Friday, February 4, 2011

Exiting . . . What a Difference a Belief System Makes

I've been in a long, stressful process of creating a new medical clinic . . . but that's not the point here. The point is, one of the most stressful things about this is process was knowing that I would eventually have to tell my present bosses and my fellow workers that I was leaving. I've been in this job eight long years. Wednesday night I broke the news that I was leaving (in the midst of an office meeting) and today I spoke about the details to my main boss.

Now, I really think that two things have led to my stress about this event. For one, as I've talked openly about, I struggle with anxiety including social anxiety. People with social anxiety tend to be overly concerned about rejection by others. The second reason is that this situation was sooooooo reminiscent of my leaving my old church last summer. In that later situation, it couldn't have gone worse. It exceeded my worst possible fears by a good measure.

So, as the time approached, and being a little shell shocked from the last time I tried to exit something, the dread melted into pure panic. I will get back to this story in a minute.

It was about 21 years ago that I returned from the so-called "mission field." We were living in Egypt. It was a horrible experience, not at all related to the wonderful Egyptian people, but a very controlling, dominating and manipulative missionary boss and an organization that was so dysfunctional that it could not address (or even acknowledge) such internal problems.

As we came back to the states, devastated, it may seem strange but we deeply missed living overseas. It was on our hearts in a very deep way. We immediately started looking for a new avenue to fulfill that dream.

I remember a very candid moment in those subsequent months. A fellow church member in our Ann Arbor, Michigan church asked me if we would every try to go back overseas. I surprised him by saying, "I would give my right leg to go back."

He had assumed that we came home broken because of some issue with culture shock despite the loving missionaries who were there to support us. He didn't realize that it was really the antithesis to that thought. It was really "missionary shock" in the midst of loving support from our loving, Muslim Egyptian friends.

He asked me, "Are you looking for a new mission board to go with?"

I answered him in a way that made him so angry that he walked away. I said, "You know, I would never go overseas with a Christian group again. A Christian group can abuse you, manipulate you and then say it was God's will. A secular group could never get by with that."

So, then I come back to my leaving my job. From a sociologist view point, leaving my work and leaving my church are very similar. I had been at both for about eight years. I was closer to the people I work with because I was with them everyday. However, the response was totally opposite.

When I announced to the group I was leaving, there were tears, hugs and total support. Even the doctors (my boss and the equivalent to "my pastor") shook my hand. They told me that they were behind me 100% (realize too that my leaving will cost them $200k/year in income that I produce above what I cost . . . so pure profit to them). They had every right to be mad as hell. But they were professional.

I know that I'm sounding critical again. But I think it is a crying shame that the non-Christian business community knows how to handle perceived rejection in a mature way.

As I was telling the story about leaving my old church (at the time it was happening) and I tried then to make the comparison to leaving a job, someone pointed out that there was a big difference. They made the point that your church is far more important than your job (and other spiritual entanglements). I have to disagree strongly. We Christians use "spiritual" manipulation to vent our infantile emotions in the pretense that we are doing it for God or for some higher purpose.

My bosses (there's two of them) knew that they couldn't vent their raw emotions and disappointment about me rejecting them, such as saying, "You son of a bitch, I dare you leave my company!!!!!" because they knew it would reveal to the world that they were being selfish and childish. But a pastor (or any Christian) can use the same tone (but different words as not to look unpiritual) and then use psychological deflection by adding, "I'm not coming down on your because you have rejected my little church which I own . . . but because you've rejected God-da and His will for your life!" then you can almost hear this whisper softly under their breath . . . "you sonofabitch!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Okay, I digressed again. I said I wouldn't talk about me leaving my old church anymore but the contrast with me leaving my secular job this week was huge. My non-Christian co-workers treated me with compassion, love, respect . . . sort of the fruits of the spirit. The Pastor treated me like I was the son of Satan himself.

