"If you left the church some time ago - can christians change their beliefs?"

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Anthony Venn-Brown
Joined in 2005
January 24, 2010, 11:17

I began this discussion as I think many of us have similar issues to deal with.

My recent comment

I think its always important when communicating with people from our past to consider who they were and they way they thought back when we knew them 5, 10, 15 or 20 years ago might not be where they are today…… us…..they may be more enlightened and have moved on. I find that people who are still the same with the same beliefs are usually the exception more than the rule. Whilst many may still not be at a point of fully embracing LGBT people they have shifted.

on another story prompted this.

Joined in 2007
January 24, 2010, 18:53

I think for me, it is slightly different. I didn’t leave the church because of being gay. I was still married and not out when I left church, and it was due to reasons other than my being homosexual. I don’t think I have a perception of the people I knew back then not having changed. I know I have changed, so why wouldn’t they?

Also, quite a few people who used to go to my church have left in the intervening years, too for various reasons.

For me, the core reason for leaving church was because I became disenchanted with the all talk, no action kind of attitude. There would be a lot of lip service paid to how they could reach more people, make more change in the community etc, but then not a lot of action towards actually doing so.

I’d like to think that at least some of the people I knew and associated with back then would be open minded and Christian enough to be more accepting, but since my life, and my spirituality has moved on from then, and there, and them, I don’t think that there could be much possibility of reconnecting.

Interestingly, when I went to the local pentecostal church last year, I met a young woman who told me she remembered that I used to teach her in Childrens’ Church. Her parents apparently attend that church also, but I never had the opportunity to meet them in the short couple of visits I made.

I felt, in myself, that even leaving the homosexuality issue aside, I had grown way beyond where the church currently is. That might sound arrogant, but I sincerely felt, I had outgrown it.

My email discussion with the pastor of that church was an experiment, of sorts and only proved the theory I’d already formed with regard to that particular church.

But the question raised in the subject of this thread.

What’s your problem?

There is no problem. I don’t consider having outgrown something to be a problem. :bigsmile:

Ann Maree
Joined in 2008
January 24, 2010, 19:13

Hi avb

Wow! What a big topic.

Firstly, the title perhaps points to the myth that time is the great healer of all woes. This is in fact false, as time, in and of itself, heals nothing. It depends what we do during that duration that makes a difference.

There are a variety of other factors to consider, not the least of which include: the conditions under which we left the church, what was happening beforehand, the degree of involvement in the church, our personal interpretation of events and whether suitable supports have been found afterwards. If trauma and spiritual abuse occurred, this can take time to process and work through. As with a beareavement suffered after the death of someone close to us, there can be a grieving process involved after leaving a church. The intensity and length of time spent grieving can vary between individuals. For some it can take weeks or months while for others, years. The grieving process usually involves intense and stormy emotions, sometimes experienced all at once, and, contrary to what was thought in the past, rarely in a neat, sequential order of stages. Grief can also come upon us in an unpredicable way. Turbulent emotions can suddenly swamp us like huge waves while wild winds lash our sails, and we find ourselves at the mercy of the elements, like a boat tossed about on the high seas. And while in this experience, it can be difficult to see a safe passage through to calmer waters.

For anyone that’s interested in the grieving process, the work of Graham Fulton and his description of the Grief Storm is excellent as well as an interview by Norman Swan with Mal McKissock, a grief counselor with over 30 years experience. The link for the interview is:


Ann Maree

Joined in 2007
January 24, 2010, 20:53

I’m coming back to have another ‘go’ at this question, because I just read something on a blog I follow which sums up pretty well, why I left the church.

Keep in mind that much of the just-Jesus path feels lonely, in the early part. God is still with us, of course, but not having a “God club” to go to each Sunday can feel bad, until we realize that going and sitting in temples of smiling false-Christianity feels even worse. Remember that just like an ex-smoker eventually loses their craving for nicotine, when you are further along God’s real path you will also lose your craving for faked God-clubs.

This is what I was trying to say, but it is written far more succinctly than I could have said it. I don’t want to offend anyone who does still believe that Church has a role to fill in their lives, but this is how I felt when I left the church, and to a certain extent, still feel today. So that’s my ‘problem.’ I lost my craving. 😉

The rest of the blog post is here:

I go to a different type of church now, where there is more spirit and less talk.

Joined in 2008
January 24, 2010, 22:34

This has brought home to me the importance of keeping an open mind when it comes to dealing with people and/or issues in our past that may have hurt us. I was also reminded today of anthony’s comment in his autobiography “A Life of Unlearning” where he warns that to say we “know the truth” puts us in the dangerous position of never being open to learning anything new (page 373). I used to think that I pretty much knew the truth about Gods salvation plan for humankind … until I started to question some of the doctrine and actions of my former church that I thought didn’t line up with jesus’ teachings. The end result was that I embarked on an exhaustive bible study which led to a decision to leave my church and seek an alternative form of worship and service.

