The Church Identity

The Cost of Leaving

Ally Henny

Let me keep it buck: church hurt sucks. And when you #LeaveLOUD, church hurt often comes with a side of racial trauma.

A lot of us who have left toxic white churches have attempted to put on a brave front. We have mustered what was left of our dignity and worked to distance ourselves from anything that looks like what we used to be part of. Some of us have found our way back to the Black church (and some have attended black churches for the first time in their lives). Some of us have “played hooky.” Some of us have distanced ourselves from the Christian church altogether. Some of us have found a home in a new Christian tradition. Whatever your response, one thing is undeniable: leaving comes with a cost. 

Leaving hurts. As much as we want to pretend that we can’t be hurt by white people, we can still be hurt by white people. Having feelings that can be hurt doesn’t make us any less Black or any less conscious of our oppression. It makes us human. 

When you invest your time and energy in building relationships with people who don’t have object permanence for you after you leave their church, it hurts. When you share painful experiences with people and they come back at you with fragility, it hurts. When you invest in people and they treat you like crap, it hurts. As the hurts pile up, it can develop into trauma. 

I have a theory that a lot of Black folks walk around with unaddressed trauma because we take trauma as part of living. Our current and historic realities show that our way is not often easy. When life isn’t easy, it becomes easy to normalize pain. When we normalize pain, we also normalize being able to bear the pain lest we collapse under its weight. We sometimes take pride in how much we can take. 

When it comes to dealing with white folks, we feel even more pressure because we don’t want to lose face. We don’t want to look like they got the better of us. For some people, admitting that racism hurts is equated with weakness, but experiencing grief and pain is not a sign of weakness. 

We have to be honest with ourselves and one another. Most of us don’t get the opportunity to leave in a way that feels empowering. Leaving most often feels like passing through fire.  

As more of us #LeaveLOUD (I’ve mostly talked about churches, but this also applies to schools, workplaces, and other institutions), we have to hold space for ourselves and for one another to grieve. Grieving the web of losses that come with leaving doesn’t mean that you’re in the sunken place; it means that you’ve lost something meaningful to you. 

When I feel another wave of grief billow over me, I remember the ending of Job’s story. God added everything that he lost back to him and more. I highly doubt that Job ever stopped grieving his losses, but God gave him what he needed to start over.

I left loud in 2019. There are still times that my mind and heart wander to what could have been. The hopes and dreams that I held in my old context. The friendships that I lost. The people that I miss. I grieve what was lost, but then I look around and take stock of what I have. 

As you reject toxicity and journey toward flourishing, I hope that you will not eschew grief. It is a valid part of the journey. Be kind to yourself.