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PTSD from Leaving Christianity II

By Andy ~

This is an update to http://new.exchristian.net/2011/03/ptsd-from-leaving-christianity.html. I finally got up the guts to confront my old church in the letter below. I'll post their response if I get one.

RE: Has a New Era Begun in the ICOC?

Subject: Dear International Church of Christ Senior Leaders,

I am a former member of the International Church of Christ (ICOC) and have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder for the past 13 years since leaving the church. The purpose of this letter is to tell my story, ask questions, and close a long, dark chapter of my life. I don't seek your pity. This is the first time I've contacted the ICOC since I left in 1999, having gathered enough courage to write this letter after truly hitting rock bottom.

I am now an atheist, mostly friendless, isolated and unemployed. I would believe in God given the evidence, but sadly, there is no convincing evidence anymore. I miss being a Christian. I miss being happy. Despite how loving I am, I can't maintain healthy relationships. Despite how talented I am, I can't hold down a job. Most everything and everyone irritate me. I have frequently sought out ways to destroy myself through drinking alcohol and taking other risks. Now that I can cherish a few days of sobriety, I sit here alone, asking you to read my story and answer my questions.

I was saved through confessing Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior when I was 14 years old (in 1992) at Vineyard Fellowship in Urbana, Illinois. I experienced immersion baptism and was confirmed into Faith United Methodist Church in Neenah, Wisconsin in 1994. For the next two years, I evangelized as much as possible at my high school and in my city. I deeply involved myself in church youth group activities. If I could call on their testimony, my former friends and youth group members would recall me as a happy young man, excited about spreading the good news of Jesus Christ.

In 1996, I joined the U.S. Air Force as a cryptologic linguist and was stationed at Royal Air Force Station Mildenhall, England in 1998. The war in Bosnia had just ended, but conflict in Kosovo was steadily warming up. I had graduated top of my language class in Monterey, California and was soon scheduled for reconnaissance missions over the former Yugoslavia. I was excited about helping the people of Kosovo, but even more excited about spreading God's word in a new place. One week after arriving in Mildenhall, one of my fellow airmen brought me to the Cambridge branch of the ICOC. Finally, I had found a place where I could truly make a difference for God.

I don't remember his last name, but his first name was James. He was the lead evangelist at Cambridge church and I was in awe of his passion for Christ. He convinced me after a few bible studies that my parents' brand of Christianity wasn't good enough, even though I had been baptized into the Methodist Church, proclaimed Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, and frequently acted on the Great Commission. After all, my parents and I hadn't truly evangelized. We were too passive.

He then convinced me through a few deft Bible quotations that I had to belong to the one, true church to be a Christian at all. After all, ICOC was the only incarnation of the early church, the church of the apostles. If I didn't join the ICOC, eternal consequences awaited me. I still remember crying at this realization; without James and his church, I would be alone at a new base and certainly going to hell if something happened to me.

Therefore, as I did in America, I threw myself into spreading the gospel in England. It took me only two weeks to be baptized into the ICOC and start evangelizing on the streets of Cambridge and London.

However, James and other church leaders told me I wasn't doing enough. I had to cut ties with my old family and friends if they wouldn't join the church. I cried and cried, but told myself that if I wanted to be a true Christian, a zealot like the apostles of old, I would have to take drastic steps to ensure my salvation and the salvation of others.

My parents, who were my best friends in high school, became distant as I preached to them and argued with their reluctance. I did the same with most of my old youth group friends who had checked out the ICOC through in-person study and Internet research. They told me I had joined a cult. I talked to the Cambridge leaders about this, and was told that Satan had many ways to lead me astray.

It didn't take me long to denounce the unbelievers. Within months, my only friends were in the ICOC. I evangelized to fellow Air Force unit members, only to become a pariah and a laughing-stock. Fortunately, unit officers overlooked my zealotry and continued to count on my excellent linguistic skills. I was placed on the first direct combat support mission for the planned air strikes on Serbia in October 1998. However, the air strikes were called off to let the political process do more work until March 1999.

During these months, I worked my way up to worship leader at Cambridge church. I had always loved to sing—what better way to serve God than this? I was also elected to lead evangelist for my base, Mildenhall. I wasn't dissuaded by my fellow unit members' mockery and began to lead others to attend Cambridge church.

