’s a lot of balance in the Christian life, right?  So it is important for me to have my relationship with God right.  We’re not saying, oh, it doesn’t matter.  But it’s also important to live in community, and the Bible is full of exhortations to live in community in a healthy way.  But for some reason, we ignore all that, and we focus on the verses that are very individual.  And we see the verses that are community based as individual because we are so trained to think with that sort of mindset.  For instance, even the verse you quoted about, “Do this as often as you drink of it in remembrance of Me,” we read that verse.  And we think, “When I, personally, am sitting in the pew at church during communion Sunday and I’m taking that little bit of drink, I should be thinking about Jesus.”  It says do this when you, plural, in remembrance of Me.  It’s meant to be a community thing, but we see it as individual because we see everything as individual.

Sheila: So that the community is transformed.  So that the community is a place of healing.  So that the community is a safe place.

Keith: So each individual are running toward Jesus, but, as a group, we are also running toward Jesus.

Sheila: Right.  And instead what we are told is—and we talked about this in Lies Young Women Believe.  Even if your community is hurtful, you need to stick there, and you need to forgive.  And you need to all this stuff.

Keith: Yeah.  And then the whole sin leveling, right?  So it becomes like okay.  Robert Morris sexually assaulted a girl.  And that’s a sin.  And I hope she doesn’t become bitter because that would be a sin too.  It’s ridiculous, and I want to go wash my mouth out with soap for even equating those two things.  But that’s what happens when we boil it down to he’s individually responsible to repent of his sin, and she’s individually responsible to repent of her sin as opposed to us, as a community, going, “This is an incredible injustice, and it needs to be made right.  And he needs to pay for what he did, and she needs to be restored and healed.”  That’s what we should be saying.

Sheila: And that’s what I want to talk about is what does it mean to be restored and healed.  And Marg Mowczko, who I love—I need to have her on the podcast one day because Marg is actually one of the few people that I interact with online that I’ve met in real life twice.  I’ve also met Sarah McDugal twice.  But I have met Marg Mowczko twice, and she’s in Australia.  So that’s quite a feat.  But I love Marg.  She does incredible work, an incredible scholar, looking at the original languages around some of the passages that we wonder about with women and men and gender in the church.  And she writes these really super short articles.  And on her website, you can look up any passage and see all the articles she’s written on that.  So I will put a link to her website.  But she shared something on Facebook recently which was from another guy called Larry Lin, who I also really appreciate.  Okay?  And he posted this.  And I want to read it to you.  “Some say that the New Testament doesn’t talk much about justice.  But actually, it depends on your language.  The Greek word,”—ah, what is that word?  You should say it.

Keith: It’s probably dikaiosunē.

Sheila: Yes.  That’s what it is.

Keith: Is it dikaiosunē?  Yeah.

Sheila: Yes.  “Appears 92 times in the New Testament.  For example, Matthew 5:6, ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for dikaiosunē.’  Germanic language Bibles translate this as righteousness or something similar.  But romance language Bibles use justice.”  So English says righteousness.  German says—

Keith: Gerechtigkeit.  Okay.  So that means—rech means right and keit is like ness.  So making things right.

Sheila: Making things right.  Yeah.  And then in Latin, it’s justitia.  In Spanish, justicia.  In Portuguese, it’s justiça.  In French, it’s justice.

Keith: Probably justice.

Sheila: Justice.

Keith: Justice.

Sheila: Justice.  I should know that.  Yes.  All my Québécois friends.  And so in any of the romance languages, justice is all over the New Testament, but it’s not there in English.  And the problem is we think of righteousness as this individual thing, so when we hear, “Whoever hungers and thirsts for righteousness,”—so whoever hungers and thirsts to be right with God.

Keith: Yeah.  For them, personally, to have a good standing with God and do the right things.

Sheila: Exactly.  But that’s not actually what the word—the word means more what you said the German word means.  To do what is right.  To make right.  And throughout the Scriptures, that is one of the big hallmarks of the kingdom of God is that we make things right.  And so when you look at the situation with Robert Morris, it’s not just—it’s not about her forgiving.  It’s about how are we going to make this right with her.  Are we going to pay for her trauma counseling?  Are we, as a church, going to stand up and not give the pastor standing ovation—

Keith: For resigning.  Yeah.  40 years after the fact.  

