The message was simple and familiar. It was sent privately to me on facebook after I had posted something about leaving Christianity. It was very encouraging, but it was this one line that grabbed me: “There are so many of us out there, still hiding on the front row every Sunday lying to ourselves because we just want to be excepted [sic] or we are seeking approval.” I cried. I cried for her and for so many others hiding in plain sight. I pictured them on the front rows of churches, mouths duct-taped shut, hands and feet bound, desperately wanting to be loved and accepted, but afraid that if they had the courage to break free, remove the duct-tape and be their true selves, love and acceptance would be denied them. The tragedy is their fear is not an irrational one. I know; I lived it.
At first, I felt as if I had no answer for her, no encouragement to give, but then I remembered how it was for me, how it isn’t that way for me anymore and why that is. I tried to think about the best advice I could give her, for now, while she still sits on that front row hating herself. It came to me quickly: Friends. When you leave your church, when you leave your religion to go a different way, you lose your friends and your community, just when you need them the most. I told her that her best strategy for now would be to start making new friends. “Seek out like-minded people,” I told her. “Join a group, even if you have to drive a ways. Start setting up a safety net before you ‘come out.’” I didn’t give her that advice because that is what I did; I gave it to her because it was what I didn’t do—not at first and I wished that I had. With the exception of a few Internet friends, when I left Christianity, I was basically alone. I think I would have gotten stronger more quickly, and the hurt and anguish would have been lessened for me, if I had reached out to the secular world and developed a relationship with open-minded people before I left my church community.
So, to my dear facebook friend and for all the others that sit and hide on that front row, get out there! Join a book club or a sports team, or go to meetups.com, and search your interests. I joined a couple of hiking groups and I now belong to a women’s Meetup group that just does stuff together. I believe there are some Christians in the group, but that is not our focus at all. Our focus is friendship—everybody needs friends. Once you get out there, not only will you find friendship, but you will also learn first hand that the non-believing world is not a scary place. In fact it is a great place full of wonderful human beings. My wish for you, for all of you, is that someday rather than remaining on the front row, living a lie, you stand up and bravely walk out and after walking out, you will have true friends that love and accept you for who you really are an you will begin living your life authentically and free.