PODCAST: Hurt and Healed by the Church feat. Ryan George

by | Jul 11, 2024 | Podcasts | 8 comments

Ryan George with Hurt and Healed by the Church

What happens if church is the place of your greatest hurt?

We’re in our deconstruction series on the podcast, looking at different people’s stories of deconstruction, and trying to honor all of them.

What I really want to do is have people hear WHY people deconstructed from the faith they were born into. With Sarah McCammon and Cait West, in the last two weeks, we heard about fundamentalism and control and how they couldn’t take it anymore, because it had such horrible effects on their lives.

Today we’ll hear from Ryan George, who grew up in an extremely fundamentalist space where his father was the pastor.

But his father also sexually abused girls. Ryan eventually had to confront him and make it public–which started his deconstruction.

He found that the Jesus he grew up with was not the real Jesus, and finds that his healing has come from the church–just a healthy one.

This isn’t everybody’s story, but it’s an encouraging one, and I’m glad to have it as part of our series!

Or, as always, you can watch on YouTube:

I really appreciated Ryan’s story.

It’s a lot when you lose so much of your family–and the whole foundation for your life. When you weren’t even encouraged to pursue education outside of your little bubble (which you don’t even realize is a bubble).

But then when you do see it, and see how that bubble is allowing your father to abuse–that’s hard to take.

And it took a while for Ryan to fully grasp the significance of all of this, but he has, and he’s found a lot of joy again.

If you’ve been wondering how to reintegrate with faith after a big betrayal, this is a great book!

Things Mentioned in the Podcast

About Ryan’s Book

To Support Us: 

Have you been hurt by the church? Where have you found your healing? Have you been able to find healing in church circles again? Let’s talk in the comments!


Sheila: Welcome to the Bare Marriage podcast.  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 you are joining us today in the middle of our deconstruction series.  We are doing a series of four podcasts, and there’s going to be a couple more later this summer too.  Looking at different people’s stories of when they just realized that some of the things they had been taught in church weren’t right and what they were going to do about it.  We heard from Sarah McCammon two weeks ago, author of The Exvangelicals.  We heard from Cait West last week, author of Rift.  And today we have a different kind of story.  Ryan George is going to join us, and he deconstructed out of a really fundamentalist church culture where he actually had to turn his father in for sexual abuse.  But he found a healthy version of Christianity that he has been able to find healing and that that’s been something which has helped him deal with the trauma that he went through.  I am not saying that every person has to go through this.  So this is always tricky when you’re talking about deconstructions because I want to people’s journeys.  But I just want you to hear different people’s realities so that we can start to understand what’s going on in the broader church and how can we get back to health.  And so I’m going to have Ryan join us in just a minute.  But before I do that, I just want to say thank you to everyone who supports us on the podcast.  Those who listen, those who have joined out Patreon.  When you join our Patreon, you just help us basically pay the bills, to be honest.  We have a lot of staff.  We have a lot of expenses just for graphics, for our website, upkeep, et cetera, et cetera.  And so your money helps us keep going so that we can do the research that we’re doing.  And when you give as little as $5 a month, that can—you can join our Facebook group, which has amazing conversations.  And in the U.S., we also are a part of a nonprofit.  We’re the Good Fruit Faith Initiative of the Bosco Foundation.  And so you can get tax receiptable donations.  And the money for the Bosco Foundation is going to support the endeavors that we can’t monetize so things like writing peer reviewed papers based on our data.  We’ve given out a number of scholarships.  We’ve got about six papers on the go right now.  Preparing some pastor training and lots of other things.  Exciting things we’ll be able to share with you in a couple of weeks.  So do check that out if you have—if you would like to be part of our family.  We have the links to both the Good Fruit Faith Initiative and our Patreon in the podcast notes.  And, of course, when you buy our amazing merch like our biblical womanhood merch or our biblical manhood merch or so many other things that can also help to support us too.  So the links to those are in the podcast notes.  And now without further ado, here is Ryan.  All right.  Well, I am so thrilled to bring to the podcast Ryan George, who is the author of a really cool new book, Hurt and Healed by the Church.  Ryan, thank you for being here.

Ryan: Oh, I’m excited for this conversation.  Thanks for having me.

Sheila: You know what I love about your book—and I want to set this up for our listeners—is you went through major church trauma.  Major church hurt.  That was actually a part of your family too, and we’re going to get into your story in a minute.  But you didn’t lose sight of Jesus because even while you were being taught all this toxic stuff growing up, they also taught you to read your Bible.  And you got introduced to Jesus, and then you’re realizing, hey, this isn’t who Jesus is.  And so even though you went through a lot of hurt, you’ve also found the church can be a place of great healing.  And I think that’s a really profound story.  I know that’s not everyone’s story.  But I pray that it would be more people’s stories.  And so I’m hoping that by you sharing today people can get some of that idea.  So let’s start with this.  Just set the stage for us.  Just tell me what your childhood was like in your family and in faith.

Ryan: Yeah.  So I was born into a mixed religion family.  My parents were of two different faiths.  But two years later they kind of made that move, and they both joined a cult together that was neither of their faith.  And two years after that I went to Vacation Bible School at their church, and there was a live sheep there.  I remember being so stoked.  And they’re like, “Does anyone want to give their life to Jesus?”  And, of course, I raised my hand, and I got baptized.  And so for the next 20 years, I was part of a cult called the IFB, the Independent Fundamental Baptist.  It’s a sect within the Baptist faith that’s authoritarian, tons and tons of stories of abuse that we’ll probably get into, not just my family.  But that was the water I swam in.  That’s all I knew.  I went to IFB day schools.  I went to IFB summer camps.  I went to IFB college.  I was taught that Jesus was angry at me.  His dad was even more angry at me and that whatever my local shaman, who, in my case, was my dad.  But up until I was 7, it was different pastors.  And in college, it was any number of pastors.  That whatever they say goes because they know Jesus and they know God, the Father, better than I do.  And so you need to pipe down.  You need to obey.  You need to do whatever you’re told.  And so that was the spaces that I grew up in.  I married out of it.  I married a missionary kid, who went to my college because it was a safe space for her parents to drop her off.  It was an inexpensive place to go to college, which was also great for missionaries.  And when we got married, she’s like, “This is not sustainable.  The last four years of my life have been horrible.”  And I wanted to love her well, right?  And so I said, “All right.  Well, let’s start looking at other churches.”  It was a pattern.  We went slightly outside the cult and then a little bit more.  And then, finally, the church we ended up in 18 years ago, I came every Sunday to prove it wrong because it was 180 degrees to what I grew up in.  And they welcomed my questions.  And they said, “Have a seat.  Let’s talk about those.”  And over the last two decades, my faith and my relationship with Jesus has utterly changed.  I fell in love with a winsome God, who has been pursuing me my whole life. 

Sheila: I love that.  Now I know—you said several words that I know are going to get our listeners going what.  What’s going on?  So before we get into some of more stories, let’s unpacks those.  So you’re calling the IFB a cult.    

Ryan: Yeah.  I mean if you watch documentaries like Shiny, Happy People, which describes my childhood really well—my parents were in what’s called the Quiverfull Movement, which is what the Duggars were in if you’ve seen that.  It’s this idea that your local pastor gets to determine, not just theology things for you church, but daily practice things in your life.  For instance, there are pastors who say whether or not you can have open toed shoes or not because some pastors say even the skin of your toes is showing sensual skin, right?  There are other ones that say, no, no, no.  You can show that, but your skirts have to be ankle length.  And other ones that say no, no, no.  Your skirts have to be knee length.  And in my sister’s church—she’s still in the IFB.  They’re like men aren’t allowed to wear shorts because what’s good for the women are—so if we want them to wear ankle length dresses, then you can’t wear shorts.  So there’s all these legalistic—it’s not just you can’t watch movies, or you can’t have a TV in your home although that’s part of the IFB movements.  There’s all kinds of things.  You shouldn’t have Internet.  You shouldn’t be connected.  You shouldn’t listen to anybody outside of your little ecosystem.

