There’s a notable theme when I hear stories from folks who find themselves on the outside of community looking in.

(This was originally posted in the newsletter and reposted on the blog for public readership.)

It wasn’t that long ago when I came to the understanding that despite all of my weird encounters with toxic church leadership, being male meant a LOT bad things skipped me. The same can’t be said for other marginalized folks like queer folks and women. Contemporary Christianity, especially the most popular kinds like evangelicalism, spend a lot of effort protecting the institution and the power holders within. It’s no wonder the mass exodus from the church, that’s only picked up steam since COVID, is largely catalyzed by perpetual harms committed by people inside of the church.

This coincides with a trend I’ve noticed in, of all places, my podcasts guests. When we talk about key moments in their faith, almost all of the American guests will point to 2016: when Trump came to power. That was the turning point. Data also shows that this is not only a moment where a rapid decline has increased in the church (and still increasing), but it’s also a pivot point for many who doubled-downed on enmeshing political and religious opinions, casually shifting the goal-posts on the latter to accommodate the prospect of power with the former.

In response, a lot people are leaving the church, and takes a toll on the individuals leaving. You might know this toll well. My friend Jenai Auman has a new book coming at the end of Spring called “Othered”. Her story is like so many others. Ran up against doublefaced church leaders behind closed doors and was ostracized in the process. That’s the big thing with naming harms in the church (that catalyst to most journeys of religious deconstruction) it will leave you very alone when folks you called family abandon you.

I’m sure MANY newsletter readers know this grief well. You never really expect the magnitude folks you called church family will completely abandon you if you leave, or are pushed out of, a church. It’s jarring. Stunning really. It’s not right, but it’s also indicative of how unhealthy church communities are. We’re just not good at holding space around hard things, and many are inoculated from speaking out against toxic leaders.

Some of you know this pain deep within your bones. There are some who can’t really make the decision to leave community yet cause you know what’s going to happen–you’re not going to have any friends left! Which is perhaps a testament to how culty many churches are–that you give up all other friendships just for a taste of belonging. Ya, that ain’t healthy, but leaving is easier said than done.

Ultimately, there comes a point where this realization sets in: your fullness of life is dependent on being around people who give life (or in the very least don’t take it away). Sometimes that means being around NO people as you extricate from weird/toxic environments.

Although I tie this thought in a neat bow with the hopeful sign that through the grief your liberation awaits, it’s not necessarily automatic. I’m usually careful not to guarantee success. But let’s note the connection, that when you leave toxic communities, finding new life-giving spaces becomes an option. The trouble is finding them. It’s risky. It’s a paradox (I talk about this in the recent TC Moore podcast episode). Ultimately, when you’ve had a bad run with church ‘family’, you may know you can’t roll through life alone, but you also know that connecting into new relationships is a RISK. The risk is the new can be same same with the old. (This is why getting some skills on recognizing key components that indicate how a community treats its people is important. Usually how a church treats the most marginalized is a good indicator. Like how many churches actually did anything after George Floyd? Residential school burial sites? Trans youth? You get the idea.)

So I leave you with this: an acknowledgement that what you’re facing, or will, is loss. Grieve the loss of relationships. It cuts deep. And maybe, just maybe, there are possibilities for more life giving community out there that will see you, and those around you, in full.