Sheila: But instead are we going to lament and repent and tell her that it was never her fault?  Are we, as a church, going to do that and try to make it right?  Because so much of justice is people just want to be heard and acknowledged that their pain mattered.  And instead of acknowledging that, we’re yelling at people for still having pain.  You haven’t forgiven.  You’re bitter.  Not you have trauma, and that’s real.  And trauma is stored in the body, and we want to help you get counseling.  And we want to help you heal on this side of heaven, not just that side of heaven.  And that seems to be what’s missing is we’re missing how much justice is in the Bible.

Keith: Yeah.  And, again, people get accused of not being biblical when we say things like, “She needs to learn to forgive, that sort of stuff.  Well, biblically, she does need to learn to forgive.  That’s the Bible.”  And it’s like but you’re misinterpreting the Bible.  That’s why people are deconstructing, right?  

Sheila: Yes.  That’s why.  

Keith: Because you read the Old Testament, all through the Old Testament, right?  When does God ever say, “How long, oh people, will you hold bitterness against those who have oppressed you?”  Does that ever happen?  All through the Old Testament, through the Psalms, God is calling out for justice.  Those who are hurting others need to stop.  There’s never a why are you so bitter.  Why are you unforgiving for those who have done bad to you?  Where is that in the Bible, right?  I mean I still think it’s right to learn to forgive for your own personal healing.  But when we make it a sin that a person, who has been wronged, is having a hard time to forgive, we’re so far out of the Bible and the Bible’s idea of justice.  We have no right to speak.  And yet, those are the people that are saying, “You, deconstructers, aren’t true to faith.”  You’re being more true to faith because you want to get to what God actually—what God’s heart actually is. 

Sheila: Yeah.  Of what community is supposed to look like.  It’s supposed to be a safe place where people can heal and grow.  

Keith: Yeah.  I mean justice and righteousness are inextricably linked certainly in the Old Testament.  I mean I love that—one of my favorite verses is the one in Amos, right?  “Let justice roll like mighty rivers and righteousness like a never failing stream.”  Justice and righteousness go together.  Doing what is just and doing what is right in the world, that’s what righteousness is.  It isn’t practicing little acts of piety where I show how spiritual I am.  That’s not what righteousness is.  Righteousness is I do what’s right, and I make sure what’s right gets done.  

Sheila: Yeah.  And I make things right.  A woman named Nikki left a really good comment on the Facebook page when we were talking about this, and she says this.  “I think evangelical Christianity really does love justice, but it’s often defined incorrectly.  Justice, in an evangelical, power focused narrative, means punishment.  It’s the bad guys getting some sort of punitive payback whereas, in Scripture, justice is usually the thing that happens to the one who has been wronged.  Until we shift that paradigm, the focus will be all off and not just for abused women in miserable situation but for other people exploited in systematic patterns of injustice.”  And that is so true.  In the Old Testament, when it talks about justice, it doesn’t talk about punishing the wrongdoer nearly as much as it talks about recompense for the victim.  What are you doing to help the widow and the orphan?  What are you doing to help those people?  And let’s make sure that they get their fair share of everything.  Let’s give them more land.  Let’s give them help.  Let’s give sustenance.  

Keith: Make sure they’re taken care of.

