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In this episode of Faith for Normal People, Pete and Jared discuss religious trauma with Candice Czubernat, a therapist and founder of The Christian Closet. Together they identify religious trauma, examine how it especially affects LGBTQ+ people, and explore pathways for healing. Join them as they explore the following questions:

  • What is religious trauma?
  • How can a therapist help distinguish between normal religious activity and religious trauma?
  • How does a strong sense of self and trust of self relate to distinguishing between helpful and harmful religious activity?
  • In what ways does religious trauma manifest more specifically for LGBTQ+ people?
  • Can people get PTSD related to religious trauma?
  • Do people find that revisiting the Bible helps in the healing journey or not really?
  • How influential is a person’s beliefs about God when it comes to getting back on the track of emotional health?
  • How can parents respond to their kid coming out in a healthy way? What sometimes prevents that from happening?
  • Why do our bodies still react to certain beliefs even when we no longer hold to them?
  • What are healthy ways to process religious trauma and heal from the nervous system response of PTSD?


Pithy, shareable, sometimes-less-than-280-character statements from the episode you can share.

  • Trauma, or a traumatic event, [is] not the same for everyone. The difference is how we internalize it and what happens to our system inside, our feelings. — @TheChristianCL @theB4NP
  • Religious trauma is [trauma that] happens around something surrounding church or God, or the Bible, religion, faith. — @TheChristianCL @theB4NP
  • Most people that we work with long to have some kind of connection with God again. They long to be able to have a spiritual connection to God and the Bible and worship music so much, but it oftentimes just feels too dangerous. — @TheChristianCL @theB4NP
  • It takes time to start to separate out what was an experience of the divine and what has been harmful, and separate that harm away from God. — @TheChristianCL @theB4NP
  • I like to tell people, I don’t think God is concerned with you getting back to reading the Bible [or] listening to worship music. God absolutely wants a connection with you. — @TheChristianCL @theB4NP
  • I believe in a God that says, “Hey, it’s all good. You don’t have to go back there. But I’m still gonna meet you and I’m still gonna be with you, wherever that is.” — @TheChristianCL @theB4NP
  • Even if a community is not Christian, but is surrounding you in love, they are surrounding you in God’s love. — @TheChristianCL @theB4NP
  • Therapy can feel scary. [But] I think about it as such a gentle lovingkindness, compassionate thing that you can offer yourself—to journey with another human being who’s walked this road thousands of times. — @TheChristianCL @theB4NP
  • You can call it prayer, you can call it meditation, you can call it yoga…These ways of quieting ourselves, moving our bodies. It’s healing. It’s healing for our bodies and our brains. — @TheChristianCL @theB4NP
  • Tell your story and tell it as many times as you need to tell it. Find other people that have been through this kind of thing. — @TheChristianCL @theB4NP

Mentioned in This Episode

Read the transcript

Jared: You’re listening to Faith for Normal People, the only other God ordained podcast on the internet. 

Pete: I’m Pete Enns. 

Jared: And I’m Jared Byas.

[Intro music plays]

Pete: Today on Faith for Normal People, we’re talking about religious trauma with Candice Czubernat. 

Jared: Candice is a graduate of the Moody Bible Institute. Interesting. And the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. Candice has been a therapist for 20 years and is the founder of the LGBTQ+ affirming online counseling and coaching practice The Christian Closet, which, trivia for longtime listeners, was one of our first sponsors. 

Pete: Yes, right. 

Jared: Back in the old days. 

Pete: Back in the day. 

Jared: She’s also the founder and executive director of Affirming Therapy, a non profit whose main goal is to raise money for LGBTQ+ people who can’t afford mental health services. 

Pete: Now don’t forget to stay tuned at the end of the episode for quiet time when we will reflect on the episode and what we learned from our conversation with Candice. Okay, folks, let’s dive in. 

[Teaser clip of Candice speaking plays over music]

Candice: “Listen to what’s happening inside. Your body is going to show you physically that something is off. Something is not right here. And you can start to learn. Do you have a stomachache? Are you sweaty? Does your throat kind of hurt? All of these ways your body are trying to show you this is not safe. You have to begin to do something different than what you’ve already done, in order to try to get a different result.”

[Ad break]

Pete: Candice, welcome to the podcast. 

Candice: Thank you so much. I’m so happy to be here. 

Pete: Let’s start at the beginning. What is religious trauma? 

