Changing Hearts and Minds with Facebook

Photo by Sam Armstrong

“My task, which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel–it is, before all, to make you see.” 

~Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim

I have to admit something, something that will probably make you laugh derisively because of my foolishness. I, myself, have been that person who rolls hers eyes and wonders what someone else is trying to accomplish.  But, here goes: I hope to change people’s minds on Facebook.
I know! It’s ridiculous!  I myself have repeated the phrase, No one ever changed their mind because of what someone wrote on Facebook.  So why do I insist on trying to do so?  Because I have hope.  I have placed my faith in the power of the written word.

J’accuse, mon petit fromage!
I try not to live in an echo chamber, in real life or on Facebook.  I have friends all along the political and religious spectrum, from libertarian atheist to conservative Catholic, from liberal Protestant to extremely conservative evangelical.  For the most part, we’re able to have civil and reasonable conversations about taxes, gun control, abortion, education, gay rights, etc.  Every once in awhile, I become delusional and try to engage with people I don’t know on a friend’s post.   There are just some things that make me see red and yell, Oh, hell no!

The current meme/status/article/editorial/fact checker round of posts belong to the Syrian refugee crisis in the wake of the attacks in Paris.  Understandably, people are worried that the same will happen to them.  Unfortunately, fear has jumped in the driver’s seat and raced us down the road to xenophobia and racism.  I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read a comment that said that we should keep all the refugees down in Gitmo.  I was saddened to see governors attempt to close their states faster than a uterus during a legitimate rape.  I was furious to read the Mayor of Roanoke’s implication that Japanese internment camps were a good thing.  I am aggravated that people “pop off” with incorrect information and refer to those asshole terrorists as Muslims, grouping them in with the peaceful people who are fleeing for their lives from these monsters.  I was actually shocked that Donald Trump has advocated for a registry of all American Muslims, reawakening the ghosts of the Holocaust.  

I won’t spend this blog post arguing that we should accept Syrian refugees with open arms, cutting off the lifeblood of ISIS’ attempt to pit them against the West.  Many people have already done the research and written impassioned pleas far better than I could do.  So, for now, I’m going to continue sharing those words with others, hoping that some well-placed information might destroy the fear with which people have armored themselves.  After all, the enemy of fear is knowledge.  And rather than despair, I choose to cling to the hope that the pen is mightier than the sword and that words have the power to change someone’s mind, perhaps even on Facebook.

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Going Beyond Memes

 

Starbucks

 
If you’re like me, you’re sick of seeing these cups.  You’re sick of the “controversy” surrounding them and the blog posts and memes pushing back against the ridiculous notion that Starbucks having plain holiday cups is a war on Christmas. All of these memes and blog posts remind us that helping and giving this holiday season is more important, and more Christ-like, than bitching about cups.  There’s a problem with these reminders, though.  Clicking like or share on Facebook or retweeting lets us off way too easily.  In an instant, we are able to declare to the world that we are morally superior to people trolling Christmas because we get it.  And that’s the end of it.  Now we can dust off our hands and begin updating our wish lists. 

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But, of course, it doesn’t and shouldn’t end there.  If you are a Christian, Jesus calls you to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit those who are in jail.  Other faiths call for the same.  Those without faith in the supernatural are called by their conscience and faith in humanity to do what is good and right.  Simply put, if you’re able, you should be helping your fellow man.  So let’s all make sure that this holiday season, and beyond, we don’t just post memes about how helping others is more important than the design of Starbucks’ holiday cups, but that we actually DO something to make a difference. You can donate to Toys for Tots, to food pantries, and other charities which allow us to help on a continual basis, like World Vision.  You can volunteer in a soup kitchen or shelter or anything on the front lines that puts you face to face with those in need.  You can help the animals with whom we share this earth, giving one of them a loving home or helping them to find one.  You can choose gifts this year which are ethically sourced, like fair-trade chocolate, or that give back to the people in the organizations who make them.  You can choose not to avoid eye contact of the person sitting by the road with signs asking for help, ignoring lame excuses like, They’ll probably just use it to buy drugs.  If you’re like me and never have cash on hand, you could do what my friend Sarah does and keep a supply of food in her car, which she hands to those standing by the road.  You can take the time to ask what the person outside of Target, the grocery store, or Starbucks needs and go get it for them.  Imagine how that could make a plain red cup reveal the joyous giving of Christmas.

