by Stephanie Logan
The Southern Baptist Convention is the latest in an extensive line of churches and ministries to have their scandalous behavior revealed to the public. As someone who is well acquainted with the misogyny and corruption that goes on behind the doors of pastoral studies and in church boardrooms, I can honestly say that I am not in the least surprised by what I have read and heard. The church is the church and I expect the type of leadership the SBC has produced and tolerated for decades.
Former Southern Baptist Convention leader and thinker, Russell Moore, was interviewed on NPR the Monday after the SBC’s independent report was released. During the interview he characterized the SBC leadership as inhumane and even criminal. Unfortunately, what he described isn’t just characteristic of the SBC. All over the country there are other denominations, independent churches, parachurch ministries, and Christian colleges that have many of the same patterns of operation. The problem isn’t specific to Southern Baptists or Roman Catholics or (as history has shown) the Christian & Missionary Alliance – the denomination I once worked for. The problem is, as Moore said that morning, “cultural.” And that is why it will be nearly impossible to remove from conservative forms of American Christianity.
I originally wrote the content of this post on the morning of Uvalde, then put it aside when the country spiraled again into grief.
In March, Relevant Magazine revealed that Rev. John McArthur had protected and supported a convicted pedophile, though MacArthur put the man’s wife out of the church for not submitting to him. Then it was reported that a second woman came forward claiming MacArthur had protected her pedophile father. And just this past week the Washington Post reported a significant abuse of power by the Rev. Franklin Graham of Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Graham attempted to bully and manipulate a woman into returning to her abuser and disparaged her when she refused. He suggested she had been an unfaithful wife and called her deceitful and a disappointment.
With these latest revelations I am reminded again of what finally drove me out the doors of the church. It was the straw the broke the camel’s back. Since I was a teenager, I had recognized that the church often treats women and children abusively and I had personally witnessed three church scandal cover-ups. I had watched the church protect vile men over and over. And no matter what I witnessed, even watching the church bow to Trump, I kept on attending, giving, and serving until a fateful day late in 2017.
But for you to understand that day, I must back up a little.
In 2016 one of my daughters began dating a friend. Though he and his family were long term members of another church, he had been attending ours. I never quite understood their relationship because my daughter was always sullen and withdrawn – especially after their dates.
Then, late in April 2017, she came to me one night after her siblings had gone to bed. What she described going on between the two of them was a textbook escalation of abuse. As she detailed their relationship, she cried that she was afraid he would hurt himself if she broke up with him. Nevertheless, we discussed her need to do that and planned for the next day. She would call him, and I would stand next to her during the conversation just in case it turned bad. And it did.
After she told her boyfriend that she didn’t want to date him anymore and asked him to just be friends, he went into a fit of rage. His cruelty and insistence that they would marry were clearly irrational and though she tried to placate him, he did not relent. Finally, I told her to hang up and he followed with a barrage of texts. I called and had our carrier block his number. Then we talked about our hope that the few weeks he had at school before the semester ended would be enough for him to cool off.
But that didn’t happen. Things escalated, and we began to get messages from mutual friends about his behavior. We learned that he had claimed to be waiting down the road from our house for her to come home at night, he had talked of getting my daughters into a car and driving it into a tree, and he said that if he couldn’t have her, then no one could. One night, he threw a violent fit in the presence of another parent. They contacted me and urged me to get protection for my daughter.
At the time I was in the middle of a divorce, so at one of my appointments with my attorney I mentioned the topic and she told me to call the sheriff’s deputy who advised with domestic violence issues. I called the deputy from my car before I even left the parking lot. I was only several sentences into describing the circumstances when the deputy stopped me. He suggested that I get my daughter to the local magistrate as soon as possible for a temporary order of protection and then advised on what to do if that move didn’t work to bring the young man to his senses.
Later that same week I received two calls. The first came from our youth pastor because the young man had asked him to broker a reconciliation. When I explained the situation, he said that he would deal with the issue alone. He then spoke with our senior pastor who called me next.