Candice: Well, it’s a lot like regular trauma. [Chuckles] So basically trauma or a traumatic event, it’s not the same for everyone. So you and I both can be in a car accident and for one of us, it could have been a traumatic experience and the other one, the other person could just walk away sort of feeling like, “Oh, so glad we made it out of that.” The difference is how we internalize it and what sort of happens to our system inside, our feelings. If one of us becomes really overwhelmed with what’s occurred and we don’t really have what we need to deal with that scary thing, then it becomes traumatic and it impacts our nervous system. 

And so religious trauma is basically that kind of thing, but when it happens around something surrounding church or God or the Bible, religion, faith. So I work mostly with LGBTQ+ people and their families. And so it’s definitely the waters I get to swim in every single day, people who are experiencing events over and over again that are overwhelming for their nervous system and connecting a deep sense of trauma with God and faith and the Bible and church.

Jared: And I want to get into some of the specific ways with LGBTQ folks that this manifests. But maybe a second question off the back of that one is, you know, as a therapist, within the adjective there, religious trauma, how do you help people distinguish between normal religious activity and what’s problematic?

Because I could imagine in some ways, a lot of folks don’t realize that it’s traumatic for them, overwhelming and all the things you described, because they’re in an environment where maybe it’s not traumatic for other people. So how, how do you help people distinguish what it was or what is normal religious activity and what’s problematic or might be traumatizing them?

Candice: Yeah, it’s really tricky because also, I want to say that pastors and church leaders, the people that are oftentimes—this is a hard word, but perpetrator of this kind of trauma—they are not thinking that right? They are trying to be faithful to what they feel God has called them to be, faithful to what the scriptures are saying.

And so, the people around them are also saying, “Yes, this is true. And this is what it means to be a Christian. This is what it means to be faithful.” For instance, when I was in college, I was trying not to be gay. And I went to church and started dating the associate pastor, which is a great thing to do to try to get rid of homosexuality is to date a pastor of the opposite gender. [Chuckles] And when I realized, oh man, this is, this is not going away. My pastor really thought he was doing what God wanted. And he said things like, “God has placed me in authority over you, and you need to trust me. I’m going to show in scripture how what you are doing is wrong, and how if you want to leave the church or leave your engagement, that’s wrong. And I’m going to show you in a biblical sense why you can’t trust yourself.” 

And I actually thought that he was right. I thought that I was a terrible sinner and was not following God, but there was something deep inside of me that said, if you stay here, you’re going to die. And so I left, I ran and I never actually went back to that church and never saw my fiance again. It was, it was, of course, I had conversations on the phone, but it was pretty dramatic because I really thought, oh my gosh, there was something inside of me, which I now say was definitely the spirit of God saying, get out of there. But they didn’t intentionally do that. Right? And so when I’m meeting with people, they’re having these experiences that maybe someone else next to them said, “Oh, I really felt God move in me, I felt blessed by this, or I felt the spirit of God in this.” It takes time to start to separate out what was an experience of the divine and what has been harmful, and separate that harm away from God to say, that was a person, right? This pastor of mine was not God. He was not the voice of God representing God in my life. God does that just fine with me. 

Jared: How is it related? Cause I maybe want to follow up because I think you said something really important there. Being able to trust yourself and also trust that that was the spirit of God in you. Can you say more about how you distinguish between again religious activity that’s beneficial and helpful and what’s harmful. Can you say more specifically about how that relates to your sense of self and trusting yourself? 

Candice: Yeah, I would say that idea is one of the biggest things that people talk about when they come to sessions with myself and my team. At some point, someone that they trusted in the church told them that they could not be trusted, that their heart was wicked, that their heart can’t be trusted. And in fact, If they feel peace about something, if they feel peace about being with a same gendered person, and if they feel peace about living, um, as a transgendered person, that that peace, they can’t trust it. It’s actually Satan being able to trick them. 

Jared: What a mess. 

Candice: Holy crap! It is a mess. [Laughs] 

Pete: It’s a—Exactly. 

Jared: Oh my gosh.

Candice: And that, again, for a lot of queer folks, I would say, you know, almost 100%, that is traumatic. It’s traumatic to say, “there is something scary lurking inside of you that you don’t know about, but I’m telling you it’s there and anything good you’re feeling, you can’t trust it. You though, you can trust me and I am outside of you and I somehow have a different and better connection to God and the divine and the scriptures and somehow I know more than you. And so you, you need to trust me.”

Jared: When it’s not even like you’re a little bit off the mark, it is “you are so messed up that the things that feel good are actually the worst things for you. And when you feel the worst, that’s the best things for you.” So it’s not even like, “Oh, we just need to tweak a couple of things.” It is like, “you’re so broken that your entire compass is backward.”

