Hello! My name is Danél Griffin, and I am a former Southern Baptist preacher – the son of a Southern Baptist preacher, who was the son of a Southern Baptist preacher. Up until 2006, I believed that the pulpit was the path to which God had called me, and I planned to serve God and follow that calling for the rest of my life. I preached as a leader in my youth group, a youth pastor, and as an interim preacher in various Baptist Churches during my late teens and throughout the first half of my 20s, before I started a church of my own in my home in 2005.
I will never forget the exact moment when I finally gathered the courage, pulled myself together, and admitted to myself that I just couldn’t keep pretending that any of this absolutely archaic nonsense made any sense. It was the my first last step I took out of the church. How I got to that point, and the life I’ve led since, will be chronicled in this blog. I hope that telling my story will inspire others and let them know that they do not suffer religious trauma on their own.
This new journey began in single moment of revelation that, once I allowed myself to embrace, I knew that there was no turning back. I’d been standing behind a pulpit. My sermon had been on Matthew 28. I read the chapter out loud, then I looked up at the American flag standing by the entrance — the Christian flag beside it. I just felt this overwhelming embarrassment for Jesus, to comprehend what his message had inexplicably become. Do all religions represent their masters this badly, I wondered.
It was before I comprehended the depth of the issues: The psychological abuse found in Hell theology, purity culture, conversion therapy, and so many foundational teachings of conservative Christianity; how the history of Christianity is saturated in racism, misogyny, homophobia, white supremacy, genocide — that these despicable qualities had written Christianity’s history, nearly from the beginning. Sure, much of the issue was the behavior of the church being so adverse to Jesus. But damn it — it was also the foundational creeds. All of it was just stained in blood. That was the awareness I would discover along the way as my eyes continued to open — that I am still discovering.
But at first, before this journey that led to these revelations came, it was this striking chapter in Matthew that finally made me snap out of this padded wall I’d been trapped it. I found poetry and kindess in Jesus’s words, and something just clicked. I didn’t recognize his compassion within these walls, nor in any church I’d ever attended. Something had gone haywire along the way, and this was the wrong path for me. Every journey begins with one step, as the cliche goes. Mine began with Matthew 28.
I’ve been working with teenagers with trauma for most of my years since my last sermon. It was through them — these fierce, angry and beautiful warriors — that I first realized the terrifying truth of religious abuse. I kept seeing it in them, over and over again in ways others who hadn’t experienced it may not be able to identify. I realized that those of us who did pick up on it all had one thing in common: we’d all been raised in the evangelical church, and we’d gotten out. There weren’t many of us, but we talked about it in ways that revealed our own trauma, unspoken and festering after all these years.
And the more we all started talking about it — all of us together, clients and staff — the more I realized how much healing I still needed to do because of my own religious trauma. That’s the journey I’ve been on in the past year or so – learning about my own religious trauma and becoming a student of the oppressive system responsible for it. I’ve been really processing all the time I’ve spent working with some of of most courageous souls I’ve ever met, inside these damaged teenagers whose bodies and tiger eyes just spoke of so much hurt and loneliness. All I saw was their strength, and theirs helped me summon my own. I’ll be grateful for that for the rest of my days.
Lately, I’ve been processing my experiences in a way that finally feels like I’m learning how to let them go. It seems to be getting easier, with each new person to whom I finally feel I can release my story. Each time, the weight seems to drop just a little more. And I think I’m entering into my next phase — activism. I can’t think of a greater privilege than to be an advocate against religious abuse. To raise awareness of how so much of what is clearly happening all around us has a root in this thing, and we all need to really start looking around and learning how to address it.
And I can’t believe how many of us there are now, out here on the internet. My god — we are an army of wounded people helping each other heal. We are waiting for you, when it is safe. We’re not going anywhere. We’re growing. No matter how it may seem, you are not alone. #exvangelical #churchtoo #leavingthefold #deconstucteverything #emptythepews #badtheologykills #journeyfree #religiousabuse #religioustraumasyndrome #SlateSpeak #Decolonize #faithfullyLGBT #exchristian #exmormon #somegodsdeserveatheists #igotout
For any of you out there who may be struggling with questions, for whom it would be safe to ask them: I’m listening. I’m not a therapist, but I will help you find one who understands our unique struggles if/when you’re ready.
For those for whom it isn’t safe — you know where to find me when it is. I’ll be here, and I will be a safe place in an increasingly expanding safe community. Don’t give up. We see you.
For those of you who want to help, to learn — to those who feel ready: Working with those young warriors finally taught me how to listen. Listen to them with me.