Now, I had a bit of experience with this pastor. He had shown me on several occasions that he didn’t respect the privacy of his office. And previously, he had consulted an attorney on my behalf without my knowledge. I did not want that to happen again, so I told him that I did not want him involved. But he insisted that as head of the church he had to protect the flock and therefore, he was responsible for me and my daughter. When I realized that he was going to ignore my request, I limited the amount of information that I gave him about the situation.
Within a day or two he called me back and told me that he had consulted an attorney on my behalf (again) and that I should get my daughter to the magistrate. I bit my tongue and let him know that I had already managed it and we would be going to the magistrate the next time they were in town. He said that he would ask the young man not to attend services and would tell the ushers not to admit him if he showed up.
Perhaps, I thought, a pastor would do the right thing. Perhaps.
On the day the magistrate was in town, I picked my daughter up from her job and drove her to the courthouse complex. On the same day I learned that the pastor met with the young man and his father. He got ahead of the sheriff’s department and the temporary order of protection and alerted them that it was coming. And, because I hadn’t given him the whole story, he had described things in a way that made it appear as if we were making up charges. When he told me these things he also advocated for the young man, suggesting there was a “misunderstanding” that we should sit down and discuss. Again, I bit my tongue. By now, I knew that my talking would do no good. I was exhausted and hoped that it would all go away.
The young man spent the summer gathering support from our community of friends while my daughter hid away. But at least his threats and outbursts stopped. When he returned to school, my daughter felt some relief, but I knew she wasn’t doing well. She was visibly unsettled every time we passed a car that resembled his and for months she only went to church and her best friend’s house.
Then came that fateful day late in 2017 when my pastor invited me to his office. This was not unusual since I had volunteered in several ministry positions. I assumed he was asking me there to discuss my children’s church preparations and, since I had everything ready for the new year, I took my plans with me.
But that wasn’t the purpose of the meeting. After I took a seat in his study, my pastor reminded me that he was a sensitive man and that he had the spiritual gift of discernment. He then asked how my daughter was. This shocked me, because she was in church in the front row every week and she was nineteen years old. I thought, but didn’t say, “this is a meeting you should be having with her.”
What followed his cursory inquiry into my daughter’s condition was a lecture. It was the same essential message I had heard repeatedly in my past – almost as if pastors practiced it in seminary.
He said that he had “prayed about it” and God, through the Holy Spirit of course, had told him to meet the young man to discern his condition. So, they had shared a meal together and, during that single meal, God showed my pastor that the young man had reformed, and he had invited him back to church. Though I had some reliable information to the contrary, I had learned by this point in my life that a woman being lectured in this manner does not question a pastor’s perceived discernment.
I sunk into my chair from the weight of it and I shook my head in disappointment. Then that last straw.
My pastor clucked his tongue, shook his head, scribbled a few notes, then started to lecture me on forgiveness and restoration and his duty before God to care for the soul of the young man. The young man who was not a member and who had attended his church for only a brief time became the priority. My daughter, who had attended his church for nearly a decade, was pushed aside and not even asked about how she might feel worshipping beside someone who had threatened her life and attempted to ruin her reputation. I – a woman trained for ministry, well-studied, a member for nearly a decade who made sure a tithe was in the offering plate every week and who had volunteered countless hours for his church – was lectured as if a child. I knew instantaneously that it would be the last time I ever submitted myself to a lecture from a man of God.
Unlike my previous encounters of this nature, this time I chose self-respect. I chose to speak rather than submit to the misogynistic nonsense.
On the spot, I told him that I was stepping down from volunteer ministry and would not be renewing my church membership in the coming year.
He showed immediate concern and told me that women who had been through what I had been through (he knew some of my past) were “easily misled” and prone to become “wild”. He told me that his church was the only place in a county full of churches where I would find the gospel preached correctly. He suggested that we needed to discuss my concerns together. He invited me to make some appointments to “have discussions” with him. Unwilling to submit to more of his nonsense, I refused his offer and told him I was capable of finding answers to my questions and mentioned a few authors I had been reading.
