“You only left because you’re angry. Someone hurt you, and now you’re bitter about it. Don’t you know that there are people who will hurt you in every church? Never leave because of the people!”
“No, no!” we protest. “I didn’t leave because someone hurt me or because I’m angry, I left for the Gospel! I didn’t leave because of people, I left because Adventism has messed up theology!”
One of the biggest myths that is perpetuated by the Adventist church, and one that we formers have thrown in our faces over and over again, is that people leave Adventism because someone hurt them. And that may be true in some cases. But, for many of us, we spent so many dedicated hours studying the scripture, wrestling with the truth of the Gospel and the cognitive dissonance it created with Adventism, and untangling ourselves from the tentacles of Ellen White that this assumption feels like a slap in the face. It feels invalidating of what we now know to be true. Indeed, we left because of theology, not because of personal pain. The teachings of Adventism are so counter-Gospel that once we tasted the sweet peace of grace, there was no going back. And it is a struggle to leave behind all we knew, all we had always been taught was the “truth.” It’s not easy leaving the “remnant” church and constantly battling the old tapes that tell us that we are doomed if we reject the Sabbath or that we have joined ranks with the occult for believing that we will be with the Lord upon death. Breaking free of Adventist theology is a war against deep spiritual darkness. So it seems that our struggle is trivialized when Adventists say we left because someone hurt us. And what Adventists really mean when they say this is “You couldn’t have actually left because Adventism goes against the Bible, because Adventism CAN’T go against the Bible. It’s the truth and Ellen White is the Spirit of Prophecy, so there is no way you can be right when you say it isn’t biblical. You are wrong and you are siding with Babylon.” We hear that message loud and clear when our study of scripture is made null by an assignment of feelings.
Because of this, we get defensive. We feel the need to deny ANY anger or hurt. Even if the Adventist church really did hurt us, we won’t tell you that. We have an urge to make sure these Adventists know that we left to follow the real Jesus and not because someone in the church shoved Ellen down our throats or because we were part of one of those “legalistic” Adventist churches (which no Adventist believes is them). I understand this need. I was there. It’s a knee-jerk response to the patronizing, well-disguised accusation that is couched in caring terms. I get it. I do.
But here’s the thing. I think those of us who left for theological reasons ARE hurt and angry. Don’t write me off, hear me out for a minute, formers. No, we didn’t leave initially because of pain. But there is a sort of righteous indignation that comes with realizing that we have been deceived and that the Gospel has been so warped. This is a natural, right response to evil. We SHOULD be angry. Anger is not a sin, it is merely a God-given emotion that alerts us that something isn’t right. God gets angry at evil. I mean, look at what Jesus did in the temple when the religious leaders were spiritually abusing people and desecrating the house of God with shady business practices! That was a tantrum of literally biblical proportions, and it was just. It was right. Those were big emotions that matched a big violation. And Jesus wasn’t afraid to let them show. And Paul in Galatians…he had some colorful things to say to those who were leading people into the bondage of legalism. God doesn’t take abuse lightly. He is angry at injustice, and it’s good for us to be, too. So, a natural response to the violence that Adventism does to God’s character and to scripture is anger. We need to feel that anger. It is part of seeing Adventism for what it really is. It is part of acknowledging that it’s not ok. It is part of healing.
Healing. Yes, we formers are hurt. Adventism is spiritual abuse, so OF COURSE we are wounded, and it is at a soul level. This is why it is so difficult to wrench free from Adventism. It is dark. And let’s not forget the abuse that many of us suffer upon leaving. My own exit story includes a lot of abuse. My family was abusive before, but a whole new level of nasty came out when I no longer was complying with them and their Adventist idol. I was mocked. I was screamed at. I was manipulated and shamed. It wasn’t pretty. I had an uncle who is a retired Adventist pastor lecture me for several hours about why I was wrong. He told me I was hopeless and that I would come after him when the Sunday Law was passed. My mother told me this, too, and other family members. They think that I will try to kill them someday. My parents cut me off financially when I left in an effort to try and manipulate me to move back home so they could set me straight. My mother even said “If you don’t come home, I guess that’s your choice, but know that if you don’t come home you’ll be disobeying us and not honoring your father and your mother, so you’ll be disobeying God. My mother also told me that I looked like a cheap hooker when I wore jewelry to my brother’s graduation. My Grandma sent me angry, all-caps text messages on several occasions, saying all sorts of mean things. When I held out my arms to hug my 2-year-old cousin, my uncle said to the little boy “Don’t go to her, she’s a pagan Sunday worshiper now.” He also accused me of hating my mother simply because I wore jewelry. And I could go on. My family was brutal when I left. And yes, that hurt. And yes, I’m mad about it.
Many formers, like me, suffered domestic abuse as well as spiritual abuse. A lifetime of emotional, physical, and spiritual abuse has definitely left me wounded. I have Adventism to thank for a lot of this.
But guess what? The anger, the hurt…feeling those things…it’s evidence that I am healing. I didn’t always feel those things. The further away I got from Adventism and from my unsafe family, the more those feelings were allowed to emerge. I never got angry as a child (that I can recall), even though I had reason to be angry, because anger wasn’t safe. My overwhelming emotion was fear/terror. I could only concentrate on being as good and compliant as possible in order to ward off more pain. Showing anger would have meant more abuse for me. I had to be good and do as I was told at all costs. This didn’t stop when I became an adult. This is still a struggle, but my anger is beginning to thaw. I am incredibly angry at my mother and the abusive family system that raised me, and I am incredibly angry at Adventism. And this is as it should be. There is reason to be angry. It’s good that I am starting to feel the natural spectrum of emotions that God gave humans the ability to feel.
Of course we are not to sin in our anger. I don’t wish revenge upon my family or upon those in the SDA church. I wish for them to be saved. But that does not mean that I am not angry or that I am not hurt. I cannot deny the damage done to me by the Adventist church, and acknowledging it is strangely soothing.
No, Adventists, I am not saying that I left because I’m bitter and angry and hurt. I left because of theology, because of Jesus, because of grace. It was only AFTER I realized that I was eternally safe in Jesus that I could even begin to process all the rest. When I left Adventism, I had no idea what the damage was. I still don’t know the extent of it. But the damage does not negate the huge theological problems with Adventism, nor does it minimize them. We formers are telling the truth when we say we left over theology.
But formers…don’t get so wrapped up in defending against the nay-sayers that you deny your own wounding. You have to acknowledge the hurt in order to heal it. You have to see the damage in order to fully realize how bad Adventism really is. And yes, anger is acceptable after leaving Adventism! Don’t be afraid to admit those feelings, because there is nothing shameful about them. Those who patronize us for them are assigning shame to them, and it is not our own shame. It is not ours to carry. So, when someone tries to do that, give them back the shame by not being afraid to admit the full range of evil inside of Adventism. We have to face it in all its ugly glory, because that part of this spiritual battle that is not against flesh and blood, but against the clever wiles of the devil.
Jesus came to set the captives free and to bind up their wounds, for it is by his wounds that we are healed. Take the hurt of Adventism to him. It won’t feel good, but it will be worth it. Jesus is good, he is gentle, and he is trustworthy. He can handle our pain, and he will give us the strength so that we can handle it, too. We survived Adventism. By the grace of God, we will survive the aftermath.