Candice: That’s right. And so you become at war with yourself. And that is a really painful kind of self-hatred that happens. 

Pete: And that’s a big difference too, Candice, between, I mean, “don’t trust your intuitions. The thing you want the most is exactly the thing Satan’s trying to get you with,” whatever. But for many of us, that doesn’t involve questioning our core humanity. 

Candice: That’s right. 

Pete: Right? So that’s a big difference here in the level of, this is why it’s traumatizing. You know, if—I’ve been in religious spaces where I didn’t like it and I left and I felt I was mistreated. I can’t say that I was traumatized. I was annoyed [Candice laughs], but I left with a sense of self, not questioning myself as much. And I imagine that’s really the source of this is, I mean, correct me if I’m wrong, it’s not God. It’s what people say about God. 

Candice: That’s right. 

Pete: It’s not your faith, it’s what people say about your faith. And that’s the source of it is, I think, as much as anything, just the words that come out of people’s mouths.

Candice: Yeah. So that example of, you know, this church that I was involved in over 20 years ago when I was in college, that was traumatizing because it separated me from myself to say, “Candice, what you’re doing, this is scary. And you cannot listen to yourself. I’m telling you, we love you. God loves you. But what you’re about to do is going to destroy you and separate you from God.”

That was traumatizing. And it is for, you know, most of the people that I work with. And so what we begin to do with people is really have to start to say, let’s get to, let’s just, let’s just take time and really try to get to know who is God? How do you know God? Who has God been to you? And also, you know, okay, let’s just say, if you could go do whatever you wanted to do, would it be this terrible, nasty thing that, that everyone is saying that that’s what you’re drawn to, right? Because there’s this idea that if you follow that place of “doing what you want” and “following your sin”, it’s going to lead you to, I don’t know, like robbing a bank or you know, doing a bunch of coke or something. I don’t know. And most people I work with are like, “No. If I followed things that felt good and the things that I desired, it’s not these terrible, scary things that people are inclined to do.”

Jared: Well, it’s typically a, and this is an overgeneralization in a caricature, but I have found that sometimes it’s the projection of the person talking to you more than your own desire. It’s sort of, I always find it interesting when people are like, “Well, if you do that, then you’ll do this, and you’ll do that, and you’ll,” and they just start going on and on about kind of like these fantasies or something. And it’s like, I don’t want to do that. [Everybody laughs] Where’s that coming from? Like, is that what you want to do?

Um, and so that’s just, it adds this nefarious thing to it where just people who are not self-aware but are armed with a theology that says like, wanting things is bad—it’s sort of like, that’s a dangerous thing for then giving them permission to sort of paint on the canvas of your own life their own projections of their desire.

Pete: It’s also the slippery slope, right? Because if you give up on this one thing, what’s going to stop you from—

Candice: Exactly. 

Jared: Well, yeah, that, and that’s, yeah—I would say on both sides. One is the more, like, emotionally driven one. And then there’s, I think, the logical side, which is often a conservative Christian argument, which is, this black and white thinking of rule based—well, if you allow for this, what keeps you from—

Pete: Yeah, “the Bible says this.”

Candice: That’s right. “The Bible clearly says this.”

Pete: Right, right. 

Candice: Not just “says” this. It’s usually “the Bible is obvious about these things,” right? There’s no question here. So if you question it, that’s really strange.

[Ad break]

Jared: What are some other ways though that—I’m just trying to think, when I think of religious trauma, I often am also thinking about maybe, I don’t know the right terminology here, but it’s not just the traumatic thing that happened, but now you start to associate other things with that trauma. So it’s not just that your pastor tried to take the gay away, but in the process of all the harm that was happening in that, you start to associate worship music with that or certain environments. 

I just know there are certain people who will literally get nauseous walking into a church. Because of these effects, can you maybe distinguish between the trauma and the like after effects of that? And how do you work with people through that? 

Candice: So what you’re describing is PTSD. And so when we have this traumatic experience, it can either be a one time event or over and over again. That leads to PTSD. And PTSD basically is when we then experience something outside of that traumatic moment that reminds our, our cells and our body of that moment. So a good example of this is someone who maybe was in a war and they got PTSD from, you know, all the bombs that were going off and then they come home and they’re at the grocery store and two carts bang into each other really loudly and that person drops to the ground and they’re suddenly sweating and their heart is pounding and they think like, “Oh my God, I’m in a war zone.” And then, you know, it takes a moment and they realize, Oh no, I’m at the grocery store. 