I enjoyed concentrating on ICOC activities, but soon the war in Kosovo escalated and the U.S. Air Force was called into action in March 1999. This was the same period that Cambridge was struggling to grow, James was transferred to another branch, and my church leaders placed more and more pressure on me to gain new members. I heeded their call, and heeded my unit's call to fly more and more missions.

It was during one of those missions on my birthday, April 28th, 1999, when I remember how everything changed. One U.S. stealth fighter had already been shot down, and we were struggling to find ways to better protect our aircraft. April 28th was a 10-hour mission with no success. Each time I looked out the window, I could see the anti-aircraft artillery rounds cresting above the horizon, miles away. The rounds echoed the Serbs' laughter as they continued shooting at our aircraft.

As we returned to base, my thoughts returned to my duties at the ICOC. The pressure on making better numbers was relentless. They counted on me to attend meetings, bring more members, and be a good airman without pausing once to think about myself.

At that moment, I finally did think about myself. It was my 21st birthday. My fellow unit members disliked me, I was a disappointment to the ICOC leaders, and the Serbian military was making our jobs very difficult. Instead of dealing with these hardships, I should be drinking beer and enjoying college like the other 21 year-olds in America and England.

I told myself to take a break from the ICOC and see how it felt. It was happy to finally indulge myself in simply working and relaxing. I tried praying several times, but it never felt like God was there. Church leaders asked me to stay, if only for the fellowship, but I was soon convinced that my friends and family were right—I had joined a cult.

Over the next year, I had more time to concentrate on work. I was enthused when our air strikes somehow became a success and Milosevic was arrested. However, cryptologic linguists soon began to fly fewer and fewer missions. We became bored and my mind occupied itself mainly with off-duty activities.

I sank on a steady downward spiral into everything sinful I could get my hands on—girls, booze, pornography. It became a daily cycle of joy, shame and exhaustion. I became deeply depressed and went to unit officers for help. They sent me to alcohol counseling but it didn't help. I asked them to discharge me, but to do that they would have to revoke my security clearance. They warned me that I would never again obtain employment in this field. I agreed, and soon I was home with my parents, never to return to such a rewarding, fast-paced, and highly secretive profession.

I expected to become good friends with my parents again, but I couldn't separate my anger against myself for leaving the Air Force, anger at ICOC leaders, and anger against my parents for raising me with Christianity. I hated everyone and everything connected to my Christian past.

I also couldn't sort out the damage caused by the Cambridge ICOC and my disbelief in God. However, over years of intermittent counseling and psychotherapy, I steadily separated the ICOC damage from my true beliefs. I went from agnostic to atheist, slowly but surely, and became less hateful.

However, my relationship with my parents has never been the same. They can't understand why I couldn't reconcile with God after realizing the ICOC was a cult. I can't convince them that I truly gained an objective perspective on Christianity through years of studying other religions and exploring my own atheism. Similarly, I don't expect to convince you. I will forever be viewed by the Christian community as a bird with a broken wing, not a phoenix rising from the ashes.

I've tried yoga, atheist support groups, cult experts, and PTSD therapists. Some of it has helped, but none of it enough to make me quit drinking and stay on medication. I have gone from job to job, relationship to relationship, and continent to continent seeking answers.

Now, I am convinced the answer lies with you. While you are my sworn enemies, you were also my friends. Therefore, instead of seeking revenge against you in a drunken rage, I am writing you a letter as a sober, apologetic non-believer.

I am happy to see this quote on your website:
"We have tossed out the old pride and braggadocio, and (hopefully) replaced it with a humble attitude about ourselves, and toward other Christians outside our churches" (http://www.icocco-op.org/).


Here are my questions:
  1. What does this quote mean? Is this an apology? Do you now accept that other churches have Christians, too? What happened to your manifesto to create a congregation in every major city throughout the world, because other churches weren't truly Christian?
  2. What is your attitude towards former members, especially those spurned from your numbers during your "full-blown crisis" at the turn of the 21st century? (http://www.icocco-op.org/). We are many.
  3. What is your stance towards believers of other faiths? Are those peaceful Buddhists, gentle imams, and others who do not believe in Jesus Christ through no fault of their own going to hell? What about atheists who do good deeds, who are just as charitable as their Christian counterparts? Are they going to hell, too? If so, who made you the judge? Does "judge not" still not apply in this case?