While I am not involved in any type of corporate worship at the moment, I am committed to the christian principles that I was brought up with, but with a far better understanding of what concepts such as love and forgiveness mean. Perhaps some day I will return to corporate worship, but until that time is right, I am happy with my current values and beliefs that define who I am and how I serve others in my communities that I’m a proud part of 🙂

Ann Maree
Joined in 2008
January 25, 2010, 12:51

Hi again

Maybe it’s only a problem if we or others think we should be back at church after leaving some time ago?

And I guess if I’m honest, there’s not a straight forward answer to that for me. On the one hand, I don’t necessarily think church is where I need to be. Yet on the other, I still yearn for the sense of community and belonging that was there, the creative expressions of worship which I haven’t found anywhere else, the encouragement and the insights gained. At the same time though, I don’t miss the attempts to think for me and control things, the need to define everything as ‘absolute’ even though a lot of things in the universe aren’t that way, the limited thinking around spiritual concepts, the belief that my church was the only holder of the truth and the very loose and creative biblical interpretations. And while I’m willing to concede the church people I knew might have grown in some of these areas, as I have, I can’t help thinking that some core conditions might be the same. I could be wrong though.

This might prompt others to say: Well ok, so your church turned into a cult. Why not find another one?

And my reply is that I did go to a few churches of similar and different denominations after leaving the first one. There were some positive aspects of all of them but I didn’t feel at home enough to settle anywhere for long. I tried hard, stuck things out for some years but just wasn’t comfortable.

In the meantime since not attending church, I developed and integrated other forms of spirituality into my personal philosophy and I’m not sure that would fit now with a lot of Christian churches. So I find myself on the outer which although a lonely place, as described by Meg’s ‘just Jesus’ lady, is not totally negative. I mean, I’m grateful for the hardships, including the church’s non acceptance, in the sense that this has helped me expand and mature. I like who I am now and am not convinced I would have arrived at this point had I stayed where I was. And yet, the human need for belonging and spiritual suppport is still there like a nagging, unfulfilled pain.

So I have thought that there are other ways to find community, belonging and spiritual development. This has led me along an ongoing path, and as with the churches, has not yielded altogether satisfying results, although good things have been gained along the way. I’ve attended meditation and awareness development groups, philosophy classes, workshops, undertaken bible and theosophical studies and been involved in communication with a school of wisdom that has a universal perspective of spirituality and faiths, including Christianity. (The latter is an excellent school although O/S and fairly costly. Talks are continuing between us however and they may be bringing units of study to this part of the world, which is hopeful). I love the idea of finding unity between the faiths, of going beyond religion to where I believe God is and joining with those who also believe in that.

Anyway, I’m interested to hear what others have to say here.


Ann Maree

Joined in 2009
January 25, 2010, 19:38

Interesting topic.

Personally speaking. my complete lack of desire to attend a church is not a problem for me. I grew up from 6 to 17 in one church. By 15, I did not feel part of what was going on around me. I became increasingly cynical as my life events which were starting to mature me as a person in both my outlook and my thought processes started to clash radically with the seeming unreality of the church environment and the messages and ideals it promoted. After I left the church (somewhat at their instigation) at age 17 I almost had to go into a self-imposed mind detox so I could integrate into the real world – it was not a choice, I had to live in it, and I had realised that It was built into me to look down on others, to judge, to look for any sign of sin, but not to try and understand, or even to love myself as a person and a human being.

Just as one gets over an abusive relationship by coming to terms with it, accepting it as part of one’s past, but also detaching and disengaging emotionally from it so it can never hurt one again, I think I moved on from the church in such a way (for better or worse) that I could never go back again. Any time I have tried to do so, I just stand there watching and feeling like an alien who dropped in on the wrong world, looking at the lifeless people who have substituted Scripture for rational thought or emotional comprehension of the space they inhabit. Intellectually, I can grasp the difference between God and the churches I went to and others like them. I know that what I was taught was not a Christian message. But deeper down, it’s like the door is bolted shut, and there’s nothing I can do about that – nor do I have a strong desire to.

Note that I’m not judging or putting down anyone who has had a different experience and either can integrate with the church scene, or really wants to. I’m just saying the above is my own experience.

Ann Maree
Joined in 2008
January 26, 2010, 20:27

Hi pingtimeout

You’ve described your experiences so powerfully, it’s made me draw breath and just pause. Actually, I’ve been stunned by your post and wanted to respond sooner but couldn’t find the words. Something of your experiences resonates deeply with mine and so I want to thank you for sharing of yourself and also for validatiing some of my own life events.

I won’t delve too much here but I think your mention of the door being “bolted shut” and feeling like an observer in a foreign world speaks of the unconscious within, a huge inner world that sees, hears, feels, senses and absorbs everything. It functions automatically at a deep level beyond logical reasoning and language, and often without our awareness. So we frequently have a difficult time comprehending how at one moment we were at point A, and the next, suddenly at point B, seemingly with no warning. Consciously we missed the signs and yet the unconscious was faithfully recording every detail of each step, event and trauma until one day it became too much. The unconscious was overwhelmed by all the information and chose to shut down as a protective measure.