That same thing happens with the church. So sometimes people will describe like the musty smell inside of a church. Sometimes those older churches have those musty smells. That musty smell will take them right back and they’ll start to have these physical sensations that really connect to this past trauma. Or like you said, driving past a church, or opening their Bible, or listening to a Christian song or worship song will do this. That’s indicating that they have trauma that they haven’t quite worked through and our brains don’t know how to separate it out. 

Pete: Part of the trauma is, I mean, I don’t mean to get like biblical and nerdy here, but I think part of it is processing the biblical story as well. Which, there’s no verse to go to that says LGBTQ+ is fine. There’s also no verse to go to that says we should save the environment and recycle plastic. I mean, there’s plenty of things in the Bible that the Bible doesn’t say that we have to deal with, but the weaponizing of the Bible against many marginalized people is a real thing. And I, I wonder, is part of helping people heal from the trauma, is it revisiting the Bible from a different way? Is that part of it? 

Candice: Sometimes.

Pete: Sometimes. Okay. 

Candice: Yeah. Most people that we work with, they long to have some kind of connection with God again. They long to be able to have the like, innocent experience, a spiritual connection to God and the Bible and worship music so much, but it oftentimes just feels too dangerous.

And so I like to tell people, I don’t think God is concerned with you getting back to reading the Bible. I don’t think God is necessarily concerned with getting you back to like, listening to worship music. God absolutely wants a connection with you. And so sometimes for people, that means, yeah, let’s get into some nerdy theology stuff and let’s unpack the scriptures and let’s get our endive minds on. [Pete laughs] And that’s exciting. And I love that and do that with people. And, and that really can sometimes be healing. 

For other people it’s healing to explore other religions. I’ve worked with someone who was so badly traumatized within the church, emotionally, spiritually, and sexually—and so for this person to try to re-enter anything typically Christian was just too painful. But through lots of work in therapy, she discovered God’s spirit in like, witchcraft. Which sounds really crazy in the world that I grew up in. I mean, that sounds like an impossibility. But when I tell you like, I—being able to hear from her, her experience of the divine within witchcraft, just, I was crying because it was so obviously God. And I thought—I believe in a God that says hey, it’s all good. You don’t have to go back there. But I’m still gonna meet you and I’m still gonna be with you, wherever that is.

Jared: That’s powerful and that actually ties in here with another question that I have around when there has been trauma, or harmful practices within the church or within a religious environment. How influential is a person’s image or beliefs about God when it comes to this, getting back on the track of emotional health? And I ask that because I think there’s a lot—I, it’s a genuine question for me that I wrestle with. You know, maybe it’s not black and white. Maybe there’s a gray area. It’s not an either or. But I’m just curious if you could talk more about…I feel like there’s kind of one camp that says, well, if you get your view of God, right?

Like, again, that can be on a progressive side of things or more conservative side. It’s sort of like the beliefs about God are what sets you on the right track. That’s the foundation. If you don’t get that right, you’re going to kind of go down a back path. So if you think that God doesn’t like you or hates you, that’s going to lead to all these things.

But I also think there’s something on, maybe on the other side, if I can set it up as a binary and then you can tear it apart, around being in an environment that is loving and that is accepting. Even if in your head, it’s really hard to just tell someone, change your belief about God. But I found it can be really powerful to be in an environment where people just mirror a God who loves and accepts.

And then over time, that view of God starts to change. And maybe it’s different for different people, but I’m curious for you, if it’s when you work with people, how much emphasis is on, let’s change your thinking about God and how God might act or behave, or is it, is it in line with these traumatic events you’ve experienced? Or is it, let’s get you in an environment where you can feel loved and supported, and then that changes things over time. 

Candice: Mm hmm. You know, it’s the good old both/and. I’m not sure that it can be just one. Oftentimes when people talk about who God is to them, they’re actually also talking about their parents, um, or their caregivers, whoever raised them—get intertwined with God. So first, it’s kind of separating that out. Who did your caregiver say God was and who actually is God to you? But we’re made for relationship. And so it kind of falls a little bit flat if it’s just that. We absolutely need to be around people who are reflecting that unconditional love.

And so, a lot of times people will say like, “Well, I, you know, I go to a non affirming church, but they really love me or they say, you know, they love us.” And in no time at all, it’s like, I can almost just sort of count it down like five, four, three, you know, like, um, eventually there’s going to be a line, of course.

And so actually it doesn’t work, even if they say they love you. Eventually, they’re going to reflect to you that God has boundaries to loving you and you’re the problem. And so, yeah, even if that community is not Christian, but is surrounding you in love, they are surrounding you in God’s love. 