Sheila: Right.  And that’s not synonymous with the church or with Jesus at all.  That is a distortion of Jesus’ message as you show very clearly in your book.  This is a quote from your book, and you ask, “When was the last time you saw a convincingly joyful dictator?  IFB churches teach people that they need a shaman to truly know God.”  So that’s what you said that your dad was a shaman.  Explain what you mean by that.

Ryan:   Yeah.  So this is true from all kinds of religions.  I remember when I hiked the Inca Trail.  And one of the questions we had when we got there is like why did they go down into the valleys to confront the Spaniards?  Because they had the position up here.  They had running water.  They had aqueducts.  They could grow their own food.  They never had to come down.  And as you know from any type of war theory, the high ground position is the advantage position.  And they’re like what we think is is that their shamans told them that it’s good.  They saw the reflection off the armor and saw light and thought there was something.  And they came down into the valleys, and, of course, they were massacred and brought into subjection.  And so that’s part of all kinds—the Amish faith is this way.  The Muslim faith is this way.  In its extreme forms, right?  Just as mine is the extreme version of Baptist theology, of what I grew up in anyway.  And you see this over and over again where they get to a place where one person or a small cadre of people get to determine—not just your theology but your practice.  Some of them even have arranged marriages.  I knew the woman my dad had picked for me if I had stayed in the faith.  And so they have this level of control that you just don’t see at a healthy church or a healthy faith community, if you don’t like the word church.

Sheila: Right.  And how many siblings did you have growing up?

Ryan: I’m the oldest of six.  I have fix siblings.

Sheila: Okay.  All right.  So you’re in this home.  Very dictatorial.  And your dad was a pastor at an IFB church.

Ryan:   Yes, ma’am.  First an assistant pastor when I was 7, and then he started his own congregation, I think, when I was around 9 years old.

Sheila: Okay.  And then when did you start to suspect that something was up with your dad? 

Ryan: That’s a great question because the way it was framed to me was that I was the problem, not that my dad was the problem.  James Dobson told my dad that I was a strong willed child, that they had to break my will, that they had—

Sheila: He personally?  Or just from reading that book?  

Ryan: No.  No.  No.  Just from—his material.  Yeah.  Yeah.  Yeah.      

Sheila: Okay.  I was like man.  

Ryan: No.  If my dad knew James Dobson—so this is the funny thing.  James Dobson was considered liberal.  Jerry Falwell was considered liberal in my faith community.  Imagine that.  If Jerry Falwell is your—Billy Graham was way liberal.  If you can imagine thinking that, but some of their materials—they—we were homeschooled, and I got to listen to preaching every—got to.  Listen to preaching every morning.  And the last one was Focus on the Family after all the preachers.  But yeah.  So what I was told was you’re the problem.  You’re the reason that dad gets like this because dad didn’t get physical with my other siblings.  There was a little bit of verbal abuse, a lot of spiritual abuse, but I was the only one he—my dad hung me.  My dad used cold exposure discipline.  My dad threw me, threatened to knock my teeth out, roughed me up really good.  And then he would use Scripture to say, well, in the Old Testament, it says if you disrespected your parents, you deserved to be publically stoned.  So this is actually a reprieve.  He would tell me all the time I’m going to hell.  Those kind of things.  And so—

Sheila: I’m really sorry.  That’s awful.

Ryan: Thank you.  Yeah.  I feel bad because I’ve done so many of these interviews and, of course, going through writing this book that now I can say these things.  I’ve logged 250 hours of therapy.  I can say these things, and I don’t have the barbs that those words come with.  And I actually feel sorry for the people on the other end of the conversation because like—wait a second?  Your dad hung you.  But thankfully, Jesus has redeemed all of that.  I wouldn’t have written that book if Jesus hadn’t redeemed all of that.

Sheila: Mm-hmm.  Mm-hmm.  So you grow up.  You leave home.  You go off to an IFB college.  And tell us about when you started to hear—or how you started to hear that your dad had been abusive—had been predatorial towards some girls in the church?

Ryan: Wow.  So yeah.  That came years after I left the cult actually.  So I had been married—it’s funny how your brain works with trauma.  You can remember certain details, but I couldn’t even tell you what month of the year my dad called me and said that he had had an affair with a college student.  That’s what—that’s how he framed it.  And I didn’t know anything else sexual about my dad other than he had made six kids.  So I just took him for his word.  I knew he had been physically abusive for me, but there was no category that he was sexually abusive.  I even heard he and my mom joking in the shower.  So I knew there was some sort of health to their sexuality.  So I didn’t have any clue that what he first told me in 2001 was an affair, quote unquote, wasn’t.  So then in 2012—so my wife works in missions still for our church.  And she takes teams down to Nicaragua where they work with women coming out of the sex trafficking trade.  They give them micro loans.  They train them.  They do counseling.  They get them into education.  It’s a beautiful thing.  And then they do it all in the name of Jesus, right?  But we take people down there.  My town is known for being a town of counselors.  We have counselors all over in our church.

Sheila: Where do you live?

Ryan: I live outside of Lynchburg, Virginia.  So about 15 minutes from Liberty University.  Counselors proliferate a lot of the local churches.  They’re trauma informed.  They love Jesus.  They love to put those together.  And so my wife will take counselors down, but she also takes women, who have had sexual trauma in their life to let that be part of the redemption.  So before they go down, they have all these team meetings to go you don’t have to go, right?  Or if you do, here’s how—this is what you need to expect.  Well, in one of those meetings, one of my sister’s really close friends—a girl I had been on vacation with and done trips with—came out to my wife and said, “Ryan’s dad, actually, was the one who sexually molested me.”  And those events happened after the one that my dad had said, “Oh, I had had an affair with a college student.”  So it wasn’t the same person.  And so I know, as you know—I wasn’t free to tell my family or even her family until she was ready to tell that story.  She got into counseling, but it took her 7 years before she was ready to talk publically about it.  And it came to her because I actually went back to her and said, “Hey, my last family Christmas my dad was grooming a 9 and 11 year old.”  Some of my nieces had friends over at the house.  And I said, “This—I think my dad has a problem, and I think your story could be helpful.”  And she said, “No.  No.  Let’s go ahead and tell your dad.”  So that was 2019.  And we confronted my dad one more time.  We told my mom for the first time.  We told my siblings.  I got to be there on Zoom call when she told her family which is just—it’s brutal to watch some—I don’t ever want to go through that again.  My family was like, “Well, you’re not being forgiving.  Dad made a mistake.  How do you define forgiveness?  We need to reconcile,” all the Bible jujitsu stuff that they do.  Well, then 2 years later, my wife and I are in Belize on our anniversary.  We come back.  And an expose podcast had done an episode on the girl that my dad had said he’d had an affair with.  Almost 2 hours long.  Grotesque details.  His love notes where on the same pad of paper that he used to write his sermons.  It was just—I recognized the paper when they put it up on Instagram.  And I was like this is off.  And then there were several things now that—pieces from her story that matched with the woman I had talked to in 2012, matched with some of the stories—we moved around a lot when I was kid.  My dad would be in a church for awhile, and then we’d just pull stakes and leave and go to another.  One of the churches even paid him to go away for a year, year and a half which now looks suspicious.  And so now what we’re seeing is things that my dad called, quote unquote, an affair were probably predatory over decades.  And the sad part is most of them now are past the statute of limitations, at least, in Maryland.  The states that—where he resides.  And so it’s really frustrating to know that I can’t—my dad will never face justice for what he did.  So what that’s done in me is to be a response to that, to be the opposite of that, to—all of the victims that we know about know that I love them, that I care for them, that I’ve helped them even talk to law enforcement.  I’ve talked to their attorney, all those different things, to try to compensate for the justice that they didn’t get.