I must move on. I've beens so busy with creating this company that I haven't had time for anything else. But I did hear an interesting story on NPR yesterday. They told the story of how many evangelical churches are focusing Super Bowl Sunday, on pornography. Apparently there is an church, called the Triple X (or XXX) Church, whose (as it isn't obvious) main ministry is to combat porn. They've created a video with several Christian NFL stars (who else) that focuses on Christian men caught up in porn.

I've never cared for these (very American way of doing things) canned MLM kind of church programs. Somewhat like the "Truth Project." Where many different churches are trained to present the same program. Anyway, while there is good to come out of the attention given to pron, I think there is another side of the problem that is over-looked. I'm debating if I want to walk into that mine field, especially with so much other work to do. But maybe I'll be back tomorrow and talk about that.

Once again I had to type as fast as I can without proof-reading so, I'm sorry about the typos. Try to read what I meant to say.


Nathan R. said...

Hey, I found your blog through a link from imonk several months ago. I enjoying reading your posts, especially those that critique evangelicalism.

If you don't mind, I wanted to ask you a question not directly related to the topic of this post. I am senior biology major at a small college. I originally chose biology for my undergrad, because I intended to ultimately get a masters in physician assistant studies. Anyway, like you, I struggle with social anxiety. My social anxiety is making me less inclined to apply for PA school. I don't know how severe yours is, but I was wondering how you deal with it? Have you found any successful treatments?

Nathan R. said...

Please excuse the typos in my previous comment. I was trying to multitask, which never works out too well for me.

Eagle said...


Sounds like you had a good boss and co-workers. That's neat, I'm happy that they are behind you and supportting you in your effort. That is a sign of a good work environment.

Christians I leanred (and I'm coming from an agnostic POV) take things really personally. When you leave a church, ministry, Bible study, etc.. they take it really personally. How personally? Take a gander as to how many friends I have lost over the past 2 years.

Then I have one on-going situation at work where I walked away from a "fundegelcial" Bible study at work. It's been a year of turning people down, telling them I am not interested and dealing with people who have swung by my cube, continuously email me, etc.. wanting me to come back. It really irks me..many Christians don't know how to respect or acknowledge personal boundaries. Under the name of Christ they feel like they can treat you like shit, violate your boundaries and all in the name "of love and the Gospel" (Where's the barf bag!!!)

Good luck in your new venture. You will do well. You have many people behind you, including one agnostic in Washington, D.C.!! :-)

Eagle said...


Welcome!! :-) This is a good place to hang out, you're in safe company here. I wish MJ could be my neighbor!! :-)

jmj said...

My general anxiety disorder (including social anxiety) has drifted through stages. It was moderate as a little kid, became pretty severe by middle school, leveled off and improved during later high school, continued improving up until a very traumatic experience back in the mid to late 90s (my early 40s) when it became pretty severe again. Since then, it has been up an down but slowly improving.

If I were you, and this is how I've tried to live, I would never say I can't do such and such because of my anxiety disorder. I hate to use cliches but what I'm trying to say is don't let it define you.

Is it treatable? I think it is. I haven't been the best patient. I've never taken medications, although I probably should have at times. The honest reason I haven't taken medications is that my doctor has always been a colleague and therefore it is hard to admit to a friend (due to social stigma) that you suffer from anxiety.

I in the mid-late 90s when it was severe, I did attempt to seek help. The first two psychologists advertised as being Christians.

The first wore a mink, had a poodle sitting on her lap (or humping your ankle) the entire time you were trying to talk to her. Also, in the background she had soft Christian music playing and incense burning.

The next "Christian Psychologist" was into repressed memories and tried to get me to confess that my parents had raped me (which never happened). Also, too complicated to explain here, I think was romantically interested in my wife. He was very destructive for me. The last part of our counselling was him trying to get me to see how evil I really was(I'm being serious here. he thought I was demonic oppressed and had a very dark side and we were working through a book, "Getting to Know Your Dark Side"). At the same time, he was meeting with my wife alone and telling her how wonderful she was.