God Does Not Work That Way!

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Since the dawn of man, people have looked for ways to explain their world. Comets were once thought to be bad omens. To have a mental illness or epilepsy meant you were possessed by demons. A bad harvest meant that the goddess, Demeter, was displeased with you. The creation of the Earth was, (and still is, for some people) explained by a poem written around the 6th century BC. And today, people explain illness and tragedy as God’s will. When people can’t explain why a child died, they say, We can’t understand the mind of God. If people are suffering, whether with a chronic illness or becoming overwhelmed by life, others will try to comfort them with, God will never give you more than you can handle. When that doesn’t ring true, they add on “without Him”. Some proclaim that God allows you to suffer because your faith is great, so you may be an example to others, like Job. The flip side of that is that you haven’t been healed because you haven’t prayed enough or your faith is too weak.

YOUR LOVE IS LIKE BAD THEOLOGY
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We’re going to assume, for the same of argument, that Jesus was/is who He said He was/is. The Son of God traveled, not only preaching the Good News, but also healing the sick and raising the dead. I can certainly understand why people may glean from the Gospels the idea that God allows people to suffer.

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Neither this man nor his parents have sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.”
John 9:1-4 NIV

I think plenty of people stop at verse 3 and hold it up as proof that God made or allowed this man to be blind so that God may be magnified and glorified. They completely miss the actual point, which is to do God’s work by helping others. Add on verses where Jesus asks people who are asking for healing whether or not they believe in Him, and it’s no wonder where this suffering theology comes from. But I find it telling that, while Jesus may have asked people if they believed, (and for all we know, it could have been something the disciples slid in there while writing the Gospels) He didn’t make them go through a checklist or faithfulness song and dance to prove themselves before healing them. In one case, Jesus found it more important to forgive a man’s sins, rather than physically heal him. It was only after the Pharisees pitched a fit did Jesus add in healing the man’s paralysis, just to shut them up with a resounding So’s your face! (I may be paraphrasing.)

Sometimes I think we forget and only look at the words of Jesus. We forget that His actions are every bit as important. Jesus healed the sick. When someone asked Him for healing, He didn’t say, Nah. Imma sit this one out. But you can head on out from your leper colony and tell everyone how awesome I am. Hosanna, y’all! To claim that God only heals those who call upon His name and are deemed worthy enough is to call God a capricious asshole. It completely contradicts what we see in God through Jesus. What is revealed is a loving God who mourns with us. We don’t see a God who brings suffering. And we certainly don’t see a God who’s concerned about getting credit for good works. (“Go and tell no one…”)

I think, too often, we are like the Pharisees. When we don’t understand or something doesn’t fit in nicely with our worldview, we cling to what we know, (or what we think we know.) Sayings and beliefs, and even superstitions, are passed down from generation to generation. When we use them to explain things in our human experience, we are looking to our own understanding, (and explaining it as God) rather than to what Jesus actually showed us long ago.

He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
‘Theses people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.'”
“You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.”
Mark 7:6-8 NIV

STOP IT! YOU’RE NOT HELPING!
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Phrases like, “God will never give you more than you can handle,” has made me want to reach through the computer and shake people many a time. (Especially when it’s thrown out flippantly when someone is clearly suffering.) This time, I was set off by the “helpful” comments that people in my chronic pain support group shared. All of these were things that were said to them about why they are made to suffer.

Jesus suffered pain so others would not suffer much more in hell. Your suffering makes you like Jesus, and it draws you closer to Him.

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(An ability to create a massive fish fry out of two fish and to form my liquid metal body into anything I want would also make me like Jesus, but you don’t see that happening. Or was that T-1000?)

I was once told by a Christian therapist that God wouldn’t heal me [be]cause I made him mad.

(So He took his toys and went home, or…?)

Our church said that our family [was] suffering with many illnesses so that the rest of the town doesn’t have to suffer.

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(John Coffey? Is that you?)