Sheila: Right.  And where is your mom?  Where is your dad at with all this today?

Ryan: So my mom is still with my dad.  She said she stayed with him in 2001 for the rest of the kids.  So there’s a significant age difference.  My baby sister is—my mom was pregnant with her at my high school graduation.  I officiated her wedding a few years ago.  That’s how much age there is between us.  So she said she stayed with dad the first time for the rest of the kids, and then she stayed with dad after the 2021 story came out for the grandkids.  Apparently, I’ve not been to their home in years.  But apparently, they have—my dad built her a separate bedroom suite and everything now.  They have a big, historic home.  They go to church together.  I don’t know what kind of communication they have.  I don’t know any of that.  My mom has disowned me over writing this book.  And I don’t have communication with her anymore.  Some of my sisters have joined her in that.  So yeah.  I don’t have a (cross talk).

Sheila: Okay.  I need to say again.  I am really sorry.  That’s awful.   

Ryan: But here’s the thing, Sheila.  Here’s the beautiful thing.  So I had—as you can imagine, a lot of cult podcasts have had me on on this book tour, right?  Because they’re fascinated by my story.  And one of them asked me the other day, he was like was there anything redeemable from your IFB years.  And they didn’t think I would have an answer.  And I said yes.  Because when you’re in a cult, what cults tell you is this is your family, right?  Your biological family is less family than your chosen family.  And that’s very real for me because, as you read, my—part of my redemption story is I’m now the father of an African-American daughter that I did not create biologically.  We have a chosen family.  And in addition to that, there are children that run up to me in the parking lot of my church to whom I am not biologically related who call me Uncle Ryan.  Last night one of them sent me a video saying, “I love you, Uncle Ryan.”  I have brothers and sisters.  I have parental figures in my life that, to be honest, were an upgrade over what I was dealt when I was born.  Men in their 70s who come up to me and say I’m proud of you.  You’re making some of your life.  I love watching you parent.  You love your wife well, right?  And it crushes.  And then, on the other side of it, to know now—my reputation is I’m a safe person.  I had a woman in our church—I haven’t learned her name yet.  But she’s interacted with me a few times, and she knew I—somehow I’m communicating safety.  She comes onto the sidewalk.  I work in the parking lot of our church, and she collapses in my arms and said, “My daughter died this week.  Would you pray for me?”  And I thought—I’ve had other people do that.  Strangers walk—I had a woman walk up to me, hand me a 3 by 5 card folded in half.  It’s sitting on my desk over here.  She says, “I want to know what it is to feel God.  Would you pray that for me?”  And to be trusted with that, lets me know that I am in a chosen family now that is more beautiful than the one I was given.  And so that gratitude makes—it’s not that I never miss what I had.  When I see a commercial and a dad is throwing a ball with his son, there’s hard moments for sure.  But man.  The life I’m living right now is more beautiful than what I was destined to have, and I am only grateful to a sovereign God for giving it to me.  

Sheila: That’s really lovely.  And I mean I think that the reason that you radiate safety is because you have stood up for the women who have made allegations about your dad, and you’ve said I believe you.  And you’ve said let’s see what we can do about this.  And you’ve spoken up.  And not a lot of people do that.  You’ve risked a lot, and that means something.  But I think often when that happens—that’s a pretty deep deception to realize that your father, who was the pastor, used his pulpit to groom and abuse girls and women.  And that’s a pretty deep thing to deal with.  And I understand that a lot of people get—leave the church over that.

Ryan: Absolutely.

Sheila: But what you said is as you went through this and as you were questioning things after leaving the IFB, you realize that wasn’t Jesus.  

Ryan: Jesus said, “It’s better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone around your neck than to harm one of my kids.”  That’s the real Jesus.  And Jesus said, “If you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen my Dad.”  So that means His Dad feels the same way.  So viscerally, in—I mean I get it.  There are times I grind my teeth, or my fists are tight.  And I have to talk to my therapist or go out and pray or whatever.  That I have to remind myself that Jesus is more upset at what my dad did than I am.  Jesus’ heart is—He remembers what Eden was like, right?  He remembers—remember when they were naked, and there was no shame.  The word predator would never have happened, right?  And I have to believe—and also He said, “Not only do you leave justice up to Me, leave vengeance up to Me.”  And I think so many times—not that I wish for my dad to be in hell or anything like that.  But I think pay back will be hell, figuratively speaking.  That phrase that we hear in movies all the time.  Man, I know that—Jesus said He wants it to be on earth as it is in heaven.  And what I dang sure know is there will be molestation in heaven.  There will be no inappropriate anything in heaven.  There will be no anger in heaven.  There will be no shame in heaven.  So if we are to bring heaven to earth, which is our call, right?  As Christians to make it on earth as it is in heaven, to be the opposite of that, so that when people look at my dad they don’t go, “Oh, that’s what religion does.”  They look at my life and what my wife does.  My daughter.  She doesn’t even know Jesus yet.  But after her adoption, we asked her.  “What are you going to major in in college?”  And she said, “I’m going to be a social worker because I’m going to help kids just like me.”  And she went out and frickin’—when you come out of trauma like what she came out of, knives being pulled on her, sexual things being threatened to her, and go get scholarships so you can go to college for free because me and my—we didn’t have any savings.  We didn’t know we were going to be parents.  And even now, we’re like, “Where did you go today, D?  You’re not at your apartment.”  And she said, “I had a friend in an abusive relationship, and we had to go rescue her.  It was a three-hour drive each way.”  To go that rolls downhill too, right?  Trauma does.  Abuse is generations deep in my family.  My grandfather was beaten by his father with chains.  Chains.  My dad came by it honestly.  But Jesus.  I can be a chain breaker.  And now I have a legacy and a 5 foot 2 African-American girl, who doesn’t do the crazy things her dad does, and I’m like this is heaven coming to earth.  And I get to be a part of it.  And that gets me stoked.  That’s the relational costs and the financial costs to put this book out are worth it.  I’m getting DMs from people, who are like, “You know my story.  I feel seen.  I feel heard.  I’m going to give Jesus one more chance.”  Man, it’s worth all of that.

Sheila: Yeah.  That’s so great.  What I really appreciated about your story too is how much you did change and grow over the years.  It wasn’t automatic, right?  You started to question things, and then things get—you grew, and you grew, and you grew.  And you said—one of the quotes from your book is, “I regret thinking back to 2001,”—when you first heard about the college student—“I regret that I thought a teenager could have been complicit in my dad’s gross sin,” right?  So when you first hear about it, you just assume, okay.  He had an affair, right?  That that was an affair.  But then looking back, you’re like no, no, no.  That was an abuse of power.

Ryan: Mm-hmm.

Sheila: But you didn’t see that yet.  And I think that’s something that a lot of us can relate to.  I remember—I don’t know.  15, 20 years ago.  I was running newspaper articles about—where I was saying we need to stop seeing abuse in power.  Women need to have agency.  And if you choose to have an affair with someone who is in power, that’s on you.  I remember saying all that.  And I’ve realized okay.  I just didn’t understand.  And that was wrong.  And I did harm by saying that.  And I really appreciate it with someone saying, “No.  I was wrong.  And I’m growing.”  And I think that’s awesome.  So I want to talk about—you spend a lot of the book talking about the difference between an unsafe church like you grew up in and the real Jesus.  I thought this such a good part of the book.  And you said this, “Unsafe churches ingrained in me a hierarchy of religion.”  And I want to actually read the hierarchy that you got here.  

