The Millenial Exodus and Me, Part 1

Note: In writing this, I recognize that there’s no way to not over generalize. I deeply love and respect many people who still identify with the church and am so grateful for the upbringing that I had. I acknowledge that there are many experiences, and I want to humbly share mine, to put a friendly face on this generation that is fleeing the church.

Almost two years ago, without any announcement or fanfare, I left the Evangelical Church. It sounds dramatic, but it really was a mundane decision—“Let’s not go to church today.” One Sunday turned into a few months and a realization that, hey, we don’t go to that church anymore.

We spent some time half-heartedly visiting other churches nearby, but I realized that every time I stepped into a church, I felt lonely and out of place. This was mind-blowing to me, as a child of the youth group heyday. Throughout most of my childhood I was at church three to four times a week.

How could I, the quintessential “church girl” feel left out in church culture? Why, when I looked around in the church, was I not seeing my tribe anymore? Why was it that even though we professed to believe the same things and love the same God, our lives, values and opinions seemed so different? Piece by piece it came to me over months of reflection.

My exodus from the church started in 2008. Obama was running for President, and I was a junior in college. I was young, excited and able to vote for the first time, and I was 100% sold on the hope that Barack Obama was proffering. I wore Obama campaign buttons on my messenger bag and attended campaign events featuring Donald Miller. The response that I got from my beloved church that I attended at the time was that it wasn’t acceptable to support Obama and be a Christian.

One Sunday, a woman in my church handed me copied pages of an article from the magazine Christianity Today about why abortion is wrong. She assumed that because of my support of Obama, I must support the right to choose. Another person I respect sent me a Facebook message quoting verses from the Old Testament about how God judged a political leader named Manasseh for massacring babies and that the United States would be judged in the same way if we didn’t overturn Roe v. Wade. As far as being pro-life, I actually agreed with both of them, but it seemed that neither of them wanted to ask me what I thought and instead sent me the implicit message that is often unwittingly sent by the church:

“If you think this, you don’t belong here.”

I desperately wanted to belong there. I had always belonged there; church had been a second home to me for my entire life. There was nothing in me that wanted to leave the church, yet I found myself in a situation where I felt like the people who I wanted didn’t want me. I felt like I had to choose between being true to myself or staying inside the Evangelical framework.

Anxious to hear the rest of the story? Make sure you don’t miss a thing by signing up to the right to receive an email every time I post.

15 Comment

  1. Debbie Dukes says: Reply

    I keep coming back expectantly looking for part 2. Part 1 left me wanting to hear more of what you have to say. I also read your post where you talked about what writing and journaling have been for you and your 5 years off before entering back into this. It was SO BEAUTIFULLY written. You have a beautiful way of share where you are at and what you are processing. I look forward to hearing more of what you have to say. I hope this can be a good outlet for you to reconnect with your writing.

    1. Chelsea Long says: Reply

      Aw, Debbie, thank you! Fun to hear from you!

  2. Cece says: Reply

    I look forward to reading the rest of your story. I found your page from Jolie. I am a PK and have grown up in church my whole life. There have been moments where I felt like I wanted to leave and one moment after Bible College when I almost did but my hurt was from a specific church and some people opposed to my relationship with Jesus. My heart hurts for you. I don’t want you to think that I say “hurts” in a way that I feel bad for you, but hurts as in the fact you have felt the isolation and have had to deal with assholes. The church is made up of a lot of assholes yelling louder than the true good hearted people who genuinely want everyone to feel love, accepted and find their community at church.

    We started a church plant in Columbus 5 years ago and recently we had a large mass of people leave because they didn’t feel we were running the church the way they thought it should be run (blow me). We say that our church is the perfect place for the imperfect but they didn’t like that. They have caused A LOT of problems but really I am so thankful they have moved on because they were constantly singling people out and they are the type of people that post about Hilary supporters going to hell. Do they honestly believe Jesus would say that AND do they honestly believe posting about that will make me change my mind?! Armchair Theologians: those who hide behind their computer screens and look for “issues” to point out to fellow believers all under the guise of biblical accountability.

    This bears no resemblance to the grace-filled way Jesus lived his life on earth. Ironically, Jesus saved his harshest words for the religious assholes. Ha

    Sorry for the long comment. Looking forward to the next post.

    1. Chelsea Long says: Reply

      Hi Cece, thanks for commenting. I hear what you’re saying for sure! The whole reason why I felt compelled to share my story is to let others know, I get it. We’ve been hurt! But our faith is still valid and we have to move beyond bitterness in order to be effective in serving Jesus. Too many of us just walk away because of how we’ve been hurt. Thanks for your part in trying to change the culture. The church needs us!

  3. Ana says: Reply

    Chelsea, my heart aches for the feelings of loneliness you felt and the way you were approached without conversation about your assumed beliefs. That is everything that pains me about the church today–it feels very “us vs them”, with little room for disucussion. As the wife of a pastor and someone who feels strongly that the church should be a family and a place of belonging, I’m thankful for your writing and hearing your perspective. I’m so sorry for the hurt caused you and can’t wait to read the rest!

    1. Chelsea Long says: Reply

      Thanks for your kind words, Ana, and for reading! I love the church and want to see my generation embraced by the church! Let’s fight for that!

  4. Lexie says: Reply

    Hi Chelsea! I love hearing about you thru Jolie, and I am so happy you started a blog! Eager to hear more about your experience as I left Evangelical Christianity when I was in college.

  5. ” I found myself in a situation where I felt like the people who I wanted didn’t want me.” This is how I felt in my Catholic church after my parents got divorced. Certain parishioners wouldn’t even talk to my family anymore. I can’t wait to hear about the rest of your journey!

    1. Chelsea Long says: Reply

      Thanks for sharing, Vickie! Sorry for the pain you’ve experienced; that kind of thing is not of God!

  6. Drew says: Reply

    Hey Chelsea. Our history of churchgoing is basically identical and I’ve experienced some of the same feelings. I wouldn’t say I left the Evangelical church. I just stopped going to churches that only espoused conservative perspectives, deeming them the acceptable way to live. Granted, it’s hard to find an Evangelical church that deviates from that line of thinking, but I was delighted to find a lovely church in Columbus with a Democrat (!!!) pastor. It was incredibly diverse and had a community center that was pretty strictly designated for the poor (free dental, vision, etc). No church is perfect, but I think I found a gem. And I think it still fell within that Evangelical framework.

    You allude to a really great point in your writing: Why can’t the church be both this AND that? Pro-life and, say, pro gay marriage for example. Does that mean the church isn’t Evangelical? What defines Evangelical?

    Thanks for your post. I’m excited to read part 2. You’re a great writer!

    1. Chelsea Long says: Reply

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Drew. You bring up a great point that I will address in a future post. The church needs both of us–those who are willing to work for change from the inside and those who work for change from the outside. This issue is so complex and difficult to write about, but I believe it’s so important to keep having conversations and working toward clarity.

  7. Good lord I hope I wasn’t one of those people back from 2008!? Can’t wait to read more and I’m so glad you are writing!

  8. LOVE that you’re doing this and writing again. We need voices like yours giving shape to our generation’s story!

  9. Kami says: Reply

    Fascinating! I have recently stopped going to the Mormon church for many of the same reasons. It’s amazing (and comforting) to be feeling similar things as you. It helps to not feel as alone. Thanks for sharing! I’ll definitely be reading!

    Instagram: @cleanseyourlife

  10. I feel like I could have written every word you have written here. Except I was much older in 2008. 🙂 Can’t wait to read more.

Leave a Reply