Jared: Well, if I can, this actually goes into another question I had, which is, and this is a specific question as well, but if someone has a kid who is LGBTQ+ and they come out to them, and they want to be loving, but the parent is in a church that says this is wrong—and I just see it a lot with parents, where they’re really struggling between their church community, their own beliefs, and then their own child—what are some do’s and don’ts? As a therapist who probably you’re on the receiving end of a lot of people who do things that maybe that aren’t helpful. Is there a way to walk that line or is the only do and don’t really you got to choose your child and love them well and do that in an unconditional way? Or, you know, what are some helpful practices for parents who are trying to figure this out and has a kid who’s come out. 

Candice: I mean, first of all, I love parents. I have so much compassion for parents in this position, even for parents who are saying, “Oh, my gosh, I’m really struggling. I don’t know what to think about this.” It’s funny, I didn’t realize working with straight parents would be a population I really enjoyed. And honestly, their process really almost reflects the process of a queer person because they kind of get launched into this grief. And it’s important for them to go through all the stages, right? The shock and the denial and the sadness and the anger and all of these things.

The biggest thing that they’re going to feel is fear: “I’m scared that my community is going to reject me. I’m scared that my church community is going to reject my child. I’m scared that my own elderly parents are going to reject my child. That my kid’s going to go to hell or that they’re going to have a harder life.” In my experience, fear is the number one driver of all the painful things that a parent says to their child. So the number one biggest thing is like, parents, be in your process. You deserve time and space, but do not process with your children! They don’t need to know! Get into community, read books, get on YouTube. There’s so many resources for parents. Get into therapy. Because when you say things to your children, you probably aren’t going to remember it, but I promise you it is going to be etched into their soul. Even if you eventually come around and say, “Oh, we’re affirming and we just love you. We’re going to be in a pride parade with you.” Your child still will always remember those hard painful things that you said.

Pete: I imagine it’s multiple things, but just in your experience, like what are they fearing? 

Candice: You’re right. We could sit, we could have a whole podcast on fear. In fact, I recently did a training for PFLAG for parents on fear and the first thing being like, they need to find support for their fear and compassion for themselves, and then they can offer it to their kid. But I think one of the biggest things that they’re afraid of is they’re afraid that their kid’s life is going to be harder. 

Pete: Oh.

Candice: That, you know, suddenly, all of these stereotypes start to fill their mind. And in fact, I love being gay. I actually like, thank you, Jesus, thank you for making me gay. This is great. I’m happy. I have a wonderful life! But a year ago, my wife and I thought maybe our son might be gay. Since he’s nine, he’s like, Mom, I’m too young to know my sexual orientation. I don’t know yet. But we thought maybe he might be gay. And I could not, I was in such shock how I reacted and responded inside. I started to feel scared because suddenly all these negative stereotypes around gay men started filling my head. And I had to catch myself and process with a friend of mine and say, okay, yeah, these are stereotypes. It’s not—I know more gay men who don’t fall into these stereotypes than do, and it really calmed my fear down, but I had to go through a process of facing that fear and talking it out. And there’s a lot of, there’s a lot of scary negative messages in society, but especially in the church about what’s going to happen if your kids are gay or queer in any way or trans, especially nowadays.

Pete: Well, they, I mean, the hell factor comes in at that point pretty quickly. 

Candice: Yes, yes. I even work with a lot of people who say, “I don’t even think I believe in hell anymore, but for some reason, this fear of hell—I’m drowning in it. I can’t sleep at night. I have so much anxiety. How can I have so much anxiety around this thing I don’t even believe in anymore?” And parents also, “I don’t even know if I believe in hell, but I’m terrified my child’s going to go there.”

Pete: Yeah. You snap back to that. I mean with my own experience, with my children for different reasons, but you just—I stopped believing, you just, those voices keep coming back. They’re in there. They don’t—they’re baked in. They take a lot more effort to be expunged and just, “I don’t believe it anymore.” Well, your cells do. 

Candice: That’s exactly right. And that part of you, I like to sort of say, we have different parts of us inside of us, you know, when we go to make a decision, usually we hear different parts. Oh, do this part or do that or don’t do that. We have lots of different parts and that part that’s saying hell is scary and it’s going to happen, it’s trying to protect you. And so if we can kind of come along that side and let’s get to know that part and let’s let’s let it know, thank you so much but we’re okay. That part can actually sometimes bring about real gifts into your life once it’s settled down and can feel safe.