Most of my hope has faded, but not enough to kill my desire to talk with you. I believe the ICOC has rational people committed to serious dialogue with the non-believing community. I think we still share the belief in what Jesus reportedly said: "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13, New International Version).

Thank you for your time. I look forward to an open dialogue with you over email.

Sincerely,

Andy



On Oct 5, 2012 6:52 PM, "Roger Lamb" wrote:

Andy,

Thank you for writing. I am sorry for your pain.

Indeed a new day has dawned for our churches simply because God disciplined us and we have repented of many things not pleasing to him as you have seen in the article you reference.

I am copying your letter to Mohan Nanjundan who now leads the London Church of Christ. It seems best for someone from that area to resolve these things with you.

May God bless you and help you find his peace that passes understanding.

Love in the Lord,

Roger Lamb
Disciples Today
630.290.5763
www.DisciplesToday.org
www.DToday.tv
Twitter: disciples_today


From: Mohan nanjundan
To: Roger Lamb
Cc: Andy
Sent: Friday, October 5, 2012 2:44 PM
Subject: Re: ICOC Co-operation Churches: RE: Has a New Era Begun in the ICOC?

Dear Andy,

Thank you for letter. Like Roger, I'm sorry for your pain. I'm not sure if we've met. I was in India during your years in Cambridge. But perhaps in a conference somewhere...

I returned to the UK in 2009. Since that time many former members have returned to the church and have been able to reconcile relationships, despite many painful memories. I'm grateful for that.

Was the leader of the Cambridge church James Greig? He's the only James I remember from the church staff at that time. Do let me know if the name rings a bell.
If you wouldn't mind giving me a phone number, I'd be happy to call you and talk with you. I don't promise we can resolve everything, but it'd be good to talk.
Sincerely, Mohan



From: Andy
To: Mohan nanjundan; Roger Lamb
Sent: Friday, October 5, 2012 5:03 PM
Subject: Re: ICOC Co-operation Churches: RE: Has a New Era Begun in the ICOC?

Mohan, Roger,

Thanks for responding so quickly. It seems you were both around during my time in the ICOC, so I consider you both fit to answer my questions. I would prefer a written response. I offered you something very personal through my letter, and I hope my sentiments and questions don't go unanswered. Those questions are very important to me. Please take time to think about them and respond in kind.

Mohan, I'm pretty sure it was James Greig. I wrote him a letter in 1999, much angrier than the one I addressed to you, and was not surprised to receive no response. I'm sorry for those angry words I wrote him, and don't feel the same way towards James anymore. I'm sure he was just as mixed up as I was those days.

Again, I'm open to talking to either of you over the phone, Skype or in-person after you've directly addressed my questions.

Thanks,
Andy


________________________________________
From: Mohan Nanjundan
To: Andy; 'Roger Lamb'
Sent: Friday, October 12, 2012 7:58 AM
Subject: RE: ICOC Co-operation Churches: RE: Has a New Era Begun in the ICOC?

Andy, I have attempted to answer your questions below in red. I hope this is helpful:

  1. What does this quote mean? Is this an apology? Do you now accept that other churches have Christians, too? What happened to your manifesto to create a congregation in every major city throughout the world, because other churches weren't truly Christian?

    There were many public and private apologies in the period around 2003 in our family of churches. Not all issues were the same, but varied from situation to situation. We do not teach that only the ICOC has Christians. We still believe in evangelism and we don’t believe that everyone who calls themselves a Christian is one. We don’t have a worldwide manifesto. We do have regional vision statements created by regional families of churches. We teach that salvation is by faith, through grace (Ephesians 2:8-10). We believe that the response to the crucifixion and resurrection that is called for in the Bible is repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins and to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:36-39). We must also persevere through hardships and remain faithful to Jesus for life (Acts 14:21-22).
  2.  
  3. What is your attitude towards former members, especially those spurned from your numbers during your "full-blown crisis" at the turn of the 21st century? (http://www.icocco-op.org/). We are many.

    A number of former members have come back to the church. Others have chosen not to. Not all issues are the same. Many have been in touch and continue to do so. We welcome them.
  4.  
  5. What is your stance towards believers of other faiths? Are those peaceful Buddhists, gentle imams, and others who do not believe in Jesus Christ through no fault of their own going to hell? What about atheists who do good deeds, who are just as charitable as their Christian counterparts? Are they going to hell, too? If so, who made you the judge? Does "judge not" still not apply in this case?

