I’m Dani Kelley,

and I do lots of things.

Christianity

For the well-meaning Christian: the rightly divided word.

Conservative Christian men approach what I say in the exact same way they approach what the Bible says.

I know that’s quite a claim to make, but the more I reflect on how I was taught to approach the Bible and observe how these men approach my words, the more pronounced the parallel becomes. What do I mean, exactly?

  1. They isolate our words from the context in which they were written.
  2. Then they insist that neither context nor authorial intent can meaningfully affect a “plain reading.”
  3. Finally, they assert that any other interpretation is intellectually dishonest.

Let me hide myself.

I was 15 years old, sitting in the front row of the church, staring skeptically at the woman who was preaching to us. This wasn’t my youth group, of course—the assemblies would never allow a woman to speak like this. I determined that perhaps she was like Balaam’s donkey, and did my utmost to pay attention to whatever word of the Lord she might ironically speak despite her unfitness for leadership.

She walked over to her projector and held up a transparency sheet. “This represents you,” she said simply. “Your lives.” She picked up a few different markers and started doodling on the sheet, explaining that our sins and decisions and actions were like the marks on the page. “Everything is here—from the clothes you wear, to the words you say, to what you do in your every day life. They all show up here.”

The speaker placed the sheet back on the projector and turned on the light. “This light is Jesus,” she continued. “Notice how you can’t see him through the ink, only through the clear parts?” I stirred in my seat, aware of how it seemed the Spirit was moving within me.

She took an eraser and slowly began moving it across the marker drawings. I watched, mesmerized, as the marks disappeared. “This is what the blood of Christ does”—she pointed to the now-clean sheet—”so that all that can be seen through you is Jesus.” She spent the rest of her time with us explaining how important it was to make sure that our transparencies remained clean, that our decisions and words and lives were so clean that we would only reflect Christ to those around us.

As I got in the van with the carpool that brought me to church that night, I was deeply convicted to start changing my life so that I would better reflect Christ. It occurred to me that this meant becoming a different person. But wasn’t that what Christianity was all about to begin with, becoming a new creation in Christ?

For the well-meaning Christian: humility in listening.

You’ll approach me with why you think I really stopped being a Christian, as if it’s a huge secret that, if you can just crack the code, you could make sure no one would leave the team ever again. And usually, much like this person said, you assume I just didn’t pick the right flavor of Christianity. Or I just didn’t really know Jesus. Or as a recent reader suggested, I just left the bad Christians behind but not Jesus.

You’re taking ownership of my story, mangling it beyond recognition, then insisting I accept your version rather than my own. You’re saying you’re a better judge of my experiences and life than I am. And when you suppose these things about my life and my beliefs, you are being incredibly disrespectful and unloving. Like Cassidy said. it’s like you grew up in a home where smacking someone upside the head was considered loving, and you’re now indignant that you can’t smack me, too.

I get it. I do. I did the same thing. I believed rather strongly that anyone who left the faith was never a Christian to begin with but had been deceived into thinking they were. And I wasn’t shy about this belief, nor did I falter in said belief.

Until it happened to me.

For the well-meaning Christian: credit to whom credit is due.

I think we really do a disservice to ourselves and the people around us when we attribute the good or bad things actually done by people to the supernatural, or even to some sort of intrinsic goodness like hard work. I don’t begrudge people the comfort they take in believing a divine creator has orchestrated their life to their benefit, or even wanting to believe that bad things have happened due to an invisible malevolent force. I just can’t help but notice how this tendency to credit the supernatural with what man or chance has wrought often serves to create a disconnect between us and our communities.

For the well-meaning Christian: on showing basic empathy and respect.

I really hope you can hear me out about what I am saying and what I’m not saying here, because I absolutely don’t expect any of you to stop talking about your faith in general. It’s such a huge part of your lives, and it’d be really unfair of me to expect you to keep such an important part of your life to yourself and never speak of it. That’s cruel and disrespectful, and would mean that I don’t really care about you in the first place. To borrow the spirit of the words of a friend, “It’s part of your life — and I like your life.”

This is where it could do you some good to learn a little empathy, learn to put yourself in my shoes for a little bit, so maybe you can learn what treating me with respect actually looks like.

No more faith: the whys and why nots of my deconversion.

It’s really rather rare for people to ask me why I deconverted from Christianity. Like, really rare. It’s far more common for them to assume they already know, whether they’re talking to me while they’re expressing this assumption or not. However, in a single week, I’ve had two separate unaffiliated people ask me a variation of the same question about the role fundamentalism had in my deconversion. Of course, I’ve been trying to figure this out for myself on a less-specific scale for the better part of two years, though much of it has been in my own head. Perhaps it’s time for me to work out of my thoughts here with you.

Without GRACE: Secular vs. Spiritual Authority and An Incomplete, Discrepant History.

Last time, I gave some rather brief introductory thoughts to the GRACE report and explained what my intentions are for doing such a thorough and critical review. This time, since I’ve covered the first few pages, I’m jumping in just past the beginning of the introductory chapter and providing commentary through the end of the introduction. I’ll give an overview of the sections I’m addressing, along with direct quotes, observations, and thoughts. You can read the pdf file of the report along with me if you like. As always, your input and observations are welcome.

Without GRACE: Introductory Thoughts

Bob Jones University, self-identified as The World’s Most Unusual University and the Fortress of Faith, has a very public history of many atrocious things. Racism and homophobia have topped the list thusfar, but now, thanks to the 300 page report from the Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) that is gaining national attention, mistreating victims of sexual abuse is another claim BJU can make to fame.

Forgive my cynicism. As both a survivor of sexual abuse and a former BJU student who got expelled for consensual sex, I think it’s pretty well earned at this point.

Frankly, I’m thrilled that the report has been released. I’m pleased with how thorough it is, and I’m even more thrilled with the press it’s getting. Please don’t mistake my joy that the voices of my brothers and sisters and me are finally publicly vindicated as rejoicing in BJU’s public censure. I wish more than anything that they would take to heart the criticism they’re receiving, offer a sincere apology, and make their campus and staff safe places for victims of abuse. However, I’m simply not hopeful to that end.

While I’ve skimmed through two thirds of the report already, I’m currently undertaking the task of reading through every page and footnote. Clearly, I’m personally invested. I actually gave GRACE a written statement, though I’m not sure that it was used in this final report or not. (More on that later). I just need to read it myself, think through it and analyze it myself. And I’m going to provide my exhaustive notes and analysis here, starting today.

These thoughts are my own. I don’t expect everyone to agree with my perspective, but I think it’s valuable to share my thoughts as a survivor, former student, participant in the investigation, and skeptic. Every quote that I reference will have the page number (and footnote number, if applicable) relevant to the report.

And so I begin.

Introspection: the impact of religion on personality.

When I first took the Myers-Briggs personality test, still thoroughly embedded in the fundamentalist Christian tradition of my youth, I scored as an INTJ, rather than an INFJ. In retrospect, it’s no wonder I skewed more heavily to Thinking rather than Feeling, since I was taught to fear and distrust feelings. Feelings were often considered sinful, bringing guilt and shame, whereas Logic (According to the Word of God) was holy and true, bringing stability (supposedly). I didn’t understand that divorcing feelings from thinking the way I had been taught to do was utterly damaging both to myself and others, not to mention ripping conversational rhetoric out of its context and reality.

The thing is, I could never totally eradicate my Feelings.