Look…those of us with chronic pain and illnesses appreciate your concern and support. But, like most people, we just want to vent or have a shoulder to cry on. Some things are just shitty, horrible, and unfair. Trying to have a simple, pseudo-spiritual answer to make sense out of something that doesn’t make sense isn’t helpful. And think about this: how many peoples’ faith are you possibly destroying by saying such things? When people have suffered for years without relief, saying these things leads people to the logical conclusions that they, 1) Aren’t good enough for God, 2) That God doesn’t care about their suffering, 3) That God is oblivious to their needs and tribulations, and 4) God is a capricious jerk with sadistic tendencies. And this is assuming that they don’t give up belief in a god altogether.

Please, just tell us I’m sorry, or That sucks, or What can I do to help? Those go a long way. If you want to pray for us and healing, that’s great. But also pray for our families who suffer with us, for comfort, hope, and strength. Because, as Jesus so often pointed out, the non-physical is just as important. Just be there for us. SHOW us you care.

Internet Wars Cause Real Life Casualties

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Since writing my post on the Tony Jones Debacle of 2015, events have continued to unfold. Open and honest communication between camp Julie and camp Tony has been strained and tenuous, at best. People from Stuff Christian Culture Likes and the Wartburg Watch have continued to call on high profile individuals within the progressive Christian community and those directly involved with what’s gone down with Julie and Tony in the past to communicate with and listen to Tony Jones’ ex-wife, Julie McMahon. Responses from people like Brian McLaren, Matthew Paul Turner, Rachel Held Evans, and Nadia Bolz-Weber have ranged from an apparent willingness to communicate and make amends, to angry blog and social media posts, to silence.

Meanwhile, critics of camp Tony have been anywhere from measured and tenacious, to aggressive and abusive, to their best impression of a soccer player beating the hell out of another player and then saying, What? I didn’t do anything!

I haven’t been able to keep up with every single volley back and forth between the camps, nor all the blog and social media posts. (In fact, some have been deleted, making it impossible for me to read.) But here is what I’ve observed, and what has taking up a good deal of my headspace.

The Calling of Shenanigans
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One major criticism by Group Julie against Rachel Held Evans is that she has publicly, and quite often, called out Mark Driscoll for his abusive theology, misogyny, and homophobia. She even went so far as to contact the elders at Mars Hill, and encouraged others to do so as well, to demand that they make Mark Driscoll change his behavior. Not only did she discuss public statements, like his books and those made in sermons, but also stories of former congregants who escaped the Mars Hill madness. Matthew Paul Turner did the same. (I believe MPT has disabled his blog for now. The original letters he posted from a former congregant who was under discipline at Mars Hill, therefore, are no longer there.)
In comparison, Rachel has decided to mostly stay out of this clusterfuck, instead advocating for resolution through the court system, (as she has before when decrying the horrific nightmare of Sovereign Grace Ministries.) Of course, it makes sense to pursue resolution through the courts, to a point. Rachel can’t call a Twitter quorum and decide custody issues. But there is more at play here than a domestic relations dispute. We have tacit support of a friend and colleague, Tony Jones, and all those who engaged in abuse and inappropriate behavior. There seems to be an unwillingness to believe that a woman who threatened to kill herself in order to get Tony to skip yet another trip away from his family, could be the same woman who was physically, verbally, and emotionally abused by this man.
And you know what? I get it. It’s easy to cry foul on a person, like Mark Driscoll, for whom there is no love lost. It’s much harder when the person is your friend and colleague. It’s harder when you’re in shock because of what he has been accused of doing. It’s harder when the other person, (Julie) has a tendency for high emotion and dramatics, and your friend has told you that she’s mentally ill. By the same token, I’m sure it’s easy to cry foul on Tony Jones when you don’t like him. Most of the people who believed Julie from the outset had no love for Tony. That’s not to say that they weren’t right for believing Julie right away.

Abuse and assumptions
Some of the people in groups like Stuff Christian Culture Likes can be real dicks. It doesn’t matter what you say or what your reasons are, if it doesn’t align with what they want and expect, you are clearly a horrible person. Even when people change their minds, like Matthew Paul Turner finally, publicly declaring that he believes Julie, it’s too little, too late. Every single action and possible motive is scrutinized and framed by that person’s past experience of church abuse. It seems to be forgotten that people like Rachel, Matthew, and Nadia are just people. They’re imperfect people who make mistakes and don’t have impervious armor for when verbal abuse,
and valid criticism alike, rain down on them.