    Our position is very typical of many churches, not just those in the ICOC family. I came from a Hindu background. I wasn’t saved as a Hindu. We believe that Jesus died for all people and all people are saved only by following him (John 3:16, John 14:6, Acts 4:12). No one is saved by their good deeds, because we have all piled up sins against God for which we deserve judgment (Romans 3:10-11). As Christians we are not saved because of our righteousness but in spite of our unrighteousness, by God’s grace (Titus 3:3-7).

Andy, as I wrote earlier, I would be happy to talk to you. Let me know when that would be possible.

Sincerely, Mohan



From: Andy
To: Mohan Nanjundan; 'Roger Lamb'
Sent: Friday, October 12, 2012 5:19 PM
Subject: Re: ICOC Co-operation Churches: RE: Has a New Era Begun in the ICOC?

Mohan,

Thank you for your response, but I am very disappointed. Here is what I know and believe:

1. Regarding "We do not teach that only the ICOC has Christians. We still believe in evangelism and we don’t believe that everyone who calls themselves a Christian is one." While the first sentence is good to read, the second sentence makes it seem like the ICOC is still evangelizing to members of other churches, because no one can be sure if members of other churches are actually Christian. It's best to get them into the ICOC to ensure their salvation. Right?

2. Regarding "We teach that salvation is by faith, through grace (Ephesians 2:8-10). We believe that the response to the crucifixion and resurrection that is called for in the Bible is repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins and to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:36-39). We must also persevere through hardships and remain faithful to Jesus for life (Acts 14:21-22)." This, and your answer to my third set of questions, is the same thing I was taught in the ICOC over 13 years ago. It leads to same line of thinking that I wrote about above, because some churches believe one doesn't have to be baptized, or they do baptism differently than you.

More importantly, believing in the bible verses you quoted above is downright harmful. They imply that one must be saved from eternal damnation. How does this portray God as a loving being? Let's use Islam as an example. If a Muslim doesn't believe in Jesus in the same manner the bible verses prescribe, then he or she is surely damned. However, Muslims don't believe in those verses through no fault of their own. They are raised with the belief that they'll be killed and damned if they leave Islam, which is fundamentally opposed to the bible verses you quoted. So, are they damned if they believe in Jesus as the Son of God, or are they damned if they remain Muslim? Which is it? How is any critically-thinking Muslim expected to know which belief system to choose?

In addition, both belief systems can lead to outright xenophobia and a fear of death. These belief systems lead to xenophobia, because the systems revolves around "us and them." Christians are afraid of any outside group that proselytizes, just as Muslims are. That makes the world a much more hostile place. In addition, Muslims who leave their faith face the real threat of death, and people like me face the threat of eternal damnation for leaving Christianity.

However, there is a solution. When people really examine all of the concrete claims of religions like yours and like Islam, they come to the conclusion that none of it is true. I don't want to get too much into this, because it's all outlined in Richard Dawkins' book, The God Delusion, but I want to put myself on record stating that your teaching is harmful, and that you should stop before you poison even more innocent people.


3. Regarding "A number of former members have come back to the church. Others have chosen not to. Not all issues are the same. Many have been in touch and continue to do so. We welcome them." So your big solution for me is to come back? Are you kidding me? Just the idea makes me so angry I could spit. It turns out the ICOC doesn't believe in love as I quoted from 1 Corinthians 13:13—they just want more members. Why should I come back after you lot tried to ruin my life? My disclipler, Greg told me in 1999 that because I had left the ICOC, I couldn't go around town claiming to be a Christian anymore and that it would be despicable if I did, just like his lesbian sister who claimed to be a Christian. He shouted this at me over the phone.

Why would I want to come back and have to listen to people like that? I don't care if you claim that's not what the church teaches anymore. "God" had his chance at "saving me" through the ICOC and "he" blew it. It turns out "God saving me" was just you people trying to control me for my own good, like a slave who is happiest when he follows orders and does a good day's work for his master. I don't want "Him," the ICOC, or any church in my life anymore.

On top of that, I call on all critical thinkers world-wide to rise up and get Christianity and other forms of harmful beliefs out of their lives. To quote Rage Against the Machine, "If we don't take action now, we'll settle for nothing later."

With the utmost sincerity,

Andy


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