Ryan: Oh yeah.  Which one?  The male one or the female one?  Because I gave two.  

Sheila: I’ll read the male.  Well, okay.  You know what?  I’ll read the female.  The female one is fun.  Okay.  But the point is that the unsafe churches are all about hierarchy and who has status, who has power, and everyone is always jockeying to see where they are on this hierarchy, but there is definitely a hierarchy of who is the most.  So here is the female one.  So number one—I’ll go from top to bottom.  Martyr.  And then foreign missionary.  And then wife of a man of God.  And then IFB school or college teacher.  And then church secretary.  And then camp employee.  And then Sunday School teacher.  And then pianist or organist.  And then homeschooling mom.  Nursery attendant, choir member, homemaker, all other church volunteers, nurse, anyone else who reads out of a KJV Bible.  Woman who works outside the home, other than in ministries, and then the lost.  If you love Jesus but you don’t read out of a KJV Bible, you’re in the lost there.   

Ryan: Yeah.  One of the pastors in our movement his last sermon—he was known for the KJV issue.  He would tear other versions of the Bible up from the pulpit and throw the pages out and yell that it wasn’t the Word of God.  He said if you were led to a moment of faith where you—the Romans Road or whatever—and it wasn’t a King James Bible that you weren’t actually saved because what was sown in you was a, quote unquote, incorruptible seed.  So that’s the water that I swam in.  My college considered Bob Jones University liberal because they were allowed to use more than one version of the Bible.

Sheila: Right.  And I want to say even though you did come out of something that was that extreme I think what you wrote actually has bearing on those of us who may have grown up in a church that isn’t as extreme but still has the same ideas.  Maybe the KJV thing isn’t in there.  But we still have this hierarchy—this idea that there are people at the top.  And you need to revere them.  They have more status.  They have more right to say anything.  Their spiritual pronouncements are going to be more listened to than people that are lower down on the rung.  And you talked about how the highest calling is to serve those who are up at the top, not those down at the bottom.  And so all of the emphasis in people who are recently graduated from IFB colleges or from colleges that are like this is to go be someone up at the top, not to minister to those down at the bottom.  

Ryan: My college had actually tried to flip us.  So there were 55 majors in our course catalogue.  But they would try to flip you into ministry to the point where one semester all three of my roommates were youth ministries majors.  They would do a missions conference.  It was either every year or every other year.  I can’t remember.  And the whole point was to get you to change your major and become a missionary.  My senior year—I think I put this in the book.  The dean of my program—every day he’s living in communication.  So I was a writing major and an advertising public relations minor.  And he said, “Our goal is not to send you out into the secular work force.  We want you to do writing and advertising for churches, Christian schools.”  They tried to hire me at the college.  And I said, “Wait a second.  I don’t know a lot about advertising.  That’s why I’m here to get a degree.  But what I do know,”—and Mad Men hadn’t come out or anything like that.  But even what I did know is that is a dark place.  My goal as an advertiser, and I’m still—I still work in advertising—is to convince you that there is something missing in you that a purchase would help you solve, right?  Sex sells for a reason.  Now I don’t use those tactics.  But that is—I mean look in a car magazine for crying out loud.  Especially advertising to men, right?  Because they’re trying to get to you through your underwear.  That’s a pretty dark place, and I don’t have to be much of a light to shine a light whereas, comparatively, to try to be a light on the church staff or working at a Christian camp, how much harder do I have to work to be a light?  

Sheila: Yeah.  Exactly.  So, again, the book that we are talking about is Hurt and Healed by the Church by Ryan George.  And I find this idea of hierarchy and enshrining hierarchy and aiming for the top—how do you think that played in to the abuse that so often pops up in these fundamentalist circles?

Ryan: Yeah.  So the word I would use more than hierarchy, although that is a good word, is patriarchy obviously.  And there is an idea that you serve the man of God, which is the word they use for the guy at the top, at all costs.  To the point where at one of my good friends church, the pastor would have teenagers provide sexual services to him in his office and then go out and preach in the pulpit IFB stuff, which could have included women not wearing pants or KJV Bible stuff.  So you have this contrast of someone who is like you need to serve the man of God, literally serve—get down and then go out and do—so Bill Gothard, who was featured in the Shiny, Happy People in his curriculum that we were taught, there is actually a page on what you tell your abuse victims to get them to be silent.  And one of the things is you tell them you get a chance now to show God’s grace and forgiveness to the anointed.  Look at what you get to show because you’re going to forgive this guy for heinous acts that he just committed on you.  Look at what God can do through you.  And that’s what they would tell victims.  And my dad would—my dad is sick.  But he is in line with what you hear in other IFB stories.  From two different victims, he would do this.  He would do horrible things to them sexually, and then he would pray out loud in front of them and then turn to them and say, “I just asked for forgiveness.  This verse, this verse, this verse says God has already forgiven me, so now you need to too.  And if you say anything, now you’re gossiping, and here are the verses about gossip.”  And so what happens is is—it’s one thing to—I have friends, who have been sexually assaulted outside of the church.  And it is a horrible experience.  But when you add a layer to it that you’re—there are eternal consequences to you telling the truth, it’s even less likely for someone to confess to a friend, to confess to a parent, to any caregiver, even a counselor because—and our church told us not to trust counselors, not to trust therapists.  Basically, the people they told us not to trust were all mandatory reporters.  Don’t trust your teacher.  Don’t trust your—and there’s a—when my dad got caught with the 19 year old, he went to marriage counseling 2 hours away in another state.  And I have to think that was so that mandatory reporting wouldn’t come up when they started talking about my mom’s grievances.  So they’re programmatically making sure that you confuse healthy things with unhealthy things and that you—they switch it up to where you think God is one thing when He is the exact opposite.

Sheila: Yeah.  That’s so tragic.  And I just want to point out.  If you are a mandatory reporter, just report.  And if you’re not a mandatory reporter, report anyway.  You don’t need to be a mandatory reporter to make a report.  

Ryan: That’s right.  

Sheila: And even if you don’t think that there is evidence or you’re not sure they’re actually going to find anything, if there is a report on the books, that really helps the next time someone reports because then they see it’s a pattern.  So you do not need to be a mandatory reporter to report.  But if you are a mandatory reporter, you need to report even if there is just an inkling that there might be something.  So yeah.  So none of this crap that people get into of trying to get out of reporting.  No.  It is your moral duty to report.  

Ryan:     My wife and I, together, have reported four people.  And it’s hard.  I lost a friendship.  I lost all kinds—people go, well, why would you turn to men?  He said he was sorry.  I was like sorry doesn’t cut it.  Sorry doesn’t cut it for that victim.  That’s not—sorry isn’t justice.  

Sheila: Yeah.  And I think it was about 12 years ago there was a family very similar to Shiny, Happy People that I should have reported, and I’m not a mandatory reporter.  And Keith didn’t know about this, so I should have told him too.  Anyway, but I regret that so much.  I regret that so much.  And I’m still involved a little bit with that family and trying to help them.  But if I had reported then, I think it would have been easier today.  So I regret that.  And let’s report.  You don’t need to be able to prove it.  It helps people later if there are reports on the books.  So, please, everybody listening.  That story about how your dad treated those girls with Bible verses is so similar to Christa Brown’s, who has been advocating for sex abuse reform in the Southern Baptist Church.  She was abused in a Southern Baptist Church.  So this isn’t—again, this is not just IFB churches.  This is really anywhere where they—the emphasis is on authority and, like you said, patriarchy, hierarchy.  That’s where abuse flourishes where the other people where they say, “No.  Those outside the church.  They aren’t of us.  They aren’t healthy.  They are harmful, and so don’t go see counselors.”  Anytime a church does that, they are enabling abuse.  And they are enabling people to—bystanders to be quiet and not speak up.  So it isn’t just IFB, but we see it a lot in the IFB.  Okay.  Here is something else you talked about, and I thought this was great.  “Fundamentalism’s primary focus is on preserving old things, holding on to old practices, and measuring with old yard sticks.  It looks to the past rather than at what God is doing now.”  And that’s so true, isn’t it?  I think about how much so much of modern fundamentalism is focused on this sort of amazing thing that we had—either it was 50 years ago or 200 years ago or whenever it is that they’re trying to get back to to make us wonderful and great again.  And it’s like why are we looking to the past.  Why are we trying to recreate something that we can’t recreate anymore anyway because culture has changed so much?  And was it even that great for anyway who wasn’t at the top of the pyramid back then?  But it’s like all of the sermons are how things used to be so great and now we’re under attack by the culture.  And the culture is going downhill, and everyone is ruining what we had.  And we need to bring it back.  How would you see our faith as different than that?