Sheila: Let’s take of people who need it.  That is throughout the Old Testament.  And yet, we focus so much on punishment for the wrongdoer, and I’m not against punishment for the wrongdoer.  But what are we doing to make things right?  What are we doing to make things right?  And if we asked more of those questions, there would be fewer people deconstructing.  Or they’d be deconstructing—I still think there would be a lot to deconstruct because if we’re asking those questions then we are deconstructing.  And, again, I am not trying to malign those who have deconstructed and aren’t—and just can’t line up with the Jesus of the Bible anymore that they’ve been taught because I totally get it.  If you’ve been in a system where you’ve been taught horrible toxic things, it’s really hard to see the Bible as anything other than horrible and toxic.  We have poisoned people.  Basically, by giving all these toxic teachings, it’s as if we’ve vaccinated people against the real Jesus because we’ve given them a taste but the wrong taste.  And now it’s very hard for them to see.  And, again, I am not—this is such a fine line because I really respect people’s journeys, and I understand why they’re there.  My heart so much is that we could get this message right, that we could get Scripture right, that we could get Jesus, the person of Jesus, right.  And so I just pray that we will listen to the people, who are deconstructing, because they’re pointing out some really important things that have been wrong.  And, as a church, we are never going to grow in justice or righteousness or anything unless we start getting this stuff right and unless we start realizing that the problem with the victim is not that she can’t forgive.  The problem is that it hasn’t been made right yet.  It hasn’t been made right in the Robert Morris situation.  And for those who want to read more about the Robert Morris situation, I will put links in the podcast notes.  I will put links to Sarah’s book.  Of course, to our patron and how you can give through the Bosco Foundation and to other things we’ve mentioned.  But before we go, I also want to read—because this kind of reflects deconstruction to.  Some of the newest reviews that have come in for She Deserves Better, which is inviting people to deconstruct the things that they were taught as teenagers and cling to the real Jesus.  And I have two reviews to read to you.  Short ones.  On Amazon.  And by the way, I don’t know why—this stuff happens.  I’m not always sure why.  But She Deserves Better, The Great Sex Rescue, and Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex are all really cheap in paperback on Amazon right now.  I don’t know how much longer they’re going to be cheap.  But they’re around eleven bucks each.  So now is a great time to buy yourself a paperback version or to buy one for a friend.  So here’s just one.  Here’s the first review, and this is title I Wish I Had This Book as a Teenager.  “This is a must read for every single girl, who grew up in purity culture, and for both moms and dads of teen girls.  Get this book and read it.  Read it with your spouse, your kids, your church, anyone you can get to open it.  It teaches a healthy view of boundaries, relationships, hormonal changes during puberty, and gives good, God-honoring advice for how to follow God as a teen girl without being legalistic or shaming.  This book is worth its weight in gold, and I wish I had had it as a teen.”  Isn’t that lovely?

Keith: That’s great.  That’s so nice.

Sheila: But here’s one that I—that really touched me.  Okay.  And this is written by a guy.  He says this, “My adult daughter asked me, her dad, to read this book.  She was taught many of the ideas scrutinized by these authors, and now, raising her own daughter, she wants something better for her and for us, as grandparents, to understand why.  Thankful she challenged me to read this with an open mind.”

Keith: That’s awesome.

Sheila: And can I just say thank you to the grandparents out there who are listening to your kids as they deconstruct?  Because this is what it takes to have a healthy community is to be open to where we may have misled people.  We may have taught things that were wrong.  But just because you taught things that were wrong in the past does not mean that you need to keep doing that.  It does not mean that we need to pass this on to the next generation, but we can actually make a shift as this family is doing.  And I love that.  I love that so much.  Again, I mentioned our toolkit.  You can find that in the podcast notes too, so that we can keep changing the conversation to something healthy.  And that’s what I want us to do.  That is our prayer here at Bare Marriage.  So thank you for joining us.  Thank you, honey, for being on.

Keith: Thanks for inviting me.  It was great.

Sheila: And next week we’ll have another story, Rift, by Cait West, who was also deconstructing and ended up in a slightly different place.  So thank you.  And we’ll see you again next week.  Bye-bye.

Keith: Bye.

The Deconstruction Series

Written by

Sheila Wray Gregoire


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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Jules

    Thanks for putting out these podcasts…they always give me so much to think about.

    1) I appreciate that you’re giving a voice to those who are deconstructing so that we can seek to understand and know how to love EVERYONE right where they are at (you know, like Jesus does).

    2) Thank you so much for sharing about your experience which sheds light onto the way that the church so often approaches emotions.