[Ad break]

Jared: That’s a good way to talk about getting back to the religious trauma conversation. Specifically, that seems like a really helpful tool for people who’ve experienced that trauma of again, like you said, with PTSD, there’s a response. There’s a nervous system response that you can be grateful for to say, I get what you’re trying to do, right? Our bodies are trying to protect us. Like that was a very real needed response when we’re in war, but we don’t need it now that we’re in the grocery store. I’m wondering how that translates for religious trauma where they’ve had these overwhelming experiences over and over and now it is sort of baked into their response? What are some things that might be helpful, maybe helpful ways of thinking or helpful steps to take? Of course, apart from getting a therapist and really working through some of these, what are some other ways that they can help themselves as they process this? 

Candice: Yeah, I hope it is obvious that the therapy is a big thing. And I also just want to say, I think a lot of times therapy can feel scary. It feels like, Oh my God, I really am screwed up if that’s what I have to get to. I think about it as such a gentle, lovingkindness, compassionate thing that you can offer yourself to journey with another human being who’s walked this road thousands of times. I have done this thousands of times with people. And so why not give yourself the gift of being able to journey with someone who knows the path well, right? 

But you’re right. I mean, if there are other things that someone can do…So medication can be helpful sometimes. Um, so seeing your primary doctor or psychiatrist, okay. Medication is an amazing tool. 

Meditation and yoga are amazing things. I remember being in church when I was little and yoga was a very scary satanic thing that people were doing. [Laughing] Um, but it’s healing. It’s healing for our bodies and our brains. And in a way, you know, I think you can call it, and you can call it prayer, you can call it meditation. You can call it yoga. These ways of quieting ourselves, moving our bodies. It’s healing. It’s healing for our bodies and our brains. 

Not being alone. So finding at least one safe person to talk about it with! Tell your story and tell it as many times as you need to tell it. Find other people that have been through this kind of thing. That’s really reassuring to hear stories and say, wait a second, your story—that sounds fishy to me, but it also sounds a lot like mine. And so if I can be mad and realize your story sounds hurtful and painful, I can start to realize mine was the same. 

Jared: Can you say more about that? Because I want to say it this way, which is going to be maybe too stark—but I don’t want somebody to go thinking that someone who holds a belief that we were talking about earlier, which is “I love you, but I don’t affirm what you’re doing.” Within that tradition it’s going to be very hard for you to find someone who you can really trust with your story. Because it seems like that is a recipe for getting re-traumatized, to really have someone say, “Yeah, I know, I know in general the church can be like this, but I’m not like that.”

And then you sort of, you trust them and you really open up, then you find out, oh, there’s a line for them too, at which point, or there’s an agenda. Like, yeah, they’re listening, but it’s to get me to give up my sexuality or to see my sins and turn back. So do you have any thoughts on that? I guess I just wanted to say that as like—uh, just be careful because I’ve seen that too many times where they kind of give them one more chance and it’s like just another way to get traumatized. 

Candice: It really is. Yeah. And if someone does that, it’s okay. Like you can have a lot of compassion for that desire. Because we want to be a part, right? We want to belong in our church community. Or at one point for me, it was my seminary community. And I, I just, I wanted to be good so badly, you know? And so it’s, it’s a really tender part of you that would draw you back into such a harmful relationship. But it’s not going to work. You will be hurt and it will just continue to traumatize you and, um, rather than bring about healing.

And so, you know, you’re going to the dry well, you have to begin to do something different than what you’ve already done in order to try to get a different result. And obviously someone who thinks being LGBTQ+ is a sin and is a character flaw and is against God’s will, they’re not going to be able to offer that to you. They’re not going to be able to offer open arms of love and acceptance. In fact, I mean, I’ve worked with a lot of people who, it’s like that word, “We love you. And you can have all of these things. You can be involved in our community, our church. But if you choose, it’s your choice, you’re choosing to go be gay. And it’s not even us who are saying you can’t be a part of our church or serve or you know, be with the kids. It’s the Bible that’s saying that. So it’s not us. It’s the Bible that’s saying that. And it’s your choice to go against the Bible and it’s just us that are, you know, we’re really servants of the Bible.”

Listen to what’s happening inside. Your body is going to show you physically that something is off. Something is not right here. And you can start to learn. What is your body doing? Do you have a stomach ache? Do you feel like you want to throw up? Are you sweaty? Does your throat kind of hurt? All of these ways your body are trying to show you this is not safe. You need to get out of there. 

Jared: Well, as we finish up, are there any other words of wisdom for people who have experienced religious trauma to help as we wrap up just sort of a benediction or word of wisdom? 