Then he stooped even lower as he suggested that I had always been so spiritually serious that I had never really had a teenage rebellion and maybe it was time for me to have one now.
Reader, you have just received a crash course in Evangelical Pastoral Ministry 101: Shame the Woman.
I didn’t immediately leave the church because the church was my life. It was my only regular social interaction and the place my kids were every Sunday, so I continued to attend occasionally, though I never dropped another cent in the offering plate. When I was there, I stood for worship but I didn’t sing. I would not play the hypocrite and join in communal worship with a man I could no longer even pretend to respect or whatever god it was that he was worshipping. And since I hadn’t allowed my pastor to discuss things with me, he made sure those “discussions” happened from the pulpit. During the following months, he seemingly benignly brought up in his sermons the things I hadn’t allowed him to discuss. He even mentioned some of the authors I had told him I was reading before he warned the congregation not to be deceived by them. It was shortly after Easter 2018 and one of those sermon comments targeted at me that I walked out the doors and never returned.
Because my children were all on the cusp of adulthood, I didn’t make any decisions for them about church. Still, they left one by one over a period of 6 months. The first because they had spent enough time with non-evangelical types to recognize that the pastor’s endless harping on liberal politics and the so-called “gay agenda” wasn’t particularly Christian. They walked out the door without so much as a glance back. No regrets. The next became tired of being the target of the pastor’s criticisms. As they said to me, “It seemed every week he had something to tell me about what I was doing wrong.” This was behavior the pastor never dared when I was still attending. The last finally left because the pastor was tone deaf to their concerns, instead constantly placing responsibility on them for others’ actions.
I have no doubt that when my pastor saw that he was unsuccessful at shaming me into submission, his next best bet was to begin shaming my kids. But it backfired. And I allowed my kids what I had never in my life felt free to do. As they chose to walk away, I praised their good judgement and encouraged them to never submit themselves to a similar church or pastor again. I also apologized for my part in raising them in that environment.
In the years since, I have studied the history of theology, the history of American evangelicalism, and church abuse across the broad spectrum of American Christianity. For part of that time, I was in a chat group for abused Christian women. It was full of the wives of pastors, elders, and church members who were being actively cheated on and/or abused behind the scenes. I eventually had to leave it because my participation was causing me to relive too much of my own past. Looking back, I sometimes think that I could have spent that time on more beneficial things but at least I can say, with complete assurance, that I came to my conclusions about the church only after considerable thought and heartache. There was no flippancy or rebellion about it. It was vast personal experience, basic human decency, and reason meeting together to give me all the confidence I needed to stand – even if it was alone.
The biggest lesson I have learned, from this particular episode and far too many others, is that the misogyny, corruption, and political partisanship I have repeatedly witnessed are primary characteristics of evangelical churches. It is, as Russell Moore said, cultural and unlikely to change. I would add that it is poison. Pure poison.
Former evangelical homeschool mom and one-time missionary and pastor’s wife, Stephanie Logan, aka Snicklefritz, writes from her life story and four decades of experience in the evangelical movement. Her views and stories are her own.
Copyright © 2022 snicklefritzchronicles.com
4 responses to “Why I Finally Left the Church”
Well done my friend. Well written, and poignant. I see some of my story in yours- thank you for being a true light in this world!! xoxoxox
Thank you for your kind words, friend. xo
My departure from the Catholic church wasn’t in any way confrontational like yours was. My brain’s bullshit detector apparently engaged earlier than most people’s and, as a teen, I was already beginning to distance myself from church and churchy people. High school Humanities studies of existentialism opened my eyes to the concept of nothingness, and I was fast on my way to freedom and acceptance and understanding the thing I didn’t realize had a name until I read the definition of “atheism.”
I don’t know where you are on that spectrum, exactly, but I am sad that your road to here has been so bumpy and painful.
Thanks, Tony. My brain’s bullshit detector went off many times over the years, but that pull to conform to the expectations of my family and social circle held me quite a bit longer than you experienced and the more I invested, the more I held on – sunk cost and all that.