Ryan: So I don’t know what faith background you had as a kid.  But when I was growing up as a kid, they said the most important relationship you’ll ever have is with Jesus.  And they always liked to talk about how He is your groom and we’re the bride and whatever else.  And so I like that analogy.  It works really well for me.  But I would say if you were to ask Keith or ask a friend, “What’s new—tell me what’s going on in your marriage right now.  Tell me what’s going on in your relationship right now.”  And the only thing they could tell you about was their wedding day 17 years ago, you’d be like, “So it’s not good,” right?  So when you ask these old-fashioned, old-time religion, culture warrior type Christians like, “Tell me about your walk with Jesus,” and they’re like, “Well, I gave my—I walked an aisle back in 1987.”  Okay.  Yeah.  I walked an aisle with my wife on a beach, and we have different conversations this week than we had last week.  Whereas in the faith communities that I’m a part of now, which again are a reaction to my dad—so even on Sunday, my church is in tables, not rows.  And the conversations—there’s no even table leaders at the table.  It’s equal.  The faith community that I started on Wednesday nights—it’s a parachurch Bible study.  Guys in our city.  There is no teaching.  There is no table leaders.  There is no curriculum.  There is no—we just come to the Scripture and say what it is.  But when I ask those guys across a table, “What is God doing in your life this week,” we ask that question expectantly.  And people, who show up, know that that’s the question they’re going to get to go, “Oh, I’m having a hard time believing God is good because my wife lost her pregnancy this week,” or, “I’m feeling really insecure about my job because I got promoted, and I don’t know if I’m ready for that.  And I thought God brought this to me.  I thought it was sovereign, but now I don’t know.”  And so these are the—so one of the questions I love to ask is a diagnostic question of people of faith is what do your conversations with God look like this week.  And if they don’t have any, well, that’s a—okay.  Well, that’s first a flag.  But then you go, “Oh, well, did you talk to Him,”—well, someone will bring a problem to me.  And I’ll be like, “Well, what did you ask God about that?”  And they’re like, “Well, I haven’t.”  But that’s based in that historic Christianity like, well, my relationship looks like a Stepford wife situation from 1957, right?  That’s not living and active.  Jesus said He came to bring us life, not history.  

Sheila: Yeah.  And I think so much about how we redefined Christianity to be about a set of beliefs.  And so if you tick all the right boxes, then you’re in.  And Billy Graham didn’t start this, by any means.  I mean you could point to a lot of the revival movement—Dwight L. Moody certainly did it.  But the idea that everyone needs to pray a certain prayer, almost like a magic prayer.  And then you’re saved forever.  So if an 8 year old prays this magic prayer, then they are saved forever, and it doesn’t matter what else they do in the rest of their lives.  It doesn’t matter if their life has any Fruit of the Spirit.  We know that they have eternal salvation, and they’re all good.  And so the focus is on as long as I believe and confess that Jesus is Lord then I am all set for life.  And so it’s all about belief and not about action.  And while we are saved through faith, it’s not—that’s not the point.  The point is bringing the kingdom on earth.  The point is living out Jesus and having this relationship where we are growing.  

Ryan: Well, even that word faith—so both the Old and the New Testament, so this isn’t just cherry picking verses.  It’s throughout.  It says the just shall live by faith.  And we tend to think faith as belief, right?  Like what you were saying.  Do I believe the right things about Crystal Dawn George?  Yes.  I believe she’s Curt and Dawn’s daughter.  I believe she grew up in Bolivia.  I believe she lives in Evington, Virginia with me. 

Sheila: And this is your wife.

Ryan: That is my wife.  Sorry.  Yeah.  Yeah.  But faith isn’t certainty.  In fact, faith is the opposite of certainty.  And let me explain.  There’s a great book out there called The Sin of Certainty.  And the idea is—  

Sheila: You are the second person who has mentioned that book to me in 3 days.  I think I’m going to have to read it now.

Ryan: So anybody who goes to my Instagram will see.  So I’m an adrenaline junkie.  All seven continents, both polar circles.  I BASE jump jump off of mountains.  I skydive.  I do a thing called wing walking where I got out on the wings of a plane while it’s doing aerobatic maneuvers.  And one of the things I’ve learned—and I have adrenaline junkie pastors, who race motorcycles, fly experimental aircraft, ice climb, white water paddle, et cetera.  So I’m in a faith community that connects doing scary physical things with our faith.  So we’ll go do one of those crazy things.  And then we’ll process that through a filter of faith.  And so what I’ve learned is if I’m not scared, if I’m not worried, if I don’t have any doubts, I don’t have faith.  So when I go out on the wing of an airplane, I’m only scared if I think my harness isn’t going to work, my parachute is not going to work, my pilot is going to do something stupid, right?  Going back to your roller coaster days when you were a kid.  The first time you rode a roller coaster you were holding on white knuckles for dear life like, “Oh my gosh.”  All right.  The fifth, sixth, seventh time you rode that coaster you weren’t even though your body was doing the same thing because your certainty has taken over and said this ends well.  I am safe even though my body is feeling exhilaration, right?  And so what happens is if you get to a place in your faith like what I grew up in where you’re just going to stick with the thing that feels safe, you’re never going to know the exhilaration that comes on the other end.  Because in the reverse proportion that I’m scared, I get dopamine, epinephrine, all the other body reward chemicals.  I remember the first time I went bungee jumping down in New Zealand.  I jumped from 440 feet or something like that.  And the guys asked me.  He’s like, “How are you doing, mate?”  And I said, “Well, I’m scared.”  He’s like, “Good for you.”  He said, “You’re going to get something when you jump out of here I don’t because I do this every day.”  And so what I’ve learned in my faith—if the just shall live by faith and that’s the command, again, Old and New Testament, then we have to be constantly putting ourselves in places where, from a faith perspective, we’re unsure.  We’re scared.  We’re worried.  That’s the only way we can experience.  And then at the end, we know what it feels like when Jesus shows up and has His presence where we feel this sovereign moment.  I was asked by a nonbeliever the other day, and they said, “What does that reward feel like?”  And I said, “I don’t know.  The best way I can explain it is being at the right place at the right time in human history.  Not just this year but right now.”  And I’ll give you an example of that.  So the year that we confronted my dad, the year that my daughter came to live with us, the year that I was trying to figure out is God a good dad, I was in Portland writing my previous book.  And a stranger walks up to me, and she says, “I have a word from the Lord for you.”  And I was like, “Okay.  Let’s see where this goes.”  And she says, “Your word for 2019 is father.”  And I could have told her.  I was like, “Ma’am, I just had all three version of a vasectomy to make sure I wouldn’t become a dad,” because I was afraid of being my dad.  But I just patted her on the head virtually and walked away.  But that lady knew.  And at the end of the year when we confronted my dad and I look back and I went, “Holy moly.  I was in this burger joint in Portland at the time when this woman who got this call to come to me—it had to be a weird assignment for her.  She doesn’t know that this worked out.  She doesn’t know,” right?  One of my friends met Jesus.  He was at our local grocery story, and he didn’t have enough money to buy the batteries in his hand.  And he could have pulled out a company credit card, but he didn’t want to fill out all the paperwork and submit, all that kind of stuff.  Some stranger walks from the front door of the grocery store, puts the amount of change he needs on the belt, and says, “Jesus told me to give you this,” and he walked away.  That is faith.  That guy doesn’t know that John met Jesus, and now he’s adopted his foster child.  And he’s bringing heaven to earth in beautiful ways all because he took an assignment that, for me, is scarier than going out on the wings of an airplane.  He doesn’t know how it ends.  And there are moments over and over.  My last book, even in this book, where I’ve said, “These are moments where I know Jesus showed up and said, ‘Way to go.  You lean into your discomfort because you knew that that’s,’”—it’s normative for me now, right?  One of the things we do in my faith circle is we dare each other to obey.  Lean into that.  Figure out if that’s God’s voice.  There’s different ways you can triangulate to see if that’s God or a weird lunch that you ate.  But after that, do it and then come back and tell us next Wednesday, if you did it, how it went.  And there’s so many stories where guys coming like, “Guys, you wouldn’t imagine.  Jesus showed up.  This is the miracle he did.”  There’s a guy right now.  He’s serving on my team at—on the parking team.  Doesn’t know Jesus yet.  He’s curious.  He’s coming.  He’s checking it out.  And we require that you’re in the prayer circle before we serve.  You’re not required to pray.  And he hasn’t prayed yet.  But three Sundays ago, he came up to our circle.  He says, “Guys, God did a miracle in my life.  It’s a real miracle.”  And then he told us about it, and then we prayed.  That’s heaven coming to earth.  That’s him leaning into discover from—I don’t know if I believe all this God stuff.  But I’m going to keep showing up, and he’s rewarded to that rather than—he doesn’t know what the right things are to believe yet.  But he knows that Jesus is real and that heaven is coming to earth.  