And, as in all things, the dicks ruin things for everyone. It’s easier for Matthew Paul Turner to call SCCL a swarm and hide when people are rude and hold him accountable for every injustice ever. But for the most part, the people within SCCL are measured, reasonable, and thoughtful people who are hurting. They know what abuse looks like because they’ve been abused. They can smell the stink of church-speak and gaslighting from a mile away. They know that, perhaps, all of this could have been avoided if progressive leaders had just listened to Julie. They just want to be heard, understood, and for injustices to be made right.

The Proud Don’t Live Here
Documents from Julie and Tony’s divorce, psychological evaluations, and Julie’s medical records were released the other day. Whatever Julie may have done, it’s clear that Tony and church members abused and railroaded her. Such a person has no business being in a position of power and authority, especially when he doesn’t get how any of it is his fault.
From what I saw, no one was dancing an I told you so dance. In groups like SCCL, the only emotions I saw were hurt, anger, confusion, and grief. Not only were they, (and I) heartbroken over the abuse, but also the reactions, so far, from progressive leaders. Matthew Paul Turner deactivated his online presence and went dark. I’ve only seen silence from Rachel and Nadia, although I’m still hopeful that they are taking time to respond thoughtfully. I imagine that, they too, are possibly grieving. No one ever wants to be right about abuse. No one wants to be right that they are witnessing church abuse and the silencing of victims all over again, especially from people who gave people like me hope for the future of the church. Everyone has been wounded. No one is celebrating.

Maybe we should stop projecting our own shit onto Rachel and Nadia

Do you remember the first time you ever felt betrayed by someone? Maybe your parents broke a promise or lied to you. The time you found out a friend had been talking about you behind your back. Then there’s the doctor who didn’t treat you with respect. Perhaps a teacher took advantage of their power over you and treated you like shit.

As you grow up, you find role models, idols, heroes- people you look to for guidance and strength. They are inspirations and repositories from which we pilfer our ideas and world views in order to piece together our own personalities. They are family members, friends, writers, sports stars, actors, politicians, musicians, artists, clergy, and activists. We do this, whether unwittingly or with obsession. The pedestals on which we attempt to place these people are so high, so precarious, and so distant; is it any wonder they fall? And inevitably they will fall, with a staggering crash. The rubble and settling dust now obscure your way.

Getting to the point- last week there was a huge fallout in the progressive Christian community. An upcoming women’s conference, (WX2015) featuring Rachel Held Evans and Nadia Bolz-Weber, was* being facilitated by Tony Jones, a big and divisive personality within the progressive evangelical community. People began crying foul, as Tony Jones has been accused of spiritual, physical, and emotional abuse by his ex-wife. More people piled on when both women declared that they intended to move forward with the conference as was, believing that that was the right decision based in the information they had.

My heart sank. I admired these women, and here they were, seemingly behaving in a way that was at odds with everything I knew about them. I felt betrayed by Rachel most of all, as she frequently calls out abuse and the abusers within the church. More than that, though, it was because I so identify with her journey as a doubting Christian growing up in an evangelical world. I had put my faith in two women, whom I consider to be wise, empathetic trouble-makers, and it seemed that I was wrong.

What was I supposed to do now? I was going in circles, wanting to believe Tony Jones’ ex-wife, but not giving up hope that Rachel and Nadia weren’t abandoning what was right. And what did it say about me, that I had not chosen wisely when it came to in whom I’d placed my trust?
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I had to. Sorrynotsorry

I talked it over with Mike and stewed over it for days. I was surprised by how much I was bothered by this.

Then I fucking woke up and realized: Of course they’re going to let you down, you dipshit! They’re people. Just because they’re smart, wise, kickass women doesn’t mean they’re not going to make mistakes. It’s entirely possible that I would make the same decision, were I in their place.
What’s more, how does anyone know for sure that their decision is the wrong one? All we see are carefully constructed responses on Twitter or blogs. We’re not privy to their conversations with God about it. We don’t know about the crackers and ginger ale consumed because this whole ordeal has their stomachs in knots. We have no idea how many times their computers almost faced defenestration because someone was an asshole to them, and how it could all go away if they could just divulge what they know to everyone.

