Leaving Christianity – Part Two
The thing that I miss the most about being a Christian, and the thing that was the most painful to leave behind, was the community of people that I was a part of and the support group that I had.
It’s really an amazing feeling to be surrounded by so many people who you know would do literally anything for you. Different people would check in with me on a daily basis asking, “Is there anything you need prayer for today? Is there anything I can do for you today?”
I knew that no matter what happened, I would have a hand to hold, a shoulder to cry on or a safety net to fall back on. I always had someone to talk to, about the good things and the bad. I never really felt alone.
Christians often talk about the “family of God,” and in my experience, this was not just a nice idea. It was a reality. Being a part of a Christian community was really like having a huge family everywhere I went. I traveled all over the world, and people I’d never met before treated me like their own daughter. I had the feeling that I could go anywhere in the world and feel at home.
At Bible school, the sense of community was even stronger. I would walk around campus and at least ten people would greet me by name every day. I felt seen. And it didn’t matter where I was – at school, at church, at work, at the grocery store – there was always an opportunity to have a meaningful interaction with a member of the family of God.
Having a common belief system and a shared passion for Jesus connects people on a very deep level. I really enjoyed talking to my friends about what we were reading in the Bible or what we felt like God was calling us to do. We would trade ideas and interpretations and stories and dreams. These were some of the most enjoyable interactions I ever had, with some of my favorite people I ever met. I really miss those moments.
When covid reached the city where I lived, I lost my job. At the time I was living by myself. I wasn’t eligible for unemployment benefits and I couldn’t find another job. I began running out of money very quickly. But before I could even ask for help, people started helping me. I got money and gift cards in the mail. People bought me groceries and took me out for meals. People were texting me saying, “What do you need? Let me know and I’ll get it for you.” This level of support is astounding.
When listening to the stories of other people who left Christianity, I often hear people say that what they miss the most is the community they had. When my belief system crumbled, my support system did too. Initially, I didn’t want to tell people that I was questioning my beliefs, because I knew they wouldn’t support that. After all, we were taught at school that questioning your beliefs means that you’re doubting, and doubt is a sin.
I did talk to a few people about my questions and doubts, and they didn’t respond well. And when I tried to have normal conversations with my friends, it didn’t feel normal anymore. A typical discussion for us was, “What did you read in the Bible today that stood out to you?” And when my answer was, “I didn’t read the Bible today,” the conversation died.
It took a long time before I started being publicly vocal about my changing beliefs, and when I did, I was met with a lot of criticism. Instead of getting daily messages of, “Do you need prayer for anything today?” I got daily messages saying, “You’re a sinner, this is heresy, be careful or you’ll end up in hell.” I was even told that I gave in to a “doctrine of demons” and that what I was sharing was an “abomination” or “blasphemy.” But what really got to me was that the people who told me these things were the same people who once told me they loved me and would support me no matter what.
I realize that I am the one who changed. I couldn’t stay in the same community. But many people also changed the way they acted towards me. Not only was I grieving the loss of a community and close friendships, I was also wracked with a sense of guilt for disappointing virtually everyone I knew.
Fortunately, a few people did stick with me and didn’t change their behavior towards me. I’m so incredibly grateful for those people. And I have since met new people, or reconnected with old ones, who still support me and recognize that sometimes change and growth is what’s best for a person.
To Christians: If someone you know is questioning their beliefs, remember that what they need is not criticism – even if it’s coming from a place of love. Please don’t try to talk them out of their questions. Let them go through the process. Support them and trust God along the way.
To Christians who are questioning their beliefs: Don’t let the fear of disappointing people hold you back from growth. The people who really support you will recognize your growth as a good thing.
To those who left Christianity: Allow yourself to grieve the community you lost while celebrating the new community you have found. And if you haven’t found it yet, don’t give up! I’m here to tell you that there are people who will fully support you in your new beliefs.