The last psychologist was a masters level secular psychologist where I worked at Mayo Clinic. She was confident that anxiety was treatable. She used this work book: and she was very helpful. Then, while we were quite done, I moved to Washington state.

Don't hesitate about going to PA school.

Nathan R. said...

Eagle, thanks for the welcome. :)

Mj, I appreciate your taking the time to respond to my question.

It sounds like you had extremely bad luck with the christian psychologists. That last christian psychologist sounds like he needs some serious therapy. I would *never* go to a "christian psychologist."

I actually had a similar experience with my GP (who is also an evangelical christian). After I explained to him about my social anxiety, he instructed me to pray in the name of Jesus for the anxiety to leave whenever I started to feel anxious. Now, I wouldn't mind if a spiritual advisor gave me that advice, but that is *not* the response I was looking for from a MD. I don't believe my social anxiety has anything to do with spiritual issues.

Anyway, thanks again for the advice!

Johan said...

Very interesting comparison.
I've wondered about the same thing - how people 'in the world' are generally more easy to work with and have relationships with compared to people in church. I haven't had that bad experiences as you have, but I've found that my colleagues and 'secular' friends generally don't try to shame me or convince me, or get into heated arguments, even when we talk about faith. They are willing to listen, ask questions, share their opinion, and drink a beer together, without getting hung op on not agreeing. My friends from college have stood with me through my legalistic period (when I must have been pretty obnoxious to be honest), my break down, my doubts and my growth, and they are still my friends.
Granted, this is true for some of my christian friends as well. But like you I wonder how following Jesus turns into 'religion' - with a 'us versus them' mentality, where selfworth and identity is coupled with belonging to a group and keeping other people in there too.
Is that wat Jesus meant by 'church'? I don't think so.


P.S. I found this blog on 'Experimental Theology' that put some things for me in a clear light about the differences between christians.

jmj said...

Eagle I think you've touched on something important there. I mean, how our religious views (and I saw "religious" to include the pro-Taliban kind)gives us a kind of license to do things we wouldn't otherwise do in social settings. Like, my cause is above the rules. I remember that was our attitude when we use to out on evangelism. We had the right to be intrusive, rude and abrasive because we were sent by God Himself, to save these poor fools from hell. So, if they said, "Don't ever come back," we knew that the social rules didn't apply to us.

The same is for exhibiting raw primal emotions . . . but we have to dress them up in spiritual cloaks. He made me mad as hell so I will make his life hell . . . but do it as me doing God's work.

Johan, that sounds like a wonderful web site. I think you mentioned before but I've never gone over yet. I hope to check it out today. Good to hear from you again. I though I had offended you months ago when I was painting the Dutch view with a broad stroke.

I re-read my post from yesterday and once again I come across as the everlasting critic of the Church. I really do enjoy my new Church, speaking of which, I'm now late for so I have to go.

Anna A said...

Nathan and MJ,

Blessings on both of your journeys.


I've seen the same phenomena about the secular world being more merciful than the Christian one. One very early (college days) experience of mine. I was the non-drinker at an off campus frat party. No one said a word, nor was I made uncomfortable.

My roommate in the dorm was very in your face Christian, and her little sister in the dorm got drunk at one such event. Carol picked her up, but lectured her while she was still under the influence. No mercy, no kindness.

Eagle said...


I think evangelicals feel empowered by God to treat people as they like. Likewise I feel it also allows others to feel like the are above the law etc.. Evangeliclas routinely cherry pick the Bible and do so for their own purpose. But I think their pious above the law actions are what makes them capable of spiritual abuse and manipulation.

Johan said...

Ah, I was not offended in the least!
It was just that I was a bit pre-occupied with things I wrestled with myself.
But when I think I can add something valuable to the discussion I will. These conversations are very important in my humble opinion.


Anonymous said...

I've wondered about the same thing - how people 'in the world' are generally more easy to work with and have relationships with compared to people in church. -- Johan

Maybe because in a church environment, everything gets ramped up to Cosmic/Eternal Significance?

Headless Unicorn Guy