I still don’t know who’s right and who’s wrong, but I don’t blame Rachel and Nadia for the decision they’ve made. Having read both sides of the story, I reckon the actual truth is in there somewhere. Honestly, I think the number of fucks I have to give about it are beginning to run low. I do know that we’re all human and we all make mistakes. One of those mistakes is to place people on pedestals. It’s a horrible mess to clean up once they inevitably crumble.

*Apparently, because of the events of the last week, facilitation of the WX2015 conference has been handed off to Rachael and Nadia.

Just an itsy bitsy, teeny weeny bit of shame

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I came across the following video yesterday. Although it’s not new to the internet, it’s new to me and it made me ragey. Go ahead and watch it. I’ll wait.

On the surface, it seems really great. Cute swimsuits where I don’t have to worry about showing off my everything. But when you stop, really pay attention to what Ms. Rey is saying, and think, you realize she is simply a participant in conservative evangelical, patriarchal culture. She invites you to buy into the lie, (and one of her bathing suits, while you’re at it) that if a man sexualizes and doesn’t respect you, it’s your fault that you didn’t wear a modest enough swimsuit.
The talk’s tactic is simple. In fact, I learned this is social psychology in college. What we have here is a false dichotomy facilitated by the “door in the face” technique.

SLAM! Bikinis should be as skimpy as possible.
SLAM! Men’s brains shut down when women wear bikinis.
SLAM! Women used to wear bath machines so no one would see their bathing costumes.
SLAM! Women’s swimsuits used to be measured by the lifeguards on the beach.
So, see guys? By comparison, my message and what I’m trying to sell you isn’t so bad. You should now be adequately shamed and on board with giving me your money.

In the beginning, Ms. Rey sites a Princeton study which showed some men’s brain scans revealed no brain activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, (the area responsible for empathy) when they were shown pictures of “scantily clad” women. The study’s analysis stated that “it is as if these men are responding to these women as objects.” The conclusion Ms. Rey makes is essentially this: if you want to be empowered, you need the respect of men, and men don’t respect women who aren’t dressed modestly.

First of all, that doesn’t make too much sense. Self-empowerment doesn’t come from an external locus. Secondly, DUH! Of course men’s brains are going to react that way. We, particularly men, have been trained to objectify women. Think about it. Who decided, and why, that men’s chests and nipples are not inherently sexual and, therefore, able to be exposed at places like the pool? Why are women’s chests and nipples deemed inappropriate for public exposure? It’s because a patriarchal society decided that, because breasts turn men on, they are inherently sexual and have no other purpose. On the other hand, men’s bare chests don’t do anything for heterosexual men, and they have historically been in control of what is and is not acceptable. Therefore: men’s chests=innocuous, women’s chests=drool, honka honka, *motorboating*. I’m not suggesting that women now walk around like Scout Willis, but I am pointing out the absurdity in logic and double-standard that we so easily accept. Just like men have been trained to objectify women, so too have women incorporated this into their worldview without even realizing that it was really forced on them. It is the world’s most elaborate joke, without anyone yelling Sucka!

Aside from nipple double-standards, it is easy to find the objectification in our culture. From advertising to Sundays at church, it is clear that this training is pervasive. Beer commercials have women partying in swimwear in the snow. Or this one, where the woman is straddled over and melding into the bottle of piss beer bottle.
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Men’s cologne is advertised with a naked woman’s body as a mere background prop.
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This study suggests that even women view other women as objects when they are sexualized in advertising. Not only do men not hold the monopoly on objectifying reactions, it demonstrates the problem in our culture is indiscriminate. This is learned, not inherent.

