Seven years ago I was a church-going, “liberal” Pentecostal. I spent countless evenings in 24-hour coffee shops discussing theology, religion and politics with other Pentecostal friends who fell in various different spots on the conservative-liberal spectrum.
I worked closely with the Section 2 Director of Michigan, as well as my youth pastor, our Youth President.
The things I saw on the political side of things put me more at odds with the UPCI than I had ever been, and was the final push that I needed to exit stage left from my involvement with the Apostolic Pentecostal church.
In September of that year Joel asked me to be a part of this blog. The story of why, how and when we created it has been well documented here so I won’t get into that.
While our motives were attacked repeatedly these last seven years, rarely did anyone get it right. When I started my motives were simple: impress Joel.
He was always the most intelligent guy I knew and the person I could look to to put his approval on my thoughts and ideas. He gave me the confidence I needed to begin openly asking questions and calling bullshit where I saw it.
However, personally my motives for the blog evolved a lot over these seven years.
There was a period of time where my motives were simply to denigrate anything I didn’t like. I was in a dark place personally, and bitter at an institution that I felt stole from me much of what I valued. I viciously attacked people who I didn’t know, because I felt they were emblematic of the things I most hated about growing up in the UPCI subculture. I still feel they’re emblematic of these things, but my focus has shifted a little.
Some of you may have noticed a tonal shift over the past few years with my posts. The motivation for my writing over these few years has not been simply to attack people, but ideas and systems.
We have received public and private communications from far more people than I ever expected who are grateful for our writings. I found people like myself out there whose lives and minds are filled with scar tissue from battles fought within themselves, their families and their churches. We have received comments from people still in the church who tip their hat and say, “You’re right about this topic and I’m sorry it’s that way.”
Growing up in the Apostolic church prior to the widespread use of the Internet meant circles were kept small. Questioning pastors and preachers didn’t really happen because it usually happened one on one or in small groups amidst others from your church, and you didn’t dare get caught questioning “the man of god.”
There was no outlet for critique. There was no way of finding out if a belief or practice was really as widely accepted as it seemed. Rebels were exiled before they could spread their ideas. Pastors had full autonomy over their congregants. Once out of their youth groups the more liberal leaning people simply left, usually quietly and the explanation of where they went was left up to pastors and elders who smeared them.
I started having questions about the conduct of my pastor when I was 14 and he excommunicated a family member. The family member was dating his son-in-laws sister, and after sleeping with her she regretted it and cried rape. Rather than show genuine concern for the parties involved and give appropriate counsel he chose sides and nearly destroyed the life of my loved one. I never looked at Pentecostal leaders the same way again.
This was the crack in my faith in Pentecostalism that began to spread until it shattered. But there was no way to voice this. No one I could turn to. He was the pastor and that’s just how it was. You don’t question your pastor. I could write a laundry list of failures of my leadership, but I think that example tells you everything you need to know about what kind of people they were and how they ran their church.
After getting a little broader of a worldview, and some time-taught maturity my motivation for writing became to deconstruct what I saw as toxic social constructs and practices in the fabric of the UPC rather than simply attacking individuals. I know there are teenagers in Pentecostal churches across the country under the thumb of their leadership. They’ve bought into personality cults and pulpit worship. Fear and guilt have become malignant in their thought processes. But internally, deep down there is a modicum of doubt. They wrestle with it, and don’t even want to admit it to themselves. With their red faces buried in the carpet screaming gibberish, in the back of their minds they’re quietly thinking, “Is this real? Am I actually talking to anyone?”
That was me, 16 years ago. And I stayed in much longer than I should have because I had no alternative. My life was the church, and my doubts could never be voiced. Had they been they would have simply been dismissed by my peers, because my peers were other Pentecostals in the exact same mindset as I was.
My hope has been, and will continue to be that my writings here at SAL could be something kids like I was can look at to answer some questions, or at the very least be a dissenting opinion that challenges their status quo.
At 32 years old not a day has gone by that I do not think about my resentment for the Apostolic Pentecostal church and all it has robbed me of. If I can be a voice on the other side letting people know it’s ok to give a side-eye when the preacher says something ignorant then that is what I hope I can be. I want teenagers in the church to know the world is not scary. It’s beautiful. Yes, dangers and perils exist but living in a bubble will not protect you from those things, it will actually make you more vulnerable to them.
I want them to know this life is all we have. You don’t get an “eternity,” this is IT. Don’t waste another second of it.
In all likelihood I am probably just shy of being halfway through my life. I have made some accomplishments and righted the ship, but not without a massive amount of waste. The most valuable, formative years of my life were wasted in pews and altars, listening to ignorance spewed by flesh and blood men who sold themselves as one step below deity, when they were nothing more than pious, Napoleonic charlatans who had no place giving life direction to anyone.
Even after escaping it, I became so filled with hate and vitriol I continued to waste precious moments, hours and days crusading against them.
This is why this is my last post. My life has been steadily improving. My career is stratospheric and my insecurities have melted away. The worst of the damage done to me by Apostolic Pentecostalism has healed. It’s time to stop licking my wounds. It’s time to stop the crusade.
Jeff Arnold, Lee Stoneking, Paul Mooney and the rest of the grifters will continue to spew their bile into impressionable minds and there’s nothing I can do to stop them. All I can do now is leave here what I’ve learned and hope those who come across it are headstrong enough to consider the content.
My hope for Apostolic Pentecostalism is that it ceases to exist. My hope for those therein is that they can escape it peacefully, with their dignity and self-worth intact. I hope that no more families be torn apart by this cult, and those whom I love still in its icy grasp discover that “life more abundant” begins the day they walk out those doors and never look back.
If there is anyone out there with a need, a question or who just wants to vent you can always shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
It has been my absolute privilege and honor sharing my thoughts and experiences with all of you these last seven years. I’m going to go live a life I love now. I hope you all do the same.