Sheila: Wow.  I love that so much.  And I think about what you just said about that discomfort.  Your story about your wife takes teams down to Nicaragua, and I can just imagine a lot of those sexual abuse survivors are feeling a lot of doubt and a lot of that’s scary.  And I’m not saying every sexual abuse survivor should do that.

Ryan: Correct.

Sheila: I mean that can be—that’s a scary thing to walk into.  And yet, it can be so profoundly changing and healing and amazing for everybody.  So yeah.  A lot of us have these scary things where, ahh, we don’t know if we should walk forward.  And I’m not saying that you should always walk where it’s scary.  That’s where, like you said, you need discernment.  It wasn’t something I ate versus God’s voice.  But yeah.  Living a safe life is to know Jesus.  Jesus never promised us safety.  He promised us life to the full.

Ryan: Say that again.  Yes.  Amen from the back row.

Sheila: Yeah.  Okay.  Speaking of safety though, another theme that you have in your book is the church should be—you said this, “Church should be the safest place a woman can go,” because church is the place that we go to be part of a family, to get God’s truth spoken over us, to have a sense of community so that we can go out and do these unsafe things.  It’s not like we should have to go to an unsafe place in order to get filled up.  You can’t get filled up in an unsafe place.  Church should be safe.  But for so many women, it’s not.  And you talk about how—

Ryan: Emotionally or physically.

Sheila: Yeah.  Yeah.  And you talked about how you’ve been on such a journey too and have really embraced women’s equality.  I love the books that you recommended.  Beth Allison Barr’s, Making of Biblical Womanhood and all this—great.  What’s that like coming out of such a church background that was extremely patriarchal and going to a place that celebrates women and listens to women’s voices?  That’s quite a culture shock.

Ryan: Well, it didn’t happen all at once, right?  I didn’t just go cowabunga and jump off the diving board into Arctic water.  It was a slow process.  It was reading books, right?  It was talking to my wife.  It’s so interesting.  You do a lot of conversations about sexuality.  And there’s a big thing in guys that you want your wife to be happy at the end of the process, right?  And to do that, you have to listen.  You have to ask questions.  You have to look at cues and respond, right?  I start reading books.  I read three books just on how to perform one specific act.  And for me, guys like to joke happy wife, happy life.  But in that, because my wife is a crusader for justice, she leads the women’s ministry at our church where over a third of the women have sexual trauma of some sort, right?  In their past.  Thankfully, not present.  And so being curious of my wife, respecting her so much, wanting her to feel empowered and safe ends up educating me, right?  And then let’s me take that to other guys and go, hey, this—if you want to know what it’s like—the easiest guy’s to convince this of—I had this conversation yesterday with one of my close friends.  Are the guys who have daughters.  If you want your daughter to be safe, these are the conversations you have to be having with your wife.  These are the places—this is why I love that our church is tables now for the last three or four years is that it’s co-ed around the table.  And everybody gets to say what we’re pulling out of Scripture.  This is just the start, guys.  Eventually, you need to be cool with them being on the stage or whatever it is, right?  And so that curiosity bears fruit, and people look at me and say, “Oh, here is a guy, who was afraid to be a dad.  His wife brings home,”—I was on a helicopter expedition.  I was stand up paddle boarding in British Columbia, up in the mountains.  And I get back to civilization, and my wife says, “Oh, by the way, we have a young lady living with us.”  Long story short she becomes our daughter.  My wife invited me onto the greatest adventure of my life.  I’ve surfed in the Arctic.  I’ve jumped off of all kinds of things.  The greatest adventure of my life is learning how to be a dad and care for a woman who grew up in a traumatic background, right?  And when people see that change in me, it becomes contagious.  The amount of foster parents and adoptive parents in our circle, in our church, is just—it was contagious for me to accept what my wife brought into my life as an adventure.  And man.  Again, the reward goes—when I did the hard thing, when I said yes to being a dad, when I said yes to letting my wife speak hard truths into my life, the reward is amazing.  It’s like when you try to convince a 7-year-old boy someday you’re going to like to kiss a girl.  And you just can’t.  I’m saying to these guys.  I’m like, “Guys, let me tell you.  If you empower your wife and treat her as an equal and listen to her voice and let her confront the dark shadows in your life, let me tell you.  It is so good.  It is so good.”

Sheila: I love that.  Yes.  You can come back every week and say that.  And I think that goes both ways too.  We all need to confront the dark shadows in our own lives.  So yeah.  We need a marriage where we feel free to do that with each other because that is how you grow.  I love that.  But the fact—in a lot of fundamentalist churches—and, again, I’m using fundamentalist not just to refer to the IFB but any church that sets it up as authority, hierarchy, that prescribes all these extra biblical rules—is that often there’s so much othering in that church, right?

Ryan:   Yes.

Sheila: So anyone other than our nationality is somehow suspect or bad.  Anyone other than our race is suspect or bad.  Anyone other than males are suspect or bad.  And so it’s like all of these different groups are framed as something other so that we can feel safe or superior or whatever the word is.  And so a lot of churches become really unsafe places for people of different ethnic religions—ethnicities, different backgrounds, and certainly for women.  But I think one of the results of all the othering is that because it’s supposed to preserve your own power then anger often accompanies it because anything that makes me feel like I am not the one at the top of the totem pole is going to cause me to be really angry because I feel entitled to be the one at the top of this totem pole.  And I think anger is a really big emotion at so many of these churches.  I remember we used to listen to Christian radio a lot in our town when it first came here.  And when you—so you’d switch on the radio.  And my husband used to just get so nuts about James MacDonald because he couldn’t stand listening to the guy because James MacDonald was constantly yelling at people.  He would say, “Don’t you know that God loves you.”  So angry.  He’d even be saying something good, but he’d be angry about it.  Or he’d sound angry about it.  

