I have recently been reading a few blogs on leaving church or leaving a relationship. Not long ago I had a conversation in which a pastor remarked rather disparagingly that it was no use helping a person leave an abusive relationship because that person, woman or man, would not appreciate the help and frankly would not take any advice. It was simply not worth the effort helping someone like that. This was my impression, I am not citing anyone exactly. But, actually we all know people who live in unhappy relationships or we are one of those people.
It is all the more difficult for those who attend a church which does not support the divorce process. Whether it is a woman held in a subordinate role, or a man tied to meeting unreasonable demands, there simply are people who need to leave. For some, this means leaving church or friends and family as well. Perhaps it has nothing to do with a relationship but one simply needs to leave a group which has gained disproportionate control over one's thinking.
Here are some blogs which are valuable reading if this is a concern. First, there is the excellent and researched blog by Cindy Kunsman, Under Much Grace, Danni Moss's blog, Because It Matters, and Jeff's blog, Church Discipline, especially this post. In church exiters, you can read about the future for people who leave church.
In addition to these blogs, I have been reading about exit counselling, or interventions, which has replaced "deprogramming." Here are some excerpts from an article on exit counselling.
[V]ictims of cults are not characteristically less intelligent than other people. If anything they are often the "cream of the crop," so to speak--the young, the intelligent, the idealistic, yet all too often naive ones. They are likely recruited during a transition time in their life, when they are more vulnerable to outside coercion and manipulation.
[The exit counsellor] may present Christianity as a historical religion, with doctrines that are to be understood in their original historical context, not according to some modern-day prophet. It is explained that interpretation is no mystery, nor is it exclusive to a chosen few. The exit-counselor also points out that there is life outside of the organization, and the ex-member present is proof of that; he or she is living a happy and fulfilled life.
It is necessary to follow up for several reasons:
- The emotional ties in the organization (friends) are still very strong at this stage
- Loneliness and disillusionment are strong factors causing a desire to go back to the cult
- Lingering doubts about their new decision remain for awhile
- Confusion and disorientation about the future haunts them
In summary, the person whom one is trying to convince to leave a relationship or community, needs to be told that they are not simply "weak" or "stupid." They need ongoing rational discussion about the issues involved. They need to see other people who have left as well, and see how they have fared. They need to accept that they may be dealing with loneliness, disorientation and confusion for several years.
This applies to someone leaving a marriage or a community in which the mind was unduly controlled by another person or other people. Anyone who attends a church with high boundaries is vulnerable. Some religious communities practice shunning, some excommunication, or disfellowshipping, as well as discipline or disparagement. These communities also need to convince the members to practice endogamy, marriage within the group, at least for the women. The men are expected to bring their wives into the group. In some communities this may work the other way around, I am not sure.
In mainline evangelical churches, many of these practices are not evident in the services or among the adults. However, young people may be deliberately recruited into certain commitments, either to gender roles, missions, rejection of normal youthful activities, or acceptance of certain doctrinal positions. I am not saying that a young woman should not get married and have children, or that one should not become a missionary, but I am saying that some youth groups and large conference organizations may use certain techniques to convince young people to make commitments that they would not otherwise make. One example of this would be the True Woman Conference and Manifesto.
Those who show concern about these things range from complementarians, on Under Much Grace, to agnotics on Church Discipline. I am not writing this to discourage proper belief. This is to help people understand that we, as humans, are vulnerable to joining cults, attending churches which control our behaviour, or marrying someone who is unsuitable.
Leaving any of these situations means experiencing nausea, vertigo, disorientation, meaninglessness, and loss of vision for the future. The only thing that helped me was ongoing support from people who said that they lived that way, they were not married, did not go to church, or whatever, but they were able to survive just fine, thank you very much. I was able to imagine and identify with a few key people in my life who lived alone or without a church and I just set myself to believe that I could do it too.
This leaves me free to attend a church from choice, to spend time with people because I want to, to develop a vision for my future. If you know someone in a bad situation do not give up on them. That's all I am asking.