This sort of objectification is not just learned within the confines of secular culture. Conservative evangelical culture also treats women and their bodies as either stumbling blocks, (how much more “object” can you get than a block which causes you to stumble?) or things which should be made available to their husbands. From an early age, girls in the church are taught about what is and isn’t appropriate attire around the young men of the church. Mission trip lists tick off the many rules for what the girls can and cannot wear: shorts at least fingertip length; one piece swimsuits only; no spaghetti strap tank tops, (because heaven forbid you see belly buttons or skin close to the breast.) The dress code for guys? *crickets* The reason for these rules is that dressing “immodestly” would cause the guys to think about us sexually and give them impure thoughts.
Once we grow up and get married, women are told that sex is so important to men that they should make themselves available so that their husband’s needs can be fulfilled. The Gospel Coalition printed an article which argued that when women aren’t submissive sexually, it ends up causing sexual violence because the way the world is supposed to be has been thrown off kilter. Even women make it abundantly clear to other women that if they don’t put their boobs away where their husbands can’t see them, it will cause significant problems in their marriages. The message is clear: the purpose of women is to sexually gratify men.
This is a Madonna whore culture. While we should be “sluts” in the bedroom, we had better not be seen as a sexual creature outside of it. If we are, it is our fault. Just like Hester Prynne was labeled with a scarlet letter, so women today are judged by what is worn on the outside. We are labeled as “sluts”, “whores”, “asking for it”, or “immodest” if our outward attire does not conform to what is deemed acceptable by the viewer. Meanwhile, our Reverend Dimmesdales slink by unnoticed or, when they are caught, simply place blame on who we all know is at fault after all: the slut who wore the immodest bikini.

Evangelical trauma Do’s and Don’ts

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Recently, I posted about the culture of fear within the evangelical community and how it has left me deeply scarred. I had many people who voiced their support for me as I continue to recover from this trauma. Others, while perhaps well-intentioned, were less than supportive. This trend is something I’ve noticed throughout my life, and especially within the past few years on social media. Rather than listening and validating someone’s experience, there is a tendency to turn it around and make it about you and what you’ve done wrong.

As I’m sure any trained trauma specialist would tell you, that’s not the way to go about helping someone heal. Since evangelical culture doesn’t seem to get that, I thought I’d provide a list of do’s and don’ts for anyone involved with someone who has been traumatized by evangelical culture.

Don’t perceive this as an attack on you. The pain evangelical culture causes is a result of systemic dysfunction, perpetuated by those at the top on down.

Do try to understand the problems your RE (recovering evangelical) has with evangelical culture. Even if you don’t agree, try to see where they’re coming from. If you were directly part of the problem, acknowledge that, apologize and ask for forgiveness for the pain you’ve caused.

Don’t victim blame.
Too often, evangelicals will try to show a RE “their part” in the trauma they experienced. One person suggested that I had fear and kept feeling the need to rededicate my life to Christ because I wasn’t really a Christian.

Do understand that this is something that happened TO them. Just like any other victim of abuse, they are not at fault for what happened.

Don’t quote Bible verses.
Evangelicals always seem to have “clobber verses” at the ready, meant to show the RE how wrong they are and reinforce how right the evangelical is because Biblical authority. It’s as if they are bombs dropped on someone with PTSD and the evangelical doesn’t understand how that wasn’t helpful.

Do be loving.
Somehow, evangelicals have interpreted “loving” to mean showing the RE the error of their ways in the most condescending tone possible. In reality, nothing could make a RE run away faster. You can be loving by understanding that the RE’s experience was real, listening to them, and doing what you can to support them in their recovery.

Don’t be incredulous.
It’s one thing to be surprised. It’s quite another to tell someone that what they’re saying can’t possibly be true.

Do validate the RE’s story and their pain. Just because you did not experience or perceive what the RE did does not mean that it isn’t true.

Don’t feel like you have to save a RE.
A RE is on a journey. That journey may include leaving evangelicalism. It may mean having a different view than you on what being a Christian means and looks like. It may mean leaving Christianity altogether. Just know that it’s their journey and it is not up to you to dictate which direction their path takes. And for Godsake, don’t presume/tell someone they’re going to hell. Remember, if you believe that a person’s journey with God can only look a certain way, you have a very limited view of God.

Do ask how a RE is doing.
Do not presume to understand how a RE is feeling and what their journey with God is like. Engage with them. Listen to them. Believe them. Support them. Love them.