Ryan: So it was no surprise when everything came out about him.

Sheila: Yeah.  Exactly.    

Ryan:   Or Mark Driscoll.  Man, when Christianity Today did the Mars Hill podcast, I heard my dad in Mark Driscoll.  They don’t have the same voice.  But all of that is small man syndrome, right?  There’s not enough to fill in your underwear.  I don’t know what it is for them.  They have to compensate.  And anger is a secondary emotion, right?  Counselors tell us that.  It’s when we’re embarrassed, when we’re insecure, when there’s injustice, whatever it is, and so sometimes that anger is performative.  In the faith that I grew up, it was actually—there were actually discussions of how to make yourself angry before you go on to stage because they thought it was a performance enhance—and we saw that Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant would read horrible articles about themselves right before they’d go out.  And they would drop 40 on somebody.  So anger can be a performance enhancer.  But yeah.  It is definitely not healthy.  One of the lines in my book is, “Have you ever thought that there will be no anger in heaven?”  

Sheila: Yeah.  Yeah.  And what’s it like growing up in a church culture where pastors are always angry?  What does that teach you about God?  

Ryan: Well, I mean obviously the direct connection is God is angry at me, and I have to appease Him.  I have to come groveling on my knees, and you see this in all kinds of religions throughout human history.  The self flagellation, the I’m going to give you my first born.  You can have sex with my wife.  All these different things.  All the different superstitions that different religions have had.  It’s just packaged differently in the IFB movement and other legalistic movements. 

Sheila: It does seem like that, doesn’t it?  God is someone that we need to appease.  It’s almost like we’ve recreated Moloch or something where we’re willing to sacrifice our kids’ wellbeing, our own wellbeing, in order to get God to like us.  I often used to explain it like I would see God as a magazine cover where there’s always 7 more things you could do so you’re not so lazy or 5 more things you could do so you’re just better because you need to (cross talk).

Ryan: I would see King Triton from The Little Mermaid when he got angry at the end.  At Ursula.  I was like that’s—now my God didn’t have those pecs.  But yeah.  He is a Greek god.  He is waiting to shower thunder and lightning because that’s what my dad was.  When my dad would finish physically beating me up or whatever and he’d leave the room, the best way I could describe it is right after a lightning storm goes through.  There’s still a little bit of electricity in the air, and nothing is going to spark.  But you’re like, “What just happened?”  I remember one time I climbed out on to the roof of our house.  My bedroom window went out on to the roof, and I just sat there and waited until my sister got home from work.  I was like, “Hey, can you bring me a ladder?  I can’t stay here.  My hands were shaking.”  And so yeah.  It makes sense that that would be the view I’d have of God.  And so what had to change was—when I looked at Jesus’ actual life, his biographers in the Gospels said everybody was attracted to Him.  The rich and the poor, the whole and the sick, the religious and nonreligious, the Roman hardcore people.  Even in His own posse, right?  In the disciples.  He had a Zionist, and He had a pacifist.  And He had someone who came out of serving the Roman government as a traitor.  All of those were in His group.  Nicodemus came to him and was like, “Hey, I’m not allowed to say this in the daytime, but I think you’re the real deal.  Can I ask you some questions?”  Everybody was drawn to Him, felt safe to Him.  Women felt safe at His feet.  That was culturally inappropriate to even sit there.  And they’re like, “I feel like He’s a safe place even to cry on His skin.”  I can’t imagine how culturally inappropriate that was.  In front of Pharisees who could have done any number of things to that woman. 

Sheila: I love that.  When I think back to how I felt about God even 10, 15 years ago, I didn’t grow up in this angry culture in church.  I really didn’t.  I was encouraged that Jesus loved me.  Read your Bible.  I really walked with Jesus.  I could tell Him anything.  But even so, I still felt like God’s attitude towards me was, “Sheila, you know that I love you.  I love you desperately.  But, man, I just wish that you would fill in the blank,” right?  He was always a little bit disappointed in me.  So sure He loved me, but there was still this constant disappointment.  That’s hard to get over, but I think a lot of us have had that ingrained in us.  

Ryan: Oh sure.

Sheila: God can’t completely love you.  God can’t completely rejoice over you.  And I think of how different that is with the way that I think about my own girls or my grandkids.  I can see ways that—sure.  Everybody could improve.  I can see ways that I can improve.  I can see ways that my husband could improve.  But that doesn’t mean that I’m disappointed in them.  I’m thrilled with them.  I’m thrilled that I can have a relationship with my kids.  I’m thrilled every time I see them.  And even though—sure.  We might rub against each other more often—there are sometimes.  But it doesn’t mean that I’m disappointed.  And I think having kids really did heal a lot of that in me because I realized, no.  I’m not disappointed in them.  Don’t think they’re perfect, but I’m not disappointed in them.  I just enjoy them.

Ryan: I remember the first time I found something in my daughter’s vehicle that she’s not old enough to participate in.  And I didn’t bring it up.  I showed my wife, Crystal.  And she’s like let’s not talk to her about it right now.  We think it’s a coping mechanism for—let’s get to the root of it.  And my wife was right in that.  And then I think about earlier this week we got a text from the college.  She’s taking summer classes.  And she was talking to her professor, and she said, “I miss my parents.”  And if you were to ask me—and we just bought her a new vehicle to replace that vehicle.  And it was a sacrifice for me to do that.  And if you asked me, which do you think about your daughter?  About the thing you found in the door, the receipt from this particular store in Virginia, or whatever it was or do you think about that text where she said, “I miss my dad”?  Which one are you going to remember, right?  And I think about that.  Jesus knows all kinds of dumb stuff I’ve done.  Even willfully disobedient.  On purpose.  I looked up to the sky and be like, “Hey, don’t hold this one against me.  This is going to be real fun.”  He still remembers the time when I’m crying saying, “You’re the best dad I ever had.”  Or when I was in a counselor’s office a few weeks ago and I said right now I think my securest attachment is when I’m talking to Jesus in the woods.  Even closer than my wife right now.  I was like I think Jesus looks down and goes, “Yeah.  I saw the receipt in the door of your Ford Escape, but I also know you told your college professor I miss my dad.”  And so I can disconnect that now in a way that I never could before, like you said.  I so bad didn’t want to be a dad because of what it was going to cost me in all the different ways.  And the last line of my book, I can never get it out without crying.  The audio book you hear it.  I was like, “Deonnie Zagascia, you’re the greatest adventure of my life.”  And I think when Jesus looks down at me He’s like, “You are a knucklehead.  I think you are so fun to watch.  Go jump off that bridge.  I haven’t seen you jump off that one yet.”  And so I think—I don’t know that I would have found Jesus that way—it sounds really weird, and I’m not trying to poke on people who had good upbringings.  But if I didn’t have a dysfunctional home, I don’t know that I would have chased so hard to find a good dad.  If I had one growing up, I may have been satisfied with that.  And I think that’s why I see redemption so well is because I go, man, if I didn’t know to look for more, I wouldn’t have known there was more.  Going back to that analogy with the 7-year-old kid saying, “You’re going to love making out with a girl someday.  And then someday I’ll have a conversation about what you can do after that.  You’re going to really love that.”  But I don’t know that I would have looked for that unless I had something taken away from me, right?  And I don’t wish for anybody else to have stuff taken away.  I hope there’s no other home in my church that looks like the home I grew up in.  But even if there is, Jesus can do so much with that.  And if that doesn’t show how creative He is—sure.  It’s creative.  I love reading science books.  I love finding out about intelligent design, all the cool details that were put in.  But one of the most creative things I will watch Jesus do is take horrible, despicable, grotesque trauma and grow flowers out of that manure.  And that’s why I wrote this book.  I’ve got over $60,000 into this book.  That’s a lot of money.  I’ve got thousands of hours.  I lost relationships in my family, and I’m here to tell anybody who is listening or watching.  It’s worth it for what Jesus can do with your story.  So tell it.  Somebody is going to believe you.  Keep telling it until somebody believes you.  