There are many layers to our experiences and we process them at different levels. Therefore the journey toward healing is not just a matter of consciously willing it to happen. Where trauma is concerned, it’s not merely one single decision, like: “Oh well that was then, this is now. I think I’ll go to church today,” that will make us whole again. Chances are there’s a lot of reflective processing to do at those same levels where we were affected so profoundly in order to truly move on.

pingtimeout, I say the above not because I think you need to process more. On the contrary, your writing shows just how much you have reflected and processed at a very deep level. And for me that’s one of the things about this post that leaves me in awe. You really are amazing. And secondly, I’m mindful of the topic, “If you left the church some time ago… what’s your problem?” This question seems to imply the sometimes quite dismissive misunderstanding that people should be over whatever grievance caused their departure just because some time has elapsed. It therefore seemed important to stress that the process of healing can be a slow and complex one, that may take longer and involve more of our resources than we expect. And if church has caused or contributed to the trauma, then this may not be the place we return for healing.

Joined in 2009
January 27, 2010, 01:22

I agree that the church of yesteryear has had the opportunity to have changed, The question remains has it? Recently I was in a christian chat-room and was directed to the website of a particular baptist church in the United States whereby I read about how the Haiti disaster is an example of Gods judgment on humankind. I was aghast that attitudes such as these still prevail in fundamentalist circles. If this kind of attitude prevails in regard to natural disasters then I can only imagine what their attitudes are like in regards to GLBTIQ issues are. Ok, its not Australian churches I know and its not pentecostal churches I know, still this kind if thing doesnt encourage me to be involved with church.

I really like Meg’s point about outgrowing church – I really think that as we grow spiritually the emphasis is less on the corporate worship and more on people – ordinary people like kind Jesus mixed with. Jesus wasnt looking for affirmation of his faith – he simply engaged people and gave of himself and his faith. He knew who he was and was at that point of spiritual maturity where he didnt crave to get to the synagogue each week. The NT talks about moving on from being babes in Christ. I really believe in learning to find within ourselves the resources that we have been taught to find in other people.

I like Ann Maree’s point about whether we need to be at church. Often in the eyes of the churchgoers we should be at church. I think thats something we need to keep in mind in terms of what we believe in. Its all very well leaving the church but we are bound to keep some of the beliefs that we had in the church while we ditch others. Does that mean the beliefs we keep are right? I also think Ann Maree’s point about the circumstances in which we left is an excellent one too and worth considering in this topic. Especially the grief process.

I also strongly relate to pingtimeout’s response and especially the use of certain terms like detox – which implies a toxic relationship and I relate to that in that it is the kind of thing I found myself in – a church that was essentially a cult.

I didnt leave cos I was bisexual, I left cos I found that the church was being all kinds of things it shouldnt be. It broke up marriages, it divided families apart simply cos one one partner or family member didnt agree with the teachings of the church. There was much in the way of spiritual abuse and I was involved with this church for 17 years and its a place where I had lots of links – even tho I kept to myself a fair bit – its hard to reconcile the good stuff and the bad stuff y’know.

So basically my faith in christianity was trashed by the people that I trusted – I really cant put my trust in people at that level again and I dont think its fair to ask that of me, given the level off faith and trust that had been broken. I was devastated at the time and leaving gave me more questions than answers. Thats ok I found later – we arent supposed to have it all together and know all the answers.

I have worked on myself a lot – I am involved with a bunch of friends who prioritise personal development – I am not perfect, I have weaknesses like us all. I really believe if we say we have no baggage or issues then I think we are in denial. But I have worked on areas to do with my past – especially to do with the church and I am a lot better of than I was but I have no compulsion to step back into that arena after building my self esteem to the point it is now. As a bisexual I have no inclination to put myself in the firing line after all the work I have done on myself. I like being in communities where I can be myself and who and what I am is respected.

I also have added problems of being deaf – churches whose message might interest me are a long way away. But their worship probably wont interest me at all. I feel like an alien in more ways than one. Plenty of churches with a progressive message but how far to travel – I really do toss up whether its worth the travel. So its not as if I havent considered it. I do feel the gap like Ann Maree mentions. But I have no desire to return to the place I was before spiritually. I want to move forwards not backwards.

So for me its not a simple thing of just jumping back into a church. I have felt like an alien as pingtimeout mentions and I now have practices spiritually that dont fit the christian church like Ann Maree says. Where do I fit? Mind you I know Wiccans who are also church goers and they have no problem with it. Perhaps thats an area I could work on. Before i finish I’d like to say I find the wording of the title of this thread overly simplistic, which seemed to assume we should attend a church or there is something wrong with us. I could be reading that wrong but that was the impression I had.

Joined in 2008
January 27, 2010, 19:28

Hi Ant,

I don’t think the title of the thread was meant to convey the assumption that if you left the church some time ago then there’s something not right. Not at all. What the thread is intending to encourage discussion on is if you’ve left the church and down the track come into contact with someone from the (same?) church again, how should we respond, given that both they and us are quite likely to have changed our beliefs and/or value systems. See my posts in the Telling Our Stories section 🙂

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