Candice: I like to remind people that it’s actually God’s love and path are wide open. That we’ve been told the path is narrow, and I think that the Bible was talking about something else when, when the Bible mentions the path being narrow. That when we’re talking about God’s love and welcoming of everyone, it is farther than we can see. And God lives inside of you. There’s nothing that you can do to scare God’s spirit or invite some other spirit that takes over inside of you. God loves you and God lives inside of you. 

Pete: That’s something people need to hear. Thank you, Candice, for taking the time to be with us and for those closing remarks. And I think we learned a lot. 

Candice: Thanks guys!

[Music signals start of Quiet Time segment]

Jared: And now for quiet time…

Pete: …with Pete and Jared. 

Jared: All right, all right. Let’s talk about this. First of all, my growing up evangelical had my, I had my antenna up when she mentions witchcraft in the episode. So let’s, let’s walk that back and say, you know, she talked about a client of hers who was able to find God in witchcraft. What’s your response? First of all, maybe let’s contextualize what we would assume she meant by that and just reflect on the idea, right? Well, you know, can we find God outside of Christianity? 

Pete: Well, I mean on that last point, I’m much more comfortable saying something because I don’t know much about witchcraft. I really don’t.

Jared: Yeah. Well I would, for me again, growing up evangelical, I was thinking of you know, Carmen, uh, The Witch’s Invitation, it’s like real scary, Halloween, so, you know. 

Pete: Oh yeah, takes me back there too. 

Jared: I grew up thinking that it was going to be between, uh, quicksand and witches. I thought they were going to be major problems in my life. It turns out that I haven’t really run into either one in the way that it was presented to me. 

Pete: Right, so just—

Jared: So, I mean. So, just, it’s a little more innocuous than all that, is what I’m saying. 

Pete: Yeah. I think, for me, the bottom line is, first of all, I can’t figure God out. And I can’t tell God where to show up and where not to show up. But I, I cannot believe—I mean I’ve come to this point over the years. I cannot believe that God can only be found through one highly scripted system. I mean, people arguing about, you know, this denomination’s not Christian, that denomination’s not Christian, things like that. Well, I mean, maybe yes, maybe no, but that doesn’t mean God’s presence will be absent from those places, you know? 

And a lot just depends I think on what we think God is. I mean, you know, I don’t think of a God as a being up there who sort of hangs out with certain people. I think, I believe God is pervasive. You know, so, I cannot imagine, again, that people growing up in different parts of the world who don’t have access to a Christian system and, or have had missionaries that have botched it, that they are somehow unable, that God has no interest In being embodied in them, right?

Jared: But God does, that’s why God sent Jesus. 

Pete: So, so in principle, right? But the thing is that, but then you have to be part of the system to access that. Right. 

Jared: Yeah. That’s a great point. 

Pete: And that’s the thing that, I mean, I understand that, but, you know, C. S. Lewis says things about how there’s one way to God in Christ, but there are many ways to Christ. And even if you don’t know it. 

Jared: Right. 

Pete: So that’s interesting. I mean, I’m, I’m, I’d have to think about whether that’s something that I would still articulate that way, but the idea is there within Christianity that God doesn’t have boundaries and God acts as God pleases. And even that’s metaphorical language. I mean, we can’t get away from that. But I just, I just cannot believe that—”No, no. The only way for you to stay connected with God is to remain in the place that traumatized you.” Instead of, I mean, I tell people this when it comes up and when it’s relevant. They say, “I just can’t go to church anymore.” Then I say, “Don’t.” 

“I can’t read the Bible because of how it’s been used.” Then don’t, don’t go to church, don’t read the Bible. God is still real, and you may need to walk away and cleanse the palate here a little bit, right? And that’s why I think, you know, the example that Candice brought up about a client who was able to find God in witchcraft—in principle, I understand that. I’d have to think about what that means in this instance. But you know, can, can God be found anywhere? I really hope so. What a drag if that’s not the case. 

Jared: Well, speaking about that client, you know, Candice brought up this idea that you can give up on a belief, but still have this fear reaction in your brain and your body based on that. I mean, I run into people now, it’s quite common, that will say, “I don’t even believe in hell anymore. Why am I still terrified of going there?” And it’s sort of baked into their brain now, they can’t get away from it. So what do you, uh, have you ever experienced that? 

