A lot of my exvangelical clients want to reach into their metaphorical hearts and rip out all the toxic church bullshit that still lurks in the background. For the most part though, love and hope and similar things were very much a sincere part of their faith – and are still values they want to respect and pursue in their lives. So we approach the process in a similar way that you might manage packing and sorting your house when you move: have a pile for trash, a pile to donate, a pile to keep. As a now-exvangelical, what parts of your former faith feel important to hang onto?
More important, and this can take some time to sit with and sort through, how were those values distorted by toxic elements of faith practices? Many evangelical faiths have a common practice of prying into the deepest parts of people’s private experiences, with an expectation of full transparency and vulnerability for the sake of “accountability” to the church’s standards of how faith should be lived and expressed. Of course, it’s framed as being accountable to Christ, not the church or the pastor (nevermind that the pastor/church and whatever denomination they belong to, are the ones interpreting and teaching the proper standards). This expectation of full transparency with little regard to consent for the individual creates a perfect opportunity for manipulation, forced adherence to standards that often require denial of humanity according to xyz interpretation of an infallible text. Further, the churches often have either zero tolerance for questioning, or a false tolerance for questioning – meaning, the questioning is okay as long as you’re not deviating from the doctrine!
But back to the present-day sorting: It’s up to each individual to determine how they want to sort through their old values. It’s my role as a therapist to help my clients slow down their busy thoughts and create mental & emotional space for understanding what they want to keep. A lot of the time it’s helpful to practice noticing thoughts that come up, and then checking in with any emotions or sensations that come up with the thoughts. Slowing those experiences down and paying attention to the different elements (the thought, the emotion, the sensation, the memory, the mental picture, etc) shines light on their meaning, and gives my clients direction toward deciding what needs to stay in the past and what they want to come with them into their future.
Some examples of things that may need sorting:
Then: previously defined and monitored by your church and its leaders, with an assumption of ‘safety’ built in because it’s church, and built on ‘sound doctrine’ according to a specific interpretation of the Bible.
Now: perhaps accountability would still be helpful – checking in with a friend about keeping a commitment to doing some exercise a few times a week, or reading a book, or about whether you finally had that hard conversation.
Then: service in many evangelical/conservative churches means donating your time and energy toward various church-related activities or ministries. Volunteer for setup, teardown, greeting/ushering, kid ministry, etc. Just don’t forget to be there any time the doors are open! Ready to serve! I once attended a retreat for teenagers where we were taught that if it’s true “service” as God intended, it will be uncomfortable and inconvenient- and if it’s not, then it isn’t service. Lol wut
Granted, this over-giving of time and resources is not at all restricted to churches – it’s common in the nonprofit world in general, as well.
Now: giving your time or energy to causes that you care about is something you can determine on your own, what amount you have to give. You are the person inhabiting your body, in charge of your time, energy, and finances. You decide when and where and how much to give.
Make sense? Cool! Which elements of your former faith are coming with you into the future?