Sheila: I love that.  I love that.  As we’re wrapping up, I want to share this one quote because I think it kind of sums up your book.  You said this, “People leave IFB churches for the same reason they leave funeral homes.  After catching up with friends and relatives, they want to go back to the land of the living.”  And that’s what you’ve done in this book is you’ve showed how you left fundamentalism in order to find the land of the living.  My daughter, Rebecca, always jokes that her Sunday School teachers taught her too well, and they didn’t realize what would happen from teaching her this well because they taught her to read her Bible.  And they taught her that Jesus loves her.  And then she did that.  And then when the church was teaching stuff that didn’t match up, she’s like, “Okay.  I believed you.  I took you at your word.  I got to know Jesus.  And now I don’t believe you anymore.”

Ryan: Checkmate.

Sheila: And so I know a lot of people who are going through a lot of trauma from church.  And I don’t know how you’re all going to resolve that.  I think everybody—it’s different for a lot of people.  But I just—I love your story because it’s so much my story too.  Is that, yeah, you were hurt.  But Jesus is so much bigger than that.  And Jesus is not what you were taught He was.  And religion is not what you were taught He was—it was.  And Jesus is angry too at that, but He delights in you.  And He wants to do a new thing.  And He wants you to find true community, and I really appreciate you writing this, Ryan.  

Ryan: Thank you for saying that.

Sheila: I know that it—at a big cost.  But I really appreciate you writing and saying that you’ve been through church trauma.  Really big church trauma.  But it was also in community with people who truly loved Jesus that you found healing, and I love that.  So thank you for that.

Ryan: Oh, thanks for saying that. 

Sheila: Yeah.  So where can—tell us where people can find you and your book and everything.

Ryan: Yeah.  So on most social media platforms, I’m @ryplane.  You can get the audio, Kindle, or print editions of my book through all kinds of sources.  But if you just want to see a list, it’s at booksbyryan.com.    

Sheila: Okay.  And I will leave those links in the podcast notes so you can find them.  I need to tell you one more thing before we go.  I am in the same club as you.  I’ve also been to all 7 continents.

Ryan: Way to go.  All right. 

Sheila: Yeah.  Yeah.  Although I have not been to either actual pole.  

Ryan: Yeah.  I have not been to the poles.  I’ve been to the circles.  

Sheila: Okay.  Well, I was in the Arctic Circle two weeks ago.  

Ryan: That’s awesome.  

Sheila: We were at the top of Norway.

Ryan: Oh, where abouts?  Lofoten.

Sheila: No.  We were at—oh gosh.  Harstad. Is that the one at the top?  I don’t remember what the names of all the ports were.  No.  Anyway—

Ryan: Yeah.  But up in the top there.  Yeah.  Yeah.  

Sheila: It was at the very top.

Ryan: My favorite part of that area of Norway is called the Lofoten Islands.  It’s an archipelago of 18 islands.  It is white sand beaches.  The surfing and snorkeling is amazing.  It’s cold.  You have to wear a wetsuit.  Oh man.  It is absolutely gorgeous.

Sheila: Yeah.  It really is cool because we were there.  And the sun was up, and it wasn’t—it’s not going to set again until July 21.  It’s kind of weird.

Ryan: Right.  Well, the opposite is true.  So I went to the Arctic Circle of Finland last year to do survival training where we had to build snow shelters and stuff like that.  And then I got to test drive an electric snowmobile.  So they’re still beta testing electric snowmobiles.  And, of course, the Arctic is a great place to test them.  And I remember our snowmobile guide.  She pulled over.  And you could see she was emotional on her face.  And we’re like, “What’s up?”  She’s like, “This is the first time I’ve seen the sun since November.”  

Sheila: Oh wow.   

Ryan: So the opposite is also true.  There’s this—oh wow.  She is not a believer that I could tell.  But there was worship all over her face.  And, again, just to what I just said.  That darkness made her appreciate the light, right?  I didn’t stop like that and look at the sun.  To me, it was no different than any other sunny day.  And for her, she was like oh.  She just relaxed on the seat of her snowmobile and just sat there looking at it.  And that’s what we need to be.  We need to be pointing out to people.  Look, look, look.  The sun is out.

Sheila: I love it.  That’s a great place to end.  So I will put the links to your book, Hurt and Healed by the Church by Ryan George and where people can find it in the podcast notes.  So thank you, Ryan.  I really appreciate it.    

Ryan: Oh, thanks for having me.

Sheila: So glad he could join us.  And his book, again, makes it a great read in the summer.  If you just want to see how God can turn your trauma into something amazing and how it’s okay to question the stuff that we were taught and what it’s like to realize that a lot of the stuff you were taught actually enabled abuse and enabled your father, your own father, to get away with abuse.  So good book.  Helps really encourage some deep thinking and deciding where you want to go from here.  So you can get Hurt and Healed by the Church in the podcast notes.  And join us next week when Scott Coley is going to come, and he is going to look at this from a totally different perspective.  Not exactly telling his story but looking at what he, as a philosopher, has seen in the way that many unhealthy churches are perpetuating these unhealthy beliefs.  And that was a fun conversation that Keith and I are going to have with Scott.  So join us next week again on the Bare Marriage podcast.  Thanks.  Bye-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. Andrea

    Just started listening, but want to say immediately what a refreshing contrast this is to the recent story from Bodies behind the Bus podcast: two men whose fathers abused minors, one turns him in and the other participates in the cover-up. This is the story we all need after (yet another) Matt Chandler failing comes to light.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Absolutely! Matt Chandler gave his father, who the Denton campus admitted was a child sexual abuser, a job at the church where he would have access to minors. Ryan made sure that his father was exposed.

      • Andrea

        And now that I’ve watched some more I’m crying. What a wonderful human being, Ryan George.

  2. Jo R


    “Don’t trust [any people who happen to be mandated reporters].” 🤯 That’s is some next level twisted right there. (And for those who know, “the SPECIAL level of hell.” And for those who don’t, https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=vVgbX_YeK-s)

    It become increasingly clear to me that there are lots of organizations that have claimed the label of “church” without actually being part of THE church, as they have no communion with Jesus whatsoever. I have no idea how to really, REALLY make sure which organization is part of which group, and THIS is why so very many of us don’t foresee even visiting a “church” anytime soon … or EVER.

    • Nathan

      Yeah, it can be hard to tell sometimes, especially since most “bad” churches aren’t ALL bad, and most good ones aren’t all good.

  3. Lisa Johns

    When I was 21, I was assaulted by a man in the church whom I trusted very much, and it took 27 years for me to be able to tell the story of what had happened to me. I finally contacted the pastor (I now live in another state), and he decided to confront the man and ask him to at least apologize to me. After this meeting happened, the pastor emailed me to tell me that the man had responded by saying, essentially, “Well, I asked her to forgive me when it happened, and she said she did, so I don’t need to say anything further.” Oh, and his wife concurred with that. 😬 (Do I remember any of that? My head was roaring at the time, and who knows what was said?) 🤷‍♀️
    So the trope of the man assaulting a young lady in his office and then “repenting” in prayer before he goes out to preach really… ugh. I have no words.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s so, so disgusting. I’m so sorry. Did the pastor at least see through it? Did he call the guy out for this? That’s awful.

  4. Taylor

    Really appreciated this interview. And now I have some things go go chew on …


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