    I listened to an Ask Pastor John podcast the other day called “How can I grow in expressing affection?” I assumed that it would be an easy listen, it was not. While there were a few aspects to this episode that I found troubling the one that I’d like to point out here is how the “negative” emotions were treated (or actually ignored). The listener question that Piper was responding to was not about expressing affection at all, but rather about expressing “deeper emotions like joy, despair, wonder, and fear”. Piper then goes on to a 10ish minute reply about expressing affection (primarily towards God) while ignoring the real question. It was just a really good example of how the church deals with (or ignores) the need for real emotions to be handled and also how the church can so quickly move on from addressing human relations to addressing how the individual relates to God. At least the guy writing in wasn’t shamed for having felt despair and fear…could have been worse.

    3) The discussion about the churches tendency to focus on self rather than community was so good! One thing that I would add is that, in my experience, “community” is thrown around a lot and is very important, but only in as much as how the individual can be a part of, serve, and rightfully interact with the community. It is always the individuals responsibility to serve, to forgive, to reconcile, and (of course) to have good feelings towards the church community. I don’t hear much about how the community (the collective group of people) are responsible for the care of the individual…which is what you guys were talking about. I had never really thought much about how that plays out and really appreciated the discussion! Also I think that it extends not just to the church community, but to marriage relationships and really any relationship…the onus is always put on the individual (often the women who is seeking a better relationship) to do their individual part while the relationship as a whole and how people are functioning collectively under God is basically just ignored.

    As always – appreciate you guys 🙂

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Great thoughts, Jules!

    • Lisa Johns

      This is something I will be keeping in mind as I take the class on marriage/family counseling (as part of my degree): it is important to remember that the system is in place to benefit the individuals in it, not the other way around.

  2. Erica Tate

    ‘Righteousness’ in Dutch is ‘gerechtigheid’, and just like the German ‘Gerechtigkeit’, it encompasses both right-standing AND justice. If you ever have to go to court in the Netherlands, you’ll stand in front of the ‘rechtbank’. This transliterates to ‘right(ness)-bench’, i.e. the judge’s seat.

    Wouldn’t it be great if, in English-speaking churches, we could get back to a correct understanding of this word?! Micah 6:8.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      It would be wonderful! We’ve missed the boat so much!

  3. JC

    Sarah’s wedding night thing!!! I thought I was the only one!!! I dreaded getting pregnant for the exact same reason. I even went so far as to tell my husband before the wedding under no circumstances were we going to church until after we got back from the honeymoon because I couldn’t bear the idea of having a whole church full of people staring at us in the middle of announcements knowing we just got married and thinking we had sex the night before.

    That shame is REAL! I tried to hide being pregnant too for the same reason, but unfortunately I started showing by 4 weeks (no joke).

    I’ve moved past a lot of that shame now, but it was terrible!

    • Angharad

      In the 90s, there was this super-weird thing that some young couples did for their wedding album. The final page would be a photo of the bride, in her going away outfit, sat on the immaculately made-up bed in the hotel room on the wedding night. And next to it, a photo of her, fully dressed, sat in the same position the next morning, but with the bed all rumpled and unmade…Like a ‘before and after’ picture of losing virginity – can you spot the difference? I always found it really hard not to throw up when shown this final album page – and why was there no comparable photo of the groom?!

      (We’d have totally disappointed anyone who was looking for some kind of physical difference in me when we got back from honeymoon, since we didn’t fully consummate our wedding till we were back home!!!)

  4. Angharad

    I didn’t see the rest of your commentator’s post, but just wanted to say that “We just need to keep praying that the victim will be able to forgive and won’t be taken up by bitterness.” is not necessarily a bad thing. Bitterness is hugely destructive for the person experiencing it. I spent many years feeling bitter over a serious injury I experienced, and it destroyed so much of my life. The person who harmed me didn’t know (and likely didn’t care) whether or not they had received my forgiveness, so forgiving them wasn’t about making them feel better. But it was key to my own healing, to be able to let go of the bitterness and resentment.

    Obviously, our focus should be on seeking restorative justice and healing for the person who has been injured. But there is a huge difference between saying “I must forgive that poor person who injured me so that they feel better” and “I need to let go of these feelings so that I can heal and move forward”.


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