Pete: Oh, yeah. My whole life’s like that. So I’m—not necessarily about hell, but I think, you know, in one way, it’s hard to let go of the spectre of a  transactional notion. You know, I don’t believe in a transactional deity. It makes no sense to me. But you always got this thing, it’s like, if I don’t go to church, what’s God going to think of me? You know, I remember early on in COVID when nobody went to church and I was happy. I took a break from the thought of having to go to church, but then when things started loosening up, you know, a year later, and they start opening up the churches, just wear a mask and things like that. And I remember sitting on the sofa on a Sunday morning and saying to myself, I should, “you should go to church, you should go, you need to go to church, you should go to church, you shouldn’t stay home, but you should go to church.”

And I just stopped myself and I said, why should I? What, what’s happening? Well, what story am I telling myself at this point, right? And I literally decided to stay home, to set up an adirondack chair with an umbrella in the backyard, and make myself a smoothie, and read Barbara Brown Taylor and Thomas Keating. I had a wonderful, wonderful morning. Now, I’m, I’m back in church now on a fairly regular basis. I mean, I travel sometimes, but…So, I mean, it all changes, it evolves, but I think I’m in church now and with a very different mindset. You know, it’s not, it’s not the should. Yeah. Yeah. 

Jared: Right. 

Pete: I mean, there are shoulds in life. I mean, you know, I’m not saying that there should never be a should, but it’s still, this is one of these things that’s like, you know, It, it tells a lot about how we’ve been programmed, I think, to think about God, as someone who’s fundamentally angry with you. 

Jared: Yeah, well, and there’s something to the logic of it, too. I think of, you know, the Pascal’s Wager, or in my case, I have a distinct memory in college of saying to myself, I sort of weighed it out and based on the cost benefit analysis, I’ll always be a conservative evangelical because the risk of being wrong is eternity in hell. Like if you’re wrong about it. What I wasn’t accounting for in that is my life was untenable with that frame of belief. It just didn’t work for me anymore. Like, it was making my life hell. 

Pete: It didn’t make sense to you. 

Jared: Yeah, it didn’t make sense. Yeah. It was, had all these consequences that I didn’t feel good about. And so it just became untenable. And it also goes to the idea of like, yeah, I was very naive to think that I get to just hold on to beliefs if I want to.

Pete: Right. 

Jared: Beliefs are a little trickier than that. Sometimes they squirrel away from you, even if you want to hold on to them. So.

Pete: Well this is, you know, The Body Keeps the Score, right? That’s sort of in that territory here with this. And it’s, you know, I just, my vision for the Christian faith is to recognize God doesn’t need to operate within a system. Even within the biblical story itself, you have systems that become unworkable or even corrupt, and then you have a correction to that. I mean, you know, one of my professors at Harvard, Paul Hanson, wrote this book. He talks about how there is this cycle in the Bible of movement from structures to the critique of those structures. And like, sacrifice might be an example of that. You know, the prophets have a thing to say, it’s like, this isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It’s just, you know, it doesn’t do everything. And—

Jared: Which, by the way, is the original conception of deconstruction. 

Pete: Yes. Exactly. Right. That is what it is!

Jared: That is what Derrida would say is deconstruction. 

Pete: Exactly. 

Jared: It’s a system that then gets, there are things inherent in the system that will eventually overturn the system.

Pete: Right. And, uh, folks, you’ve heard it here once again, deconstruction is very much a biblical idea, even if the word’s not used, the idea is very much there. But my vision is like, that will be more understood and more embraced. And if anything, just for people to find peace and serenity and hope and joy in their faith and not just something to debate on TikTok.

And I’m seeing this, you know, with Candice’s episode and her client who was in witchcraft. And, you know, to me, that’s all part of a larger conversation about how do you conceive of God? What does this faith mean to you? And where do you think God can be found? 

Jared: Yeah. And in great Bible and Faith for Normal People fashion, we should just end with those three great questions.

Pete: Okay? Yeah. 

Jared: Alright, folks. 

[Outro music plays]

Jared: Well, thanks to everyone who supports the show. If you wanna support what we do, there are three ways you can do it. One, if you just wanna give a little money, go to

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Jared: And lastly, it always goes a long way if you just wanted to rate the podcast, leave a review and tell others about our show. In addition, you can let us know what you thought about the episode by emailing us at

Outro: You’ve just made it through another episode of Faith for Normal People! Don’t forget you can catch our other show, The Bible for Normal People, in the same feed wherever you get your podcasts. This episode was brought to you by the Bible for Normal People team: Brittany Hodge, Stephen Henning, Wesley Duckworth, Savannah Locke, Tessa Stultz, Danny Wong, Natalie Weyand, Lauren O’Connell, Jessica Shao, and Naiomi Gonzalez.

[Outro music ends]
Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.